Pop Between Realities, Home in Time for Tea 51 (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

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There are a vast number of potential paragraphs beginning with “the really brilliant thing about Buffy the Vampire Slayer is…” It is one of the most emphatically innovative and transformational shows in the history of television. There is no case to be made that it’s one of the most popular television programs ever - it toiled in the low ratings expected of The WB and UPN (more about which in a moment), but nor was it some televisual equivalent of the Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall show, where nobody watched but everybody who did watch was terribly important. The show changed everything: the nature of fandoms, the standard model of how to write both genre television and “regular” television, and the landscape of American television.

The latter of these is perhaps the least interesting in terms of this blog, but it’s important both in understanding how the show came about in the first place and, at least somewhat interestingly, in understanding how Doctor Who could become a hit in its own right in the US. The key thing to understand about Buffy the Vampire Slayer is that it exists because the channel it debuted on, The WB, was an unsuccessful minor channel. Broadcast television in the US works very differently from how it does in the UK. The entire country is served by regional channels, the bulk of which affiliate with national networks. The big three up into the 1980s were NBC, CBS, and ABC, each of which have essentially 100% coverage of the country. An affiliate commits to showing certain numbers of hours of national programming in the correct time slot, but fills the rest of the schedule either with local programming or material bought for syndication. (There’s also PBS, which still uses the affiliate model, but is basically what Rupert Murdoch would have the BBC be if he got his way, i.e. Wholly dependent on continually running fundraisers to stay alive.)

In the 1980s the big three were joined by a fourth network, Fox. The way in which a new network launches is important to understand: it has to acquire affiliates from across the country, scooping up existing low-rated channels. In markets where no such channel exists or will sell the new network simply won’t exist, or will exist as a secondary affiliate of an existing network, showing programming at odd hours of the night. Accordingly, Fox was at first much smaller potatoes, having lower penetration and lower ratings, which meant that big ticket obvious hits went to the other three while Fox had to content itself with oddball programs like The Simpsons and The X-Files. Then, in 1995 two more networks launched: The WB and UPN. By then Fox was reasonably sized and they were the small potatoes - sufficiently small, in fact, that they merged together to form The CW in 2006 because they couldn’t stay afloat on their own.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer was originally made for The WB, although it jumped to UPN for its final two seasons. This is crucial to understanding why it was made in the first place. It was, after all, a remake/sequel to a flop movie that overtly flied in the face of the normal order of things by having a strong female protagonist in a genre show. (A note on this term. It is, of course, terribly annoying, pretending as it does that soap operas and detective series are not genres. However, it proves useful in this period as people begin to take seriously that it’s possible to do sci-fi, fantasy, or horror that isn’t done on the traditional “white male 18-34” cult audience model. Obviously all of this is is descriptive only in terms of the marketing of shows - in practice scads of women watched The X-Files and loads of men watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but it still reflects a significant split in terms of how the shows try to position themselves. So for our purposes, “cult” television refers to efforts to target the 18-34 white male demographic with sci-fi/fantasy/horror shows, whereas “genre” television refers to sci-fi/fantasy/horror with broader audience ambitions.) The WB, however, didn’t really have the luxury of attempting something more straightforwardly commercial, so went with Buffy.

What it got, in audience terms, was unusual. It had the small-but-devoted audience associated with normal cult television. But… they were girls! This is, of course, terribly cynical to note, but it’s also terribly important. This isn’t just true because it liberated sci-fi/fantasy/horror from the obnoxious tyranny of the white male audience that forms the standard cult audience. Buffy’s audience was, after all, still a devoted fandom. Which meant that it was possible to have a show that, in terms of its financials, worked like a cult show but appealed to a different sort of audience. Combined with the rise of smaller channels that The WB and UPN implied, this was an absolute revelation. Buffy was, in many ways, the advance guard for The Sopranos, which added the detail of being on cable, and started the boom in original drama produced by cable channels. Add the revenue of DVD sales, syndication, and subscription fees (whether directly from viewers a la HBO or from cable systems paying to include popular channels) and a very different sort of television emerged. Off of networks there were now ways for a show with a small but dedicated audience to survive simply because it was possible to get more money out of a single viewer. One consequence of this was that the BBC launched an American cable channel, BBC America, in 1998, which would eventually find huge success with an imported sci-fi program from the UK.

But Buffy started it by having a dedicated audience and a critical reputation wildly out of proportion to its actual popularity. And, as mentioned, by having a dedicated audience that looked nothing like the audience for most television of its type. It wasn’t just that it was a female audience, but that it was a female audience that on the whole worked like the female fandom that Kate Orman came out of. Buffy fandom unleashed shipping and portmanteaus and slash and the sheer, giddy perversity of female fandom onto the mainstream by creating an entire fandom made up of people like that. It was a whole new ballgame - the moment when a completely different way of interacting with pop culture burst into the mainstream. Suddenly social justice perspectives, critical theory, and the willfully perverse were just how you did fandom, whereas obsessive continuity-mongering, lists, and merchandise collections weren’t. Fandom sacked the anoraks.

It’s not that this was a tremendous and unprecedented advance. All of this had been going on in the background for ages. But the lucky combination of a damn good show and a network desperate enough to air it meant that it broke into the cultural mainstream. Which brings us around to the other really important thing about Buffy, which is that it was, in fact, a damn good show. And while a huge part of its influence is simply in the way in which what genre television could be changed in its wake, there are also specific creative lessons to learn from Buffy, and people did learn them.

The biggest innovation Buffy brought was to use horror movie tropes as metaphors for everyday teen life. The idea that fantastic concepts can be used as metaphors for things is not, of course, remotely new. But Buffy innovated in two ways. First, it made the decision to link the fantastic tropes to the tropes of high school teen drama. This is a fantastically weird and wonderful genre collision, and one that dramatically expands the frame of what horror can do. The use of vampires here is, of course, particularly clever given the longstanding metaphoric links between vampires and sexuality, but nothing like Buffy’s broad-based equation of a mundane genre like high school drama with the tropes of horror had been done. Up to this point even Doctor Who had never managed anything quite this completely bonkers, although to be fair parts of Season Twenty-Four gave it a solid go.

This gets at the second big innovation in terms of Buffy’s use of horror, which is how total and systematic the metaphor was. Buffy wasn’t just a show that used horror movie tropes as a metaphor for high school - it was a show that systematically and from the top down maintained a clear vision of what it was doing. A lot of this comes down to Joss Whedon, who was one of the first of the modern breed of “showrunners,” the writing figures who are responsible for maintaining the consistent vision of a series. He’s not the first by any measure - Chris Carter was a celebrity showrunner as well. But he had the benefit of being both a great writer and a solid manager. He wasn’t just capable of writing great scripts, he was capable of giving other writers the guidance they needed to write great scripts. He’s a phenomenal editor, and while there are certainly cases in which he had to step in and rewrite stretches, there are also cases where he was able to give killer notes and suggestions. He was extremely good at getting writers to keep their eye on the ball. If a story was, to take a reasonably classic but by no means revelatory example, about the horror and revulsion teenagers feel when confronted with the remnants of their own parents’ adolescence then by God every single scene of that episode was going to actively support that theme. Add to this the fact that Whedon was a solidly competent director and you had a series that was remarkably coherent in its vision.

Whedon also appreciated the artistic value of melodrama. This works well for his teenage characters, since adolescence is by its nature melodramatic, but there’s a larger sense to it. The appeal of using the fantastic as a metaphor for everyday concerns is that it allows us to make everyday life mythic and oversized. We’ve been playing with the problem of scale between the mythic and the everyday for months now, and this is a phenomenally clever way of handling it. So we get, to use Buffy’s single best arc, a story in which “I slept with a guy and he turned mean” gets turned into a searing, epic love story with the fate of the world in the balance, full of betrayals and heartbreaks and tragedy. It’s absolutely mad. And it’s brilliant, because every part of the epic is, at the end of the day, just part of a story of a girl learning what it’s like to be betrayed by someone you wrongly loved. It’s the Robert Holmes approach reversed - instead of crashing the epic down to the human scale, making everyday life into something vast and mythic. It’s what Paul Cornell and Kate Orman have been chasing after, finally perfected as a repeatable formula.

Another way of putting this is that Buffy has a tremendous knack for having it both ways. On the one hand it’s a deeply funny show that unrepentantly sends up horror movie conventions and itself on a regular basis. On top of that, it’s adamant in its embrace of camp and melodrama. The Buffy/Angel romance that animates the second season and the show’s best story line is a hopelessly cheesy mess that feels like a pastiche of Twilight almost a decade too early. And yet it all works. Way back in The Ark in Space, admittedly the lead-in to the era of Doctor Who that Buffy is most similar to up to this point, I coined the phrase “believing your bubblewrap” to convey the way in which something ridiculous (such as an alien hand made of green bubblewrap) can be gotten away with if everyone around it plays it straight. This is true. Later in the Tom Baker era, of course, the show functioned not by believing its bubblewrap but by, as the modern parlance goes, lampshading it. And what Buffy realizes is that the two are not only compatible but approaches that are made for each other. The Buffy/Angel romance works because its big scenes are played straight and the rest of the time the show admits that it’s ridiculous. It’s not unique to Buffy at all, but the realization that you can mock something in one scene and then take it seriously five minutes later and have it work is not only important but something that it is almost impossible to imagine modern television functioning without. Buffy didn’t invent it, but it mastered it and started using it to more profound dramatic heights than anything else around.

I would also be remiss not to talk about the dialogue. Like anybody who writes absolutely brilliant dialogue, all of Whedon’s characters sound alike. (See also Douglas Adams, Steven Moffat, and Aaron Sorkin) And, of course, they’re all also totally distinct because Whedon is able to distinguish masterfully between what a character sounds like and what a character does. Yes, many of his characters have similar tones, but a line of Cordelia’s dialogue is almost always distinguishable from one of Giles’s because the sorts of things Cordelia does and wants are totally different from the things Giles does. This is partially down to solid characterization, but it also goes back to Whedon’s consistency of vision: if Whedon has a character, Whedon knows exactly what that character is for and why they’re useful to his storytelling. Nothing that doesn’t advance the use of the plot as a metaphor is tolerated. Not even characters.

All of this adds up to an approach that is not merely coherent but thoroughly worked out. This is comparable in some ways to Pixar’s legendarily thorough and detail-oriented take on storytelling, and it’s certainly something Doctor Who adopted in 2005 via Davies’ famed “tone meetings.” Indeed, Buffy is, on a basic level, the formula for the new series. Virtually every story uses its fantastic concept as a metaphor for something on the human level. Melodrama is allowed to flourish. The dialogue is ear-catching, the characterization is sharp and distinct, and every part of every episode seems intentional and oriented towards communicating its point. This is clearly difficult to do, given how much television fails at it, but it’s also, since Buffy, been the clearest approach to top-notch genre television.

That it would apply well to Doctor Who is, of course, obvious in hindsight, much the way that Neverwhere, in hindsight, makes Doctor Who’s eventual return seem obvious. Perhaps more important, though, is that Buffy’s implications for Doctor Who seemed obvious at the time. It was self-evidently how to do a show like this: funny, dramatic, and capable of making things new. At this point it’s just BBC internal politics that stands between us and Doctor Who coming back. After all, if a wretched Kristy Swanson movie can get a brilliant do-over, surely anything can.

Comments

Ununnilium 4 years, 11 months ago

"Obviously all of this is is descriptive only in terms of the marketing of shows - in practice scads of women watched The X-Files and loads of men watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but it still reflects a significant split in terms of how the shows try to position themselves. So for our purposes, “cult” television refers to efforts to target the 18-34 white male demographic with sci-fi/fantasy/horror shows, whereas “genre” television refers to sci-fi/fantasy/horror with broader audience ambitions."

Now this is a useful definition. Very good.

"Suddenly social justice perspectives, critical theory, and the willfully perverse were just how you did fandom, whereas obsessive continuity-mongering, lists, and merchandise collections weren’t. Fandom sacked the anoraks."

Oh, I wouldn't say that. They never went away (and thank goodness, because those things can be fun), they just weren't the only way to do it anymore.

"First, it made the decision to link the fantastic tropes to the tropes of high school teen drama. This is a fantastically weird and wonderful genre collision, and one that dramatically expands the frame of what horror can do."

Here I'm going to make the obvious link and point out the amount of (acknowledged) influence the X-Men had on Whedon.

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5tephe 4 years, 11 months ago

Glad you mentioned Pixar - ever noted who the lead story doctor is on Toy Story?

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Daibhid C 4 years, 11 months ago

"The entire country is served by regional channels, the bulk of which affiliate with national networks" I was going to point out that this is broadly similar to how ITV worked before dereguation meant the regional channels started buying each other, until we had ITV plc for the whole of England and Wales and Scottish Television for the whole of Scotland.

But, thinking about it, it's a different system. For one thing, it only applied to ITV; Channel 4 didn't need to buy up unaffiliated regional stations to exist; it just needed to start broadcasting nationally. Which is just as well, because there weren't any; the other difference is it was a "top down" system not a "bottom up" one: the regional channels only existed as part of the ITV Network.

Anyway ... we're getting pretty close to the year I discovered the internets, and Buffy certainly brings up memories of radw. My recollection is that it regularly got brought up as an example of what New Who *shouldn't* be like. To generalise horribly, it wasn't just that some radwers (tradwers?) didn't like Buffy, or even that they didn't get it. It was that Buffy's very existence seemed to be seen as an assault on what cult television was "supposed" to be.

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Steven Clubb 4 years, 11 months ago

It's real contribution is all the men complaining about Fake Fangirls dressed up in sexy outfits and Babylon 5 fans thinking they're in some way superior to Twilight fans :)

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Alan 4 years, 11 months ago

I remember the exact moment I fell in love with BtVS. It was during the 1st season episode "Nightmares," in which the monster of the week is causing the characters' deepest fears to manifest in the real world. Initially, it's the sort of cliched nightmares we've seen before in "confronting your fears" storylines: spiders, an unexpected exam, showing up in school in your underwear, etc.

Then, Buffy's dad shows up unexpectedly and rather cheerfully explains that her parents' divorce was entirely her fault and that they were much happier before she came along. Then, he chides her for crying before announcing that he won't be exercising custody rights anymore because he "doesn't get much out of it." It was at that point that I sat up and said "okay, smart people wrote this."

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Jesse 4 years, 11 months ago

Buffy was, in many ways, the advance guard for The Sopranos, which added the detail of being on cable, and started the boom in original drama produced by cable channels.

Note, though, that HBO started running Oz in 1997.

Like anybody who writes absolutely brilliant dialogue, all of Whedon’s characters sound alike. (See also Douglas Adams, Steven Moffat, and Aaron Sorkin)

Aaron Sorkin does not write brilliant dialogue.

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Alan 4 years, 11 months ago

I started to write that B5 fans ARE superior to Twilight fans but decided that was unkind. I think that B5 is a better thing to be a fan of than Twilight, but then I feel that way about nearly everything that Western Civilization has ever produced.

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Steven Clubb 4 years, 11 months ago

I just like messing with B5 fans. For me, it's one of those shows whose execution falls dramatically short of its lofty ambitions, so I engage in some good natured teasing of its fans.

As for Twilight, I have no problem accepting Twilight fans to the Geek Table. Yeah, it's twaddle designed for young girls, but we happily defend twaddle designed for young boys. It probably even aims higher than G.I. Joe or SuperFriends.

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Matter-Eater Lad 4 years, 11 months ago

Not just X-Men, but superhero comics in general. I had completely missed the existence of Buffy until my girlfriend and her friends invited me to watch it with them one night and realized, around the end of the first act, that this was a superhero comic -- it hit all the right beats and used the same sorts of structures, just adapted to TV, and did so better than most superhero comics were doing at the time. It was an unexpected, and delightful, surprise.

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Steven Clubb 4 years, 11 months ago

Yeah, he does. I find it horribly irritating, but the man knows his way around a sentence. Plenty of good stuff to steal in Sorkin's dialogue.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 11 months ago

M-E Lad: Indeed! But X-Men is the most direct influence on Whedon (as well as the series that most directly pushed soap opera into the superhero comics mainstream).

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Adam Riggio 4 years, 11 months ago

Fandom ? Anoraks. This is a distinction that it seems like you should have been using all year. And it precisely illustrates a lot of the reason I've felt uncomfortable being a nerd for so much of my life. When I was just shy of 20 in the early 2000s, I started regaining an interest in Doctor Who through wading through the attempts to make sense of the Eighth Doctor era. I found arguments about what was and wasn't canonical, or how the different lines all fit together. But I didn't want to contribute to these arguments because I was just discovering all these facts, and I felt very uncomfortable talking to people with such detailed levels of knowledge. It wasn't just that they knew more, but the tone of their demonstration that they knew more. This was the anorak type of fan, the obsessive catalogue of facts.

When I started getting into Buffy through the dvd sets of my female friends, I found this kind of culture must more welcoming. Knowledge didn't imply any kind of superiority of one fan over another, but the obligation of the more knowledgeable to guide new fans to their own knowledge. Not only does this kind of culture create a more welcoming, relaxed, socially adjusted form of cult culture, but it encourages the growth of a fan community much better than the anorak attitude exemplified by Ian Levine and the Doctor Who fans who railed against Buffy as what a new DW should be. The anorak type of fan is someone who thinks that you don't deserve to be a fan if you aren't already at their level of knowledge — you can't become a fan without already being a fan.

Today, I introduce people to Doctor Who as a teacher, which is pretty necessary. Today, most people get into a new cult show by marathoning the back catalogue. But with Doctor Who there's simply so much Doctor Who out there, produced in so many different styles, tones, and budgets (and that's even leaving aside the problems of the missing episodes from the 1960s, and sorting through the proliferation of Doctor Who media starting in the Eighth Doctor era), that the marathon is impossible. Potential new fans who are interested to explore the whole thing face a vast terrain.

So I guide them, judging which of the new series Doctors will best suit them, given their personalities. When they want to get into the classic series, I do similar things, with caveats of what the production values were in the following eras. And my classic series guides always start with either Hinchcliffe Baker or McCoy. I've kept count too: I've made 16 new fans this way since 2005.

Fandom fan culture, which Buffy helped mainstream, is what allows cults to grow. I'd say it's what made nerdly things cool at this point in our culture. And it's what allowed Doctor Who to become more popular now that it's ever been before.

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Matter-Eater Lad 4 years, 11 months ago

Oh, yes -- I should have noted that I never quite read X-Men, so that specific influence went unnoticed (by me) at the time. Buffy's early years reminded me of the 1980s Legion of Super-Heroes run, which did similar things in terms of subplots and their maintenance, slow builds to large threats, and the like.

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spoilersbelow 4 years, 11 months ago

As much as I can still appreciate what Buffy did for the medium (except for helping to codify the "This episode doesn't advance the season's meta-plot and therefore sucks" mindset, for which is deserves a big raspberry), it simply wasn't as good when I rewatched it in my mid-20s as it was when I was in my early teens. It was odd, because I can remember all the bits that I liked (Oz, Spike chewing scenery, Willow coming out both as a witch and a lesbian, Faith's entire character arc), but a great deal else came off as too broad and heavy-handed, rather like someone holding up a sign reading "THIS IS SYMBOLIC" during each supernatural scene. When it worked (Angel's evil turn, as mentioned above, for example) it was great, but when it didn't... ugh. It just didn't speak to me the way it did when I was younger.

Part of the problem for me was its approach to death: multiple people die per episode and no one seems to really care. At best, they are a plot point to advance the villain, at worst they're a punchline to a joke. When a close friend and classmate of mine died back in high school, it was a cause for widespread mourning. Everyone attended his funeral, there was a special mass held (Catholic school), and the recovery process took far longer than the resolution of the episode. The two exceptions I can think of off the top of my head, Buffy's mother and Jenny Calendar, were handled perfectly, but the cynicism with which everything else was is perhaps perfectly encapsulated in the "dusting" of a dead vampire, leaving behind no trace of blood nor messy corpse to have to think about the implications of, coupled with the complete reassurance that the person you just killed was really just a demon from hell who deserved it. Sure, it USED to be a classmate or teacher or friend, but not anymore. (I have the series that handles the implications of that, Marvel comic's "Rom: SpaceKnight")

Granted, this is a genre convention, doubly so for horror, so I'm probably being too hard; a show about characters angsting about how many people they need to kill regularly simply isn't what this is about, and enough angst is generated from everything else in their lives (which, coincidentally enough, are the anxieties and problems that the viewer ought to be able to empathize with). Perhaps this is also why I didn't enjoy it as much as I used to: those problems aren't as immediate or significant as the ones I deal with in my adult life. Which, again, it would be unfair of me to expect it to, as it's not really trying to address adult problems.

But it just doesn't work for me anymore, because I'm no longer the target audience. I can appreciate the craft and the importance, but it didn't grow up with me. I can't hold that against it.

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jane 4 years, 11 months ago

The other thing Whedon does is to show a way forward with The Heroic Journey, which had become a standard "treatment" in modern storytelling. As Phil says, this is closely related to Whedon's ability to employ metaphor -- everything in the Buffy myth is systematically in service to the metaphors in play, an approach Campbell didn't invent in terms of reading myths (to treat the fantastic as metaphor rather than literal is basically Jungian) but he certainly popularized it.

The other thing Whedon does with Campbell is use the structure of the Heroic Journey as an organizing principle, but without being slavish to it, modifying what works and what doesn't work for the series at hand. It's a start, not an end. It doesn't take a genius to see that the Journey is nothing more than a Three Act Play, the bog standard of modern storytelling.

But the kinds of relationships a "hero" faces are all here. Buffy hears a Call to Adventure, is assisted by the Mentor despite her reluctance, and approaches the threshold of death and rebirth to prove she's fit for the journey -- this is Season 1. Season 2 is dealing with Temptation, in the form of Angel. We have Buffy dealing with father figures (the Mayor) and a Goddess and authority figures, culminating in her saving the Boon (symbolized in part by Dawn) in an act of self-sacrifice; this confers an apotheosis, her being dead and in a heavenly state.

Seasons 6 and 7 deal with the Return of the hero back to civilization, integrating with the existing structures of society so that the lesson learned may be conferred to humanity, giving the hero the freedom to live. The hero resists Return and must be rescued from without; Buffy is rescued from without by her friends. She has to step into the role of "mother" and take authority of the family (subverting the "father" story of Campbell)and finally returns to the school where it all began, now as an authority figure herself; she becomes a Mentor of potential Slayers. Her freedom is earned when she the lesson is conferred -- everyone has a bit of Slayer in them, everyone is a Hero.



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Tommy 4 years, 11 months ago

"Suddenly social justice perspectives, critical theory, and the willfully perverse were just how you did fandom, whereas obsessive continuity-mongering, lists, and merchandise collections weren’t. Fandom sacked the anoraks."

Okay, so Genesis of the Daleks' popularity, redemptive readings on Terminus, and the way of Vengeance on Varos (a sharp evisceration of the brutalizing nature of our 'rehabilitation' system) getting generally voted the best Season 22 story by fans had nothing to do with an interest in social justice at all?

And is there no slavish adherence to continuity at all in the alternate timeline of The Wish or its sequel Doppelgangland, or the arsenal of old props used in The Gift?

As for merchandise, did I just imagine the Adipose and Dalek redesigns for the sake of selling toys?

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Tommy 4 years, 11 months ago

I feel that Buffy really peaked in its second season, with the Angelus arc, and then began to decline from there as it struggled to replicate that peak and even kind of sank into complacency and fan service, to the point where some of the Season 5/6 stories were just impenetrably angsty and shrill. I feel half like it actually did pander too much to its fanbase toward the end and just served up the same cyclical histrionics and merry go rounds again and again. And there was a point where I felt like the Scooby gang were actually becoming the kind of selfish, cliquey mean girls they'd once rallied against.

Around that time, the comical bits felt almost like forced chirpiness amidst the self-absorbed gloom, and the business of Buffy's superpowers no longer seemed in conflict with her human frailties, they literally parted ways into separate entities to the point where her infallibility was boring and yet her moroseness and 'damage' became almost defeatist and made you wonder how she got anything achieved.

In regards to the emotional impact, I think they initially covered it well by pointing out how things beyond human experience and concerned with the demonic and fantastical are something people can't comprehend and so dismiss from thought entirely, and that maybe it was even a reason why the pupils of Sunnydale had unconsciously developed a more sociopathic disposition to death. There was even that moment in Prophecy Girl where Willow stumbles upon several dead students in school, and she tells Buffy it unnerved her deeply because even though it wasn't the first time she's known of Vampires or deaths, it was done in a mundane place she didn't expect and hit close to home "It's like it wasn't our world anymore, they made it theirs".

Also, in Ted, and Bad Girls/Consequences, it was addressed that Buffy has never thought herself as a killer, and how Vampires and demons have no souls as such, and actually looks at what would happen if Buffy honestly did think she'd killed a real person by mistake (even if it were someone utterly loathsome), and suffice it to say, it messes her up big time.

I can still remember the business of Angel turning evil and the death of Mrs Calendar occupying that space where it transcends the TV show and feels like it's all too real, transcending acting to become 'being'. That's the kind of impact it had, as it all caught me so off guard, as if the events are as embedded in my memory of being 18 as anything real that was happening to me in my life at that time.

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Arkadin 4 years, 11 months ago

Indeed, "social justice perspectives, critical theory, and the willfully perverse" aren't mutually exclusive from "obsessive continuity-mongering." Lawrence Miles had plenty of that, and he could fanwank with the best of them, though of course he's operating from a radically different paradigm of continuity.

Also, the X-Files fandom was where the term "shipping" came from, was it not?

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spoilersbelow 4 years, 11 months ago

"Also, in Ted, and Bad Girls/Consequences, it was addressed that Buffy has never thought herself as a killer, and how Vampires and demons have no souls as such..."

Absolutely. I realize its full canon and it'd be a blatant contradiction of the text to assume otherwise, but I keep getting shades of "The Two Doctors" and Dexter's "good serial killer" whenever I try to think about it on more than a surface level.

It's just too convenient an excuse: "Well, these sentient beings (one of whom is on our side and has clearly demonstrated the possibility of not being a complete monster, even if it requires magic (which the protagonists themselves can do)) are evil, so it's okay to hunt them down and kill them..."

Not that a show about a magical monster social worker who makes demons feel guilty and helps them on the way to recovery would be nearly as action packed or exciting.

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Doctor Memory 4 years, 11 months ago

Buffy is, on a basic level, the formula for the new series.

Thank you. I've been, I suspect, boring the hell out of my friends for years by hammering on this point whenever it seems logical to bring it up and sometimes when not. Frankly, I think there's probably at least another essay's worth of material on how Buffy informed nu-Who, sometimes quite explicitly. The basic story/season structure of the modern series was lifted more or less wholesale from Buffy by RTD, and at least half the time it worked brilliantly.

There's also the interesting story of the rumored/aborted attempt by (British) Buffy producer David Fury to revive Doctor Who, several years before the RTD/BBC-Wales project finally came together...

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Steven Clubb 4 years, 11 months ago

I once stumbled across someone massively criticizing the Fifth Season because Buffy didn't kill Dawn the moment she found out she was The Key. His reasoning was she wasn't a real person, therefore on the same level as all the demons and vamps she regularly killed.

Which is kind of like throwing a wild bowl and getting a strike in the neighboring lane. An impressive feat of logic that rather misses the point as hard as humanly possible.

But, yeah, Buffy is and forever shall be a serial killer, but one with a license to kill demons.

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Steven Clubb 4 years, 11 months ago

I'm pretty sure RTD has acknowledged the importance of Buffy many times. At least he managed to avoid a couple of the worst pitfalls of Buffy, namely the ever-growing soap opera where simply everyone must be given a love interest with corresponding Whedon trauma and the completely impenetrable Continuity of the later seasons.

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Tommy 4 years, 11 months ago

"There's also the interesting story of the rumored/aborted attempt by (British) Buffy producer David Fury to revive Doctor Who, several years before the RTD/BBC-Wales project finally came together..."

Sigh... :(

The road not taken.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 11 months ago

"Fandom ? Anoraks. This is a distinction that it seems like you should have been using all year."

Yeah, that's been something that's been bothering me for a while, as mentioned before.

"Fandom fan culture, which Buffy helped mainstream, is what allows cults to grow. I'd say it's what made nerdly things cool at this point in our culture. And it's what allowed Doctor Who to become more popular now that it's ever been before."

Indeed. And note that all fandoms have had to have this to some degree simply to exist as a "fandom" at all.

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Tommy 4 years, 11 months ago

"Absolutely. I realize its full canon and it'd be a blatant contradiction of the text to assume otherwise, but I keep getting shades of "The Two Doctors" and Dexter's "good serial killer" whenever I try to think about it on more than a surface level.

It's just too convenient an excuse: "Well, these sentient beings (one of whom is on our side and has clearly demonstrated the possibility of not being a complete monster, even if it requires magic (which the protagonists themselves can do)) are evil, so it's okay to hunt them down and kill them...""

Well, horror is usually about the idea of a Van Hellsing-esque dark shaman with knowledge to impart, or learn about the darkness and evil present in the world or the 'moral universe', and how essentially in order to face and fight that evil, it's necessary to embrace a little bit of it into yourself.

I think it's there in Doctor Who as well and that there is a bit of Van Hellsing to the Dcotor, and particularly in The Two Doctors, even though I'd say it was a mythology to the Doctor's character that was largely jettisoned in the Davison era, and so when it returned in Attack of the Cybermen and The Two Doctors it was perhaps seen as more of a betrayal than it actually was.

I think what Buffy did was blur the lines between fantasy evil and real evils of the teenage experience, such as gangs and crazy ex-boyfriends turned stalker and tormentor. The rule of thumb about morality is that Angel is redeemed because he was given a soul, given a conscience, as a punishment. The vampires don't and they hold no regard for the value of human life, or human compassions, and as such the only way to fight and think of them is on their own devaluing, dehumanizing terms. But also to occasionally reaffirm why there's a certain line to be drawn (often neglected or misunderstood by Saward) in embracing the evil, and how the consequences of guilt can be the punishment, for Buffy and for Angel (although oddly Giles seems to be immune, regarding his cold murdering of Glory's mortal alter ego).

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Ununnilium 4 years, 11 months ago

"perfectly encapsulated in the "dusting" of a dead vampire, leaving behind no trace of blood nor messy corpse to have to think about the implications of, coupled with the complete reassurance that the person you just killed was really just a demon from hell who deserved it"

You know, skipping ahead in Whedon's career the one thing that really bothered me about The Avengers - and here I'll leave some spoilers space -






- is the way the deaths of the aliens in the final battle were just kinda "shoot the goons" meaningless. I mean, I understand that it's a war and all, but a line or two about the fact that, for all the heroes know, these are drafted soldiers with real lives out in wherever the Tesseract connects to... it would've helped.

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inkdestroyedmybrush 4 years, 11 months ago

star trek kirk/spock shipping had been going on in fandom since the late 60's and 70's, so no, I believe shipping as a term and a genre was quite before X-files.

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spoilersbelow 4 years, 11 months ago

"Well, horror is usually about the idea of a Van Hellsing-esque dark shaman with knowledge to impart, or learn about the darkness and evil present in the world or the 'moral universe', and how essentially in order to face and fight that evil, it's necessary to embrace a little bit of it into yourself."

I complete agree here as well. The void stares back, etc.

This sort of thing was done rather well with the 9th Doctor, easily one of the most dark of all the regenerations. In "The Unquiet Dead," for example, everyone is on about trying to destroy the Gelth because they're evil. The Doctor had no reason to believe this is so, and tries to brook a good agreement wherein they can inhabit the corpses of dead humans and continue on as a species and he can help them get back to their homeworld. Now, certainly, it turns out that they ARE evil, and are going to possess living people and replace the humans and will need to be defeated to save the human race, but the point is the Doctor tried for a peaceable solution first, rather than the knee jerk "Kill them because they are..." form everyone else immediately fell into.

If a gypsy curse could turn Angelus into Angel, and a microchip can help Spike want to be a good person, fall in love, and work to regain his soul through the Demon Trials, why isn't this choice presented to all the other vampires? Granted, Spike eventually wanted to change, and was still a horrible person, but Angelus had no such compunction before the curse.

I suppose I just have a problem with something or someone being absolutely evil. Philosophically, it seems wrong. For a tangentially nerdy example, a friend of mine once played a paladin in a AD&D game who's modus operandi was to use the character's at-will "Detect Evil" ability on everyone he met, and if they rang up evil, kill them on the spot. He maintained that as a Lawful Good paladin, it was his responsibility to wipe out evil in all forms. It was uncomfortable enough in a fantasy game to have him butchering dishonest shopkeepers and Jean Valjean style pickpockets alongside marauding orcs (and even they probably have families back in their village) and clerics devoted to the gods of slaughter, and I'm glad that this kind of black and white thinking has mostly exited the later D&D editions.

Absolute evil is simply too easy and one-dimensional an explanation for me.

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Josh Marsfelder 4 years, 11 months ago

Funny you mention lampshading as TVTropes of course got its start as a Buffy forum comprised of exactly the sorts of people you describe here.

Re Buffy itself I'm not convinced it ushered in a glorious new era where critical theory and lateral thinking became the norm for fandom (if it did, blogs like yours and mine wouldn't have a reason to exist). Rather, I see it more as the point where what I call "Watercooler television" became mainstream: The point of genre TV now was to eagerly follow and get deeply invested in season long story arcs and the proper way to watch it was to rabidly follow each new episode and feverishly speculate on which direction the arc will go (and, as spoilersbelow mentions, to completely ignore and disregard any standalone episodes that don't further it). Genre TV was no longer valuable for the ideas it dealt with, but how intricate and clever a series of plot twists it could manufacture. We can further see this in the attitude fans had towards subsequent shows like LOST, Battlestar Galactica and the new Doctor Who.

Going along with this is an elevation of creators and showrunners to a position of Godhood where they are forever beyond any reproach or criticism. I don't think anyone can argue Joss Whedon isn't the archetype for this trend, even if this happened to Gene Roddenberry posthumously and J. Michael Straczynski and John Nathan-Turner may have tried to position themselves as such at certain points.

I don't know. Maybe I'm just bitter over Firefly and Steven Moffat. I certainly grant Buffy did a lot of good things for genre TV and was a landmark show: The mythic/mundane balance is an important innovation, even if I still argue Wishbone did it first and better over a year prior (especially as I am increasingly convinced I am the only person who ever actually watched Wishbone. Happens to me a lot). I'll forever be a bit ambivalent to Joss Whedon's work myself, but Buffy was certainly a very important cultural phenomenon whose influence on subsequent genre work is easy to spot.

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David Anderson 4 years, 11 months ago

You say the Buffy/Angel romance is like a Twilight pastiche ten years before the fact. Has Meyer ever denied watching Buffy Seasons 1-3? And if she has denied it, does anyone believe her?

A lot of Buffy imitators miss the dual focus of melodrama and parody and try to just do the melodrama seriously. (Charmed was probably the first such imitator.) What Buffy manages is that the parody allows it to be a lot more serious about the melodrama than if it was doing it straight.

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David Anderson 4 years, 11 months ago

Season Two episodes without Spike and Drusilla range from the forgettable to the terrible. Season Three was a lot more consistent.
That said, although it's probably true that Season Three was the peak, below-peak Buffy is much better than almost anything else. The only part of Buffy I think is not worth watching is the middle of Season Six where it's taken over by a tedious and heavy-handed anti-drug allegory.

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matt 4 years, 11 months ago

The first "Pop Between Realities" that I can truly take personally!

The thing that amazed me about "Buffy" is that, as the viewer, I felt treated respectfully. I was used to something like ST:TNG, where it had its season cliffhanger with the Borg, and I had to tune back in months later to see the resolution (which did NOT live up to expectations).

In contrast, the story arc for each season of "Buffy" concluded at the season's end. The show trusted me to come back because I loved it, not because I was irritated about wanting to know what happened next.

In fact, for the episode cliffhangers within the season, one writer (don't recall who) said that they weren't so much cliffhangers as they were *punctuation*.

Wonderful show. Many happy memories.

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David Anderson 4 years, 11 months ago

Is the UK reception of Buffy significantly different from the US?

If I remember correctly, Buffy was first shown on Sky, discontinued based on poor viewing figures and was then taken up by BBC2 in the 6.45 weekday slot that it used for cult series. Farscape was in the same slot. (Farscape should really get a mention - it's basically the Blake's 7 format used to do Doctor Who stories with story arcs.) In that slot, it was popular with a teenage and student audience. In fact, it attracted sufficient audience that Sky began running it again, meaning that the BBC had to delay each series until Sky had shown it. So one of Buffy's more malign effects is that it arguably showed Sky that it could let terrestrial television work up an audience for the first couple of series of a show and then steal the subsequent series. Which is what it's been doing ever since.

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Doctor Memory 4 years, 11 months ago

Tommy: I know, eh? I'm mostly pretty happy with the fact that the RTD/Moffat series exists at all, but it's still tantalizing to think about what a Fury/ME series might have looked like, not least since casting Anthony Head as the Doctor would presumably have been step one...

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Ununnilium 4 years, 11 months ago

As a genre, yes. As a term? I don't know; was it used then?

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Ununnilium 4 years, 11 months ago

"For a tangentially nerdy example, a friend of mine once played a paladin in a AD&D game who's modus operandi was to use the character's at-will "Detect Evil" ability on everyone he met, and if they rang up evil, kill them on the spot. He maintained that as a Lawful Good paladin, it was his responsibility to wipe out evil in all forms."

See, if I was DM, I would just have them lose their paladin powers after the first time they tried that.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 11 months ago

"Genre TV was no longer valuable for the ideas it dealt with, but how intricate and clever a series of plot twists it could manufacture."

That's kind of a false binary, isn't it? Certainly, good genre TV does both.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 11 months ago

The line of influence is probably Buffy -> paranormal teenage romance genre becoming a Thing -> Twilight.

(Actually, the line starts Anne Rice -> World of Darkness RPG -> Buffy, but.)

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Josh Marsfelder 4 years, 11 months ago

I'm being sarcastic. Of course it can, but I think the perception nowadays is that it can *only* do intricate puzzle-box plots and that's the only reason to watch it.

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inkdestroyedmybrush 4 years, 11 months ago

I kept waiting for the Buffy post to see the take on it. For some of us, we either look at genre fiction or cult fiction in either a post Buffy universe or a pre buffy universe. Just like SciFi in a pre- or post- Star Wars universe, it depends what we're talking about and where we stand.

Looking at Buffy as genre fiction we see Whedon as someone who wants to both dabble in the genre and reinvent it cliche by cliche, not to bury it, but to make it fun and interesting again. Certainly with reference to Doctor Who, many of us have enjoyed watching the showrunners and writers subvert things like Daleks not being able to climb stairs in delightful ways. Or having the bad looking aliens not turn out to be the bad guys.

but I take away from the series the smartness of the characters and the arcs, storytelling done cleverly enough that no one else was doing it quite that way before then. Its not perfect, but then few things are. The first three seasons are essential viewing, watching the writers find their footing and pacing, and watching really start to develop Willow, Xander and Oz into more interesting characters. I still mourn the death of Jenny Calendar. Loved her. That certainly affected me more that the death of Tasha Yar.

But it was smart in a way the Babylon 5 was convoluted. Its was Whedon and JMS do well. They have their strengths. And when i say smart, it was clever on a number of different levels and very little of the fiction that we've looked at before this was quite as smart in so many ways.

Personally, I love the retcon in fandom where fans look back and say, "Well, Buffy wasn't all that good." and my favorite: "Moore's Swamp Thing was pretty crappy writing actually." There seems to be this backlash against anything that actually changed the game back in the day, whatever that "day" was. We may not be big fans of Verne's 20,000 Leagues or Well's Time Machine, but there is no way to know just how much of a game changer it was back in the day since not one of us were there.
We're always looking back at it jaded by all the fiction that came after it. but some of us can say we were there when Buffy premiered, or Moore's Swamp thing came out, or when Davison first sat up in Castrovalva, and we can certainly tell you what it was like then. At that moment. There is an inherent need for fans to go back and either venerate that past or throw it down the stairwell.

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Tommy 4 years, 11 months ago

"I complete agree here as well. The void stares back, etc.

This sort of thing was done rather well with the 9th Doctor, easily one of the most dark of all the regenerations. In "The Unquiet Dead," for example, everyone is on about trying to destroy the Gelth because they're evil. The Doctor had no reason to believe this is so, and tries to brook a good agreement wherein they can inhabit the corpses of dead humans and continue on as a species and he can help them get back to their homeworld. Now, certainly, it turns out that they ARE evil, and are going to possess living people and replace the humans and will need to be defeated to save the human race, but the point is the Doctor tried for a peaceable solution first, rather than the knee jerk "Kill them because they are..." form everyone else immediately fell into."

I kind of feel something was slightly missing from the story. And reading up on the Shannon Sullivan site reveals there was intended to be a Pyramids of Mars-esque scene where the Doctor actually takes Rose back to her own time and shows her a zombie infested future where the Gelth won. And i think it should have been left in as a kind of shaman's vision of hell and the turning point for the Doctor's decision of what has to be done to destroy the Gelth.

"If a gypsy curse could turn Angelus into Angel, and a microchip can help Spike want to be a good person, fall in love, and work to regain his soul through the Demon Trials, why isn't this choice presented to all the other vampires? Granted, Spike eventually wanted to change, and was still a horrible person, but Angelus had no such compunction before the curse."

To be fair those were isolated incidents, and it's not like you could get Vampires in a rally round queue for voluntary rehabilitation. At the end of the day the Vampires are volatile, possess superstrength, and are dangerous to approach, and there isn't really a way to flip the food chain, they will always be the predators and we the prey, so whilst it'd be possible to net a few they'll always have the advantage. So pragmatically, in the main the only defense against them is swift and ruthless action.

"I suppose I just have a problem with something or someone being absolutely evil. Philosophically, it seems wrong. For a tangentially nerdy example, a friend of mine once played a paladin in a AD&D game who's modus operandi was to use the character's at-will "Detect Evil" ability on everyone he met, and if they rang up evil, kill them on the spot. He maintained that as a Lawful Good paladin, it was his responsibility to wipe out evil in all forms. It was uncomfortable enough in a fantasy game to have him butchering dishonest shopkeepers and Jean Valjean style pickpockets alongside marauding orcs (and even they probably have families back in their village) and clerics devoted to the gods of slaughter, and I'm glad that this kind of black and white thinking has mostly exited the later D&D editions.

Absolute evil is simply too easy and one-dimensional an explanation for me."

That game sounds very reactionary indeed. The idea of pure evil can, when done right work based on its simplicity, and tap into something primal, with a kernel of truth of how some people can become warped, and dominated by the more perverse and malicious side of human nature. But all too often it can come off as hollow and sloppy when written badly.

I think someone summed up the beauty of Doctor Who, particularly in Genesis of the Daleks in that it's one of the few shows to suggest that 'even evil has its place.'

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sleepyscholar 4 years, 11 months ago

Slash goes back to the 60s/70s, but I'm fairly sure that Ununnilium is right and that the term "shipping" came in with the X-Files.

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Arkadin 4 years, 11 months ago

And Doctor Who picked up on it with Vampire Science, a couple entries back. (I was concvinced Dr. Sandifer was going to do Buffy then.) The self-aware, humorous yet serious approach to vampires and the critique/parody of vampire genre tropes were broadly similar and I was convinced it was a deliberate influence, given Orman and Blum's fandom background, but they wrote most of the novel before seeing it, so there was no influence apart from a perfunctory reference near the end. Amusingly, there's a bit-part vampire called Spike.

VS wasn't the only work from around that time that had convergent evolution with Buffy. There was also Peter David's contemporaneous Supergirl series, which featured a likeable but deeply flawed heroine dealing with a long-term arc involving supernatural menace in a small town, which mixed humor and drama with remarkable deftness. I was convinced it was borrowing liberally from Buffy before I read it, but it turned out it started several months before Buffy went on air. It did borrow some things from that show as it went on--the Hellmouth became the "chaos stream" shortly after it went on air--but also anticipated it in a bunch of places. Not only was the cynical British demon Buzz introduced before Spike, he recieved his tragic origin and his thorny and complicated redemption arc first.

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Arkadin 4 years, 11 months ago

Really, the problem with the "Hero's Journey" is the idea of The Hero, singular. There are a lot of interesting typological resonances between heroes across different stories and cultures--but that's different from a pre-made, one-size-fits-all pattern. Having a soap-operatic ensemble show with a wide variety of different characters--or a show about a hero who is constantly changing--inevitably undercuts that pattern. There are many heroes and many journies.

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Arkadin 4 years, 11 months ago

"Not that a show about a magical monster social worker who makes demons feel guilty and helps them on the way to recovery would be nearly as action packed or exciting."

Well, in Vampire Science, the Doctor did try to help the vampires be better and find a place for them. Of course he was going to fail, but reading about the Doctor's efforts to work with the vampires made for a genuinely compelling story. It's good when genre fiction writers remember that violence isn't the only interesting kind of conflict.

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Arkadin 4 years, 11 months ago

Well, I enjoyed that movie. It was a bit surreal watching it shortly after Buffy season 2, though. But Pee-Wee Herman as a vampire definitely made it worth seeing.

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Scott 4 years, 11 months ago

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Scott 4 years, 11 months ago

I have to freely admit here that, like Alan Moore, Whedon has always been one of those creators who's works I admire more for their cultural significance than I actually enjoy as works in their own right. But the thing is, while I freely admit that a lot of his works aren't necessarily to my taste (although I did love Buffy up until about Season 3), it's not necessarily his fault; yes, his works are not necessarily my thing, but at the same time he's clearly a talented man and I can't really argue the common points of praise he tends to receive. In several ways, I think my antipathy actually boils down to what Phil partly discusses in the essay -- the fans.

Because a lot of Joss Whedon 'new-wave' fans, frankly, are just as utterly insufferable as the Anoraks they supposedly replaced, just for (slightly) different reasons. And while they might be examples of the shining light of new fandom that Phil identifies with increased emphasis on social justice, critical theory and the wilful perverse, and the anoraks have been torn down around here quite rightly, I think it's also worth noting that this new fandom is not without it's dark side either -- and when combined with the increased emphasis on the modern show-runner this dark side tends in my experience to express itself in an obsessive cult of personality around the showrunner that at times can border on the Stalinist.

The show-runner essentially becomes a Godlike figure who can do no wrong, who's every word is a flawless jewel and who's every idea is perfection itself -- no matter how half-baked, desperate or rushed they actually are. Which means that, far from critical theory and social justice being used as a tool of analysis, it actually becomes a method of shouting down dissenting viewpoints as loudly as possible by throwing half-baked academia and ad hominem accusations of being hateful people because they don't like a TV show at them (rough example I've seen thrown around a few times; "Buffy" is Feminist -- You Hate "Buffy" -- You Hate Feminism And Women, You Monster!). And the discourse around the show becomes framed in utterly hyperbolic and black-and-white terms -- if you even have a mild criticism, you're a Hater.

And all of this can be quite harmful, both to the fandom and to the show itself. For one, there's the sheer level of hype that this fandom produces that over-inflates TV shows to such a degree that the viewer is actually discouraged from watching or is primed to be disappointed when they do -- to offer a personal example for a moment, to this day, I still haven't watched been able to bring myself to watch more than the first episode of "Firefly" because the sheer volume of hyperbolic fawning adulation that surrounds that show has inflated that show to such a degree that it's convinced me that there's no way it can live up to the promise that I've been made. Now, I'm sure it's a good TV show, but for this type of fandom 'good' isn't enough; it has to be the Best Thing Ever, and if it's not, it's the Worst Thing Ever.

With this new fandom, there doesn't seem to be a middle ground anymore; I've been on discussion forums where I've seen people go from being passionate fans of a TV show to detesting it literally overnight because of a single episode they didn't like. The character does one thing you don't like, they're suddenly hateful monsters no matter how innocuous the action in question. We see this in "Doctor Who" fandom discourse all the time -- you can't simply think that Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat are talented writers with some weak spots (like Joss Whedon for that matter), they're either so good that it's as if God Himself is speaking through them, or they're so bad they're literally trying to give people cancer through their writing out of spite.

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Arkadin 4 years, 11 months ago

The Fanlore wiki informs us that "The term originated in the X-Files fandom, where viewers who wanted to see a romantic relationship between Fox Mulder and Dana Scully were dubbed "relationshippers," or "shippers."" The opposing faction in the X-Files fandom wars (which, in the manner of all fandom wars, were somewhat tongue in cheek but also deadly serious), who read their relationship as platonic and/or preferred to focus on the show's plot, were called "noromos." (I was a noromo when it came to RTD!Who, but that's a whole other rant.)

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Scott 4 years, 11 months ago

"Personally, I love the retcon in fandom where fans look back and say, "Well, Buffy wasn't all that good." and my favorite: "Moore's Swamp Thing was pretty crappy writing actually." There seems to be this backlash against anything that actually changed the game back in the day, whatever that "day" was."

To be honest, I'm not sure how much of this is 'backlash' (which implies a conscious effort to tear them down) and how much of this is simply a natural process/result of works dating and their creators developing their skills further the more work they do. I mean, I haven't actually read "Swamp Thing" so I can't comment on how true these criticism are there, but I gather it was one of Moore's earlier professional works, so it's hard not to see the logic in the view that he's developed as a writer over time, and the same with Whedon. Not to mention that a teen horror series from the 1990s and a comic book from the 1980s are always going to struggle with modern audiences.

And of course, just because a work does something first doesn't mean it ultimately does it best; later works build on the foundations laid by the earlier works, but this can mean that the foundations get covered up.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 11 months ago

Hey supporting character, I love ya. No romo.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 11 months ago

I'm not sure whose perception that is - certainly, all of the genre fans I know like big, bold ideas.

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Arkadin 4 years, 11 months ago

I think you're right about the polarization of fandom, but I don't think that's anything new, or that Whedon is to blame. Fandom has always been like that, because it's built around strong, intense emotional engagement. Fandom, like romantic love, is a form of madness, which "sees not with the eyes but with the mind/and therefore is winged Cupid painted blind." But I'd be a bit suspicious of someone who never felt that kind of burning, intense, starry-eyed passion in some form or another, whether for a person, a cause, or a TV show. It can be dangerous, but it isn't necessarily negative. It's something we should learn to join with with more mature ways of seeing, rather than banishing of entirely, lest we become entombed in the practical drudgery of quotidian life and the smug cynicism of false maturity.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 11 months ago

"The show-runner essentially becomes a Godlike figure who can do no wrong, who's every word is a flawless jewel and who's every idea is perfection itself -- no matter how half-baked, desperate or rushed they actually are."

See, my experience in such fandoms is a tendency towards constant complaining about what the showrunner and the way he's ruining the show, until their tenure is over, at which point they become the golden standard against which all future showrunners are compared.

Honestly, I think you're really exaggerating the "no middle ground" - in exactly the same way that the people who actually do engage in such exaggerate the flaws and foibles.

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Tommy 4 years, 11 months ago

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Tommy 4 years, 11 months ago

Don't mean to make you worry or anything, but I am a big fan of this post.

I think there's always been an element of extreme polarization to Doctor Who fandom, or at least since the late 70's when the Williams era was being written off as unforgivable by the likes of Ian Levine (and his wasn't a minority view), and then the early JNT era was being exalted for getting rid of the Williams era comedy and returning to seriousness and slavish continuity, and I think there very quickly developed a cultishness to fandom as a result of JNT's rather unprecedented cult of personality. Which itself had a detrimental influence on the show.

I think Gareth Roberts said it best (I'm paraphrasing somewhat) that being a fan usually means that you develop a tendency for responding with unusual excess to your text of choice, the more immersed you become in it, and the more you crave certain 'highs' equal to your first joyous experience from the show.

I've met very few Buffy fangirls, but I have to say when I do I've often found them to be very shy and withdrawn.

One thing I don't like about RTD himself is that he seems to find it to be a hoot to stoke the flames and bait fan hyperbole and nerd rage by spitting on sacred cows, and to encourage the denigration of his critics with pretty objectionable terms like 'ming mongs', and he did this right to the end with the '507' line in 'Death of the Doctor'.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 11 months ago

"But I'd be a bit suspicious of someone who never felt that kind of burning, intense, starry-eyed passion in some form or another, whether for a person, a cause, or a TV show. It can be dangerous, but it isn't necessarily negative. It's something we should learn to join with with more mature ways of seeing, rather than banishing of entirely, lest we become entombed in the practical drudgery of quotidian life and the smug cynicism of false maturity."

This. All of this, forever.

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Arkadin 4 years, 11 months ago

"I think Gareth Roberts said it best (I'm paraphrasing somewhat) that being a fan usually means that you develop a tendency for responding with unusual excess to your text of choice, the more immersed you become in it, and the more you crave certain 'highs' equal to your first joyous experience from the show."

There's a lot of truth to this. The interesting thing is that the period we're discussing right now was when I discovered Doctor Who. The Scarlet Empress was the first Doctor Who story I read when it came out; Paul Magrs and Lawrence Miles expanded my horizons in the same way that Moffat did for people who started watching the show with Eccleston. The same period that was the dark age of fandom for Dr. Sandifer was the golden age for me. Whereas I didn't feel engaged with Seasons 1 and 2 of the new series, which were the golden age for lots of people, much as people who started with the Rose seasons often feel an antipathy toward the later RTD seasons and/or the Moffat era. It always takes some adjustment to see Doctor Who transform before your eyes into something completely different. It's amazing how much the framing of your fannish experiences can change your perception of things.

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Adam Riggio 4 years, 11 months ago

I'm going to be That Guy this morning. The aliens who look bad actually turning out to be alright: Galaxy Four. Daleks climbing stairs: while first done in Revelation of the Daleks, it was only given the proper lampshading it deserved at the cliffhanger to episode one of Remembrance.

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Abigail Brady 4 years, 11 months ago

Hey, they already had form for doing that. There was an 18-month gap between seasons 3 and 4 of TNG on the BBC, during which Sky showed it, and the BBC repeated the entirety of TOS in the Wednesday 6pm slot.

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Christopher Haynes 4 years, 11 months ago

"Not that a show about a magical monster social worker who makes demons feel guilty and helps them on the way to recovery would be nearly as action packed or exciting."

Oh, I don't know... I loved Ugly Americans. :-)

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jane 4 years, 11 months ago

No Romo? This isn't a blog for football, let alone American football.

Hmph.

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jane 4 years, 11 months ago

And the Heroic Journey can shine a light on all of them. In Willow's story, she's the Hero, Buffy's the Mentor, Giles is the Father, and so on. In Xander's story, he's the hero... the Heroic Journey is a metaphor. It's not singular, and not every hero succeeds. But when taken as singular, it becomes problematic.

Whedon was so good about making sure all his regulars had their own journeys, and how that development shifted the relationships they had with the other characters.

The other thing I liked about Whedon's handling of Heroic Journeys -- in the Campbellian sense -- was staying true to the notion that being a hero sucks. Campbell's quite clear on that, it's an awful road to take, but Whedon shows how, and why, and what that actually feels like. Whedon's telling a story where metaphors are deployed for describing psychological growth, which is pretty much how Campbell describes myth.

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jane 4 years, 11 months ago

Fandom only sacked the anoraks -- they weren't wiped out. More to the point, the *meaning* of fandom shifted. Sure, there's still the list-making toy-collecting continuity fetishism of old, but this no longer defines fandom, it's merely a vector; arguably, the shippers and fic writers and theorists are either larger in number or have more sway in fandom today. And for good reason -- the impact of the latter leads to better stories.

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jane 4 years, 11 months ago

Wishbone! I loved Wishbone. Now I have a Jack Russell, and have mixed feelings about it. (Not really.) ;)

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Ununnilium 4 years, 11 months ago

And Galaxy Four was just a rehash of The Sensorites.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 11 months ago

I wouldn't say all - or necessarily any - of the characters in Buffy have Campbellian Hero's Journeys, but they definitely all have heroic journeys, small-case.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 11 months ago

I'm not sure that "sacked" is the right word. More a management restructuring, really.

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Josh Marsfelder 4 years, 11 months ago

Yay! Somebody else remembers! It's a wonderful show, and one that holds up astonishingly well. I like it more now than I did back then.

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spoilersbelow 4 years, 11 months ago

"It's good when genre fiction writers remember that violence isn't the only interesting kind of conflict."

This, times a million.

"I loved Ugly Americans."

I didn't know this existed. Well, there goes my weekend... :)

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Flynn 4 years, 11 months ago

I watched it a ton as a kid but haven't rewatched it any time recently. Might have to give it a go again...

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Josh Marsfelder 4 years, 11 months ago

If anyone's interested, and if I may shamelessly plug myself, I wrote a little about Wishbone here: http://soda-pop-art.blogspot.com/2012/11/a-tale-in-everything-wishbone.html

I'll hopefully have some more to say about it in the near future. This was a fun and surprisingly rewarding show to revisit.

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storiteller 4 years, 11 months ago

It is surprising and interesting to me how much people obsess over Buffy's feminism. While it's much more feminist than most things on TV, it's not the perfectly shining jewel like some people treat it. Another blogger who does deconstructions has been working her way through Buffy and explicitly points out how both Xander and Joyce's actions are extremely problematic both as characters and in how the story handles them: http://www.anamardoll.com/search/label/deconstruction%20%28buffy%29.

In terms of the horror plot device as metaphor, it does have one major problem - it sometimes makes the show stop making any sense. While a parent's reaction to the metaphor version of something (teenager running away from home) may make some non-abusive emotional sense, the same reaction to the in-story version of it (teenager leaves because she's putting her entire community in danger) makes the character seem hideous when clearly the story isn't treating them that way. This seems to happen the most with Joyce. Fortunately, that doesn't happen with the Angel storyline. I actually found that the most compelling and started to lose interest after the end of the third season.

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Tommy 4 years, 11 months ago

I'm afraid I've begun seeing feminism as just a belligerent reverse patriarchy of enforcing a cold tyranny of etiquette and knee-jerk ostracism when it comes to social connections. I also feel, though it's purely my gut talking, that championing of 'independent women' who shouldn't need men to look out for them, has only made things far worse for the most vulnerable.

The blog's assessment of Joyce and Xander, particularly in regards to Joyce, it seems to confirm my view of feminism vilifying people just for being human. As Joyce says "Guess what, mom's not perfect".

It's the Ted article particularly. Yes Joyce takes Ted's side against Buffy's word, but calling her an 'abusive parent' for it, feels wrong to me. It often happens with a parent confronted with the words that their child has been abused by someone they trusted. Their response being one of aggressive denial. Because it's a very human reaction of disbelief in the face of a horrid truth that close to home.

It's not right, but Colin said of Jimmy Saville, it's not the answer to be "demonising the bamboozled who may have thought their suspicions so far off the scale of decent human behaviour as to be unbelievable." If the reality of this is being portrayed, that's a good thing, and teaches how disbelief of parents does not invalidate the truth or wrongness of that experience.

Also, treating Giles' standing by Xander as a typical man thing and mark of patriarchy. Yet it's no different to Joyce standing by Ted. It isn't unusual for female friends and acquaintances of the abuser to take their side against the victim. But that doesn't sit with the blog's argument that Giles standing by Xander is just 'a dirty stinking man thing'. Indeed Giles keenness to Ms Calendar by hanging round her, is treated with snooty distain as if calling for restraining orders on him, suggesting a rather anti-society rule that men must give women the widest berth ubiquitously.

Okay, The Pack. So we're apparently supposed to empathize with Xander as the sexual aggressor here. But I'd say far from it. The point is this is *not* Xander, this is supposed to be the detachment of our empathy as he's now something *other*. He is not the protagonist in that scene, he actually *is* the monster of the week. And I think the point of the ending is that Buffy quite shrewdly knows this, which is why having banished that monster, she sees Xander as who he really is, not as whoever attacked her.

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Tommy 4 years, 11 months ago

The reading on Buffy's non-reaction I can't quite dismiss though. My reading of the TV moment is that, well I know this is the very poisonous myth that always made rape culture possible, the myth that a victimized woman just wasn't resisting hard enough therefore there must have been some willingness on her part... namely the fallacy myth of the 'unrapeable woman' who tacitly endorses every vile blaming and shaming of victims who weren't so lucky. But in terms of Buffy's POV and neutral response to Xander's actions, I think that's entirely the point, that not only would she compartmentalize it as 'slayer business', but that she has proven he could never successfully overpower her, therefore she knows he is no threat to her, and that no power or security was taken from her by him.

Yes this is where it fails to speak to the real life experience and those who've known it or even come close to it, where no matter how strong you are, you know you're not as invincible as Buffy and that there's always a shadow of chance of still being overpowered by someone that savage, calculating, warped and determined.

Icons like Buffy tend to represent unrealistic stoicism, and yes this is one example where her ability to brush off what nearly happened to her gives mixed messages that veer into the harmful. Where 'Buffy is a strong woman to emulate' becomes a more dangerous 'because she swallows her pride about nearly being raped and shows no emotional weakness over it'. But sometimes icons of integrity, by their nature get blurred or reach the limits to reality that they can't yet bypass.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 11 months ago

"'I'm afraid I've begun seeing feminism as just a belligerent reverse patriarchy of enforcing a cold tyranny of etiquette and knee-jerk ostracism when it comes to social connections. I also feel, though it's purely my gut talking, that championing of 'independent women' who shouldn't need men to look out for them, has only made things far worse for the most vulnerable."

And with that we cross from "things I am interested in having discussed on my blog" to "things I just don't want to see on my tiny corner of the web."

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storiteller 4 years, 11 months ago

Sorry, I didn't mean to turn this into a discussion of someone else's blog.

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Josh Marsfelder 4 years, 11 months ago

" I still mourn the death of Jenny Calendar. Loved her. That certainly affected me more that the death of Tasha Yar."

I mourn the death of Tasha Yar because she's the most spectacularly wasted character in the entirety of Star Trek.

IMO "Skin of Evil" was many things (heart-wrenching not quite being one of them) but it was mostly a bold declaration from the Season 1 team that they had given up on experimentation and deconstruction and were perfectly happy to mull about in mediocrity. I feel that one episode might have permanently stunted the growth of the entire Hard SF intellectual tradition.

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Christopher Haynes 4 years, 11 months ago

"I didn't know this existed. Well, there goes my weekend... :)"

Given that you and I seem to have had an identical reaction to the Buffy franchise, I'm eager to see what you think of it. :-)

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Tommy 4 years, 11 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Tommy 4 years, 11 months ago

storiteller: I wouldn't apologise, since I don't think Phil has any objections to the blog being linked to, or discussed, his objection seems to be with my own politics on feminism. As Phil is the blog owner, and understandably doesn't want views aired on it that would reflect wrongly on, or even be associated with his good work, I shall respect his wishes and keep my politics off his lawn.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 11 months ago

Tommy is correct, and, to counterbalance my stringing him up last night, I greatly appreciate his maturity on this matter.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 11 months ago

I don't think killing off one of your main characters in the first season is a declaration of "no experimentation". (At least, as TV was made in the late '80s. Nowadays it'd be much less of a break from "safe" storytelling.) I think it was just part of the flailing about trying to do something that worked that characterized TNG's first season.

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Josh Marsfelder 4 years, 11 months ago

Killing off one of the main characters might not be, but killing off your most radical, progressive and challenging character most certainly is. Doing her in with the most hackneyed, cliched and tepid critique of sadism you can muster is even more of one.

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Scott 4 years, 11 months ago

@ Arkadin

"I think you're right about the polarization of fandom, but I don't think that's anything new, or that Whedon is to blame."

As I said, I'm not entirely certain he's to blame either -- he just seems to be the figure it all came together around in a big way (or at least, that I really noticed it centring around in a big way).

"But I'd be a bit suspicious of someone who never felt that kind of burning, intense, starry-eyed passion in some form or another, whether for a person, a cause, or a TV show. It can be dangerous, but it isn't necessarily negative. It's something we should learn to join with with more mature ways of seeing, rather than banishing of entirely, lest we become entombed in the practical drudgery of quotidian life and the smug cynicism of false maturity"

Well said, but in fairness I never said anything about banishing anything entirely; just that this particular form of fandom has it's unpleasant side as well, just as the anoraks, for all that they've been getting a bit of a (mostly deserved) knocking lately, aren't entirely without redeeming merit.

@ Ununnilium:

"See, my experience in such fandoms is a tendency towards constant complaining about what the showrunner and the way he's ruining the show, until their tenure is over, at which point they become the golden standard against which all future showrunners are compared."

I have the same experience, but to be fair, they're not mutually exclusive; my point, after all (at least after all the rambling is chopped away) is that there's a drastic polarisation between camps. But yes, well noted on the tendency to retroactively rewrite history as well.

"Honestly, I think you're really exaggerating the "no middle ground" - in exactly the same way that the people who actually do engage in such exaggerate the flaws and foibles."

You're probably right, I'll hold my hands up to that. There is, of course, still a middle-ground; it's just that the discourse (to me, anyway) sometimes can seem like there isn't.

@ Tommy:

"Don't mean to make you worry or anything, but I am a big fan of this post."

No worries on my part; we might not always agree on everything, but that doesn't mean we can never agree on anything.

Besides which, my ego could use the support. :-)

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GarrettCRW 4 years, 6 months ago

@Steven: The supervising story editor for the bulk of the '80s Sunbow G.I. Joe was Steve Gerber. To say it aimed higher than Twilight is a gross understatement. Now, the rest of the franchise....not so much.

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Haze 1 year, 4 months ago

"Buffy fandom unleashed shipping and portmanteaus and slash and the sheer, giddy perversity of female fandom onto the mainstream by creating an entire fandom made up of people like that."

These things were also very much present in the roughly contemporaneous early Harry Potter fandom. I'm not saying you're necessarily wrong - maybe these things did originate with Buffy - but I wonder if things might be a little more complex than you present them.

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