Friday, June 13, 2008
Slayage Conference: Day Three
Sorry, where was I?
Day Three. I've already given you the opening of it, with Jeanine Basinger's fantastic talk. From her keynote we went to see Stacey Abbott, who was a featured speaker and author of several Buffy-related tomes, including Reading Angel (long discussion on how it was supposed to be Investigating Angel, but her publishers wanted to attach it to their "Reading..." series). Her paper:
"'I don't know what kind of man I am anymore': The Damaged Man in Angel and post-Angel Cult Television"
Her talk was about an hour long (and she was the master of power-point and audio-visual clips) and she focused on Wesley and Gunn as examples of damaged men in Angel. She had the honour of having Jeanine Basinger in her audience, which was the only session where I saw her (which must have been daunting, but Stacey certainly didn't act like it was), and it was a fantastic paper. And, for me, depressing. Matthew Pateman, in his keynote, mentioned that Wesley is his favourite character of either show, and he got a smattering of applause and cheers for saying that. One of the applauders was me. I heart Willow more than words could say, but Wesley was the richest character, and one of the most remarkable examples of character development I've ever encountered (and I'm counting books, TV, and movies in there). He begins as a sputtering Hugh Grant-type with the hots for Cordelia, and you roll your eyes and hope he lasts a couple of episodes before being eviscerated. I'll admit when he showed up in episode 10 of Angel after Doyle had died, I just stared at my television in horror thinking, "You're going to replace Doyle with HIM?!" Yet by the end of season 1, he was already intriguing. By the end of season 2, I loved him. And by season 3, he was the main reason I was glued to my set week after week. Never has a character been more put upon (Erica Kane? Puh-leeze... Wesley WISHES her life were as easy as hers!) and as such, become dark. Wesley changed SO much throughout the development of his character, and just when you thought maybe, just maybe, he might be happy, something else happened. (SPOILER ALERT for season 5): When he dies in the final episode, I was bawling my head off, and it took days for me to recover my senses, and yet, at the same time, his death was a welcome one, as if only in death might Wesley find just a small bit of peace.
So when Stacey began talking about Wesley as a damaged man, showing clips of some of his darker moments, I felt a lump rising in my throat. The clips were painful to watch (and I mean that as a compliment), and while other papers made me want to explore a few episodes, Stacey's made me want to watch the series in its entirety once again... or maybe just seasons 2-5 (skipping part of 4) and focusing on Wesley. She showed that incredible scene (filmed by Whedon, of course) of Gunn and Wesley squaring off in "Spin the Bottle," where Gunn looks at him squarely after Wesley shows very little emotion or remorse for anything, and says, "What happened to you, man?" And Wesley, in a moment so perfectly delivered by Alexis Denisof, says, emotionless, "I had my throat cut and all my friends abandoned me."
Talk about the line that can stop a conversation.
It's one of my favourite moments in the series, and I was thrilled she showed it. Even if it made me want to crawl into a fetal position and not move for a couple of days.
She also talked about Gunn, but even his damaged self usually feeds back to Wesley. When Gunn makes the pact that eventually kills Fred, it's Wesley who must face Illyria and force himself to become her Watcher, so to speak. When I was working on my Once Bitten book and interviewed Alexis Denisof, I was very lucky in that he was gracious enough -- and eloquent enough -- to give me as long as I wanted, and he eagerly went through Wesley's entire character development with me, helping me map it out and giving me his thoughts along the way. It's the reason why, out of all the actor interviews I did for the book, his is the only one that I just ran verbatim as its own chapter. I hope at the next Slayage conference there's a panel devoted to Wesley. Or how about a day? A weekend? I'll be there. :)
Just as a side note, Stacey also mentioned other damaged men in genre television, and noticed the prevalence of damaged men named Jack: Jack Bristow (Alias), Jack Shephard (Lost), Jack Bauer (24), Captain Jack Harkness (Torchwood)... as well as the Pie Maker (Pushing Daisies) and Logan Echols (Veronica Mars).
After Stacey it was lunch time. Sue and I wanted to take pics with Ian and Ryan, our two lovely friends, and we pulled someone out of the lineup for shuttles so she could take our pictures (staking each other with the Slayage Registration sign) and then when we turned, the shuttles were gone. D'oh. Luckily we found one more and we all went to Subway. After that we headed over to the B&B to sit on the veranda (during the day = less bugness) and chat about what we'd seen so far and what we'd missed. One of the scholars, David Kociemba, had been in a few sessions and he always had some of the most insightful comments (he was the one who suggested Willow's addiction is more like Overeaters Anonymous and not Narcotics -- at that same panel, when someone commented that Nikki Wood was a bad mother because she took her son Robin slaying with her at night, David retorted, "Hey, good daycare is hard to find!" hahahahahahaha!!). I'd missed his paper on "The Spoiler Virgin Project," but it sounds fascinating. I've asked him to email it to me and I can't wait to read it! Basically, he teaches an entire course on Buffy (how much do I wish I was in his class?!) and he said he's got three different kinds of students: those who haven't seen Buffy and think it's an easy course, those who have seen it all and are well-versed in it, and those who say they haven't watched it, but it turns out they have. So his big conundrum has been spoilers: How do you teach a class on seasons one and two without giving anything away, especially if you assign reading and the paper you assign them to read refers to events a few seasons away? So he started the spoiler virgin project, where he has gone through all the academic papers and worked out which ones are safe for what episode. As someone who DESPISES spoilers, I loved it. This is a man after my own spoiler-free heart. So that began a long discussion on spoilers and non-spoilers and why people want them, etc.
The next panel was a "Dynamic Duo" session, where two key speakers who have made names for themselves in the academic Buffyverse give papers. The first was Janet Halfyard, whose paper, "Hero's Journey, Heroine's Return: Buffy, Eurydice, and the Orpheus Myth" was another one of my favourites. In fact, when I had to vote for my fave paper for the Mr. Pointy Award (more on that later), I was torn between this one and Rhonda's. The genesis of Halfyard's paper was an intereseting one: at a 400th anniversary session of Monteverdi's Orfeo, she was called up and asked if the Orpheus myth plays any role in Buffy, and if so, could she talk about it. She thought about it, and decided yes, she could. So she used clips from Prophecy Girl, for example, to show how Buffy plays the role of Orpheus, descending into the underworld of the Master's domain with her black leather jacket over her prom dress, holding her crossbow like the lute that Orpheus is usually depicted holding, and as such she becomes the hero. But when she is overcome by the Master, he removes the black jacket, and she is now the damsel, or heroine, as Halfyard contended, and she becomes Eurydice, held forever in the underworld. As such, she becomes both the hero, and the girl the hero is trying to save.
She next talked about Angel's return, and that Buffy is able to bring him back from the underworld by doing the very thing Orpheus couldn't do -- she lays the ring on the ground, and walks away, and does NOT look back. And that's how Angel returns. Brilliant!! She pulled up a clip from Once More With Feeling where Buffy casts herself as Orpheus, descending into Sweet's underworld to save Eurydice (Dawn). The scenery is very much like the original production of Monteverdi's Orfeo (Halfyard pronounced this with absolute delight, which I loved), and when she begins to dance herself to death, Spike becomes her anti-Orpheus, saving her (she played the clip up to the point where Spike sings, "So one of us is living" and then stopped it, saying, "I can't bear to listen to Dawn's terrible line there" Hahahahahahaha!) And she said ultimately, Spike, the anti-Orpheus is the one left behind in hell in Chosen.
What a paper!
Next up was Dale Koontz, whose paper was entitled, "The One That Almost Got Away: Doyle and the Fish Story." Koontz's book is about issues of faith in the Whedonverse, and in her terrific paper, delivered in her exquisite southern accent (I could have listened to her talk all day), she talked about Doyle's short journey, and compared it to various biblical stories, particularly the story of Jonah. She said the name Doyle translates to "Dark foreigner" and that his visions, where he says he feels like his skull is on fire, are like Moses talking to God in the form of a burning bush. In "Hero," where Doyle sacrifices himself to save the group, it's like Jonah jumping off the side of the boat and being swallowed by a giant fish. It was nice to see someone bringing in faith issues in an academic paper, which is usually more of a secular realm, and I loved her analogies. (And the fact it was another paper on Angel!)
And now we were down to the penultimate session... over so soon? I wish this conference had gone on for weeks. Well, okay, I was missing my children terribly, and the few conversations I'd had with my 3-year-old on the phone, where she began crying in one and begging me to either come home or let her come and be with me where I was, were heartbreaking... but if this conference could just come my way at some point so I can see the kids every day, I'd be in heaven.
The final paper of the day for me was "Myth, Metaphor, Morality and Monsters: How BtVS and Other Works by Joss Whedon Changed Ethical Thought Forever." It was written by J. Michael Richardson and J. Douglas Rabb. Rabb couldn't be there, so another person helped deliver the paper with Richardson. The profs were from Lakehead University in Thunder Bay (more Canucks!) I was very intrigued by the title, and unfortunately I arrived a few moments into the paper (it was the only one I was late to) so I missed the opening. I'm thinking that's what went wrong for me -- I didn't hear the thesis, so when the paper moved into a hour-long discussion on biomedical ethics, I was lost. And not in a good way, on a desert island with Sawyer and Desmond and..... okay, I'm back. There were very few moments where it was brought back to Whedon's work, so it was difficult for me to ground it in something tangible for my mind. I'm sure the paper was absolutely brilliant, but biomedical ethics are way beyond my realm of understanding, so it was tough for me. He was speaking English, but no matter how many times I tried my hardest to focus, I just couldn't. I really wanted to be able to report back to y'all on this one, but I can't. There was one point they made that I grasped onto and it made sense (because it was brought back to Whedon) where they talked about Sartres' Jean Genet, and the idea of Bad Faith: Like Jean Genet, Faith becomes bad because that's the label that's been put on her. She became the object of another person's narrative, and lost her own. What that had to do with the rest of the paper, I couldn't tell ya, but it was a wonderful concept.
If someone else reading this right now was at that paper and made sense of it, please post and let me (and my readers) know what it was about, so I can do some justice to the paper. I can say it was presented with enthusiasm and charisma, and the presenters really enjoyed their topic.
The final final session of the day was called "Buffy Bookers" and it was a collection of everyone who's written a book on Buffy. I saw my name on the list and worried momentarily... like I had just run a marathon and was suddenly told, "You do remember the swimming leg of the race, right?" Uh... I'm sorry, what? But David quickly reassured me that it's really not much more than sitting there and talking about how we got published and what our books are about and sharing experiences -- good and bad -- about the publishing experience. Because I work on both sides -- I'm a writer, but also an editor and I acquire books -- I could provide some extra insight for the listeners, but I also was fascinated by some of the stories on the panel. Not being paid anything for the books? Having to pay your publisher to publish the book?! Not being edited at all when you hand it in?? The wrong version of the book going to press? Wow. I was stunned by some of the stories. As I told the people in the room, I'm interested in publishing academic pop culture volumes along the lines of what people in the room have done, but what I failed to mention was that in trade publishing, the bottom line is the sales. So if they can show me how there might be a chance for sales -- and I could convince the publisher to expect lower sales on these ones -- we might have a chance to start such a thing!
I got two pitches right after the panel. :)
At the panel, by the way, they presented the Mr. Pointy Award for best paper to Cynthea Masson, who'd delivered a paper I sadly missed on the Angel episode "The Girl in Question." Here's a photo of Mary Alice Money and Rhonda Wilcox holding a previous incarnation of the handmade award. We all joked about how much fun she'd have bringing that one onto the plane.
It was now off to dinner, and about 25 of us piled into several shuttles to head off to the Hamburger Barn (we were raving about its poshness) but when we got there? Closed. Apparently some things actually close on Sundays in Arkadelphia. Luckily, in that same parking lot was a pizza restaurant. So we piled in there instead (you should have seen the looks of horror on the faces of the one waitress and couple of guys making pizzas who had assumed it would be a slow night... Joss could have filmed it for a reaction shot) and had to wait for the buffet to be replenished a bit. Sue and I sat with Ian and Ryan and they regaled us with stories and we were in stitches for most of the dinner. I love those guys. I miss them already.
And then it was a sad goodbye, and back to the B&B where Matthew drove us (after I reminded him to stay on the right side of the road... and then admitted to taking a roundabout THE WRONG WAY AROUND once when I was in England. Gulp). Sue and I turned on our television (I mean, come on, we have our priorities) and it was a heavily censored version of Pulp Fiction, which I posted about because I was so shocked to see it. We watched as Marcellus Wallace called Butch a "cod jam mother-father" when there was a knock on the door and it was Rhonda inviting us out onto the veranda for round two of our discussions, and it was just as much fun as the first night.
I loved the Slayage Conference (can't you tell??) and I'm in full-on withdrawal now. I know I've missed a bunch of stuff (how is that possible?! you may be asking yourself, considering the length of these posts...) so I'll write up a separate post tomorrow morning on the last little bits I might have forgotten about.
Mainly I just wanted to say that this is an amazing group of people, and with about 150 people in attendance, give or take, I know I was meeting only a small number of Buffy academics. I've never felt so at home with a group of Buffy fans, and while I was worried I would be seen as an interloper who doesn't write about Buffy academically, no one ever made me feel that way while I was there. It was brilliant.
Jeanine Basinger said she was going to get Joss to come to the next Slayage conference (big cheer from the crowd, and she stepped out from behind her podium to do a little curtsey, which was hilarious). And while I'd be lying if I didn't say that was exciting, I'm looking forward to it more just to see all these people again.
If this is what academia could be, I'm starting to wish I'd taken my PhD after all.