Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Slayage Conference, Day Two

Hello everyone (yes, I'm back in Toronto, and while I've actually used "y'all" for a year or so now, due to my fascination with Britney Spears, it's wearing off). It's taken me two posts to do day two, so let's keep going!

Day Two began with a keynote from Elizabeth Rambo, who gave an interesting talk on "Restless" ... or so it seemed. She acknowledged that others have covered Restless and its echoes throughout the season (in my book I do it, too, though nowhere nearly as detailed as the others, where I mention "Restless Moments" throughout other episodes) and instead she took the theme of going back to the beginning (something else I outline in my episode guide of Bite Me, but again, nowhere nearly as detailed as Elizabeth's talk was). She focused on the first couple of seasons of Buffy, pointing out some moments that echoed later in the final season. Her talk was great, and she really made me rethink the series and want to go back (yet again) and look at how Joss brings all of his seasons together through his weaving of threads throughout all seven seasons. Her new book is called Buffy Goes Dark, about the last two seasons of the show. How much do I love that title? Not only did the series end, therefore going dark, but Buffy (and Willow and everyone) goes WAY dark. Love it. It'll be out early next year by the sounds of it, but you can preorder here.

After her talk we went to watch Rhonda Wilcox, a.k.a. The Mother of Buffy Studies, as she delivered her speech, entitled, "'Can I spend the night / alone?'": Segments and Connections in 'Conversations with Dead People.'" And what a speech it was. She focused on the opening of CWDP where you see the title card (something you never see before or again on Buffy), and a band setting up and singing a song that Joss wrote, and how the words reflect the rest of the episode. She showed the clip, then began analyzing the words against the ep:

Night Falls
I fall
And where were you?
And where were you?
Warm skin
Wolf grin
And where were you?
I fell into the moon
And it covered you in blue
I fell into the moon
Can I make it right?
Can I spend the night?
High Tide
The air is dew
And where were you?
Wild eyed
I died
And where were you?
I crawled out of the world
And you said I shouldn't stay
I crawled out of the world
Can I make it right?
Can I spend the night
*Alone? Alone? Alone?
I fell into the moon
And it covered you in blue
I fell into the moon
Can I make it right?
Can I spend the night?

The question discussed after the paper was the actual question, "Can I spend the night alone?" Does it mean "Please go away, I need to spend the night alone," or, as Rhonda suggested, "Am I able to spend the night alone, or will something happen to me?" The paper made me look at the episode differently, and want to watch it again. Two things she mentioned worth noting: The French title of the episode was "Connivances." (I loved that detail.) And I've often disagreed rather vocally with those who call to task Joss and Co. for the death of Tara and then the use of Tara in this episode (as many of you know, Amber Benson was supposed to appear to Willow rather than Cassie but her schedule wouldn't allow it... or so I was told by both Amber and David Fury, despite later comments by fans to the contrary, who say Amber refused to appear because it would further tarnish an already tarnished memory of Tara). People accuse Joss of creating a lesbian character just so he could kill her (which is ridiculous, in my mind, considering how incredible that character was... and secondly, who exactly is the one who should be rethinking things when those same fans are referring to Tara as "the lesbian character," as if that's all she was and had absolutely nothing else to offer?) Anyway, in this episode in particular, fans said that Cassie being there instead of Tara was a blessing, because making Tara the first would have been the final stake in that character, so to speak, and even by evoking Tara's name it was bad enough. But Rhonda argued that it's in Cassie's insistence that Willow commit suicide that we are cued to know it's not Tara, which speaks to her character... we know Tara wouldn't have done that, and it's Willow's connection to Tara that prevents her from doing so. Thank you, Rhonda! It was my favourite paper of the conference.

Next up was lunch. I'm not sure if I mentioned this earlier, but there are no eateries around the campus. There's really not much of anything around the campus. I'm thinking marks at Henderson must be really high, since students really don't have much choice to do anything but study. So what happens is at lunch you hop on a shuttle, and usually the people on the shuttle all decide to go somewhere in particular and you all go together. We lucked out (though from the people I met, I'd think I'd luck out no matter who I ended up with) and went to a Chinese buffet with an amazing group of people. A bunch of them told me how much they enjoyed my speech the night before, and one of them explained that it's exactly the sort of thing you want at a banquet after a day of heady papers -- something entertaining and moving. So I was pretty thrilled that she considered my speech to have fulfilled both of those requirements. Lunch was pretty good, actually, though despite all the culture shock I've mentioned so far, it doesn't matter where you go in the world: Chinese buffet decor is all exactly the same.

After lunch I went to a Giles and Joyce panel. These were the papers:

"A Sexy Fuddy-Duddy and a Woman Who Knows How to Moisturize: Adulthood, authority, and Sex in BtVS"
"'Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche': Giles as Teacher

Sadly (in what would become a little too common throughout the conference) the person delivering that first paper with the fabulous title didn't register and didn't show up, so the person delivering the second one was on his own. The paper lost me a little bit -- it was delivered in sort of a point-form fashion, as if it weren't fully developed yet (the author didn't pretend it was: he was up front and asked for advice and took notes during the discussion, which was really cool). And in a room full of teachers, it was an interesting paper to discuss. Sadly, I'm not one, so his theories on pedagogy sort of went past me, and I'll admit I zoned out occasionally. He was challenged a bit by the attendees, who suggested you can't look at Giles as merely a teacher and remove him from his other roles (like that of father figure or mentor), but "teacher" is just one of the many things he does. The presenter went over several instances where Giles is using various techniques as a teacher, for better or for worse, and again, some in the room suggested that Giles is teaching from a privileged position -- one teacher, one student -- that other teachers don't have the option to do. I wanted to suggest that in season 8 of Buffy, we see what happens when his classroom balloons to thousands of students (and they're right; his methods no longer work) but the presenter had admitted that he hadn't actually read the comics yet. I also wanted to ask about what he thought of Giles deciding not to play the teacher role in "Helpless" when Buffy has to deliver her final exam, so to speak, and instead he pulls her out of the situation when his fatherly devotion trumps his role as a teacher. But I was worried the presenter had actually talked about it and I missed it. The good thing about this paper was it gave me a lot to think about, which is something that could be said for all of them.

The next session was Fans and Fandom. Papers:
"New Lines: The Fan and Textual Poaching in the Work of Joss Whedon"
"Success of the Fittest: The Evolutionary Appeal of BtVS"

And, once again, the second person didn't register, didn't show up. The first paper was delivered by Ian, the guy we'd been hanging out with that first day, and he'd given us a quick summary of his paper. I was intrigued, and I certainly wasn't disappointed. His paper talked about how Joss uses material from other pop culture media in his movies as a nod to the fans who can find it. He told us ahead of time that he had to take his 30-page paper and bring it down to 10, but what we heard was great. I especially liked his suggestion that the scene in "Innocence" where Buffy and the gang face down the Judge is from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The last session was entitled "Willow." Anyone who knows me would know there's no way I'd be in another session if there's one on Willow (well, okay, maybe a session on Wesley would cause me to be in a panic trying to figure out which one to go to, but that's it). The papers:

"The Rage of Willow: A Kleinian Perspective on Witchcraft Performances"
"The Dark Redhead: Willow and Her Fury, or 'Are you kidding? She's like Dark Phoenix up there"
"'This is a witch symbol': Willow's Queer Identity"

And again (sigh) the presenter of the first paper didn't show. Which is too bad, because I loved the title of the paper. The presenter of the third paper actually went first, and she was an undergraduate student -- the only undergrad delivering a paper. And she was great! She admitted to being extremely nervous, and said so, but despite a fast delivery, the paper was wonderfully written, and contained some great lines. In a study of Willow's witchness as a metaphor for her queer identity, she compares her to Buffy, who she said was "closeted as a Slayer" and "her sexual prefernce is for the undead." Ha! Loved it. I thought the paper was excellent.

The next paper, which was fantastic, was about how Willow's red hair is the trigger that she's uncontrollable, and that traditionally, "all the kick-ass girls have red hair." Jessica Rabbit, Lucille Ball, Jean Grey, Clara Bow... she had lists and lists of them. Her paper focused on a comparison between Will and Jean Grey, and she put up some of the panels from X-Men showing exact scenes that mirrored Willow's development. My favourite was the obvious one where Cyclops tries to stop Jean from destroying the world, and in the panel tells her that she'll have to kill him first if she's going to do it (the scene actually gets a shout-out in the season 6 ender, when Andrew says that Willow is like Dark Phoenix, which is the name for Jean Gray's character at this point in X-Men). Both women have to work on controlling their power.

One thing I was going to ask but was beaten to the punch was when someone asked the presenter what she made of Willow's hair going black when she was at her most out-of-control, and the presenter expressed her frustration of it, saying that in television you need visual cues to show what is going on quickly, and that's what they did, but in doing so they undercut what they were trying to establish with Willow's red hair. It was a great paper.

At the end of the day, just as Sue and I were trying to figure out what we'd do for dinner, David Lavery came up and asked if I'd be interested in going out to dinner with the next day's keynote speaker. I was very excited about her keynote, and so I eagerly said yes, and it was one of the most fascinating dinners I've had. Next post: The woman who helped shape Joss Whedon.


Margosita said...

I've recently started reading your blog and I just wanted to say that I am seriously enjoying the Buffy conference posts. Wow.

Sarah said...


Thanks for putting me in contact with Ryan, I really appreciate it!

Did you happen to catch Kristopher Woofter's paper at the conference? It was called "Why Does Willow Have Nowhere To Go?: The Narrative Obliteration of a Lovecraftian Overreacher in Season 6 and 7 of BtVS." I missed this one, unfortunately, but my cousin said it was absolutely fabulous -- it was following Willow's progression as a tragic Lovecraftian character, and how at the end of season 6 perhaps she should have died after all because she didn't add much to the narrative (sans "Chosen" of course) in season 7 and didn't progress much as a character. I'm not sure I would agree that she should die, but I bet it's a fascinating essay; he said that he would email it to me, so you should throw him a line and see if he'll do the same for you (if you're interested, of course). I don't have the email address he gave me offhand, but I bet it would be available via the Dawson College website where he is an English professor.

Nikki Stafford said...

Margosita: Welcome to the blog! I'm so happy you're enjoying the posts. :)

Sarah: I missed Kristopher's paper, even though I met him and his partner at the bookstore when we were standing in line together. I would love to read it, along with a few others. I'll get his email address and drop him a line, thanks! :)

elrambo said...

Thanks for your kind comments on my keynote address, in which I did mention "Restless," but mainly to point out that Rhonda Wilcox & Matthew Pateman have written the (so far) definitive analyses. Then I went on to try to show--not as well as I hoped!--how seasons 1-2 (and some of 3) bookend seasons 6-7.

It seemed like a good idea at the time...

Definitely agree with you that the presentations in the Willow panel were among the best.

Nikki Stafford said...

erambo: ACK! I am so sorry, you must have been thinking either I've missed the point by a mile, or you didn't get your point across. It was neither... I actually had a LOT more written on yours (I jump around within the post while writing it, jotting notes first and then elaborating later) and I'm thinking blogger somehow put in the old draft?? I'm entirely baffled right now. Let me go back in and put back in what I originally wrote. Sorry!! (and I actually mentioned what you said about the other academics!)