Friday, June 18, 2010

Slayage! Part Five

And then it was the panel I'd been waiting for... the three featured speakers, Cynthea Masson, Tanya Cochran, and Rhonda Wilcox. Talk about a powerful triumvirate. The first was Cynthea, whose paper on the oft-berated Angel ep, "The Girl in Question," won the Mr. Pointy Award for best paper at the last Slayage conference. This time her paper was "Who Painted the Lion? Dollhouse's Belle Chose." It focused on the "Belle Chose" episode where Echo is programmed to be a college student, Kiki, in a medieval lit class who comes to her teacher offering him favours for a higher grade. In that episode the prof talks about the Wife of Bath from the Canterbury Tales, so she interweaves lines from the Tale of the Wife of Bath into that episode, and it was BRILLIANT. At the core of her presentation was the idea of glossing the text, referring to the analytical material that can overtake the text. She talked about the ways in which ultimately Echo interprets the text of herself and glosses it, as seen by the writing inside her own pod. Cynthea is a medievalist, and it was worth listening to the paper just to hear her deliver the middle English, which flowed like honey off her tongue. It was just a gorgeous presentation, with a beautiful PowerPoint presentation that accompanied it.

Next up was Tanya Cochran, co-editor of Investigating Firefly and Serenity: Science Fiction on the Frontier (Investigating Cult TV). She had mentioned to me when I was registering on the first day that she was going to "mention" me in her paper, so I was very intrigued to find out how. The paper was entitled "Whedon Fan-Scholars and Scholar-Fans: Life in the Shadowlands" and it was a section of her PhD thesis that she's currently writing. Given that title and how important it was to the discussion Matthew Pateman and I had had that gave rise to the speech we'd delivered the night before, I was even more intrigued. She began with the background of the terms that Matt Hills had put forth when he'd coined the terms, saying the fan scholar draws on the badge of fandom in scholarly study. But, as I've argued for the past two years since first hearing the term, she stated that the term is one that is foisted upon non-academics by academics. And then she started talking about me. She mentioned the very introduction that I'd been given at the last Slayage, and how she'd come up to me to ask me how I'd felt about being called a fan scholar, and that I'd responded, "What does it mean?" and she'd told me. I'd forgotten about that exchange until she mentioned it in her paper, and then I could see it clearly... we were standing out in the hallway near the water and refreshments table and she asked me there and she was actually the first person who clarified it for me.

Then she talked about the debate that David Lavery and I had had in his book on Heroes, Saving the World: A Guide to Heroes, where he argued from a scholarly point of view that the season 1 finale of Heroes was successful (WHATever) and that I'd argued on my blog hours after it had ended that it bit the big one (which it did... you can read my angry angry blog post she was referring to here). David had asked if he could print it in his Heroes book along with his positive take on it, and I said sure, and then he allowed me a postscript where I was allowed to respond to his response. She quoted from it in her paper, talking about how I had this passionate fan reaction because of how much I cared about the show, and he was looking at it more academically. She then began quoting from interviews I'd done (and someone sitting behind me said they saw me visibly shrink into my chair) and I was thinking, "Wait, I thought this was a mention... it's more like a case study!" How odd to be sitting in the audience listening to your work -- and yourself -- being talked about like that. It was strangely awesome and intimidating. Especially because I wasn't sure where it was going. At one point she talked about how these people live in a hostile shadowland, cut off from the others (and looking at my paper where I was taking notes, I'd written a note to my friend Sue sitting beside me at that point, "I live in a hostile shadowland! I am SO LONELY!!") Then she used the writings of a Quaker theorist who'd talked about how one can only write about a subject with objectivity, and that subjectivity is seen as darkness (this is where I thought, "Oh no... I'm going to be the one in the darkness in this paper, aren't I?" Way to always think the worst there, Nik...) But from here she showed that there ISN'T that divide that people often say (EXACTLY what I've been saying since I first heard that term!! I remember saying to Matthew, "The idea that all of these people writing about Buffy are fans second, and are approaching the show on a critical level first is bogus. Just listen to the papers to hear the passion and love and FANdom in there"). And in the end, that's exactly what Tanya argued: that scholarly circles are the same communal environments as fan communities. And that fans and scholars must be seen by each other and be transformed by one another. Yay!! (And I just have to say this, but Tanya is one of the cutest balls of cute you've ever seen. I'm really not helping my position of scholarliness here much, am I?)

So after that one (where Matthew said to me after, "So... Cynthea's paper was about glossing the text... how did it feel for YOU to be glossed?!") Rhonda Wilcox, the "mother of Buffy studies" got up to do her paper, "'Let it simmer': Tonal Shift in 'Pangs'." Again I was referenced (which was three for three, since at the end of Cynthea's PowerPoint she talked about how the Whedonverses are glossed and had a picture of all of the books, including mine) where Rhonda talked about various interpretations of the central argument in Pangs -- about whether the episode fell on the side of cultural imperialism or against it -- and she says, "And Nikki Stafford, who, surprise surprise, has a different take on it..." HAHA! Oh, that silly fan scholar! Heehee... (this is my new favourite term and I will use it OFTEN). And by the way, I stand by my assertion that the episode laid out the various sides of the argument and allowed the viewer to choose one, which is why scholars seem to be divided about what side it actually chose.

Not surprisingly, Rhonda's paper was fantastic. I remember seeing her paper at the last conference on looking at the music in "Conversations with Dead People" and how amazing that one was, and this was no different. She analyzed the episode (which is one of my favourites) and talked about the tonal shifts between characters, scenes, and even within one scene or sentence, in the case of Buffy.

The only downside to all of this was that it ran until just after 7, and then there was no time for questions. With three such incredible papers, I was really looking forward to the discussion afterwards, but people immediately stood up complaining they were hungry and seemed to high-tail it out of there, so there weren't any.

Ryan, Ian, Sue, Matthew, and I all headed over to a Spanish tapas restaurant we'd had our eye on, and it was wonderful. We had these giant bowls of paella and the setting was nice, and there was a fan (yes, the humidity was STILL... STIFLING...) and a live band inside (we were sitting outside on the patio) and it was so much fun. Here's the gang (Sue, Ryan, Matthew, Ian, me):

But the restaurant wasn't half as fun as the walk there. While we were walking down the historic part of St. Augustine, suddenly this re-enactment came upon us of these Spaniards running down the street screaming that the English were coming!! And those horrible Englishmen were going to kill everyone. Enter Englishmen, played by these brazen types yelling about how they'll rape first, pillage second, burn down third. Matthew was THA-RILLED and the rest of us were just in stitches laughing at it. "Oh COME ON," he said with much ire, "THEY were the ones who killed all the natives and took their land... we just came along and got rid of them afterwards." HAHAHA!! Here's a pic:

But WAY funnier, I saw this guy and stopped to take a picture for my kids:

Yes, that is a tiny spider monkey wearing a dress over a diaper. But much funnier was the woman standing next to me, a look of utter bafflement on her face while she took his picture, too, and she said, completely deadpan, "There's a monkey on that man's shoulder. We in the middle of a CIVIL WAR... and there's a MONKEY on that man's shoulder." Then she looked at me with one eyebrow cocked and both of us burst out laughing.

And then, I saw the oldest wooden schoolhouse in the United States! I don't know what that thing is beside it (anchor for the Black Rock?) and sadly I didn't get a view from the front of the place, where they've placed this SUPER CREEPY mannequin in the upper window staring out, like some ghostly spinster teacher who was never allowed to escape the confines of the school or something. CREE. PEE.

Next up: The final full day of the conference! (No, REALLY, I will finish this at some point...)


Mockingbird said...


It adds a whole new level of fun to realize that you came upon (or "were beset by," I'm not sure) these innocent Spaniards fleeing the rapacious English right after Rhonda Wilcox spoke about the various points of view about imperialism and conquest in "Pangs."


Street theater, indeed.

redeem147 said...

I was on a panel at Writercon in 2006 with Rhonda Wilcox. :)

Always wanted to go to Slayage. Ah, well.

Nikki Stafford said...

Mockingbird: HAHA! Yes, that did not go unnoticed; we were connecting this to "Pangs" as we walked along, laughing about the perfect timing of it all.

Teebore said...

Still uber jealous...

Oh, and you're still right: The Heroes season one finale blew. What a shame that it turned out to be a harbinger of what was to come...

Anonymous said...

we were all deeply jealous that you actually were the subject of a paper! Brilliant...

I think we should have a whole Nikki Stafford conference.

I really do!

Matthew here, by the way.
(And I did NOT say that about the Spanish.. not exactly, anyway...!)

Nikki Stafford said...

What did you say? Come on... we're all listening for that Patemanesque response. ;)

Jennifer said...

We ran into the raid that night, too, and we saw the spider monkey people (there was a woman with one on her shoulder, too). I think my favorite part of the show was the feisty Spanish guy. Ginny called him Peter Pan :)