Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Lost: How it Should Have Ended

I have had so many people forward this to me today... and I wasn't on my email. Thanks to everyone! Sorry to take so long to get it up! This is awesomely awesome.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Toronto Nik at Nite Meetup!

So back in May I had a meetup in NYC with a bunch of New York-area fans, and someone from the Toronto area sent me a note saying, "Why haven't you done one in Toronto?" Good question! It's not like I LIVE here or anything... ;) So! With Polaris looming in mid-July, I thought it would be a good idea to combine the two and have a meetup where we all have dinner and talk about Lost (or any other show that we want to... nah... let's talk about Lost). We can be nostalgic, or try to answer all of the questions, or begin writing our version of season 7. Har.

Polaris will be running from Friday, July 16 to Sunday, July 18. You can go here to view the details of Polaris. If you haven't registered to go to the con but are thinking about it, these two panels might entice you (I'm moderating one and speaking on the other):

Friday, July 16 at 8PM (the time is subject to change):
Lost: Series in Review
Description: Six seasons after the crash of Oceanic 815, Lost has finally come to an end. Throughout the years, the survivors have dealt with underground hatches, the numbers, polar bears, the "Others", time travel, an alternate dimension, and the smoke monster. Come join our panel of Lost experts and discuss the series as it has progressed throughout the years. Have all the Island's mysteries been revealed now that the show is over, or are there still questions to be answered?
Panelists: Jeffrey Tahmazian, Nikki Stafford (Moderator), Colleen Hillerup (a.k.a. redeem), Tony Pi, Cindy Mohareb (a.k.a. SenexMacDonald)

(You can tell the writeup for that one was posted before the finale, given that final line!)

Saturday, July 17 at 1PM (time subject to change)
Lost: Really? That's What It Meant?
Description: A post-series discussion of the mythology of Lost.
Panelists: Colleen Hillerup (M), David Nickle, Robert Smith?, Nikki Stafford, Lance Sibley

This one isn't as fleshed out, and the trick will be to make one panel different from the other, but I think they're pretty clearly different.

On Sunday I'll be doing a "reading" at 11AM but what I'll really be doing is what I've done in the past, and conducting a talk about Lost itself. I think rather than a presentation, however (since the one-time hourlong readings have now been reduced to 30 minutes) is discuss the biggest open-ended questions about Lost that haven't been covered in the panels already, and we could discuss as a group what we think the answers are -- or we could play a game where you fire questions at me and I will answer them DEFINITIVELY (who needs Damon and Carlton? Pfft.).

I'll be doing a book signing at 2PM that day.

So! What I'm thinking is Saturday night we could all get together at a nearby restaurant and meet up for dinner. You don't have to be registered at Polaris for this, you can just come in from wherever you are and go directly to the restaurant. Those at the conference can meet in the lobby and trek over to a nearby one (cue Giacchino's expedition music) and those not at the conference can meet us there.

So! If you're interested, please email me. Let's see how many Ontario Lost fans we can get to this thing! (And all are welcome! Batcabbage... wanna fly in from Australia to come to dinner with us?) ;) Oh, and if this helps entice anyone to come who might be on the fence, I do believe SonshineMusic, AchingHope and humanebean will all be there!! And in case Blam wants to have an even longer journey this time, I shall reserve some napkins and a pen for him. ;)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Sorry. I Just Can't Let It Go...

You know, saying goodbye to Lost would probably be a heck of a lot easier if I weren't immersed in it 24/7 right now, but even as this book is causing me levels of anxiety I've never experienced before, it's also sad. It feels different writing this one. I know how it ends this time; the speculation is over. My once-huge sections of questions have dwindled to short ones. I'm haunted by images of the survivors in the church and Jack lying in the bamboo. Lost has this uncanny ability to make me sad and happy all at once.

But, just like Jack at the end of Lost, I know I'm not alone in this. Not everyone is writing a book on Lost, but I know everyone is missing something, feeling like there's a hole in their lives. We haven't gone all Sayid, but there's certainly an element of wishing there was something more to discuss. Or more haiku to write. There is LOADS to discuss (and haiku to be written!), but I just haven't had the time to post on it. I hope to soon. Reading everyone's comments on whether or not the bomb had gone off was exhilarating to me, and felt like old times. So many questions, and so many of you out there willing to take a stab at answering them just like I am.

But for now, I wanted to be a little sappier and nostalgic and ask: What do you miss about Lost the most?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

LOTR Meets the World Cup

I've been meaning to post this for a while now, after first seeing it on the Popped Culture blog and now seeing it popping up everywhere. I HATE HATE HATE the vuvuzelas at the World Cup, and I couldn't even imagine sitting in the stands watching it live with those effing horrible things blasting in my ear. When I watched this the first time, I made the mistake of eating something while watching, and I literally choked and ended up in a coughing fit. This is SO funny. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Lost: Did Jughead Explode?

Hello everyone! Yes, I know I've been really lousy at updating my blog. I was saying to someone the other day, you can spend 3 years building up a big, loyal following, and you can lose them all in one week of not posting. Such is the Internet. I've been diligently working on my book; I've taken this week off to just write, and I'm averaging about 5,000 words a day (and hoping to ramp that up on the weekend when the kids go away to Grandma and Grandpa's!) I am finding that I'm checking in on my Facebook a little too often, so if you're looking for regular updates from me, my Facebook page is probably where you'll find them.

But! I think of my Lost readers often, and I keep thinking of things to post over here. And then I put them into the book instead. But I miss discussing the finer points of Lost with you, and decided to throw out something for you to chew on for a while (and I'll try to post a new idea here more often...) So... here's something that's been bugging me while working through the season 6 episode guide, and I wanted to bring it over here and ask your opinion:

Do you think the bomb actually went off when Juliet hit it for the 8th time?

Signs that it did: The screen went white. There was the sound of an explosion. Upon waking, Kate was in a tree and had severe tinnitus, as did Miles. Sawyer and Jack were unconscious.

But the thing that's bugged me since that episode is, wouldn't the island have been obliterated? This is a hydrogen bomb: it would have taken out the island and part of the Pacific floor upon explosion. And the radiation fallout would have killed them if the bomb itself hadn't (and standing that close to it? It most certainly would have).

I'm starting to think the bomb didn't go off at all. On the 15th knock, they time-jumped to 2007, which is why the screen went white (the sky went white every other time they time-jumped) and the bomb remained inert. That's why it never went off when it was on Sayid's back and he was shot, and it didn't go off when Jack dropped it into that long shaft. It didn't go off the first 7 times Juliet hit it, and I'd wager it didn't go off the 8th time, either.

I think what instead happened was they time-jumped. It's not clear why Kate ended up in a tree and everyone was momentarily knocked unconscious, except perhaps the combination of time-jumping and being that close to a site where an electromagnetic occurrence had just happened was the thing that propelled them some distance. Jin made a comment to Hurley that when he was time-jumping before, at the beginning of season 5, he got a terrible ringing in his ears each time, so that's why they would have had the tinnitus. The reason Juliet was covered in all that debris was because she time-jumped with everyone else, but into the same spot where she was previously... only in 2007, it was filled with all of the stuff that had been in the Swan hatch when it had exploded. I think Jack dropped the bomb in 1977, and it didn't go off, and the Swan was built around it and it probably just laid there. Something had rendered it inert and it just never exploded.

Some people point to the island being underwater as proof the bomb went off. BUT... that's only in the sideways world, not in the original timeline, and the sideways world is a completely different timeline and place. In that world Jack will never time travel to 1977 to find the bomb and drop it. In that world, something else has put the island at the bottom of the ocean... it could have been the bomb, but in that world, the bomb went off because someone else set it off, not Jack. We've seen from the look of the island underwater that the Dharma Initiative existed (you can see their houses and the swing sets, etc.) and we know that Ben and his dad were in the DI, but they left and weren't blown up by a bomb, so it must have happened after the 1970s.

Regardless of when it went off in the sideways world, I'm thinking it didn't actually go off at all in 1977, because if Island 1977 happened before Island 2007, then not only would that entire section of the island be gone, but most of the island itself (if not all of it) would have been taken out by it, too. Remember, despite jumping around on different spots on the timeline, they're still on the same timeline. That's why Sawyer put a wedding ring under the floorboards in 1977 and found it when they time-jumped back to 2007.

What do you think? Do you think that white light was the bomb or just a time jump?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Happy Father's Day!

Happy Father's Day to all of the dads out there. And now, my favourite father/son clip of the year:

Friday, June 18, 2010

LOST: A Map of the Island

Thanks to Jim for this link. EW found this blog where someone has constructed a map of the island, which might help us figure out some of it a little better. This is pretty amazing.

You can see the original blog post here. And if the lighthouse really IS where the map says it is, it really does beg the question, how the HELL did they not see it before?? (Did anyone else realize that Hydra Island was so tiny in comparison to the main island?)

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...)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Slayage! Part Four

OK, sorry for the delay, folks! So, day 2. (Yeah, four posts in and I'm on DAY TWO. Cripes.) The opening day keynote was Lorna Jowett, and sadly, I missed it (it's now my biggest regret of the conference.) Everyone in our party was completely beat and wanted to sleep in, still suffering from the travel and I'd been up late working for the week leading up to it, so I was absolutely exhausted, and we slept in. But everyone who went said it was absolutely amazing (she's the author of Sex and the Slayer: A Gender Studies Primer for the Buffy Fan, a book I picked up and read after the last Slayage conference). Her keynote was called "Stuffing a Rabbit in it: Character, Narrative, and Time in the Whedonverses." Time? Rabbits? I probably should have gone... sounds like it might have had a lot to do with Lost!!

The first panel of the day featured our traveling companion Ryan Warden (yay!) doing his paper, "Dead and Still Pretty: The Subversion and Subsequent Elimination of the Final Girl in Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Another excellent paper, it looked at the trope of the "final girl" in horror films, the last girl standing, who is usually a brunette, smart, and has a boy's name (Stevie, Marti, etc.) On the other hand, you have the blonde ditzy girl who usually has sex and then dies near the beginning of the picture because she's an idiot. He talked about how BtVS turned this trope on its head and the blonde girl wasn't the ditz, but the saviour, and the smart girl with the boy's name -- Will -- was the one constantly in trouble and having to be saved by the blonde. The paper pulled in Third Wave feminism and showed clips from the series, and I loved it.

The second paper by Shiloh Carroll was "Maturity in Buffy the Vampire Slayer," using Maturity as a synonym for feminism in a way. It talked about how maturity was viewed on the show, with Dawn's irresponsible behaviour being acceptable because she was a teenager and Giles and Joyce's behaviours in Band Candy not being as acceptable because they were adults, but then again it was swept away because they'd been under an influence.

The final paper was fascinating. Given by Joe Valezquez, it was called "Skies of coupled colour: Humor and Fright in BtVS" and it offered a new methodology of looking at BtVS (and any show, really) by using philosophy. It's a difficult one for me to describe, so I'll just keep it as basic as I possibly can, but he first defined value, which is everything that is meaningful, and not just good things: love has value, but so does hate. Security has it, but so does fear. The paper talked about how the show can reconcile that it represents a world that is so horrible, and yet so funny. These are opposite emotional values. They're like oil and water; they shouldn't mix, but they somehow do on the show. So he created a value chemistry to show how these values could come together. We're good at showing how things can be separated, but not how they come together. He used the example of chess-boxing (a real sport, apparently!) where two people sit and play a round of chess, then they box for a round, then they play chess, etc. He said the game involves strategy and violence, BUT never together. They never actually integrate and it just turns into two separate things that don't come together. Football, on the other hand, integrates strategy and violence into one sport. So he looked at the functional relation of the two to see how they'd come together. The functional relation creates value, then the reaction to the value changes it, and then metaphor imposed on it changes it again. His example was silly humour, often punny (like, "We're going to poop your party" or "bump your goose") doesn't belong in this world. BUT this horrible world cannot stomp out these moments. Evil can't be blotted out, but it can be crowded out, he quoted MLK Jr. The metaphor imposed on it, then, is grace, where the moments of humor are (and I wrote this quote down because I loved it), "tiny moments of pentecostal fire." He expanded this method to pull in other things, and you could tell everyone in the room was pretty much hanging on every word, but the chair began pushing him to hurry up and drop the last part of his paper... and then we sat there with very few questions being asked and half an hour to go and part of me just wanted to raise my hand and ask if he could be allowed to finish! But obviously that wouldn't have been fair to the other panellists who had managed to keep their papers within the timeline.

I do have to quote Joe one more time, though... in the Q&A period he said, "Any aesthetics theory that cannot explain bullfighting should be rejected out of hand." HAHAHA!! (you had to have been there for that to have made sense! Still. Funny.)

While I was in this panel, my paper partner, Matthew Pateman, was in another panel (the one I wished was at a different time so I could have gone) where David Kociemba and Cynthia Burkhead were both presenting, and apparently Kociemba referred to something as "Patemanesque," thereby earning Matthew's undying devotion. ;)

Then it was lunch. We wandered over to a cafe near the college that served Starbucks (there weren't any obvious Starbucks around, but many cafes that claimed to brew Starbucks coffee, which was odd) and I just had a drink and we chatted and Jennifer Stuller was there, and then Ian and Ryan and Sue went back to Schmagel's Bagels to grab lunch to go, and I headed back over to the student centre with Jennifer. I was heading back early because they'd asked authors to be involved in a book signing, but when I got to the table I realized they hadn't actually ordered in ANY copies of my book. Not one. They didn't have Bite Me!: The Chosen Edition The Unofficial Guide to Buffy The Vampire Slayer ( Seven Seasons One Book) and they didn't have Once Bitten: An Unofficial Guide to the World of <I>Angel</I>Angel (which features an exclusive interview I did with Alexis Denisof... get your copy now!!). It was a shame, because at the last Slayage my books actually sold out. So it was a bit of a downer; I was there because I absolutely love it and love reading the papers, but while the profs and academics can put all of these papers on their CVs, the only thing I can do is promote myself to sell my own books. And so I work on a paper for 8 months, come and present it, it seems to be a hit... and my books aren't actually there. Ah well. Mini-rant over.

So I sat nearby chatting with someone else and didn't sit at the table, because why would I sit there so I could sign nothing? Odd. Any of the signings that happened didn't really have anyone come to them simply because you know the person at the conference, and if you have their book, you'll just walk up to them and get them to sign it.

Next panel was Sexuality in the Whedonverses. I chose this one because I had been SO PREPARED for the plethora of papers on the comics and then this panel seemed to have the ONLY paper on the comics that I could find. And it was excellent. The paper was by Hélène Forhard-Dourlent, and it was called "Buffy/Satsu: Pure Genius or Out of Character? Complicating Fan Responses to Modern Narratives of Sexuality." It was about (spoiler if you haven't read the comics) the fact that Buffy had an affair with one of her female officers, Satsu, and the responses that fans had to it. She first outlined the homophobic ones, which said that they couldn't believe Buffy was a lesbian and they were officially no longer a fan. They'd never watch another Whedon show, etc. etc. She said these people saw her homosexual encounter as a threat... that she'd been turned into a lesbian in the same way she could have been turned into a vampire. But almost as problematic were the ones who said, "I don't care if it's a woman; it doesn't matter if it's a woman or a man, just that Buffy's in love." She said that was undermining that fact that it WAS important Buffy was with a woman, as addressed in later discussions with Willow about the fact she'd been with a woman, and that the other lesbians in the comic seem to know Buffy is experimenting and hasn't been "turned," but that it's important Buffy address within herself why she did it. She referred to it as "heteroflexibility." She talked about "sex-blindness" as being like colourblindness. She said what's important is that Buffy is the general and Satsu her underling, and in the end Buffy returns to bossing her around and tells Satsu there's really nothing she can do, and the relationship of the heterosexual to the homosexual was not an equal one but one of domination and subordination, one that strengthens homosexuality. It was a fascinating paper.

This one was followed by Kai Shuart's paper, "I Kissed a Boy: Depiction of Male Fluid Sexuality in the Buffyverse," looking at the fact that female sexuality is OK, but not male. She uses the idea of how in popular culture we smile and buzz about Madonna French-kissing Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears, but the moment Ryan Lambert kisses his male keyboard player he has GONE TOO FAR. She then extended that into the Buffyverse to look at how the males were treated.

The final paper was Ananya Mukherjea's "Men Are Beasts, Women are Pussycats: Gender, "Nature," and Animal References on Buffy." It focused on the S3 episode Beauty and the Beasts, looking at the wild nature of the man. She also quoted Matthew Pateman... I thought maybe I wouldn't mention it to him to avoid the giant head that might result.

The next session I wanted to head to featured a paper called, "Exploring the Fantastic Mundane: A Comparison of the Works of Joss Whedon and Neil Gaiman"... like come ON how awesome is that?? But, it turns out, there was a group of people at the conference who were conducting interviews for an upcoming documentary on the academic world of the Whedonverse, called "Whedonversed." So I was scheduled to be interviewed at the same time as this paper and I missed that panel altogether.

I went into a small room where I was asked a series of questions, and it was a lot of fun (and then everyone who was interviewed all got together to compare how we answered each one!) I was slightly different than the others because I wasn't an academic, so they skipped over the teaching questions for me, obvs. They're heading to Comic-Con this year to conduct interviews with fans, so keep an eye out for them!

Next up: The featured speakers panel!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Slayage! Part Three: The Banquet Speech

And now it’s time for the moment you’ve all been waiting for (well, OK, the moment *I* have been waiting for): the banquet speech! You can either scroll to the bottom if you’d like to watch it first (don’t worry, I won’t spoil it!) or you can read the background first and then watch it.

Now, I’ve talked a lot of smack about Matthew Pateman here on this blog, and it’s (mostly) just bluster because of the antagonistic nature of the paper. When I first saw him present his keynote at the last Slayage in June 2008, I’ll never forget the simultaneous “Wow, that was brilliant”/ “OMG I cannot follow THAT” feelings I had while listening to him. But, he referred to “Bite Me” as seminal and was therefore doomed to have me as a bestie whether he liked it or not. If you praise my books, I become very attached to you as a result. ;) My ego knows no bounds.

We became friends during the conference and shared a ride back to the airport at the end of it, and remained friends through email during the subsequent months afterwards, discovering a mutual love of Hawksley Workman and David Bowie, aside from the obvious one of BtVS. Last October, we were chatting back and forth and talking about Slayage and I began joking about some ideas I had for a paper where I would pair with an academic who would speak in a high jargonistic tone and I would simply roll my eyes and translate it in plain English. But, as I said to him, that would be funny for about 2 minutes. (In my head, it was funny for 4.) I really had no intention of doing a paper at all, and was looking forward to attending a Slayage where I wouldn’t have to present. But after we joked back and forth about other fake papers, a real paper began to emerge involving a pretentious jargon-speaking academic and a bloggy fangirl, and then we started to look at how we could seriously do such a thing. Before we knew it, we were submitting a proposal and were given the banquet slot, my old slot from the last Slayage conference. I was thrilled and a little intimidated... I mean, this is the guy who wrote The Aesthetics of Culture in Buffy the Vampire Slayer““, a book I read and adored, one that made me think, “Oh my GOD why do I even bother writing these silly episode guides if books like this exist??” (Don’t tell him I said that or I will NEVER hear the end of it.) But he seemed to genuinely like my Bite Me book, or so he said, and so we began to collaborate on a paper.

It wasn’t an easy thing to do. First, he lives in England. I live in Canada. While we’re both members of the Commonwealth, it does nothing to bridge that large gap of OCEAN that exists between us. Secondly, we have very very different writing styles. I like to have a very detailed outline showing exactly where I’m going, laying out the paper and how it will conclude. Matthew likes to start typing to see where it will take him. And yet somehow, it worked. He wrote an opening statement, and I laughed and laughed, looked up some of the words, and then constructed a response. He laughed, just ignored the bloggy words he didn’t get, and wrote a response. ;) In the initial idea, the paper devolved into a shouting match — I kept saying I wanted to re-enact the Harmony/Xander graveyard slapfight at the end (I think Matthew thought I was joking… I wasn’t joking) and the paper was originally going right in that direction. That’s when it became REALLY fun to write.

And then in March, I was in London on business. He was also down in London, and so we met up for a couple of hours to work through the paper, and it turned into me coming up with hideous, horrible insults for myself that he could use on me — basically these were the very things I pictured all of the academics thinking about me when I was on my way to the last Slayage, realizing upon arrival that they didn’t think that way about me at all — and he, in turn, came up with vicious things for me to say about him as an academic, as a writer, and as a pretentious wank. We laughed and laughed, and then went off on a tangent just chatting about something that had happened at the last Slayage, where I’d heard the term “fan-scholar” for the first time, as it was used on me, and I told him how unnerved I was by the term because, in its context, it actually sounded derogatory (I believe the usage was, “While we are all scholar-fans in this room, Nikki Stafford is a fan-scholar,” immediately positioning me as the “Other” and making me uncomfortable). We chatted a lot about that, then inserted some of that into the paper, and made a skeletal outline (to make me happy) of where it would go.

And then I got home, reread the entire paper… and was unhappy with the direction. And that’s when I had to make the unpleasant phone call – albeit one I warned him might come (after all, this is the gal who wrote 30,000 words of the season 5 Finding Lost book and then deleted them all because they just didn’t work for me) – telling him that actually, I didn’t think the nasty direction our paper had taken was really working, and that it goes from pleasant to evil in about three sentences. Not to mention I was putting myself out there as anti-academia, something that would pretty much make me the most hated person in the room. He reread the paper and agreed… and we started over. This time with a vague outline to make me happy, but still constructing it as we went along, to make him happy. And just by the fourth paragraph we were already happier about the paper than we’d been before. Out went the real viciousness and the fan-scholar debate, and in went a real paper that strove to actually talk about something, while still taking the occasional pot-shot.

We had this idea that the paper had to be around 20 minutes long, and at one point we had it up over half an hour, so we cut a lot of material out and got it down to about 23 minutes (it was more like 27 when we presented it). Then we practiced it over the phone, with me recording it and then splicing the audio into parts so we could just practice our side against the other person, and that was how we did it (I’m explaining all of this because a LOT of people asked me how we actually worked on it, being so far apart). I was a little nervous about the actual live presentation, just because I didn’t know how it would work with us on stage in person, something we hadn’t really worked through. But the moment we were up there, I felt very confident about it. I knew people didn’t know what was going to happen (other than me declaring it a steel cage match on my blog) and that in the opening of it, it might look like we were actually playing it straight. But soon enough the audience caught on (it might have been our looks of great disdain while the other person was talking) and I think it worked.

So! For the ease of watching, I’ve divided it into short bursts of about 5 minutes each, and you can watch it all in order to hear the entire paper (one section is my particular favourite, but if I told you which one that was, it wouldn’t be as funny without the context of the rest of the paper... oh, you know what, forget I said that: if you just watch one section, watch Part IV!). I will apologize for the sound quality; the only downside to an enormous great hall is the great echo that comes with it. We were going to attempt it without a microphone, worried about the echo, but as you’ll see at the beginning, the audience preferred we use it. I hope you can still hear it OK. And if you’re wondering why I’m barefoot, it’s because I wanted to look even shorter than I already did next to him, and I thought it would be more casual, which is what I was playing in this (I was originally intending to wear my Buffy shirt that I wear in my profile pic at the top of this blog, but TWO other people had worn it that day, and so it seemed rather anticlimactic to do that, so I just went with something else).

Without any further ado, here is our paper, entitled (yes, we’re looking for the prize of the longest paper title ever): “‘Oh, wouldn’t it be tragic if you were here being kinda silly with your comically paralyzed sister while Willow was dying?’ or ‘Excellent. Now. Do we suspect that there may be some connection between Ben and Glory?’: The tragic-comic / comic-tragic methods of miscommunication on Buffy.”

Update: A few people have told me they simply can't make out what is being said throughout the paper, so if you scroll to the bottom you'll find the text version of it. I'd use it only for reference, though; it was a paper that was meant to be heard and seen, not read. ;) (I apologize for the echo in the room!)


MP: Good evening everybody and welcome to our post-prandial peregrinations. This will revolve primarily around two sets of discursive disagreements between Nikki Stafford and myself concerning a broad generic notion (that is also figured in my argument in terms of teleo-structural fulfilment) which is that I believe Buffy to be, in totality, a comedy that utilises drama whereas Ms Stafford believes, mutatis mutandis that it is a drama that utilises comedy. We both argue that miscommunication is a key tool in the show’s construction.

From the beginnings of dramatic narrative, miscommunications of various kinds have been a driving force of story telling. One need only think of Odysseus’s riddle to the Cyclops where one character uses miscommunication to trick another and create a comic possibility; or alternatively, Oedipus’s appalled realisation that the whole narrative has essentially been one tragic oracular miscommunication to note that miscommunication can be comic or tragic, internally organised around character interaction or externally directed at the audience. Television, too has played with miscommunication to thrill, astound, engage, enrage and amuse viewers.

This paper will seek to provide a limited introduction to a typology of miscommunication in Buffy. Any effort to provide a taxonomy is liable to founder on the initial categorisations. This is no different. Stafford thinks of Buffy as a ‘comic drama’ whereas I know it to be a ‘dramatic comedy’. This taxonomic tension underpins our discussion.

NS: As I THINK Dr. Matt said, we are going to be discussing in this post...prandial... peregrendubia...something, whether or not Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a comedy (as HE thinks it is) or a drama, which it is.
OK. Miscommunication has always been a television writer’s best friend... the powers that be use it to offer up either wickedly funny visual and aural gags, or heartbreak that results from tragic misunderstandings. The confusion is often revealed in one of two ways — immediately to the audience, so we know something the characters don’t; or by making the reveal to us at the very end, lending the situation further comedy or drama, whatever the case may be. If we know that there’s been a misunderstanding of sorts between the characters, we laugh along and shake our heads at the O.T.T.-ness of the comedy unfolding on-screen. Think of the ongoing joke on Arrested Development, where the family asks a Korean boy what his name is, and he, not understanding a word of English, says, “Annyong,” meaning Hello, thus accidentally earning him the name “Annyong” for the next two years. But more poignantly, misunderstandings can be used to great dramatic effect, as we will explore in the next 20 minutes.

This paper will attempt to show you how Buffy is at its heart a drama that happened to have very funny moments, rather than a comedy that had a few weepies in there, as Prof P would have you believe.

MP: I regard the conflation of ‘comedy’ and ‘funny’ into something approaching critical synonyms in Stafford’s opening position to be regrettable and indicative of a certain lack of criticality. Notwithstanding that terminological misapprehension, let me continue with my argument.

The title of my proposal for this joint paper included the following quotation from the show: “Oh, wouldn't it be tragic if you were here being kinda silly with your comically paralyzed sister while Willow was dying?” Anya’s comment to Buffy in ‘Same Time, Same Place’ is an example of entirely successful communication, and tells a direct truth about Buffy’s predicament and Buffy’s premise. In this episode, Willow is so scared of the possible effects of communicating with her friends that she accidentally sets up a situation in which miscommunication cannot occur because communication itself is impossible. However, Anya’s comment, and its direct relation to genre, and differing modalities of narrative communication clearly invites the viewer to reconsider the seeming non-sequitur she offers up in ‘Restless’. Commenting with sagacity but a certain opacity, she declares, ‘we should only be Greek’. Not only does this, as I have suggested elsewhere, open up the legitimate juxtaposition of Buffy with ancient cultures, but specifically, in the current debate, it will put us all in mind of Aristotle’s Poetics and his concern with the very notion of genre that we are engaged with. It is worth noting that miscommunication is being used in this episode as a comic tool with potentially catastrophic consequences, but is also inviting explicit speculation on the role of the assumed polarities of comedy and drama.

NS: O.M.G. Dr. Matt has chosen an interesting example of miscommunication, but one that I actually read as being dramatic. Anya’s comment might seem funny to a warped mind, but knowing that Willow is off in some cave having her freakin’ stomach peeled off while Anya is posing Dawn like a life-sized action figure? Not so much with the funny for me.

So, I chose a different title for our paper, going with, “Excellent. Now. Do we suspect that there may be some connection between Ben and Glory?” Now first, this quotage, in the moment, was hysterically funny, obvs. Spike has seen that Glory and Ben are one and the same, but no matter how hard he tries, he cannot convey this idea to the Scoobies because they’ve been cursed to forget the explanation as soon as they hear it. Spike rails at them, asks them if they’re stoned, eventually gets Xander and Anya together to make the connection, sighs with victory... and then Giles says the line I just quoted. And that’s when Spike realizes he’s not going to get anywhere with these dolts.

So how is this awesomesauce moment tragic? Because of what happens next. Like with all of the comedy on BtVS, this is only a teeny-tiny moment of LOLs to tide us over before we get back to the real drama. For if Spike cannot convince everyone that Ben and Glory are totally the same, Dawn could die. In retrospect we watch that scene with the tinge of tragedy that we later attribute to it, knowing that ultimately Giles will discover the truth, and in doing so, will become a cold-blooded murderer. Spike’s EPIC FAIL contributes to Buffy’s death, and the scene of Spike leaning over Buffy’s lifeless body, sobbing and unable to control himself, is one of the most heartwrenching of the series. Thus the greater thing at play here is the drama, as it is with every episode, no matter how funny. Comedy has been used to drive and invert the drama, not the other way around.

MP: It is true: individual moments of miscommunication can operate humorously or dramatically, or can even traverse both possible emotional responses simultaneously. However, once again, Stafford asserts that ‘comedy’ means ‘funny’. One of these terms, ‘comedy’ is being used here (by me anyway) to describe the total effect of a complex of interpenetrating narrative components whose aggregated union establish generic modalities: in the case of Buffy comedic ones. The other is being used a simple adjective indicating mirth, a mirthfulness very frequently lacking from the generically comedic Buffy. Indeed, some of the most memorable moments of miscommunication are clearly incredibly painful. One need only think of Xander’s purposeful miscommunication of Willow’s information to Buffy about the spell to re-ensoul Angel in ‘Becoming Part II’; or Giles’s assumption that Buffy is talking about Glory when she tells him on the phone that ‘She’s here’ in ‘The Body’; or another moment where Giles mis-reads the signs as he climbs the petal-strewn stairs to his bedroom and the murdered Jenny in ‘Passion’; or the final shot of ‘Normal Again’ where the catatonic Buffy offers the viewer a communicative aporia. But that is not the point.

My general assertion about Buffy being a drama comedy is not unduly difficult. The distinctions drawn between comedy and drama in terms of generic expectations are still largely influenced by the schematisations articulated in 'De tragoedia et comoedia'. This text is made up of two late fourth-century essays by the grammarians Donatus and Evanthius and was widely circulated in editions of the plays of Terence used in Renaissance schools and universities. A similar treatise by another early grammarian, Diomedes was also influential.

Very briefly, there is an assumption that comedies end happily and tragedies end unhappily. If this is true, then what implications might that have when considering texts whose characters confront potentially (or even actual) tragic situations? If we contemplate one of Whedon’s great loves, Shakespeare, then we can see that Shakespeare's comic protagonists regularly face alienation, abandonment, and death. As Susan Snyder has stated: “What makes the difference is [...] the operation of a kind of 'evitability' principle whereby shifts and stratagems and sheer good luck break the chain of causality that seemed headed for certain catastrophe”.

Buffy is nothing if not a constant affirmation of the ability to break the chain of causality. For all its death and mayhem, Buffy’s ending is happy. And it is exactly this ending that is vital. As the credits begin to roll for the final time at the end of episode 22 of season seven, a complete structure is offered to us, a narratological homogeneity, a totality of the Buffy experience. Any assessment of any part of the show must base itself within the context of the overall structural whole – and this structural whole allows what had previously been only an adumbration to be seen concretely: Buffy is a comedy. As Buffy smiles silently, and the rest of the gang ponder the future, it is clear that she and they have won – they have bested fate, defeated the inevitable, conquered prophecy and predestination and, as a consequence, they have made the show a comedy through autonomous human agency. Agency presupposes the possibility of conjoining the petits recits of our protagonists in a constantly evolving and infinitely possible set of narrative structures as opposed to the autotelic tyranny of fatalistic determinacy.

NS: OK. Something tells me that we’re on slightly different wavelengths here. Digital [point to me]. Analog [point to Matthew]. If you want to pull all of this into the realm of Greek or Shakespearean tragedy or comedy then of COURSE you could pretty much shoehorn Buffy into just about any argument you want to make. Homer Simpson could argue Buffy was a comedy in THAT case. Yes, Buffy had tons of memorable comic moments that undercut otherwise dramatic moments: Giles handing foreboding books to Buffy before revealing they’re from the Time/Life series and he got a free calendar with the complete set; Buffy telling the Master he has fruit punch mouth; the reveal of Gachnar; the Troika arguing about their favourite James Bond; Anya hilariously mocking the funny way British people talk.
But at the outset of this paper we were referring specifically to TELEVISION drama and comedy. Not El Comedioso and Tragedia or WTF Matt was just talking about. Yes...

[WTF exchange]

NS: Use it on your students. They’ll think you’re totally awesome. Anyway, by the definition Professor Jargon here uses [big eye roll from Matthew], a happy ending would constitute a comedy. But if that were true, almost any television show would be considered a comedy, since almost every series ends happily in some way. I mean, come on, by this rationale, the greatest television tragedy of all time would be... ALF. Everyone remember that show, with the lovable little stuffed-puppet-aardvarky-sarcasm-wielding thing that lived in the Tanners’ garage? ALF was an alien from the planet Melmac. At the beginning of the series, the “Alien Task Force” comes to the Tanner house saying they’re looking for this alien that has landed and they want to take him in and – I quote – “We'll see how it responds to intense heat, freezing cold, high voltage, toxic substances, pain, sleep deprivation, inoculation, and, of course, dissection.” The Tanners, of course, lie and say they’ve seen no such thing, and spend the rest of the series hiding ALF and becoming besties with him. In the series finale, two of his fellow Melmackians fly down to Earth to pick him up. The Tanners drive him out to a field, have a tearful goodbye, and drive off, and just as ALF is about to board the spaceship, the Alien Task Force shows up, the Melmackians freak out and fly away, and ALF is left standing there facing the people who will no doubt put him through the worst tortures they have to offer. FADE TO BLACK. END OF SERIES. CHILDHOOD TRAUMA.

Now, of course this was intended to be a SEASON finale cliffhanger, and the show was canceled in the summer making it the INADVERTENT series finale, but still, if we take the finale on its own, this show was a horrific tragedy, and not the comedy – avec laugh track – that we had enjoyed for four years previous to it.

MP: While Stafford chooses to employ a kind of reductio ad absurdum here, I would remind her that I did not simply assert that Buffy is a generic comedy because it has a happy ending, rather that the ending (ambiguous and laconic as it is with Buffy’s enigmatic smile) asserts the ‘evitability’ of fate: comedy refuses to see agency pre-determined: Oedipus Tyrannus is not a tragic drama because it ends sadly but because fate is absolute and over-wheening. And in the case of ALF, any assessment of a TV show that does not take into account the production histories that led to the narrative conclusion is not serious: ALF is obviously not a tragic narrative; it is an incomplete comic narrative.

And it would be an egregious failure of academic responsibility not to correct Ms Stafford’s factual error about where this paper (and indeed the entire history that allows this paper to be) started. She asserts, in her vulgarly capitalised way, that we began with television drama – we did not: we began by identifying a disagreement about the status of Buffy but then moved on to Odysseus and Oedipus – a critical and historical context that I would have thought was both generally valuable and specifically pertinent given Buffy’s engagement with both texts. But Ms Stafford has chosen to ignore them, and now, it seems is eager to banish them altogether from the discussion.

NS: OK, Giles here was the one who introduced those concepts at the beginning of our paper when originally we had agreed to discuss whether or not Buffy was a comedy or a drama, and the last time I checked, it was a TELEVISION SHOW, and therefore I’m looking at it within the context of television. He’s the one who brought the Greeks into it. So let’s bring it back to what we were discussing before Matt went... wherever it was he went.

MP: I ‘went’ as you so peculiarly put it..

NS: Uh, this is MY verse, hel-LO… NOW. Wikipedia divides Television Comedy into several sub-categories, and one of them is comic-drama, which it defines as “a program that combines humour with more serious dramatic elements, aiming for a considerably more realistic tone...” This is a pretty solid definition of what BtVS achieves. It combines humour with more serious dramatic elements.

In television, the divide between comedy and drama is usually super obvious. Think of Roseanne, for example, another Whedon-influenced show. It was hilarious, it had a laugh track... but Becky got pregnant out of wedlock; Jackie suffered from an abusive boyfriend; Dan kept losing jobs; Darlene couldn’t keep a regular relationship; Dan had a heart attack... and then season 8 was completely freakin’ bonkers. But that aside, it was a comedy, and no one would argue any different (except maybe in season 8 when it was just STUPID).

Now, in contrast, The Wire was one of the most dire and devastating shows ever made. Families were broken, people were murdered, cops had their lives destroyed, everyone was corrupt... but it had moments of REAL hilarity, causing the audience to laugh out loud at either an inside joke or a rare moment of slapstick. No one would argue that this is a comedy – to even suggest that would probably incur charges of racism or a complete lack of human compassion – but the series still ended with hope for a new day.

While Buffy was definitely a more optimistic show than The Wire will ever be, and had more laugh-out-loud moments, it was a drama, one that still made us laugh through our tears, but which gave us those tears nevertheless.

MP: Ah Wikipedia, the 21st century’s version of, ‘A bloke in a pub told me…’.This ‘research-light’ version of generic investigation repeats Stafford’s earlier failure to recognise the difference between the totality of Buffy as a genre, and specific attributes it may have which would include ‘humour’. And, as Stafford is right to point out, tears.

Arguably, no tears have been more coldly extracted than those of Andrew in ‘Storyteller’. This episode is riotously funny. Andrew’s attempts to hide himself in the cloak of cliché and to narrate himself as the hero of a set of fables that are generically pre-determined in their formal construction (sage story teller; super villain, unwilling servant of fate) are brilliant. His desire to reduce the world to simplified formally recognisable structures of communication (advert, soap opera, fairy tale) offers visually hilarious vignettes that nevertheless extend our understanding of his inability to confront his responsibility as the murderer of Jonathan. Buffy has become increasingly estranged and aloof. When she confronts Andrew and insists that he must close the Hellmouth with his blood and potentially, death, we are in a deeply disturbing place. I believed, when watching the episode for the first time, that Buffy was capable of killing Andrew in cold blood. How far had she drifted from the ‘hero’ Giles identified who could not kill Ben in ‘Chosen’?

Andrew has been miscommunicating all episode – substituting sincerity for reduced generic simplicity. Here his lachrymosal declaration of guilt is sincere: cowardly, perhaps; selfish, even: but sincere. His sincerity has been bought at the price of Buffy’s duplicity. The tears close the hellmouth, temporarily thwarting the First.

The fact that we believe Buffy will kill Andrew is terrifying; Andrew’s tears are very moving and the episode is astonishingly funny. But what makes the episode a comedy (one of the few in the terms I am asserting) is that at the end, Andrew attempts to continue his self-narrative to camera, and ends up turning it off. He no longer strives to locate his subject-hood in the pre-determined discourses of genre, myth, fable or whatever. Instead, he accepts responsibility, and refuses both the consolation and constraint of fate as the determiner of action. Evitability wins.

NS: While it pains me to admit that Dr. Bore-able just gave an excellent analysis of one of my favourite season 7 episodes, I really can’t help but think that his understanding of comedy is just grossly different than mine. “Storyteller” is one of the funniest episodes of the season, but Andrew turning off the camera in the final moments is heartbreaking. Once again, the episode used comedy to fuel its plot, but ultimately even the funniest episode focusing on Xander’s successor in buttmonkeydom became a serious drama in the end. Let me point to one last episode in BtVS that also achieved that goal.

In “A New Man,” Giles, who has just realized that Maggie Walsh is becoming Buffy’s new Yoda and as such he is feeling increasingly useless and invisible, is turned into a Fyarl demon. Unable to communicate with anyone because he now speaks in a language consisting of loud growls (not unlike my colleague), Giles bumbles through a series of comic scenes. But when Buffy, working with the Initiative, suddenly breaks into the room where Giles is and attempts to stab him, only to look into his eyes and realize who is really in there, it’s terrifying. Like the end of “Storyteller,” we think there’s a possibility Giles might actually die in this scene, but he doesn’t. Instead, Buffy apologizes for keeping him out of the loop... yet still goes back to Professor Walsh instead of Giles. The ending is a sad one, the circumstances that brought him to this lowly state are every parent’s nightmare, and the comic moments with Spike crashing the Gilesmobile or Giles running after Maggie as he tries to scare her are simply in there to lighten the tension of an otherwise dramatic ep.

MP: I agree, wholeheartedly. Buffy was a drama.

NS: [Throws hands up in the air, about to celebrate... looks at Matthew... hands slowly drop.] You have But-Face.

MP: BUT... more than any other drama on television that I can think of, it engaged absolutely with the notion of refusing to disavow human agency in the face of seemingly insuperable and (in the context of the show) absolutely real fatalistic predeterminations. In the case of Giles as a Fyarl demon, Buffy refuses to accept the injunction that Demons and monsters are inevitably bad. This is a staggeringly strong refutation of prescriptions in favour of agency. This agency is not without its own problems, but it is a disavowal of fate and its anti-agency assumptions. Buffy is fated to die at the hands of the Master and she does, but Xander brings her back. This is obviously a dramatic moment but the resolution of the season is comedic in the sense of being both happy and anti-fatal. Season two by contrast ends in abject misery and is emphatically not comedic – fate has won insofar as the prophecy relating to Acathla demands the death of Angel to save the world: Buffy, heroically, tragically, beautifully, heart-wrenchingly, obliges. If the show had ended there, I would not be claiming for one second that it is, in totality, a comedy. But it didn’t. Season three sees fate bested again, but Angel leaves: comedic structure, heartbreaking emotion. Season four eschews any easy generic closure and offers us the beguiling polymorphousness of an anti-ending. Season five is entirely a dramatic tragic ending – ‘Death is your gift’ says the spirit guide and Buffy duly offers herself as per destiny demands. Again, had the show ended here, I would not be claiming for it the status of a comedy. But UPN stepped in and the rest is (comedic) history.

NS: You know what? Generally when Professor Polymorphous is talking I just start thinking about my next blog post on the series finale of Lost, but what he just said was interesting, and it made me realize... maybe we’re looking at this all wrong. Maybe Buffy is simply indefinable. It’s like M*A*S*H... a sitcom about the horrors of war (yeah, THAT’S funny). M*A*S*H was nominated for awards in the Comedy category because the laugh track defined it as such. But fans of the show knew there were as many tears as there were laughs — how could a show that ended with a scene of a mother smothering her own baby so the enemy wouldn’t hear her hiding in the bushes be considered pure comedy? And similarly, despite the fact Joss Whedon entered Buffy into dramatic categories at the Emmys (a point I was going to argue earlier but I figured he’d go all New Criticism “authorial intention” on me... yeah, surprise, I do know SOME of that stuff), it’s hard to pigeonhole Buffy into one category or the other. Maybe that’s why we just can’t see eye to eye on this is because we’re trying to categorize a show that defies categorization.

MP: The question of authorship is important, you’re right; and it’d be hard to be arguing for agency if I then deny some idea of intention. So, while I think it is maybe a bit too easy to say it defies categorisation, its complexity is certainly in excess of our ability to fathom. Also, my being about three feet taller than you makes eye to eye difficult! Truce?

NS: Yeah, truce. But seriously, Diomedes? I mean, come ON.

MP: Why the FACE??

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Slayage! Part Two

On Friday we woke up early and went to the breakfast offered at the Holiday Inn. After his particularly dreadful experience at the Denny's the day before, Matthew decided to join us (apparently his British accent pissed off one of the waitresses, who couldn't understand a thing he said, and she became annoyed with him and decided to ignore him altogether... the rest of us vowed to eat there on Saturday morning because we HAD to see this for ourselves!). The food on this particular morning was kind of crap and overpriced, and we were kind of wishing we'd gone to Denny's instead.

Then it was off to the opening day keynote by Janet (Steve) Halfyard, a professor at the Birmingham Conservatoire. She is the author of Music, Sound and Silence in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Ashgate Popular and Folk Music Series), a book that sold out at the conference before I had a chance to buy a copy, so I'll have to grab it off Amazon. I'd seen her paper at the last conference, and it was fantastic, so I was really looking forward to this one. The title of her paper was "Listening to Buffy: Music, Memory, Meaning, and Moping." She is a musician who performs under the name Steve Halfyard, but teaches as Janet (I used to think they were two people!) and her paper focused on the love themes on BtVS. It was an AMAZING paper, where she showed us several clips from the show, asking us to listen to the non-diegetic music and try to tune out the dialogue and what is happening in the scene, and she talked about that particular Buffy love theme that we all know and love. And if you DON'T know what I'm talking about, here it is (interspliced with lots of luverly pics of Angel and Buffy in swoony lovesick po-faceness):

In a presentation that involved clips of this song's usage in every scene it appeared, and talking about the context surrounding its appearance, where at times Janet even sat down at the piano and just played the parts and showed how they varied from scene to scene, she showed that the "Buffy and Angel Love Theme" was more Buffy's theme because it was something that really only identifies with her... it's used in the background when she and Giles are talking about Angelus, for example. There's a theme that plays in the Giles/Jenny scenes in "Passion" that uses the motifs from this theme but alters them, and then the more traditional full theme is used again when Buffy finds Kendra dead. She went through several of these scenes to show that this theme seems to represent what Buffy lost as a result of what Angelus took from her, and that it should be called "Buffy's Loss Theme." She carried it all the way through to "I Will Remember You," in that scene where Angel walks out into the sunlight, where it's a similar theme but it actually resolves to a major key, utterly changing the tone of the song, and then it reverts back to the sadness when Angel has to take the day away from her. It was an extraordinary paper, and I have a classical music background and often DO focus on the music in the scenes, so I loved it even more. Talking to her afterwards, I asked her if she ever watched Lost (she'd mentioned in the paper that most TV shows don't pay much attention to their background music other than to have suspenseful songs in suspenseful scenes and sappy violins in love scenes) and she didn't, and I told her she really should because each character has their own musical motif, and that Giacchino intertwines them when he brings characters together and really does some amazing things with the music. (Matthew, standing nearby, looked over and said, "Oh GOD, do you EVER stop talking about that SHOW?!" Ahem.) I adored this paper.

Sadly I had to skip the next panel; I really wanted to see the one with Jennifer K. Stuller, who was doing one on pop culture influences on the Whedonverse. Ian, Sue, and Ryan went to it and said it was great (but apparently there was a spoiler rapist in the audience -- I got the term "spoiler rape" from Rhonda Wilcox and I think it's a brilliant term -- who decided he had to announce exactly what happens in the entirety of the season 8 comics, spoiling it right up to the most recent issue, and it actually had very little bearing on the discussion... he was clearly just someone who reveled in ruining things for people. It's too bad the chair of that panel didn't stop him in time, but it sounds like he got it all out before he could be stopped. Poor Sue now knows who Twilight is... Argh).

But ANYWAY... the reason I couldn't go to this panel was because Matthew and I had to rehearse our paper, which we were presenting that evening. (See the next post for more background about our paper.) We had been practising it over the phone and by email for months, but we'd never actually done the entire thing in person, so we required a rehearsal. We asked David Lavery if it would in any way be possible to practise it in the dining hall where we would be presenting that night. He went and grabbed Tamara Wilson, one of the two professors who was hosting us at Flagler, and she said no problem and took us over. And when we got there, we were stopped in our tracks. I have never, and will probably never again, get up and speak in a place that was this magnificent. I'd seen pictures online, and was rather taken aback by the beauty, but it's a place that must be seen to be believed:

Those beautiful wooden columns flank each side of the room, and move up to these gorgeous wooden beams across the top. And the WINDOWS:

GORGEOUS. These were made by hand by Louis Tiffany himself, he of the famous Tiffany windows and lamps. They are absolutely breathtaking. At the back of the hall, where you first enter, this balcony hangs over the room:

I joked that we should find our way up there and insist on giving the entire paper from the balcony. Matthew didn't go for it. Sigh. You can see a bit of the ceiling there, which was entirely painted by hand. Oh, and the light fixtures? All wired by hand by Thomas Edison!! The place is AMAZING.

So, we got into the room and found stumbling block #1: One podium. Our entire paper had been constructed with the idea of two podiums (podia?) in mind, two mikes, and we would often be interrupting each other. We talked to the tech guy, and he said no, they only had one mike, and he'd look and see if he could scrounge up a second one somewhere but I said no, no worries, we'd figure something out. So rather than just run through the paper, we now had to work out some choreography where we could interrupt each other, but do so on the same mike. And in the end, I think it actually lent further comedy to our paper, at one point giving us the opportunity to do a full-on physical comedy bit that became one of my fave moments of the presentation. We ran through it once, stopping to make suggestions to each other, changing certain lines, etc. (don't worry; changing a line or two at the 11th hour was nothing compared to what happened during the writing of the paper... more on that later) and then did a few sections over and over, practising how we'd move back and forth to the mike, either leaving papers on the podium or taking them with us, etc. And then we did one complete runthrough, which also involved some guys moving a piano around the room while we were talking, and at one point even plunking themselves down in the room and chatting loudly while we were doing our thing. It didn't bother me at all, and I figured if I can keep talking through this, doing the banquet will be a cinch.

Then it was off to lunch. I'd been searching around the interwebs before leaving and had found a place called -- wait for it -- Schmagel's Bagels, and I HAD to eat there. A) I love bagels, and B) it's called Schmagel's Bagels!!!! And it was wonderful. I actually had a wrap instead of a bagel, and everyone at the table got something different, but we all loved the sandwich we got. If you're ever in St. Augustine, check this place out.

And then it was off to the next panel. Depending on the time slot, there are three or four panels running at the same time, and it's REALLY hard to just choose one. The focus of the three sessions running were Buffy; Faith, Willow, Dr. Saunders, Illyria; and Teaching. I wanted to go to the third because it had Elizabeth Rambo in it, and I loved the paper she gave at the last Slayage, but I also really wanted to see the second one with the female characters, so that one won out.

The first paper was by Virginia Grant, who has actually commented on this blog before. I met her at the reception and she was lovely, one of the many people there speaking with that gorgeous southern U.S. accent I love so much. Her paper was "Faith in Feminism" and talked about how Faith's growth throughout Buffy and Angel was a representation of the history of feminism, showing an evolution from masculine competition with Buffy to becoming accepted into society and finding maturity. Grant gave a great argument for how the various waves of feminism have been embodied in Faith's personal growth.

The next paper was by Heather Porter, and was called "'If you could be... you know, plain old Willow or super Willow, who would you be?': Examining Willow's Use of Intelligence and Violence in BtVS." This was a very unique paper, in which Porter had taken a scientific approach to BtVS, constructing a new methodology with which to look at the character of Willow and actually "add up," in a sense, how much of a villain she was. By using Sternberg's Theory of Intelligence, she said there were three main kinds of intelligence a person can demonstrate: creative, analytical, and practical. Successful intelligence is a combination of the three. So she watched the entire series, marking a point in each column every time Willow did something that demonstrated any of these intelligence traits. While she's done the math on several characters, this paper focused on Willow, and how often good Willow showed the various kinds of intelligence, and then how often Evil Willow showed it. She said Dark Willow the most violent and intelligent of the Buffy villains, but in her conclusion said that while Dark Willow was intelligent, she used that for violence because she didn't have the capacity to pull back. She was the most intelligent villain, but not as intelligent as Willow was.

The third paper was by Alysa Hornick, and was entitled, "There Is No Cure for That: Illyria, Dr. Saunders, and the Gendered Body in Angel and Dollhouse." It looked at the way the characters of Illyria and Dr. Saunders -- oddly both played by Amy Acker -- have been gendered as female, when Illyria is arguably a male god, and Dr. Saunders was actually originally a man before his mind was put into the body of Whiskey. Whiskey also ultimately embodies Clyde Randall, another man trapped in a woman's body, and in each case she shows how female bodies are alien objects of power. It was a really interesting paper, and one that made me even more convinced that Amy Acker is a completely underrated actress!

From that panel it was on to the next one, a Dollhouse-themed one, where Ian (yay!) was giving his paper. The first paper was by David Fritts, "Science, Religion, and Magic in Dollhouse." He talked about the difference between irrational magic and the power of science as magic and religion. The best part of the paper focused on Topher and how he acts as a magician of sorts, but one that plays God on a daily basis: even Saunders calls him the Lord God Almighty. He broke down the difference between pulling a rabbit out of a hat magic versus truly powerful scientific magic. One of the creepiest moments of the conference was when Fritts was talking about Topher playing God and a thunderstorm suddenly erupted outside, with loud thunder cracking the moment he said that. Ack!! (The thunderstorms were sudden, fierce, and almost always happened during the second-last panels of the day. And then they'd go away and it would be sunny and muggy and humid and awful outside again, without even the slightest relief from it.) The downside of the paper was that he'd written a lot of it after season 1, and season 2 had changed a lot of the paper, but he didn't revise it much to incorporate that. Still, it was an interesting look at the first season.

The next paper was by Kevin Oberlin, "Winning at Dolls: Dollhouse as a Zero-Sum Game," where he talked about zero-sum rhetoric, i.e. how someone must lose for someone to win. He ran through various scenarios on Dollhouse, from win-win ones at the beginning to the win-lose ones that come later (i.e. if Echo wins, the Dollhouse loses). He showed how Echo had to take the Dollhouse apart wedge by wedge, but in doing so she had to piece herself back together the same way. In this one I wasn't exactly sure where all of it was going, and what we can conclude from the zero-sum argument, but again, it kept me interested throughout.

And finally, Ian Klein's paper, "'I Like My Scars': Claire Saunders and the Narrative of Flesh" (which was an abridged version of the same paper that will be published in the upcoming book Inside Joss' Dollhouse: From Alpha to Rossum: preorder your copy now!) was possibly the best visual presentation I saw over the weekend (Ian timed it so as he was saying certain quotes, they were appearing on the screen and then disappearing... it was quite a performative feat, actually), and it began with a quote from Slattery from The Wounded Body, "Our wounds give the trajectory of our destiny" and wove Whiskey's facial scars from Alpha's attack in with the scars on the back of the protagonist of Toni Morrison's Beloved and Harriet Tubman's scars and what they meant to them. Like these women, Whiskey is enslaved to the Dollhouse, and her scars are the things that ultimately set her free. If Whiskey hadn't had the scars on her face in the first place, this version of Saunders never would have existed. It was a beautiful paper, and I can't wait to read the longer version of it in the book. And it was the only paper of the conference that actually changed my mind about something -- until this paper, I always saw the scars of Whiskey to have been a major flaw in the show. If the dollhouse had the ability to remove scars like they did with Victor, then it didn't make sense that Whiskey still had hers. They seemed to serve no purpose. But instead, now I saw they had an active who couldn't go into regular duty, and a doctor's position that needed filling, and the two went together. They never fixed her face because it worked in the symbolic storyline.

The last panel of the day proved to be one panel too many for me. Lately I worry that I'm suffering from some form of later-life-onset ADHD or something... I can't seem to focus for long periods of time (it's making writing this final book a nightmare at times) and while I was excited to listen to these papers, I ended up sitting on the floor at the back of the room because of how full it was, and I zoned out completely. I began working through the episode guide of Lost, figuring out a writing schedule in my head, wondering how the kids were, remembering I had to remind my husband of some events my daughter had on early the following week, looking at the lights on the ceiling, wondering how many of my authors were sending me frantic emails because I was away on vacation and not editing their books every minute of the day, thinking of the paper I was going to give in a couple of hours, wondering again how in God's name I am going to finish this Lost book on time... and the, I'm sure, excellent papers were happening at the front of the room and I seemed completely unaware of them. Here's hoping when my workload calms a little I'm able to focus again.

Anyway, after this paper it was over to the banquet hall for dinner and our big performance!

Up next: The Matthew Pateman/Nikki Stafford Kind-of-Academic Debate!

LOST - Remember

So, while I'm working through the episode guide I'm also constructing the finale ep guide as I go, because I assume it'll probably be the longest one I'll write in all of the books. And one of the things I was planning to focus on in light of what we ultimately see in the finale is a pivotal scene from season 1's "White Rabbit," where Jack and Locke have a discussion and you can see the seeds of what will ultimately happen to Jack. And then... I found this video by DJC Productions. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

Many people loved the finale, many people hated it. And while you all know I was in the love camp, I have a lot of sympathy and understanding for those who either hated it or were unsatisfied by it. But for those who thought it was random, that it proved the writers didn't know where they were going, maybe this video will show you that the threads of what ultimately happened on the show were already there in the beginning, something I've been suggesting since the series ended three weeks ago (wow, has it already been that long ago??) I hope you enjoy this video as much as I did:

Friday, June 11, 2010

Slayage! Part One

Hello everyone! SO... at the end of May I declared June to be Vampire Month on my blog. Then I posted something about a book launch for the new True Blood book... and promptly disappeared. Was it false advertising? No, of course not. I've actually been blogging madly about vampire-related things for the past week, but then my blog was reflected in a mirror and it all disappeared.

This is TOTALLY true. Ahem.

OK, so I was REALLY away on vacation. The first full week vacation I've taken where I didn't take a ton of work with me (did I still end up doing work late at night online? Of course I did, but not as much as usual!) and I was without kids OR husband... for the first time since having kids. Of course, knowing I have the vast majority of a book to write in the four weeks after returning cast a pall of nerve-addled anxiety over most of the trip, but I'm hoping I hid it well.

The first part of the vay-cay was to attend the Fourth Biennial Slayage Conference (the picture above was taken by Cynthea Masson). This is an academic conference on the Whedonverses, where you listen to scholars from around the world give papers on various aspects of the Whedonverse, from BtVS to Angel to Dollhouse, Firefly, Dr. Horrible, and the Season 8 comics. I attended Slayage in 2008 and was the keynote banquet speaker then, and this time was privileged to, once again, be the banquet keynote, but with a partner, Professor Pompoushead. Also known as Matthew Pateman. More on that to come...

The second half of the trip was heading to Universal Studios with my best friend Sue and two pals we'd met at the last Slayage conference, Ryan Warden and Ian Klein. Also, more on that to come in the following posts.

But, to begin, let's rewind to Thursday, June 3, where I was heading down to Florida. To prepare for the conference, in anticipation of many papers on the comic book series, I had to madly catch up on Season 8. I'd gotten up to the beginning of Wolves at the Gate, but had stopped there. When I'd gone to New York at the beginning of May, I'd met up with Ian and he lent me the most recent arc, "Twilight," and so I had those issues, and the night before I left I finished the Retreat arc, so I just had the Twilight ones to bring on the plane. Now... I'd been warned that these were seriously NSFW, but WHOA. I'm sitting on the plane next to a woman and her daughter (who was watching Treehouse, even though she looked way too old to be watching Treehouse) and suddenly turned the page and ACK!! I shut it quickly, then had to read it by keeping it almost entirely closed and trying to make out the words by only opening the books about an inch. It was a great arc, but of all the issues to be reading in public, it just figures this was the one I'd be reading. My best friend Sue was across the aisle from me, and the girl beside her began vomiting upon the plane's descent, so that took the focus off my comics and onto her. I actually felt terrible for the poor thing... I've never seen anyone vomit on a plane before, but she'd already been on one flight and had thrown up through that one, and then had to take this connecting flight. I get motion sickness at times, so I knew how she felt.

Off the plane, I was texting Ian that we were there and he and Ryan had arrived in Orlando a couple of hours ahead of us. We met up and went to find our rental car so we could drive to Historic St. Augustine.

It had been lovely and hot in Toronto leading up to our trip... hot without humidity, which is the perfect kind of hot. And by hot I mean up to 34 degrees on some days, which, for those who speak Fahrenheit, is in the low 90s. But that was NOTHING compared to how hot it was in Florida. Oh. Em. Gee. It was freakin' crazy hot and humid... like, the moment I stepped out of the airport my flat-ironed hair immediately began curling and wreaking horrible badly styled revenge, and I just knew my hair and I would return to that hate-hate relationship we've shared for so many years. The air was like soup.

Along the way we stopped at a sub place; for a sub combo we had to choose a Pepsi product, and Ian nearly had his hand severed from his body by the owner when he dared to reach into the cooler and grab a Coke. "PEPSI PRODUCTS!!!" the two people behind the counter screeched. Thus began the infectious giggles that pretty much accompanied the four of us wherever we went for the entire weekend. I had a bag of Cheetos, which were much different than the same brand in Canada: these were really fat and excellent. Ryan said if you put them into a microwave apparently amazing things happen. That reminds me... we intended to test that theory and never did. Sigh. Opportunity missed.

The drive was fun, and then we got to our hotel, a Holiday Inn (which was actually very nice) and a jet-lagged-but-not-really-looking-it Matthew Pateman met up with us there and we all headed out to Pizza Hut. Because when you're away in a new place, you should always try the exotic local food.

The conference was being hosted by Flagler College, which has to be one of the most picturesque universities in the United States.

It was once a hotel owned and built by Henry Flagler, a railroad magnate and hotelier in the area. This is looking down the street where we parked the car, looking toward the gates where, if you pass through them you walk into the Ponce de Leon dining hall (more on that in the next post).

And then it was up to the reception to meet the other Slayage peeps, where I also ran into BJ Keeton (he posts here as Professor Beej) and his wife Jennifer and it was lovely to finally see both of them in person! I chatted with many of the folks I'd become friends with at the last Slayage, and it was so nice to see them all. And almost NO ONE had changed one bit. At some point in the conference someone coined the term "Slayage" to mean a two-year period, as in, "a Slayage ago Lost was still in season 4!" and it would seem that no one who attends these conferences actually ages in a Slayage.

And then it was time for David Lavery's paper. David, along with Rhonda Wilcox and this year, Tanya Cochran, is the chair of the Slayage conference. He co-edited Fighting The Forces: What's At Stake In Buffy The Vampire Slayer?, the groundbreaking collection of academic essays on Buffy, and he is also the co-author/co-editor of Saving the World: A Guide to Heroes, the guide to Heroes that features a battle between myself and David about the season 1 finale (and again, more on that later...). The previous Saturday, I'd received an enigmatic email from David asking if A) I would be attending the reception, and B) if so, would I be interested in doing a dramatic reading? I said yes and yes, and was immediately intrigued. The following evening I, along with nine other people, found out we had become Chosen Ones to help him act out his paper, which was a look at Joss Whedon's interview style. He was focusing on five key interviews Joss had done throughout his career, and then he divided the 10 people into five groups of two people each, and we had to play the roles of interviewer or Joss. I, happily, was a Joss!! (I represented his female side, since I was the only female one up there.) I got the 2003 IGN interview, and it was fun. We were all lined up at the front and David and Rhonda conducted the back-and-forth online questionnaire Joss had participated in a few years ago, and they were hysterically funny, and then we all had scripts and had to jump in when it was our turn. Matthew was British Joss, and Ian was one, along with Jim Wilson (one of the Flagler hosts) and David Kociemba, who had done a great paper at the last conference about how to teach Buffy to a room of students where half have seen the entire series and the other half haven't seen a single episode (do you spoil? Do you keep secrets about the ending?)... of all of us, David got the tone of Joss's answering style down the best, even though at lunch Ian had us in stitches as he tried to do his lines with Joss's lisp (he didn't actually do it for the presentation). We had a ton of fun doing it, and David once again put on a fantastic show for people.

After that we headed off to Scarlett O'Hara's, a bar in town that Ian had yelped and found had good reviews (once again we were in stitches as he found a review for another place by a reviewer who wrote like Kenneth the Page on 30 Rock, and he read it out as if Kenneth were saying it... I'm laughing just thinking about that). A group of us headed down to Scarlett's to chill out after a day of traveling and prepare for the first official day of the conference. First I had to move the car out of the parking lot where we'd paid and onto the street where it was now free, but had the dilemma of it being a one-way street going the wrong way. So I backed it out of the parking lot and reversed the car all the way down the street, pulling into the spot and opening the car door to applause. Sue's drink was way too strong (not a common complaint you get in bars!) and Ian offered to drink it for her (he's such a caring soul) while I sat cross-legged in a rocking chair and was ribbed for looking like a yogi talking to her people. As I drank my non-alcoholic beverage.

Next up: The first full day of the conference!