Friday, July 27, 2012

Nikki's Slayage Report: Day 2

My Mr Pointy sitting in the window, the next morning.
What a lovely thing to wake up to! (I left it there,
forgetting it would probably freak out housekeeping.)

Warning, this is a long one. 

Jonathan Gray
Day 2 began with a BRILLIANT keynote by Jonathan Gray. And I mean brilliant. I think everyone in the room was just astonished at the breadth of this presentation. Gray is the author of several books on television studies (many of which I want to get my hands on now) and is a professor of Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Wisconsin. Entitled “Joss Whedon as Undead Author,” Gray’s presentation used Roland Barthes’ “The Death of the Author” as the context within which to place our reverence of Joss, and how it’s difficult for scholars and fans to look at the works of Joss Whedon without taking him and his intent into consideration. Joss isn’t the only author of his works – he spreads his power around to a team of other writers and directors, who take his initial ideas and turn them into something more. But Joss also opens up his works to us, the viewer, for our interpretations, allowing us to write the shows along with him, so to speak, through our interpretations. I loved his idea of how as a series unfolds, our perspective changes. The world changes around us (it made me think of how the world was a different place at the beginning of season 6 than it was at the beginning of season 5, for example, immediately following 9/11), our lives change, and we watch it differently. Again, I thought of my loathing for Joyce when I first watched the show as someone who was unmarried and had no children, and my new respect and understanding for her now that I’m older with two kids as I rewatched it during our Rewatch last year. For the Lost fans, he’s clearly a Lost fan as well, and during the Q&A he brought in Darlton as writers, saying how annoyed he is by people who charge them with making it up as they go along. He said of course they did, because if they didn’t it wouldn’t have been as good a show if they simply stuck to one plot that had been conceived six years earlier and didn’t take anything outside of the show into consideration. YES!

l-r: David, Rhonda, Tanya, Kristoffer Karl Woofter,
Cynthia Burkhead
At the end of Gray’s presentation, Tanya Cochran leapt up and had a special presentation of her own. (She’d told me the night before, so I was very excited to see it happen!) First, a special Mr Pointy, like mine, was awarded to Alysa Hornick, an independent scholar who has been keeping an online bibliography that is constantly updated of all Whedonverse articles. (You can see it here.) Next up, Tanya said they wanted to give special recognition to the two founders of Buffy Studies (now Whedon Studies), Rhonda Wilcox and David Lavery, who co-edited the first academic collection on Buffy called Fighting the Forces, started the Slayage website, and subsequently started the Slayage conference. They’ve been slowly stepping away from the administrative side of things and turning things over to other people (Tanya is the new president of the Whedon Studies Association, Stacey Abbott the vice-president) so the members of the Whedon Studies Association wanted to show their appreciation for what they’d done for Whedon studies in general. They presented them each with a special plaque, and then (something that elicited gasps and squeals of delight from the crowd) their own golden Protector umbrellas!!! Tanya had decorated them to look like Buffy’s umbrella from “The Prom,” and then left them out on the tables afterwards so everyone could sign them. David Lavery held his and declared that this particular conference had the lowest mortality rate of any Slayage conference, haha!!

Rhonda posing with her plaque and umbrella. 

l-r: Linda Jencsen, Jessica Hautsch, Katia McClain
Next up was the first panel of the day, and I was really interested in the post-colonial session on BtVS so that’s where I ended up. The first paper was by Jessica Hautsch, who was at her first Slayage (and was part of our “Why Dawn?” trivia team), and her paper was called “The White Hats’ Burden: Developing Spike within the Colonial Discourse of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Her paper talked about how Spike is racialized as an Other at the beginning, but is colonialized at the end, through his chip and starting to take on the belief system of those around him. Excellent, excellent paper. Katia McClain was next, and she focused on the character of Jenny Calendar (which I marked in my notes as ♥♥♥… I miss you, Jenny). She showed various pictures of Jenny’s costumes on the show, showing how in some ways she was positioned as a “gypsy” (the derogatory term for people of Romani descent) and in others she was given her own style. She also said that in 33 sources she checked where Jenny was mentioned, only 7 of them referred to her as both “gypsy” and “Romani,” and of those 7, none of them exclusively referred to her as “Romani.” I’m thinking the reason for that is because on the show, she’s referred to as gypsy, and “gypsy” and “Romani” are used synonymously. I was pretty sure I’d referred to her as both in my book (though it’s been *coughcough* years since I wrote season 2) because I remember doing the research on the Kalderash people and the Romani culture. (I was thrilled when Katia came up to me the following day and told me that not only was I one of the 7 people who referred to them as both, but I was the only one that actually had a detailed explanation of the culture. Then she added, “I don’t think people tell you this very often, but your book is a valuable resource for scholars.” BLUSH. Thank you, Katia! That meant the world to me.)

And finally was the panel chair, Linda Jencson. Jessica told me afterwards that it was entirely unplanned that her paper would complement Jessica’s as much as it did: Jencson’s was about “Pangs” and the vampire as the Othered character, and how in that episode they show how the Indian is racialized, but if you step back and look at the broader picture, the vampire is the Othered character.

An excellent panel!

Next up was the second Fandom panel (again I say “duh” on my attendance there). This particular time slot was the worst one for me, because there was someone in every panel that I wanted to see. The Dollhouse panel featured Marcus Recht, who I mentioned earlier, and after his stunning paper at SCW4 I was sad to miss this one, “DeWitt on Top of Dollhouse’s “Glass Ceiling”: A Visual Analysis of Female Leadership Ability.” Also in that panel was Lorna Jowett, another person I was sad to miss, who delivered a paper called, “‘I love him… is that real?’: Interrogating Romance in Dollhouse.” Over in room 4 was the Cabin in the Woods/Dr. Horrible panel (waaaaah!) which I really REALLY wanted to see, because it’s new scholarship on two of the newest additions to the Whedonverse, and it would be great to see the early papers. “Watchers in the Woods: Ludic Reflexivity as Horror Criticism in Cabin in the Woods” by Kristopher Karl Woofter sounded fantastic. In the only instance of panel splitting, I divided my time between the two remaining rooms.

Jayne never looked so good!
The first panelist in the Fandom room was Jennifer K. Stuller, whose paper I missed at the last Slayage, much to my chagrin. She was in the Great Buffy Rewatch on Week 4 (good god, what was I thinking putting that picture at the top of that page… it gives me the heebs just looking at it!), Week 20, in the “loved it” camp of the Beer Bad week (I forgave her), and Week 48. Her paper was called “Numfar! Do the Dance of Seduction! Nerd Burlesque, Performing Fandom, and the Whedonverse,” and it focused on the burlesque troupes at fan gatherings, and in particular the popularity of Whedon-based ones. (She also used the term “nerdlesque,” which I adored.) Here’s an article on Whedonesque Burlesque, and you can go here to check out the group’s Facebook page. Her PowerPoint that accompanied her very lively presentation showed some of the posters advertising the nerdlesque, and my two favourites were the Doctor Who–based one, called Behind the Blue Door (ha!) and the Game of Thrones­–inspired one called Stark Naked (hahaha!) Amazing.

Now, I would have loved to have stayed for that entire panel, but I jumped to room 3, where the panel was on “History, Culture and Pop Culture in the Whedonverses.” I caught the tail end of Frances Sprout’s paper, “‘We Destroyed the Mall? I Fought on the Wrong Side’: Consumerism and the Gift Economy in Buffy and Angel.” I wish I could have seen the full paper, because it sounded really interesting. Also, I found out Frances and I had a mutual friend when a longtime friend of mine sent me a note right before I left, telling me to say hi to her. (If you go to the “Once More With Feeling” week and watch Cynthea’s paper on “Rest in Peace,” Frances is the last one to enter the room at the beginning.) Next up was Erika Lauren Lindgren, doing a paper on “Buffy Gets Medieval: Historical Literacy and Medievalism in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where she showed the two sides of medievalism from today’s perspective: romantic (knights, chivalry, damsels in distress) and violence (“I’m gonna git medieval on yo ass.”) She looked at the various medieval weaponry used on Buffy, as well as examining Anya, the only truly medieval character on the show.

And finally, it was time for Ensley Guffey, the reason I’d switched rooms. Ensley is the husband of the aforementioned brilliant K. Dale Koontz, and one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. I heard he gave a Breaking Bad paper at PCA last year, and he was kind enough to send it to me, and I loved it. I went to PCAS in New Orleans in October and saw him give a paper on the history of the Colt rifle and its significance on Supernatural (he’s a history major, so he comes at pop culture from that perspective). I was so impressed with the two papers that I emailed him after and asked if he’d ever consider doing an episode guide, and now he and Dale are working on a Breaking Bad book called Wanna Cook?, and I’m their editor. (Due out in spring 2014 from ECW Press!) Watch this space for more information.

Ensley was also involved in the Buffy Rewatch in the same weeks as Dale, and as I already mentioned (but have to say again) you must check them out in the “Once More with Feeling” week just to see their version of “I’ll Never Tell.” It’s laugh-out-loud hilarious.

l-r: Frances Sprout, Erika Lauren Lindgren, Ensley Guffey

Ensley’s paper was entitled “War in the Whedonverses: Representations of World War II in Angel, Firefly, and The Avengers,” and the paper showed, well, just that. He first explained the concept of “historical memory,” how we select memories to construct meaning. Countermemories stand in a subversive relation to collective memory. In other words, Good vs. Evil in WWII: Good = US; Evil = Germany. Typically every other country – except sometimes the UK – is pretty much forgotten. His point was well taken, especially since he was giving the paper in Canada, where we lost tens of thousands of troops in the Second World War. To link it to the Whedonverse, he looked at the Angel episode, “Hero,” and the way the Scourge were depicted as Nazis. He talked about the mise en scène in “The Message” and how one of the screen captures seemed to perfectly echo a Tom Lea painting called The Two Thousand Yard Stare. He said he actually contacted Tim Minear to ask him if it was on purpose, and blew Minear’s mind when Minear went to check out the painting and emailed him back to basically say holy crap no, I wasn’t doing it on purpose, but WOW. Finally, he looked at the character of Captain America in The Avengers and again looked at another Tom Lea painting and compared it to the depiction in The Avengers.

I walked out of that room thrilled with the paper, and thrilled that I was working on a book with Ensley and Dale. Both of them knocked it out of the park on those papers.

Now, I don’t know if it was jetlag, or lack of sleep, or a combination of the two, but the next session was one I had really been looking forward to, but I felt like a hit a wall as I was walking up to my seat and was ready to drop from exhaustion. Maybe it was the four panels on Day 1, but MAN. I’m thrilled to say the papers were all EXCELLENT, and any less and I would have pulled the arms up on the side of the chairs and stretched across a few of them to catch a nap, but these papers kept me riveted enough to stay awake (and then I got my second wind so I was fine).

First up was Alyson Buckman, who I was thrilled to have involved in the Rewatch. She joined us on Week 43 with Cynthea Masson, talking about “Normal Again,” “Entropy,” and “Seeing Red.” Her paper was entitled “‘Didn’t Get the Memo? Hero of the People Now’: Hat Tricks and the Complication of Viewer Responses in the Works of Joss Whedon.” It was an exciting look at how some actors show up again and again in the Whedonverse, playing different characters. If you watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer all the way through BEFORE you watched Firefly, your initial reaction to Captain Mal was probably, “Oh my GOD, not him!!! He is EVIL.” But if you watched it in order (he appeared on Firefly first) you had a reaction like I did, “Oh check it out: the priest is Captain Mal! He MUST be a good guy, right? RIGHT?!” And then by the time he’s on Dr. Horrible he’s probably transcended just one of those characters, so we expect him to be all funny and shit. She talked about how sometimes they’re cast to be similar people (think of Tom Lenk as Andrew and Ronald the Intern) and sometimes they’re not meant to be the same, but perhaps because of limited acting ability (without naming names, we’ll just say Faith/Echo) they come off as similar. It’ll be interesting to see if she revises this excellent paper once Much Ado About Nothing comes out, since it’s full of Whedonverse folk.

She played a video during her talk that I watched several months ago, but I’m not sure I ever posted it here. It’s definitely worth checking out:

The next paper was by Hélène Fourhard-Dourlent, who gave an excellent talk at the last Slayage on the reactions to homosexuality in the Season 8 comics (a paper that won the Mr Pointy for best paper of the conference). This time around her paper was called “Somebody’s Asian in Dr. Horrible: Humor and Racial Representations in the Whedonverse.” She specifically looked at the Dr. Horrible “Commentary: The Musical” song, “Nobody’s Asian in the Movies,” where Maurissa Tancharoen sings about how she wrote all of Penny’s lines, but couldn’t play Penny because no one wants an Asian to play anyone other than a mathematician or a grocer:

I’ll talk about the commentary more in a minute, but it was a daring paper that challenged the notion that they’re joking about it, and how true is it? I thought Hélène did a fantastic job with a difficult topic, in much the same way she took on a difficult subject at the last Slayage. She’s quickly become a Slayage powerhouse.

The last speaker of the day was Ananya Mukherjea. I haven’t had a chance to round out my roomie situation: I was with Ian Klein and Samira Nadkarni, and also Ananya Mukherjea and her husband Jeffrey Bussolini. It was SUCH a great group of people, and I was so honoured to be in a room with one of the featured speakers! Ananya was gracious and hilarious and fun to talk to every time I had a chance to do so. I only wish I’d had more time to visit with her and Jeffrey.

Her paper was called “Mothering, Trust, and Hope in the Whedonverses: Melaka Fray, Simon Tam, Adelle DeWitt, and Boyd Langton.” Again, another amazing paper, where she talked about mothering not in the sense of mothers, but how people depend on each other based on trust. Mothering is the more nurturing side of things, and fathering is the protective side, so you can put characters on one side or the other, based on the purpose they had to fulfill. How thrilled was I that someone was finally talking about Melaka Fray? There simply isn’t enough written on the comics, and I love when there is.

And that was it for the panel side of things. We broke for dinner, and then reconvened for the Dr. Horrible Singalong Blog singalong (YES!!!) followed by a discussion led by Alyson Buckman and Matt Hurd. Matt is at Saint Anselm College and had done a paper on Angel the day before that I was very sad to miss (it was on the unproduced Angel episode, “Corrupt,” which I know very little about!). He had produced a live version of Dr. Horrible and relayed his experience — how he cast the show, how they were able to handle so many settings (that jump cut back and forth throughout the show) live on a stage at once. It was a great look at how this story could transcend the medium.

And then it was back to the show, watching it again but this time with the commentary track on, aka “Commentary: The Musical.” Now, I bought Dr. Horrible on DVD the week it came out, and have watched it a few times but somehow have NEVER watched it with the commentary track on (I KNOW, right??) What an oversight. If you’ve done the same dunderhead thing, I urge you to go and flip on that commentary track, because it is truly a work of art. Joss, Nathan Fillion, Felicia, NPH, Zack, Maurissa, and Jed all sing songs about what it was like working on the show, and sometimes they match the scenes you’re watching and sometimes they don’t. I think my favourite was “Better Than Neil,” a tongue-in-cheek song sung by a smug Fillion about how he’s tired of everyone giving Neil all the kudos:

Neil played a kid doctor,
Well, so did I dude.
But I was much younger and

Seriously, I can’t remember the last time I was laughing so hard. I feel badly for people around me because I was doubled right over for a lot of it, and I worry I was drowning out the soundtrack. Zack does a rap, Neil does his big number at the end, one of the extras pays to have a solo, and then Steve, who plays one of the groupies and has a lisp that causes his S’s to sound slurred sings “Steve’s Song” over the credits, something that once again had me laughing so hard it hurt (hint: the song is full of words with s’s in them).

Brilliant brilliant brilliant.

And then it was back off to the pub with Matthew, Marcus, Mike, and Steve (she has her own song now!) with me drinking my water and them talking boisterously about that day’s panels. There’s something about the second night that’s a little more sobering than the first: mostly because we know tomorrow’s the last day. The worst part about Slayage is when it’s over: I HATE saying goodbye, and it was looming. Sigh.

But, as I was leaving the pub, I ran into Ananya and I told her how sorry I was to have missed Jeffrey’s presentation, which people had been telling me was fantastic. I joked, “You don’t think he’d do it again for me, would he?” And she waved her hand in the air and said, “Pfft, of course he would. He’d do it in his underwear.” HAHAHA!

So, back at the room, we were all sitting in front of the TV, and I said to Jeffrey, “So, Ananya tells me that you would do your presentation again for us.” He sat up and actually looked pleased at the prospect, and said, “Really? You want to hear it?” and I said, “Well, not only THAT, but…” at this point Ananya dissolved in a fit of giggles, “she said you’d do it in your underwear.” Samira and Ian both started laughing, and I said, “But don’t worry, we won’t make you do that. Unless you insist.” He said if we were serious he’d love to do it again. He’d been wearing a suit for his presentation, and now was still in the dress shirt and tie. He got up and went to his room to grab his computer (which had the PowerPoint part on it) and returned wearing the suit jacket (oh my god, I was SO THRILLED) and started. And it was as good as everyone said it was. His presentation was titled, “…Elle s’appelle Buffy’: Rendering of Buffy in French, Italian, and Spanish” and was about the various translations in those three languages. He chose specific scenes where we watched the original in English, then in the other two languages. (Most of us spoke French, and he translated the Italian and Spanish for us.) It was HILARIOUS — the best one was actually the one in his title, where the French speaker that did the intro in the first two seasons (where we’re used to the WB guy in season 1 and Giles in season 2) turned, “She alone will stand against the vampires and the forces of darkness: She… is the Slayer” into, “She… is called Buffy.” Which… totally loses the fear factor. It was AWESOME.

Thank you, Jeffrey! And a note to any Slayage presenter at the next Slayage: I will happily watch your papers if you’re willing to do them again! In fact, I bet we could get a few people to watch the do-overs when papers are in high demand and we want to watch them again. Or, you know, feel free to videotape them and send them to me so I can watch them on my own. I’m looking at you, everyone that I missed


Justin Mohareb said...

You never listened to commentary? Dead to me.

Blam said...

David Lavery held his and declared that this particular conference had the lowest mortality rate of any Slayage conference


“…Elle s’appelle Buffy: Rendering of Buffy in French, Italian, and Spanish” ... He chose specific scenes where we watched the original in English, then in the other two languages..

Oh, wow... That must have been fascinating.