Sunday, July 22, 2012

Slayage, Day 1, Part 2: Mashups, Grotesque, and Anime

After lunch, it was time for the second of four panels on the same day (I thought the convention was organized brilliantly, but I will admit that four panels on the first day was a little draining). It was a really tough choice for me, because off in one room Steve Halfyard was giving her paper, “Music in (and out) of the Dollhouse.” You will remember Steve as our resident musical expert during the Buffy Rewatch, where she added her little slices of cheese throughout (and often very long and in-depth analyses), giving so many of us a new way to look at — and listen to — the episodes. She was presenting with Neil Lerner, the other musical expert in the universe of Whedon Studies, and I really wanted to see their panel.

And in the second room was Samira Nadkarni, who was one of my lovely roommates. This was her first Slayage, but you never would have known it. As I said to her on her FB page after, she is a serious force of nature. I swear she has a pop culture reference for just about anything, and I thought she was hilarious and delightful every time I spoke to her. Oh, and brilliant, too. She live-tweeted every panel she was in, so much so that she was actually put in Twitter jail at one point for tweeting too much, haha! Her paper was called “‘Memory in itself guarantees nothing’: Witnessing and “the jews” in Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse.” Damn, that sounds like a good one.

But the panel I went to featured Patricia Pender, a professor from the University of Newcastle, David Kociemba, and Tanya Cochran. I couldn’t pass up these powerhouses all together in one. Also, the panel was called “Fandom.” Like I’m not going to go to that one.

Now, I just want to add here that a couple of people emailed me to ask if I would add a bit more detail on the description of the papers. While I’d love to, an academic conference is a closed place where the speaker assumes he/she is only speaking to the group who is present, and not to the world at large. These pieces are still looking for publishers, and many of them are still works in progress, where they present their paper so far and are looking for ideas to hone it further. So I’m giving some minor descriptions, and if you are reading this and I’m talking about your paper, and you do get it published in the future and want to let me know, I’d be happy to come back into this post and add an update to direct people over to where you got it published. (And also, if you think I’ve said too much about your paper, please don’t hesitate to let me know and I’ll scale it back.) OK, back to our regularly scheduled blogging.

From left: David Kociemba, Patricia Pender,
Tanya Cochran

David Kociemba went first. I have somehow missed to manage his paper at both previous Slayages, and I was determined to see him this time around. You’ll remember him from — you guessed it! — our Great Buffy Rewatch (yes, I’m going to list their GBR cred each time because that’s the context in which many of you first met them). He covered Week 4, Week 10, Week 26, and wrote a piece at the end of the Rewatch on “Chosen.”

His paper gave the results of several Rokeach value surveys he conducted with fans of Buffy, Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse on what we perceive to be the celebrated values of each show. It was fun to watch (I remember filling out one of them… I think it may have been for Angel…) and interesting to see how much people reacted to the questions by thinking of the values Joss and Co. imbued in the show, rather than the characters themselves. I especially liked the observation that people referred to Joss’s vision in The Cabin in the Woods, even though Drew Goddard co-wrote it and directed it. David was a really dynamic speaker, and I can imagine how much his students much love his teaching style. I told this to his wife, Kristen Romanelli (who is one of the most stunning-looking women you will ever meet), who, incidentally, also helped out on the Buffy Rewatch on Week 19, Week 33, and joined my “hated it” side of the “Beer Bad” battle royale. By the way, David and Kristen both run Watcher Junior, a place where undergraduates can get their papers published on Whedon Studies. Go check them out.

Next up was Patricia J. Pender, and what a joy this paper was!! You guys would have LOVED it. Entitled “Parsing the Sexual Politics of Buffy Vs. Edward,” the paper was deconstructing the famous mashup that I have posted countless times here, and, well, I just need to post it again to make my quota:

There aren’t enough words to express my love for this. Also, for myself and Tanya Cochran, it’s the second time we’ve watched the mashup in a university setting this year. Patricia’s paper was lively and fun, and she mentioned an interesting piece where Jonathan McIntosh, the man who made the video, wrote why he did it. I don’t know who said it (if it was part of Pender’s talk or in the Q&A) but I wrote in my notes, “Twilight as abstinence porn, haha!” And again, HAHA! ;)

And finally it was time for Tanya Cochran, my dear friend whose house I had the pleasure of staying at in January when I did a Twilight talk at Wesleyan University in Nebraska (and where I got to meet our delightful and beloved Marebabe!). Tanya was one of the featured speakers at the last Slayage, and I honestly don’t know how someone could be that adorable and that brilliant all wrapped up in one neat package, but she is. She was a HUGE part of the Buffy Rewatch, guiding us through the show on Week 9,  Week 18, Week 26, Week 30, Week 33, and Week 36 (I’m exhausted just listing those!) Her paper was called “By Beholding, We Become Changed: Joss Whedon, (Anti-)Fandom, and Lived Religion.” She talked about fan activism and socio-political activism, starting with the now-infamous post Joss made on Whedonesque called “Let’s Watch a Girl Get Beaten to Death.” She discussed the various responses to his post (which was talking about the disgust he feels for torture porn like the Saw movies, and specifically refers to the trailer for the film Captivity. He was expressing his sadness in the face of Dua Khalil, a woman who had been stoned to death in an “honour killing” (just typing that phrase makes me want to throw up) and the fine line between the two. (Go read it if you haven’t.) Responses ranged from enthusiastic agreement with him to people calling him a hypocrite and saying his treatment of women was no better (see: Tara, Inarra, Echo, etc.) It was  really fascinating paper that made everyone in the room think more about this post and why we watch television, especially when Cochran brought it around to transubstantiation (you’ll have to read the paper to see how she got there, but it was an amazing transition).

Next up was the third panel of the day, at 3:30. Another tough one, but I went with the panel called “The Grotesque Across the Whedonverses,” with Cynthia Burkhead. Another veteran of the Slayage conference, Cynthia participated in the Buffy Rewatch on Week 13 with a beautiful piece on how a Slayer grows up. In this panel she did a paper called “‘You’re a week, little puppet man’: Locating the ‘Cute Grotesque’ in Angel and Dollhouse” by showing how certain characters, while they may look scary or grotesque in a way, are cutened in one way or another (at some point we’ve all thought of Puppet Angel, Clem, or even Harmony as cuddly). She talked about anime and moe, showing pictures of Lolita cosplay and tying the show into that tradition.

Rachel Mellen, Jared McCoy (in his very funky hat!) and
Cynthia Burkhead

The next two panels were Cynthia’s students, Jared McCoy and Rachel Mellen. For their first conference, they both did an admirable job and delivered their papers well. Rachel’s was called “‘Gingerbread and Gentlemen’: Grotesqueness in the Fairy Tale Elements of Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and Jared’s was entitled, “‘My Pretty Floral Bonnet’: The Carnival Masks of Captain ‘Tightpants’ Reynolds.” Rachel’s focused on Kindestod from “Killed by Death,” while Jared’s looked beyond Mal on Firefly to show how several of the characters wear masks and disguises that the viewer must see through.

And now it was time for the final panel of the day. Again, while my decision had already been made prior to the conference, this was a time where a lot of heavy hitters were presenting. In one room was Heather M. Porter doing a quantitative examination of the episodes of violence in Buffy (I’ve seen her do two previous papers and she has a very unique way of looking at the episodes, which is always interesting to me) and Madeline Muntersbjorn, who I’d seen present at the last Slayage as well. In another room Mary Ellen Iatropoulos was presenting “Defining Joss Whedon’s Disability Narrative Ethic: The Impairment Arcs of Lindsey McDonald, Bennet Halverson, and Xander Harris,” which (spoiler alert!) ultimately won the Best Paper Mr. Pointy at the conference (more on that later). She was presenting with Stan Beeler, who I edited in a Supernatural volume put out by Stacey Abbott and David Lavery, and Richard Albright. Elizabeth Rambo, a keynote speaker at my first Slayage in 2008, was speaking in a fourth room on comics, and specifically Sugarshock, which I know pretty much nothing about and I REALLY wanted to know more about it (and Ian Klein and I were saying throughout the conference that there needs to be more coverage of the comics — like ‘em or not) so I loved the fact there was a comics panel and I wish I could tell you more about it.

But the panel I went with featured K. Dale Koontz, one of my favourite people and now one of my authors! (Yes, she and her husband Ensley — more on him later — are writing a Breaking Bad book for me, and I’m already enjoying the experience of working with them more than you can imagine.) Her paper was called “Some Call Me the Space Cowboy: Anime, Outlaws, and All That Jazz.” And while some people are content with PowerPoint to help illuminate their papers, Dale went much further and showed up to the conference with ANIME HAIR. No, really. And it was truly awesome. Behold: 

Dale a couple of days after her panel, on the
UBC echo stone. That hair is phenomenal.

She was comparing Firefly to an anime show that started in 1998 called Cowboy Bebop (which I’m told is all out on DVD and now I must get it) within the context of a snootiness within sci-fi fandom that space Westerns aren’t as important as pure sci-fi shows. She talked about the history of Bat Durston and the history of resistance to this particular genre, which may have led to the early demise of Firefly. Great paper, told by the incomparable Dale, who — no, I haven’t forgotten — participated in the Buffy Rewatch as part of the “Beer Bad” smackdown, then as part of a back-and-forth discussion with her husband Ensley in Week 34 (aka “The Body”), then in the brilliant video telenovela version of “I’ll Never Tell” during our “Once More With Feeling” week (one of my favourite things in the entirety of the Rewatch), and then on her own in Week 40. And finally she wrote a piece at the end of the Rewatch about Why Buffy Matters.

And finally, there was a change-up to the schedule. Originally Jes Battis was supposed to be presenting with Dale, but he became ill and couldn’t do it. Meanwhile Matthew Pateman was scheduled to present on Sunday afternoon, but through some scheduling weirdness his flight was leaving on Sunday morning before the last day started, so he switched over into this panel. And there was no way I was missing that paper. I mean, I could have fodder for months of mocking.

Surprisingly he was still walking after our horrible encounter the day before with too many stairs. Otherwise known as my mortal enemy, my nemesis, the evil one, Giles, my dear friend, Matthew was part of the Rewatch as well, when he came in early to join us on Week 3, the hated it camp of “Beer Bad,” Week 28, aka “Restless” (the guy wrote a book on the episode, so I couldn’t let anyone else cover it), The Cuppy the Mustard Slayer video in our “Once More With Feeling” week (Ha!!), and a poem/video he did for the end of the Rewatch, starring his daughter’s Barbie dolls.

Matthew and I a few hours after his paper at the banquet (more
on that later), proving we really CAN get along. For a couple of
seconds, at least. 

This was the first time I’d actually seen him as part of a panel. I’d seen his keynote in 2008, and performed a looney tunes routine with him at 2010, but now I was seeing him as a regular speaker. His paper was called “Whedon Studies: The Director’s Cut,” and in a word, it was brilliant. I even told him afterwards (in front of other people, no less!) that I was seriously risking my reputation by saying this, but he really did a masterful job. His paper was a call to arms for Whedon scholars, pointing out that so much of the scholarship has focused on Whedon himself as the auteur, and the writers — Espenson, Fury, Noxon, DeKnight, Greenwalt — as the true masterminds behind the show. But what of the directors? The editors, script supervisors, etc.? The directors in particular were who he was focusing on, and showed us the half of all directed Whedon material is actually done by 10 individuals. There’s a certain look to Buffy, to Angel and Firefly and Dollhouse, and that’s largely the vision of these directors. I think the people in the audience were kind of stunned (including myself, who, I confess, is absolutely guilty of attributing much of the vision of shows to the writers, from Lost on down) and you could see everyone becoming more self-aware from that point on in the conference. I’ll be very interested to see if we start seeing more papers on James Contner and David Semel and David Grossman as a result. I realized when I got home (with a bit of a sinking feeling) that at the back of my Angel book, Once Bitten, I have a table of all of the Buffy and Angel writers, but none for the directors. I do think part of the issue is that most academics have studied writing and can dissect that, but when it comes to directing, unless we actually have a background in it in some way, it’s hard for us to write about it. But he’s right — that needs to change.

Next up: THE BANQUET. 


Kristen Romanelli said...

Oh, YOU! <3

Nikki Stafford said...

I just wanted to add the following, which Samira added on my FB page:
With regard to my paper, it's a continuation of a paper I did at Sw/Tx San Antonio in 2011 and so the whole thing will be out as a chapter in Mary Ellen Iatropoulos and Lowery Woodall's amazing forthcoming book on Race, Identity, Gender and Nation/ality in the works of Joss Whedon (which I think might still be the working title?) Mary Ellen's fabulous paper will be in there as well.

David Kociemba said...

Thanks for the lovely comments, Nikki! If your readers would like to read the presentation, PowerPoint, and handout, it's on the blog here:

Kristen Romanelli said...

By the way, I'm really looking forward to the Pateman-Stafford cage match at Slayage 6. My money's on you, Nikki! ;D

Nikki Stafford said...

And here's an update to my previous comment from Mary Ellen Iatropoulos:
Oh, also just wished to clarify: my Slayage paper on disability narratives will be appearing in a volume tentatively called Blood, Body, and Soul edited by Tamy Burnett (whose astounding keynote will be published in there) and AmiJo Comeford (and Cynthea Masson has an essay in there as well, I believe!) On a totally separate project, Samira Nadkarni's awesome paper on witnessing and "the jews" in Dollhouse will appear in a volume I am editing w/ Lowery Woodall on race and ethnicity in Whedon. Also appearing in there will be Hélène Frohard-Dourlent's paper on "Nobody's Asian in the Movies" as well as Katia McClain's paper on Roma/Romani identity and gyspy stereotypes, which some may have seen at Slayage (among many other exciting contributions!)

Nikki Stafford said...

Thanks for that link, David! That's fantastic. I'll be checking it out (since I arrived a couple of minutes late and missed the handout). :)

Dusk said...

Nice anime hair!

I hope I wasn't the only one who had to look up what transubstantiation when I read this lol.

Is there a tenative date for when Blood, Body, and Soul is released? I was born with CP in my legs so I find the idea of a look at Whedon's disablity narrative especially interesting.

And I know I've kinda been harping on this, but trust me if you want coverage on the comics strictly from a non-academic POV as a fan, I have enough thoughts on it, I promise I won't go trolling, just some healthy snark!

Blam said...

There’s a certain look to Buffy, to Angel and Firefly and Dollhouse, and that’s largely the vision of these directors. I think the people in the audience were kind of stunned (including myself, who, I confess, is absolutely guilty of attributing much of the vision of shows to the writers, from Lost on down)

I think that TV (especially serial TV) is widely considered to be a writer's medium, in stark contrast to the world of feature film where the director is auteur. Directors are often hired hands on TV, circulating amongst various shows, whereas the writers — more and more as you go up the writer/producer chain of command, capped by the showrunners — are the mainstays ensuring consistency and plotting out a series' development. That's not to say that certain series don't have directing producers who are heavily involved with, if not indivisible from, their series' look and feel (ex: Pamela Fryman on HIMYM, Jack Bender on Lost), but in general, at least in US series television, the writers are driving the ship with editing, continuity, and direction (in terms of narrative impetus, not the act of directing an episode) all answerable to the hands-on executive producers. Excitement surrounding directors of episodic TV generally tends to arise when a director known for feature-film work is dropping in (William Friedkin on CSI, Quentin Tarantino on Alias) or a show's creator and/or another notable writer/producer on the show — or, come to think of it, a star of the show — is stepping behind the camera for either the first time or, once the dual role has become familiar, a very special episode (Joss Whedon and his lieutenants on the various Whedon series). I'm not suggesting in the least that journeyman directors don't bring specific and often considerable skills to television, just that serial TV's brutal schedule and the nature of its storytelling make it an insider's game. I'm also not suggesting that I'm telling you anything you don't already know. 8^)