Saturday, July 28, 2012

What I Learned from the Olympic Opening Ceremonies

I kind of loved the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics. I know it’ll probably have a lot of critics, but it felt younger and less staid than previous Opening Ceremonies. The last Games was in Canada, and I loved those Opening Ceremonies, too, although I’ll admit my face was in my hands at points when the history of Canada involved igloos, Inuit, moose, beavers, and Mounties. God we will NEVER live down those clichés.

So perhaps there were a few Brits who felt the same when they were watching, but for me, if the purpose was to make me watch it and see everything that is in our world right now and trace it back to the Brits and make me wish I could claim to be a part of that nation, it worked. (They left out a lot of nasty bits… you know, imperialism and colonialism and conquering, though they did trot out the redcoats. And the NHS thing flew in the face of the massive cuts that are pending. So, yeah, it was sugar-coated, but name an Opening Ceremonies that shows you the downside of the nation.) It was surreal, quirky, over-the-top insane, touching, weird, and awesome.

And not everyone likes Danny Boyle, but being a younger person with a weird quirky vision, he certainly brought a new take on things to the Games. So here are the things I learned by watching (I watched with my kids, with my son whining the whole time that he just wanted to watch The Octonauts instead — and me saying, “But The Octonauts are actually British, maybe they’ll show them! — and my daughter making remarks the entire time that had me giggling):

Voldemort can be defeated by a spoonful of sugar. My daughter thinks this is the way the series ends now.

England was started in the Victorian era at the base of a hill with a tree on it, that was blessed by Abraham Lincoln, who chose Caliban’s speech from The Tempest to spark the nation. ??

I was trying to explain to my daughter what was happening next, “So… they’re showing that England has these beautiful countrysides, but then industrialism happened where they opened up factories, so they’re showing how all of the factories and industries and businesses in the world basically originated in England, because it has the countryside but it has busy cities, too.” She didn’t see it that way: she thought they were showing that England used to be a beautiful countryside until the Industrial Revolution happened, and then they grazed the fields and cemented over everything and turned it into a shithole.

Rowan Atkinson has still got it. My kids thought he was hilarious, especially when he jumped into the car to race to the finish line. I now have to start showing them episodes of Mr. Bean.

That poor pianist was playing his heart out, and no one noticed him at all.

I love British music. They touched on a lot of the bands I’ve listened to endlessly over the years, and I thought the montage was glorious, though I’m sure there were probably a lot of Brits watching who tired of the Britpop pretty quickly.

That opening sequence along the Thames was amazing. I really hoped there would be a TARDIS in the air, and was searching the skies desperately for it, to no avail. However, did you see the Pink Floyd pig floating near the river? And also, at one point he pulled the camera up so you could see an overhead view of the river, and just as I said to my daughter, “It looks like the opening credits on East–” you could hear the opening synth beats of the EastEnders theme. Brilliant. My daughter loved London Bridge and both kids laughed at the pig floating in the air.

My daughter on the NHS skit: “I wouldn’t want to go to that hospital. The sheets are all glowy and I would NEVER get to sleep.” Hahaha! I had no idea all the proceeds of sales of Peter Pan went to a children’s hospital. Wow. In the children’s lit section (I LOVED that they had a children’s lit section) was there any mention of Winnie the Pooh? I thought that would be an obvious one, but I could see the Queen of Hearts, Captain Hook, and of course Voldemort. If they showcased the villains, did they also mention any heroes besides Mary Poppins?

David Bowie. Not only did we get Aladdin Sane during the musical montage, but when the Great Britain athletes took the field, they played “Heroes.” Lovely. I guess he really is in retirement if he wouldn’t show up to perform there (you just know he was asked to). Sad but happy all at once.

James Bond! That sequence was also hilarious. I had to explain James Bond to my daughter, and I said, “He’s part of the queen’s secret service; basically a spy who goes to other countries in the name of England.” She thought I was talking about a real guy, and that Daniel Craig actually WAS James Bond. So now I had to explain my way out of that one. Note to husband: We need to start showing her the movies.

The queen: Could she have had a more sourpuss look on her face? I love that she agreed to film the bit ahead of time with Bond coming to pick her up, but something tells me Danny Boyle didn’t fill her in on the whole helicopter jump thing, and when she realized that a double had leapt out of a helicopter she was not amused. Or maybe she was actually a little teary-eyed at how lovely the Ceremonies were, and the camera just caught her at a bad time. Hm.

The guy who invented the Internet is a Brit? I honestly didn’t know that. Why wasn’t HE carrying the torch?

Muhammad Ali: It was so touching to see him, but very sad at the same time. I remember him coming out at the 1996 Games to light the cauldron, and how tear-inducing that was at the time. It was great to see him hold the flag for an instant, and you could see his wife imploring him to “Wave, just wave” and trying to get him to, but he didn’t move, and this will probably be his last Olympic Games. I still love that they had him there.

The “Abide with Me” section was gorgeous in its quiet: it was very solemn and handled well without being sensationalist, and I loved the quavering voice of the singer, which was just perfect. I’ve heard that in the US, NBC cut away from this portion to air an interview with Michael Phelps, because after all, who cares about a few people who were killed in the London bombing? Can you imagine if the UK cut away from a tribute to 9/11 victims? Just sayin.

Doctor Who lied: in “Fear Her,” the episode was set a few years in the future when the London 2012 Olympics, and at the very end of the ep, David Tennant’s Doctor grabbed the Olympic torch (which was the one used at the previous games, not the new fancy one they had here) and ran through the streets with it. So where was our fearless Doctor now? I heard that Matt Smith got to carry it a ways in May, which is very cool. And if you listened really hard, there was indeed a TARDIS sound during the Opening Ceremonies, right at the end of “Bohemian Rhapsody”; I KNEW it, but when I yelled, “TARDIS!!!” my kids both laughed and said no, they hadn’t heard anything. I found out afterwards I was right. ;) Here’s proof:

Paul McCartney clearly loves “Hey Jude” over every other song he has ever written. I’m assuming it’s because of the singalong factor, but when he showed up I thought, “Oh please anything but ‘Hey Jude.’” Hey, I love the song, but it’s the one he sings at everything like this. And it goes on for like 10 minutes. Ah well, still love you, Paul.

Oh, David Beckham. Yes, he’s beautiful, but I was a little worried they’d have him be the final torchbearer, and I just didn’t want that. In the end, he didn’t seem to carry the torch at all; he just drove the boat that was carrying the torchbearer.

I was really proud of how the Canadians lit the torch in a new and exciting way, but the Brits officially one-upped that one. Actually, ten-upped it. It was absolutely spectacular. And the fireworks display at the end? WOW. But I couldn’t help but think after seeing the fireworks display, “Thank goodness the Games weren’t in San Diego this year.” (They’ll just never live that one down, will they? Turn down your sound if you follow that link, by the way.)

Congratulations, London! You’ve wowed many of us. Now, on to the Games!

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

Monday, July 23, 2012

Nikki's Slayage Report: The Banquet

The British.

Stalwart and true. A formidable empire. Their accents make them sound more sophisticated than the rest of us. In the Second World War, the enemy (pardon my language) bombed the fuck out of them, and they stood up, dusted themselves off, mourned their losses, built themselves back up again, and rallied on.

Oh, and they also start drinking in utero. That last stereotype is what makes the drunken baby meme so bloody hilarious:

And it is what led to my favourite evening of the Slayage conference. On Friday night, we had 15 minutes from the end of the last panel to get to the banquet, so there was no changing or getting dressed up (luckily the third panel of the day got out really early, so Ian and I had shot over to the residence to switch up bags and I replaced my jeans with a skirt). I walked in to the banquet hall as everyone was arriving, and saw The Brits all convening at one table. I wandered over because I hadn’t had a chance to tell Pateman how much I liked his paper, and I told him that… and then I wanted to chat with Stacey Abbott, so I sat down for a second and ended up staying at the table. And thank goodness I did, because it was definitely the most fun table in the place (no offense to everyone else!)

So, let’s introduce the people at the table, shall we? Let’s start to my right and go around.

See? He's not serious ALL the time

Matthew Pateman: He of the sore legs, frenemy association with me, and always ready with a quick insult when it looks like we might be too friendly in public. That’s our schtick, and we’re schticking to it. (Apparently when Rhonda was trying to put together a dinner on the final night and he couldn’t make it, she emailed him and said everyone would miss him, and added, “Except Nikki. She can’t stand you.” Hahahahaha!!)

From l-r: Lorna, Stacey, Bronwen (during the singalong)

Bronwen Calvert: A professor at the University of Sunderland (in northern England), I hadn’t properly met her until this conference, but had the wonderful opportunity to edit her brilliant piece in Stacey Abbott and David Lavery’s TV Goes to Hell, a book of essays on Supernatural.

Stacey Abbott: The aforementioned editor of that collection of essays, Stacey has given some of the best Whedonverse presentations I’ve ever seen, and is probably the foremost expert on Angel and is a fellow lover of Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. She is also one of my favourite people at Slayage, and I will be talking about her more when I get to her paper.

Lorna Jowett: I read Sex and the Slayer before my first Slayage, and it’s a brilliant reading of Buffy, causing me to be a little intimidated by its author Lorna Jowett when I first met her. And then when I met her again. But then I got up the courage to ask her to be a part of the Buffy Rewatch, and she graciously agreed, not only covering off Week 25, Week 32, Week 42, and Week 50 (whew) but she wrote this fantastic piece at the end where she reimagined lines from Buffy written in Scottish slang, and to this day I think of the finale of Buffy as “MacChosen.” ;) She’s absolutely lovely to talk to, and her Scottish brogue is to die for.

Mike and Marcus

Marcus Recht: Another Slayage-goer that I hadn’t gotten to know yet, Marcus single-handedly represents our German contingent and last year published his book on Whedon studies (OK, Nik, get this right): Der Sympathische Vampir: Visualisierungen von Männlichkeiten in der TV-Serie Buffy, which I believe roughly translates to: The Sympathetic Vampire: Visualizations of… um… Men with Kites in the TV Series Buffy? No, that can’t be right. Actually, I think it has something to do with Masculinities, but Marcus, if you’re reading this, please correct me here. ;) Anyway, he did a paper at the last Slayage that I mentioned in the Buffy Rewatch as being one of the most eye-opening papers I’d seen, where he watched Buffy and Angel without sound (really!) just watching how the vampires were depicted versus how the humans were, especially during torture scenes. I really wanted him to write about “Beneath Me” in season 7, but unfortunately he’d just switched schools and was crazy busy. So he remains the one that got away for the Buffy Rewatch. But I got to know him at this Slayage and he was sweet and kind and very funny. And I really hope that book of his gets translated into English because I’m dying to read it (he gave me a copy of it! I was very excited to have it and I’m enjoying looking at the pictures and admiring the umlauts).

Mike Starr: And speaking of men with kites… no wait, that segue didn’t work… Speaking of people I’ve somehow never gotten to know previously, Mike Starr was at both Slayages I’ve been to previously, usually hanging out with Marcus, and he is at the University of Northampton. How best to describe Mike? He’s not what you would typically imagine when you hear the word “academic.” Long blond hair, black attire, Gothic crosses hanging around his neck, I’d peg him as a goth punk by way of hair metal. All he needed was some black nail polish and the look would have been complete (but come on, people, scholars don’t wear black nail polish, right??) I’ll say more about him when I get to his legendary paper on the last day, but he was hilarious and kind (he told me my Once Bitten book was brilliant, so he shot to the top of my favourites list... yes, I'm that ego-driven), and this is a guy who knows how to bring the party.

The incomparable Steve

Steve Halfyard: I FINALLY got the story of how Janet Halfyard became “Steve”: basically as a kid, she and two of her mates wondered why the guys get all the cool names and girls don’t, and so they renamed themselves. She was Steven, and when she went to university she introduced herself that way, and her friends changed it to Steve and it stuck. So professionally she’s Janet Halfyard, but personally she’s Steve. I already mentioned her in conjunction with her paper that I sadly missed, but she was to my immediate left and had me in stitches for most of the night. She is delightful and boisterous and wonderful and insanely talented and I just wanted to take her home with me.

And that was our table. A loud, jolly bunch, ready to party the night away with lots of food, wine, song, and… wait, what was that about the wine?


At the beginning of the meal, one of the liaisons with the university, Sharon Sutherland (who gave that previously mentioned great paper on law in the Whedonverse), grabbed the mike to warn everyone that despite what they’d thought, the banquet hall was actually low on alcohol, and there would be just enough for one bottle of red and one of white for each table. And there wasn’t even the option of buying more alcohol, because they simply didn’t have more.

First, silence. Jaws dropped at our table. People looked around at each other with looks of abject horror… this could not be happening. How could we be stuck here for the next three hours with no wine? (Two bottles of wine = no wine at this particular table.)

Now, I should mention, I don’t drink. Not a drop. Not anything. Not for any real reason in particular other than I just never developed a taste for it, and now I have such little tolerance for it that two sips of beer makes my arms and legs go really warm and I can have a buzz with four sips. So it’s just best I don’t even attempt that.

But not so with the rest of my lovely new friends. It was like the bloody battle of Normandy all over again. What were we going to do? How could we make it with no wine? The rest of the dinner conversation mostly revolved around the fact there was no wine, how we could possibly get more wine, what tactics we could use to finagle more wine, other conferences that had more wine, what they would do if the conference ever came to the UK (hint: LOTS OF WINE), and on and on. I think they all breathed a sigh of relief when they discovered I was drinking water only because it meant slightly more wine for them.

And honestly, you’d think I was the one drinking, because I was in fits of laughter for most of the meal over it. All three of my best friends are British, so I’m well aware of the culture and that’s probably why I naturally gravitated to this table (if you want to be friends with me you’d better show a British passport) and I adored them for it, even if I was hoping against hope that somehow some miracle would happen and the water would turn into wine.

And then… it did. At one point I was chatting with someone when Steve, who’d hopped up to see what she could do, returned to the table and slammed a new bottle of white onto it with such gusto I’m surprised she didn’t smash the bottle. I think my “WHAT?!” probably rang out through the hall, and she was quickly and easily the hero of the night. Apparently she’d gone up to the bar and said we really needed another bottle, and when the bartender apologized and said there wasn’t any she simply said, “But we’re British!!” and without another word, he just handed one over. HAHAHA!!! But, sadly, it still wasn’t enough. The conversation didn’t really turn away, and they continued scheming.

But now it was time for the presentations. As some of you know, the Whedon Studies Association gives out a special award called the Mr. Pointy, named after Buffy’s stake (that Kendra gave to her in S2). Every year they award one to the best paper (the Short Mr. Pointy) and best book (the Long Mr. Pointy). They announce them on the odd-numbered years, and give out the award at the next Slayage along with announcing the winners for that year live at the banquet. This year I was nominated for the Long Mr. Pointy for the Buffy Rewatch, which was nominated as a book-length project (it was so nice of them to extend out the meaning to include us!) I was thrilled. I never for a second thought the Rewatch would get it — not that I didn’t think the Rewatch was fantastic with all those people involved, but I was up against four brilliant books, and one of those was Don Macnaughton’s bibliography of the Whedonverses. I believe it was a 10-year project, and everyone at Slayage probably had an article or book in it somewhere (oh, did I mention it’s not just a bibliography but an annotated bibliography?!) or will in an updated edition. And it’s an invaluable research tool for Whedon scholars that they’ve been waiting for for many years. So I hadn’t even considered what I would say if I got up there, because there was no way the Rewatch, as fun as it was, could even compete in the same league as that. You know how movie stars say, “It was an honour to be nominated” and you think, “Oh bullshit, you WANTED that award”? I won’t think that anymore, because that was truly the case for me in this one.

So they gave out the Mr. Pointys (and yes, the bibliography happily won!) and it was lovely to see so many happy, smiling faces around the room. Not to mention our table had TWO Mr. Pointys on it, so we looked pretty awesome. Now, I should add that during dinner, Matthew kept leaning over and ribbing me saying, “Are you nervous? Just a little anxious? A tiny bit nervous?” because I was doing the introduction to that evening’s keynote banquet speaker. (For the first time in a Slayage I’ve been to, I wasn’t giving the banquet keynote, and I’m sure I’m not the only person who was relieved about that! So when Rhonda asked me to introduce this year’s keynote, I thought, “But people are expecting me to shut up this year! They’ll all go, ‘OH NOT AGAIN’ if I have to make my way up to the podium!”) But anyway, Matthew kept on and on at me, and I kept saying no, you wanker, I’m not anxious, not like YOU would be if YOU had to get up there, heh heh…

And then, after the Mr. Pointys were all given out, Rhonda took the mike and said Matthew Pateman had a few words to say. He leapt up and strode up to the front of the room.

What the…?


Why hadn’t he mentioned to me that he was doing something? I looked around the table almost as if he was showing me up or something, and said, “What is HE doing up there??” Stacey gave an exaggerated shoulder shrug and “I don’t know!” response, and I looked back up. He started off by saying that everyone in the room had spent years studying the works of Joss Whedon, but there was one person whose contribution to Whedon studies preceded all others, who wrote a book on Buffy before anyone else had, who had given so much time to Whedon studies, and I was sitting there straining to hear him (the banquet hall was deadly hot because it wasn’t air-conditioned, it was 32 degrees outside (that’s over 100F), and they had these huge fans going throughout the room) and just as I was starting to think, “Wow, who is this person he’s talking about?” he said, “And she’s done more primary research on the Whedonverse than probably any other person in this room.”

You know that feeling you get when you are completely caught off-guard, when you’re watching something impassively and suddenly you start to think it might be about you? Just that afternoon he’d said something to me about how he thought I’d probably done more primary research than anyone else at Slayage. I waved it off, as I usually do, but now I thought, “Uh… oh god, is he talking about me?” Now, while this might sound implausible to some, I don’t like attention. I was really looking forward to flying under the radar. And here was someone drawing a lot of attention right to me, and I could feel my whole face going red. I glanced back over at Stacey and mouthed, “Is he talking about me??” and she did another exaggerated shrug and mouthed, “I don’t know!” (Hahaha! Turns out, she was completely in on it.) I don’t know what he said next, and I doubt anyone caught any of this on video. I just remember the blood rushing to my head and not knowing what was going on. And then he said something about the Buffy Rewatch bringing people together and how I meant a lot to him in his life and in the lives of other people there, and then said my name, and everyone started clapping. And then they were standing. And I didn’t know WHAT to do. It was a lovely thing for him to say, and it would be so like him to complicate this whole, “I hate you”/ “No, I hate you MORE” relationship that we have, and I didn’t know what to do. Everyone at my table was clapping and I could feel people staring at me and I covered my face and smiled and was overwhelmed and in shock and it was just one of those moments you want to capture and watch over and over and over again in your mind but in the moment you’re dumbfounded. I looked around at my tablemates and said, “What do I do?” and they all kept smiling and clapping, so I just sat there. (Maybe I should have stood up? But I’m shorter than most of the people there so they still wouldn’t have seen me.)

I wasn't lying when I said my face was red.
Anyway, the applause died down and people started sitting, and that’s when I saw that Matthew was still standing at the front, next to Rhonda, who was holding a Mr. Pointy and pointing at me. And that’s when I realized (duh) that there was an AWARD that came with this!!! I thought he was just saying those things! I think I may have squealed like a chipmunk and leapt from my seat. I remember practically sprinting to the front because I couldn’t believe I WAS ACTUALLY GETTING A MR. POINTY AWARD OH MY GOD I NEVER THOUGHT I’D HAVE ONE OF THESE and my heart was pounding and on the inside I was doing backflips and jumping up and down and screaming like I’d just been called to Contestant’s Row on The Price Is Right, but on the outside I think I was smiling and trying to act graceful (god knows if I actually was… it’s all a blur). I had a Mr. Pointy!!!


And then hugs and smiles and photos and then I sat back down. I had to introduce the keynote speaker and it was hotter than Hades in that room and I wanted to keep things going, not to mention the keynote speaker was probably getting a little nervous with everything being drawn out so I didn’t say anything. And in retrospect, I worry that looked extremely ungrateful. I was truly in shock. (I was shaking, and I simply don’t shake. I don’t get nervous very easily, so you can tell when I’ve been caught off-guard.) So, let’s rewind to that moment and insert a speech where I should have said something. (I’ll just edit out the hyperventilating and screaming that would have preceded it, and pretend you don’t notice me hopping up and down like a kid on Christmas morning.) But what I would have said was that four years ago I came to Slayage as a keynote who felt like she didn’t belong in the midst of these great scholars, who listened with awe to the other speakers and wondered if I’d made a wrong decision in not pursuing my PhD, and instead writing a bunch of books about TV shows. But if I’d done that, I wouldn’t have ended up at Slayage. And at that first Slayage in 2008, everyone made me feel like I was one of them and welcomed me and never treated me like an outsider. In fact, they showed a lot of interest in what I did, and talked to me like they would talk to one another. I feel like more of a part of something at Slayage than I do with just about any other group of people in my life, and that’s due to the generosity of all of them.

Me thanking Matthew for his lovely speech. Note how I'm holding
Mr. Pointy in a certain way that I could easily flip it and stab
him in the back, but for once I had no urge to do so. ;) 

And as for the Buffy Rewatch, what I would have loved to do is ask everyone involved directly in contributing to the Rewatch itself to stand up, so everyone could see just how many scholars participated. Then I would have asked everyone who read the Buffy Rewatch and/or commented on it to stand up. And then you’d see it was far from a one-person job. I gave this wonderful group of people the forum and the idea, but they followed through and turned it into something remarkable.

Not that I’m going to share this Mr. Pointy. Oh no. It’s mine. (OK, yeah, there’d be a bit of sniveling greed at the end of my speech. Let’s just edit that part out, too.)

But instead, I sat down, feeling all of those things and saying none of them. Thank you thank you thank you to everyone who was behind that Mr. Pointy. I’ve had a lot of fantastic moments at Slayage, and that one tops them all.

But I had no time to bask… it was time to leap back up there and introduce the keynote speaker. Back up I went, and I used the opportunity to try to solicit more wine for our table, explaining to the room that I was making a serious call for wine, that I was sitting with a table of Brits (and one German… and another Canadian who’s been living in the UK for 20 years) and that even if they had a few drops left in their bottles, please come by our table and pour it into someone’s glass. My poor table… they’d been called out and now worried they’d never live it down. Don’t worry guys, I’m sure no one will remember anything that happened that night. It’s not like someone’s going to blog on it for posterity, right?

This is the only pic I have of the two of us
and for the record, I am NOT giving her
rabbit ears; the person behind us
was gesturing. (You can see my hand on
her shoulder!) 
The keynote speaker was Nancy Holder, the NYT-bestselling author of several romance and sci-fi novels, and the woman who not only penned a ton of Buffy and Angel novel tie-ins, but the first couple of Watcher’s Guide books (the official BtVS guides) and the first Angel guide. She’s very outgoing and seemed to enjoy herself a lot at the conference, and I really enjoyed getting to meet her. She got up and gave a great talk (from what I could hear of it, anyway; the fans whirring behind us made it really difficult to hear, and the mike wasn’t very loud at all). From what I could hear of it, she talked about how much the industry has changed, and from a publishing perspective I can absolutely agree. Bricks and mortar stores are dying, people are turning to Amazon, Amazon demands deeper discounts than anyone, and writers are starting to go to Amazon directly and eschewing publishers altogether. (I heard someone at the conference make a public comment about how writers should consider going straight to Amazon and getting a much higher royalty, as if publishers offer absolutely no service whatsoever. Made my blood boil a bit, but I won’t harp on it here.) Can you imagine a world where the only browsing you can do is online? Where there are no bookstores so your children can stand there and flip through many books and decide what to find? Where you can’t go in looking for one book and come out with three others because you saw them there? There’s no “browsing” on Amazon: you go in, get what you want, and leave. And unfortunately, with the way things are going, that’s the future. And once Amazon has buried most of the publishers, that lovely 70% they now give to authors will drop to about 10%. (They don’t mention that they take all sorts of costs off that 70%.)

OK, seriously, NOW I will stop harping. ;)

Back to the fun. They announced the winners of the trivia contest from the reception the night before, and our team was second runner up (and there were enough prizes for us to claim ours!) and THEN the door prize giveaway was based on our banquet ticket, and several people at our table won again (including me!) Here’s a look at the swag on our table by the end of the night. Without doing one lick of research, I will simply claim we were the winningest table at the banquet.

Next up it was the conference tradition of everyone singing the songs in “Once More With Feeling.” It was a lot of fun this time around, with our table belting it out with the best of them. Some photos:

The swag from our table!

No, Mike's not flipping off Marcus in British (his hand is
backwards), he's singing the "Hey I died twice" part of
"I've Got a Theory"

The head table at the singalong: l-r, David Lavery, Nancy Holder (sitting),
Rhonda Wilcox (standing), Tanya Cochran, Heather Porter,
Elizabeth Rambo, and Malgorzata Drewniok

Steve singing better than anyone, with accompanist Neil Lerner

I built a wall of Mr. Pointys and wine bottles (total = 4!) to show how what
the evening at our table was really all about

My favourite moment (he’s probably hoping I don’t mention this): when Mike Starr, at the end of “Rest in Peace,” dropped his face into his hand and said breathlessly, “GOD I love Spike” to the absolute glee of the rest of the table. Scholar-pianist Neil Lerner played each song (doing a brilliant job considering his piano was stuck in a dark corner where he could barely see the music) and our Steve shot up to the front so she could help him turn pages and sing louder than anyone, which is perfect because her voice is stunning. Near the end she was hitting the high Tara notes that no human being should be able to do, and the whole room was in awe.

And then it was done (we skipped the Firefly and Dr. Horrible songs because the room was hotter than a shirtless Spike at this point, and people just wanted to get outside). And aaaaaahhhhhh it was so nice when we did. Then a group of us retired to a pub so Tanya and I could watch them drink (Matthew observed that Tanya and I clinked our glasses of ice water ‘with vigour!’) and then it was back to the dorms.

Right after the banquet, Ensley Guffey walked up to me (you may recall him as the man who masterminded my gorgeous Buffy Rewatch bracelet, as I now call it) and said he knew about the Mr. Pointy, and was really hoping for tears. I think I was too much in shock for tears, but I can assure you they came flooding out once I got back to the room and was getting ready for bed. I had a Mr. Pointy, dammit. An Oscar is peanuts compared to this wonderful, wonderful thing.