Friday, June 06, 2008

Live, From Arkansas... It's BtVS!

Hey y'all. Nikki Stafford here, reporting live from the Deep South, where I'm attending an academic conference on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I'm doing a keynote in a couple of hours, and I have some extra time in between panels.

We had a fun experience crossing the border yesterday (I'll talk more on that later) and then on the plane I sat next to a burly guy with massive shoulders who was half into my seat, just because he couldn't get all the way into his own. He was clearly a former football player (he had a big championship ring on his finger) and he kept apologizing for being in my way, and I told him not to worry about it. As I said to him, they size airplane seats for toddlers, and assume the rest of us will fit in them. He pulled out some chewing tobacco at one point and stuffed it into his mouth, and I'm thinking, "Don't you have to spit that out?" He had that covered -- he pulled out a Diet Coke bottle and began spitting into it. By the end, it looked like it was half-full of Diet Coke... I prayed he wouldn't leave it behind. He was actually a really nice guy, and was totally shocked to find out what I did for a living. He's a big fan of The Sopranos and The Wire, so we had LOTS to talk about.

We landed, and were met up in the airport with the guy coordinating the shuttle, who told us it has JUST left Arkadelphia an hour away, and we'd have to wait. We met up with some other attendees, Ryan (a.k.a. Mark), Ian, and Sonya, and it was an awesome discussion all the way from the airport to Arkadelphia, as we chatted about Buffy, Firefly, Angel (they hadn't watched Angel! AH!), Dollhouse, Nip/Tuck, 90210... I was in heaven. We were informed at the airport that Arkadelphia is in a dry county. I didn't think those existed outside Utah! So they suggested we go to a liquor store on the way into town to load up. Mark was 20 so unable to drink, I don't drink, and the others decided to pick up something quick. We walked into the liquor store (which advertised in bold letters outside, "NEXT 5 COUNTIES ARE DRY! STOCK UP NOW!") and it was like a booze warehouse. I'd never seen a liquor store so big. I asked one of the coordinators how a town with two colleges in it could possibly be dry, and he explained that the residents are conservative, and the students generally are from out of town so they don't vote on it. Wow. I had no idea this existed still, but apparently it's pretty common here. I feel like I'm in Footloose!

After we'd checked into our hotel, we met up again to hit a tex-mex restaurant called Ta Molly's (we LOVED the name of it; it's like tex-mex meets Irish) where they served sloppy cheese-covered enchiladas that hit the spot (they closed at 9... NINE!) and then we were back to the hotel.

This morning we got here for registration in the morning and then listened to keynote speaker Matthew Pateman, who is from University of Hull in England. His talk was fantastic, and he referred to my book, Bite Me, as a seminal work.



I could have gone home happy right that moment without seeing anything else.

His talk was on the whole snobbery within academia that surrounds talking about a television show and dissecting it, and in the discussion afterwards the audience was talking about how in the last century English scholars were scorned for not studying the Classics, then in the 60s, film scholars were spurned by the English scholars for not studying literature, and now film scholars are spurning TV scholars, and the future will bring a cultural shift. He discussed a scene in "The Harsh Light of Day" where Xander spots a television in Giles's apartment and yells to the others, "Giles has a TV! Hey, everyone, Giles has a TV! He's shallow like us!" It was brilliant.

The next session we checked out (there are 3 panels happening simultaneously during each session) was under the topic of Gender, Sex, and Violence in the Buffyverse. Check out the paper titles:

"It's just... painful": Love and the Wounded Vampire
"Nothing Left but Skin and Cartilage": The Body and Toxic Masculinity
"Here endeth the Lesson": Spike's Torturous Romances and Life Laid Bare
"Wham Bam Thank You Ma'am": The Evolution of Faith

The papers were all astoundingly good, ranging from talking about the vampiric body and how it represents the sacrifices Angel has made; to the toxic masculinity portrayed on the show, and how shows like The Zeppo, Go Fish, and Reptile Boy show testosterone at its worst; to using Julie Kristeva's theory on how the infant abjects the mother to move on, and how Spike's difficult relationship with his mother reversed that, where he became her sire and she abjected him (I loved this paper); to how Faith has evolved through Buffy, Angel, and now the comic book series. It was a great discussion afterwards on gender relationships in the show, where people made observations such as Buffy feminizing Spike by constantly threatening to penetrate him with a stake, or how the men on the show, when they are bad, split themselves into William/Spike, Angel/Angelus, Giles/Ripper, whereas the women remain themselves and must make a constant progression back to the side of good (Willow and Faith choose to be good, for example). I loved this conference already.

After lunch (where we went to a Sonic, a drive-in eatery just like the old 50s diners, and if you don't have a car, you push a button on a pole and order like you're in a drive-thru), we headed to David Lavery's talk. One of the authors of the essential "Fighting the Forces" book, David gave a talk on Joss Whedon's progression as a filmmaker, from bad to worse to Serenity. He compared him to Michael Bay (to often hilarious results) and it's amazing that Hollywood can be so short-sighted on things like this. But then again, Transformers is making $700 million, and Serenity $38 million. Bwah.

Soon I'll be heading back to check out a few more papers and deliver my keynote, and the one that intrigues me is one on Willow. I'll report back later!


Emilia said...

I never did watch Buffy, but I'm delighted a conference centered around academic papers about a TV show exists. Kudos on being a part of it. And I totally agree that someday analyzing a television show like a text will be acceptable and we'll be onto scorning the next thing.

Also, my new dream is to someday sit next to you on a plane.

poppedculture said...

You're in your element, Nik. Hope you knocked 'em undead.

Austin Gorton said...

My senior year of college I attended an academic conference in Salt Lake City. As we were waiting to get on the plane, one of my friends announced that, well aware of Utah's reputation for...unique drinking laws, she had looked up the number of drinking establishments (bars, state-run liquor stores, etc) in the greater Salt Lake City area and found there was something like ten.

We all gaped in amazement. Ten? In the whole city? There were ten drinking establishments in a one mile-stretch of the street our college was on alone.

Culture shock can be pretty funny sometimes :)

Sounds like the conference was a blast-I'm green with envy and look forward to more reports from you on it!