Thursday, June 17, 2010

Slayage! Part Four

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next up: The featured speakers panel!


Ensley F. Guffey said...

I'm with you on the dearth of season 8 presentations. Lorna Jowett's theory on it is that Dollhouse was such a big deal that it wound up overshadowing the comics. I also think that part of it is that comics are a different medium than the scholars are used to dealing with,and require a somewhat different set of tools than they may be used to.

Batcabbage said...

Holy crap, I can't believe they interviewed you during the Joss/Neil paper!!! How incredibly interesting would that have been??!! I'm currently investigating how I can get the cash to go to Sydney to see Neil read one of his unpublished stories at the Opera House in August (I think it's August). The man who created Morpheus, Neil Himself, will be actually reading a story never told before in my country. I may have to sell a kidney. Anyone seen Anthony Cooper around? :)

Loving the Slayage reports, Nik. Keep em coming!

vw: croplens - a device used to decipher the hidden meaning of crop circles.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it's because the comics aren't very good? (I say this as a big comic book fan.)

The panels on sexuality sound very interesting.

I do find it difficult (perhaps as a straight woman) to understand how Buffy can have sex with a woman, enjoy having sex with that woman, and be straight instead of bi.

Batcabbage said...

@redeem: As a casual Buffy fan who's read the comics (Batkitty, an ardent Buffy fan, gets them, and I read them when I get my monthly comics), I'm interested to know what you don't like about the Season 8 comics. I've had issues with the art, and some elements of the story (the only arc I really liked was BKV's Faith/Giles arc - I could be biased there with BKV, though :), but I'd be interested in what a real Buffy fan thinks of them (Batkitty, who is a real Buffy fan, can take them or leave them. She likes the fact that there's new Buffy, but isn't overly excited by the story, especially the latest arc). Only if you don't mind, though.

Nikki Stafford said...

Solomon: I think Lorna is onto something, for sure. And I was saying when I was at the conference that I think a lot of academics might shy away from it because, if film is at the top of pop culture studies, and TV is vying for attention, comics are SO far down the hierarchy it makes sense that they're overlooked. Not to mention, if you talk about TV in the historical context of other TV shows, then a true understanding of comics might lead scholars to think you need to know the history of comic books, which is a very long and complicated one, and one where you REALLY have to know what you're talking about or you'll be called out as a charlatan immediately.

That's why I think Season 8 has to be treated as an actual season, and not necessarily as a comic; you can address the fact they're comics, to talk about the artwork and the fact that the actors aren't actually playing these roles anymore, but when discussing the storyline, you can discuss it the same way you would the show.

Nikki Stafford said...

Batty: It was my own fault, really... they gave me several options of times where I could be interviewed, and I chose that one, not realizing it was at the same time as that paper. Sadness...

I forgot to mention that the people filming the documentary didn't actually film any of the papers, which I thought was disappointing. You're at an academic conference on Buffy working on a documentary about Buffy and academia... why not actually film a few of the papers just to show what Slayage is all about and the level of scholarship that exists? It was a little odd. The featured speakers were in this glorious auditorium that would have looked amazing on film. But perhaps it was simply a location issue, and technically would have been a headache to lug all that equipment around.

Nikki Stafford said...

redeem and Batty: You know, I'm actually a really big fan of the comics, and I say that as a non-comic book fan (not that I don't like that, I've just never gotten into many aside from Sandman, Cages, and Y). The dialogue is great, and there are moments where I marvel at how much it feels like I've really returned to the show. Then again, I'd give ANYTHING for a return to Buffy and this gives me something. It's not live-action, but with the actors all being 7 years older than they were when Buffy ended, it's getting more and more difficult to imagine that movie they've talked about so much.

The comics aren't perfect: I'll admit it lost me on a few arcs. But the Wolves at the Gate arc was GORGEOUS. Twilight, not so much. I wasn't a fan of what that was all about at all, and it just seemed to go a little haywire. Not a big fan of Predators and Prey, either (and I think they've milked the Harmony thing a little too much for my taste). I won't give details because I don't want to spoil, but there are revelations about the characters that are consistent with who they were on the show, yet they don't mar the show for me at all.

The ANGEL comics, on the other hand... bah. I LOVED the way Angel ended, and to have Wesley trapped in this building wandering around, and to know how things ended, and from what I've heard there's an Illyria/Spike thing? Uch. That just bugged me. I don't care how good they are; that show ended perfectly and I wanted to keep it right there. But Buffy left me wanting more, and the comics have given me that.

It's worth it just for the Dawn/Xander dialogue alone. Yes, I said it. THE DAWN DIALOGUE. Seriously, the comics have almost redeemed her for me.

Austin Gorton said...

RE: the comics.

Being a huge Buffy fan and a huge comic book fan, I thoroughly enjoy the comics (some stories more than others, of course). I'm terribly far behind in all my monthly comic reading, but am vaguely aware of what's happened in the Buffy comics I haven't read (I know who Twilight is, for example, and am reserving judgment as to how I feel about that twist until I read the actual material that reveals it).

The art took awhile to grow on me; I've seen Jeantes art elsewhere and liked it in other books more, but over time, I've come to appreciate it on Buffy. His Xander is a little non-distinct, but I really like his Buffy.

@Nikki: The ANGEL comics, on the other hand... bah.

Ditto. At first I was excited to find out what happened in the wake of the finale, but then, well, I guess I just didn't end up liking what happened after the finale. Plus, the art didn't do much for me, and my appreciation of it never grew, and finally, I just ended up getting bored and stopped reading it.

Anonymous said...

Patemanesque - hmmm, it could catch on!

Jennifer said...

At the last Slayage, Joe Valezquez presented in the same Firefly panel as I did. He took a similar approach in his paper there, by looking at how two opposing characteristics combine to make something new. It was fascinating. It was one of those presentations where, at the beginning, you think the ideas are crazy, but then he completely wins you over. Plus, he was incredibly kind to me; I was really nervous because it was my first conference presentation, and he reassured me that my work was good and important(as panel chair, he had requested that we send him our papers in advance so he could prepare questions to jumpstart the conversation).

His panel was at the same time as mine this time, so I appreciate your report on it!