Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Tell Me a Story . . .

That's really where we began, isn't it? Well, life is sometimes wonderfully circular and last night we finished the official course by analyzing the Season Seven episode "Storyteller."

A summary of the episode can be found here.

Among the aspects of the story we discussed were - is Andrew's re-telling of the story a way of making himself a "Mary Sue" (or a "Garry Stu," in his case)? Isn't it a common human reaction to re-tool stories to suit ourselves? Brad Paisley seems to think so, since he's "So Much Cooler Online."

We agreed that stories are powerful learning tools and it's wise to approach such tools with caution and respect. After all, tell a kid often enough that "you're stupid, you're worthless, you're ugly" and sure enough, it comes to pass. Contrariwise (as Alice's Tweedledee might say), tell someone often enough that "you're clever, you're brave, you're pretty" and lo, it comes to be.
Seems Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young got it right.

While there's still much to discuss, our time has ended. But the blog will remain, and I'll check back from time to time.

The next class is already scheduled and you can register for it now - beat the holiday rush!

It'll meet Thursdays next semester, beginning on Feb. 7 and running until March 13. The time is still 6 - 8 p.m. We'll expand beyond Buffy into the worlds of Angel and Firefly to explore families - it's been said that blood is thicker than water. Does that mean that only biological families are our haven from the world? Depending on your family, that can be a great comfort or very depressing news. Or can we create our own families to protect and receive protection from?

Hmmm. What would Andrew say?

(Oh, the Alice reference earlier in the post: `Contrariwise,' continued Tweedledee, `if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic.')

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"I Feel Like a Joan"

Okay, I'll admit - I feel a twinge of guilt, as the title of this post was also the title of quite a good paper at the Istanbul conference, but I'm going to ride the wave of my guilt.

Naturally, characters are created by authors. (By the way, are you following the writers' strike? You may want to check out this site. Now back to our regularly scheduled blog, already in progress . . .) To then have those characters question who they are provides a great way to delve into basic issues of identity, as well as providing some highly comic moments. This past week, we watched the Season Six episode "Tabula Rasa" (a summary can be found here) and boy! was there a lot to discuss in there, beginning with the doozy question - Who are we? Not just our names (very important to Whedon), but deep down, at the core - who are we?

Due to a spell going awry, our gang must craft their identities from scratch, figuring out not only who they are, but how they fit in with the others who are present. Some of these moments are delightfully funny - Spike and Giles constructing family bonds? Anya trapped in "cottontail hell"? And some of the moments are poignant - Buffy suddenly thinks being a "superhero" is cool, instead of a crushing burden. (Well, until she nearly gets her ribs kicked in.) Tara's realization that Willow is in too deep to see straight and that the only way to survive is to leave. The use of Michelle Branch's "Goodbye to You" to underscore the ways in which we are (sometimes) all alone - and the ways in which we will desperately clutch at something (or someone) to not feel that way.

Not to mention an actual "loan shark" and a debt measured in Siamese kittens - really, this episode has so many places to go.

The title "tabula rasa" means "blank slate." Willow recites that term several times during the casting of her spell. The idea goes back at least to Aristotle - although he wouldn't have used the Latin term, since he was Greek. Anyway . . . while Plato espoused the belief that a heavenly soul came down and animated the human body, Aristotle took the view that human were born empty and, as they gained experience and perception, their natures developed. John Locke comes into this discussion as well and social/behavioral scientists continue to debate the role of "nature vs. nurture" when it comes to the development of intelligence, personality, reaction to stress, etc. This link provides some useful information.

For our discussion, we ventured into the Uncharted Land of the Wallet (which borders the Dismal Swamp of the Unexplored Handbag). If you didn't know who you were - what could you construct from the items you carry with you? License, membership cards, pictures, credit cards, and so forth can only provide so many clues.

By the way, our gang is not suffering from amnesia nearly as much as a collective dissociative fugue state, which is a much scarier condition. Follow the link for some details.

As it typical of Whedon, at the end, a certain balance has been established, but all is definitely not well. Good may win, but this is a war with a body count. Giles has left for England, Tara has left Willow, Dawn feels abandoned, and Buffy - despite her friends' vows to spend more time with her; to ease her transition back into this world - is alone at the Bronze. Or maybe not so alone - Spike is there. And, at least for a moment or two, that'll do.

Next week is our last week (sob, rending of clothes, gnashing of teeth). We'll talk about what happens when stories get told; how they evolve with the telling. And with the "teller."

It's time to meet Andrew.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Strikes and Storytelling

Members of the Writers' Guild of America are currently on strike - the core issues revolve around royalty payments for new-ish and emerging technologies such as DVDs and Internet streaming. (Did you know that, on average, the writer gets four CENTS from the sale of a DVD? And the writer gets nuttin' for streaming broadcasts? Me neither.) Whedon is one of many, many writers on the picket lines and yesterday, he posted the following on whedonesque.com (which is NOT run by him, by the way - he just drops by from time to time) -

Reporters are funny people. At least, some of the New York Times reporters are. Their story on the strike was the most dispiriting and inaccurate that I read. But it also contained one of my favorite phrases of the month. “All the trappings of a union protest were there… …But instead of hard hats and work boots, those at the barricades wore arty glasses and fancy scarves.” Oh my God. Arty glasses and fancy scarves. That is so cute! My head is aflame with images of writers in ruffled collars, silk pantaloons and ribbons upon their buckled shoes. A towering powdered wig upon David Fury’s head [me again - this is the "Mustard Man" from OMWF"], and Drew Goddard in his yellow stockings (cross-gartered, needless to say). Such popinjays, we! The entire writers’ guild as Leslie Howard in The Scarlet Pimpernel. Delicious. Except this is exactly the problem. The easiest tactic is for people to paint writers as namby pamby arty scarfy posers, because it’s what most people think even when we’re not striking. Writing is largely not considered work. Art in general is not considered work. Work is a thing you physically labor at, or at the very least, hate. Art is fun. (And Hollywood writers are overpaid, scarf-wearing dainties.) It’s an easy argument to make. And a hard one to dispute. My son is almost five. He is just beginning to understand what I do as a concept. If I drove a construction crane he’d have understood it at birth. And he’d probably think I was King of all the Lands in my fine yellow crane. But writing – especially writing a movie or show, where people other than the writer are all saying things that they’re clearly (to an unschooled mind) making up right then – is something to get your head around. And as work? Well, in the first place, it IS fun. When it’s going well, it’s the most fun I can imagine having. (Tim Minear might dispute that.) And when it’s not going well, it’s often not going well in the company of a bunch of funny, thoughtful people. So how is that work? You got no muscles to show for it (yes, the brain is a muscle, but if you show it to people it’s usually because part of your skull has been torn off and that doesn’t impress the ladies – unless the ladies are ZOMBIES! Where did this paragraph go?) Writing is enjoyable and ephemeral. And it’s hard work. It’s always hard. Not just dealing with obtuse, intrusive studio execs, temperamental stars and family-prohibiting hours. Those are producer issues as much as anything else. Not just trying to get your first script sold, or seen, or finished, when nobody around believes you can/will/should… the ACT of writing is hard. When Buffy was flowing at its flowingest, David Greenwalt used to turn to me at some point during every torturous story-breaking session and say “Why is it still hard? When do we just get to be good at it?” I’ll only bore you with one theory: because every good story needs to be completely personal (so there are no guidelines) and completely universal (so it’s all been done). It’s just never simple. It’s necessary, though. We’re talking about story-telling, the most basic human need. Food? That’s an animal need. Shelter? That’s a luxury item that leads to social grouping, which leads directly to fancy scarves. But human awareness is all about story-telling. The selective narrative of your memory. The story of why the Sky Bully throws lightning at you. From the first, stories, even unspoken, separated us from the other, cooler beasts. And now we’re talking about the stories that define our nation’s popular culture – a huge part of its identity. These are the people that think those up. Working writers. “The trappings of a union protest…” You see how that works? Since we aren’t real workers, this isn’t a real union issue. (We’re just a guild!) And that’s where all my ‘what is a writer’ rambling becomes important. Because this IS a union issue, one that will affect not just artists but every member of a community that could find itself at the mercy of a machine that absolutely and unhesitatingly would dismantle every union, remove every benefit, turn every worker into a cowed wage-slave in the singular pursuit of profit. (There is a machine. Its program is ‘profit’. This is not a myth.) This is about a fair wage for our work. No different than any other union. The teamsters have recognized the importance of this strike, for which I’m deeply grateful. Hopefully the Times will too.

Storytelling as "the most basic human need." I like that.

So wear some arty glasses and a fancy scarf today. When people ask you about your look, tell 'em that storytelling is how we live and learn and progress as a society. And if doing that isn't work - well, I don't know what is.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Give Me Something to Sing About!

Regarding musicals, Whedon has said many nice things. But this really stood out to me:

[My kids] don't watch TV and we only watch a few things selectively, and I tend to show them musicals first because I don't like to show them a lot of heavy cutting. I don't like to do that to their brains. I like "Mr. Rogers," I like long takes. Musicals are very peppy and they are very much about just showing you what's going on instead of the magic of cutting and cutting and cutting, so that they become confused, visually. So since I'm easing them into the whole concept of filmed entertainment, it's a good place to start. Besides, I get to watch them. [And Singin' in the Rain] is the best movie that has ever been and I have shown that to my kids, because it's "Singin' in the Rain." Every number is magical and every joke is actually funny and every bit works, so that makes sense.

Last night, we watched the musical extravaganza "Once More, with Feeling" and noticed several things. A quick recap:

1. No one lies when they sing, whether their feelings center on mustard stains or on deep fears of abandonment and loss. It seems the further we get from regular dialogue ("Hush" serving as another example); the closer we get to the truth.
2. Xander obviously never read the "Halloween Rules" handout or he would have known better than to wish upon an unknown talisman. Silly boy! But at least he got the 30s screwball comedy duet with Anya in return.
3. Whedon's musical lineage can be traced directly back to Stephen Sondheim and Oscar Hammerstein, both of whom "revamped" (no, I won't apologize for the pun) the American musical. In fact, Whedon posted about his own "fan feelings" upon meeting Sondheim. (You need to scroll down a bit - Joss's tagline is purple.) He's clearly a big fan.
4. Good musicals contain songs that advance the plot, rather than bringing the action to a screeching halt so pretty girls can twirl about the stage.
5. Be very careful with resurrection spells - they are notorious for going wrong.

"Once More, with Feeling" is very popular among fans and I'm pleased that several of you expressed versions of, "I wasn't sure about this, but I'm glad I saw it." I've already discussed the stage show (that's now caught in a licensing dispute), but here are some other links you may enjoy exploring.

The lyrics. This site also has plot summaries and screen captures for each episode.

Notes on the DVD commentary. Here you'll find some interesting snippets on the creative process of putting together the songs, the dance sequences, and what Whedon thought worked and what he thought needed polishing.

How a chaplain uses BUFFY to relate to patients in the emergency room.

Next week, we'll look at identity. If you don't know who you are, how could you construct an identity for yourself? Take a look at the contents of your own purse, backpack, wallet, etc. - is that you? We'll get a look at these issues in "Tabula Rasa," which is the very next episode after "OMWF." We get bunnies AND kittens in this one!

Friday, November 2, 2007

That's Another Story

Whedon fans throughout the world rejoiced as they received a lovely goodie in their trick-or-treat bags on Halloween. After an absence of far too long, Joss Whedon is returning to television, perhaps as early as this spring (although I don't count on that - impending writers' strike). Interestingly, the lead actress in the new series will be Eliza Dushku, who famously portrayed the dark Slayer, Faith. Details are still somewhat sketchy, but the new series is titled Dollhouse and will be shown on Fox.

That alone was enough to make me wonder is Joss had leapt away from his good senses, then I remembered that he's not Southern and probably doesn't hold a grudge for seven generations as some do. Some of us are still upset over that "Recent Unpleasantness" that supposedly ended at Appomattox, so we're really not over the mistreatment of Firefly, which was only an eyeblink ago.

Anyway, the show looks interesting, at the very least. A little Stepford Wives, a little Dark Angel by way of Alias and a whole lotta Joss! However, knowing that he has a solid grounding in the classics and looking at that title, if there's a character named "Nora," keep your eye on her. And if there's one called "Hedda," it might be best to back away slowly.

(Yes, yes, I know Ibsen's masterwork is more usually translated as "A Doll's House," but allow me a little poetic license here, would you?)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

. . . especially when the Gentlemen have stolen your voice! As we learned tonight, speaking and communicating are two very different things. Many thanks for the discussion and observations that were shared in class - "Hush" is an episode that is just bursting with things to discuss, ranging from how the absence of standard conversation forces the viewer to pay closer attention to the screen to the edits that finish one scene while ostensibly starting another to Tara's utter disregard for the rules of surviving a monster attack. And a gold star to Cly for noting that Olivia's, "That's enough small talk, don't you think?" is the last line before all the voices are stolen.

You may enjoy the following links:

The episode summary - also read the shooting script to see how the "silent scenes" look on paper.

Patrick Shade's Slayage article on communication and community in the episode.

Ranking of the Gentlemen as "scary monsters."

Next week - we leapfrog over Season 5 (and that'll take some explaining!) to explore communicating in another unconventional way. Bring your tap shoes, everybody - it's "Once More, with Feeling"!

Just a little advance reading about the episode as show and the fuss surrounding the performances. And a little more background about the licensing snarl.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Talking Versus Choking

Since much of the upcoming discussion on Monday night will center on issues raised by communication (what it is, how we do it, why we do it, etc.) I thought the following might be food for thought. This is taken from Bill Bryson's book The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way which makes for an insightful and funny read about the development of English.

Discussing the emergence of the Cro-Magnon, Bryson says:

"[T]hese Cro-Magnon people were identical to us. They had the same physique, the same brain, the same looks. And, unlike all previous hominids who roamed the earth, they could choke on food. That may seem a trifling point, but the slight evolutionary change that pushed man's larynx deeper into his throat, and thus made choking a possibility, also brought with it the possibility of sophisticated, well-articulated speech.
Other mammals have no contact between their airways and esophagi. They can breathe and swallow at the same time, and there is no possibility of food going down the wrong way. But with Homo sapiens food and drink must pass over the larynx on the way to the gullet and thus there is a constant risk that some will be inadvertently inhaled. In modern humans, the lowered larynx isn't in position from birth. It descends sometime between the ages of three and five months - curiously, the precise period when babies are likely to suffer from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. At all events, the descended larynx explains why you can speak and your dog cannot" (22).

Hence the picture at the start of this post. While my beloved Spooky-dog has many talents, well-articulated speech is not among them. (Then again, she can take down any mole that dares encroach on her property far more quickly than I can, so there's always a trade-off, I suppose.)

At any rate, it seems that at some point in human development, the ability to form speech was worth the possibility of choking. There's a lesson in this beyond realizing that your mama was right and you shouldn't talk with your mouth full. We'll discuss that lesson (lessons?) Monday night as we watch "Hush."

See you there!

PS - because it's the time of year for silly vampire articles, you may want to check this out. A professor in Kansas sets out to debunk vampire myths - including why Buffy couldn't really slay a vampire.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Nature of Power

It's good to be back - and with an episode as chock-full of ideas to discuss as "Earshot," I barely noticed the jetlag! (For a summary of the episode, click here.) Turkey was wonderful and I've brought a few friends back with me - everybody wave to Bookworm, who's joining us from Austria! (hi, bookworm!)

So - Buffy becomes telepathic through the accidental absorption of a demon's blood (demons without mouths - creepy!) What seems like a wonderful gift turns into a curse as Buffy discovers she can't shut out the thoughts of others and that so often, those thoughts are full of desperation and despair the thinker tries mightily to conceal from others. She "overhears" a voice promising, "This time tomorrow, I'll kill you all" and has to discover the identity of the would-be killer. She thinks it's a student in a clock tower (see the screen capture at the start of the post), but Jonathan is preparing to end his own life to end his pain. Xander's love for junk food (in this case, Jell-O) once again saves the day as he discovers the identity of the true killer.

Buffy's power at first seems very forceful and invasive - in this case, the ability to actually pierce into a person's mental life. It's a power that nearly destroys her as she learns secrets that she would just as soon not know. ("On the hood of a police car? Twice?") By the end of the episode, it appears that the true power is non-invasive - the ability to empathize with another person; in other words, to communicate with compassion.

Originally scheduled to be broadcast the week after the Columbine shootings, "Earshot" was delayed out of sensitivity to that event and that brings us to an age-old debate - does life imitate art, does art imitate life, or is the whole snarled mess just a slew of coincidence? While I'm not sure of the answer, I do know that fantastic art comes out of horrific tragedy, which does not lessen the tragedy. See Picasso's Guernica, for example.

About the mural, Picasso said, "A painting is not thought out and settled in advance. While it is being done, it changes as one's thoughts change. And when it's finished, it goes on changing, according to the state of mind of whoever is looking at it."

This is true of all art - including Buffy episodes. What you see is going to be filtered through your own perceptions and experiences and that means it's going to be at least slightly different from what I see. And the fact that we're still talking about all of this years after the show was canceled indicates that the stories are continuing to change and evolve, although we often think that once something is captured on film, it stays that same way forever.


The demons in "Earshot" communicate telepathically because they have no mouths. Next week, we'll continue to discuss communication - its goals and methods - by examining one of the most groundbreaking episodes of Buffy Whedon dared to create. We'll talk in person on Monday; feel free to use the boards to discuss your ideas in the meantime.

Monday, October 22, 2007


As in "home again, home again."

I arrived back home last night after something like 22 hours of traveling. Long day, but still! Just think about that - yesterday I was in Turkey; today I'm in North Carolina. It's a little amazing, isn't it?

I didn't post following the sightseeing day because I ran out of time - had to pack and try to sleep before the aforementioned 22 hour travel day. Anything I would have written would've been gibberish at that point. But today is a new day, on a new continent, so let's see . . .

As with the infamous "Asian Jaunt," we had a rough game plan that was subject to change. We knew and accepted that we couldn't see everything, so we picked our top five and hoped for the best. Overall, I'd say it worked out pretty well.

Since we were scattered throughout different hotels, those of us staying in Beyoglu (north of the Golden Horn) met in the Richmond Hotel then trekked down to the area in Sultanahmet ("old" Istanbul) close to where the ferries run. After puzzling out the tram system, we met the rest of our traveling companions and started wandering around the Hippodrome and (no doubt insensitively) mocking antiquities that are so old no one is exactly sure what their significance may be. Some of this stuff is famous for being famous - sort of the architectural equivalent of Paris Hilton. (By the way, for all of these, I've added links that have history and pictures - otherwise, this post was going to become manuscript-length! I really suggest you follow the links - there are some wonderful pictures and great information there.)

We respectfully visited the Blue Mosque (no, I didn't have to cover my hair and the fact I was wearing trousers was no big deal. Short skirts are a strict no-no; but in that event, you will be supplied with a Velcro-fastening tablecloth that can be seen as a long skirt) and the basilica/mosque/museum Ayasofya, as well as the Basilica Cistern (look for the wacky Medusa heads!) before breaking for a lingering lunch. Now reduced by two (flight schedules), our trio wandered the grounds of Topkapi Palace (we were too late to see the interior, which is a shame, but we knew we couldn't do everything. And hey! who'd thunk that such a place would be the local lovers' lane? Making out in a headscarf - that seemed rather weird) before heading to the Grand Bazaar to try our haggling skills. We also visited the Egyptian (or Spice) Bazaar before our last supper in Istanbul.

Coming home was long and tedious, but also uneventful, which is just fine by me! And one of the last memories I have of Istanbul might just sum up the blending of (or maybe the tension between) the secular and the religious in this country that was so warm and welcoming to me. On my way to the airport, I saw a billboard from the taxi. The billboard was advertising expensive and exclusive Armani clothing - and the haughty model was wearing a headscarf. Compare that with what we routinely see in advertisements here in the States and I think you'll agree that there's food for thought there.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

10 Things to Enjoy About Istanbul . . .

. . . and this doesn't even include sightseeing! There will be more on that later, I'm sure.

1. Waking up and hearing under the usual citysounds of honking taxi horns and hotel hall chatter the peculiar wail of amplified calls to prayer. You just know that you aren't in Kansas anymore, Toto. So get out of the basket and walk around on your own!
2. Tiny booths tucked away in every corner and niche. Well worth the time to explore a bit, as you don't quite know what you might find. Yesterday, I was helped by two lovely young girls (no more than 12) whose English was darned near as good as mine. They were helping their father and I was quick to compliment him on his offspring.
3. Strong hot tea, served in delicate clear glass flutes.
4. Just being in a city so ancient that a 400-year-old mosque can be referred to as "new" without a trace of irony.
5. Realizing as you relax in a dim cafe, sipping a foamy cappuccino and chit-chatting with a half-dozen people from four separate countries that this is why you stay in school for so long.
6. Souvenir shopping, knowing that you're probably getting ripped off a little, but having such a good time that you don't really care all that much. Gotta buy me some street chestnuts today . . .
7. Seeing that strict religious prohibitions against making any sort of graven image still cannot halt the inherent human drive to create beauty - the architecture and decorative arts in an Islamic country are incredible.
8. Resisting the urge to allow myself to be lured into a shop that sells carpets only to ask the startled proprietor where he keeps the burnt-orange deep shag. (I blame Mark Twain for that idea - if he didn't do it, I bet he wanted to!)
9. Finishing my breakfast coffee on the hotel restaurant balcony gazing at the Asian side of the city and thinking, "Hey, I've been there."
10. Knowing that I'll take all this home with me.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Asia and "Mapkins"

One of the stunningly unusual things about Istanbul is that the city is actually located on two continents - the Bosphorus Strait separates Europe from Asia. Now, this is something that couldn't go unchallenged. I'd talked to a few people about taking a side trip across the strait, but I'm an adherent of the "more the merrier" school of adventure-taking, so as presentations ended, I hollered out, "Anybody wanna go to Asia?" I didn't have a plan, but hey! why let a detail like that stop me? One thing led to another and eventually, 11 of us (along with 4 of our increasingly amused Turkish friends) set off for the ferry docks. While the city residents had other plans, they wanted to make sure we got safely to the docks and we were equipped with a napkin that was covered with jotted notes and rough directions - hence the term "mapkin." While the "mapkin" is not as well-known a talisman agains the "evil eye" as the picture at the top of this post, we remained safe and happy throughout our adventure.

To residents of this magnificent city, it was another commute home from the office; we were delighted tourists. And by the way - yes, it was chilly enough on the ferry to need a coat and no, that doesn't make it a "straitjacket," at least not in the usual sense of the word!

The city does take on a different perspective when you're on the water at sunset. The walls of the older part of this ancient city are bathed in a mellow, almost rose-colored light and the domes and minarets of the mosques appear soft and rounded. It's a different view than the one you get from walking along the cobbled streets and one well worth the trip.

In Asia, we proceeded to walk and gawk a bit, but you don't do much of that anywhere in Istanbul without attracting a lot of "come here, come here. Best food - you want lamb?" As a matter of fact, the other night one of these restaurant barkers (or "food pimps," as David Lavery dubbed them) told me in a single breath, "You want fresh fish? Pretty eyes." I'm still not sure if he meant I had pretty eyes or that the fish had the pretty eyes, but either way, I was walking on! Four of the group split off and the remaining seven of us (nice magical number) found a restaurant and stayed and stayed, talking about all things under the sun. I recited the first line of my paper and it was decided that was enough to claim that I had made presentations on two continents on this trip. At the table, we had something like six languages represented between the seven of us (alas, I was the only monolingual one - more proof that Blanche DuBois got it right when she claimed to have "always depended on the kindness of strangers") and we understood each other quite well.

I hope I never forget it.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Mission Accomplished - Sort Of

The conference officially started yesterday. It's a little staggering to realize the scope of this gathering. Yesterday, I heard presentations from BUFFY scholars from Turkey, Finland, and Italy, as well as mine (which went well, thanks). Today, the UK, Austria, Germany, and Israel are represented. You can check out the full program (including paper titles) over on the conference Website. Just follow the link and choose "conference program." If you want more information, choose "abstracts."

After the presentations finished last night, one of the real delights of a conference like this began - the continued discussion over dinner, coffee, etc. This, by the way, is one of the nice aspects of presenting on the first day - the pressure is off and you get to sit back and listen for new ideas, comment on thoughts that the papers raise, and so forth. (Hey - I may teach public speaking, but that doesn't mean I'm off the "nervous butterflies" hook when it comes to my own speeches!) It hit me at one point of the evening how surreal all of this is - I'm sitting in a cafe in a thousand-year-old city discussing vampires, social theory, the ins and outs of publishing, the reach of popular American culture, and so on. And I'm nearly the only one who can't effortlessly switch between at least two (and often quite a few more) languages.

In fact, today I hope to go to Asia - the Bosphorus that splits Istanbul also is the official border between the continents of Europe and Asia. And I remember how thrilled I was to discover that the Carowinds amusement park straddles the North Carolina-South Carolina line!

Life is indeed wonderfully strange.

I've also added a new link over on the right-hand side of this blog that will be useful for the class. (Remember class?) This one will take you to an excellent, very thorough guide to BUFFY that will supply you with links to the various seasons, an episode guide, information about the "slanguage" of the show, and so forth. Just look for the buttons on the left hand side of the site and have fun playing.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Touching Down

NOTE: Please be kind - while I'm typing in English, everything about the site is coming up in Turkish, so I'm having to guess a little at where the various controls are!

Yes, arrived safely in Turkey; not even a whisper of a problem. My luggage arrived at the same time I did and I even met two very nice San Franciscians on the Munich-Istanbul leg of the trip. We shared a cab and trust me - we bonded over that, since traffic in Istanbul is a contact sport. It's as if everyone is trying out for So You Wanna Drive for NASCAR? only with jaywalkers.

After a few wrong turns and a false start, I found the conference hotel (it was booked; I'm staying in an "overflow" hotel, which is very nice. I border on being suspicious, but I have to remember that I stayed in too many youth hostels in my misguided youth.) During my walk, I noticed some things that are worth sharing. In no particular order, my first ten observations:

1. It's common for friends of the same gender to walk with their arms around one another. Personally, I like it - I think Americans are a touch-starved culture in many ways. We lust, we don't connect.
2. Lots of wickedly-fancy embroidery and sparkly stuff beckons from tiny windows.
3. About half the women I've seen wear headscarves. A few go more extreme and are head-to-toe in black, but their faces are visible; it's not the whole nine yards of the chador. (Sorry if I get my terms wrong, but I think you know what I mean.)
4. Everyone smokes. Two packs of cigarettes were in the "courtesy package" in my room.
5. When flying for a long time, buy Airborne - and use it regularly! I'm always stuffy after an international flight and I feel fine right now.
6. When given the chance to take a trip like this, don't listen to the nay-sayers. Pack and high-tail it to the airport!
7. Be willing to get just a little lost. You can always catch a cab and yeah, you might get overcharged. Your point would be . . . ?
8. Don't travel halfway around the world to eat McDonalds. If you're going to do that, save the money and just stay home.
9. Yes, it's weird to hear wailing calls to worship being blared from loudspeakers mounted on minarets. Wonder what a practicing Muslim would think of Bridges BBQ? Oh, wait - I know that one.
10. This is no place to be careful about what you eat! I experimented with carpaccio tonight for dinner; a seasoned, marinated, near-raw beef dish. Might never try it again, but it was pretty tasty for a one-shot. Can't be any worse for me than candy corn.

And no, no one says "gobble, gobble." More later - and think kindly of me! I present tomorrow.

Monday, October 8, 2007

"I Like the Quiet"

I hope you all enjoyed the first session of our class. There was plenty of lively discussion and pointed observations - always better than pointed stakes, I say! I've included a few links here that I thought you might enjoy to tide you over until our next session. Remember, we don't meet next week - I'll be on my way to Istanbul and I'm supposed to have Internet access, so look for updates and photos from my time at the BUFFY HEREAFTER conference. We meet back on October 22 to watch "Earshot" and discuss the pros and cons of superpowers. We'll especially consider this question: is power all about might and force or do compassion and empathy have roles in power as well?

And hey - read the previous posts, take the quiz, and let us know which character you most resemble!

As for "The Zeppo," these might be useful:

Who was Zeppo Marx?

A summary of the episode.

An article on developing secondary characters

A little information on stories told from the POV of a "non-main" character. The Arthur legend from a female perspective and Hamlet from the POV of two minor characters.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Game Plan

The class begins in less than a week and I thought you might want to know a few things.

EPISODES - Although still subject to change following the first meeting of the class, right now it appears that the episodes we'll be studying will be:

Oct. 8 - "The Zeppo" (Season 3). The discussion will center on telling the story from the POV of a secondary character and what insights can be gained from that perspective.
Oct. 15 - no meeting; on my way to Istanbul
Oct. 22 - "Earshot" (Season 3). The discussion will center on the downside of immense power and the burden it can place on the powerful.
Oct. 29 - "Restless" (Season 4). The discussion will center on dream-worlds and what can be learned from those realities.
Nov. 5 - "Once More, with Feeling" (Season 6). The discussion will center on using music to carry the narrative.
Nov. 12 - "Tabula Rasa" (Season 6). The discussion will center on identity and how we determine who we are.
Nov. 19 - "Storyteller" (Season 7). The discussion will center on putting ourselves into the story being told and how we see ourselves within the narrative.

There's so much more! I'm still trying to work in the masterful episode "Hush," for example.
In the meantime, if you need to brush up on characters, here is a useful character guide. And here's another. (That one includes a nice section on "cultural impact" to show to your friends who are wondering why on Earth you're taking this class; just scroll down a bit.)

Wondering how you fit in to the "Scooby Gang"? Just for fun, take the quiz!

I'll see you all at 6:00 in Room 1134 at the college! Bring your own stake!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Storytelling 101

Welcome! This blog is designed to accompany a non-credit course I'm teaching. The course runs for six weeks and focuses on some of the narrative techniques used by Joss Whedon over the seven-year run of his popular television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

OK, you say. What's that mean?

Excellent question - move to the front of the class.

"Narrative technique" can be thought of as a dressed-up way of saying "storytelling." Now, most of us are used to very simple, straightforward stories. Let's use the fairy tale of Rumplestiltskin to illustrate this structure, which can be thought of as a triangle. To be fancy, you can call this "Freytag's Pyramid," which is at the start of this post.

We start at the left-hand side of the triangle at the base with the exposition; in this case, "Once upon a time." At this stage, we are introduced to characters, situations, and relationships. Here's the miller's daughter, whose father lies and brags that she can spin straw into gold. The greedy king hears about this fantastic talent and begins to wonder how he can exploit it.

Now that we have those basics established, we begin to climb the left leg of the triangle. We learn what the central conflict of the story is and the action begins to rise. The king has the girl brought to his castle and she is ordered to spin a room full of straw into gold by morning - or else! A mysterious little man appears and offers to help, in return for the girl's necklace. The greedy king then demands more and more of the girl until she is forced to agree to give the strange little man her as-yet-unborn child. Delighted with the girl's abilities, the king marries her (a girl who can produce gold from straw is an asset to any king's court) and they have a child. Then the mysterious little man arrives to claim the child as his own. See how the stakes keep getting higher?

The tension culminates in the climax - in this case, the girl has to guess the little man's name in order to keep her beloved child. She tries every name she can think of and (with help) finally is able to hit on the proper name. The enraged little man splits himself in two with anger.

Then we slide down the opposite leg of the triangle through falling action until we reach the resolution of "and they lived happily ever after."

But not all stories are told this way. Whedon used a variety of techniques and structures to tell his stories and we will explore six of these over the course of this class. And a few things in this tale will be re-visited as well.