Thursday, September 25, 2008
Large topic, so many shows will be used to provide examples. One area that science fiction does such a nice job of exploring is really looking hard at the question, "What does it mean to be human?" In addition, some of the best explorations of that question have come through non-human characters. (Interestingly enough, Whedon's most "sci-fic" show, Firefly, contains no non-human characters - it's a 'verse without aliens.) We'll take a look at shows such as Star Trek, Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica, as well as some Whedon offerings.
The local paper just ran an article about the class - thanks for commenting, Tucker! - with information about joining the class. You can read it here. The cost is low ($40 gets you six weeks), the class will be a blast (based on past performances; your actual experience may vary) and I look forward to seeing you there! Please - right now, I've been told that enrollment is very low, so if you are itnerested, please call the continuing education department at (704) 484-4015 and sign up. Tell your friends and bring 'em along!
Sunday, June 22, 2008
To keep you in the mood, my first post over there since returning from Arkadelphia sort of straddles the line - I went to the Charlotte "Can't Stop the Serenity" event last night (got home early this morning) and I'll be writing about that. Good times, great cause!
See you soon - and watch the "Dollhouse" trailer! Interesting times are ahead . . .
Monday, June 9, 2008
However, mention has to be made of Janine Basinger's keynote address yesterday morning. Prof. Basinger teaches film at Wesleyan University in Connecticut and has been both a mentor and friend to Joss Whedon for 20+ years. She shared a number of insights and stories with a rapt audience and I'll admit to being a touch star-struck. She's sharp as a blade, yet quite approachable. You get the distinct feeling she not only does not suffer fools gladly, but is quite willing to have them eviscerated. And one of Whedon's great ongoing regrets is that he was unable to take her "The Four Directors" class - a sore point he apparently continues to bring up in discussions with her.
Stacey Abbott and Janet Halfyard both gave astonishingly strong presentations and no, it wasn't just because they had clips! Scholarship plus enthusiasm - that's the secret! Further, the "Mr. Pointy" award for best paper given at this conference was justly awarded to Cynthea Masson who presented on the oft-misunderstood episode "The Girl in Question." It's now on my "must rewatch" list. (By the way, the "Mr. Pointy" award is one of those rare academic awards that is not a plaque. Indeed, Cynthea may have a difficult time should she unwisely attempt to put it in her carry-on luggage!)
It's been a great time - my own paper on Doyle (presented in conjunction with musicologist Janet Halfyard's wonderful paper on the Orpheus myth and how Buffy manages to be both Orpheus and Eurydice; savior and saved; hero and heroine) was very well received, although questions were scant. It was the final day - people are a bit tired by then. The "Buffy Bookers" session was lovely and (for me) wonderfully circular. Two years ago, I was in the audience puzzling over how these people managed to get published. Now I was at the front of the room, wondering just which of those eager, bright-eyed folks out there was me two years back.
The circle not only continues, children, it becomes wider.
Saturday, June 7, 2008
1. I love it here! These are truly wonderfully generous, intelligent, passionate people. Put us all together and you can't help but both have fun and get at least some glimmers of inspiration.
2. Rhonda Wilcox just sees things differently. She took an episode that I enjoy and have often thought is brilliant in its structure ("Conversations with Dead People" from Season 7, if you're interested) and shows you patterns and links that you never saw before. She does this so effortlessly that you want to throw yourself under a train. But then she's so generous towards the work of other people that you decide to stick around - besides, if you threw yourself under a train, it'd make quite a mess and she'd probably insist on cleaning it up.
3. Chinese fortune cookies that contain gems like this one that I got in my lunch today: "You will be the mast of all you survey." Not "master," but "mast." I still don't know what that one means. Smooth sailing, perhaps?
4. Matthew Pateman gets major points for (1) having Buffy and Angel cutouts in his office, (2) having his picture taken with said cutouts, and (3) presenting one of the most articulate answers to the question, "You study what?" that I've heard to date. And it's not just the English accent - his arguments are well thought out, humorous, and dead-on accurate.
5. It's great to be here. At most conferences, once the sessions are over for the day, attendees break off and head out to dinner, then maybe hit a club or just disappear into their rooms. I came home from dinner tonight (Arkansas BBQ - let us not speak of it. I grew up in mighty fine Carolina pig country and admit to being biased.) to find most attendees gathered around the lobby television. Yep, watching Buffy. Together.
Friday, June 6, 2008
As Buffy would say, "Whatever." We're doing good work and, being a fan of the concept that the truth is where you find it, I say our job is just to keep on crying in the wilderness.
Actually, my job is to do a bit more than that. I'm a "superchair" at this conference, which basically means that I go around to various sessions and make sure all the speakers have arrived and that the room is suitable for the discussion that's about to take place. So far, so good. It's quite a change for me - I missed the first SLAYAGE conference and, at the last one two years ago, I was a shy, wallflower academic who was too introverted to even present a paper. Now my book's on the shelf in the college bookstore, I've seen more than a couple of people with copies tucked under their arms, and I'm not only presenting, I'm helping smooth the way for others to do so.
I'll get into specifics about what I've seen and heard here tomorrow - it's late and the whole show starts again early tomorrow.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
The book launch went fantastically well; thanks for asking. It was a lot of fun (and also a little nerve-wracking, if we're telling the truth to each other. And we are, aren't we?), but now that the book has launched and is (hopefully) flying under her own power, I'm going to take a little time to just breathe.
I'll be back soon, though. There's lots to discuss. Dollhouse is coming up this fall and Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog is in the works. There are new books coming out - check out this one, for example - and there will always be more to talk about.
And you can always visit me over at my other Web-house. Just follow the link.
Signing off just for a little while. I think I'm gonna go fly a kite.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Copies of the book will be available for purchase and, if you ask nicely, I’ll sign your purchase. Heck, I’ll do that if you ask harshly! But please take Giles’ advice and do not speak Latin in front of the books.
Again, mark your calendars! Monday, April 14 at 7 p.m. in the Keeter Auditorium at CCC. Tell your friends and better yet, bring them along!
Monday, March 24, 2008
The sightseeing trip I was a little apprehensive about – I’m not a “bus tour” sort of person and I knew this was going to be a bit of “15 minutes – get your pictures. Now quick! Back on the bus!” but I also knew it was going to be a good way to get a solid overview of the city.
I drew an extraordinary bus driver/guide. Larry is a native San Franciscan and obviously loves the city. We got history, colorful anecdotes, and a soundtrack! Including “Magical Mystery Tour,” “If You’re Going to San Francisco,” “I Left My Heart,” and others. We stopped at the Golden Gate Bridge, Twin Peaks (not the set for the old David Lynch series) for city views, and the City Hall which featured a farmer’s market (I got free slices of sweet, crisp Asian pears!). I saw the Buena Vista, where Irish coffee was introduced; Union Square; a street full of fancy shops that I had no desire to actually go into; the gates to Chinatown and the crowds inside; the Russian Orthodox church; houses in a variety of Victorian styles (Italianate, Stick, Queen Anne, and even Edwardian – I can almost tell them apart now); the no-longer-commercial piers; Golden Gate Park (where the fortune cookie was invented!); and the Castro district – the Village People’s “YMCA” was the soundtrack and Larry pointed out, “Ohh, look! Straight people!” I learned the difference between a “trolley” (runs on electricity, whether a streetcar or a bus) and a “cable car” (no electricity – runs on a street level belt). I saw the Presidio, which is now in development as private land – you can rent the houses, or set up offices there. I saw the Pacific Ocean and the remains of opulent houses that were built/rebuilt after the devastation of the 1906 earthquake. Oh, and I found out that you have to go about a half-hour away to find a Wal-Mart in San Francisco – this is a town of small businesses; not big box stores.
It was a good tour.
Later, I roused myself to go out for a last walk around the city. I wanted to stroll around the Yerba Buena Gardens which are about a block away from the hotel. There’s a striking MLK memorial that involves waterfalls and the quote from Amos about letting “justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” It was a beautiful day and the park was full of families and kids enjoying themselves. The Garden is full of kid-friendly places, including a carousel, a park, a skating rink and I had a great time just gawking around.
But it’s time to go home.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
The finale of the conference was a showing of Blade Runner followed by a raffle (with some VERY generous prizes, I should add!) - the movie was great – it was the director’s cut, which means the voice-overs were gone, as is the final scene of Deckard and Rachel soaring off toward a new life wherever it is. It really is an astonishingly good film that does what all good science fiction does – ask the big questions. In this case, the central question is “What does it mean to be human?” It also addresses some big questions about the relationship and responsibilities of creator/created. Oh, and the raffle was fun. Even if you didn’t win anything (I did), you don’t leave unhappy as there is a scramble at the end to do some judicious horse-trading to wind up with things you really wanted. Packing tomorrow could be interesting . . .
Saturday, March 22, 2008
I moved over to the conference hotel on Wednesday. Due to a glitch in my registration (it got sorted out), I missed the panels, so I spent some time exploring my neighborhood, which is SoMA (South of Market). I wanted to soak up some of the atmosphere of this magnificent city, which is very different from where I live – much more cosmopolitan (ohhh, look! Skyscrapers!) and far more “green” – nearly every restaurant proudly announces that they recycle or the menu has suggestions for how diners can reduce their impact on the environment; that sort of thing.
One of the highlights of my mapless walking tour was visiting the California Historical Society which is hosting an exhibit on the role of the Chinese people in California – a subject never covered in my Southern seasoned history classes. Enough to make you shake your head at the sheer inhumanity of mankind. The Chinese were welcome so long as they “kept their place” as cheap, docile labor, but whoo-boy! how that changed when they began making demands for such things as dignity and a living wage.
I had dinner with the two San Franciscans I had met in the customs line in Istanbul – they’re not popular culture folks; just wanted to show off their town. We had dinner at a tapas place (think a dinner made up of appetizers), which is also something I can’t do at home.
On Thursday, I dove into the panels. Since my work centers on Joss Whedon, I was looking through the phone book sized program for panels that focused there – I was surprised to see some scheduling conflicts. Whedon is no longer the “exclusive property” of the science fiction and fantasy area, so I had to make a few heart-breaking decisions, since I have yet to figure out how to be in two places at once. I don’t discount panels that don’t deal with Whedon, however. Science fiction and fantasy in general are genres that are willing to tackle the question “What if?” instead of being so tied down to realism – one of the reasons the storytelling can be so very creative. It’s come a long way from ray guns and silver minidresses.
Actually, one of my highlights was a Doctor Who grouping that discussed the older production values and strength of storytelling versus the shinier new version and what, if anything, got lost in translation. (Personally, I agree with the presenter – there’s an undeniable charm in some of the older, rubber-suited-bad-guy episodes. Amazing things can happen when you have to be creative!) Another focused on the single-minded focus of human couch potatoes on constant entertainment as being a Dalek-like trait.
Outside of that panel, I heard presentations on Battlestar Galactica that addressed genocide and human agency (as opposed to being so outside human experience as to be “monstrous”), President Roslin’s cancer as a disability and different views on that element of her character. I heard discussion on the role of Stars Hollow in Gilmore Girls as both advancing and deconstructing the myths of the American Dream. Some great stuff on The Sopranos and the view of women - whoa! the Emmy tribute will make you shake your head when you juxtapose the lyrics being sung with the images being shown! And there was an especially nice presentation on the portrayal of sex and gender in sci-fi television.
I presented my paper Friday morning – it went well and I was pleased to be chairing a panel that was so well attended. Rabb and Richardson’s work is always a highlight and, as area chair, Tanya provided a draw for the session as well. Her work centers on fans-as-activists, which is a very interesting topic. Why do fans adopt the cause of their favorite celebrities? How much impact do these actions have?
I stayed for the Harry Potter panel which followed ours. Wilcox’s work on the film version of Azkaban and especially the director’s use of mirror images throughout the film to represent different perspectives and stages of maturation got me to thinking.
Then the “true” conference began. Honestly, much of the best of a conference occurs between sessions – that’s when the honesty starts about what’s been going on, what directions our work is going in, what roadblocks we’re running into and so on. A gaggle of us wound up having lunch at a very civilized tea lounge called Samovar. Far beyond simple orange pekoe, I had a tea that had been aged in bamboo and promised to lift “the dark shroud of oppression” or something like that. It was very strong and smoky, almost earthy-tasting. It was very relaxing to sit and chat and not rush and fret. A quartet of us then went sightseeing down to Fisherman’s Wharf where we meandered around, getting snapshots of the piers and boats and the Golden Gate Bridge. We wound up at Ghirardelli Square, where we bought chocolate for souvenirs and sensuously ate gigantic chocolate-dipped strawberries. We rode the streetcars to get there and back and had a whale of a good time just being in this marvelous city on a dazzling day. A larger group of us had dinner at John’s Grill, a very masculine restaurant that was featured in The Maltese Falcon. (That explains the picture.) They have a replica of the famed bird upstairs – they had one of the originals from the film, but it was stolen last year. It’s bigger than you’d think, so no one snuck it out under a coat.
I’m sorry this is so long, but it’s the first chance I’ve had. Subsequent entries will be shorter and more readable, I’m sure!
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
It's a smorgasbord here. Panels are devoted to just about any aspect of American life you can think of - baseball, Chicano writing, using popular culture in the classroom, rhetoric, history, the role food plays in our lives, and everything in between.
San Francisco is a city that has a special place in the heart and history of America - Mark Twain first used that nom de plume here, Jacks London and Kerouac lived and wrote here, Chinatown provides a peek into a culture very different from my own, Blade Runner and Vertigo were both set here (at very different times, of course). By the way, the movie version of Blade Runner switched the setting to Los Angeles; I don' t know why but I bet someone here can tell me!
More later - I need to check in.
Friday, March 14, 2008
Thus we end our six-week examination of how Whedon portrays families in his shows. We've barely scratched the surface, but we at least scratched!
We saw biological families that were loving and strong. We saw biological families that tried to keep certain members of the family cramped and small. We saw parents sacrifice themselves for their children and "parents" who weren't linked to their "children" by DNA at all. We saw families that chose each other (and we sometimes wondered why). We saw that "family," however you define it, is something we all need and that sometimes, we can only find it by going out to seek it. But that you never, ever want to be totally alone, so it's a bad idea to send your family away.
Thank you for joining the class! I hope you got something positive out of the experience - I know I did! Thank you for sharing my unbridled joy at finishing the book (you haven't forgotten about the book, have you?) and please - continue to check out this blog. I'll be posting from the National Popular Culture Association conference in San Francisco next week. I expect it to be quite interesting! Oh, and remember that I should be speaking at CCC about popular culture, faith, Whedon and a few other things on the evening of April 14. Details to follow, but I'd love to have you in the audience!
Thank you and please, let me know what subjects would interest you in a future class!
Saturday, March 8, 2008
We all had a lot to say about how you determine who your family is - blood might have something to say about it, but behavior seems to carry more weight than DNA. We saw a true family breaking bread together and deciding that some people are worth risking your neck for, even if you're not entirely sure about them sometimes. River's right - "Daddy" does come to take the siblings back home; it's just that "Daddy" is an exasperated, short-tempered, rough-tongued, ex-soldier rather than the calculating dandy who headed an earlier family.
Life can be a funny thing, can't it?
As I've said before, FIREFLY is an extraordinary series. Perhaps being under the constant threat of cancellation made everyone strive to make the show shine more brightly. Should you be interested in obtaining your very own copy, you can find a set and still have money in your pocket to celebrate your acquisition. Try here. Or maybe here. (You may need to refresh the links.)
Next week, we have to wrap things up. I hope you've had some fun looking at television in a different way and maybe we'll get together and try this again in the fall. Let's talk about what themes you'd like to explore next time.
Thank you all for being part of the class and for sharing my joy about the book project! Actually, the Tuesday after the class ends, I'm off to San Francisco to present at the National Popular Culture Association about the episode we watched this week. Wish me luck!
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
So I'll see you Thursday in Room 1098 - it's one of the conference rooms by the main reception desk - to begin our discussion of FIREFLY.
Friday, February 29, 2008
For the next two weeks (our last sessions), we move into the world of FIREFLY. No vampires here, but plenty to discuss regarding families. If you're trying to find a tag for the show, "science fiction" is probably your best bet, as the show involves space travel and is set in the future. But it's unlike any science fiction you've ever seen - there are no aliens, just humans with all of our good and bad traits. It's an ensemble show, so there are nine (count them - NINE) main characters to get acquainted with. I've included a link here that does a nice job of outlining the parameters of the show.
And - just for fun - I've included a link to a quiz so you can determine which character you most closely resemble!
I'll keep you posted on the room situation if I hear anything.
Friday, February 22, 2008
Also - just for fun - included a link to an earlier episode in which Lorne (at Angel's behest) returns to his home dimension and talks with his family. You'll quickly see why our Liberace-ish Host left what was then home for the bright lights of L.A. Look in the background for his brother Numfar - that's Joss Whedon. (The "Dance of Joy" was performed to celebrate Lorne's unexplained disappearance.) You really need sound on your computer to get the full effect.
Next week, we'll be examining fathers and sons. You see, later in Season Three, Angel discovers that, against all odds, he's a father. (Vampires can "sire" other vampires, but they can't have children.) How will this change his life? The lives of those around him, who are suddenly faced with the reality that a tiny little life relies on them totally? Not to mention, how to you baby-proof an arsenal?
Monday, February 18, 2008
On Valentine's Day, we viewed and discussed the Season Five Buffy episode "Family," which explores the intersection of blood family and chosen family, with some interesting ideas on family beliefs and legends thrown in as well. This week, we move on to Angel and there's been a change of plans. As I was reviewing the episode I'd chosen for this week, it occurred to me that it is part of a multi-episode arc and it was going to be very difficult to set up properly in our limited time frame. So I'm skipping ahead to the Season Three episode "Fredless" instead. If you'll follow this link, you'll go to the Buffyworld site, where you can access the transcript of the episode. In class, I'll catch you up to speed, then we'll watch and discuss the episode in terms of parent/child relationships, leaving home and finding it again.
See you Thursday!
Friday, February 8, 2008
Thursday, January 31, 2008
This go-round, we'll be moving beyond BUFFY to include ANGEL and FIREFLY. Each episode will get our attention for two weeks. We'll start with the BtVS episodes "Pangs" (Season 4) and "Family" (Season 5). Then we'll move on to the world of ANGEL and focus on "Through the Looking Glass" (Season 2) and "Fredless" (Season 3). Finally, we'll wrap up with a look at Whedon in space with "Safe" and "Out of Gas" (alas, both from Season 1, as FIREFLY only got about half a season - trust me, you'll wish there was more!)
Please - tell your friends! There's plenty of room left. See you there!
Thursday, January 3, 2008
If you've been wanting to show your skeptic friends/family members what all the fuss is about, this might be the class you've been waiting for! Contact the Continuing Education department at Cleveland Community College to register. They can be reached at (704) 484-5324.
In other Whedon news, please indulge me for a moment - I have to crow about this. McFarland has included my upcoming text on faith and Whedon in their Spring catalog (I'm also available for pre-order on Amazon! Go on, follow the links!) The text is slated for a June release and has no bearing whatsoever on the upcoming course - I just was thrilled at seeing another concrete step happening in this l-o-n-g process!
See you in class!