Thursday, November 25, 2010

Coming Soon!

Nikki Stafford, she of many a TV guide (but not, you understand, TV Guide), has both risen to the challenge and thrown down a gauntlet. Hard to do both, but she's Canadian. And tricksy.

Nikki is probably best known as the writer of the immensely detailed and popular Lost guides, but she's also a Whedonian at heart, having written one of the first guides to give Buffy the Vampire Slayer more than a passing glance. Starting in 2011, she's devoting her blog - you can see it by clicking the link here - to a Buffy re-watch every Tuesday. (Makes sense - throughout the seven-year run of the show, Tuesday was always "Buffy night.") The show is a whopping 144 episodes in length, so Nikki's drafted help. A number of pop culture scholars, enthusiasts, Whedon scholars, podcasters and various other strays are going to be chiming in throughout the year-long run of the re-watch.

Should be interesting and I've staked out (yuk, yuk) my week.

You'll have to tune in to see what I have to say and decide if it's worth the electronic ink it takes to make it appear on the page!

By the way, the picture is from the Season Four Thanksgiving episode "Pangs." Gobble, gobble to you all and may you enjoy your ritual sacrifice. With pie.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Browncoat Ball

Yesterday, I attended Day 1 of the 2010 Browncoat Ball. (The picture shows a Firefly soaring over the Charlotte skyline.) I'm a member of the Charlotte Browncoats (although not exactly in good standing in terms of attendance lately) and one of the organizers had approached me to ask if I could put together an author panel for the opening day of the shindig.

Turns out I could!

I have several "conference friends" within driving distance who write and publish on Whedon who agreed in a flash. We assembled like the Avengers and made plans to hawk our wares at the "space bazaar," then lead an hour-long panel on what we do, why we do it, and how we do it. When asked by a passerby what these books were about, I quipped that we write "fan non-fic." I think I like the term.

I'll admit that I didn't really know how this would turn out. The Browncoat Ball is definitely a fan event rather than a pointy-headed academic event (while popcult academic events are pretty much devoid of the snooty professor types, the stereotype lingers) and I'm there with a book that retails for $35. (The publisher's main audience is libraries, not individuals.) I offered the book for the discount I receive - actually, I had two prices; one for Browncoats and a jacked-up one for any of the Alliance faithful. So I went, lugging my box o' books, fully expecting to lug it home again.


I only have two copies left from my box, which I'll just hold on to rather than return. Just as gratifying to me, I have more than $40 in donations to Equality Now - a charity close to the heart of many a Browncoat. I offered to autograph any books I sold in return for a donation of any amount. ("Any amount?" one person asked, possibly working their way over to slyness. "Sure," I said, "Just think of how much it's worth to not have women stoned to death and put that in the jar." Plenty of singles, but at least there wasn't jingling change in the jar.)

The best part? The people. I hadn't done a fan event in quite a while and I think I forgot how much sheer joy is involved. Whedon once said that "the future is the past in a blender" and he used that approach in Firefly. In the bazaar, I sat behind my table and yakked to everyone passing by. I saw amazing henna tattoos, gorgeous Asian-inspired fabrics, very funny Hawaiian shirt fabric (my favorite was either the fortune cookie one or the dinosaur/spacefield one), and one terrifyin' space monkey in a Kaylee dress (complete with hair ribbon!).

While the crowd at our talk was small (let's face it, we were scheduled opposite the burlesque class!), they were dedicated, asking insightful questions and showing more than polite interest. Then it was back to my house on the Rim while the luau got rolling. I can only imagine the actual Ball tonight!

Fans in groups. They can move the world.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Fan-Scholars and Scholar-Fans

I'm just back from the annual Popular & American Culture Associations in the South conference. This is a major regional academic conference devoted to the developments in the field, where I presented on Whedon's Dollhouse and cinematic theory. In two weeks, I'm presenting at the annual Browncoat Ball, which is a very "fan" event. Since I'm whipsawing from "scholar" to "fan" gathering, this seems like a perfect time to bring up this point.

There are scholars who devote their academic careers to the careful, thoughtful study of popular culture - the study of the works of Joss Whedon, let's say. There are also fans who throw themselves into these created fictional worlds in other ways, creating elaborate backstories, writing fan fiction and so on. See here for an example. When studying popular culture, is there a difference between a "fan-scholar" and a "scholar-fan"? If so, exactly what is the difference?

When recently asked this question, I mouthed off that yes, there is a difference and it's likely to be rooted in the degree of critical rigor one brings to the analysis and examination of the works being considered. However, I'm not sure I like my own definition - I know some hard-core fans whose attention to detail is worthy of immense respect and my flippant response seems to dismiss the fan who sews her own Kaylee hoopskirted dress.

So maybe it's not the "critical rigor" but the overall passion that is brought to bear on the project. Knowing how much time, effort, sweat, stress, and occasionally tears and (just once, I think) hissy fits go into every (well, every decent) paper, presentation, essay, chapter, or book - well, I can't imagine expending that much energy on something that I disliked. (Can't you imagine that? Working for two years on [let's say] a Marxist reading of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park through permanently gritted teeth while you mutter over and over, "I freaking hate this woman!" It's enough to drive one to gambling.)

And there's another problem with my definition - there are people who do expend tremendous amounts of energy on "anti-fan" Websites - consider the full-out hatred of Wesley Crusher in this site, for example. Or this blog posting (not a full site, I'll grant you, but I'm on my first cup of coffee) devoted to anti-Martha Stewart love.

So there goes another perfectly good, bunny-less theory. (It's a "Once More, With Feeling" reference - if you didn't get it, just let it go.) People are willing to devote huge amounts of time to things/people/shows that they in actuality dislike.


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Can't Stop the Serenity

Fans of Joss Whedon's Firefly/Serenity adopted the name "Browncoats" for themselves. Under no circumstances known to God or man should this be confused with "Brownshirts" - seriously, don't even joke about that. The "Browncoats" were the rebels in the interplanetary war. The Alliance wanted a monolithic rule; the Browncoats preferred to keep to themselves, despite the medical and technological advances of the Alliance. Malcolm Reynolds, the captain of the Firefly-class ship Serenity, fought on the side of the Browncoats.

They lost. Mal fled for the Black, desperate to be left alone, but not to be alone, and television history was made.

Five years ago, Browncoats started a charity known as "Can't Stop the Serenity" which had the dual goals of getting the movie Serenity on the big screen and raising money and awareness for a Good Cause. The Browncoats adopted the charity Equality Now and every year right around June 23 (which happens to be Joss Whedon's birthday), groups of Browncoats hold events to raise money for Equality Now (which was co-founded by a former student of Whedon's late mother, Lee Stearns. See - everything's connected!). Events include movie showings, auctions, raffles, and so on.

It's a fun time and a truly great organization. Equality Now fights (and fights hard!) for the rights of women and girls throughout the world - one of their main goals is the eradication of the abomination known as female genital mutilation (FGM) which is widely practiced in countries such as Somalia on very young girls. It's not about culture, folks. This is horrific abuse and deserves to be brought into the glare of the public forum and roundly condemned.

So check out the links, go to a showing, write a check.

Doing good can be fun.

But more importantly, doing good needs to be done.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Going Away for a Little While!

As you may know, Gentle Readers, I maintain two blogs. This one is devoted to more professional posts, centering around writing, presenting, and publishing material derived from my observations about Joss Whedon's work.

I'm about to dive into a couple of writing projects and, while I'll keep you posted here, I won't post on a particularly regular basis. However, I post over on Mockingbird's Nest - you can check out my more wide-ranging posts over that-a-way. Just click here and you'll be transported there.

Ah, technology!

See you over there - or back here!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Slayage - Last Day (sob!)

And there was much rending of garments and gnashing of teeth . . .

Slayage 4 is over, folks. Put to bed, so to speak. Oh, there will be a Slayage 5 at a currently-undisclosed location for reasons of national security and the fact that we don’t know where it’ll be yet. But it’s nice that at least three universities are vying for our business, which has not always been the case. Moreover, it’s a distinct possibility that the next Slayage will be outside the American South – possibly north of the border. (Cue “O Canada.” Or possibly “Blame Canada.”) Two years is a long way off and who knows what may happen in that time span. Still, I’m sure that in 2012, there will be an enthusiastic gathering of Whedonians somewhere. They’ll come equipped with brilliant insights and nigh-encyclopedic knowledge of scenes, deleted scenes, shooting scripts, draft scripts, the contents of multiple interviews with Whedon, his actors, his writers, his shoe-shine boy and so on.

And I fervently hope to be right there in the very thick of it!

Two years ago in Arkadelphia, I spent a lot of time pacing around a hotel parking lot and talking on the phone to FryDaddy, who attended this Slayage at my side. (Oh, it was determined today that a “Slayage” is an exact unit of time. Three days followed by two years.) I stopped at one point in our conversation, sure that my gushing was boring him. Far from it. As he put it, “I like hearing you soar.” So today’s keynote. I had been unusually nervous about this one - not the content, which I thought was pretty solid (although I had to cut some stuff I really, really liked which is always the case). Rather, I was nervous about the reception from the audience. Whedonians can talk about gender studies and production details until the cows come home (and we will), but I was applying Twelve Step principles of recovery to the arc of several quite beloved characters, one of whom (Willow) doesn’t turn out too well. There was some definite pushback, but overall, I’d say the presentation went well and I may have started a new conversation in the field. Or I may have lobbed a hand grenade into the crowd; I’m not entirely sure.

But it was a whale of a ride!

I met some wonderful people here – some very talented writers and presenters and some people who are in the “scary smart” section of the intellectual spectrum. I learned a lot and thought so much I was exhausted by nine in the evening. I have ideas for half a dozen writing projects and a long list of people to e-mail and stay in touch with. And I hardly saw a bit of St. Augustine. I hear there’s some kind of fort here.

All the more reason to come back, but tomorrow, we head for home.

And I’m sad about that. But glad in a way, too. But sad.

A “Slayage” is a long time.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Slayage Day 3

Let me be honest. By Day 3 of a conference like this, I’m having a great time, but I’m getting a little worn out. And with my keynote to go first thing tomorrow, I’m going to have to cut this short tonight.

So just an impression or two. I loves me some Whedonians! They are among the kindest of conference-goers. When one attendee took sick and was forbidden by her doctor to fly out here, one of the organizers kindly offered to present her paper for her. Isn’t e-mail great? I heard some GREAT stuff today! Among the highlights was a paper discussing the behavior of the residents of Sunnydale as viewed through the template of disaster studies. (Did you know that, statistically speaking, there is actually very little violence and looting in the wake of most disasters, such as Katrina and the Haiti earthquake? All media spin. Truly – if it bleeds, it leads. That says something very sad and very dark about the human mind.) Also, there was a wonderful presentation on Chaucer's Wife of Bath and the Dollhouse episode “Belle Chose” that gave me much to think about.

Enough for now. More later, when my keynote is done and things are wrapping up.

Think good thought my way, if you don't mind!

Slayage Day 2

Consider this post as "under construction." Much happened today and it's late and tomorrow starts early. I'll catch up, I promise.

Until then, some things to consider:
  • Brilliant musicologists illuminating scores of particular episodes and discussing the themes that emerge from them.
  • A brave new point of view being heard for the first time. (OK - full disclosure. I'm married to him, so I'm likely to be biased on this point. But objective observers commented on the merit of the paper, so I'm pretty sure my judgment is sound.)
  • The irony of the award for excellence in Whedon research and writing (where feminist themes are so often in evidence) being so very, very phallic. (Then again, it's called the "Mr. Pointy," so one can hardly be surprised.)
  • Dozens of academics gamely warbling through the entire soundtrack of "Once More with Feeling." Followed by "Mandy."
A good day, capped off with a podcast interview of yours truly on Gobbledygeek.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Slayage Day 1

The conference began with a kick-off reception tonight. These mix-and-mingle events can go in any number of directions, but Slayage is different from most academic conferences on a number of levels. First off, it really does have sort of a family reunion feel to it. Sure, so&so might be my German cousin and thatonethere might be my Israeli aunt, but what family doesn’t have its quirks? It’s good to see these folks again – Facebook and other such forms of communication are useful, but there’s nothing like actually seeing these people who share your passions and think deeply about the same things you spend your time pondering over.

We did a little exploring of St. Augustine earlier today, but it was too hot and humid to do as much as we had (over ambitiously) planned. However, we did take a tour of the main building of Flagler College, which was originally the Ponce de Leon Hotel built by Henry Flagler back in 1887. Talk about grand! Let’s see – since only the gentlemen could handle financial transactions, the genders were separated inside the lobby. The men went to the front desk to pay and the ladies were whisked away into the Grand Parlor – merely seeing business being transacted was thought to be a cause of blindness in the fairer sex. (Ah, the high Victorian age!) Ladies could not even go to the front desk to retrieve their jewels from the hotel safe; rather, they described what pieces they wanted in detail, then sent their husbands. Just imagine the squabbles – “You never listen to me! These are my day diamonds –how can I possibly wear these to dinner?”

Seriously, the hotel was the grandest of the grand hotels. It was the first building in Florida to be built from the ground up with electricity in mind, and was wired by Edison himself. Guests were “afeared” of the new-fangled notion, and servants were hired whose sole job it was to press the buttons to turn the lights on and off in the guests’ rooms. The hotel had hot and cold running water, but shared bathrooms. Yes, the Astors and Vanderbilts shared a sink. Louis Comfort Tiffany did the windows and the plasterwork in the Grand Parlor prominently features his distinctive “Tiffany blue.” The decorative details are just marvelous and feature nautical themes, mythology, and Spanish influence. It’s a bit overwhelming, to tell the truth. (And it’s telling that the four figures representing the Age of Spain are Adventure, Discovery, Conquest, and Civilization.)

The conference begins full-bore tomorrow morning and goes pretty much straight through until the banquet tomorrow night, which will be held in what had been the Grand Ballroom of the hotel. More on that later.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Safe in the "Land of Flowers"

The adventure began today! After many adventures in the tying up of any number of loose ends FryDaddy and I left North Carolina for the humid sunshine of St. Augustine. Sort of like home, but with Spanish moss. The Slayage 4 conference officially begins tomorrow, but we wanted a day to nose around America's oldest city, so we arrived today. I don't know that we'll find Ponce de Leon's famed Fountain of Youth, but we've already discovered a killer gelato shop and there's an old Spanish fort to climb around on tomorrow before the conference kicks off.

You can see a bit of St. Augustine's history by clicking on this link. Who knows, we might even visit the alligator farm. (Does that mean they farm the alligators or that the alligators are pulling the plows or something else entirely? Hmmm.) Flagler College is our host and you can learn more about them by clicking this link. That's the main building in the picture at the top of the post. It began life as a grand hotel, then became Flagler College in 1968.

We've already run into a number of Whedonians who also arrived early for the conference. From the looks of things, this is going to be a very good time! Papers are due to be presented that range in topic from exploring the character of Cordelia to examining the role played by music in Whedon's shows to the theme of neurological tampering. The challenge here is deciding what you feel like you MUST see, since so many interesting papers are scheduled opposite each other.

Tough choices must be made. That's another lesson the Whedonverses teach us.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Fourth Time's the Charm!

Much has happened since I last posted upon the final episode of Dollhouse. Notably, Whedon was tapped to direct the film version of The Avengers (the Iron Man one, not the Emma Peel one. I adore Robert Downey, Jr., but I don't want to see him in a leather catsuit), which has fans buzzing about what he'll do with a big-budget movie. The casting is not yet complete, but I'll admit the possibilities are tantalizing.

Also, Slayage 4 draws near. In about ten days, I'll be leaving for the fourth biennial conference on the Whedonverses. I'm delivering one of the keynote speeches at this one - I'm the Sunday one, if you look at the draft schedule. It's an opportunity that has me both thrilled and a little cowed. The writing of the speech is going all right (I think) but there's still some work to do there and summer school starts next week, so I'm likely to be quite busy. But I love this conference! I've gone to the last three - missed the first one, drat! - and the energy of the participants is palpable. Such a wide range of subjects and approaches! Details on the conference have hit the local paper and I imagine there will be more press coverage; let's see if they paint us as whackos or as scholars (of course, "whacko scholar" is an option as well.)

More on that as it draws closer and I'll be posting from the conference itself.

The other big news is that I won't be going to this conference (held in St. Augustine, FL) alone. Long story, so let's just say that Adventuress has embarked on her most exciting adventure ever - I found someone whose quirks and oddities dovetailed nicely with my own and we married at the beginning of May! (Yay, throw rice, blow noisemakers!) There were no bridesmaids in apple-green taffeta as Anya wanted in "Hell's Bells" and it was quite a lovely (and very small) ceremony. St. Augustine will be somewhat of a delayed honeymoon for us.

And yes, he'll be presenting at the conference as well. Obsessions should be shared, I always think!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Broken Dolls & Empty Chairs

The run of Dollhouse has concluded. Props and costumes are being auctioned off and the imprinting chair will never be used again. I stayed spoiler-free, but I've since read some of the reactions from critics and fans alike and I have to say that I fall firmly on the side of the "meh" crowd. I wasn't impressed, and that hurts to write. I've been so pro-Whedon for so long now that it's an onerous chore to be one of the ones saying that this one didn't work, it never felt like a labor of love, and no, it's not Fox's fault. Yes, it was a terrible time slot, but something has to go there. (And it's worth pointing out that The X-Files did just dandy in that slot way back when.)

I don't want to nitpick over minutiae and there's no need to. There were major problems here. The dialogue was clunky, the plot line felt rushed, and there were holes in the plot you could have driven that truck-taken-from-Mad Max through. (I actually have a theory that most of "Epitaph Two" had its origin in one too many late-night writing sessions fueled by cheap red wine and post-apocalypse movies.) Tech has ruined the world, unleashed Reaver-style madness upon the earth, yet the roads are clear? And ex-Dolls have volunteered to have yet more tech implanted into their very skin? Sure. I'll buy Adelle as the Earth Mother growing strawberries first. Oh, wait - that was in there.

Really, this just wasn't very good. I say it's Whedon abandoning his tried-and-true approach of "don't give them what they want, give them what they need." I didn't want this (nor for that matter, did I need this.) Further, I may be alone in thinking the Echo/Paul mindmeld was just beyond Hallmark schmaltz; plenty of other viewers put it as the Best. Ending. Ever., right up there with Angel's "Not Fade Away."

I, on the other hand, do not.

The problem, I think, started back with "Epitaph One," which I had problems with at the get-go. Once that existed, it either had to be regarded as canon, or it was off the cliff into "it was just a dream" land. So how do we get there? Well . . . not too well. Gamma radiation? A shiny-clean Dollhouse run by nice-guy Alpha? Character traits on thumb drives?


All that said, I'll still be at the front of the line to watch whatever comes next. Even the shiniest of brilliant minds misfire from time to time and I won't be a fair-weather fan.

But I'll remember this. Unlike a Doll, my mind can't be wiped.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

One to Go!

Dollhouse airs its final episode next week. This is a one-week delay, as the episode was pushed back a week due to the charity concert to raise desperately-needed funds for the Haitian earthquake relief effort, which aired last night. Far be it from me to complain about a television show being re-scheduled due to such a worthy cause, but I find it terribly interesting that the concert, which is a nigh-unprecedented coming together of people and technology, should so scramble the plans to broadcast the final episode of a show which takes as one of its main themes the potential for technology to wreck human lives.

I'm caught up on my viewing and note-taking and I have to say: Hmmm. Plenty of good going on and twists and flips worthy of an Olympic platform-diving competition, but I'm still not totally sold. Which is a shame, since I wanted to buy.

The show's connection to the play R.U.R. has been acknowledged in a quick little meta-nod and I'm glad I found that connection beforehand (see earlier posts from the fall of 2009). Further, I'm looking forward to writing in more detail about the connections and inverses (inverci?) between the original source material and what Whedon has done with it.


I very much enjoyed playing detective with some of the literary references - Melville's adage of the horrible body count of "From hell's dark heart, I stab at thee" is evident in "Getting Closer" (then again, Star Trek 2 as well as The Simpsons have referenced that one) and Whedon twists Eliot around so Rossum certainly ends with a bang, not a whimper in "Hollow Man" - but I still think it's just too little, too late. The show wanted to wrestle with some of the Big Questions such as the role of memory in creating identity, human trafficking (I so wanted an episode in which a Doll rescued modern-day slaves and then toddled back to the House for a "treatment," which I think would have pointed up that particular theme, but maybe it would have been heavy-handed. Now I'll probably never know.), the use and misuse of technology, pure science vs. weaponized ideas (Topher as Robert Oppenheimer, the mastermind scientist behind the Manhattan Project who upon seeing the results of the Trinity test, referenced himself as Vishnu in a very blood-chilling way), and many more besides. I suspect the problem lies in Whedon not really knowing how to create a balanced meal from such a buffet. Too many refined carbs and too much chicken-fried steak; not enough veggie medley. And don't get me started on the dessert section! "Epitaph One" lingers over the final episodes; something I warned about way back when as it seems to box in where you can go.

Let's see what the final episode brings us and yes, I'll miss Dollhouse when it's gone. But I think it's time to move on to another project. And some breakout stars have been added to the Whedon family, Enver Gjokaj (Victor/Anthony/occasionally Topher) chief among them.