Sunday, September 18, 2011

Reading Buffy Synoptically: Musings on Buffy and Colonialism

According to Dominc Alessio ('Things are Different Now'?: A Postcolonial Analysis of Buffy the Vampire Slayer” The European Legacy 6.6 (2001): 731-40) “Pangs” shows that Buffy has some of the colonialist in it. There is a line from “Pangs” that Alessio spends a lot of time explicating: “…but you have casinos now”...The question about this line that Alessio doesn’t ask, however, is this: is this a serious line or is it instead comedy and parody. Is “Pangs” parodying the Western genre? Are the Chumash engaging in payback? Are the Chumash doing to Europeans what the Europeans did to them? Is “Pangs” thus anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist?

My problems with Alessio’s reading of “Pangs” centre around these questions. Revenge, it seems to me, is at the heart of “Pangs”. The Chumash are spirits bent on revenging the wrongs done to them. They are not real Chumash. They are Chumash spirits.

“Pangs” is also a parody and contains significant amounts of comedy. It was written by Jane Espenson (who has an MA from Berkeley) who is known for bringing a comic element to her scripts. “Pangs”, in my opinion, parodies the Western genre with its good Whites and bad Indians.

This fact that Alessio did not interview Jane Espenson, the person who wrote “Pangs” to ascertain what her intention was is another major problem I have with Alessio’s approach. This lack of historical research, in fact, is a general problem with crystal ball textualism since crystal ball textualists (those who believe that anything you need to know about a text can be found in the text) tend to assume that you don’t have to do primary source research because “authors” simply channel culture via their texts. The author, they seem to believe, is, as Barthes and Foucault claimed, dead. Historians like myself, of course, would beg to differ with this assumption. Yes authors channel history, society, culture, but they also have “intentions”. And it is incumbent on analysts to try to explore, through historical research, interviews, and so on, what these intentions are. One analyst, by the way, sees the intention of the episode as multicultural rather than colonial since it ends with a Thanksgiving dinner being eaten by a demon, two vampires, two Brits, a Valley girl, a witch (and lesbian) and a construction worker (John Kenneth Muir, From the Archive: Buffy the Vampire Slayer; "Pangs", http://reflectionsonfilmandtelevision.blogspot.com/2011/11/from-archive-buffy-vampire-slayer-pangs.html).

Beyond textual analysis Alessio’s paper also raises a whole host of other questions. Do academics sometimes take things too seriously and miss parody and satire in the process (the last is certainly something that is common among the general viewing and listening public)? Does political correctness lead to ideological kneejerk reactions rather than analysis of a text in its historical contexts? Does Alessio and others like him, in other words, engage in kneejerk ideological analysis and as a result miss something important in the text?

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