Sunday, January 30, 2011

Buffy Blog: "Lie to Me"

Previously on Buffy: Billy “Ford” Fordham (Jason Behr) was a classmate of Buffy’s when she was in fifth grade and he was in sixth and at Hemery High School in Los Angeles. Spike and Dru are back and are still trying to kill the Slayer. Spike and Dru are apparently the big bads of season two.

Lies and Lying: Ford to Buffy: “Everybody Lies”. Lies and lying are central to “Lie to Me and it is around lies, lying, and truth surfacing that the episode revolves. Buffy is, of course, living a lie. She has a secret identity she is trying to keep from others (other than the Scoobies, of course). Ford lies to Buffy about why he is in Sunnydale. He claims his Dad has been transferred to Sunnydale but he is really there to give Buffy to Spike in exchange for Spike turning him into a vampire. Ford lies to Buffy telling her he killed a vampire when he didn’t. Ford lies to the vampire wanna bes at the Sunset Club. Angel lies to Buffy about what he was doing the night before she and he meet at the Bronze. He claims he was home reading a book but he was really, as Buffy saw while on patrol, talking to Drusilla. Buffy goes into jealousy mode. Jenny doesn’t come clean about where she is taking Giles for their date. Willow secretly does research on Ford for Angel behind Buffy’s back. Angel doesn’t trust Ford. Willow once again proves she is not a good liar when she gets nervous and fidgety around Buffy and Ford. The Buffster blames Willow’s nervousness on coffee. Angel, Xander, and Willow secretly go to the Sunset Club, the club in Sunnydale that caters to a group of naïve vampire wanna bes, to reconnoiter it.

The Truth Will Out: Ford knows that Buffy is the Slayer. Ford plans on exchanging Buffy for eternal vampire life because, as we learn in act four, he is dying. Buffy discovers that Angel, Willow, and Xander have been lying to her and going behind her back. Ford lies to the vampire wanna bes. They are not going to be “turned’ by Spike and his gang. They are “fodder” for Spike and his vamp minions to eat. And in perhaps the most spectacular revelation of the episode Angel reveals, just after Buffy has revealed she loves Angel for the first time, that he “turned” Dru after killing her family and friends and mentally torturing her just prior to her taking of Holy Orders. Does Dru’s current mental state have something to do with what Angel did to her? We will find out in future episodes of Buffy and Angel.

Complicating Buffy’s Theodicy: Buffy: “I think this is all part of your (Ford’s) little fantasy drama! Isn't this exactly how you imagined it? You tell me how you've suffered and I feel sorry for you. Well, I do feel sorry for you, and if those vampires come in here and start feeding, I'll kill you myself!” The reason Ford wants to be a vampire is because he has perhaps six months to live. The evil that Ford does is thus understandable. The fact that Buffy understands Ford’s reasons for wanting to live forever adds nuance to Buffy’s conception of evil but, as Buffy tells Ford, his actions are still evil. Evil is a real ontological phenomenon in the Buffyverse.

The Horror, the Horror: This episode has several very scary scenes: Drusilla’s almost killing of a boy at a playground in Sunnydale, a scene made scarier by the sound and image of the merry-go-round and the prison-like jungle Jim. Angel saves the young boy from certain death at the hands of Dru. The scene at the Warehouse where Ford walks in and Spike’s first inclination is to kill him . The climatic scene at the Sunset Club that pits Buffy against Ford, Spike, and Spike’s gang and which ends with Ford’s horrific death (the latter made scarier by being offscreen).

Bringing the Tragedy: Ford’s illness. Ford’s death at Buffy’s hand in the final scene of the episode just after Ford got what he wanted, eternal life and eternal prettiness.

Love Makes You Do the Wacky: Spike giving in to Buffy during the climatic fight in the Sunset Club because Buffy, after doing her big slayer jump, threatens Dru, Spike’s “sometime paramour” and love.

Self-Realisation thy name is Buffy: Buffy: ”I’m rash and impulsive. It’s a flaw”.

Self-Realisation thy name is Spike: “Spike: Well, (slams the book and strides to Ford) I don't go much for tradition”

Naïveté thy name is Vampire Wanna Bes: Diego and Chantarelle and the other vampire wanna bes believe that the “Lonely Ones” have been misunderstood and that they are “Exalted” beings who “walk with the night” and “are not interested in harming anyone”. As Buffy points out to the vamp wanna bes they are actually the “all you can eat moron bar” on which Spike and his minions are about to “pig out” thanks to Ford.

Jealousies: Angel is jealous of Ford. Angel doing something wrong gives Xander “the happy”. Xander is jealous when he discovers Angel has been in Willow’s bedroom. Buffy is jealous of Drusilla.

Welcome to the Buffyverse: Chantarelle will reappear as Anne in “Anne” in season three of Buffy and in season two and season five of Angel.

Mise-en-scene: Note all the vampire blacks, vampire reds (and variations thereon including Ford’s orangish shirt and the orangish tints on the walls of the bomb shelter that serves as the Sunset Club), and the blues. Jenny wonders if Giles has any other suits but old world tweed. Note the goth clothes and visage of the vampire wanna bes and Angel in this episode. Willow’s room has a teenage innocent quality to it and is interspersed with nerdy objects such as a computer and a mobile of geometric figures (square, circle) hanging on the ceiling. Willow as innocent yet smart and perceptive. Does the shot of Buffy and Angel through the window of Buffy’s house after Angel tells Buffy what he did to Dru symbolize the distance that grows between them in this moment of revelation? Note that the bomb shelter that serves as the Sunset Club is underground making it kind of a way station between the above ground human world and the underground vampire world. Between human and vampire.

Acting: Look at Alyson Hannigan’s wonderful and priceless facial expressions as she contemplates the Divinyls “I Touch Myself” and has a nirvana moment as she figures out what the song means. Willow the innocent, well perhaps not so innocent, but smart nerd.

Laugh Out Loud: Angel telling Willow and Xander that the wanna bes at the Sunset Club know nothing about vampires including what they wear as a vampire wearing exactly what he is wearing walks up and they look each other over. Willow telling Xander that she and Angel’s love is a “forbidden love”. Jenny taking Giles to a monster truck rally. Spike wondering aloud if he and his minions have discovered a “restaurant that delivers” when Ford walks into The Warehouse.

Popular Culture: Buffy mentions that she listened to the Divinyls song “I Touch Myself” after Ford wouldn’t give her the “time of day”. Buffy claims not to have understood the meaning of the song. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1974) starring Jack Palance is playing on the TV’s in the Sunset Club.

Culture reference: Buffy: “People, listen to me! (Ford comes after her) This is not the mothership, people! This is ugly death come to play!” is a reference to the “Heaven’s Gate” new religious movement that committed mass suicide in San Diego during the coming of the Hale-Bop Comet thinking that the earth was about to be destroyed (apocalypse) and that they were to be saved by being transporting to an alien mothership.

Breaking the Fourth Wall: Ford’s thirty minutes to live routine at The Warehouse. “Ford: That doesn't matter. I've got something to offer you. I-I'm pretty sure this is the part where you take out a watch and say I've got thirty seconds to convince you not to kill me? (smiles) It's traditional. Spike: Well, (slams the book and strides to Ford) I don't go much for tradition. He grabs Ford by the ear and lifts him.”Giles’s speech on how the good guys always win in the cemetery at the end of the episode. Buffy’s reference to Ford’s little fantasy. Buffy’s reference to Ford as the “villain of the piece” at the end of the episode.

The Chorus: The Joss Whedon penned and directed episode “Lie to Me” is, like so many other episodes in season two, a pivotal episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Like the episode “Angel” “Lie to Me” complicates Buffy and the Scoobies conception of evil and links it to one of the themes of the season and one of the themes of the show in general, growing up. Nothing sums both of these aspects of the episode better than the magnificent and poetic Buffy/Giles speech at the very end of the episode and one of my favourite speeches in all of Buffy (act four):

Dissolve to the cemetery. Buffy has tears in her eyes as she lays a bouquet of red roses on Ford's grave. She stands up again and walks back to Giles.
Buffy: I don't know what I'm supposed to say.
Giles: You needn't say anything.
Buffy: It'd be simpler if I could just hate him. I think he wanted me
to. I think it made it easier for him to be the villain of the piece.
Really he was just scared.
Giles: Yes, I suppose he was.
Buffy: Nothing's ever simple anymore. I'm constantly trying to work it
out. Who to love or hate. Who to trust. It's just, like, the more I
know, the more confused I get.
Giles: I believe that's called growing up.
Buffy: I'd like to stop then, okay?
Giles: I know the feeling.
Buffy: Does it ever get easy?
Ford suddenly rises from his grave, a vampire just like he wanted, and
attacks Buffy. She plunges a stake into his heart with no more effort
than swatting a fly. He steps back and looks at the stake protruding
from his chest. He looks back up and bursts into ashes.
Giles: You mean life?
Buffy: Yeah. Does it get easy?
Giles: What do you want me to say?
Buffy: (looks up at him) Lie to me.
Giles: (considers a moment) Yes, it's terribly simple.
They start walking out of the cemetery.
Giles: The good guys are always stalwart and true, the bad guys are
easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats, and, uh, we
always defeat them and save the day. No one ever dies, and everybody
lives happily ever after.
Buffy: Liar.

Foreshadowings: The book stolen by the vampire that Ford claimed he earlier killed will prove to be important in future episodes of season two.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Buffy Blog: "Halloween"

Previously on Buffy: Spike and Dru are back, Dru just for one scene. Hurrah. Oz is back and is in a couple of scenes. Snyder’s back for one scene and once again forces the Scoobies to volunteer for something they don’t want to do. This time it is Sunnydale’s Halloween Safety Programme. In “Puppet Show” it was the Sunnydale High talent show.

Welcome to the Buffyverse: Larry (Larry Bagby III, one of two LDSers who acted in BtVS) makes his first appearance. Buffy pushes Larry up against the soda machines in SHS just before he is about to pummel Xander sending poor Xander into traumas associated with his masculinity or lack thereof (act one). Ethan Rayne (Robin Sachs) makes his first appearance in the Buffyverse (act two).

The Mystery: Buffy, Xander, and Willow have to chaperone young Sunnydaler’s during Halloween thanks to Principal Snyder (act one). They thus need to obtain Halloween costumes. Buffy, Xander, and Willow get theirs or some of theirs at what we later learn is a new Halloween costume shop in Sunnydale, Ethan’s. (act two). Halloween, says Buffy, is “come as you aren’t night” so Buffy, who is once again obsessing over Angel, dresses up as a eighteenth century noblewoman (Xander refers to her as “[m]y Lady of Buffdom”, “[t]he duchess of Buffonia”) because she thinks that noblewomen are the kind of woman Angel liked (he actually, as he tells Buffy later, found them simpering morons). Xander dresses up as soldier guy, presumably as a way to deal with the traumas associated with his dealings with Larry, the fact that Buffy has to save him, and to mask the fears that were revealed about him in “Nightmares”. Willow dresses up as “total rocker babe” but decides to come as she is when she puts a ghost costume on over her “black halter top, leather mini-skirt, boots” (act two). Remember that in “Nightmares” Willow didn’t want to be seen on stage.

As the Scoobies are doing their Halloween Safety Programme duties Ethan casts a Janus spell bringing “chaos”. We hear the wind blow. Some of the kids are transformed into the costumes they are wearing, monsters (first CGI in Buffy?). Buffy becomes eighteenth century “coiffed” girl. Xander becomes soldier guy. Willow dies and becomes a ghost (end of act two). Cordy and Angel remain who they are (act three). What is going on?

Revelations: Giles, it turns out, knows Ethan Rayne. After Willow has figured out what is going on (act three) she and Giles go to Ethan’s. Giles sees him says “Ethan”. Ethan responds to Giles by calling him “Ripper”. Ripper? Giles brutally beats and tortures Ethan to obtain information about what is happening. Ethan finally admits to Giles that he has cast a “chaos” spell. Giles throws the Janus bust to the floor just as Buffy is about to be bitten by Spike thus ending the spell. At the end of the episode Giles returns to Ethan’s to make sure he left Sunnydale, as Giles told him to. A note is on the cabinet telling Giles (and us viewers) that he will “be seeing you (Giles and us) soon”. We will, of course, see Ethan again in just a couple of episodes, specifically in “Dark Age” where we will learn more about Giles and Giles’s “Ripper” past. Wow. Loved Giles's "Ripper" stare into the camera eye.

Character: Buffy: Snyder continues to see Buffy as a “juvenile delinquent”. Giles: Giles enjoys cross-referencing. Buffy tells Giles Ms. Calendar thinks he is a “babe”. He is interested in what Jenny thinks of him. Spike: Spike uses the latest technology (a digital camera) to study Buffy in action. Dru: Dru has visions. She tells Spike that on Halloween, the day vampires hate and usually stay inside on, that something is happening which will make Buffy vulnerable. Spike goes prowling for Slayer meat. Cordy: Cordy is still trying to steal Angel away from Buffy. As Xander tells her “[g]ive it up, Cordy. You're never going to get between those two. Believe me. I know”. Cordy for the first time takes a good long salty goodness look at a buff soldier guy Xander. Can romance be far behind? Cordy is told that Angel is a “good vampire” but she doesn’t believe it. Oz: Oz once again, this time while driving in his steering wheel on the right van, sees rock girl Willow and asks “[w]ho is that girl?”, as he did in “Inca Mummy Girl”. He is about to find out.

Cordy Lore: Cordy tells Buffy “[l]ook Buffy, you may be hot-stuff when it comes to demonology or whatever, but when it comes to dating - I'm the Slayer.”

Vampire Lore: Halloween is “dead for the undead”. Vamps usually stay in during Halloween.

Mise-en-scene: The photograph of Buffy, Willow, and Xander once again plays an important role in a BtVS episode. After Buffy and Xander are transformed into coiffed girl and soldier guy they retreat to safety in Buffy’s house where both Buffy and Xander see the photograph but disbelieve what is right in front of their eyes, that they know one another.

Themes: Buffy is still struggling with the normal girl versus Slayer dilemma.

Gender: Willow tells Buffy that “guys are so fragile” after Buffy saves Xander from an almost certain pummeling at the hands of Larry. Buffy, to please Angel, tries to become more feminine by dressing up as coiffed girl. She is saved from almost certain death at the hands of Spike when Giles breaks the Janus spell. Just as Spike is about to bite her, the spell is ended, and Buffy, telling Spike that “[h]oney I’m home”, begins to pummel Spike. Is this a foreshadowing of the Buffy/Spike marriage plans in “Something Blue” in season four? Willow says she doesn’t like eighteenth century noble women, because of their “funny waist[s]”. They were, she says, “circus freak[s] and that she prefers to live in an era when women could vote.

Foreshadowings: When Buffy is plotting with Willow to steal the “watcher dairies” to read up on Angel see sarcastically tells Willow that “that would be wrong”. This phrase becomes central in the Buffy/Faith body switch episode in season four (“This Year’s Girl/Who Are You”).

Watcher Lore: Watchers keep diaries. Giles has “watcher diaries” from the past in his possession. Giles, of course, is a watcher, they who train and counsel the slayers. In “Never Kill a Boy on the First Date” Giles tells Buffy that Watchers are, like Sayers, “called”.

Popular Culture: There is a reference to that heroine of the ancient world Xena (an exasperated Willow says “You couldn’t have dressed up like Xena” to coiffed Buffy as she “crys, shrieks“ as Ethan’s spell takes over and transforms Sunnydale and Buffy, Xander, and Willow). Xander refers to Cordy who is dressed as a cat, “Catwoman”, a reference to the DC comic book, film, and TV figure.

High Culture: Janus is the Roman god of chaos.

The Moral of the Story: It is as Ethan says, “be careful what you wish for.” At the end of the episode Buffy decides she wants to be the “20th century me”.

The Chorus: “Halloween” is another one of my favourite Buffy episodes. Yes I have a lot of them. It is intelligently written, full of that wonderful patented Buffy wit and humour, a standalone yet an episode that reveals something about our beloved Scoobies and narrative arcs that are to come. “Halloween” is in many ways a companion piece to “Nightmares” before it and “Fear Itself” (another Halloween episode) and “Restless”, both season four episodes, after it. There will be another traumatic Halloween episode in season seven.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Buffy Blog: "Reptile Boy"

Previously on Buffy: Jonathan is back. He made an appearance as Ampata’s potential victim at the Bronze. We see Jonathan again at the Bronze. This time he is Cordy’s younger boy slave. Cordy has, at least for the moment, sworn off older men as a result of what happens in “Reptile Boy”.

Character: Poor Xander: Xander is still jealous of any other men who Buffy is interested in be they Angel or Tom. Xander becomes a frat boy bitch and is humiliated by being turned into a woman by the macho frat boys, after he “crashes” the frat party Buffy is at to “protect her”. Xander the male macho protector. Buffy: Buffy is still thinking a lot about Angel (having surround sound dreams about him in fact). She is conflicted about killing vamps due to the fact that she has “fuzzy feelings” for one, Angel (complicating Buffy’s theodicy). Giles: “Reptile Boy” really plays up the kind of father-daughter relationship between Giles and Buffy. Giles play fights against vamps in the library. Giles real fights (quite well) at the frat house. Willow: Willow gets her righteous bitch on: Willow can’t believe Buffy lies to Giles and tells her so and “Willow: (to Angel) Why do you think she went to that party? Because you gave her the brush off…(to Giles)…and you never let her do anything except work and patrol and – I know she’s the Chosen One but you’re killing her with the pressure, she’s sixteen going on forty –(to Angel)-- and you, I mean you’re gonna live forever, you don’t have time for a cup of coffee? I love a righteous, angry, Willow. Cordy: Cordy is following the advice of Doctor Debi (“Teen Time”) and practicing eye contact and really, really listening so she can get her an older wealthier man. This, by the way, leads Cordy to laugh (feign laugh) inappropriately on occasion. Cordy’s trademarks are black, silk, chiffon, and spandex. Cordy blames the Scoobies for the bad things that happen to her when they are around (or presumably not). Angel: Angel comes to the Bronze at the end of the episode and tells Buffy they should have coffee sometime. The frat boys are pretty misogynous. Jenny: No Jenny. Does her lack of appearance have something to do with finances or availability?

Corporate America: In “Reptile Boy” the fortune and wealth of some Wall Streeters derives from the offerings they make to Machida, the reptile boy. They offer three high school girls per year to Machida and apparently have been doing so for the last fifty years. This ritual and their religious like devotion to Machida has brought and continues to bring them good fortune at least until they run into Buffy.

Psychoanalysis: Reptile boy, Machida, is obviously a phallic symbol. Buffy, the Slayer, Buffy the power girl, castrates Machida. Is this a metaphor for Buffy’s female power theme?

Out of the Past: It appears that scenes of students walking to and from class filmed during season one are being reused in season two. This is undoubtedly due to money or lack thereof.

Sets: The frat boy house was rented for the occasion. Is the underground set at the frat house reused portions of the underground lair of the Master? Again money, or the lack of it, is a reason sets are sometimes reused. If this is true this will not be the last time sets will be reused and adapted in Buffy.

Bringing the S&M of Romance:
ANGEL
What are you saying, you want to have
a date?
BUFFY
No –
ANGEL
You don’t want to have a date.
BUFFY
Who said date? I never said date.
ANGEL
Right, you just want to have coffee or
something.
BUFFY
Coffee?
Buffy makes a “that’s ridiculous” sound.
ANGEL
I knew this would happen.
BUFFY
Really? And what do you think is happening?
ANGEL
You’re sixteen years old, I’m two
hundred and forty.
BUFFY
I’ve done the math.
ANGEL
You don’t know what you’re doing, you
don’t know what you want.
BUFFY
Oh I think I do: I want out of this
conversation.
She turns to walk away. He grabs her.
ANGEL
Listen. If we date you and I both know
one thing’s going to lead to another.
Then what?
BUFFY
Then… whatever, I don’t know, might be
nice to find out. But you want to end it
before it’s begun. Fine.
Angel just shakes his head.
ANGEL
It’s a Fairy Tale. Only when I kiss you
you don’t wake up from a deep sleep
and live happily ever after.
BUFFY
No. When you kiss me I want to die.
She holds his gaze – then she walks out of frame.

Me: Ouch.

Foreshadowings: Is the “[w]hen you kiss me I want to die” a reference to the Angelus arc of season two and what happens in particular in the final episode of season two, “Becoming”?

Laugh out Loud: Willow to Angel as she is trying to see Angel’s non-image in the bookshelf glass in the library, “Angel, how do you shave?”

The Bizarro World: A world, in which according to Cordy, Xander “could join a fraternity of rich, powerful men”. The Xander-Cordy verbal sniping continues in “Reptile Boy”.

Cordy Lore: Cordy’s license plate is “Queen C”.

History Moment (what can I say I am a historian): Buffy is stumped by history. “I have a hard enough time remembering what happened last week”, she tells Tom.

Themes: Buffy is still struggling with the Slayer versus normal girl divide (Buffy to Tom: “I have obligations, people I’m responsible to… or for…”). Tom’s comments about his obligations to his father and grandfather who were in the Delta Zeta fraternity before him forces Buffy to recall her obligations to others.

Metaphors: Hey high School girls, think twice before you go to a frat boy party with all of its booze, macho boys on the prowl, and potential date rapists who might drug your drink. Good looking, seemingly sympathetic, and well-behaved guys can turn out to not so nice. Buffy and Giles sum up “Reptile Boy’s” moral message: “Buffy: I told one lie (well really three: I have homework, Mom is sick, I am not feeling well), I had one drink…Giles: And you nearly got devoured by a giant demon-snake. I think the words “let that be a lesson” are a tad redundant at this juncture." Here endeth the lesson.

The Chorus: “Reptile Boy” is more of a standalone. Still it moves character development and the Buffy-Angel arc along.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Buffy Blog: "Inca Mummy Girl"

Playing with Genre: “Inca Mummy Girl” is Buffy doing the mummy theme of the horror genre. As always Buffy adds twists. “Inca Mummy Girl” gives a female if not a feminist twist to the genre. It also uses Ampata’s story to comment on Buffy’s dilemma: normal girl or a Slayer?

Before Ampata (Ara Celi) was the mummy girl she was a sixteen-year-old Incan princess who was sacrificed (“buried alive)” to the mountain god for the good of her people. Buffy, as Ampata points out, is like her. Both are sixteen year old “chosen one[s]” who think of others before themselves but who also wonder what it would be like to have a “normal life” and a chance for love. As Buffy tells Giles when he comes to collect her from her home while everyone else is at the dance I am “[n]ot at the dance. Not with my friends. Not with a life”. The tragic dimension of Slayer choseness.

There are several other tragic tales being told in “Inca Mummy Girl”. Ampata is not evil but she has to kill—she sucks the life force out of her victims turning them to dust—in order to survive. Xander, who falls hard for Ampata, once again falls for a creature right out of horror films and horror television. He mentions his previous girlfriend, the she-mantis in “Teacher’s Pet”. At the end of the episode (act four) Xander tells Buffy that he “has the worst taste in women. Of anyone. In the world. Ever”. Poor Xander. Trying to comfort Xander, Buffy tells Xander that “[Ampata] was gypped. She was just a girl who had her life taken from her." Is Buffy also commenting on herself?

Speaking of Buffy commenting on herself: In the teaser when the Scoobies are at the Sunnydale Natural History Museum Buffy tells Willow that she should take care of Rodney Munson who is scraping the gold dust off of an Incan death mask. Willow tells Buffy that it doesn’t require “violence” and that she will take care of Rodney. Buffy responds, speaking to Xander: “I don’t always use violence. Do I?” Xander responds: “The important thing is that you believe that”.

Welcome to the Buffyverse: First appearance of Oz (Seth Green). First appearance of Devon (Jason Hall). First appearance of the band Oz and Devon play in, Dingoes Ate My Baby. The band name is a reference to Lindsay Chamberlain’s claim that “a dingo ate my baby” in Australia in the 1980s. Cheese makes its first appearance at the Bronze during the World Culture Dance in the form of a cheese sculpture that Willow knocks down at one point in the episode. Jonathan makes his first appearance (though he was in the pilot) in the Buffyverse.

High School Rituals: In “School Hard” it was parent-teacher night. In “Inca Mummy Girl” it is the student exchange programme. Buffy and Cordy are participating in Sunnydale High’s student-exchange programme. The World Culture Dance is part of the student exchange programme at Sunnydale High. The dance has a world culture theme. Willow is dressed as an Eskimo (Nanook of the North?), Xander as the “man with no name" from the “land of Leone”, and Jonathan (Danny Strong) as a cowboy.

Near Misses: Oz has eyes for Willow. He asks Devon while Dingoes Ate My Baby are onstage at the Bronze who Willow is. He just misses Willow as she and Buffy head out to save Xander from Inca mummy girl. This will not be the last Oz/Willow near miss nor the last time he utters “[w]ho is that girl” in reference to Willow.

Cinematography: Love the yellows and the close-ups of Ampata and Xander as they kiss backstage at the Bronze. Is this a reference to the life that is about to be sucked out of Xander? Do the bright yellows represent the life force that is about to be sucked out of Xander as he turnes to light brown dust?

Music: the score has a Latin American flavour which fits Ampata's background. She is from Inca Peru.

Mise-en-scene: The Buffy/Willow/Xander photograph makes its first appearance in Buffy’s bedroom. We will see this photograph later in season two and in season three. It will have enormous emotional meaning in later scenes in Buffy.

Clothes: Willow is back in overalls.

Technology: Once again one can tell that Buffy is being filmed on 16mm film.

The Chorus: “Inca Mummy Girl” is a fun take on the mummy theme in horror films. It is, as Buffy generally is, full of some great humour (“Oz: Well it involves a feather boa and the theme from A Summer Place (a 1959 romantic film)”, a reference to his dream date, “Devon: She doesn’t have to talk”, a reference to his dream girls, Xander: “It’s a delicious spongy cake filled with a delightful, white, creamy substance of goodness”, a reference to a (generic?) Twinky, “Buffy: Mummy dearest”, a reference to Ampata, the mummy girl, Buffy to Giles: “One of these days you have to get a grown up car”, a reference to Giles’s slow moving Citreon). The episode sets in motion the Oz-Willow relationship that will take form later in season two and last through season four. “Inca Mummy Girl” also does a nice job of moving the Buffy do I want to be a slayer or a normal girl arc and theme along.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Buffy Blog: "School Hard"

Previously on Buffy: We hear again that Buffy burned down a school building in Los Angeles. This time we learn that Buffy burned down another building as well (“Sheila: Did you really burn down school property one time? Buffy: Well, not actually ONE time…”).

The Rituals of High School: In previous episodes of Buffy several high school rituals made their appearance: the May Queen dance in “Out of Mind, Out of Sight” and the end of the school year dance in “Prophecy Girl”. “School Hard” centres around another high school ritual event, parent-teacher night. Buffy and Sheila, as Sunnydale High’s two most “troublesome” students, at least according to Principal Snyder, are forced by Snyder to compete to see who can “prepare the refreshments, make the banners, and transform the school lounge into a habitable place for adults” for the forthcoming event the best. Whoever loses this competition between Buffy and Sheila will be judged by Sunnydale High’s “jury”, Principal Snyder, and executed by Sunnydale High’s “executioner”, Principal Snyder. In other words whoever loses will be expelled. Whoever does well may incur Snyder’s goodwill and as a result it may be less harsh in what he tells Buffy’s or Sheila’s parents on parent-teacher night.

Vampire Lore: Vampires have rituals too. The upcoming Saturday, so Jenny reckons and the “Big Ugly” vampire reveals in act one, is the “Night of Saint Vigeous”, a “Holy Night of Attack” for vampires when vampire “power” is at “its peak”.

Welcome to the Buffyverse: Spike and Drusilla make their first appearance in the Buffyverse in “School Hard”. Spike (he got his name by “torturing his victims with railroad spikes”), aka William the Bloody (James Marsters) and Drusilla, aka Dru (Juliet Landau) are, as Whedon once remarked, the Sid and Nancy of the Buffyverse.
Spike is introduced for the first time in the Buffyverse with hard rock guitar driven music as he drives his car into the sign welcoming everyone to Sunnydale in the teaser. After hitting the sign Spike gets out of his car in his “shitkicker steel-toed boots” with his vamp face on and utters the phrase “Home, sweet home”. Is this Spike’s home or simply a snarky remark? For those of us who have watched Buffy previously we know that this is not the last time Spike brings down a “Welcome to Sunnydale” sign (see the “recreation” of this scene in the season three episode “Lovers Walk” and a riff on the scene in the final episode of Buffy “Chosen” from season seven). Both the music we hear when Spike arrives and the clothes Spike wears give insight into his character.

Spike appears in the Warehouse just as the “Big Ugly” vampire is talking about the “Night of Saint Vigeous” and the opportunity it affords to “kill” the slayer. Spike makes short work of the “Big Ugly” vampire just after he makes the claim that he was at the “crucifixion” of Jesus. Spike, giving us a glimpse into part of his character through his snarky words, compares those vampires claiming to have been at the crucifixion to all those “flower children” who claimed to have been at Woodstock. They, he implies, are lying.

Shortly after Spike describes his experience of feeding on a flower child who had dropped “acid” Drusilla, wearing a white dress, enters the Warehouse. As Spike’s words and actions (see below) give us insight into Spike’s character, so Dru’s words and actions tell us something about her. We learn that Dru is a visionary. She feels the power the “Anointed One” has though it is too “dark” for her to see the Slayer. We learn that Dru is a bit off mentally in act two as she talks to her porcelain dolls (“Miss Edith speaks out of turn. She’s a bad example and will have no cakes today”, “See, Miss Edith, if you had been good you could watch the rest”). We will learn why in the season two episode “Lie to Me”. We learn that Dru is ill (“Put color in your cheeks”, “EAT”) in act two.

Spike’s reactions to Dru tell us something about his feelings for her. When she enters the Warehouse Dru doesn’t have a jacket on. Spike takes his coat off and puts it around her shoulders. Spike lets Drusilla run her finger down his cheek drawing blood. He allows Dru to lick his drawn blood. These actions reveal how much Spike cares for Drusilla. A vampire in love.

Spike promises the “Anointed One” that he will kill the slayer. Spike, we learn, has killed two slayers (“I don’t like to brag. Who am I kidding, I love to brag”), one during the Boxer Rebellion in China. We will lean more about how Spike killed this Chinese slayer in the season five episode of Buffy “Fool for Love” and the season two episode of Angel “Darla”. The other we will learn more about in season five’s “Fool For Love”.

In act one Spike sets his plan to kill Buffy in motion. He and “Big Ugly” go to the Bronze to find the Slayer. Spike tells “Big Ugly” to find something to eat. Spike then asks someone near Buffy where a phone is so he can call the police (presumably) because “[t]here’s some guy trying to bite someone”. He knows, of course, that Buffy will slip into Slayer mode and go into action. He then watches Buffy kill “Big Ugly” doing nothing to help that vamp. After Buffy dusts “Big Ugly” Spike claps his hands and tells Buffy that he will kill her on Saturday. All of Spike’s actions here give us further insight into his character (smart, brash (“I’m surrounded by idiots”), cocky, self satisfied (“If I had to do it again I’d do it exactly the same”), looks after number one). Act one ends.

Like Buffy Spike is impulsive. Instead of waiting for the “Night of Saint Vigeous” Spike and his gang attack Sunnydale High on parent-teacher night to kill the Slayer crashing through the windows of the school lounge bringing act two to an end.

Previously in the Lives of Spike and Dru: A mob almost killed Dru in Prague in the Czech Republic.

Bringing the S&M: Dru licks Spike’s blood. Spike has collected food for the ill Dru to eat, Sheila. He ties Sheila to the wall of his and Dru’s “dungeonesque” layer under the Warehouse. As Spike goes up to chat up the “Anointed One” Dru puts on her “pale, horrible, and eerily beautiful” vamp face and buries her “dripping fangs” into Sheila’s neck in act two. Buffy to Spike during their climactic fight at Sunnydale High in act four: “Wrong. It’s gonna hurt a lot”.

Vamp Power: Spike, according to the shooting script of “School Hard” holds Sheila’s gaze hypnotically. The Master used hypnosis to control and kill Buffy in “Prophecy Girl”. The Anointed One is described as a “little Godfather” in the “School Hard” shooting script. Angel can move quickly. Xander, in fact, wants to put a bell on him so he can tell when he has gone because he moves so quickly.

Vamp Culture: Spike knows about the “Anointed One”. How? Spike and Dru like to watch TV. We will see more of Spike’s love of TV in seasons four and five.

So Long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye: Spike kills the “Annoying One” at the end of “School Hard” (act four) by putting him in a cage and raising him up to the sunlight streaming in trough the windows of the Warehouse. For many devoted watchers of Buffy this was a death they had long been hoping for.

Xander the Jinx: Xander jinxes parent-teacher night by saying “as long as nothing really bad comes along”. Right after Xander utters this Spike hits Sunnydale.

The Battle Continues: Willow, after Cordy tells Buffy that she is likely to be grounded until her “tenth high school reunion” after Snyder discusses Buffy’s troublemaking with Joyce, offers Cordy a glass of the lemonade Buffy neglected to put sugar in. Compare this scene to the scene in "Welcome to the Hellmouth/The Harvest" where Willow "helps" Cordy delete her computer work.

The Scooby Dance: the Scoobies dance together in the Bronze for the first time during “School Hard”.

The Scoobies: Jenny is working closely with the Scoobs and Cordy is helping make stakes for Buffy. Speaking of Cordy, Cordy says she will be “rooting” for Buffy but expects Spike to kill her “pretty quickly”. Cordy the forthright. Willow uses a bust to save Cordy from a vamp. Giles prepares to go into battle until Buffy drops into the library from the crawl space in the ceiling she has been using to move through the school now that Spike and his gang have taken it over. This is, of course, another reference to Die Hard.

Angel is a Fount of Information: Angel tells the Scoobies about who Spike is and how dangerous he is at the beginning of act two. “Once he starts”, he says, “he doesn’t stop, until everything in his path is dead”. Angel knows Spike.

Mothers and Daughters: Joyce once again refers to Buffy’s “troubles” in LA as one of the reasons they moved to Sunnydale after she learns that parent-teacher day is coming up and Buffy hasn’t mentioned anything about it. Joyce had previously mentioned this in the first episode of the show “Welcome to the Hellmouth/The Harvest”. Joyce tells Buffy she doesn’t want to be “disappointed” in her “again” in act one. Buffy’s Dad, by the way, refers to Buffy’s troubles in “When She Was Bad”. Though Buffy, with Willow’s aid, tries to keep Snyder away from Joyce the principal is finally able to tell Joyce (off screen) what a troublemaker Buffy is. Just as Joyce tells Buffy to get “In the car. Now” Spike and his gang come through the windows of the Sunnydale High Lounge sending Buffy into Slayer mode. In the climactic fight between Buffy and Spike (the first of many) Joyce saves the Slayer by hitting Spike in the face with the fire-ax that had earlier been wielded by Spike and Vamp Sheila (Buffy sends Sheila fleeing for her life out of the school at the end of act three) telling Spike to “get the hell away from my daughter”. “No one…”, she says, ”lays a finger…on my little girl”. Joyce tells Buffy that she is proud to have a daughter who is “brave”, “resourceful”, and who “helps other in a crisis”. Mom-Daughter love. Snyder notes a certain mother and daughter resemblance when Joyce tells him and another teacher (?) not to try to flee from the safe room she has put them in for safe keeping.

Revelations: Angel and Spike know one another. Angel, in fact, is Spike’s “sire”. What’s a “sire” Xander asks? We will find out in future episodes of Buffy. Spike calls Angel an “Uncle Tom” and “Angelus” and seems to think Angel is “housebroken”. We will find out why in future episodes of Buffy. Spike’s “[f]rom now on we’re gonna have a little less ritual and a little more fun around here". Actually, there’s going to be a lot less vampire ritual and a lot more vampire fun in the Buffy episodes to come. The discussion between the Chief of Police and Principal Snyder at the end of act four indicates that they know about vampires. Their cover story? The “usual story…gang related, PCP…”. This foreshadows what is revealed about Snyder in the final episode of season two “Becoming”.

Themes: Spike, of all people, sums up one of the themes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “[a] Slayer with family and friends. That sure as hell wasn’t in the brochure”.

Mise-en-scene: I love how Buffy’s melancholy mental attitude toward being a Slayer is portrayed through words—“I have a job”—and visuals—the shot of holy water and stakes in her drawer as she puts her brush away. Elegant. Note the blue tint of the sunlight in the Warehouse, the sunlight Spike eventually kills the “Annoying One” in.

Camera Work: Love the way the camera pans across Dru’s dolls. “School Hard” was directed by John Kretchmer.

Lighting: The dark colour scheme of Buffy continues to follow in the footsteps of the template put in place by Charles Martin Smith who directed the first episode of Buffy. Does Buffy use natural sources of light only?

Music: “School Hard” continues to move more and more in the direction of classic Hollywood film scores. The original music for this episode was composed by Shawn K. Clement and Sean Murray and is, in my opinion, an improvement on what has come before.

Clothes: Not taken with the blue and white (or lighter blue) shirt Xander has on in the teaser. Note, however, that blue is an important colour in the Buffyverse.

Personal Hygiene: Buffy complains about conditioner while having problems brushing her hair.

Foreign Accents: First appearance of the French language in Buffy. It will reappear in Buffy’s dream in “Surprise” in season two and in “Restless” in season four.

Popular Culture: The title is, of course, a reference to Die Hard, an action adventure film set in a skyscraper that has been taken over by “terrorists” and which stars Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman.

The Chorus: I love this David Greenwalt penned episode of a Whedon-Greenwalt story. Its got lots of great Buffy humour, lots of Buffy wit (“Big Ugly: Slayer. Buffy” Slayee”; “Giles: Sounds a little unorthodox. Buffy: Maybe he’s reform”), lots of Xander wit (“That’s the one she CAN bring home to mother”), lots of Spike wit (“I’m a veal kind of guy”, “People still fall for that Anne Rice routine?”), lots of action, adventure, drama, and, of course, lots of Spike and Dru, two of the most beloved characters in the Buffyverse. What more can one ask for?

Friday, January 21, 2011

In the Empire of Idiot Savants...

17 December 2010

Most of the "college towns" listed in a recent article in the Huffington Post on 10 excellent college towns aren't even real college towns.

A college town is a town dominated economically, politically, culturally, demographically, and geographically by a college. One in three people, for example, who live in Tomkins County, the home of Ithaca, NY and the home of Cornell University work at Cornell University. That is economic dominance. Students play a major role in making Bloomington, Indiana, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Iowa City, Iowa Democrat. That is political dominance. Indiana University puts on some 1000 musical concerts a year (including operas). This number would substantially decline without IU in B-town. That is cultural dominance. Indiana University substantially dominates the landscape of Bloomington. It is about one-fourth of the city of Bloomington. Ohio University constitutes about one-half of the city of Athens. That is geographic dominance. Ohio University students almost double the population of Athens, helps support some twenty pubs in the city, and takes partying to incredible levels in that small southeast Ohio. Athens is party central. That is demographic dominance.

Boston, NYC, and Austin are not college towns and do not come close to meeting the criteria above. They are all cities with significant industrial, financial, retail, and medical sectors. They just happen to have colleges in them and while colleges bring something to the economy, the political culture, the culture, the geography, and the demography of these cities, the colleges do not dominate any of these cities economically, politically, culturally, geographically, or demographically as Indiana does Bloomington or as Michigan does Ann Arbor.

What is utterly absurd about this list is the bizarre and braindead notion that NYC is a college town, a college town just like Athens, Ohio, Bloomington, Indiana, Ann Arbor, Michigan, or Oxford, Ohio. Now that is what I call analytical precision. Not. Anyway, who are the idiot savants who come up with these lame lists anyway? And are they really brain dead zombies?

Bibliography
10 Excellent College Towns: Unigo List, 16 December 2010, Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/16/10-excellent-college-town_n_797873.html#s209457

Intellectual Culture in America...

Here is one of the things I love about the US. In the US sports radio is one of the few places in general where you can hear an intellectual discussion that includes talk about empirical data (including stats) and theory all used in support of arguments. Go figure. You go Colin Cowherd.

In Praise of Kim Kardashian...

The working class American dream is still alive. And Kim Kardashian is living it. Kim Kardashian shows that you don't have to go to college to get ahead anymore. Who needs good working class jobs when you have the possibility of a reality TV programe or, as my friend Rob Fergus said, when you can win the lottery or play basketball in the NBA?

Palin on "Monstrous Criminality"...

Palin: "Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own. They begin and end with the criminals who commit them, not collectively with all the citizens of a state...". Hmm, wonder when can we expect Palin to facebook about Hitler, the Holocaust, and those who simply did their jobs (state bureaucrats, train industry bureaucrats and workers...) and those who claimed they were simply following orders during the Holocaust (Eichmann)? Come on Sarah. No collective responsibility for the Holocaust is there? Just a bunch of criminals spontaneously deciding to kill Jews for some reason.

Movies, Television, the ADD Generation, and Human Patience (or the lack thereof)

February to June 2009

I really think that with the triumph of Lucas-Spielberg style of filmmaking in Hollywood with its jump cutting acrobatics (often the only point of these is the jump cutting itself), its special effects emphasis (again the point of these often seems to be the special effects themselves), its adolescent eye view, and the triumph of that other bastion of contemporary Hollywood, the childish gross out big screen sitcom starring “celebrities” like Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell, the alliance of these forms of filmmaking with commercialism (tie-ins), the advent of the computer with its special effects and editing capabilities, and the coming of the internet have altered, transformed and speeded up human perception and human expectations particularly in the West.

The ADD film (films characterized by jump cutting and jump cut special effects) is film on speed (and steroids, I might add). It, along with the big and small screen sitcom (the films of Sandler and Farrell et. al. and others of the Saturday Night Live ilk), have come to define, for much of the ADD and gross out generation, what a film or television show should be, what the film and television norm should be, what a real film should look like (ideology making reality).

The triumph of the ADD film and television programme and the big and small screen sitcom has meant several things. It has meant that there is little room in the American film and television marketplace these days for the adult oriented fare Hollywood used to make during its studio heyday and into the 1990s. It has meant that there is little room for the European adult art cinema (the antithesis of jump cutting, special effects laden contemporary Hollywood cinema and one which the ADD generation sees as “boring”). The demise of art cinema in the US is also, of course, directly related to Hollywood's ability to reconstitute its monopoly over production, distribution, and exhibition in the US during and after the Reagan "Revolution".

By the way, the triumph of the "new" does not mean that there are no links between the ADD and gross out generation and generations of the past. The ADD and gross out generation, like previous generations, remains blissfully unaware of its ideological links to the past and hence blissfully unaware of history.

Like previous generations the ADD generation believes strongly in progress and technological utopianism as long as progress is defined by the technologically laden films and TV and the sitcom stylistics of contemporary Hollywood cinema and television that they regard as the way a film and TV programme should be. What is relatively new in the ADD generation (this has roots in the 1950s and 1960s) is their belief that black and white films are the products of a cinematic stone age. Allied with a strong sense of nationalism and nationalistic parochialism (hardly a new phenomenon) it also means the ADD gross out generation exhibits an "irrational" mania against subtitles. For them the only cinema and television is American cinema and television. The irony here is that so much contemporary American cinema and television comes from foreign sources a fact that most of ADD generation remains blissfully unaware of.

As a number of analysts have pointed out changes in communication bring changes not only in communications technologies and the speed with which communication takes place—think of how the telegraph expanded and speeded up our ability to communicate with others. Communication changes also impact human perception. I noted that for the ADD and gross out generation ADD films and sitcoms have become the (uninterrogated) norm for film making in the new Hollywood. Every generation, of course, has its new Hollywood and every generation believes that its own dominant or hegemonic for of filmmaking is the best.

The increasing speed of communications, the notion that bigger and better (and more gross out) special effects are more "realistic", and the love of the ADD generation for obvious and gross out childish humour, has not simply impacted human perception and the cinema going and television viewing audience, it has impacted journalism. As print journalism gets shoved into the waste recycle basket of history, online blogging, journalism on speed, is having a greater and greater impact on the ADD generation. With the advent of hordes of sites that you to can leave a comment on online cultural criticism has become democratized or, from another perspective, dumbed down to unprecedented levels.

Cultural criticism, of course, has always been speed journalism. But it has become even speedier in the computer era. Criticism is in many ways, the most ahistorical and anti-historical form of journalism given its need for quick value judgements and quick turnaround. As the computer generation has moved into the digital age of online cultural criticism the impact of those communication changes noted above allied with the ultra-speedy nature of blogging has produced a significant number of critics who seem more than willing to judge a TV programme on its impressions of the first few if not the first episode. This is, of course, akin to reading a chapter or four of War and Peace or Ulysses and reviewing the entire book on that basis. This is particularly problematic for that most beloved and most despised of TV forms, serial or novelistic television (TV, at least potentially, is more like a novel, a film more like a short story). Since novelistic TV requires that one pay great attention to what is unfolding on screen and patiently wait for the arcs (narrative and character) to unfold in front of you the lack of patience and the lack of attention of most viewers and most critics today has been harmful to careful and historically sensitive analysis. And if these critics turn people off from watching the show it can have a negative impact on the shows survival. And while critics aren’t the ones who make or break a show it is worth remembering that those who can make or break a TV show, US TV’s executives, have been doped up on ADD management styles since at least the 1970s. The mantra of TV execs seems to have become if the show isn’t drawing the ad revenue we think it should (commodity aestheticism) then let's cancel it. That so many viewers think similarly tells us much about how ideology works and about the influence of neo-liberal or neo-conservative ideologies on modern American culture and beyond.

Anyway, the triumph of ADD criticism has exacerbated even further the anti-historical nature of criticism since quick draw ideologies of value, a lack of narrative and visual patience, and anti-historical methodologies generally form the foundations of such criticism. Here the criticism of the hypermoment has triumphed. It is the hypermoment alone that the powers that be want us to remember at least until we move on to the next hyperfad of the next hypermoment.

And the winners are...

I recently took a look at Anthony Tommasini's musings on which twentieth century composers might make a list of the greatest composers ever in the ArtsBeat section of the online New York Times. Earlier Tommasini discussed the four great Viennese composers (Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert), the Romantics (Chopin, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Berlioz, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, and Brahms), Verdi, Wagner, and female composers and whether any of these great composers deserve to be on a list of the world's greatest composers (http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/author/anthony-tommasini/).

Such lists, of course, usually end up telling us more about the person doing the list than the people on the list but hey, let me give it a shot.

For me modern composers like Shostakovich, Ravel, Stravinsky, and Rachmaninov definitely deserve consideration as being among the ten greatest composers of all time. If I had to put a British composer on the list it would be Vaughan Williams rather than Britten who Tommasini mentions. For me contemporary composers are too contemporary to be put on the list at the moment. I do, however, like Part and Gorecki very much. I am not a huge fan of Stockhausen, who Tommasini mentions, though I find "Stimmung" fascinating.

So would any of these modern composers make my list of the greatest composers ever? At the moment (these lists are to some extent always of the moment) I would put Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Mahler, Ravel, and Shostakovich on my top ten list. At the very top would be Ravel. So yes a couple of twentieth century composers would make my list.

The toughest thing, by the way, about being limited to a top ten list of the world's greatest composers is leaving off artists like Berlioz, Chopin, Dvorak, Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Debussy, Rachmaninov, and Stravinsky. Oh, hell, I am going to take Monteverdi off the list and replace him with Chopin. And let me take Vivaldi off the list and replace him with Dvorak. Gotta stop or else I may never get up from my chair again.

Bibliography:
Anthony Tomasini, The Top Ten Composers: Which Twentieth Century Masters Will Make the Cut?, 12 January 2011, http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/12/top-10-composers-which-20th-century-masters-will-make-the-cut/?hp#preview

Reflections on Madness and Evil

12 January 2011 and 21 January 2011

It seems to me that so many of our conceptions of madness (and evil) are grounded in this binary notion: Mad people do things “normal” people wouldn’t do and “normal” people don’t do things mad people would do. Similarly the logic of evil goes something like this: Good people do good things while bad people do bad things. In this tale people like Hitler are thus evil and beyond the normal human pale and so we other humans don’t, as a result, have to reflect on whether there is in each of us a potentiality for evil, small or large. Hitler in this equation, in other words, becomes fully other, almost nonhuman (dig the theodicy here). Apart from this being a classic example of meaning being constructed by a negative binary, is it a tautology?.

Some of you might be wondering what all of this has to do with the image of Orson Welles from his brilliant film, Touch of Evil at the top of this blog post. I put that image up there to remind you that evil is actually more complex than the binary of there's good and there's evil perpetrated by mad men would have it. In Touch of Evil Welles plays a cop, Captain Hank Quinlan, who illegally plants evidence on those he has a hunch committed the crime he is investigating. And it turns out his hunches are alwasy right. The film asks, among other things, whether the means, illegal planting of evidence, justifies a good end, convicting someone who committed a murder. You be the judge. What I think doesn't have to be judged here is that Quinlan, the man who has both bad and good in him, is a more realistic fictional character than the Hitler, Loughner, or Breivik of myth, particularly right wing myth, propagated by polticians, apologists, and the media in the modern West.

The Sky is Falling, the Sky is Falling, or, Skins Has Come to American TV...

The teen show Skins debuted on MTV this week on 17 January 2010. MTV's Skins is a toned down version of a E4 show about young teens, Skins, which has run on E4 since 2007 and is now in its fifth series.

Despite being a toned down version of a British show (http://www.guardian.co.uk/tv-and-radio/tvandradioblog/2011/jan/18/mtv-skins-us-being-human) Skins is drawing the ire of many of America's self proclaimed protectors of public morality. The Parents Television Council, the same group that named Buffy the Vampire the worst television show of 2002 in large part for its portrayal of pre-marital sex and a lesbian couple, has called Skins "the most dangerous television show for children that we have ever seen" (MTV's 'Skins' Is 'Most Dangerous Children Show Ever,' TV Watchdog Group Claims, Huffington Post, 23 January 2011, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/22/mtvs-skins-is-most-danger_n_812589.html) and has accused Skins of trafficking in child pornography (TV Watchdog Calls For Child Porn Probe Of "Skins", New York Times, online edition, 20 January 2011). The PTC is urging the US government, the same US government, one assumes, they prefer to downsize save when it comes to moral regulation, to investigate in order to ascertain whether or not Skins is violating child pornography laws (TV Watchdog Calls For Child Porn Probe Of "Skins", New York Times, online edition, 20 January 2011). The US Mexican food chain Taco Bell pulled its adds from the show presumably displaying their commitment to their own image and profit margins ("Taco Bell Pulls Ads From Skins", 21 January 2011, online edition). Conservative Fox demagogues Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity blasted MTV for airing the show at all ("Taco Bell Pulls Ads From Skins", New York Times, online edition, 21 January 2011).

Of course this is not the first time that America has seen moral panics over TV shows. I can still recall the moral panic over PBS's Sesame Street (1969-). Sesame Street, some said, with its psychedelia and jump cut editing would, they feared, turn American school children into LSD addicts. I remember the moral panic helmed by conservative North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms over the Channel 4/PBS adaptation of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City (1993, 1994) because of its portrayal of drug use and homosexuality. I recall Jerry Falwell's claim that the BBC's and PBS's Teletubbies (1997-2001) was a homosexual plot to brainwash American children into toleraating of homosexuals. I remember the controversy over NBC's short lived Book of Daniel (2006) for its portrayal of an Anglican priest addicted to pain killers who talks to a Jesus and who questions some aspects of modern church doctrine. I recall the controversies surrounding CBS's short lived Swingtown (2008) for its portrayal of a group of 1970s sexually liberated swingers.

One could say a lot of things about American moral panics over TV programmes. One could point out how limited the commitment is of some Americans to "artistic" freedom. One could point out how some American corporations are seemingly committed only to the freedom of commodity fetishism (art equals number of readers or viewers "art" reaches which equals money) but only when the show will not impact its bottom line, profit. One might ask why PBS has been a major target of America's moral watchdogs. One could wonder why a show that got generally good reviews from British critics and was only limitedly controversial in the UK has, even in its toned down US version, proven to be so controversial in the US even before it aired. Or, if you are a misanthrope like me you might simply revel in and be entertained by yet another silly moral panic erupting on the American cultural landscape yet. Don't beam me up yet.

Hollywooooood...

18 November 2010 and 21 January 2011

In my estimation one of the most illuminating moments for understanding contemporary Hollywood occurs in James Brook's film I'll Do Anything. In that film Nick Nolte plays a down on his luck actor who hasn't worked in ages. A producer who admires his acting chops tries to get him the main role in a remake of Meet John Doe (talk about prophetic, the annoying Sandler would be in a remake a few years later) she is producing. So she does a screen test of Nolte and the actor hired to play the female lead. Later she shows this screen test to the mega-producer played by Albert Brooks and his entourage. Everyone in the room praises Nolte's acting skills. Then Brooks asks the question. He turns to the women in the room and asks the question which must dominate every Hollywood casting discussion these days: would you fuck him? They all say "no". He asks the same question about the female lead to the men in the room. They say absolutely. Needless to say Nolte doesn't get the role.

I make, and I think the distinction has to be made, between celebrities and actors, Celebrities are those pretty boys and pretty girls, some of whom come out of the modeling industry, who are hired and groomed to become stars because they are pretty boys and pretty girls. Actors are well actors, those trained in the craft of acting in generally in theatre schools like Daniel Day Stewart, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Liv Ullman, Holly Hunter, and Meryl Streep and who hold the theatre and the acting craft near and dear to their hearts. Celebrities, of course, can sometime be or become actors. I am thinking here of Jessica Lange and even Marilyn Monroe who took classes at the < Actor's Studio in New York City after she had become a Hollywood star. Generally, however, the twain between actor and celebrity rarely doth meet for as I'll Do Anything teaches us it is not about acting chops in contemporary Hollywood, it's all about the eye candy gaze of Western male and female desire.

Musings on History and the US Nationalist and Populist Right...

20 November 2010 and 21 January 2011

You have got to love the historical and analytical illiteracy of right wing demagogues and their dittoheaded minnions opposed to, be afraid, be very afraid, "big government. Apparently they don't comprehend the reason most Great Powers have big governments. The reason, of course, the "modern world" has big governments is because we have big militaries, big national security states, and big corporations. Duh...

Why I Love Being Erica

The CBC programme Being Erica (2009-2011), which just finished its third season, is easily my favourite TV programme since Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly.

Erica actually shares a lot with Buffy, Degrassi Classic, and My So-Called Life. Erica's creator, writer, and executive producer, Jana Sinyor, and Aaron Martin, Erica's writer and executive producer, both have ties to Degrassi: The Next Generation, and both have talked, as the excerpt from an interview with them at TV Casualty makes clear, about the influence of Buffy on Being Erica.

Like Buffy, Being Erica uses genre, in Erica's case science fiction, to explore, in a nuanced and complex fashion, the dramas and tragedies of real life. Erica (Erin Karpluk), a Torontonian Jewish thirtysomething, as we learn in the very first episode of Being Erica ("Doctor Tom", 5 January 2009), is in time travel therapy. Much of Erica's therapy revolves around past regrets, past regrets which include Erica's regret at her behaviour during a high school dance, the demise of one of Erica's former friendships, Erica's first sexual relationship, Erica's relationships with her family, Erica's relationships with former lovers, Erica's bat mitzvah, and probably most of all, Erica's regrets surrounding the death of her brother Leo, a regret that partially culminates in the superb season one finale "Leo" (1 April 2009). Like Buffy Being Erica is an arc show, novelistic television. And like Buffy Being Erica is novelistic television that touches on the social ethics of everyday life and treats these ethical issues in a sophisticated way.

I like all of this. A lot. I love intelligent arc television. I love television shows that take social ethical issues seriously. I love adult television that makes me, by making me identify with a protagonist like Erica, think seriously of what I have done in my past and its consequencs. Being Erica has all of this and more. I love Being Erica.

Appendix:
Aaron Martin and Jana Sinyor talk about the influence of Buffy on Being Erica...
Was it difficult to come up with that mythology?
Martin: Not really. [Jana and I] both come from a love of shows like that. The reason we both know each other and bonded is because of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is a huge show with a big blueprint to it. It’s the kind of TV that we really like.
Sinyor: We like shows that have a fantasy element that are grounded in reality. That’s what this show [Being Erica] is. We both loved that Buffy was very much set in the real world, that it had this whole underground thing with vampires.



Read What Others Have Written About Being Erica:
Being Erica TV Character Transfixes Toronto's Jews
http://www.jpost.com/JewishWorld/JewishNews/Article.aspx?id=186852

Being Erica Takes a Jewish Slant on the Single Life
http://www.jewishjournal.com/television/article/being_erica_tv_show_takesjewish_slant_on_single_life_20090311/

Yiddeshe Mamme on Being Erica
http://truthpraiseandhelp.wordpress.com/2010/02/18/time-traveling-in-toronto/
http://truthpraiseandhelp.wordpress.com/2010/03/05/make-someone-happy/

On Season Two of Being Erica
http://cultural-learnings.com/2009/12/09/season-finale-being-erica-the-importance-of-being-erica/

Interview with Erica Creator Jana Sinyor
http://stayinginwithvlada.com/2010/01/18/what-its-like-being-erica-with-creator-jana-sinyor/

Jana Sinyor and Aaron Martin Talk Being Erica
http://communities.dose.ca/dose/blogs/tvcasualty/archive/2009/09/21/being-erica-q-amp-a-with-executive-producers-jana-sinyor-and-aaron-martin.aspx

Viewing Being Erica:
If you are in the US you can watch the first two seasons of Being Erica on hulu thanks to SoapNet, the network Erica is on in the States
http://www.hulu.com/being-erica

You can also check out Erica's webblogs and webbisodes at the CBC Being Erica site (http://www.cbc.ca/beingerica/) and at hulu.

How Not to Review The Gates and Scoundrels...

8 August 2010 and 21 January 2011

The ABC TV show The Gates imagines what it would be like if the communities in which the American uber capitalist class lives were populated by vampires and werewolves. The problem such a show has right off the bat, however, is that even vampires and werewolves are not as scary as the unreal real housewives of The Real Housewives and the contestants on Donald Trump's The Apprentice are.

But seriously folks, The Gates shows that you can't judge a TV show by its first episode. The arcs of the show, including the mythology arcs, have, in my opinion really gotten interesting during the last several episodes.

The problem is that critics aren't watching and writing about The Gates anymore. Unfortunately, so much contemporary TV criticism is far too similar to film criticism. So many TV critics, rather like film critics, review the first episode of a TV programme, often lukewarmly, and never return to revisit the show after the first episode. This may work for an anthology show where each episode is pretty much a little movie unto itself but it doesn't work for shows like ABC's The Gates or The Scoundrels, which are more like novels than shows in which everything is wrapped up in a tiny bow in forty-two minutes. Reviewing one episode of a novelistic or arc show is actually akin to watching ten minutes of a movie, doing a review of the film based on this ten minutes of viewing, and never returning to the film to review the rest of it afterwards.

Sadly I think both ABC's Scoundrels (the American remake of the New Zealand TV show Outrageous Fortune) and The Gates will go into the ever growing dustbin of good shows canceled before their time on commercial American TV (both shows have since I wrote this have been canceled). Shows on commercial American TV are, unfortunately, judged by and large by the canons of commodity aestheticism, where quality is determined by how big the audience is and by how much one can charge advertisers as a result in the first few episodes of the show.

I have to wonder what role reviews, problematic reviews, played in the demise of both shows. Did some potential viewers read the reviews and not bother to watch both shows? Probably not because I suspect that most viewers pay little attention to reviews in an age when anyone with a computer and access to the internet can be a reviewer. So why then did The Gates and Scoundrels fail? Did many of those who watched the first episodes of these arc shows give up on them after a single episode because they didn't grab the viewers attention within sixty minutes? Given the rise of ADD generations in the wake of Jaws, Star Wars, rock videos, and cell phones. I suspect that there may be some truth to this hypothesis.

For reviews of Scoundrels see http://search.metacritic.com/tv/shows/scoundrels
For reviews of The Gates see http://apps.metacritic.com/tv/shows/gatesabc

Musings on Education

2 May 2010

What is so interesting about working in a mass production/consumption educational bureaucracy with its roots in the German educational system is this: students brought up in mass educational forms cannot even conceptualise that education has and can be done differently. It shows, in other words, how the way it is becomes the way it has always been and the way it always has to be.

And what do you get? You get an educational system that gets the biggest bang for the buck (mass education made cheap thanks to bureaucracies). You get an educational system that manufactures "citizens". You get an educational system that generally replicates nationalist ideologies. You get an educational system that disseminates "proper" ways of seeing the world and "proper" ways of analysising the world. And you also get, at least at the higher levels of education with their ideology of novelty, a bit of educational oedipalism. You get a bureaucratic practise, in other words, that institutionalises the notion there are new things to discover or that there are new ways through which you can look at old ways of seeing. This ideology keeps the wheel of higher academia turning for without such notions there would be no justification for giving monies (including taxpayers money) for academic "research projects".

"Conservative" History as Mythistory

13 May 2010 and 21 January 2011

Today's reading is from the Book of MytHistory. And so it was that laissez faire liberals (situational laissez faire liberals) forgot that they were liberals and they began to call themselves "conservatives". They forgot that the doctrine of containment of Communism, the Korean War, and the war in Vietnam were begun by Democrats who believed firmly in the doctrine of containing communism. And they forgot that a Republican (Richard Nixon and his lieutenant Henry Kissinger) developed the doctrine of detente, the notion that we could live and let live in a world with the Soviet Union. And Elohim saw that it was good. Ignorance is indeed bliss. Thanks be to history.

There is so much ahistorical paranoic misunderstanding of "liberals" and "the left" out there in the general American public and particularly the "conservative" general US public. What do liberals of the laissez faire and "progressive" variety have in common? They love capitalism. What do "radicals", "left wingers", "communists", "socialists" have in common? They are generally averse to capitalism and are hope someday to see its collapse. What do real conservatives believe? Those like the latter day conservative JRR Tolkein hated the environmental devastation brought to pre-industrial landscapes by capitalism and preferred a world dominated by a Mediaeval-like church and its theocratic system. Ever read Lord of the Rings?

What is so curious and curiouser about political debates in the US is that most situational laissez faire liberals don't seem to comprehend the fact that they are liberal too. The name calling and paranoia so prevalent in some "conservative" quarters has thus been stimulated by minor differences, minor chasms, in the liberal camp. It is all rather like the multitude of Baptist sects squabbling over the issue of which way is the right way to baptise (fully under in a river?, fully under in a baptism bath? dabbed with water on the forehead? having water poured over your head?). That both political and religious groups are varieties of meaning systems or cultural systems that act similarly should not escape the critical sociological and culturological eye.

Ugly Betty Transmorgifies into Glee

18 September 2010

Hmm, I wonder if Glee is just Ugly Betty with music, with Jane Lynch in the Vanessa Williams role, and with the high school kids playing the role of the fashion magazine employees. Oops, about that last realisation, aren't the fashion magazine employees at Mode kind of like high school students anyway?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

6 September 2010

I recently watched the British film "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas". I thought "Boy" did an excellent job of portraying the impact of nationalism, Nazi racial ideology about Jews, and German blindness about the evil in their midst all in a kind of fairy tale that begins in richness and light and deteriorates into darkness and death by films end. Director Mark Herman (Little Voice, Brassed Off) and his DP Benoît Delhomme did a nice job of representing this transition from light to darkness in the mise-en-scene by wrapping the film in light and blindness at the beginning and then bleeding the colour and light out as the film as it progresses. "Boy's" Nazis are truly frightening in their "normality" and in their eventual "brutality". Excellent film.

Hawaii Five O and Me

21 September 2010 and 20 January 2011

The new Hawaii Five O is your standard Hollywood paint by the genre numbers action/adventure piece. It is clearly aimed at the 18 to 49 attention deficit disorder male demographic. As such it has lots of car chases, lots of gun play, lots of physical violence, lots of jump cut editing, lots of male buddy movie sniping, and lots of eye candy in bikinis and bras and panties (primarily Grace Park) for dudes who still act and think like they are seventeen (insert a shout out to Xander and linoleum here).

For the post 9/11 generation the new Hawaii Five O has the inevitable cops who go all Jack Bauer on bad guy ass and who violate virtually every legal rule in the book including Miranda rights (which the post 9/11 Supreme Court is cutting back on anyway right on cue) all in the name of justice. For the retro or silver generation the show has a virtual remake of the old Hawaii Five O's theme song and opening credits. For some unknown somebodies the show has a lot of Koreans playing Chinese (Daniel Dae Kim of Angel and Lost fame), which makes some sense, though perhaps not casting sense, given the importance of Chinese in Hawaiian history, and Hawaiians (Grace Park), which I am not sure makes any sense at all (insert Husker Du's Makes No Sense At All here). Perhaps the casting of Kim and Park is just CBS trying to get some of the Lost and Battlestar Galactica (another remake of an older show) fanboy crowd. That said I am not sure most Americans will notice that Koreans are playing Chinese and Hawaiians in the show since, I suspect, most Americans can't tell the difference between Koreans, Chinese, and Polynesians anyway.

In sum, I found the first episode of Hawaii Five O to be your typical Hollywood, OK Mediocrity.

Москва слезам не верит...Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears...But I Do...

30 November 2010, 20 January 2011, and 21 January 2011

Москва слезам не верит is hardly the first or probably the last "patriarchal" film ever made. And a patriarchal film it is. And while Moscow's patriarchalism with its real men run the household and drink lots of vodka mentality gives Москва слезам не верит at least one of its ideological contexts (patriarchalism) this does not mean that there are not enjoyable things about the prize winning Moscow Distrusts Tears (it took a prize at Cannes). Moskva is a film full of great acting and wonderful camera work and is (yes here is another of those ideological contexts, this a very Russian one) yet another of those wonderful if somewhat depressing female centric Russian tales about the long suffering Russian and Soviet female.

Palin, Dancing With the Stars, and Celebrity Whoreism...

8 November 2010, 21 January 2011, and 23 January 2011

The fact that Bristol Palin is still alive in the three person final of ABC's Dancing With the Stars despite being acknowledged by many, to put it nicely, as one of the less talented dance contestants on the shows 11th season, may tell us something about one segment of the American population. It may tell us that many in this segment of the American population have a tendency to ignore empirical evidence creating, in its place, an alternative imagined reality where Ms. Palin, who is only on the show because of her mum, is a talented dancer. It may also tell us something about the nature of celebrity in the modern world. The question has to be asked, is Sarah Palin, like Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and Jim Morrison a celebrity whore? Is Palin using her daughter to promote her celebrity whoreism and future run for the White House in an age when politicians have become celebrities and celebrity whores? And is Bristol a chip off the old Sarah block wanting to follow her mother into celebrity whoredom?

Palin actually reminds me a lot of the Westboro Baptist Church, the Topeka, Kansas Christian group that believes the US has fallen from God's favour because of the US's toleration of homosexuality and, as a result, is now being punished by an angry God for falling away from its covenant with God. Why do I say Palin reminds me of the Westboro Baptist Church? Because Palin, like the Westboro Baptist Church, is an attention whore just like most members of the Westboro Baptist Church. Palin, like Westboro, seeks the attention of the media. They seek the attention of those who protest against them. Why? Because when the media or the public attacks Palin or the Westboro Baptist Church, "God's Church", both Palin and Westboro feel just as strongly or even more strongly about the rightness of what they proclaim and their sense of "divine" mission then they did before.

If I am right, by the way, the best way to respond to Palin and Westboro is to ignore them. I realise this is difficult given the controversies that surround both Palin and Westboro and given Westboro's homophobia, but the best way to deal with an attention whore is to not give them the attention they thrive on and which provides them with a sense of their own rightness and being.

Square Pegs, Square Pegs, Square...Square...Pegs...

5 December 2010 and 20 January 2011

I have been watching the DVDs of "Square Pegs" (CBS, 1982-1983) recently. I had never seen the show before and hadn't heard of it until recently.

Created by Saturday Night Live alum Anne Beatts (she wrote for SNL between 1975 and 1979) "Square Pegs" seems, at first, to inhabit the the world of your typical American sitcom. "Square Pegs" is in the standard half hour sitcom format. It has the standard sitcom laugh track. It has a good deal of the stereotyping and caricaturing characteristic of "classic" American sitcoms. Two of Square Peg's characters seem to have walked out of "Grease" (1971, 1978) or "Welcome Back Kotter" (ABC, 1975-1979) and into "Square Pegs", Jennifer DiNuccio (Tracy Nelson)and her boyfriend Vinnie Pasetta (Jon Caliri). Another seems to have walked off of the set of "Good Times" (CBS, 1974-1979) and into "Square Pegs", LaDonna Fredericks (Claudette Wells). Two other characters seem to have walked out of "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" (1982) and into "Square Pegs", Marshall Blechtman (John Femia) and Johnny "Slash" Ulasewicz (Merritt Butrick). Probably the most stereotyped and caricatured character of them all is the rich dim valley girl bitch Muffy Tepperman played by Jami Geertz.

But "Square Pegs" also has something else. The nerds around which the Square Pegs universe revolves, Patty Greene (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Lauren Hutchison (Amy Linker), aren't, thankfully, as stereotyped and caricatured, as the other characters in the show. It is this and the fact that the show deals, unlike "Saved by the Bell" (NBC, 1989-1993), with the real problems and dramas of our two high school female nerds (fitting in, getting dates) that gives "Square Pegs" a certain charm and makes the show the forefather and foremother of other shows which attempted to bring a greater realism to teen TV and to treat the life of high school teens seriously, shows like "Degrassi Junior High" (CBC, 1987-1989), "Degrassi High" (CBC, 1989-1991), "My So-Called Life" (ABC, 1994-1995), "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (WB, 1997-2001 UPN, 2001-2003),"Freaks and Geeks" (NBC, 1999-2000), and "Popular" (WB, 1999-2001). And this is also presumably why so many viewers continue to remember "Square Pegs" fondly.

So what was my reaction to "Square Pegs" as I made my way through its twenty episodes? For me "Square Pegs" started out interestingly then degenerated into typical US sitcomic idiocy (the stereotypes and caricatures, the endless jokes about how fat Lauren (Amy Linker) when the actress is clearly, even with a body suit on, not particularly "fat"). Just as I was ready to give up on the "Square Pegs", however, I slipped the third disc of the DVD set into the DVD player and I thought the show really began to hit its stride. Ironically, it was cancelled by this point. In the end I found "Square Pegs" interesting and somewhat enjoyable if not entirely successful. Whatever my reactions to the show, however, Square Pegs remains a historically significant show in American television history.

Wikileaks and the Illusion of Democracy

7 December 2010 and 21 Janaury 2011

What is happening to Wikileaks at the moment proves Assange's point, democracy is an illusion. So-called democracies are not democratic, as I have recognised since I was young, they are, like Renaissance Florence, oligarchic republics. That most people are not likely to recognise this rather obvious fact tells us much about human beings. It is times like these that one can clearly see how many people out there are truly committed to free speech, democracy, transparency, a "free press, "reality" and so on. Sadly the vast majority of the "citizens" of the West have no deep commitment to any of these. Take away their Captain Crunch, as was done at Notre Dame when I was there in the 1980s, on the other hand, and you may have a riot on your hands.

The powers that be at Notre Dame, in fact, did have a riot on their hand after limits were placed on how many refills of Captain Crunch one could have for breakfast. It is useful to contrast the Captain Crunch riots at Notre Dame with the limited student activism in opposition to the dismissal of "gays" from the theology faculty on campus set in motion after an inquisition by conservative elements on and off campus at around the same time.

Humans! Mostly pathetic, banal, awash in the trivial and mundane, and ethically and morally challenged. One can readily see how and why they gave us the Holocaust. I suppose that In the end one can argue that they deserve everything they get.

When Bad Things Happen to People: Living the Fairy Tale Life

15 December 2010

So why is it that humans prefer the fairy tale, the notion, for example, that we will be rewarded in the next life for "good" behaviour in this life or that "bad" things may happen to "good" people in this life but in the next life everything will be set aright? These questions make me, of all things, think of the film Pretty Woman.

Originally Pretty Woman was going to have an "unhappy" ending. The boy was not going to get the girl, Prince Charming was not going to return for his Cinderella. When Pretty Woman was tested on an audience, however, test audience viewers said they didn't like the unhappy ending. So the ending of the film was changed. In the new ending boy (the rich prince) gets girl (street walking hooker Cinderella). This often happens in real life right? The moral of this story: most humans prefer the fairy tale, the lie, the illusion, the hallucination, to hard reality.

Fairy tales like these allow us to individualise evil in the universe and blame, for example, those in poor countries for their own poverty and the poor in our own country for their poverty among other things. This, of course, allows us to avoid looking at the inequalities inherent in the economic and political realities of the world we live in, the economic and political structures rich nations like ours have created and which benefit us. How is that for a happy ending? Isn't that just sticking your proverbial head in the proverbial sand?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Is Tim Tebow a Seabiscuit for Today?

9 January 2011 and 21 January 2011

Many commentators have waxed profoundly on the supposed fact that the unimpressive looking race horse Seabiscuit was a symbol to common American men and women during the Great Depression of the late 1920s and 1930s. If, so the story goes, the beaten up Seabiscuit could win races against horse racing's best and beautiful can't we, we common men and women beaten up by the Great Depression, survive the worst economic downturn in US history? I raise this issue because I want to know if the homeschooled son of Christian missionaries, the former quarterback of the University of Florida Gators, and the current Denver Broncos (now New York Jets) quarterback Tim Tebow is a Seabiscuit for a new generation of Americans, particularly evangelical Christian Americans, affected by economic depression?

Postscript, 1 December 2011:
In response to the continuing apologetics and polemics associated with Tebow in the sports world I wrote the following response:

Hate Tim Tebow? Some people love him don't they?

I have long thought Mr. Tebow a Seabiscuit for that most recent of capitalist pastimes, the most recent great economic bust. Like Seabiscuit he's the, in this case, guy who doesn't look pretty on the football pitch but who just keeps on trying (Tebow as a kind of sports energiser (Easter?) bunny that just keeps going despite all the criticism?).

Tebow is thus symbolic of that great American myth, namely that you can become successful if you just put your Protestant work ethic shoulder to the grindstone. Tebow is, in other words, the anti Paris Hilton, who became a celebrity, a singer, an actress, because of daddy. I suspect that for many Americans Tebow is, because he is a success story, at least at this point, representative that anyone can rise to greatness in the US, a myth which has come under increasing attack thanks to the rise in inequality to levels that recall the Great Depression of the 1920s and which, as a result, I suspect many Americans no longer have faith in, at least privately .

There are, in my opinion, valid criticisms of Tebow's mechanics out there in one of the few areas of American popular culture that actually comes close to being intellectual, the sports TV and radio world. But the meaning of Tebow in contemporary American life, as we all know, goes beyond Tebow's physical abilities. For many Christians Tebow shows what god can do in Christian lives (ironic since Tebow's mental attitude and training regime clearly has had an impact on his success). Non-Christians, I suspect, have various reactions to Tebow and this place in American Christian popular culture ranging from amusement to annoyance to intellectual and academic analysis.

Tebow, of course, is not the first sports figure to bring religion on to the sports pitch. Sandy Koufax, arguably the greatest pitcher of all time at least over a five or six year stretch, did not pitch the first game of the World Series against the Minnesota Twins in 1965 because it was Yom Kippur. He attended Yom Kippur services instead leading Don Dysdale, who did pitch and who lost the first game of the World series, to declare to Dodger manager Walter Alston that he suspected Alston wished he was Jewish too. But Koufax is perhaps an interesting foil to Tebow both personally and in terms of public reaction. The only time, as I recall, Koufax made a big deal out of his Jewishness publicly was when he went to Yom Kippur services instead of pitching the first game in the World Series against the Minnesota Twins. Koufax's profession of Jewishness, in other words, as I remember it, was very different from Tebow's very public profession of his muscular evangelical Christianity, a public profession and a muscular Christianity that recalls, for many, the past Christian dominance of America beginning in the nineteenth century and the continuing attempt by conservative theocratic Christians to return to dominance today (example: those New Apostolic Domnionists like Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry).

Unlike Koufax Tebow has been active in promoting a very American brand of masculine evangelical Christianity. He has been active in the movement for allowing homeschoolers to play on local public athletic teams. He has a foundation that "promot[es] faith, hope, and love" to those in dark need. He once regularly put biblical verses under his eyes. Biblical verses can be found all over his website as can a goodly amount of self-promotion. Tebow has been in ads promoting the paternalistic and theocratic Focus on the Family.

I wonder what the reaction would be if minority religions or even atheists were doing similar things to what Tebow is doing. But hey, perhaps we need more Jewish athletes promoting the 613 commandments of YHWH on their eyes, Muslim athletes promoting sharia's law through their foundations (here they come Madam de Paranoid Michele Bachmann...I knew Madam de Pompadour and you, Ms. Bachman, are no Madam de Pompadour), and atheists putting ads on during the Super Bowl religious holiday.