Sunday, March 13, 2011

Covering Disasters or Andy Warhol Comes to TV News...

It's happening again. A crisis or a disaster occurs and news reader celebrities fly into the disaster area to anchor the coverage thanks to the fact that we now live in an era of satellite communications. This happened in New Orleans. This happened in Haiti. Now it is happening in Japan.

Having news readers in New Orleans or Haiti or Japan doesn't, by the way, improve coverage. It just means, sadly, that journalism has become something of an ADD medium. News, particularly American news, has become a medium which sends in the big guns (who usually know little about the story, who usually don't speak the language if it isn't English, and who usually know little of the history) to pump up the coverage and then leave once the "crisis" is over. And once they leave and reports on the crisis decline the crisis becomes out of mind and hence out of sight for most of the masses back home.

Since the "crisis" is never over, however, think New Orleans and Haiti, the news media, particularly the TV news media which has become more and more ADD over time, thanks in part to cable, thanks in part to communication changes that have been occurring for some time, communication processes that have impacted human perception particularly in the West. The media, in other words, have come to increasingly reflect a kind of Andy Warhol mentality: every crisis gets its fifteen minutes of fame and then the media moves on to the next car crash. This way of doing the news, of course, doesn't provide any understanding of the long term causes or consequences of "disasters" nor does it help organisations who are trying to raise monies for disasters which have long term consequence and require a long term commitment of monies to do something about them (once out of mind giving for them declines). And thanks to it all ignorance has bliss as virtually everyone forgets about the problems of New Orleans, Haiti, and now, Japan.

A few other observations and questions: Note that so many American networks were and are relying on the BBC and ITN. Does this say something about contemporary private American network news compared to British news? Does it say something about American exceptionalism or parochialism? When private news organisations cut correspondents do they cut overseas correspondents first because of cost and American naval gazing? American "world news" after all is primarily focused on what is happening in the US. Compare this to many European countries which have domestic AND foreign news programmes. Note that at least some of the BBC TV correspondents in Haiti spoke French. Did news celebrities making their way into Haiti jam up aeroports and, in the process, inhibit aid from getting into Haiti?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Buffy Blog: Musings on Season Two

There are a number of things I really like about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I love its genre blending, its, in the trendy academic terminology of today, genre hybridity. I love that it can and often does go from comedy, to drama, to tragedy. I love its wit, its popular and not so popular references, its music, and its cinematography. I love its parodies and its satires. I love that it can go from fantasy to near realism all in a single bound. I simply love Buffy.

Season two, thanks to “Surprise”/”Innocence”, “Passions”, “I Only Have Eyes for You”, and “Becoming”, has been an emotionally intense rollar coaster ride on occasion. Of course, this emotional intensity and this emotional realism didn’t come out of nowhere. Season one’s “Welcome to the Hellmouth”/”The Harvest” with Buffy’s great speech about the melancholy life of a Slayer, “Nightmare”, with its emotionally wrenching scene where Buffy’s father tells her he is disappointed by her and that she was responsible for the breakup of his and Joyce’s marriage, and “Prophecy Girl” with its intense scene where Buffy tells Giles she is no longer a working Slayer, foreshadow the emotional intensity that is to come in season two and beyond.

I don’t know whether Whedon and Company were directly influenced by the emotional intensity and existentialism of Ingmar Bergman films or the emotional intensity, existentialism, complex moral quandaries, and dark humour of the Dekalog of Krzysztof Kieslowski. Regardless of whether he and they were or were not influenced by Bergman (there is a The Seventh Seal shot in one Buffy episode) and Kieslowski isn’t necessarily that important, however. I sense a kinship between them. Whedon, Bergman, and Kieslowski, in my opinion, share a cultural attribute of the post-World War II West, humanist existentialism with its displacement of traditional moral verities and its exploration of complex relationships, familial and friendly.

Notes and Questions:
Faith’s turn to the darkside in season three parallels Angel’s turn to the darkside in season two.

It is in “Becoming” that we see Dark Willow for the first time in Buffy when she successfully performs the ritual of re-ensoulment. Note how her eyes turn black and she is filled with energy.

Does Spike’s turn to Buffy’s side foreshadow the transition he makes from the dark side to the good side in later seasons of Buffy and in Angel?

Was Whistler sent to make Angel realise his destiny by the “powers that be”? If “Angel” is the first episode of Angel is “Becoming” the second?


Buffy Blog: "Becoming"

“Becoming”, written and directed by Buffy’s creator Joss Whedon, is full of drama, tragedy, romance, romantic tragedy, betrayal, sadness, pitched battles and sword fights (got to have sword fights, says Whedon in an interview). It is a season ending episode that answers some questions, keeps others open, and raises others some of which will be addressed in season three.

“Becoming” brings the big bad arc of season two, the arc that pitted the Scoobies against Dru and Spike and eventually Angelus, to an end, at least for the moment.
Dru hears whispers that something dreadful has come to Sunnydale. It is Acathla, the demon of the week, who once tried to suck the world in to hell. Dru and Angel, who have taken Acathla from the Sunnydale Museum, intend to revive the demon and suck the world into hell.

Angel and Dru, however, don’t know how to properly perform the ritual to revive Acathla. They turn to an “old friend” to help them. Angel and Dru send a message to Buffy, a vampiress who walks into Buffy’s class at Sunnydale High telling Buffy to meet Angel at the cemetery for a final showdown between the two just before she bursts into flames. Buffy rises to the bait. Leaving Kendra, who has arrived in Sunnydale after her Watcher informs her, as he did in “What’s My Line”, that a “dark power” is about to rise in the city over the hellmouth, Buffy goes to the final showdown with Angel at the cemetery. As Angel and Buffy fight Dru and her minions attack the library breaking Xander’s arm, forcing Cordy to flee, pinning a now unconscious Willow under a bookshelf, killing Kendra, and kidnapping Giles. Angel taunts Buffy telling her that she always falls for the same trap—she fell for a similar ruse in “When She Was Bad”.

After Buffy reaches the library the police arrive. Principal Snyder arrives telling the police that if there is trouble she’s (Buffy) is behind it. The police try to arrest Buffy but our Slayer escapes and heads to the hospital to see how Xander, Willow, Cordy, and Giles are. It is then that Buffy, Xander, and Cordy realise that Giles is missing. Soon Buffy learns from Spike, who doesn’t want to see Angel and Dru end human life as we know it and so joins with Buffy to stop them, that Angel has Giles.

By the end of “Becoming” some things that have been brewing throughout season one and season two are, at least to some extent, wrapped up. A number of questions still remain unanswered, however. Spike and Dru have left Sunnydale much like they entered it. Spike takes Dru’s breath away, literally and he and the unconscious Dru drive out of town in Spike’s black car. Will they be back?

Angel has been killed by Buffy in order to close the vortex Angel has set in motion thanks to performing a revivification ritual on Acathla and pulling out the sword of the knight who slew him. Buffy has to kill Angel despite the fact that Willow—Willow and Buffy find Jenny’s disc with the re-ensoulment ritual on it—has successfully restored Angel’s soul. Buffy kisses Angel and tells her to close his eyes just as Darla told Angel to close his eyes when she turned him from a human into a vampire. But while Darla’s siring of Angel had a sexual quality to it—she bites Angel then uses her fingernail to draw blood from just above her breasts—Buffy’s telling Angel to close his eyes has a romantic true love quality to it. Then she kills him shutting down Acathla’s vortex in the process. Will he return from hell?

The Scoobies are all physically, emotionally, or physically and emotionally exhausted and injured and Buffy, after being told by Joyce not to return home if she leaves the house to “save the world”, has left Sunnydale by bus. And then there is that whole thing between Principal Snyder and the Chief of Police: why is Snyder trying to keep the supernatural goings on of Sunnydale secret and why has Snyder been hired the mayor who Snyder leaves a message for in this episode, a message which seems to suggest that Snyder is setting Buffy up for a murder she did not commit? Why is the mayor interested in Buffy?

Destiny, Angel’s and Buffy’s destiny, comes up again and again in “Becoming”. In this episode we learn much about Angel’s back story. We learn that he was “turned” by Darla, his “sire”, in Galway in Ireland in 1753. Darla, by the way, is the very image of “coiffed” girl in “Halloween”. We learn that the human Angel, when he had cash, frequented a tavern and chased the girls. We learn, in other words, that he was a rake. We learn more about the Angel’s penchant for psychological torture as he see him masquerading as a priest to whom the human Drusilla, concerned about her visions, confesses. Angel calls her a “Devil child”, a “spawn of Satan”. We learn more about the gypsy curse that re-ensouled Angel. We learn that Angel eventually made his way to America and that a “good” demon named Whistler has taken him to Hemery High in LA to see a Buffy who is just about learn that she is the Slayer, the Chosen One. Angel falls in love with her from afar and decides to help the Slayer. We learn from Whistler that fighting against Acathla was part of Angel’s “destiny”. Thanks to Buffy, however, Angel’s destiny has changed.

Buffy’s destiny is to be a Slayer. And this time when confronted by Joyce who tells her that she needs help, psychological help, and that if she leaves the house to fulfill her Slayer destiny she is not welcome again in her house, Buffy chooses her Slayer duty, this time without hesitating, just like she eventually chose her Slayer destiny in “Prophecy Girl”. So much of season one and season two has been leading up to this point, the point when Buffy, stripped of family, lover, friends, and school (Snyder finally manages to do what he has been wanting to do since “Puppet Show”, expel Buffy) chooses to be a Slayer.

By choosing to become Slayer Buffy gives up everything. Whistler, at one point, asks Buffy what she is prepared to give up and tells her that she is always by herself. Buffy responds by telling him that she has “nothing left to loose”. During the sword fight between Buffy and Angel, Angel says to a Buffy, seemingly about to suffer death at the hands of Angel, “Now that's everything, huh? No weapons... No friends... No hope. Take all that away... and what's left?” Buffy stopping Angel’s sword thrust by grasping it between her two hands says, “Me”. The Slayer who is now without friends and family goes on to defeat Angel though with a little help from Spike who helps Buffy in exchange for Dru’s life and leaving Sunnydale. Slayer’s historically as we know and as Kendra tells us in “What’s My Line”, generally fight alone. By the way, even though Buffy is a Slayer with friends and family being a Slayer as Buffy she tells Joyce during their confrontation, is “lonely”.

Angel’s Gaze: Angel is still stalking Buffy and watching her. In “Passion” Angel gazes at her through the windows (film or TV screens?) of Buffy’s house (Joss’s "Rear Window" moment?). In “Becoming” Angel watches Buffy fight vamps at a local Sunnydale cemetery. By the way, we see Angel stalking Drusilla as he masquerades as a priest taking confession. At the end of the scene he raises his hand to the screen that separates him and Dru in the confession booth (another Rear Window moment?).

Parallelism: Darla used her fingernail to draw blood from above her breasts to turn Angel from human into vampire. Dru kills Kendra by using her fingernails to slice Kendra’s throat. What is it with female vamps and fingernails? Drusilla hypnotises Kendra before she kills her. This recalls the Master killing Buffy by hypnosis in season one’s “Prophecy Girl”. Drusilla hypnotises Giles making him believe she is Jenny Calendar in order to obtain information on how Angel can revive Acathla and suck the world into hell. The pain. The horror.

Despite the similarities between the death of Buffy in “Prophecy Girl” and Kendra in “Becoming”, there are also several important differences in Buffy’s death through hypnosis and Kendra’s. Xander saves Buffy’s life after the Master gets all hypnotic with her and she drowns—emphasising how friends are essential to a Slayer’s survival. Buffy manages to defeat the Master’s second attempt to hypnotise her because her first encounter with the Master. Kendra, on the other hand, is unable to resist the power of Drusilla’s hypnosis and dies fighting at the side of the Scoobies after Buffy has once again been tricked into solo action (“Becoming, Part 1”, cf. her actions in “When She Was Bad”). It is worth noting that each time Buffy is bitten by a powerful vampire—specifically the Master, Angel, and Dracula—Buffy grows in power and knowledge.

Previously on Buffy:
Whistler calls a vampire with a soul “poignant”. Giles referred to it as “poetic in a maudlin sort of way” in “Out of Mind, Out of Sight”.

When Jenny buys an Orb of Thesulah from the magic shop in “Passion” the proprietor said that he sold some as paperweights to “new agers”. Giles has been using an Orb of Thesulah as a paperweight.

The Buffy we see before she is told she is a Slayer is much like Cordy. She even has her own Cordettes (the Buffettes?).

The detective who investigated Buffy’s killing of Ted is back and interviews Joyce about the death of Kendra and the injury of Xander and Will. “Your daughter”, he reminds her, “has a history of violence”.

Xander expresses his love for a comatose Willow who comes out of her coma just after his declaration. Willow, however, awakes and utters “Oz”. It is too late for Willow and Xander.

Xander lies to Buffy telling her that Willow told her to kick Angel’s ass rather than what she actually told Xander to tell her, that she was going to try the restoration spell again. Buffy will learn that Xander lied to her in season seven.

It’s the Blood: It is Angel’s own blood which allows him to remove the sword that killed Acathla and set in motion Acathla’s swallowing of the world.

Awesome:
The scene where Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Giles argue over whether to re-ensoul Angel. Xander, not surprisingly given his past tense relationship with Angel, recalls that Angel viciously killed Jenny and that he should be killed not re-ensouled. Does Xander not make a distinction between Angel and Angelus? Giles argues that “curing” Angel was Jenny’s last wish. Buffy says that what happened to Angel was not his fault. I love the way Willow, angry at Xander for his outburst, stares the Xandman down. The acting in this wonderful scene is intense and superb. This is ensemble television at its best

Spike’s wonderful monologue: “We like to talk big. (indicates himself) Vampires do. 'I'm going to destroy the world.' (looks at the officer) That's just tough guy talk. (steps over to the car) Strutting around with your friends over a pint of blood. (sits on the hood) The truth is, I like this world. (pulls the cigarette pack from the officer's shirt pocket) You've got... dog racing, Manchester United. (pulls one out and drops the pack on the officer) And you've got people. (exhales) Billions of people walking around like Happy Meals with legs. It's all right here. (lights the cigarette and takes a drag) But then someone comes along with a vision. With a real... (exhales) passion for destruction. (takes another drag and looks at Buffy) Angel could pull it off. Goodbye, Piccadilly. Farewell, Leicester Bloody Square. You know what I'm saying?

The wonderful scene between Joyce and Spike: “Cut to the living room. The silence is deafening. Spike looks around some more. Then Joyce has a spark of recognition on her face and looks over at Spike. Joyce: Have we met? Spike: (faces her) Um... you hit me with an ax one time. Remember? (makes an ax-holding gesture) Uh, 'get the hell away from my daughter.' (lowers his arms) Joyce: Oh. She lets out a little chuckle. Spike sighs with boredom. James Marsters and Kristine Sutherland had a great chemistry as we see here and in future Joyce-Spike scenes. Shout out to “School Hard”.

Spike recognizing that his joy in Dru bagging a Slayer isn’t shared by Buffy. Spike, in other words, can see things from other perspectives.

Mothers and Daughters: Joyce immediately feels bad about telling Buffy not to return to the house if she goes out to save the world. This scene, by the way, parallels the scene in “Prophecy Girl” where Joyce grounds Buffy and Buffy sneaks behind her back to go and stop the apocalypse. Buffy, in other words, is much more comfortable in her Slayer skin.

Playing with Genre: Whistler’s narration in “Belonging” just like Angel’s in “Passion” has a lot of the noir in it.

Mise-en-scene: The scenes in Ireland and New York City were filmed on a studio set, a first for Buffy. Note how Angel and Whistler go from the dark and wet noir streets of New York City to the bright sunshine days of Los Angeles.

Music: Note the wonderful use of the Buffy/Angel and Giles/Jenny themes.

References: There is a reference to Alfalfa of the “Little Rascals”. Buffy confuses him and Acathla. There is a reference to Al Franken, a comedian, a Saturday Night Live writer, a host of the liberal talk radio network Air America (now defunct), and presently a US senator from the state of Minnesota.

Watch Your Tongue: Giles calls Angel a “pillock”, originally slang for penis but now for fool or idiot.

Breaking the Fourth Wall: Xander’s re-enactment of Buffy’s killing of two vamps in the teaser, a re-enactment Oz finds riveting but unclear in its themes. Oz saying he missed some of the story and needs to be caught up. Drusilla’s remark that her continuing kissing of Giles after she has gotten the information Angel wanted from him was the result of her being “in the moment”.

The Chorus: Eyes watered up. I need a hug just like the Grr Argh monster at the end of this episode. Incredibly powerful television. What a great way to end season two. What brilliant television.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Buffy Blog: "Go Fish"

“Go Fish”, the first script penned by David Fury, who would go on to become one of Buffy’s regular writers in season three, and Elin Hampton (the two are married), is Buffy doing Creature of the Black Lagoon, a 1954 American science fiction horror film that is kind of a fish monster version of King Kong. Cordy mistakenly refers to the film as the Creature from the Blue Lagoon. Xander, ever pop cult guy, corrects Cordy noting that it is the creature from the Black Lagoon and that the creature from the Blue Lagoon was Brooke Shields, the female lead in the romantic tween film The Blue Lagoon.

“Go Fish” draws on a long tradition in Hollywood and foreign cinema, a tradition in which a human or an animal is transformed into a monster thanks to some kind of government or scientific “accident”. Think Gojira (Japan, 1954) in which radioactivity lets loose a monster on Tokyo. Think Them (US, 1954) in which radiation transforms tiny ants into monstrous ants who begin to attack human beings. In “Go Fish' it is the science of genetic manipulation that transforms humans into monsters. Sunnydale High School’s swimming coach learns of East Germany’s attempt to create the perfect swimmer through genetic manipulation and manages, thanks to “steroids” in the steam in the swim team steam room, to turn Sunnydale High’s swim team into one of the best in the state of California. This being post World War II horror and Buffy, however, this genetic manipulation slowly but surely turns Sunnydale’s best swimmers into human-fish creatures yearning to return home to the sea. “Go Fish”, is, in some ways, a kind of a reverse Gojira. In Gojira Gojira (Godzilla) comes from the sea. In “Go Fish” the human monsters return to their sea home.

“Go Fish” revolves around the ritual and hierarchical world of high school. The episode begins with a party at the beach to celebrate a recent victory by the Sunnydale High School swim team. Buffy, Willow, and Xander attend. So does Jonathan who is bullied and humiliated by a member of the swim team. It is Buffy again to the rescue as she pulls the macho jock off Jonathan. Jonathan, like Xander in “Phases” Jonathan is not particularly happy that Buffy has emasculated him in front of everyone, however. As Willow learns later in the episode when she interrogates Jonathan (not the last time she will do this) Jonathan gets his revenge by peeing in the pool.

This being high school the swim team, now that they are having success, get preferential treatment at SHS. Principal Snyder asks Willow to review one member of the swim teams computer class grades to see if he deserves a D rather than an F. Xander learns that the cafeteria is open to members of the swim team at all hours. Buffy almost becomes another of the perks of Sunnydale High’s as Cameron locks his car door intending to make out with her. Buffy responds by slamming Cam's face into the steering wheel, an act seen by Principal Snyder.

Once again males, this time jock males, come in for a good deal criticism in Buffy. Sunnydale High’s swim jocks are portrayed as testosterone driven Neanderthals who feel entitled to virtually everything, including women, and who mouth the tired clich├ęs of misogynous macho types claiming that what women wear contributes to their inability to keep their sexual id in check.

While the broader arc of season two, Buffy and the Scoobies versus the big bads of Angel, Dru, and Spike, is largely absent in “Go Fish” Angel does make a brief appearance. When Gage exists the Bronze after a conversation with Buffy (I am a swim groupie no you are in danger claims Buffy) he complains about what a “wacko bitch” Buffy is. Angel overhears Gage’s complaints and guesses that the reason for Gage’s outburst is Buffy. He tells Gage that Buffy was the biggest mistake of his life. Angel proceeds to bite Gage but backs off as Buffy comes to Gage’s aid spitting out the blood he has sucked out of Gage. This is the first time in “Go Fish” that we the viewer suspect that it is not a creature feeding on the swim team, as we have been lead to believe, instead the disappearance of Sunnydale’s swim team may be in the blood (there’s that blood again) of the swim team itself. And it is the first time that Buffy suspects that something else is going on. She guesses “steroids”.

One more note about David Fury. After writing for Buffy and Angel Fury would go on to write for Lost and 24. One of Fury’s scripts for Lost was the season one episode “Walkabout”, the first backstory episode of Lost.

The Chorus: “Go Fish” is not one of my favourite episodes of Buffy. That said, there are several things I like about the episode. When Nurse Greenliegh is pushed into the sewer by Coach Marin we see her at one point through the grate that Marin is putting back down on the floor. The grate gives one the sense that Greenliegh is trapped and caged. And she is. She is trapped in the sewer and is about to be partially eaten by the creatures in Sunnydale’s sewers. Nice direction by David Semel. In general I like the way Buffy plays with, blends, and bends traditional film genres. “Go Fish” does a lot of this.

One more thing: Xander saves Buffy, who Coach Marin has dropped into the same sewer that he dropped Nurse Greenliegh so Buffy can provide for their sexual needs, yet again. This is becoming something of a common occurrence. To state what has become obvious, one of the themes of Buffy is friendship.

NPR and the Night of the Living Brain Dead

You have to love the idiocy of the controversies surrounding what two NPR fundraisers and employees said to the master of the faux mockumentary James O"Keefe, the right's favourite polemical demagogic media whore. I am of course not shocked (no Casablanca moment here) that all of this, not by accident, comes at a time when the American Congress is trying to kill once and for all something they have been trying to eliminate almost since it was created during the Johnson administration, public television and public radio. PBS, lets not forget, was one of Nixon's and Agnew's stereotyped and caricatured east coast liberal media establishment that was, they claimed, trying to bring them down. Forget Watergate. It was all the fault of the East Coast liberal media establishment.

While PBS, NPR,and American Public are no match for the BBC or even the CBC, another public television service that is being slowly sucked dry by vampiric right wing politicians, it has provided an important arena for the arts, for news, for documentaries of all types, things that were once mandated by the FCC for private broadcasters, and once even brought the US viewer intelligent and well crafted drama such as the controversial Steambath in the 1970s, the two adaptations of Jean Shepherd in the 1980s ("The Great American Fourth of July and Other Disasters" and "Ollie Hopnoodle's Haven of Bliss"), and the superb Tales of the City in the 1990s, the same Tales of the City right wing North Carolina senator Jessie Helms went ballistic over because of its portrayal of drug use and San Francisco's homosexual lifestyle in the 1970s.

Let me make a few points about the latest manufactured controversy brought to us by these right wing ideologues, demagogues, polemicists, and apologists. First of all, those who see many on the tea party as latter day racists and xenophobes are right. Many of the states rights back to the Articles of Confederation tea party folks are xenophobes and racists. They draw on traditions--Southern states rights anti-federalism (which was used to justify slavery and Jim Crow), Southern populism, rhetoric of the John Birch Society (through Skousen for Beck)--which are xenophobic and racist. And this is certainly an aspect of how their history will be written in the future. Quite clearly xenophobia and articles of confederation like anti-federalism are two of the broader contexts of the reborn populist right. If only Richard Hofstadter, Daniel Bell, and Seymour Martin Lipset were still here to see this latest resurrection of the "radical right" and how popular and prominent it is these days.

Second, NPR (or PBS) is hardly leftist. Unlike Fox, which is unfair, unbalanced, and right wing in its ideology, NPR is quite fair and quite balanced. You can hear a host or right intellectuals and right wing politicians on NPR every night. FACT. Compare that to how many times Noam Chomsky has been on NPR. Come on right wing demagogues count it up.

Third, just because someone has an opinion doesn't mean they can't run a fair and balanced network. NPR employees can and should have opinions. Unlike at Fox, however, these opinions don't get in the way of fair and balanced if weak as water (thank you Mrs. Slocum) coverage. Again, relative to this weak as water comment, let me note how many times Chomsky, a major analyst of American foreign policy, has NOT been on NPR.

To tell you the truth I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that a nation moved by the irrational, parochial, greedy, self-righteous, and narcissistic rhetoric of the states rights articles of confederation right wing crowd doesn't deserve something as good as an emasculated American public television and radio. Americans, for all their freedom of speech rhetoric, don't give a shite about freedom of speech when the rubber really hits the road. They are for freedom of speech only when it doesn't offend their sacred prejudices. Bah humbug.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Singer-Songwriters and the Death of Authenticity

Earlier this week I watched a wonderful documentary on the singer-songwriters of the 1960s and 1970s on PBS's American Masters series, Troubadours: Carole King/James Taylor and the Rise of the Singer-Songwriter. Though the documentary focused on Carole King, who made the transition from Brill Building songwriter to singer-songwriter in the 1960s and 1970s, and James Taylor, one of the most successful singer-songwriters in the 70's, and the long professional and personal relationship between the two, other singer-songwriters and Doug Weston's Troubadour Club in Los Angeles, from which many of the singer-songwriters emerged, made their appearance in the documentary as well including David Crosby, Roger McGuinn, Steve Martin, Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, Joni Mitchel, Kris Kristofferson, Eagles, all those session men like Danny Kortchmar who played on the albums of the singer-songwriters, and even Elton John, who made an early legendary appearance at the Troubadour in August of 1970. Troubadours did everything a good PBS documentary normally does. It was educational, enlightening, and entertaining. It was also, for me, a nostalgic walk down memory lane. I grew up listening to the Byrds, James Taylor, and Carol King in part.

As I was sitting and watching the documentary I couldn't help think about how far contemporary popular music has strayed from the singer-songwriter mentality of the past. Coming out of the folk, folk rock, and folk influenced rock movement and impacted by the countercultures of the 1960s American singer-songwriters strove for authenticity in music and in life. Today this cult of authenticity seems a thing of the past. Today we have Fergie who, when she isn't a singer in her band the Black Eyed Peas, is shilling for Avon, appearing on the Dan Patrick Show, and singing at the halftime show at the Super Bowl, a Disneyfornicated spectacle that is perhaps as far from singer-songwriter authenticity as one can get. Today we have Jessica Simpson and Katy Perry shilling for the acne product Proactive. Today we have popular celebrity-singers like Fergie, Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, Katy Perry, and Christina Aguilera, and even that infamous contemporary bad girl Lady Gaga (Dale Bozzio meets Madonna meets the theatrics of early Genesis) who seem to think that Life is a Movie and that they are its stars and its celebrities who we, the music masses, should worship and adore and emulate (latter day Horatio Algers?). No wonder so much popular music is dead on arrival these days. No wonder so many theorists assert that reality and authenticity have died to be replaced by a postmodernist simulation, a postmodernist simulation, by the way, that has none of the artistry or ideological and gender subversiveness of punk or the gender subversiveness of glam. RNIP.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Buffy Blog: "I Only Have Eyes for You"

“I Only Have Eyes for You” written by Marti Noxon and directed by James Whitmore Jr. works, like many Buffy episodes on several levels. On one level “I Only Have Eyes for You” is Buffy doing a poltergeist tale. In 1955 around the time of that high school ritual the Sadie Hawkins Dance a student, James Stanley, shoots and kills his “lover”, Sunnydale High School teacher Grace Newman. Now that the Sadie Hawkins dance at the Scoobies Sunnydale High draws near James and Grace are reenacting James’s tragic shooting of Grace by taking over two students, the script calls them Fighting Boy and Fighting Girl (the end of the teaser and the beginning of act one), and later in the episode George, Sunnydale’s janitor, and Sunnydale teacher Miss Frank (the end of act two and the beginning of act three). Buffy, who is returning to Sunnydale High to talk to Giles about patrolling stops Fighting Boy/James from killing Fighting Girl/Grace. Giles, however, is too late to stop George/James from killing Miss Frank/Grace.

The Scoobies are able to figure out that James is a poltergeist in act two, act three, and act four. We learn during the course of “I Only Have Eyes for You” that James accidentally killed Grace because she broke up with him not because she didn’t love him but because their love, a love between a younger man and an older woman, a relationship between a student and a teacher, is a forbidden love. Can you say forbidden love between Buffy and Angel, Slayer and vampire? James, as a result, is stuck in a purgatory, as Giles puts it, because, as Buffy realizes, he seeks forgiveness for what he did to Grace.

On another level “I Only Have Eyes for You” continues to follow the growing tensions between Spike, Dru, and Angel. The episode links the season two arc, Buffy and the Scoobies versus Spike, Dru, and Angel, with the arc of this episode, the poltergeist haunting Sunnydale High School and what to do about it. The sexual tension between Spike, Dru, and Angel is tangible in this episode. Spike is jealous of Angel’s advances and increasingly sexually charged relationship (in words, touch, if not deed) with Dru and hurt by Dru’s receptivity to those advances. There’s a back story waiting to be told here as we will see.

On still another level “I Only Have Eyes for You” is about memory, love, forbidden love, remorse, loneliness, guilt, and forgiveness. Buffy and Giles live, not easily or readily, with the memories of their departed beloveds, Angel and Jenny. Giles is so distraught that, after hearing a female voice telling him he “needs” her (it is actually Grace) he thinks Jenny a “trapped” needs his help to free her. Buffy realizes that Giles misses Jenny in death just as he missed her in life. Buffy refers to Jenny’s death as “Just a little more fallout from my love life”. Buffy, in other words, continues to feel guilt about turning Angel into Angelus and about not being able to save those who Angelus is now killing thanks to being turned. She cannot forgive herself just as she can’t forgive James (and males in general) for what he did to Grace. He calls him a “psycho”. Angelus tries to wash off the memories of his “violation” at the hands of James, Grace, and Buffy, of his love for Buffy, at the end of the episode.

These themes come together in powerful fashion during the final possession scene, the scene in which James possesses Buffy (Buffy hears James’s voice say he needs her) and Grace Angel. Buffy and Angel reenact yet again that fatal night of the Sadie Hawkins dance at Sunnydale High as Buffy/James once again kills Angel/Grace. But this time there is something different. Since Angel is a vampire and can’t die the resurrected Angel saves Buffy/James from killing himself, allows Angel/Grace to forgive Buffy/James for accidentally killing her with a kiss, and allows James’s and Grace’s spirits to rise and vanish from Sunnydale High. Buffy still doesn’t understand how Grace could forgive James but when Giles asks her if it matters she says no. Is Buffy on the way to forgiving herself for what happened to Angel?

Continuing Revelations: Once again we see Snyder (who is still hassling Buffy) and the Police Chief fabricating a story about the weird goings on in Sunnydale. Not only do people forget what they don’t want to remember as Giles notes in the very first episode of Buffy, “Welcome to the Hellmouth/The Harvest”, but the powers that be are involved in a conspiracy to explain the irrational things that occur in Sunnydale in naturalistic ways. Once again the magic room is tied to the weird happenings at Sunnydale High. In “Out of Mind, Out of Sight” Marcy played a flute in the magic room and had her hideaway in the ceiling above it. In “I Only Have Eyes for You” James dances lovingly with Grace in the music room and later kills himself in the room after he has accidentally shot Grace. What is it with the music room?

Revelations: The first mention of the Mayor. Wait until season three to see what this means. Spike can walk and he’s mad as hell at Angel and isn’t going to take it anymore. Wait until the season two finale to see what this means. Willow finds a bunch, of Jenny’s of “files and internet sights about paganism and majic and stuff” and casts her first spell during this episode. This will not be the last time Willow will cast spells with good intentions that don’t quite work.

Shakespeare Moment: Xander’s response to Buffy’s unwillingness to forgive James, “the quality of mercy is not Buffy”.

References: I have already noted Xander’s paraphrase of Shakespeare. Xander also paraphrases the film Network (“I’m dead as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore”). Buffy refers to the OJ murder case (“You”, she says to Fighting Boy after she stops him from shooting his Fighting Girl girlfriend, “went OJ on your girlfriend!”). Snyder references Oliver Stone’s film JFK. Willow references Julius Caesar when she tells Buffy, “You came. You saw. You rejected” after Buffy turns down a request for a date from Ben. Buffy tells Ben that “It's not you. You seem great. It's just - I'm not seeing anybody. Ever again, actually.” The fallout from Angel going bad continues to impact Buffy’s life. Xander references pop radio psychologist Dr. Laura Schlesinger (“Great. So now we're Dr. Laura for the deceased”) when he learns that they need to figure out what is keeping the poltergeist at Sunnydale High and cure it. The title of the episode, “I Only Have Eyes for You”, is a reference to the popular song “I Only Have Eyes for You” written in 1934 and performed most notably by the Flamingos in 1959. It is the Flamingos version of “Eyes” that is used in “I Only Have Eyes for You”.

The Chorus: “I Only Have Eyes for You” is emotionally powerful, emotionally moving, and deeply tragic, all hallmarks of Whedon and company. It is socially ethically sophisticated, nuanced, and ethically and intellectually challenging in an existentialist sort of way, again all hallmarks of Whedon and company. By the way, I really liked the lovely little montage of the Scoobies (Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Cordy) saying Willow’s spell to expel all evil from Sunnydale High School. And I love the fact that Cordy the forthright recognizes that Buffy over-identifying much with James. James, of course, as Buffy recognizes, related to her because like her James was so “sad”.