Monday, August 20, 2012

The Giant Galactic Cock That Threatened the Russian Universe

The art piece of the day is the "Giant Galactic Space Dick" of Saint Petersburg, Russia to your left. This 213-feet-tall, 89-feet-wide phallus which was put on on the Liteyny Drawbridge in St. Petersburg in 2010 by the Russian art activist group Voina, the group out of which Pussy Riot arose. The giant cock, by the way, points in the direction of Russia's biggest dicks of all (all puns intended), the internal and external security agents of the FSB and the building they inhabit, the FSB Building in Peter's. The FSB, of course, is the Russian successor to the KGB. Not surprisingly both Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, and its Christian Orthodox patriarch, Kirill, both of whom are making an example of Pussy Riot presumably in order to nip criticism of the neo-Tsarist Russian state they have created or recreated in the bud, were once agents of that biggest of Soviet dicks, the KGB.

Speaking of Pussy Riot and freedom of expression what does it mean when a Bahrani human rights activist Nabeel Rajab gets three years for protesting against Bahrani authoritarianism on Twitter while Russia's Pussy Riot gets two for their non-violent protest against Putin in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, the cathedral that was once destroyed by Stalin in 1931 to symbolise that the Soviet state would no longer be the theocracy the Tsarist state was only to be resurrected in the 1990s by Yeltsin and others enveloped as they were in a haze of nostalgia for a time in which church, state, and subjects apparently knew their divinely ordained place, something Putin and Kirill are now teaching those who don't know their place in the new old neo-Tsarist Russia they have created. Durkheim lives. But back to Rajab and Pussy Riot, does the differential sentences mean that Islamic theocracy is one year harsher in its treatment of dissidents expressing their freedom of speech than Christian theocracies? Does it mean that neither Bahrain or neo-Tsarist Russia have experienced the Enlightenment?

Speaking of the Enlightenment does that notion of that Tea Party evangelical Christian idiot running for the Senate from Missouri, Todd Akin, about how the bodies of women who are legitimately raped-this distinction between legitimate and illegitimate rape, by the way, is not novel to Akin and has been common in some circles within the Republican party since the 1980s-excretes some sort of magic chemical during rape that inhibits pregnancy, indicate that many Americans haven't yet experienced the Enlightenment or learned much from the Scientific Revolution?

And why are there so many dicks anyway? I have already mentioned dicks in Russia and Bahrain but there are, of course, dicks in every time and in everyplace. Currently we have dicks in Great Britain where governmental officials threaten the Ecuador embassy with invasion if they don't give up that celebrity whore Julian Assange and where a nation in the midst of cuts to government services is spending thousands of pounds a day to surround the Ecuadorian embassy with cops whose sole mission seems to be to arrest Assange who they apparently consider the essence of all evil in the known universe should he come out. We got dicks in South Africa where police killed 44 striking workers who confronted them with primitive weapons in what seems to some eerily reminiscent of apartheid era South Africa. We got dicks in India who spread rumours of sectarian violence causing thousands to flee preemptively. We got dicks in the United States where neoliberal Randfan Christians want to punish the poor for their sins, religious and secular, and reward and celebrate the one percent for their apparent inherent godliness or naturalness in a return to the days of Ebenezer Scrooge, the days of that old time gospel of wealth, and the days when good old social darwinism ruled the one percent roost. And we got dicks, boy do we have dicks, right here in river city who want to close historic pools and historic bath houses while giving money and services to private businesses who, our politicians promise, will finally bring salvation to our economic problems. Of course, these dicks have been making these promises almost every year since the 1950s.

Still don't get the picture? Look above or just look around you at the spectre of dicks which haunts the universe in which we all live. The patriarchal and paternalistic mentality that helps give rise to dickism exists almost everywhere and has been taken to new heights in the "civilised" modern West. There really is more to fear than fear itself.

Further Viewing and Reading
"Why Russian Art Group Voina ‘Dicked’ a St. Petersburg Bridge", 16 June 2010, Animal



Saturday, August 18, 2012

Buffy Blog: "Family"

Last week in "No Place Like Home" we saw how important the theme of the family of blood is in season five of Buffy. This week it is the beloved family of friends that is at the heart of the aptly named and Joss Whedon penned and directed “Family”.

Buffy, of course, has relied on her family of friends, Willow, Xander, Giles, and others including Angel, Oz, Anya, and Riley, since the beginning of Buffy the Vampire Slayer when she came to Sunnydale and as she has moved from high school and into college for everything from research to friendship to survival. Season five of Buffy, thus far, has also placed a great deal of emphasis on several themes that have been at the heart of Buffy the Vampire Slayer since it began including growing up and the obligations that come with growing up (a theme channeled through Buffy’s Slayer obligations in the earlier seasons of the show) to family, to the family of friends, and to the community of Sunnydale and beyond.

Last week in “No Place Like Home” Buffy asked her sister Dawn who she was after the Buffster discovered that she really wasn’t her sister in a drawback the curtains spell. In “The I in Team/Goodbye Iowa” we saw Tara sabotage a spell she and Willow were doing to find demon evil in Sunnydale after Adam, the Big Bad of season four, escapes from the Initiative, a spell Willow refers to in “Family”. In “Restless” we learned that Willow thought she knew Tara because she knew Tara’s name. In “Family” we learn that though Willow knew Tara’s name, she, the Scoobies, and we viewers really did not fully know Tara.

“Family” is the Tara episode that devoted viewers have been waiting for since Tara first appeared in the Buffyverse in season four's "Hush". “Family” begins where “No Place Like Home” ends and gives us a glimpse into a day and a half in the life of the Scooby Gang.

“Family” begins with a relatively happy moment, something that seems increasingly rare in Buffy the Vampire Slayer since season three. Ah the trails and travails of leaving high school and being forced to grow up. Willow and Tara are lying in bed while Miss Kitty Fantastico, who we first met in “The Yoko Factor/Primeval" in season four, plays on the floor. Tara tells Willow a bed time story about a kitty saved from a pound full of dogs, ferrets, dolphins, and half-camel’s by some nice people, Willow and Tara one presumes, a tale that ends happily with Willow and Tara adopting Kitty Fantastico and snuggling in bed.

The happy tale of Willow and Tara that begins “Family”, however, is a short one. Soon in act one Tara tells Willow, again, that she doesn’t feel that she really fits into the Scooby Gang, feelings that become even more intense when no one laughs at Tara’s joke when the gang is moving Buffy out of her dorm room back to 1630 Revello. As for the Scoobies, they just don’t get Tara except perhaps Giles who understands that a witch who has a birthday coming up might be interested in something that can be purchased in his Magic Box.

When Tara and Willow arrive at the Magic Box at the end of act one things go from bad to worse. Tara’s brother Donny is at the Magic Box looking for her and he doesn't seem particularly taken with the magic for sale in the Magic Box. As act two begins Tara’s father, Tara calls him “sir”, arrives shortly after she does. We know there is something off about the relationship between Tara and her family of blood almost as soon as Tara opens her mouth. When she sees her brother Donny and later he father the stutter she had at the Wicca group meeting in “Hush”, a stutter that we know from ”Hush” and “New Moon Rising” is linked to self-doubts, a stutter that has been absent largely since she and Willow have been an item, suddenly reappears. Nor does Tara introduce her father, who is decidedly icy toward Tara and toward her “friends”, to Willow. Is she afraid of what he might think of her “lifestyle”? "Family" continues to link witchcraft and lesbianism at least in part.

Over the course of act one and act two we learn that Tara’s father, Tara’s brother Donny, and Tara’s cousin Beth have come to take Tara home because Tara, like her mother before her, is, or so they claim, a demon. It was, according to Tara’s family, on her mother’s twentieth birthday that the witch and magic demon came out in her mother and they expect the demon to appear in Tara since it is now her twentieth birthday. When Tara’s “family” threatens to tell her friends about the demon she is and she is about to become Tara does a spell on the Scoobies at the Magic Box. The Scoobies are at there doing research on the new dyed hair Cordelia demon chick on steroids in town, the abomination.

It is with Tara’s spell that the Tara storyline intersects with the other major narrative thread in “Family”, the Buffy, Dawn, and the abomination story line. “Family”, as I mentioned earlier, begins on the same night that Buffy first encounters the abomination and learns that Dawn is not her sister but is instead a key. In the teaser Buffy tells Giles that she has learned that Dawn is not her sister and both agree to keep the secret from the other Scoobies in order to keep Dawn, who has been sent to Buffy to protect, safe.

It is also in the teaser that the abomination resurrects out of the pile of rubble we saw fall on her last week in “No Place Like Home”. The abomination is upset and soon she begins to plot against the blonde, short, and rude strong for a human who broke her shoe who she blames for what happened to her the night before in "No Place Like Home". The abomination captures a demon, a kind of monster of this week, in the same hospital locker room that Ben comes into in the hospital after he learns from an intern that yet another “crazy” has been admitted to the hospital. Did the abomination take the crazy’s life consciousness in the hospital or near by? The abomination forces, so to speak, the gross, diseased, predatory demon with a black tongue between its teeth, to get together a gang of other Lei-Ach demons and go after the person who she learns from the demon is the Slayer.

It is just before the gang of Lei-Ach demons arrive at the Magic Box to kill the Slayer and her friends that Tara does her spell to keep the Scoobies from seeing the demon who she thinks she is. As so often is the case in Buffy, however, the spell Tara does has unintended and dangerous consequences. The Scoobies, once the Lei-Ach demons attack are unable to see the demons who have come to kill them.

When the Lei-Ach demons attack the Scoobies do the best that they can in the face of an enemy they can’t see. Giles tells Dawn to hide under a table. Xander and Giles fight what they can’t see. Willow hits what she cannot see with a chair before she is thrown into a bookcase. Anya tries to hit the one who is attacking Xander over the head with an item she has grabbed from the Magic Box collection to use as a weapon but Willow gets there with her chair ahead of her. Buffy puts the listening skills she has been practicing into action but with limited success. Spike, who has heard from Harmony that Lei-Ach’s have been sent to kill the Slayer, ever the voyeur, comes to watch the most recent Slayerfest but can’t help but get in on a little fight the Lei-Ach action for the sake of Buffy though Buffy doesn’t notice because she can’t see Spike's demon self. Despite this, of course, Spike wants to be thanked. Eventually Tara’s arrives and saves the day by reversing her spell.

With the battle over and the Scoobies surprised and concerned about the spell that Tara has done that almost got them killed, the Maclay’s demand that Tara come home with them because like her mother she has become a demon. Willow goes to Tara who is sitting on the floor near the sales counter of the Magic Box and asks her if that is what she wants, to go home. Teary-eyed Tara says no. Buffy, then Dawn, then Giles, then Xander, and then the other Scoobies—but not Spike (note how initially Spike is physically separated from the Scoobies and then walks away from them)—refuse to let the Maclay’s take Tara because, as Buffy says, “we’re family”.

It is sensitive Spike, who realises what is really going on beneath the we have come to take Tara home for your own good and the good of the world rhetoric that underlies the words of Tara’s father, brother, and cousin. It is that good old time religious patriarchalism. Spike recognizes that what Tara’s father, Tara’s brother Donny, and Tara’s cousin Beth, really want is someone to take care of the house and to take care of them, well "sir" and Donny anyway, things Tara’s cousin Beth told Tara she was a selfish bitch for not wanting to do toward the end of act three. Spike ever the one to enjoy making very public points hits Tara and is gripped with a wrenching pain in his head proving that Tara is no demon. Cousin Beth seems to have a eureka moment wondering if she too is the victim of a patriarchal family myth that the women in the Maclay family are evil women witch demons just before the Maclay’s leave without Tara in misogynistic tow.

“Family” ends as it began, with a happy moment. In the final scene of the episode the Scoobies gather at the Bronze for Tara’s birthday. All of them, including Tara and Dawn seem to be having a good time. Tara now seems to be full fledged part of the Scooby Gang as Anya talks to her about her jokes trying to understand her in the process, Giles gives her a crystal ball, Dawn gives her a broom, and Willow and Tara dance into the air to a tune with a chorus in which the singer, Melanie Doane, sings, “I can’t take my eyes off of you”, over and over again. Love very much in bloom in the Buffyverse. Yeah. End credits run.

There are a number of important character developments in “Family”. Tara is practicing spells so she can keep up with Willow. Buffy moves out of her dorm room at UC, Sunnydale to return home to 1630 Revello Drive so she can take care of mom and Dawn. Buffy has, thanks to learning that Dawn needs protection, become, as Riley points out to her, far too overprotective of her sister. She doesn’t allow Dawn to visit Melinda across the street because she is too short. Buffy lets off a bit on the keep Dawn close rein at the end of the episode allowing Dawn to come to the Bronze with the Gang to celebrate Tara’s birthday. Anya is reveling in the joys of Magic Box profits and she and Xander are sugar-kissing lovey doveys. Riley is walking on the darkside visiting, as he is, Willie’s, which has a new bartender, on a regular basis. Dawn has a friend named Melinda and thinks only losers drink alcohol. Ironically the Giles, Xander, Buffy, and Riley are drinking alcohol as she says this oblivious to the fact that they are drinking. Spike is still dreaming about Buffy, this time while he is having sex with Harmony, still has his Buffy like mannequin head, and still has that hate her, love her attitude toward our Slayer. There are those themes of responsibility and family obligations again.

“When he bailed on us”. When Buffy and Joyce are discussing Dawn and how to protect her from the abomination in the teaser Giles suggests sending Dawn to her father. Buffy says that won’t work because he is in Spain with his secretary living the cliché. Buffy remembers that when her father bailed on Dawn and her little sis cried for weeks but now knows that her memories of Dawn crying when their father left are false. So much for fatherly family obligations.

“My name is a holy name”. We learn more about the abomination in “Family”. This Cordelia on steroids thinks she is great and beautiful and that all eyes turn towards her when she enters a room. The abomination tells the Lei-Ach demon she captures that her name is holy. The abomination hopes no one of her status finds out that she fought a “common” vampire Slayer. The lady, methinks, thinks she has class.

“Good Birthday?” Birthdays, as we know from “Surprise/Innocence”, “Helpless”, and “A New Man”, all Buffy birthday episodes, have a tendency to turn out bad in the Buffyverse. Tara’s birthday almost, almost, does too but not quite. When Willow asks Tara at the end of “Family” whether she had a “Good Birthday” she replies “Best Birthday”. Since Buffy is a Joss Whedon show and Whedon shows tend to bring the pain after far too brief momentary moments of happiness, it will be interesting to see what will is going to happen next week.

“We’re family”. Buffy tells Giles when he wonders if they should send Dawn away for protection, note that they talk about Dawn and not the key, that she believes the monks sent Dawn to her so she could protect her and that she wants to protect her. Just as Buffy refuses to let Dawn be sent away Willow and the Scoobies refuse to allow Tara, once she has decided that she doesn’t want to return home and that she wants to remain in Sunnydale in school and with Willow and the Scoobies, to be taken forcibly by her blood family. Families of blood and families of the beloved community and responsibility toward both continue to be at the heart of season five of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and of Buffy in general.

“I don't go out with vampires”. Sandy, the vampire who sits down next to Riley in Willie’s and who invites him to someplace more private, is the vampire Vamp Willow sired in “Doppelgangland”, another Whedon penned and directed episode.

The Chorus. Some commentators and fans have found “Family” too preachy and too metaphor too close to the surface for its own good. It is ranked as the 50th favourite Buffy episode on the Buffy Phenomenon website. In its attack on conservative evangelical Christianity “Family” is, of course, a companion piece to that other Buffy episode which attacked conservative Christianity, in that instance conservative Catholic Christianity, in “Where the Wild Things Are”. “Where the Wild Things” too doesn’t get a lot of love from fan scholars perhaps because of its metaphor too close to the surface quality. Such readings, by the way, call out for more analysis of why readers respond in this way to particular films or television shows. Perhaps if academics, particularly those with tenured positions, got off their crystal ball textualist pot and did some empirical surveys and interviews perhaps we might find out someday.

But enough whinging and back to “Family”, it is true that in “Family” the metaphor is pretty close to the surface. But then it often is in Buffy the Vampire Slayer as Joss Whedon has said. It is true that “Family” does quite clearly attack the misogyny and homophobic attitudes of conservative Christianity. But then conservative Christianity is generally patriarchal and homophobic and I am not a big fan of either patriarchalism or homophobia so I don’t see this as a bad thing. And it is true that “Family” celebrates not only the the family of friends who have your back when you need them, the beloved community of friends that Tara finally becomes a part of at the end of “Family”, the Scooby Gang, but it celebrates Willow’s and Tara’s relationship at its end as Willow and Tara happily dance themselves into the air of the Bronze. But again I don’t see that as a bad thing and I am certainly not averse to an occasional happy ending. I love “Family” and I was deeply moved by its message of gender equality, true love, and the beloved community of friends. Viva Joss. Hey, bet this says something about me doesn’t it?

Music. I like the song “Cemented Shoes” by My Vitriol, a British band whose song plays in the Bronze at the beginning of Tara’s birthday party.

The Real Reason Romney Won't Release His Tax Returns?

You have to love those Dixiecrats err Republicans who are trying to suppress the Democratic vote in order to win the election for Romney. Mike Turzai the Republican majority leader of the Pennsylvania House, of course, recently admitted that this is exactly what voter ID laws are meant to do in his state. "Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania", Turzai said at the recent Pennsylvania Republican State Committee meeting, "done". The applause for Turzai's statement by the Republican audience at the conference shows so well how the party of free soil and free labour, the party that sent in the military to ensure that blacks could vote in the South during Reconstruction, has become a party of voter suppression a la the Dixiecrats during the Jim Crow era from 1877 to the second Reconstruction all in the name of winning elections. And such cynicism and hunger for power should be frightening to anyone who believes that voting is a right to all Americans legally able to vote.

It is not only Turzai's statement which makes it clear to anyone with an empirical rather than ideological mind that voter suppression is what Republican ID voter fraud laws are really about. Republicans have offered little in the way of evidence to support the need for the voter ID laws they have passed and want to pass all across the United States. Some in fact become mute when asked to offer evidence of voter fraud and of individuals masquerading as someone else when they go to their voting places to vote.

Speaking of evidence, evidence, if very, very limited and sketchy evidence, came to light last year in an article in Forbes magazine, hardly a paragon of liberalism, that suggests that at least one person may have violated the voting laws though not in masquerade as someone else, Mitt Romney. Romney may have voted in Massachusetts in 2010 while living in his mansion, the same mansion that he wants to put a 3600 square foot basement in presumably, in good Mormon fashion, to prepare for the coming apocalypse and second coming of Jesus, in very upscale La Jolla, California when he claimed to be living in the basement (what is it with Romney and basements?) of his son's house in Belmont, Massachusetts. Apparently Romney is not only one of the one percent, he is also one of the 0.7% of voters who engage in voter fraud. And it is for this reason that Romney, some in the media speculate, refuses to release his tax returns.

Perhaps then Republicans are on the wrong track. Perhaps instead of passing laws to restrict the ability of America's minorities and elderly to vote they should be passing laws restricting the ability of Rich Republicans to vote in Massachusetts while living in California. Needless to say, I don't expect reality to impact the position of right wing wingnut dittoheads on this issue. For most humans it is ideology rather than reality that creates reality. And that is why humans, particularly in modern societies in the West, often ignore the realities right in front of their eyes, ears, noses, mouths, and hands.

And now for something somewhat different. Why can't the United States do something like Denmark where voters are placed on a national register (for voting, national health, official residence) and create an electronic voting system that links voters to their birth records, social security numbers, and residence and once they are in the national voting system they can't ever be purged from it? Are we simply too incompetent to create such a system or is there no political will for such an obvious common sense voting system.

And now for something somewhat completely different. Affluent La Jolla had a covenant which prohibited Jews from living in that seaside city until the 1960s. Apparently, the lure of a University of California campus, today's University of California San Diego, however, proved more alluring even then anti-Semitism in the 1960s so La Jolla's prohibition against Jews living amongst America's "best" went the way of the dinosaurs and the city got UCSD as a replacement gift in its stead. Aw, isn't that sweet?

Sources
MS Bellows, "Mitt Romney's Tax Returns: The 'Voter Fraud' Theory'", 17 August 2012, the Guardian
Fred Karger, "Did Mitt Romney Live In His Son's Unfinished Basement Last Year?",15 June 2011, Forbes
Sue Garson, "The End of the Covenant", 2003, San Diego Jewish Journal

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Buffy Blog: "No Place Like Home"

Season five of Buffy began with a mystery for viewers, the mystery of who is this Dawn who claims to be Buffy’s sister and why do all the Scoobies believe she is the Slayer’s sister and why does Joyce, Buffy’s mother, believe she is her younger daughter?

In the Doug Petrie penned and David Solomon directed “No Place Like Home” Buffy and we viewers finally learn who Dawn is. Some supernatural thing or some supernatural someone, Buffy comes to believe, is making her mother ill, making Joyce have the headaches she began to have in “The Real Me”. It is a nightwatchman who Buffy first meets in the teaser to the episode at one of Sunnydale’s empty factories—Sunnydale has apparently experienced the scourge of deindustrialization the rest of the Western industrial world has—who puts this idea into our Slayer’s head.

In act four Buffy goes to the hospital to get a prescription for the ill Joyce. There she helps Ben (Charlie Weber), who she met in “Out of My Mind”, with a crazy man on a gurney, a crazy man who Buffy eventually recognizes as the nightwatchman she met earlier, a madman who tells Buffy that they will get to you through your family. In order to find out what supernatural force may be making her mother ill Buffy performs a spell Anya has suggested she do, a “pull the curtain back spell”, a spell to see other spells.

When Buffy pulls the curtain back she discovers in a scene full of otherworldly overexposed images a la “Restless”, otherworldly music, and otherworldly sound representing the trance-like state Buffy enters while doing the spell, that Dawn is not supposed to be in her house or her home. Dawn’s image disappears and reappears in family photographs. Dawn’s bedroom alternates between her bedroom and a storage room. Dawn literally appears and disappears and reappears as Buffy talks to her. Fearing that Dawn may be harming Joyce Buffy pushes “little sis” back into the wall of Dawn’s bedroom telling Dawn to stay away from my (my emphasis) mother.

Just then the phone rings. It is Giles. He tells the Slayer that the Dagon Sphere she brought to him to investigate in act one of “No Place Like Home” is a “protective device used to ward off” an evil “which cannot be named”. Giles warns the Buffster that, “Anything that goes unnamed is usually an object of deep worship, or great fear. Maybe both”, and that she could face a level of raw power she has never known before if she finds this unnameable evil.

Despite Giles’s warning, however, off Buffy goes to the factory where she was given the Dagon Sphere by the now crazy nightwatchman. It is at the deserted factory that Buffy finds one of the same monks who, two months before the events of “No Place Like Home” take place, as we saw in the teaser, was part of a group of monks who performed a ritual to protect something they called the key, a key represented by a glow, and who has apparently escaped the force who attacked him and the other monks and who is now looking for protection, presumably from the Slayer, now that his Dagon Sphere, which was his protection device, has been taken by the Slayer, and the same force that we heard smashing the wooden door in the teaser begins to smash the industrial size steel door behind which the monk is looking at a map of Sunnydale presumably trying to find where the Slayer lives.

When Buffy arrives at the factory at the end of act three and in act four she finds the monk. He has been captured and tortured by this force. This force (Clare Kramer), this, as the script describes her, real hottie with blonde tendrilled hair that falls down to her shoulders, who is dressed in red business dress and killer pumps, and who knows she is a star, wants the monk to tell her where her key is. When the monk refuses to tell the force where her key is the force tortures him and goes hysterical, rather like the nightwatchman Buffy met in the hospital, until she sticks her fingers into the head of an older nightwatchman who the force has tied to a column in the factory feeding on his conscious life, represented by an ectoplasmic light, returning her to “sanity” (end of act one and act two).

In act four Buffy fights this force. This force, however, is strong, much stronger than the Buffster. After being tossed around the empty warehouse as though she is a Barbie doll and after ducking punches thrown by the force which tears out chunks of concrete from one of the columns which line the factory floor, Buffy grabs the monk and jumps out the second storey window protecting the monk as they fall. Safe, thanks in part to a temper tantrum thrown by the force who stomps on the factory floor after she breaks her heel chasing after Buffy causing parts of the floorboards to crack apart in a straight line bringing down parts of the factory ceiling on her head, the monk tells Buffy that it was he and two other monks who sent the key to her in human form so she could protect it, her, from the “abomination” she has just fought. This key, this Dawn, the monk tells Buffy after she objects to the monks making Dawn her sister and manipulating the memories of her family and that of the Scoobies, doesn’t know she is the key and really believes she is Buffy’s sister. Dawn is, as the monk tells her, a helpless innocent who needs the Slayer’s help.

In the final scene of “No Place Like Home” Buffy returns home and apologises to Dawn for what she said and what she did before she left for the factory. The Slayer has decided, at least for the moment, to protect, as she has so often done previously in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the helpless and innocent, in this case the helpless and innocent key, who believes she is Buffy’s sister and Joyce’s youngest daughter. In Buffy there apparently really is no place like home, Buffy’s play on Dorothy’s mantra in The Wizard of Oz (1939), the place where they have to take you in, as Riley said in “Pangs”, when you go there even when you are energy that has been made into a fourteen year old girl.

This being Buffy there are, of course, other things going on beyond the appearance of the monster of the week and the apparent Big Bad of season five, the abomination who cannot be named—a takeoff on the Hebraic god who is so holy he cannot be named—the abomination the script refers to as Glory—a suitably Judeo-Christian name that draws on Hebraic and Judaic notions of god’s presence and praise for the divine. Joyce’s headaches, it turns out, are more than the product of bickering daughters and turn out to be something other than supernatural. Riley is feeling a bit like a Zeppo, a bit like the Xander of season three and four, someone without superpowers anymore thanks to the operation he had last week that left him weak and kitteny, someone who Buffy now worries is going to get hurt in Slayer battle and some other one who Buffy doesn’t want to protect anymore than she wants to protect that other Scooby without superpowers, Xander, during battle. Giles has finally opened the Magic Box to customers and after a period where it seems like no customers will appear, voila he seems to have a potentially profitable business. Anya is now working for Giles who needs the help at the suddenly busy Magic Box and is being taught the finer points of insincere customer service by Xander. Spike, Buffy calls him William, is still pining after Buffy standing outside her house smoking by a tree while presumably watching Buffy inside creepily replicating Angel’s perverse voyeurism at the Summers home in “Passions” if in a somewhat more tragic way. Spike is still hiding his feelings for Buffy behind his “out for a walk, bitch” tough exterior front.

Home, family, and growing up are central themes of “No Place Like Home”. Buffy is increasingly, thanks to Joyce’s illness, becoming someone who takes care of Dawn and someone who is feeling the angst of being an older sister who is supposed to be grown up—Joyce even says that Buffy is so grown up at one point in the episode—while Dawn gets to be Joyce’s fourteen year old “little pumpkin belly” and book club partner (shades of season three's "Dead Man's Party"). Buffy is also playing mother for Joyce getting medicine for her and expressing concern that some supernatural force may be coming at her through her family making Joyce ill. The older nightwatchman pleads to the abomination for his life by mentioning that he has a family.

"Shiny". The Dagon Sphere, Dawn, and the abomination sucking the life consciousness out of the older nightwatchman seem to have a similar quality of light.

“I could crap a better existence than this”. The abomination is not particularly impressed with the humans and the human society and culture she finds in Sunnydale, she calls the monk she is torturing a monkey (pun intended?), suggesting she is not from the Buffyverse world or Buffyverse dimension.

Forgive me monkey”. There is some sexually charged religious imagery in the scene in act two where the abomination tortures the monk trying to obtain information about the location of the key. As the abomination kneels before the monk she has tied to a chair in Reservoir Dog fashion as the script describes it she grabs the robe that ties together the monk’s cassock as though it was a male sexual organ. In the script she “crushes his [the monk’s] nuts" just after this. Reservoir Dogs is the 1992 Quentin Tarantino genre film about a heist gone bad.

What's in a Name? Dagon is, was, apparently a Philistine deity.

Monday, August 13, 2012

21st Century Disneyfornicated Land...

What would it look like if Hollywood, particularly Walt Disney, got together with those leaders of the Chinese Communist Party who approved the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics in 2008, and the captains of an increasingly dying music industry all tinged with nostalgia? It would, I'm afraid, look a lot like the closing ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics.

We have, of course, seen these Disneyfornicated spectacles before at Disneyland, at Disney World, at American political conventions since the 1970s, and at the Super Bowl, so they are not novel. That is why I try not to watch the closing ceremonies. I dislike the celebratory gore of these banal and trivial Western spectacles. I ended up watching part of the closing ceremonies of the London Olympics, however, because, I suppose, such celebratory gore with all its banality and triviality is my version of the car wreck others can't take their eyes off for whatever reason. Another thing that I find so interesting about these Western Disneyfornicated spectacles is the fact that have gone global. How many differences, after all, were there really between the ceremonies in "Communist" Beijing last Olympics and "Neoliberal Cameron" London this Olympics time around?

What I loved most of all about the closing ceremonies of the London Olympics was the presence of the Spice Girls, a presence that had been hyped before the closing ceremonies as the most recent reunion of the simulated five, the simulated five who turned parodic and satirical punk names like Johnny Rotten and Jello Biagra into such stereotyped and caricatured female names as Posh Spice, Scary Spice, Baby Spice, Ginger Spice, and Sporty Spice. I loved it that the Spice Girls, Great Britain's version of Charlie's Angels if they were pop stars rather than detectives, were in the Olympics closing ceremony not because I love or even moderately like the Spice Girls. I neither love nor like the Spice Girls. But I do love irony. I loved the spectacle of the Spice Girls arriving in London taxis, a shout out presumably to British exceptionalism, gone all psychedelic because I think more than anything else the hollowness at the heart of the Spice Girls symbolises the hollowness of the Califonicated spectacles that have increasingly come to characterise uber sport contests like the Olympics all around the world not to mention Western life in general. The faux girl power I really want to be a Hollywood star feminism of the Spice Girls, after all, is as hollow as the hollow celebratory banality of the London Olympics and the hypocritical banality of the Olympics powers that be who have never met an Olympics that they have found unsuccessful.

Give me Pussy Riot.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Robert Hughes and Me...

There have been so many people recently who I grew up and who had an influence on me in some way, shape, or form, who have passed on recently: intellectual and critic Christopher Hitchens, actor Elizabeth Sladen, probably my favourite companion from the Doctor Who of my twenties, film critic Andrew Sarris, intellectual and critic Alexander Cockburn, actor Mary Tamm, the first Romana in Doctor Who, filmmaker Chris Marker, intellectual, critic, and author Gore Vidal, film critic Judith Crist, and now Robert Hughes "raconteur", historian, art critic, most famously at Time magazine for over three decades beginning in 1969, critic, and intellectual.

I first became aware of Robert Hughes when I saw his 1980 BBC television programme on modern art on PBS in 1981, The Shock of the New. I had become a PBS junkie by that time. The Shock of the New explored the history of modern art in eight episodes, in a language that even an art semi illiterate like myself could understand, an impressive achievement in its own right. The Shock of the New really was my education in the history of modern art.

I loved that documentary series, and I loved his later documentary on American art, American Visions (1997), and his documentary on Australia, Beyond the Fatal Shore (2000), both on PBS, and I loved Robert Hughes. I admired his knowledge of art. I admired his wit. I admired his no nonsense approach to a subject that was incredibly esoteric to me at the time. I admired his iconoclasm. I admired his anti-authoritarian approach to criticism. I came to admire his atheism and Australian pro-republicanism. But perhaps most of all I admired his forthrightness, his very opinionated no bullshit zone approach to art, his art criticism, his criticism in general, a criticism that recognised that it was necessary to do exegesis before you could do hermeneutics and apologetics, and his devotion to the intellectual life in general.

As someone who grew up in the 1960s I think I had become an iconoclast before I watched The Shock of the New but I think Hughes helped make me more of an intellectual iconoclast if that is possible. And I think Hughes, for good and bad, made me the forthright take no prisoners, he has a savage or mean streak person I am today. Like Hughes I have no patience with pomp, no patience with circumstance, no patience for the plastic masks of life, no patience for jargony academois, and no patience with art as market spectacle. And while such forthrightness has its drawbacks I would rather be who I am than someone who has sold his or her soul so to sit comfortably.

So thank you Robert Hughes for educating me in the history of art in a way the academy never did and never could. And thank you Robert Hughes for helping to make me the crusty curmudgeon I am today warts and all. There really are some similarities between Aussies and Yanks aren't there? Vale.

Note
Hughes came out of "The Push" movement of artists, designers, musicians, journalists, filmmakers, actors, and students, many of them initially from the University of Sydney, beginning in the 1950s in Sydney along with Germaine Greer, Lillian Roxon, and Clive James. For more on the anti-authoritarian, anti-elitist, anti-careerist, anti-censorship, and libertarian "The Push" see the excellent essay, "The Push", About Australia, australia.gov.au, http://australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/push

Bibliography and Videography
Charlie Rose Interviews Robert Hughes, 22 May 1997, Charlie Rose, PBS, http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/5542
Richard Lacayo, "The Art of Being Critical: Robert Hughes 1938-2012", 7 August 2012, Time, http://entertainment.time.com/2012/08/07/the-art-of-being-critical-robert-hughes-1938-2012/
"Australian Critic Robert Hughes Dead", 7 August 2012, the ABC, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-08-07/australian-critic-robert-hughes-dead/4181906
AAP, "Robert Hughes Made High Art Accessible", 7 August 2012, the Australian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2012/aug/07/robert-hughes-art-critic
Jonathan Jones, "Robert Hughes: the Greatest Art Critic of Our Time", 7 August 2012, the Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2012/aug/07/robert-hughes-greatest-art-critic?newsfeed=true
Hannah Freeman, "Remembering Robert Hughes: What Did He Do for Art?", 7 August 2012, the Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2012/aug/07/robert-hughes-art-critic
Justin Wolf, "Robert Hughes", the Art Story.org, http://www.theartstory.org/critic-hughes-robert.htm
Ken Tucker, "Robert Hughes the Art Critic Who Brought us The Shock of the New Has Died", 7 August 2012, EW Online, http://watching-tv.ew.com/2012/08/06/robert-hughes-dead-art-critic-the-shock-of-the-new/
Peter Carey, "'Robert Hughes Was Australia's Dante', Says Friend Peter Carey", 7 August 2012, the Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/aug/07/robert-hughes-by-peter-carey



Sunday, August 5, 2012

Olga Rules the World...

I remember it fairly well. The Summer Olympics. Munich. 1972. Forty years ago this year.

Television is remembering it too. I haven't been watching much in the way of Olympic Coverage here in the USofA. I hate and have hated NBC Olympic coverage for some time and haven't figured out how to steam the BBC coverage like some of my countrymen and women. Some of this is because I recall with great fondness ABC Olympic coverage of years past including that of the Munich Olympics in 1972. To be honest I don't know how accurate my memories of ABC coverage is as inevitably these things get lost in a haze of often nostalgised memory but I continue to believe that the coverage was excellent. Back to Olga: I happened to watch a bit of NBC's Olympics coverage today and saw an NBC report on Olga Korbut, the great Soviet gymnast who electrified the audience at the arena in Munich and the audience that was watching on television around the globe (see excerpts from ABC's coverage of Korbut at the 1972 Munich Games in the second video below). NBC's segment on Korbut whetted my appetite for more so I went to Youtube to watch more Olga Korbut shorts. What I found there was a BBC 2 report on Korbut put up on Youtube in July of this year by the Beeb, a report which seemed to me, at times, eerily similar to the NBC look back at the forty year ago past I just watched today (see the first below). Can you say plagiarism?

Korbut is an interesting and historically significant sport figure. It is quite clear that Olga Korbut changed Olympic gymnastics competitions and gymnastics forever. She brought an athleticism to gymnastics that really hadn't existed before. In this she reminds me of the culture war in ice skating that has being taking place over the last several decades between the more artistic oriented skaters and the more athletically oriented ones like France's Surya Bonaly, a cold culture war that is still going on, to some extent today, as the International Skating Union (ISU) change and change again points earned for a quad in mens competition. And, as Korbut was certainly penalised by conservative judges for her innovations in the sport, nothing is more immune to change than the Olympics and FIFA it seems, innovations, of course, she developed with her coach Renald Knysh, so were those ice skaters who brought greater athleticism to their sport. Korbut may have lost points because of the conservatism of Olympics judges, but she won the hearts of those who watched her perform in Munchen and those, like me, who watched on TV and spoke about her for days afterwards and she won the hearts and minds of so many young women who became gymnasts because of her.

The other thing that Korbut did, or so the talking heads in the NBC and BBC profiles and remembrances of Olympics past and other intellectuals and academics tell us Korbut did, was to change the attitudes of many including, one commentator asserts, American President Richard M. Nixon, toward Soviet athletes and Soviets in general. Before Olga, BP, so the story goes, Soviet athletes were regarded by many in the "free word", remember this was the era of the Cold War, as robots, as stereotypes and caricatures without feelings. Olga's smiles and Olga's tears (her teammate Tamara Lazakovitch was near tears after losing the floor exercise to Korbut but many forget this as she wasn't the cute water sprite or pixie Korbut was) after disaster on the uneven bars, changed how many in the West viewed Soviet athletes. Olga, in other words, humanised Soviets for many in the West. Olga and her fellow Soviet gymnasts toured Western Europe and the US to large crowds including at Madison Square Garden in New York City in the wake of the 1972 Summer Olympics acting as a kind of good will ambassador between the USSR and the US and the "little" Korbut charmed the "big" Nixon, who made his name as an anti-Communist, when she visited the White House. Korbut remembers Anatoly Dobrynin, the Soviet Ambassador to the US, telling her that her visit with Nixon had done more for Soviet and American diplomacy than he had been able to do in five years. That anyone, by the way, could (and of course many continue to) see people in this way tells us, of course, something very interesting and illuminating about theodicies of nationalism and how these ethnocentric nationalist theodicies demonise the other.

And now for something somewhat different. I wonder if we can expect any of these let's look back in nostalgic joy and wonder at the Munich Olympics on another memorable, though not as with Korbut, wonderfully memorable, moment in the 1972 Olympics? No I am not talking about Jewish swimmer Mark Spitz, a graduate of the same university I attended as an undergraduate, Indiana University, who won 7 gold medals at the Munich Games and who, like Korbut, has been lost in the haze of lets make Michael Phelps the greatest Olympian ever because we don't have a memory longer than four years. Nor am I taking about the USSR versus USA basketball game, a game "won" by the USSR, a game which, for many of the players and coaches on the 1972 US team, and for many Americans at the time and since, lives in infamy. I am talking about the massacre of eleven Israeli athletes by the Palestinian group Black September, a massacre apparently aided and abetted by German neo-Nazis, a massacre aided and abetted by a lack of security at the Munich Games, a massacre aided and abetted by German police and governmental incompetence, a massacre which brought back memories of that other Summer Olympics which took place in Germany, Berlin 1936, the legendary Olympics of Hitler that was supposed to be a showcase for Nazi racial superiority. It wasn't, as we have constantly been reminded ever since, because of American track and field star Jesse Owens who won four gold medals including one in the centre piece of every Summer Olympics, the 100 metre. What we know is that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will not be remembering the massacre this anniversary year. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that at the time of the hostage crisis IOC President Avery Brundage, who had been embroiled in controversy during the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City where he called the protest of Tommie Smith and John Carlos against American racism the product of "warped mentalites and cracked personalities", was urging German officials to get the Israelis out of the Olympic Village so the Olympic Games could go on and went on to compare, at the memorial service held for the massacred Israelis after the massacre, the killing of Israeli athletes by terrorists with the exclusion of Rhodesian athletes from the Olympics through, as Brundage put it, blackmail. But will NBC remember? NBC's Bob Costas says he will. I can't imagine it will be anywhere close to ABC's seat of the pants coverage of the massacre, a coverage I was glued to in early September, coverage I remember as being superb given the circumstances.

In the trivial pursuit and lost in the haze of history category, how many of you remember that Temple University's Eulace Peacock beat Owens on many occasions throughout 1935 including in the 100 metre and long jump as PBS's wonderful documentary on Owens reminds us? Peacock was unable, thanks to a hamstring injury in Milan and at the Penn Relays, to compete at the Olympics in 1936 and missed out on the next two because they were cancelled due to World War II. How would history be different?

Bibliography
Glen Levy, "Olga Korbut's Olympic Journey", 3 August 2012, Time, http://olympics.time.com/2012/08/03/olga-korbuts-olympic-journey/
Paul Doyle, "50 Stunning Olympic Moments No 47: Olga Korbut Redefines Gymnastics",6 July 2012, the Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/blog/2012/jul/06/50-stunning-olympic-moments-olga-korbut
Simon Burnton,"50 Stunning Olympic Moments No 26: The Terrorist Outrage in Munich 1972", 2 May 2012, the Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/blog/2012/may/02/50-stunning-olympic-moments-munich-72
Red Smith, "The Show Must Go On", 6 September 1972, New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/specials/olympics/history/1972-games.html
Sean Ingle, "50 Stunning Olympic Moments No 1: USA v. USSR Basketball Final, 1972", 16 November 2011, the Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/blog/2011/nov/16/usa-ussr-olympic-basketball-1972
Rob Steen, "Juan Carlos: A Salutary Lesson in the Power of Sport", 20 May 2012, the Independent, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/john-carlos-a-salutary-lesson-in-the-power-of-sport-7768760.html
Associated Press,"Brundage Calls Ouster Blackmail, 22 August 1972, the Toledo Blade, p. 74
William Rhoden, "A Rival for Owens, and Questions of What If", 6 May 2012, New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/07/sports/olympics/eulace-peacock-forgotten-rival-of-jesse-owens.html?_r=1

Videography
One Day in September, Sony Pictures Classics, 1991 [2001]
Faster, Higher, Stronger, Gymnast Olga Korbut Charms the World, 2 July 2012, BBC 2





Buffy Blog: "Out of My Mind"

Many of the Scoobies appear to be, literally out of their minds in the appropriately titled “Out of My Mind”, the first episode written for Buffy by Rebecca Rand Kirshner and directed by one of Buffy’s veteran directors David Grossman. It is this out of mindedness that appears to be the Buffy monster of the week.

“Out of My Mind” is primarily a character arc driven episode of Buffy moving along, as it does, the character arcs of most of our Scoobies during its 43 or so minutes. Joyce, while getting breakfast for Dawn, drops a plate, looks at Dawn and asks her, “who are you”. Is she out of her mind? After Joyce collapses she is rushed to the hospital where an intern, Ben, tells Buffy that Joyce’s fainting spell could have been, according to the doctors, a “dizzy spell, low blood sugar, that sort of thing.” Out of body?

Riley, hunting demons in Buffy’s “sector and interfering with her very First Slayer like hunt and kill, is hyperwired and superstrong, out of his body, and out of his mind, still feeling that “The Replacement” moment that Buffy is growing ever more distant from him, a fear symbolised by the exasperated look Buffy gives Spike, who too has shown up to hunt when Riley says that Spike shouldn’t be out patrolling, a Spike who realizes, thanks to this look, that neither he nor boy Riley are really welcome in Slayer territory. Riley also has, as Dawn discovers while playing with a stethoscope at the hospital while her mom is being taken treated for her sudden collapse, a very very fast heartbeat. Riley’s “tachycardia” turns out to be a consequence of the “chemicals and crap”, as Graham says, Walsh pumped into the soldiers of the Initiative, Riley, of course, included. Buffy, worried about Riley and thanks to a suggestion from sister Dawn, gets in touch with the Initiative through Riley’s tapped phone—we see his apartment for the first time in “Out of my Mind”—and after some tense moments, tense moments during which Riley is missing—he retreats to the womb like caves of the Initiative where he once felt safe and useful—tense moments, after Buffy has found Riley in the cave, which give us a glimpse into Riley’s inner fears, fears that if he is no longer super strong like Buffy, the Buffster won’t want him. Eventually Buffy takes Riley to a doctor who is working with the Initiative to fix the problems Walsh’s chemicals and stuff created and after still more tense moments with Riley hurting, he is cured. Is Riley’s hyper fast beating heart a metaphor for the problems of the heart Riley is suffering?

Buffy seems to be out of her mind and out of her body, as she has been since “Buffy vs. Dracula”, with hunting and killing, a hunting and killing that has moved to more intense and more athletic levels in season five. She is worried, if not obsessively so, yet, with Joyce’s fainting spell. And she is worried about Riley’s health making sure he gets the medical help he needs from the Initiative. In the womb like cave into which Riley has retreated Buffy does try to assure Riley that she loves him and needs him and that she has opened herself to Riley in ways she never has to anyone else. And while Buffy may believe what she says I am not sure Riley does.

Harmony is out of her mind with fear that her “arch-nemesis” Buffy is hunting for her so the Slayer can kill her. She returns to one of her old obsessions, one that no longer seems to obsess her any more, Spike, to seek protection from the Buffster. Perhaps Harmony is a changed person.

Spike continues to be out of his mind (he is watching Dawson's Creek after all when the episode begins) with getting that emasculating chip out of his grain, out of his body. With Harmony’s help he kidnaps the doctor who is working with the Initiative and who is waiting to operate on Riley, and forces him to take the chip out of his head. Well not really. When Buffy and Riley find Spike and Harmony in the medical school—Sunnydale has a medical school?—Spike, in full I am going to kill you Slayer mode engages Buffy in fight learning, thanks to that old pesky splitting head pain, that the chip is still in his brain. Spike continues to be obsessed with the Slayer. After Buffy asks Riley if he wants to go back and kill Spike for fun in the teaser Spike says to himself and to us viewers, of course, that “I will know your blood, Slayer. I will make your neck my chalice and drink deep”, right before he, in patented Buffy undercuts intense drama with humour fashion, falls into an “empty grave”. Spike’s obsession with the Slayer takes a rather surprising turn in act four, well perhaps not so surprising if you have been watching Buffy since, as we know from the Xander and Cordelia relationship of season two, nasty sniping can be of the hatred attracts opposites variety, has a dream in which he kisses Buffy and wakes up from this “terror” saying “God, no. Please no.” So Spike’s obsession with killing the Slayer is lust? Love?

Willow’s magicks continue to grow in power and Willow is relying more and more on her magicks. Is it only me or did Tara seem a bit concerned over Willow’s increasing magical powers and her increasing reliance on magicks to make things easier?

Giles, Xander, Anya, and Tara seem to be fully in their minds and in their bodies. Giles is still getting the Magic Box ready for its grand re-opening. Xander is helping Giles prepare for the opening by putting his carpentry skills to work building a display shelves for the store. In the shooting script Xander makes mention of two other carpenters, Harrison Ford and Christ. Giles and Xander, with a little help from Riley, have “set up with all sorts of training apparatuses: gymnastics equipment; various bulls-eye targets; straw dummies; exotic weaponry etc.” Buffy’s Slayer training gym in the back room of the Magic Box. Xander and Anya, using the old I have a friend who metaphorical strategy, express comfort with their relationship.

“What’s to come”? “Out of My Mind” moves and may be moving, if very subtly, several season five arcs along arc along. By the end of “Out of My Mind” it is unclear where Buffy’s and Riley’s relationship is going. Buffy does seem to distance herself from Riley. It is unclear where Willow’s increasing reliance on magicks that are better than “using a flashlight like some kind of doofus” is going. It is unclear what is going on with Joyce. Last week in “The Replacement” she had a headache and a pained look on her face, this week she drops a plate, shades of “Surprise”/“Innocence”, and faints. And it is unclear where Spikes hate/love/hate/love obsession with the Buffster is going. I assume season five will tell?

The Chorus. “Out of My Mind” may not be among my favourite episodes of Buffy but it does what it sets out to do. It moves several character arcs along and sets up several character arcs that presumably are to come.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Buffy Blog: "The Replacement"

Last week’s “Real Me” was a Dawn centred episode. If Dawn had been around for “Nightmares”, “Halloween”, “Fear Itself”, and “Restless”, “Real Me” would have to be seen as yet another key moment in Dawn’s journey toward growing up and conquering her inner "demons" in the same way that “The Replacement”, a Xander centric episode, an episode that, like “Nightmares”, “Halloween”, “The Zeppo”, “Fear Itself”, and “Restless”, takes us inside the mind of a Xander who is having trouble in his journey toward adulthood particularly after high school.

Xander is still living in the dark and dank basement in his parent’s home that he kept returning to against his will in “Restless”. Over the course of season four Xander has moved from one job to another, from bartender, to construction worker, to pizza delivery guy, to ice cream truck driver and salesman, and back again, at the beginning of season five, to construction worker. Throughout season four Xander was unsure whether he is taken seriously by the other Scoobies or contributes much to the Scooby fight against evil in their midst. He can’t even afford to rent the wonderful “above-terranean” art deco apartment he, Anya, Buffy, Riley, and Willow go to look at because the construction job he has had for three months is ending to Anya’s great displeasure.

“The Replacement”, like so many other character centred episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, takes the inner emotional turmoil in our Scoobies minds and gives it flesh in fantasy narrative form. On the story level “The Replacement” is about this week’s monster of the week, Toth, the only survivor of the Tothric Clan who is out to, as he says, kill the Slayer. It is Toth, who, after the Scoobies find him in the city dump after he attack Giles in the Magic Box. “So you bought the magic shop and you were attacked before it even opened. Who's up for a swingin' chorus of the "We Told You So" symphony?, wisecracks Xander. During the battle between the Scoobies and Toth, Toth shoots a blast of magic force from his rod at the Buffster hoping to kill but Xander, the Xander without superpowers, pushes Buffy out of the way saving her once again who is hit by the force of the blast instead. With Toth gone from the scene of the crime the Scoobies rally around Xander to see if he is all right. He says he is and off the Scoobies go.

The camera, however, doesn’t follow the Scoobies to wherever they are going. Instead it remains in the dump, as do we viewers. The kino eye soon takes us forward across piles of garbage to find half hidden among the garbage another Xander, another Xander?, lying unconscious. Since the camera stays in the dump and moves in on an unconscious Xander writer Jane Espenson and director James Contner force us viewers to identity with the unconscious Xander lying amidst the detritus of Sunnydale. When he wakes from unconsciousness the camera and we follow him as he returns “home” to his basement.

For most of the episode we believe that this Xander, the Xander of the garbage, this clumsy Xander who slips as he leaves the city dump, who can’t get in his apartment when he gets there, who hurts his foot kicking the door when he can’t get in his apartment, who trips and falls when he sees another Xander living his life in his place, is the real Xander. When our Xander follows the other Xander to work we think, as does our Xander, that the other Xander has managed to get a full-time job heading the interior carpentry crew of the construction company he works for thanks to the hypnotism he is doing with a shiny object he occasionally takes out of his pocket. When our Xander follows the Xander-Double, as the script calls the other Xander, to the apartment he looked at earlier we believe, like our Xander, that he’s too clean to be the real Xander. When our Xander attacks Xander-Double in the hallway outside the apartment we believe that Xander-Double is too violent to be our Xander. When Xander-Double goes to Giles’s apartment to tell Buffy, Riley, and Giles that someone has stole his face and needs to be killed we believe, like our Xander who peers through the window at the surreal scene within, that Xander-Double has managed to hypnotise them as well. And when Xander goes to Willow’s and Buffy’s dorm room to tell Willow that he believed at one time that Willow set fire to a home next to his when he didn’t get the toy fire truck he wanted for his seventh birthday and that he does the Snoopy dance—and he does do the Snoopy Dance for Willow—every Christmas after he and Will watch Charlie Brown, we believe him. We may not believe our Xander when he says that Xander-Double is an evil robot but we do believe Willow when she hypothesizes that it is Toth in disguise and part of his plan to kill the Slayer.

Buffy, when Xander-Double comes to her for help, comes to the same conclusion. It is Toth. Almost simultaneously—something that should tell those of us who are paying attention something—our Xander and Xander-Double realize that Anya may be in danger. Xander-Double, who called Anya after he took the apartment leaving a message for her to meet him at the apartment when she refuses to pick up the phone, heads off to his new digs. Meanwhile our Xander heads over to Anya’s apartment—the first time we see it—to protect her from the demon with the Xander face. When he gets there she’s gone. He hears the phone message, searches for Anya’s gun—you have a gun Riley asks Anya later—and heads over to the apartment as well.

The showdown at the not so wild art deco apartment begins. Anya is confused by the two Xanders but after some hesitancy our ex-vengeance demon gone capitalist success mad chooses Xander-Double as her real Xander. While the Xander on Xander showdown is going on, a researching Giles comes to a different conclusion than Buffy and a Willow who comes walking through a front door Giles was sure this time he locked—the saga of Giles’s front door continues—one that requires two oh my lords to get Buffy’s, Riley’s, and Willow’s attention. I love it when characters in the Buffyverse metacomment on the narrative of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But back to Giles’s conclusion. Both Xanders, he says, are the real Xander.

With Buffy and Riley off in Giles sexy new BMW to get to Xander before one of the Xanders kills the other simultaneously, as Giles says, killing himself, our Xander pulls Anya’s gun on Xander-Double. Buffy and Riley arrive just in the nick of time to stop Xander from killing himself but just as they break up the Xander on Xander battle Toth appears and tries to kill the Buffster. The plans of demons and vampires rarely work out in Buffy, however. Buffy kills Toth, Buffy and Riley take the Xanders back to Giles’s, the two Xanders have a bad influence on themselves, and Willow reunites the two Xanders through a very easy magic spell.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as I note in my discussion of doppelgangers in Buffy in my Reading Buffy Synoptically blog on this site, is full of doubles. We have seen doubles of Buffy, including Cordelia, Faith, Kendra, and now Dawn (the Buffy-Dawn snarky sisters double act is giving Joyce headaches), doubles of Giles, including Ethan Rayne and Ripper, doubles of Willow, Vamp Willow from the alternative universe of “The Wish” and “Doppelgangland”, a double Willow references when Xander wonders how she will handle it when she has an evil double, I handled it fine she says as Xander heads off to Anya’s, and doubles of Xander, the Vamp Xander of “The Wish” and “Doppelgangland”. We have even seen the two Xanders of “The Replacement” before, we have seen the confident and witty Xander since the beginning of the show and we have seen the unconfident loser Xander since the beginning of the show and especially in that other Xander centric episode “The Zeppo”. We have also seen nerd Xander before but now we know that he has seen the first season "The Enemy Within" episode of the original Star Trek (6 October 1966), an episode, not surprisingly, with a double in it, and has a collection of Babylon 5 commemorative plates.

The Chorus. What Buffy is so good at and has been so good at since it began is its ability to mix and match tone, to mix and match comedy, melodrama, drama, and tragedy. There is a lot of humour in “The Replacement” from Anya wanting to have sex with both of the Xanders to clumsy Xander doing the Snoopy Dance for Willow while soaked from the rain in her dorm room. But while there is a lot of comedy in “The Replacement” there is also some of that bittersweetness that occasionally rises out of the humour of Buffy. To wit: Our Xander at one point wants to let what he thinks is a demon take his life because he wasn’t really do anything with it and the demon is living it so much better than he is. And then there is that remarkable and incredible scene on which “The Replacement” ends. Riley, Buffy, and even Anya, with some prodding from a newly more confident Xandman, are helping Xander finally move out of his dismal parent’s basement. Things are, sorry for the pun, loking up for the Xandman. As Xander and Riley discuss love and relationships Riley, from out of the blue, tells Xander that while Buffy is the love of his life that burns through him and makes him feel at peace he knows that our Slayer doesn’t feel the same way about him, that Buffy doesn’t love him. What an emotional kick to the gut. What a mirror of the real emotional horror and terror at the heart of the growing up life. What a bad omen for the Buffy and Riley relationship. Great episode.

And hey, didn’t you love it when Riley mentioned Buffy’s bad ice movie obsession? Michelle Tractenberg would go on to star in one of these in 2005, Ice Princess. By the way, Nicholas Brendon’s identical twin brother, Kelly Donovan, played Xanders in scenes that required the two Xanders but didn’t require dialogue.