Monday, April 1, 2013

An Open Letter to Lauren Stasiak, or Is That Really in Buffy?

This epistle was written just after I read Lauren Stasiak's essay, "'When I kiss you I want to die': Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Gothic Family Values" on Buffy the Vampire Slayer in Goth in 2007. Unfortunately, there are far too many errors of fact in so much film and television analysis these days. And what makes these even worse is that these younger scholars, unlike the generation that was writing on film in the 1960s and 1970s, have DVD's they can look at to jog their memory.

I just finished your [Lauren Stasiak] essay on Buffy in Goth: Undead Subculture (Duke University Press, 2007) and wanted to respond to its errors of fact and interpretation.

1. Your assertion that Dawn appeared on BtVS in season four on page 309 is inaccurate. She appeared in the second episode of season five, “The Real Me”. There is a reference to her coming in season three and season four.

2. It is not the romance between Xander and Cordelia that begins Cordy's transformation (p. 309), a transformation that continues in Angel. Cordy’s transformation into a character with greater depth begins as early as "Out of Sight, Out of Mind" (1:11) long before she is involved with Xander.

3. The "sucking" thing in Buffy involving the exchange of blood between vamps and the slayer and vamps and vamps is much more complicated than you present it. A few examples: the Master gains power from Luke's sucking of human blood in "The Harvest" (1:2). The Master gains the power to leave the underground church in which he is trapped in "Prophecy Girl" after sucking Buffy’s blood (1:12). Buffy gains in power from being "sucked" by the Master after being revived by Xander in the same episode. Buffy and Dracula exchange blood in "Buffy vs. Dracula" (5:1) and learns something about slayerness in the process.

4. Check out the essay on Buffy in the UMinnesota Press book on Cult Television (edited by Sara Gwenllian-Jones and Roberta E. Pearson, 2004). There is a very good essay in that collection on the Old World vs. New World vibe in the show. This motif extends beyond vampire fashion, by the way.

5. The issue of vampire fashion is more complex than you make it, in my opinion. Many of the vamps in the first season dress in old world gothic. Some dress in the style of the period in which they died, as Buffy notes in the first episode. Others, like Spike, seem to have adapted to the fashion of the 1970s.

6. Doubling is a major aspect of BtVS. Faith is a double of Buffy as several of Buffy's writers have noted. Faith represents, as Kendra did before her, different routes a slayer can take and relates closely to the existentialism that permeates the bildunsroman that is Buffy. Faith is the slayer without family, without friends, who hunts, as the first slayer did, in solitary fashion. She is the representative of the Nietzschean impulse in the Buffyverse. Kendra is a double of Buffy. So is Cordelia. Buffy, by the way, isn’t the only character with doubles in the Buffyverse. Xander has a double, so does Willow, so does Giles.

7. By trying to fit BtVS into your interpretive box you miss what is important in the series in my opinion. This, by the way, is a trait I find in many academic excursions into films and TV programmes these days. Buffy is, an existentialist bildunsroman as Buffy's creator Joss Whedon has said on several occasions in several interviews. This is a major theme in Buffy and provides much in the way of dynamics to the show. The emphasis on a family of friends rather than a family of blood is only one of the existentialist themes that runs through the show. The muddying of ethical manicheanism is another.

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