Sunday, August 3, 2014

Buffy Slays the Academy: Review of Buffy Meets the Academy edited by Kevin Durand

Buffy Meets the Academy: Essays on the Episodes and Scripts as Texts. Kevin Durand (editor). Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer debuted on the WB network on 10 March 1997 and ran for seven seasons, the last two on the UPN network, until 20 May 2003. Buffy’s afterlife has been just as impressive. Academic writing on Buffy dwarfs that of any other recent television show and even rivals and surpasses that on the Star Trek franchise. McFarland and Company has become one of the leading purveyors of Buffy and Whedon Studies (Buffy was created by Joss Whedon, the son and grandson of TV writers and Wesleyan University grad) in the publishing world. The latest is Kevin Durand’s edited collection, Buffy Meets the Academy.

The twenty-one essays in Buffy Meets the Academy explore a variety of aspects of Buffy. Essays explore what constitutes the Buffy text (Durand, “Canon Fodder”, Linsley), Buffy season eight comics (Clemons), Buffy and Shakespeare (Atchley), Buffy and fairy tales (Bridges), Buffy and gender issues (Comeford, Payne-Mulliken and Renegar, Durand, “It’s all About Power”, Durand, “Buffy’s Insight into Wollstonecraft and Mill”, Durand “The Battle Against the Patriarchal Forces of Power”, Comeford, Schultz), Buffy and education (Fudge, Tamara Wilson), and Buffy as story (Fritts, Melanie Wilson, Linsley, Bobbitt).

Edited collections are often notorious for being less than unified. Buffy Meets the Academy, however, is more unified than most due to the fact that most of the essays engage Buffy as text and story. And most of these essays are insightful and illuminating. Standout essays include Durand’s “Introduction” which argues that all approaches to popular culture texts (“isn’t that neat”, cultural solipsism, point of departure, theory exemplar/corrective, and critical engagement) save the critical engagement approach, look beyond the text for the texts meaning: the “isn’t it neat” and cultural solipsistic approaches see intertextualites in the text, the point of departure and theory exemplar approaches see social and cultural factors (gender, race, ethnicity, class, age) and theoretical approaches (psychoanalytic, cultural, feminist) as the filters through which to explore the text. As a result, claims Durand, all these approaches save the critical engagement approach, are flawed. Other standout essays include those by Durand (“Canon Fodder”) and Linsley “Canon Fodder Revisited”) which debate what constitutes the Buffy canon (the shooting script for Durand, the broadcast text for Linsley) and Bridges essay on Buffy and fairy tales (“Grimm Realities”).

There are essays in Buffy Meets the Academy which don’t quite fit in. Comeford’s essay “Cordelia Chase as Failed Feminist” exemplifies a crystal ball textualualism which see texts as an immanent sites of transcendental social and cultural factors like race, gender, colonialism, psyche, age, class, and so on. Comeford argues that Cordelia Chase is a failed feminist gesture which reflects a residual misogyny among Buffy’s writers. What Comeford, doesn’t explore, however, is whether most of the major characters in the Buffyverse (Buffy and Angel), male or female, are abused and damaged in some way, shape, or form.

None of this, however, detracts from the quality of Buffy Meets the Academy. Buffy Meets the Academy is one of the best collections I have read on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I highly recommend it to any serious student of Buffy, the work of Joss Whedon, and Popular Culture. It belongs on the bookshelf of every serious Buffy Studies and Whedon Studies scholar alongside Gregory Stevenson’s Televised Morality and Deborah Thomas’s “Reading Buffy” in Close-Up 1.

This review originally appeared in slightly different form as “Review of Buffy Meets the Academy: Essays on the Episodes and Scripts as Texts edited by Kevin Durand”, Journal of Popular Culture, 43:3 (June 2010), pp. 652-653.

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