SURVIVOR: the simple art of murder (raymond chandler)*
CHALLENGER: why buffy matters: the art of buffy the vampire slayer (rhonda wilcox)

it became apparent over the weekend that rhonda wilcox's why buffy matters, not jonathan lethem's chronic city, would be bringing the pain to chandler; WBM was my subway book, and i spent a hell of a lot of time on the subway (chronic city, a hardcover, is my nightstand book, and i also spent a hell of a lot of time sleeping). as i thought about how rhonda versus ray would unfold, i realized that i've been rooting for the lady for some time now. chandler champions the detective story like, well, a champ; i re-eally wanted professor wilcox to throw a few of those punches for buffy the vampire slayer in her essay collection. buffy the television series has been close to my heart since my freshman year of college, when my hippie roommate's dad called from vermont and insisted we find a set and watch this thing about high school and the undead;** it's one of the scariest ("hush"), funniest ("once more, with feeling"), most moving ("the body") things ever to happen to network television. affection biases me, of course. does it bias wilcox? as one critic noted in a rather scathing review,
One thing that doing graduate school work on Star Trek taught me is that while academia had given me a new and powerful vocabulary to discuss television, and enabled me to put the smackdown on people who disagreed with my analysis much more effectively because a lot of people are intimidated by academic-sounding phrases, it didn't particularly make me a better critic of shows or movies of which I am a fan.
that's a bit harsh; enthusiasm and a critical eye don't have to be mutually exclusive. some of my favorite critics are tough lovers, if you will. i do, however, think wilcox is unconsciously preaching to the converted; though she addresses her introduction to both pre- and post-buffy readers,*** she doesn't always show her work. i love, for example, a riff spawned by her discussion of riley (buffy's milquetoast mid-series love interest) as virgil's aeneas:
At this point I can't resist indulging in a brief digression. The other two major Greco-Roman epics [re: the Aeneid] are, of course, the Iliad and the Odyssey; their heroes are Achilles and Odysseus, respectively. Aeneas, Achilles, and Odysseus certainly represent three very different types of hero. And it seems to me that they correlate to the three main romantic interests in Buffy's life. Achilles, who sulks and broods in his tent, is an extraordinarily powerful warrior who sometimes fights for the right and sometimes does not, and gloomily ponders his own curious form of immortality--Achilles is of course Angel. Odysseus, who has a wonderful facility with language, who is a trickster in both word and deed, who is a great fighter but does not seem to take that as his defining characteristic, who enjoys having sex and is more or less kind to the various women he encounters but is basically a one-woman man, who actually enjoys hanging out with and fighting alongside the goddess of defensive warfare (Athena) - Odysseus, my favorite, is Spike.
do i love it because i'm pro-spuffy (that is, spike plus buffy; spuffy's web presence is a frightening thing) or because she makes a good point? at the end of the day, wilcox has done some fine work (in "pain as bright as steel," on the operation of joseph campbell's monomyth in buffy) and some not-so-fine work (did the world need "when harry met buffy," on "buffy summers, harry potter, and heroism"?). if you're already a fan, she'll drive you to rearrange your netflix queue (or drive you to your DVD collection, if you're that type). if you're not, she'll...hmm. i will tell you what my friend george thinks of buffy as art if i can trap him under something heavy and force him to read it.

VICTOR: chandler. though the audience was with wilcox, ray (the critic) has ice water in his veins.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 are you a buffy fan?

02 if so, who's your favorite of the love interests? do you buy wilcox's parallels?

03 if not, what's wrong with why not?

04 have you ever written an academic paper about television? (full disclosure: i wrote a freshman civ essay on odysseus and james t. kirk. let us draw the curtain of feigned forgetfulness around my TA's response.)

05 what do you consider the scariest, funniest, or most moving things on television, network or otherwise?

*previous round here.

**the writers' treatment of buffy's cataclysmic breakup in season 2 was especially resonant for me, though in retrospect anyanka the vengeance demon and i had more in common than angelus the once-again-evil vampire and my poor ex ever did.

*** "I hope you will read the succeeding chapters and find it easier to believe that television can be art - and that you will then begin (if you have not already done so) to watch Buffy."


jamie said...

um, have we talked about this? I <3 u.

i tried to do a link. if it doesnt work and looks lame, feel free to delete this shit.

kidchamp said...

this mighty-morphin' comments platform is all kinds of fun, innit?

(ed's note: jamie asked if she should read the book even though it lost. a few quasi-duplicate comments popped up briefly and are now unnecessary. we're all still figuring out how to appease the dark god NewHaloscan.)

i would say yes, especially given that you're a fan. it lost because i think chandler's criticism is more incisive; wilcox's book calls itself "a celebration of the series," which sounds about right. the fact that it's a collection of individual arguments that weren't written to be presented together works against it a bit, too. an enjoyable read, though.

LPC said...

My kids watched every single one of the Buffy episodes. Once at least, sometimes two or three times. I however did the same with the Sopranos. Completely distorted an entire 3 months of my life. I would hope that Buffy was kinder gentler.

baby jo said...

1. of course.
2. certainly not riley -- but i think that's partly because i hate professor walsh and the commandos in general. i'm going to go with angel, but i do want to note that the complexities of spuffy are far more satisfying than the love-hatefest that was a + b.
3. psh.
4. television, no. but i did get to write a paper about vampires. and another about 'wet hot american summer'.
5. so far 'dexter' has given me worse willies than any other show on television. mostly because of the gore, but also because of the creepy-ass music. i actually like the dexter character.

i'm at least glad to hear you did like the book. i wish i had more time to finish the series while reading it, but alas -- i am still only halfway through season 4. i had remembered it being my favorite of the seven, but now i find myself waiting to be completely stoked on it. perhaps that was only because 'hush' is in this season?

jacob said...

01 yes (though season 6 was spotty and 7 was terrible).
02 oh, i don't know. xander and anya probably had the best screwball chemistry/writing, and rarely got bogged down in the oh-so-serious-must-save-the-world buffy relationships. and i sort of buy wilcox's thesis, though i think the angel=achilles argument requires ignoring the series "angel," which (to its credit) loosened the angel character up a bit.
04 no, though i recall co-writing a paper in my 10th grade history class that involved the 1992 film "juice" starring omar epps and tupac. don't ask. i don't remember.
05 so i won't totally ruin it for anyone, there's a violent scene almost exactly midway through "twin peaks" that i almost can't believe aired on network television.

tanthalas said...

I don't know if I qualify as a Buffy fan - watched Seasons 1 and 2 (out of order) and half of 3 before I stopped for reasons I can't remember (that had nothing to do with the show, at least). I even have a copy of The Slayer's Guide sitting somewhere. Hmm, did I just say that out loud?

The final moments of Season 2 definitely ranks up there in the list of most moving things on television for me.

tanthalas said...

And also, the scene in the first episode of Season 2 where Buffy smashes the remains of the main-Season 1 antagonist was another one that really got me.

kidchamp said...

@tanthalas: i wept like a baby at the end of season 2. of course, i wept like a baby all over buffy (anya in the finale still makes me tear up). and buffy's "mom? mom? mommy?" at the end of the episode before "the body" - gah. wilcox mentions how many have argued that "the body" would've taken home an emmy, had it not been for the vampires at the end of the episode. i think, my love of vampires aside, that it should've gotten one because (in part) of them. both buffy and battlestar galactica strike me as shows that separate good viewers from great viewers (ha) by putting genre stumbling blocks between them and their payoffs. both have moved me in ways that, say, the wire never did (though i love the wire).

@jacob: oh, anya! also, gah, i'd forgotten about the twin peaks thing. how does that gentle man (lynch, that is) pull such things out of his head?

@jo: i wrote a vampire paper as well, for that same civ class. it fared much better, silly title font and all. on season 4, "restless" is in there, and i remember liking that quite a bit. is the guy who wiggles the cheese slices in that ep, or in season 7? i never remember. with you on the initiative stuff, though.

@LPC: we binged similarly on the sopranos, our feasting mitigated a bit by the fact that we jumped in a few seasons before it was finished. i watched buffy as it aired, or i'd have done the same thing.

Amanda said...

01 I am ashamed to report that I cannot watch it. That scary music at the beginning makes me nervous, and then I twist my fingers all up and close my eyes and it *hasn't even started.*

03 (It started early, this paralyzing fear of spooky tunes. Zoom in on Amanda, circa 1993, wrapping her limbs around a dining room chair to protest her family's desire to spend a Sunday afternoon at the cinema, watching Jurassic Park. She may have underestimated her father's strength/ability to carry girl-wrapped chairs/need to watch dinos eat things.)

05 Wonder Pets. That duck kills me.

kidchamp said...

it scared me the first time too, amanda, and i was fully grown up (or thought i was, anyway) at the time. i was on pins and needles for most of the first episode i saw; then it started making me laugh, and i was comfortable. i think buffy might've been the beginning of my immersion in scary stuff, actually (i avoided horror like the plague until i decided that i needed to run toward it and cure myself).

another point i forgot to make, re: gulping down shows in the course of a few months: wilcox also makes much (and rightfully so) of how serial television enables us to develop truly long-term relationships with characters in a way that novels, film, and even serialized novels (even dickens only took a year or two most of the time) don't. part of the reason i wept through the buffy finale is that, well, i'd loved those characters for seven years. i went through high school and college and into the world as they did. i'd never really had that before with a show that was written well.

that's one of the little tragedies of the DVD age, i think; while it's marvelous that we're able to see things we were too young or busy or stubborn to see when they aired, that singular long-term relationship is collapsed into a handful of feverish weekends (if you're an instant gratification viewer, as i am). perhaps i'll pick up a series one of these days and make a conscious effort to watch. it. slowly.

LPC said...

BTW, totally Team Spike.