Thursday, October 13, 2005

My Buffy Talk

Since I have a backlog of grading and jobs to apply for, I've decided to spend the day working on a paper to submit to the second Slayage conference on all things Joss Whedon. I had a paper accepted to the first conference, but was unable to go, because it conflicted my China trip. Abstracts for the current conference are due Oct 31.

So my plan is to simply update the old paper to take into account the final seasons of Buffy and Angel, which shouldn't be too hard, and the more recent Buffy scholarship, which may be more work. This is the old paper. Essentially, I attempt to define what it means for a TV show to have a moral worldview, and argue that Buffy and Angel do not succeed in developing a coherent moral worldview. My focus is in particular on the attempts of these shows to deal with moral complexity, the need to thread a path between dogmatism and moral nihilism.

At the time I wrote the paper, there were only two edited volumes of Buffy scholarship with material relevant to my topic, South, ed. (2003) and Wilcox and Lavery eds. (2002). A fair chunk of my original talk was criticizing some of the simplistic readings of Buffy’s morality presented there. Stroud sees the Buffyverse as a Kantian, Miller sees it as embodying an ethic of care, and King sees a fascist ethic. All of this is way too easy.

There seems to be much better stuff out there now. I am very impressed by this book, (Stevenson 2004) which I just started reading. It is aimed at a mixed scholarly and popular audience. The author says one of his reasons for writing it was the realization that most of his students had no idea how to understand the moral content of shows they watch every day. Stevenson also writes as a Christian who is rather appalled at the habit his co-religionists have of gauging moral content by simply counting instances of sex, violence, and profanity.

The Stevenson book also clues me in to a feature of Season 7 clearly relevant to my thesis. One of my claims is that Buffy amounts to a morally incoherent artwork, and that this is almost inevitable given the exigencies of television writing. Well it turns out that a film critic wrote a book about the moral incoherence of particularly violent seventies films. That critic’s name was Robin Wood, the name given in Season 7 to the particularly violent vampire hunter son of 1970s slayer Nikki Wood.

So I want to use recent Buffy scholarship and the last few seasons of Buffy and Angel in the revised talk, and I want to use them to do two things. First, I need better foils for my thesis than the ones offered in South and Wilcox and Lavery. Stevenson is already beginning to provide that. Second, I want to sharpen my analysis of what it means for a TV show to have a moral worldview. Stevenson is also good here. I also imagine that the analytic aesthetic literature would be helpful here. Routledge, I think, has a big encyclopedia of aesthetics that I might use.

My basic question to you, the internet, is "What new aspects of the Buffyverse or Buffy scholarship do I need to bring into the new version of the talk?"

South, James B. (ed.). 2003. Buffy the vampire slayer and philosophy: fear and trembling in Sunnydale, Popular culture and philosophy; v. 4. Chicago: Open Court. 0812695305

Stevenson, Gregory. 2004. Televised morality: the case of Buffy the Vampire slayer. Lanham, MD: Hamilton Books. 0761828338.

Wilcox, Rhonda, and David Lavery. (eds.). 2002. Fighting the forces: what's at stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield. 0742516806

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