Saturday, May 27, 2006

Slayage post 2

I just gave my talk to a good sized audience--20 people or so. It seems to be well received. I got three requests for copies of it. In the question period, though, it was totally overshadowed by the paper of my co-panelist, Holly Welker, which was both well done and on a very sexy topic: Is sex bad? Holly did a great job of showing how, despite Joss's stated intent, his shows still send the consistent message that sex is bad, and do so through a variety of channels. One of her more interesting observations was that the show consistently is repulsed by the idea of authority figures having sex. If a character is portrayed as in control, they are also portrayed as celibate, and a sexualized authority figure is portrayed as loosing control and therefore being punished. (Think Giles and Jenny.)

You can see how Holly’s talk would come to dominate the question period. It was a chance for everyone to think of fun pairings that have occurred in Buffy to see if they fit the thesis. I still think one of the hottest couplings, Faith and Robin Wood, is a counter example.

Some other neat talks I’ve seen:

Michael Adams: A Matrix of Morives in Slayer Style

A philologist gave a talk about clipping phrasal verbs by characters in Buffy (saying “wigged” for “wigged out” or “hang” for “hang out.”) He generated a pool of instances where a character could choose to clip their phrasal verb or not, and this would not effect the meaning but would effect the style. Thus he excluded cases where clipping “come on” would change the meaning of “come” to refer to ejaculation, and he excluded verb phrases like “help out,” because “help” and “help out” have no stylistic difference.

Once he had this pool of interesting cases, he looked for variables that predict clipping. He found, first of all, that females are three times as likely to clip as males, and that males only clip talking to females. He also showed that clipping are used to establish intimacy and full phrasal verbs are used to establish authority. He then read a conversation between Buffy and Faith, and you could suddenly see how the rich power struggle between them was played out in their vernacular choices.

Kevin Durand: "Lets Finish This": The First, Caleb, The Watcher's COuncil, and the Fight Against the Patriarchal Forces of Darkness


The speaker, I didn’t catch his name, began by asking why Caleb is such an obvious, boring symbol. We don’t normally see Joss being so heavy handed. The answer, the speaker claimed, is that Caleb is a lens which lets us re-evaluate other characters who are at least nominal good guys. In particular, there are consistent parallels between Caleb and the Watchers Council as patriarchic figures, who silence women and actually have no power in themselves, but only gain power from female figures. In the end, the speaker claims, the battle between the watchers and Caleb is not a battle between good and evil, but an internecine conflict over power between two tools of the first. A big piece of evidence here is a visual analogy between the way the first enters into Caleb to empower him and the way the original Watchers, the Shadow Men, sent a demon essence into the first slayer, essentially raping her, to create the slayer line.

The thing I liked most about this talk is that it explained the two prominent times when Sarah Michelle Gellar declares “It’s about power.” The first is when Buffy finally stands up to the Watchers council, realizing that she actually has more power than they do: “You're Watchers. Without a Slayer... you're pretty much just watching Masterpiece Theater.” (5.12) The second is when the First, in the guise of Buffy announces to the camera at the end of the first episode of season 7, that “it” is about power, where it could just as easily be the plot of the season as anything else. So what is about power? The patriarchy and its representatives on the show, like Caleb and the Watchers. They say they are about evil and good respectively, but they are about power.

more later.

Update: Titles and Speakers added

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