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Buffy The Vampire Slayer"Note to self, religion freaky" : When Buffy met Biblical Studies
Saturday 12 March 2011, by Webmaster
No doubt some of you are scratching your head at the subtitle of my paper and saying to yourself “When Buffy Met Biblical Studies, when did Buffy meet Biblical Studies”? Some of you might be thinking to yourselves “I recall a few instances where the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer wove religious issues into the program. There was the religious tyrant Genevieve Holt who ran that brutish children’s home in “Where the Wild Things Are” (4.18). There were Willow’s occasional references to her Jewishness (“Bad Eggs” 2.12, “Passion” 2.17, “Amends” 3.10, “The Body” 5.16, “Hell’s Bells” 6.16, “Help” 7.4). There was the time when Riley was on his way to church (“Who Are You,” 4.16). There were the several references to Wicca (“Hush” 4.10). And there was that line that Buffy famously uttered in response to something Giles said to the Buffster as he and she were on their way into a crypt to see what Spike’s minions were looking for and which, of course, serves as the title of my paper: “Note to self, religion freaky” (“What’s My Line, Part 1” 2.9). But Buffy meeting Biblical Studies? Come on!”
Let’s see if I can explain why I chose this title. As with any “intellectual” or “academic” fan boy or fan girl paper this paper will, if you scratch hard enough below the surface, tell you something about me and about the social, cultural, and ideological contexts I came of age in. When I first matriculated at college I was a Biblical Studies major. I even had romantic visions of a once upon some time in the near future when I would be teaching Biblical Studies at a major college or university somewhere in the English-speaking world.
Though my academic fairy tale has not come true—it took me a long time to recognize that I didn’t want to spend a significant proportion of my academic life studying languages, that my interests in religion were broader and more cultural and theoretical than Biblical Studies allowed, and that trying to find a job in academia with a very specialized degree in a smallish field would be difficult. So I ended up in cultural anthropology and later history. Talk about job opportunities! I did, nevertheless, learn a lot during my intellectual journey through the labyrinth of Biblical Studies. One of the things I learned was that the Torah/Pentateuch/Five Books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) could not have been written by the man tradition claimed had written them, Moses.
It is Baruch Spinoza, a Jew living in seventeenth-century Holland, who is arguably the father of modern “scientific” Torah Studies. In his Theological-Political Treatise Spinoza brought Renaissance methods to bear on the Pentateuch, questioning whether Moses actually wrote the five books of the Torah. Spinoza instead attributed their authorship to a historian writing hundreds of years after the event.
Spinoza’s assertion about the authorship of the Torah would really take hold in intellectual culture and eventually the academy beginning in the late eighteenth-century and continuing through the nineteenth. Under the impact of the Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution, and the Enlightenment (a holy trinity I view as three-in-one) a number of scholars, many of them German (something American evangelist Billy Sunday would make hay of when he argued during the first World War that the Allies were God’s instrument to punish heretical Germany for its higher biblical criticism), came to the same conclusion Spinoza had years earlier. Arguing that the Torah could not have been written until urbanism, the monarchy, and a priestly caste had arisen in Ancient Israel they argued that the five books of the Torah could not have been written by Moses. Instead they maintained that the Torah was the product of several sources, the J or Y source, the document which used the term Yahweh for god, the E source, the document which used the term Elohim for god, the P source, the priestly document which contained regulatory and ritual sources relating to the priesthood in Ancient Israel, and the D source, the book II Kings 22 says King Josiah “discovered” in the temple in Jerusalem in 622 BCE. The Deuteronomist would also, claim “scientific” biblical critics, play an important role in the editing of the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. Scholars date J to the 10th century BCE, an era of increasing urbanism, professionalization (the development of a priestly caste), and bureaucratization (the development of priest/scribes) in Ancient Israel, E to the eighth century BCE, D to the seventh century BCE, and P to the sixth.
I am sure many of you at this point are still scratching your heads at this point and still wondering, at least to yourselves, what all of this has to do with Buffy Studies? Let me see if I can explain.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as I am sure we all know, came on the air as a midseason replacement on the WB network in March of 1997. Almost immediately the show generated not only an intense and devoted fan base but also an impressive amount of scholarly and critical intellectual analysis. In fact, no TV show anywhere in the known universe has generated the academic discourse Buffy has at this point. This academic analysis, it turns out, has read Buffy, to borrow the title of a Clint Eastwood film, about every which way it can. Academics have used Buffy as a platform from which to praise the show for its postmodernist, feminist, social ethical, girl power, “undemonising,” liberal, radical, and conservative themes and damn it for its liberal, conservative, Manichean, paternalist, racist, sexist, and classist ones.
A few examples of the latter:
For Neal King (“Brownskirts: Fascism, Christianity, and the Eternal Demon” in James B. South (ed.); Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy, pp. 197-211) Buffy is not so much about the girl next door as the proto- if not outright vigilante-fascist down the street who leads the forces of “good” against a host of “evil” others. For King, Buffy, with its dualistic distinction between good humans and evil vampires, demons, monsters, and witches is nothing more than another ugly ethnocentric Manichean fairy tale about us the “good” and them the “bad”. In King’s mental world the Scoobies, Buffy’s companions in the war against evil, are the jackbooted and brownskirted or brownshirted defenders of a vicious human nationalism that won’t stop goose slaying their way through Sunnydale until every “evil” vamp, demon, monster, and witch in their way is dead (note the “politically correct” liberalism here).
To Michael Levine and Steven Jay Schneider (“Feeling for Buffy: The Girl Next Door” in South; pp. 294-308) Buffy is just another unconscious Freudian reality tale starring the proverbial girly girl next door. Schneider’s and Levine’s Buffy, like every other woman in the universe apparently, is yet another virgin/whore object of the ever-present voyeuristic male gaze, males who want either to marry her—fortunately or unfortunately this ‘m’ word breeds limpness in males—or seek no more than the zipless happy with her making her, in the process, into just another one of the many wenches who serve to satisfy their insatiable lusts. She, in turn, is the stuff Freudian dreams are made of. She is Buffy the frigid and Buffy the slutty (categories ironically parodied by Buffy in the first episode of the show “Welcome to the Hellmouth” 1.1).
For a number of other commentators the prejudicial ugliness of Buffy the Vampire Slayer lies in its racism, sexism, middle classism, and ageism. For Elyce Rae Helford (“My Emotions Give Me Power: The Containment of Girls Anger in Buffy” in Rhonda Wilcox and David Lavery (eds.); Fighting the Forces, pp. 85-97) the show reveals different types of racist, sexist, and bourgeois stereotypes in its depiction of anger in its three slayers—Buffy, Kendra, and Faith—undermining in the process any potentially positive moment (note the radiant utopian ideology here) of social change in the process (the text in the service of the status quo?). According to Helford, Buffy—the white, middle-class slayer—controls, redirects, and uses humor to diffuse her anger while upholding, in the process, a middle-class ladylike identity. Kendra, a black Jamaican slayer, on the other hand, rarely expresses her anger and never uses humor while working-class Slayer Faith is rarely humorous, is almost always rebellious, expresses her anger openly, and is often sexually explicit while hiding, all the while, feelings of self-loathing. The characteristics of each slayer, claims Helford, and the differences between them mark Buffy off as insider to Kendra’s and Faith’s black and working-class outsiders (note the concentration or race and class here both central symbols of much contemporary criticism).
Others move beyond the supposed class bias of Buffy’s anger when condemning the show. For Helford (“Introduction” in Helford (ed.); Fantasy Girls, pp. 1-9) Buffy’s portrayals of women are regressive. Buffy, she claims, markets cleavage to the masses in the form of simulated girl power. For Lorna Jowett (Sex and the Slayer, p. 37) the death of Anya (Emma Caulfield) in the final episode of the series (“Chosen” 7.22), a female character Jowett characterizes as “minor,” “disposable,” and “powerless,” is a product of misogyny in the Buffy text. For AmiJo Comeford (“Cordelia Chase: Sunnydale Cheerleader and LA ‘Rogue Demon Huntress’: The Feminine Myth Deconstructed,” paper given at the Slayage Conference, Henderson State University, Arkadelphia, Arkansas, 5-8 June 2009. and “Cordelia Chase as Failed Feminist Gesture,” Durand (ed.); Buffy Meets the Academy, pp. 150-160.) the victimization of Cordelia Chase, in Buffy and its spinoff Angel, is evidence of sexism in Whedonverse texts.
For Alissa Wilts (“Evil, Skanky, and Kinda Gay: Lesbian Images and Issues” in Edwards, Rambo, and South (eds.); Buffy Goes Dark, pp. 41-56) the death of Tara in “Seeing Red” (6.19) and Willow’s response to it—Tara and Willow were lovers—is yet another instance of the dead lesbian and the evil lesbian clichés in the media as well as a homophobia that occasionally rears its ugly head in the Buffyverse. For Kent Ono and Vivian Chinn (Ono; “To Be a Vampire on Buffy the Vampire Slayer” in Helford (ed.); Fantasy Girls, pp. 163-186 and Chin; “Buffy? She’s Like Me, She’s Not Like Me—She’s Rad” in Early and Kennedy (eds.); Athena’s Daughters, pp. 92-104.) Buffy’s vampires are really metaphors for the people of color who are the genocidal fodder for the Scoobies white middle-class vigilantism. For Lynne Edwards (“Slaying in Black and White: Kendra as Tragic Mulatta in Buffy” in Wilcox and Lavery (eds.); Fighting the Forces, pp. 85-97) the portrayal of the Jamaican Vampire Slayer Kendra draws on the tragic mulatta myth in which a fair-skinned black women, usually of mixed racial heritage, tries to pass for white with tragic consequences and thus reveals the existence of racism in the Buffyverse.
For J.P. Williams (“Choosing Your Own Mother: Mother-Daughter Conflicts in Buffy” in Wilcox and David (eds.); Fighting the Forces, pp. 61-72) Buffy’s portrayal of knowing teenagers, unknowing parents (Joyce Summers and Sheila Rosenberg, Buffy and Willow’s mothers respectively) and the killing of Jenny Calendar, the assertive techno-pagan computer science teacher who loves Buffy’s Watcher Rupert Giles and mentors Scooby Willow, is evidence that the program harbors ageist prejudices against mothers and surrogate mother figures.
It is here in the text centered criticisms of Buffy that, I think, Buffy meets Biblical Studies (of both the scientific and literalist varieties). Though the “documentary hypothesis” has been around since the late nineteenth-century the only evidence for it is textual. The different names for god in the biblical text (Yahweh, Elohim) are believed to show that there was a Yahwist document and an Elohist document (and presumably it means that to modern humans the ancient Hebrews were unable to play with synonyms).
The two creation stories in the Book of Genesis, for instance, are attributed to the P or Priestly source (Genesis 1.1, “When Elohim began to create heaven and earth” is this a “sacred” tale which justifies the position of the priests in the Hebrew state?) and the Yahwist (Genesis 2.4b, “When Yahweh Elohim made earth and heaven…”). Buffy’s interpreters King, Levine and Schneider, Helford, Jowett, Comeford, Wilts, Ono and Chin, and Edwards assume that historic Western prejudices consciously or unconsciously leave their mark on the Buffy text but they offer no extra-textual evidence for any of this. King elides the fact that there are historical debates over precisely what fascism is and he simply can’t accept that for whatever reason real evil exits, at least narratively, in the Buffyverse. Levine and Schneider offer no extra-textual evidence for the Freudianism they claim to find in Buffy. Ono and Chin offer no extra-textual evidence for their contention that Buffy is racist and that Buffy’s vampires are representations of ethnic and racial “others”. Helford does not engage the numerous interviews in which Buffy’s creator Joss Whedon (Commentary: “Welcome to the Hellmouth,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete First Season on DVD) claims that he meant Buffy to be “feminist”. Nor does she, if we want to focus exclusively on the textual level, bring third-wave feminist positions to bear on her second-wave feminist contentions that Buffy is sexist.
Comeford offers no evidence statistical or otherwise that Cordelia Chase is anymore victimized and hence damaged than say Angel or Spike or any other major character in the Buffy or Angel text, male or female. Edwards ignores the fact that Kendra is never described as a mulatta in either the shooting script or the final script (“What’s My Line Shooting Script,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Complete Second Season DVD and “What’s My Line,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Complete Second Season DVD) of “What’s My Line” (2.9 and 2.10). Finally, Jowett’s attribution of Anya’s death to misogyny ignores Whedon’s statement in his commentary (Commentary: “Chosen” (7.22), Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Complete Seventh Season on DVD) on the episode “Chosen” (7.22) that he killed Anya for narrative reasons—someone had to die—and that he chose Anya because Emma Caulfield had decided that five years of playing Anya was enough.
Biblical Torah Studies and Buffy Studies are also similar in their attempts put their respective texts into broader contexts. The redaction of the Torah is said to be a product of urbanism, the rise of a monarchy, and the rise of a professional priestly caste. The Buffy text is thought to reveal, like a crystal ball (I owe this metaphor to my colleague Jonathan Nash), anything we might want to know about, in this instance, American and presumably Western ethnocentric, political, gender, class, age prejudices, and class prejudices.
OK, some of you now might be saying to yourselves, yes I can see your point. There is, on some level at least, a similarity between Biblical Torah Studies and Crystal Ball Buffy Studies. Both of them center their analysis on the text. But so what? What’s the big deal about this?
Now that I may have some of you with me I want to deconstruct a bit of the argument I have just been making and see if I can explain to you in the process what the big deal is about the connection between Biblical Torah Studies and Buffy Studies.
Yes there are similarities between Biblical Studies and Buffy Studies but there are also differences between them. Biblical Studies, unlike contemporary crystal ball textual criticism—which film critic David Bordwell (in his Making Meaning) calls symptomatic criticism—is grounded in classical critical approaches that go back to Plato and Aristotle which emphasize the close analysis of the text (lower criticism) and the analysis of the textual sources of that text (higher criticism)—Bordwell calls this form of criticism explicative criticism. This form of exegetical criticism is very different from the crystal ball textualism that dominates so much literary, cinema, and television criticism today. In symptomatic criticism the sources of the text are not simply other texts but primarily the social and cultural contexts or discourses into which that text “fits”.
Crystal ball textualists tend to skip the close analysis of the text as text altogether in favor of a social and cultural contextualization of the text (the text as ethnocentric, racial, sexist, classist, ageist). This crystal ball approach to contexts is of an entirely different order and quality than those of Biblical Torah scholars in that urbanism and professionalization are extra-textual historical processes while the crystal ball textualist approach which sees ethnocentrism, racism, sexism, classism, and ageism as discourses that are both outside of and inherent to “texts” of all types (a kind of Holy Spirit of the textual world?).
The difficult trick, at least from a historical perspective, is how crystal ball textualism gets from text to context without an engagement with primary source materials. Crystal ball textualists rarely engage in primary source material analysis beyond the text as I noted. None of the essays on Buffy I have been examining in this paper, for instance, explore production material from Twentieth-Century Fox or Mutant Enemy. None of them draw on interviews with any of Buffys creative personnel including Buffy creator Joss Whedon. Why? Since the 1960s the academic disciplines of Cultural and English Studies have experienced a theoretical sea change. Once enamored of auteurist textual criticism, today Cultural Studies and English Studies are dominated by scholars and critics who are less interested in authors, authorial intentions, and “texts” per se than in how “texts” of all kinds reflect underlying social, cultural, and psychological contexts. These changes have forced those in Cultural and English Studies to reconfigure the theoretical mental terrain in which they reside, creating, in the process, a veritable theoretical smorgasbord feast of mix and match social theory from semiotic to structuralist, feminist to psychoanalytic, racist to classist, Marxist to cognitive, and phenomenological to hermeneutic theory.
As a result of this theoretical smorgasbord and the theoretical bricolage that has resulted from the synthesis of many of these theoretical perspectives questions of nationalism, race, gender, class, and age have become central to the contemporary crystal ball textual enterprise while primary source research isn’t even an afterthought for most crystal ball textualists because it isn’t regarded as essential. They assume that the author is dead and that it is society and culture that does its ethnocentric, racist, sexist, classist, and ageist work through the text via the medium of the “author”. How valid are the interpretations of "Buffy’s" crystal ball textualists?
In the final part of this paper I want to briefly explore another question: How valid are the interpretations of Buffy’s crystal ball textualists? Is Buffy really ethnocentric, racist, sexist, classist, and ageist as Buffy’s crystal ball textualist critics claim? It is important to note that not every commentator, not even every academic commentator, has read Buffy in these ways. Frances Early (“Staking Her Claim: Buffy the Vampire Slayer as Transgressive Woman Warrior.” Journal of Popular Culture 35.3 (2001): 11-28) characterizes Buffy as a transcendent female warrior. Patricia Pender (“’Kicking Ass is Comfort Food’: Buffy as Third Wave Feminist Icon” in Gillis, Howie, and Munford (eds.), Third Wave Feminism, pp. 164-174) raises questions about whether one can apply the canons of second-wave feminism to third-wave feminism television shows. Joss Whedon (Commentary: “Welcome to the Hellmouth” (1.1), Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Complete Season One on DVD and Commentary: “Chosen” (7.22), Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Complete Seventh Season on DVD) says that he intended Buffy to be feminist and has directly contradicted Lorna Jowett’s contention that Anya was killed off in the final episode because she was a woman (Commentary: “Chosen” (7.22), and quoted in TV Guide Insider 23 May 2003). I could also find counterexamples to the contention that Buffy is ethnocentric, racist, classist, and ageist but I have limited space.
So how do we square this contradictory circle? Should we throw up our hands and assert that Buffy is a contradictory text? Is Buffy both ethnocentric and nonethnocentric, racist and nonracist, sexist and nonsexist, ageist and nonageist all at the same time? Or does crystal ball textualism, because it generally doesn’t engage in research in primary source material, open itself up to the criticism that it can say and has said virtually anything it wants as long as it recapitulates its preexisting assumptions that ethnocentrism, racism, sexism, classism, and ageism are omnipresent in US and Western society and culture and hence its texts (the joys of tautology?)? Does the fact that few symptomatic critics do primary source research mean that there are absolutely no evidentiary checks and balances in crystal ball textualism because there is no checking or balancing of textual claims against primary source materials? While we can verify, extra-textually, whether there was an increase in urbanization, the monarchy, and professionalization in Ancient Israel can we do the same thing for the claims of crystal ball textual critics given that extra textual and textual “evidence” is collapsed in symptomatic criticism?
Academics really need to take a look in the mirror once in a while and reflect on the history of academia and the social and cultural forces that have played a role in structuring knowledges within the Ivy Tower. One of the questions we could pose while looking in this mirror is this: Do Biblical Torah Studies and Buffy Studies reflect social and cultural ideologies that reflect the evolution of notions of expertise and professionalism since the Enlightenment?
Students of the Torah, on some level, assume that the Pentateuch is a human document. Crystal ball textualists make certain assumptions as well. One can see these in their discussion of character in the Buffyverse. The Buffy papers I have been analyzing all tend to counterpoint their own preferred socially and cultural constructed and (generally unexpressed) nonfascist, nonracist, nonsexist, nonclassist, and nonageist ideal depictions of vampires, demons, monsters, black women, working class women, mothers, and surrogate mothers against their fascist, racist, sexist, middle class, and ageist opposites establishing, in the process, binary pairs of opposites one of which is coded as good, the other of which is coded as evil. In this Manichean mental world the only possible nonracist and nonsexist depiction of a black female Slayer, for instance, is one in which she is apparently never teased, never criticized, always central to the show, always disobedient of patriarchal authority, and alive for the entire run of the show, while the only nonageist depiction of Jenny Calendar would be one in which see never betrays the Scoobies, always fights the patriarchal forces, trains Willow in how to be a witch, and never dies at the hands of Angelus. Such a Slayer and such a Jenny Calendar would invariably be rather shallow and one-dimensional characters which border on, if not become, caricatures and stereotypes. Is this ideological exemplar criticism? Is this normative criticism grounded in notions of ideological correctness? Do you really want to see such stereotyped and caricatured characters in a TV show?
As I noted the questions I have been asking raise questions about the nature of symptomatic criticism. Is it a kind of ideologically correct enterprise? If it is a kind of ideologically correct textual enterprise does this raise questions about the dispassionate and descriptive nature of such criticism? What if our crystal ball textual slayers aren’t in possession of the Du Lac cross of right textual analysis? When crystal ball textualists read a text are they revealing their own biases and prejudices and giving us insight, in the process, into their own social and cultural contexts? Does this raise questions about the readings themselves? Are the readings of crystal ball textualists, in other words, a species of reader response or audience analysis? Are they reflective of the academic obsessions of the day—ethnocentrism, racism, sexism, classism, and ageism?
So what can be done to move Buffy Studies beyond this virtually exclusive focus on the text, which, by the way, I am not saying is not an entirely bad thing if the focus is exegetical and we move beyond the text toward more empirical terrain that is verifiable by checking and balancing interpretations against primary source material (exegesis-hermeneutics-homiletics). We need to understand that television is people (the men and women who made Buffy happen including creators, writers, producers, craftspeople, actors, executives), a business (the industrial society and culture in which Buffy developed and which includes personnel connected to the networks and the studios), technology (technological factors that impacted Buffy), forms (the genres and languages Buffy deploys), representations (What does Buffy tell us about the US society and culture and the wider world), and something viewers react to (Who watches Buffy? Where? Under what conditions? How have viewers, real viewers not just academic readers, responded to Buffy).
We need to understand television’s modes of production, means of production, relations of production, hierarchies of power, star system, production system, technologies, stylistic, representational, and narrative practices, and histories. We need to understand the relationship of the television industry to other corporate entities both nationally and globally and the role television plays in structuring and replicating ideologies. We need to understand what TV’s writers thought they were writing, what TV’s directors thought they were directing, what TV’s producers thought they were producing, what TV’s craftspeople thought they were crafting, what TV’s actors thought they were acting, and what a TV’s readers thought they were reading (compare Michael Temple and Michael Witt introduction to their edited collection; The French Cinema Book, pp. 1-5).
These are not the only things we need to recognize about television. We need to recognize that there are the budgetary constraints within which TV operates. According to writer Drew Goddard and director David Solomon (Commentary: “The Killer in Me,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Complete Seventh Season on DVD) the episode “The Killer in Me” (7.13) had a budget which didn’t allow for the appearance of more than a few Potentials because of this lack of money. David Fury and James Contner (Commentary: “Grave,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Sixth Season on DVD) claim that most of the budget for Season Six was, in fact, spent on “Once More with Feeling” (6.7). We need to recognize that there are constraints related to availability of actors in the Hollywood community and the salaries actors draw.
According to writers David Fury and Drew Goddard (Commentary: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Complete Seventh Season on DVD) Mutant Enemy, Joss Whedon’s production company, had trouble finding competent British actors to play British parts in the Buffyverse. We need to recognize that there are constraints associated with the roles network executives play in the casting a television series. Rumors have long circulated that WB executives balked at having the womanly Riff Reagan who played the role of Willow in the pilot play the role of Willow in the series.
We need to understand the role contingency sometimes plays in television production. According to Kristine Sutherland (Kristine Sutherland; Interview; Season Four Overview, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Complete Fourth Season) the fact that she was living in Italy for most of Season Four meant that her character Joyce only appeared limitedly that season. This allowed the writers to move Buffy into a dorm at the University of California in Sunnydale and to explore Buffy’s feelings of displacement.
The decision by Seth Green (Oz) to move on to the “greener pastures” of the movie world forced the writers to make changes to Season Four and allowed the writers to take Willow’s sexuality in new directions.
The decision by Anthony Stewart Head (Giles) to spend more time in England with his daughters during Season Six and less time on the show allowed the writers to focus even more strongly on the growing up and responsibility themes of that season and the show.
Bianca Lawson’s decision not to take the part of Cordelia allowed her to play the part of Kendra and Charisma Carpenter to take the role of Cordelia Chase (Sex and the Slayer, p. 200, note 8.).
Drew Goddard’s decision to write a scene between Eliza Dushku (Faith) and James Marsters (Spike) in “Dirty Girls” (7.18) was an attempt to showcase the two together in order to see if they had the necessary chemistry so that Mutant Enemy might propose a series built around them to network executives (Commentary: “Dirty Girls” (7.18), Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Complete Seventh Season on DVD).
The decision by Joss Whedon to finally write a musical episode of Buffy (“Once More with Feeling” 6.7) was predicated on the skills of Joss’s actors and James Marster’s persistence in asking Joss to write a musical (Commentary: “Once More, With Feeling,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Complete Fifth Season on DVD).
I have already noted that Whedon’s decision to kill Anya in the final episode of the series, “Chosen” (7.22), was occasioned by Emma Caufield’s decision not to renew her contract because of her wish to move onto other acting roles and challenges (Joss Whedon; Commentary: “Chosen” (7.22), Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Complete Seventh Season on DVD and Whedon quoted in TV Guide Insider 23 May 2003).
And we need to realize that TV writers don’t always express their own viewpoints in their work. Whedon has discussed how he has his characters take stands that he doesn’t necessarily agree with for the sake of narrative structure (Whedon; Commentary: “Conviction” (5001), Angel: Complete Fifth Season on DVD and Rob Thomas; “Editorial Comments” in Thomas (ed.); Neptune Noir: Unauthorized Investigations into Veronica Mars, pp. 1-7, 34, 46, 94, and 170). We need more studies, in other words, like those of Julie D’Acci on Cagney and Lacey (Julie D’Acci; Defining Women: Television and the Case of Cagney and Lacey (1994) and Matthew Pateman on Jane Espenson’s scripts on Buffy, Angel, and Firefly (Matthew Pateman; “’Shallow Like Us’: a Bit of a Chat About a TV,” Paper presented as keynote address at SC3: the Slayage Conference on the Whedonverses, Henderson State College, Arkadelphia, AR, June 2008).
I know I have posed a lot of questions already in this brief paper but I want to close this paper with four more: Isn’t it about time that we proclaim the death of the death of the auteur? Isn’t it about time that we give a renewed emphasis to exegesis? Isn’t it about time that we renew our emphasis on primary source research? And isn’t it about time that, if we are going to make claims about how texts are read that we actually ask people beyond the ivy walls who read Buffy how they “read” the Buffy text (survey and ethnographic work perhaps?)? All four are indeed a big deal.