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From Metropulse.com

Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Slay Me Why Don’t You - A Buffy fan sinks her teeth into SlayerCon

By Paige M. Travis

Thursday 8 September 2005, by Webmaster

I’m embarrassed when I find myself talking about TV. Supposedly smart, college-educated people talk about current events, news segments on All Things Considered, award-winning books, New Yorker articles or cinema (art films, not blockbusters). They don’t talk about television shows and-for Seventh Heaven’s sake-definitely not shows on the WB.

But for the past six years, my small-screen desires have found nirvana in a series that turns young people’s run-of-the mill lives into clever, poignant, funny, scary and metaphorically dense tales of supernatural adventure-with great clothes, smart dialogue and hot vampires to boot. And now a few hundred like-minded fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer will descend upon Knoxville for a unique event called SlayerCon. It’s almost more than a mortal girl can handle.

My fascination/obsession started in 1999 when a new acquaintance professed that Buffy was his favorite show. I accepted this news with a straight face and tuned in to the next episode to learn what Buffy, then in its second season, was all about.

My first impressions might have been different had I seen the 1992 film starring Kristy Swanson and Luke Perry. Joss Whedon, the film’s screenwriter, disowned the greatly rewritten movie version as very different from his original screenplay and its motive-that is, to blend humor and darkness into one thoughtful and entertaining glob. But I didn’t expect fluffy comedy from this Buffy. If anything, from having watched seven seasons of The X-Files, I was drawn to the darkness. And that’s exactly what Whedon’s TV series had in spades when it premiered in 1997 on WB starring Sarah Michelle Gellar as the titular Chosen One called to rid the Earth of evil demons.

I know this next paragraph like it’s my autobiography-better than, really, which is probably why Buffy fans can get so obsessed: countless near-death experiences at the hands of evil demons beats the heck out of being a college student, working hack, whatever.

Buffy Summers is blonde, carefree, somewhat fluffy-headed SoCal 16-year-old without a care in the world until she’s told she’s the Slayer, a young woman endowed with superhuman strength destined to fight the forcesof evil (mostly vampires, but it turns out there are plenty of other icky demonic creatures lurking about, too).

Whedon’s original script had Buffy burn down her high school gym to kill a nest of vampires, and the series follows this prologue although the plot twist was cut from the movie. So the TV series begins with Buffy and her mother moving to Sunnydale, a normal (ha!), quiet (double ha!) California suburb where Buffy enrolls in a new school in hopes of escaping the previous unpleasantness. No such luck, as Sunnydale High is located on the Hellmouth, a supernatural chasm from which demons find entrance into this dimension, and other evil things are drawn to the bad vibes emanating from within.

As she continues to deny her role as the Slayer, Buffy soon meets Rupert Giles, the school’s librarian, who knows an awful lot about her past, her strength and her penchant for getting in trouble with vamps. As Buffy’s Watcher, Giles has his hands full with a teenager more interested in shopping, boys and fitting in than fulfilling her role as a martyr to the cause of good over evil. He gets some help from Buffy’s friends Willow and Xander, two mere mortals whose proximity to Buffy’s demonic encounters pulls them into the action.

Scholarly articles, academic theses, online journals and countless fan-to-fan conversations analyze Buffy episodes for their spot-on observations of growing up. The figurative notion of high school as Hell becomes literal. A crush-worthy teacher turns out to be a demon. An online romance stems from a possessed computer system. A power-hungry principal becomes a tool of the dark side.

Buffy’s otherwise normal experiences have twists that only the Hellmouth can guarantee. Her first boyfriend is a vampire (one with a soul, although he loses said soul and tortures her. Who doesn’t have an ex who fits that description?). Willow gets addicted to magic. Xander almost marries an ex-demon. Buffy gets a “real job” at a fast-food burger joint and discovers that the food service industry spawns its own brand of mindless clones. And when Buffy and her pals feel like their world is ending, well, it probably is.

To paraphrase Buffy’s tombstone, she saves the world a lot. Living vicariously through a pretty, well-dressed young woman who always has a snappy comeback isn’t a bad way to spend a few hours of your life.

That’s what SlayerCon is all about-getting closer to the people who made this show (and its spin-off, Angel) not only possible but so great that, to their most ardent fans, they’re an integral part of a meaningful existence. Never mind that the last episode of Buffy aired in May 2003 (after being relocated to the fledgling UPN network), and WB showed the final Angel in May 2004. SlayerCon keeps the spirit of the series alive.

Sci-fi conventions-whether they’re specific to a certain show, like Star Trek, or more broadly about comics and collectibles-are where geeks immerse themselves in a shared geekiness, which doesn’t sound much different from, say, the National Republican Convention or an NRA conference. Who can say who’s more fanatical?

Close proximity to such adoration doesn’t faze Clare Kramer, an angelically gorgeous blonde actress who played Glory, Buffy’s arch nemesis in Season 5. Glory is a powerful god who appeared in Sunnydale in search of The Key, a mysterious object she needed to open the border between demon dimensions and ours.

Typical of Whedonverse villains, Glory talks with as much eye-rolling, slang-laden wit as her Scooby pursuers. She loves designer dresses, shoes, bubble baths, mimosas, and sucking the life force out of people’s brains. Minions-lumpy-faced goons in monks’ robes-do her bidding, their language laced with worshipful praise-“oh glittering, glistening Glorificus,” they call her. “We bathe in your splendiferous radiance, your aromatic....” And Glory appreciates their fawning: “How about you shut up and listen to me, you disgusting little fools?” She’s very, very bad, but she’s one of the most entertaining femmes fatale in TV history.

Clare Kramer didn’t let all the deity treatment go to her head. The 31-year-old actress had a supporting part in the Kirsten Dunst flick Bring It On, just before she auditioned for Buffy. The character of Glory was mostly unformed at that time, with only two pages of text to audition from, says Kramer. So she did her own thing and got the part.

Kramer says she liked Glory because she wasn’t your run of the mill baddy. “She was multifaceted, and that was important to me,” Kramer says, adding that she didn’t want audiences to dismiss her as a plain ol’ villainess. “I wanted them to find humor and compassion and different aspects in Glory, not just evil. To me that would’ve been the easy way out.”

Kramer wasn’t familiar with Buffy before her tryout, but she quickly got up to speed on the show’s backstory and clued into the passion of its fans. She’s gotten an even closer look at Buffy fanatics (who don’t have an overarching moniker like Trekkers or X-Philes) at some conventions in Europe and at least one autograph event organized by SlayerCon’s masterminds, Las Vegas Autographs.

“It’s a really good chance for actors to get to meet the audience of the show,” she says of such events. “There’s a shared passion. Attendees love the show, and actors have a special place for it. And it’s a chance for actors to share each other’s perspectives and learn from that.”

Why, exactly, would an actress want to be crammed into a convention center or lecture hall with hundreds of Buffy fans (well, without police protection)?

“The Buffy audience is very intelligent, thankfully,” Kramer says. When event attendees cower like minions in her presence, they’re usually only joking.

SlayerCon and other such events include autograph sessions, panel discussions and Q&A hours, during which fans ask the usual questions, like what it was like to work with the other actors, what it was like to enter the show in the fifth season, and what’s up with Glory’s hair. “That’s how curly my hair is naturally,” she says. “I’ve never worn it curly for another role.”

Kramer says it adds up to a “very relaxing weekend.”

“The people who attend these thing are really intelligent and normal. They have a passion just like people who love sports.”

I suspect that at least one reason people attend is to shove aside any feelings of shame they might harbor about their obsession with a TV show and jump in fully clothed. There isn’t anything wrong with immersion into a world of fantasy (as long as you can continue to live in this one with a modicum of normalcy), but there’s comfort in sharing your most culturally marginal passions with strangers who are suddenly less strange for what you have in common.

Thanks to all the Buffy and Angel fans whose exhaustive online chronicles of all things Whedon helped me tremendously with this story.

What: SlayerCon. Guests include Anthony Stewart Head (Giles), Andy Hallett (Lorne), Julie Benz (Darla), Clare Kramer (Glory), Mercedes McNab (Harmony), Mark Lutz (Groosalugg from Angel) and Scott L. Schwartz (Biker Vamp). Activities include autograph and Q&A sessions, a performance by Anthony Stewart Head, a Caritas karaoke party, and a Buffy musical sing-along.
When: Friday, Sept. 9 thru Sunday, Sept. 11
Where: Marriott of Knoxville
How much: Prices vary per event; package deals available. Call 1-800-605-1095 or www.slayercon.com for info.