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March 27, 2006

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Jennifer Armstrong

This is very good writing. And yet, I know not what to make of it in terms of my own experiences, because in a way, I have met many Buffies. I see them, of course at the martial arts gym, and, although not all of them fight with demons, some do and have.

Liam

Kate,
I'd be interested to know how you interpret a scriptwriter like Whedon's career, and its significance for the marketplace of scripts and stories within capitalism.
The whole production of Firefly and to a certain extent the later seasons of Buffy and Angel were demanded into production by a well-organised and mobilised audience. That much I know.
Is it, though, a new frontier for consumer and audience activism, demanding better television and interesting, feminist(ish) characters and plotlines, or the same old industrial behaviour of market-centred production companies adapting to the Internet, and thus getting free market research?
Is the death of the season-formatted drama series just around the corner?
Are there any qualified pilots aboard the plane who can assist the Captain with a technical flight issue? Have you ever been in a Turkish prison?

Friends of Gina Torres' bottom

Do you like Pina Coladas?

Kate

Jennifer, I reckon that's the gap between experience and representation. I too know many Buffys and Willows and strong, smart, independent women. But I don't see them on my TV very often, or in films, or in books. That's not to say they aren't there, but that female 'characters' like Buffy are rare. Actual women like Buffy -- minus the superpowers and the being dead and the vampire boyfriends of course -- aren't.

Liam, I don't know. I'd like to think it was the latter, and though I don't want to romanticise Whedon or his achievements I do think he's genuinely interested in his audience because he, like Quinten Tarantino, is a real fan-boy and geek and he believes in his characters and stories. Beyond Whedon himself though I don't doubt the mechanisms are just as profit driven. So, a combination of both.

And how the hell did you find out about the Turkish prison?

Kate

FOGTB, that's none of your damn business!

ampersandduck

Good post!

Now you're going to attract a whole new wave of Googling readers... hope you're ready!

Looking forward to reading about the Bad. In your own time, of course :)

Liam

A very good post, I should have begun, sorry Kate.
[claps]

Jennifer

Kate said: That's not to say they aren't there, but that female 'characters' like Buffy are rare.

Jennifer: That's for sure! Take a look at today's West Australian, page 3. Apparently, we all use handbags to express our moods and status, these days. It's what separates us from males.

Jennine

Looking forward to Part Two!

Your point about the destabilization of the action/relationship storytelling conventions in Buffy is a good one, and one that I've been thinking about lately. I recently read Octavia Butler's novel 'Fledgling' (which is interesting to compare with Buffy, because it also blends action and relationships, but operates from an even more strongly 'Othered' perspective, because Butler's protagonist is young, female, Black, and non-human). Reading 'Fledgling' reminded me that I haven't encountered many fast-paced stories with lots of action that unroll quickly but that also take time to develop complex relationships - let alone stories like that which feature a female hero. Buffy definitely filled a gap, in that respect.

evil_twin

I don't understand how someone can put so much thought into Buffy and not have seen Angel. Rectify!

lee

I'm with evil twin- you gotta watch Angel!

Admirers of Jewel Staite's Cute Little Button Noseywosey

Um, yeah, what evil_twin and lee said.

WTF?

So you have no idea who Fred is? Or Lilah Morgan? And you haven't seen the Firefly cast's cameos in Angel? Sheesh.

[I AM winding you up here, Bruce, but come. the. fuck. on. Hire the DVDs for feck's sake]

Haiku, to answer your question: it's the latter. Capitalism works - deal.

Kate

Are you people never happy! Yes, I know it's a major oversite on my part but my local DVD rental place doesn't stock Angel and I can't afford to buy it right now (see: being unemployed).

GK

In your brief para on Firefly, you omit the character of Inara. Why is this? This character is a bit of a mixed bag I guess but should probably be given equal treatment as the other female characters. Any comments??

Kate

GK, I'm coming to Inara. I find her a fairly troublesome character and so I wanted to deal with her separately.

Anna Winter

Planet and Blockbuster in Mt Lawley both stock the entire series of Angel.

And excellent post. I think if I had to choose one good thing, I would say that I too like the way that BtVS, Angel and Firefly all develop the idea of the family based on shared goals and friendship. Like (Season 2?) when Spike loses a fight and mutters about a slayer with friends and family – there are many times when the main hero could have died had her/his friends not been there to rescue them.

Liam

Of course capitalism works as a TV producing mechanism Fedya, but then, consider the content.
http://www.bennyhinn.org/default.cfm

kungfubear

Having trouble getting Angel on DVD? One word: Netflix.

http://www.netflix.com

Somewhat Indifferent to Summer Glau's Anorexic Charms, but Intrigued by her Flexibility

I'm sorry, Haiku, was that an *gasp* anecdotal argument?

'Cos you could have pointed to worse drek than that. You ever see Soviet television, tovarishch'?

Liam

Anecdotal arguments are the ones I do the best, like the time I...

Kate

Indeed, Anna, Buffy refuses to play along with the traditional slayer role of being an aloof outsider and that's why the watchers send in Wesley -- meanwhile, the show makes it clear that while she's a hero, she's such a good one because she's part of a 'family'.

Thanks kungfubear but I don't think they do Netflix in Australia. (Google confirms this.) They have similar services but none seem as good.

As for the capitalistic production modes of TV and film: someone like Joss Whedon is motivated less by profit interest -- granted, I'm sure he LOVES being successful and having money -- as more by a 'creative' impulse. How do you reconcile that with a purely capitalistic system? Well, it doesn't quite fit with the economic rationalist worldview of people doing things purely to gain the most financial benefit from them and it suggests that true innovation in TV and cinema and music etc is driven not so much by a desire to make wads of cash but by a desire to do something creative. Which I think is interesting if somewhat pointless, because I think the best way creative people have of succeeding in being cerative lies in a mixture of capitalism and socialism.

TimT

Personally, I think capitalism is the best for artists in the medium and long-term, but I know that artists are opportunists, and if a government offers them money, then they'll go for that, no questions asked. The drive for profit might be different to the artistic urge; but the two don't really contradict one another, either: really, they should be able to work together.

Looking at the Buffy series, it's interesting to see how Whedon works in both serious themes while playing with the television format, designed to keep viewers coming back. Charles Dickens and other novelists who wrote in serial form for magazines would have done the same thing back in the age of the novel.

Good essay Kate, can't wait for the 'Buffy Bad'. If you're interested, you should try and get a hold of the 'Fray' comics - they're written by Whedon, and they're about a future vampire slayer called Melaka Fray. Very dark, but very good.

Kate

Tim yes, the 'narrative arc' used by Whedon to keep the series going were excellent. The show managed to be both a long-form story and episodic, which is a tricky balance to get right.

Those comics do sound interesting. I'll look them up.

Adherents of Cap'n Tightpants' School of Harsh but Effective Negotiation

"Joss Whedon is motivated less by profit interest -- granted, I'm sure he LOVES being successful and having money -- as more by a 'creative' impulse. How do you reconcile that with a purely capitalistic system?"

You're assuming, Kate, that a "purely capitalistic system" is hostile to "creativity". I wonder why...oh, here's why:

"Well, it doesn't quite fit with the economic rationalist worldview of people doing things purely to gain the most financial benefit from them..."

This is why (or, at least, one reason why) people should study a little economics before debating economic issues. The key assumptions underlying classical and neoclassical economics [let's just ditch the "economic rationalist" pejorative for a mo', shall we?] are NOT that people are motivated solely by financial benefit. This is a gross fallacy. The key operating assumptions are that people act rationally in pursuit of their self-interest.

This means that if artists attach value to the art they create, beyond its market value (i.e. what someone else will pay for it), they will spend resources (e.g. their time, labour) producing art for it's own sake. Why? Because they get enjoyment out of it. It's in their interest to create art, so they do it.

Art existed before capitalist economies, and clearly exists within capitalist economies. Most of the great works of art of the last few centuries have been produced in capitalist or proto-capitalist economies, where artists lived off the sales of their creations, and where market systems allowed the distribution of their works to consumers willing to pay for them. The idea that capitalism is somehow hostile to art is ridiculous.

Besides, Whedon is a third-generation Hollywood screenwriter. I think he would be a good deal more pragmatic than your idealised Artiste.

[/rant]

If renting "Angel" in the Wild West is so problematic, would you consent to me lending you a series or two?

Kate

Study economics! Never!

I generally try not to debate economic issues, Fyodor, except on a fairly generalised level of railing against some of the less-good parts about our current system of capitalism. Mainly because it all makes my head hurt.

However, I would like to reject your assertion that I see Whedon as an artiste. I do see him as someone who has ideas and then tries to put them into action, rather than someone who wants to make money and picked working in TV and film as the way to do it. Whedon himself has acknowledged the huge difficulties he's had in getting some of his ideas translated into actual series and films -- because film and TV production studios weren't interested in anything too different in case it didn't sell. (Anyway, as good lefty I don't really buy into the 'one talented individual' way of looking at the world and I do try to resist casting Whedon as an auteur. I could go on about the structural and collective aspects of filmmaking but I won't.)

Now, I understand completely that these companies are businesses and they need to make a profit to keep creating their products so they don't want to make things that won't make them a profit. I get it. I'm not the sort of lefty who sees profit-making as bad and capitalism as innately evil.

Hence, I think you're projecting onto me the idea that capitalism is bad for creativity. I didn't say that, and I certainly don't think: ohh, TV companies are bad for wanting to make money! I just think that sometimes that the money-making drive can foster nothing more than derivative formulaic tosh ala CSI. It can also create The Sopranos and Six Feet Under.

Really, there's a constant tension between doing something interesting and doing something that will sell -- I've been in the position of having to make such choices myself, and I've chosen 'what sells' -- and I frankly don't see any way to get around that tension.

I also think all people who are interested in producing work for reasons other than profit are aware of the difficulty in making something interesting and making something sucessful.

I also am aware that I am not the final arbiter of taste and that if the masses want to watch CSI and not Buffy there's not a damn thing I can do about it. That's how markets work -- people buy want they want. However, I do think that sometimes cultural producers -- filmmakers, TV studios, etc -- fall into the trap of only giving people the same old same old because they believe it's the only thing that will sell. It comes down to the balancing act between what cultural producers are willing to risk and what audiences are willing to buy.

(I was going to point out that in the Australian context, the 'golden age' of Australian filmmaking is generally considered to be the 70s and 80s when government tax regulations allowed heavy investment and write offs on film-making projects. So it's interesting in that conext that innovation flowed from money, rather than money flowing from innovation. Of course, it also produced a lot of duds and a lot of money was wasted on long lunches that were written off as filmmaking expenses, so there you go...)

[/my own rant]

Thanks for your kind offer. I have located a cache of Angel DVDs locally and I shall be watching them when JW goes to PNG at the end of April.

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