July 30, 2015

Shadowcon Overviews- Buffy and the Strong Female Character, Part IX

Is the Buffy Solution Absolute?

“From now on, every girl in the world who might be a Slayer, will be a Slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power, can stand up, will stand up. Slayers, every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?”

-Buffy to the Potential Slayers in “Chosen”

Your move, Hollywood!
The ambiguous question posed to Buffy by her sister Dawn at the end of the series, “what are you going to do now” could be seen as a sly question posed not only to Buffy, but to the corporations of film and television in general. Now that this progressive, thoughtful, in-depth, character-and thematically-driven show has run its course, what is Hollywood to do with this new set of standards, or rather, the breaking of those standards set by Hollywood? If the last ten years are any indication, I argue that we still have a lot to learn from Buffy (though obvious strides forward are evident). “Faith asks Buffy how it will feel to live ‘like a person.’ One possible reading of this” notes Jowett, “is that as women who have experienced agency and power… [they] will never have a ‘normal’ life in the patriarchal world of the contemporary United States,” because in the contemporary United States, or at least Hollywood and the big corporations that surround it, people do not seem to realize that audiences love seeing well-written, humanized women characters in film. There is a reason Buffy is studied academically: it breeds inspiration on an intellectual and philosophical level (I'll get back to this point in the final part), and it carries with it an important message not only of female physical empowerment, but also of female agency and personhood. That said, the show is not without its flaws, and, just as I examined the potential strengths of the “strong female character”, so too will I discuss the flaws that one could point out in Buffy.

July 23, 2015

Shadowcon Overviews- Buffy and the Strong Female Character, Part VIII

Buffy, Faith, and the Good Girl/Bad Girl Dichotomy

“Isn’t it crazy how slayin’ just makes you hungry and horny?”

-Faith in “Faith, Hope & Trick”

Faith Lehane, the second Slayer activated after Buffy (the first being Kendra), is a fairly complicated character amongst the cast of both Buffy and Angel, and it's easy to see why. She's haughty, rebellious, fierce, physically dominating, and rash. If the Slayer represents emotionlessness and physical empowerment for women at the behest of patriarchal rule, as I have argued, Faith represents the sexual dominance that the patriarchy might find appealing in women, and also serves to present Buffy with a darker version of her Slayer self. Jowett writes that Faith arguably “verbalizes the viewer’s enjoyment of both sex and violence in the show.” She notes that Buffy is a “Good Girl” while Faith is a “Bad Girl,” exhibiting qualities such as using her sexuality as a weapon, abusing her physical power for her own personal gain, and having an unsettling tendency to kill innocent people without a second thought. While Buffy exhibits Faith’s sexual desires and participates in using her body as a sexual weapon, she is exempted from falling into the same “Bad Girl” category as Faith because of the way this abrasive and assaulting behavior is presented to her character as a development of an already-established person, rather than as an introductory characteristic as seen with Faith.

July 16, 2015

Shadowcon Overviews- Buffy and the Strong Female Character, Part VII

Buffy and Sexuality

“I know you'll never love me. I know that I'm a monster. But you treat me like a man.”

-Spike to Buffy in “The Gift”

Oh boy. Here we are, looking at one of the most controversial and talked-about relationships in the whole series, and on No-Pants Thursday, no less, so things are already at risk!

Like any other section of this work, I would like to ground this analysis in the context of what this means for Buffy as going against (or conforming to) the “strong female character” stereotype. I mention this because this section was probably the most challenging for me to write for three reasons. First, my handle on the discussed relationship is fairly slippery compared to what has been said before by other people; this section had the most rewrites, expansions, edits, and god-knows-what-else done to it before finally arriving here because I always felt that I was talking too much about one thing and not enough about another.

Second, what this section covers is probably the most debated and indeed problematic relationship of the whole show. While some may be quick to defend this as being “daring” or “a gutsy move” by the writers, I think this is a case where the writers’ faults and imperfections should be as much a part of the discussion as the content itself; it is okay to admit that a show has some artistic and narrative faults, after all, and I don't think those who see this relationship as a problematic one in terms of narrative and characters are not without ground on which to stand. That's why this is so complex; like any good story, there are differing and equally valid points to be made regarding this relationship, and I hope to explore that to the best of my ability.

Finally, my stance on this whole thing is that it was a fascinating relationship if a bit overdone. It had a lot of complexity to it, and I feel that everything in there was needed so that we as the audience could explore it fully. The mere act of saying this, however, is enough to rile many people up, with some thinking, because I think this relationship is effective and interesting, that this somehow equates it to being morally or ethically correct, so I would like to stress that I obviously would never think that this is a healthy relationship, or a good example of what a relationship should be like in real life. And that's as it should be, I think, because the show doesn't glorify this, it never makes things out to be happy (until the end), and it presents its subject matter with maturity, building around themes and characters far more than fan service and novelty. That said, it is shoved down our throats a bit, and the resolution in Season Seven proves a sticking point for me. Previous drafts of this had me discussing this topic form a single point of view (my own), but as I began getting deeper into it, I found that this just never captured the full extent of what this relationship was about or what it means and implies to the audience and to the rest of the show, so I decided to take a step back and explore several different arguments and views regarding the subject matter.

July 9, 2015

Shadowcon Overviews- Buffy and the Strong Female Character, Part VI

Death, Life, and Buffy as the Strong Female Character

“Give me something to sing about / Please, give me something!”

-Buffy in “Once More, with Feeling”

The time that Buffy does not say no to death is after she has already died. Season Six picks up a few months after the Season Five finale, “The Gift”, in which Buffy sacrifices herself to save the world (thus fulfilling the message that “death is [her] gift,” Her friends, her power source, resurrect her using dark magic in “Bargaining, Part 1”, believing that they are saving her from whatever hell dimension she was in. Unlike other shows that might have run with the idea that the resurrected protagonist was in hell and is now thankful for having a new leash on life, Buffy again turns the tables on the viewer and instead presents Buffy as this broken character, a woman who did not want to be ripped from death.

July 3, 2015

Shadowcon Mini-Views- Inside Out

Spoilers ahead.

So, I just got back from seeing Inside Out, a film that eluded me for some time due to scheduling conflicts, poor time management, oversleeping (yes, really), and so forth. But, I finally saw it, and thankfully, the hype for this didn't disappoint at all! Inside Out is a return to form for Pixar, a studio that has never had an unoriginal idea put to screen, and that has only made three comparatively weak movies, BraveCars 2, and Monsters University.

But Inside Out has possibly the most original and creative idea at its center that I have ever seen, blending as Pixar does so well comedy with seriousness, adventure with morals, and cuteness with heart. It's the ideas of thought and feeling that are explored in this one, how emotions and the fear and/or denial of certain feelings can affect you. It's a complex idea to be sure, and Inside Out explores this in great ways; maybe not to its fullest (as this film is only an hour and a half), but certainly in ways that captivate and excite while also teaching us something about ourselves. The heart of the film is so strong because it's universal: everyone has emotions, everyone has feelings, and everyone has, at one time or another, wanted to shut certain feelings down or have other feelings and emotions and memories come to the fore.

The notion of memory and how that intersects with feelings is also explored here, and the movie takes that concept and just bends the hell out of it in such clever and unique ways. The gags that result from this are hilarious for the most part, and the more important messages that result from this are masterful and important The five dominant feelings, Anger, Fear, Disgust, Sadness, and Joy, are all lovable in their own ways, the former three being used mostly for comic relief, while Joy and Sadness are the two protagonists of the film. All of these feelings essentially control Riley, a happy kid who falls on hard times as her parents have decided to uproot their lives from Minnesota to San Fransisco, causing her to become more and more lonely and sad, fearful and worrisome, whereas before she was super happy and joyful.

The film takes a wholly fresh and enticing slant on this already captivating and unique idea as it speaks to how being happy all the time can sometimes be a bad or harmful thing. Indeed, Joy seems to want to shield Riley from Sadness so as to keep Riley happy, but the ending message is that you need all types of emotions in order to fully live and thrive, and that's a great message to put in here. It also goes another step and tells us that sometimes it's okay to be sad, that that can lead to good things happening along the way.

The Pixar feels are on full display here as the film goes from hilarious to serious to sad back to happy in such a fluid way. It's awesome how Pixar is able to master that, and they've done that here in spades. Bring some tissues to this one, trust me. The gags and laughs are awesome, as I said. Joy and Sadness are sucked out of the main control tower of Riley's head and have to find their way back to it, navigating the recesses of Riley's mind to do so, which leads to some awesome puns and funny moments that are super clever and cute. (I particularly like when they enter the nightmare world of Riley's subconscious and it's filled with broccoli and a loud vacuum cleaner and a clown.) It's a movie with heart obviously but also with just a great exploration of its central idea and an important and vital message to not be afraid of sadness, to not cage it, because sometimes that can be vital to a moment of happiness and brilliance. That kind of a moral doesn't happen very often in movies, and I felt so refreshed to see it presented this way here.

The voice cast is phenomenal! Lewis Black as the voice of Anger is fucking hilarious, and Amy Poehler drives the film along with her vocal talents. The animation is simple but so fun to watch, offering a great contrast between the drab, slightly Pixar-gritty realism of the real world and the bright, almost Dr. Seuss-like wacky fun world of Riley's head. Everything is here to entice the audience and keep even little kids seated throughout. I saw this with a room full of children, obviously, and their laughter at the jokes and small cries when the movie got sad made this all the more engrossing.

I may have seen this one late, but I'm so glad I did. Inside Out lives up to the hype it's received, the critical acclaim that's been thrown upon it, and the overall joy that lights people up when they talk about this movie. I certainly was entertained, but more than that, I was impressed. Impressed because quite frankly, the movie industry has been oddly uninspired and drab of late with the whole superhero craze, and it was so amazing to see something fresh and exciting and just so damn fun and cute for once! Go see this, you'll have a lot of fun!

July 2, 2015

Shadowcon Overviews- Buffy and the Strong Female Character, Part V

The Slayer Role and How Buffy Defies It

“Buffy, when I said you could slay vampires and have a social life, I didn't mean at the same time.”

-Giles to Buffy in “Never Kill a Boy on the First Date”

One of the pieces that make up Buffy’s character is the Slayer role with which she is most associated, though most often she is reluctant to be so. Throughout the show’s first three seasons, she is constantly shown as wanting to be a normal girl despite her title as Slayer preventing her from being so. The Slayer as a role in the show is described as “a woman fighting for more than life. She fights like fighting is her life. It’s like the air she breathes,” one girl in the world chosen by destiny to fight the forces of darkness. When the current Slayer dies, the next is called. As such, being the Slayer and juggling a normal life (and also remaining inherently feminine in the way she is written) is not easy for Buffy. She is told repeatedly throughout the series by those older or better trained than her that she is a fighter and must be nothing more in order to fulfill her destiny, and that she must be alone in order to do so.