[12 December 2013]
Do we really need another book about Buffy the Vampire Slayer?
Perform a Barnes and Noble search for those words and hundreds of books pop up—some fiction, some graphic novels, and some analysis and/or commentary. In fact Fan Phenomena: Buffy the Vampire Slayer includes a reading guide after each chapter. Like the romantic elements of Buffy and want more after reading “Buffy, Dark Romance and Female Horror Fans” (Chapter 6 of Fan Phenomena)—no worries, two pages of additional resources follow. Haven’t gotten your fill of Buffy and fan art? Nikki Faith Fuller, author of “The Art of Buffy Crafts” (Chapter 8 of Fan Phenomena) suggests checking out (among other things) “Joss Whedon on Craft and Craftiness”.
So no—we may not need another Buffy book—but considering the show has been off the air for over a decade and many people are still talking about, writing about, watching, and even creating new Buffy content, one more book on Whedon’s Scooby gang doesn’t seem at all out of place—particularly one that focuses, in large part, on fan responses to the show.
Edited by Jennifer K. Stuller, Fan Phenomena: Buffy the Vampire Slayer includes ten essays and four interviews. The essays cover a range, from the aforementioned “Dark Romance” and “The Art of Buffy Crafts” to chapters that look at “Slayer Slang”, Willow and Tara, and educational value of the show. The four interviews also cover a lot of ground and include a Q and A with college professor Rhonda Wilcox, the “Mother of Buffy Studies” who was the founding editor of Slayage: The Journal of the Whedon Studies Association. Another interview is with Scott Allie, a senior editor at Dark Horse Comics who is “intimately involved with production of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 and 9 comics.”
Cover to cover, it’s a solid collection, well rounded, well researched, and written in an accessible tone (with just a few lapses into more academic speak). And it’s about a lot more than Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The second essay, “’Let’s Watch a Girl’: Whedon, Buffy and Fans in Action” notes that in 2006 Whedon was honored by the women’s rights organization Equality Now. In his acceptance speech, Whedon mocks (and imitates) reporters who continually ask him why he creates “strong women characters”. Whedon’s response (in part) “Why are you even asking me this? […] How is it possible that this is even a question? […]Why do you-Why aren’t you asking a hundred other guys why they don’t write strong women characters?”
Author Tanya R. Cochran doesn’t stop there, though. She notes that Whedon took the issue one huge step further a year later and talks about a post he wrote for Whedonesque titled “Let’s Watch a Girl Get Beaten to Death”. In it, Whedon compares Captivity, a torture porn movie of which he had already been critical, to the stoning of a young woman in Iraq—events “he saw as fundamentally related” and asks “his peeps” to act. Not surprisingly, they do.
While not all chapters discuss such serious subjects, each does convey a certain thoughtfulness. “Welcome to the Hellmouth’: Harnessing the Power of Fandom in the Classroom” compares Zander’s place in the group to a functioning learning community and notes that including Buffy in the classroom can make learning “much more collaborative” and “decentralized”. “Ficcers and ‘Shippers: A Love Story” suggests that “series-oriented fans are involved in cultural consumption” while “story-oriented fans are producers of cultures” (which is why story-oriented fans tend to create the fan fiction). “Buffyverse Fandom as Religion” contends that the unique language, rituals, and fan-made art associated with the Buffy world suggest parallels between Buffy and religion.
What also keeps this book fresh is that almost all the essays look at something that happened after the series’ finale. Often it is some type of fan fiction or response, but the final chapter in the book, Arthur Smith and David Bushman’s “Unlimited Potentials: Reflections of the Slayer”, looks at “the influence of Buffy as an icon”. Smith and Bushman compare Buffy to a range of characters—from Dr. Who’s Rose Tyler to The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen. In addition to providing a good parallel to the nicely done opening chapter, “The Best, Worst, Known, and Not-So Known, Pop Culture Influences on the Buffyverse”, “Unlimited Potential” also brings readers full circle, back to the questions posed in the beginning of the book.
In the introduction, editor Stuller asks “Why, when Buffy bowed over ten years ago, is it still so important to fans? And what are the ways in which they express their continued devotion to, and deep relationship with, the Buffyverse?”
Each chapter addresses these questions and gives different answers, but Kristen Julia Anderson’s essay “Seeing Green: Willow and Tara Forever” provides perhaps one of the most interesting reasons—because (to some) the show got it wrong. Anderson recounts the outrage after Tara’s death and notes that fan fiction posted on the website Different Colored Pens must end “with Willow and Tara ‘alive and together’”. She concludes:
Fans of Willow and Tara who post on Different Colored Pens can be seen as not only extending the couple’s relationship, but as also refusing to accept character treatment and portrayals they view as offensive and oppressive… Until the time when love is defined not by who is in love, and physical relationships are not scrutinized by the outside observer, online fanfiction communities… at the very least, remain spaces where marginalized character relationships can fully be privileged and embraced.
Why are so many still passionate about all things Buffy? Is it because of the Buffy character, the symbolism in the show, the relatability of the characters, or the slang? Is it because, as Fuller notes in “The Art of Buffy Crafts”, that “Buffy has inspired us all in surviving our own battles in life”? Or is it Joss Whedon and his relationship with the fans? All possibilities, and all possibilities are explored in Fan Phenomena.