Friday, August 9, 2013

Understanding the Whedonesque at Emerson College

Below the jump, you'll find my syllabus for a junior/senior seminar that I'll be teaching at Emerson College that covers Joss Whedon's entire career... yes, even Roseanne!

Putting this syllabus together has been a challenge. Joss is basically our generation's Howard Hawks, with a notable work in seemingly every genre and medium. There's literally hundreds of hours to choose from. I tried to only use episodes/works he had a direct hand in, so that meant I couldn't use Buffy's "The Zeppo" and "Passion", Firefly's "Jaynestown", and several notable episodes of Angel and Dollhouse. (One class does deal with the auteurs who grew out of the School of Whedon, so we do have "Shindig" by the talented Jane Espenson.) So, there were quite a few authors and episodes that I didn't get to use. I wish I had time for Buffy's "Graduation Day" and "Hush", Dollhouse's "Echo", Angel's "A Hole in the World", The Astonishing X-Men, Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope, and Commentary! The Musical. And I hope that the pilot of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is streaming by early December...

In addition, two books that should be very important to future courses in this vein aren't out yet: David Lavery's Joss Whedon: A Creative Portrait, due out this fall, and the anthology, A Joss Whedon Reader, due out in 2014 from Syracuse University Press. While I'm excited for both volumes, the anthology has two of the first scholarly pieces on The Avengers, by Ensley Guffey, and The Cabin in the Woods, by Kristopher Woofter. Man, I can't wait to read those ones! The essay by Tanya Cochran providing a history of Whedon Studies should be fun too: I missed the first Slayage conference, actually!

And Whedon Studies is such a big sub-discipline within Television Studies now that there were a ton of heart-breaking cuts there too. But those articles always end up in lecture notes, making the teacher seem brighter by standing on the shoulders of giants... who, for me, are Victoria Spah, Cynthea Masson and Marni Stanley, Frederique Lecoq, Rhonda Wilcox, Dawn Heinecken, Jes Battis, Ian Shuttleworth, Sue Tjardes, Steve Wilson, David Fritts, Greg Stevenson, Elizabeth Rambo, Renee St. Louis and Miriam Riggs, Dominic Alessio, Stacey Abbott, and Jeffrey Bussolini.

If you want to buy any of the textbooks in this course, I recommend going to the Whedon Studies Amazon bookstore. Support the forces of Whedon's canonization! (kidding...)

Monday, July 22, 2013

Mr. Pointy Award Winners for 2012 Scholarship

The Whedon Studies Association (WSA) is pleased to announce the winners of its 2013 “Mr. Pointy” award for best scholarship published during the previous year in the field of Whedon Studies, the academic study of the works of film and television auteur Joss Whedon. The winning pieces of scholarship are:

Best Essay: “When the Heterosexual Script Goes Flexible: Public Reactions to
Female Heteroflexibility in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Comic Books” (Sexualities, 16.1-2, 2012) by Hélène Frohard-Dourlent.

Best Book: Der sympathische Vampir: Visualisierungen von Männlichkeiten in der TV-Serie Buffy (Campus-Verlag, 2011) by Marcus Recht.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

SLAYAGE Special Issue CFP


SLAYAGE Special Issue: Critical Reflections on THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012)

Edited by Kristopher Woofter and Jasie Stokes

Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s recent horror film, THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012, produced 2010), was released to general critical praise, but left many fans and scholar-fans divided regarding the film’s love-hate relationship with the genre, its framing of the horror audience as both savvy and deluded, and its simultaneous celebration and ridicule of horror conventions.

Trading on character types of the 1980s Slasher film, but decidedly not a Slasher film in any other way, CABIN left many viewers wondering how to place the film: Is it a deconstruction of a horror genre in a state of crisis? A fraught film, caught between the sensibilities of a “visionary” Whedon and the horror fanboy approach of Goddard? Is it a satire? A comedy? Or is it, as Whedon has intimated in several interviews, an ethical interrogation of horror’s ostensible turn to “torture porn,” a contested term in scholarship identifying a trend of spectacle horror in films as diverse as Mel Gibson’s splatter-prone THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST (2004), Eli Roth’s interesting hybrid, HOSTEL (2005), and recent French philosophical horror film, MARTYRS (2008)?

Regardless of how successful one gauges THE CABIN IN THE WOODS as critique, Whedon and Goddard have created their film as a commentary on the state of the horror genre specifically, and horror artistry, reception, and viewership more generally. If the film is an act of horror criticism, then it is largely in line with the most popular critical concepts applied to horror since the 1970s—that of Carol Clover’s trend-setting (and over-applied) work on the “final girl,” and of feminist criticism of the male “gaze” initiated by Laura Mulvey and then debated in the work of Linda Williams, Carol Clover, Cynthia Freeland, and others.

This special issue of Slayage hopes to generate discussion around THE CABIN IN THE WOODS within a number of contexts: historical, cultural, commercial, artistic, generic, thematic, theoretical. We especially encourage essays that take on THE CABIN IN THE WOODS’s own theoretical pretensions—around the cinematic gaze, media saturation, surveillance, horror fandom, horror genre conventions, other genre conventions, horror viewership, monsters and monstrosity, corporatized media, the Hollywood “dream machine,” and so on. Illuminating comparisons to recent trends in horror in cinema and on television (not necessarily related to Whedon’s or Goddard’s other work), as well as to specific films from any era of horror, are most welcome.

Please send a proposal of not more than 250 words to Jasie Stokes ( and Kristopher Woofter ( by Friday, 7 June, 2013. Begin your email subject line with the following “tag”: [Cabin].
You will be notified within a week after the deadline if your proposal is accepted. Please note that if your proposal is accepted, a first draft of your essay will be expected by no later than Friday, 30 August, 2013.

(via Kristopher Woofter/WSA on Facebook)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

New Firefly book!

Call for Papers: Joss Whedon’s Firefly

Michael Goodrum (Essex) and Philip Smith (Loughborough), Editors

It has been ten years since Joss Whedon’s Firefly (2002-3) was first screened. Although the narrative covered only one season and a film, the series has enjoyed a long afterlife through comic books, a roleplaying game, and the fan community. Despite the continued interest in, and development of, the series, Firefly remains relatively unexplored in academic literature, particularly when compared to the critical attention directed toward Whedon’s earlier series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003).

This volume, comprised of 12 essays, to be published by Scarecrow Press, seeks to address this imbalance. We are looking for 5,000-7,000-word contributions which fall into one of the following broad areas:
  • Politics
  • Race
  • Class
  • Agency
Preference will be given to proposals which satisfy one or more of the following criteria:
  • Contributions which are prepared to challenge, as well as celebrate, Firefly. Consider Firefly in light of the controversy over the casting of Avatar: The Last Airbender (2010), for example. How should we read a series with an abundance of Chinoiserie and very few (if any) Asian actors? How does the uncomplicated, humorous and stylized violence of Firefly and Serenity relate to the high instance of gun violence in the US and the very real violence of American military action overseas?
  • Contributions which examine Firefly alongside other texts. How does Firefly's Western/Sci-Fi multicultural landscape compare to the Noir/Sci-Fi multicultural city shown in Blade Runner (1982)? How does the portrayal of Asian cultures compare to that shown in Avatar: The Last Airbender? How does the relationship between the Browncoats and the Alliance compare to the Empire and the Rebels in Star Wars?
  • Contributions which include a consideration of Firefly and Serenity's afterlife. How have the comics, roleplaying game and fan-made expansions of the universe changed the series? How have the creators used their respective mediums?
  • Contributions which show an awareness of existing Firefly scholarship. How does your work relate to the papers in Investigating Firefly and Serenity (2008) and to Christina Rowley's work on gender in Firefly? What are the limits of the existing scholarship?
  • Willingness to apply theoretical concepts. Contributions should be prepared to mobilise theory in their approaches to Firefly, particularly if dealing with agency.
  • Willingness to situate Firefly in a broader historical context. How does Firefly engage with prevalent themes in both US history and the history of international relations?
Proposals of 300-500 words should be sent to by May 1, 2013. Proposals should include the author’s email address and affiliation. Full papers will be expected by September 1, 2013.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Time to Nominate for the Mr. Pointys of 2012!

Nominations of excellent scholarship in Whedon Studies for work copyrighted in 2012 to be recognized by the Whedon Studies Association’s Mr. Pointy Awards can be submitted to the jury for:

  • best article (including scholarly chapters in books, scholarly articles, scholarly essays online)
  • best book (monograph or collection) 
These articles and books should be on any aspect of the various Whedonverses, their audiences, or the work of Joss Whedon or that of his associates (e.g. other writers on a Whedon series, the music director of a Whedon series, an actor in a Whedon series, an editor of a Whedon film, etc.).

Nominations should be sent by WSA members by March 31 to Tamy Burnett, chair of the Awards Committee, at Please note that WSA members may not nominate articles or books they wrote/co-wrote and/or edited, although they may nominate articles from the book they edited if the articles were not written by them. WSA members may nominate book volumes to which they contributed an essay but did not perform larger editing duties. Only associates of the WSA may nominate. If you would like to join the WSA, please contact WSA Secretary Kristopher Woofter at

What follows is a non-exhaustive list of articles. Please post in the comments if I've forgotten someone and I will post them post-haste.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

TV Fangdom CFP

TV Fangdom:
A Conference on Television Vampires
7-8 June 2013
The University of Northampton

Vampires have always made charismatic characters and with the rise of the VILF and the fangbanger they are more popular than ever. This conference aims to explore the vampire particularly in relation to its presence on television. From Barnabas Collins to the Count von Count, from Mona the Vampire to True Blood’s Pam, vampires appear everywhere on television schedules and in television history, whether in serials, made-for-TV movies, adaptations of gothic novels, adverts or children’s TV. How has the vampire mythos been tailored for TV? Does the vampire’s appearance on a domestic medium like television blunt its fangs and tame its hypersexuality? What kind of audience have TV vampires attracted and how has their popularity been exploited? In what ways has the vampire been remade for different eras of television, different TV genres, or different national contexts?

Keynote and featured speakers:
·        Brigid Cherry, editor of True Blood: Investigating Vampires and Southern Gothic and author of Horror (Routledge Film Guidebook)
·        Marcus Recht, author of Der Sympatische Vampir
·        Catherine Spooner, author of Contemporary Gothic

Proposals are invited on (but not limited to) the following topics:
  • TV’s development and appropriation of the reluctant vampire
  • Vampire hunters on TV
  • The vampire as allegory
  • Issues of gender and sexuality
  • Narrative and structure
  • Different formats (miniseries, animation, made-for-TV movie)
  • Adaptation
  • Visual style
  • Sound and music
  • Special effects
  • Scheduling
  • Marketing and advertising
  • New media, ancillary materials and extended narratives
  • Intersection with other media (novels, films, comics, video games, music)
  • Audience and consumption (including fandom)
  • Genre hybridity
  • The vampire and children’s television
  • Inter/national variants
  • Translation and dubbing
We will be particularly interested in proposals on older TV shows, on those that have rarely been considered as vampire fictions, and on analysis of international vampire TV. The conference organisers welcome contributions from scholars within and outside universities, including research students, and perspectives are invited from different disciplines.

Please send proposals (250 words) for 20 minute papers plus a brief biography (100 words) to all three organisers by 16th December 2012.

Conference Website

This conference is run in collaboration with the Centre for Contemporary Narrative and Cultural Theory at the University of Northampton and the Centre for Research in Film and Audiovisual Cultures at the University of Roehampton.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Sacrificial Virgin in the Whedonverses: It's RAW!

Two of the few panels that Kristen and I attended together at Slayage 5 were the Saturday panels, which she covered last week. Since she has a great recap, I won't repeat her, but I do want to make a few observations.

First, Kristen does watch Everybody Loves Raymond many nights, even though she hates it, as its syndicated reruns are on the CW at 11:30 pm between Friends and 30 Rock, both of which she loves. I never thought that TV flow in scheduling matters, with the advent of the remote control and video on demand like Hulu and Netflix, but we are living proof that flow still matters. Of course, she's the quintessential distracted viewer during that time block (because she dislikes the show) and I bet her twitter logs would prove that!

Second, I too adored the Christine Jarvis presentation, "The Reappearance of the Disappearing Heroine: Considering Buffy and Bella." She ends her discussion of runaway heroines by asking why audiences embrace a "psychology that's likely to end in disappointment," noting that running away serves as a passive aggressive tactic by the voiceless to force loved ones to declare their emotions, punish disappointing lovers, and get missing validation. This childish "they'll miss me when I'm gone" trope was on the wane in romance literature. Buffy's running away is not endorsed by the text the way that Bella's is, esp. in "Dead Man's Party" and in the fact that her missing lover is not available to be entangled by this kind of emotional blackmail, as she sent him to Hell. Of course, one could look at Buffy as directing her covert anger towards her parental figures (Joyce and Giles) and Bella's being the classic romantic entanglement.

Jarvis, in the Q&A, noted that some readers might embrace Bella's choice because, like the romance readers studied by Janice Radway, they are themselves running away through the act of losing themselves in a book, playing hooky from being other-directed care-givers as they indulge in me-time. Of course, viewers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer do the same thing. The question then becomes whether the audience is finding themselves in a story or losing themselves in a romance and hoping to be found by a significant other who goes looking for them (and finds them curled up on the couch). Since one of the dominant audiences of the Twilight series were mothers who endorsed its premise of "True Love Waits", I really want to know whether they endorsed Edward and Bella's running away or shook their heads from a place of wisdom. The few readers of Twilight at Emerson College have been quite critical readers of the series, so I have my hopes.

Third, I found Laurel Bowman and Lauren Mayes' presentation, "Death and the Maiden: Tragic Virgins in the Whedonverses" to be very intellectually stimulating. They note that sacrificial virgins litter Whedon's work: Buffy (Prophecy Girl), Kendra (Innocence), Dawn (The Gift), the entire Slayer institution, Fred (by her mentor and in Pylea), River (essentially a Cassandra whose task is to get people to listen to her message, eventually revealed in Serenity), and Connor sacrifices a girl for Jasmine. These sacrifices must be of marriageable age but unattached; be sacrificed by a male who they trust and feel affection for, usually a father; and must be to benefit a male community and/or birth family, not for their own self-interest. And there's usually an outfit involved, and some bondage if you're a bad sacrifice and stick up for yourself.

So, isn't Angel an inversion of the sacrificial virgin in season two? He's certainly virginal as Angel (not Angelus!); at the very least his amnesia renders him innocent. He's sacrificed for the good of the community by a trusted figure he feels more than affection for. He's in a special black outfit which is an inversion of Buffy's white formal gown from the first season finale.

Lastly, Kristopher Woofter, a WJ board member, presented a memorable paper starting the academic study of The Cabin in the Woods. He's arguing that while Whedon and Goddard may want us to read the film as "a hate letter" to torture porn, it may be more accurate to read it as a critique of reality television, with the scientists hosting a reality show for the entertainment of the Elder Gods, who, like us, demand ever-more baroque sadism of the contestants. (I can just see Cthulhu shouting, "It's raw!") Or is the audience more like the scientists, betting on the outcome of the reality contest? And he sided with me on my debate with Kristen over whether the film should have shown what happened to the bird as they entered the secluded terrible place of the mountain cabin. Anyway, I really want to see this published in time for a Whedon class that I'd like to run next fall at Emerson College.

Next time: Wow, there's a lot of dismemberment in the Whedonverses!