Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Great Buffy Rewatch Project

Along with more than a dozen scholars, poets, novelists, journalists and pop culture bloggers, Kristen and I will be participating in the Great Buffy Rewatch Project over at Nik at Nite. Basically, every Tuesday in 2011, someone will write on two or three episodes as we see them now, 14 years after the series opened. We hear that the competition for writing about the signature episodes is already fierce, and there may be plans for a battle royale over Worst Episode Ever. (Bad Eggs vs. Beer Bad ... FIGHT!) I plan on geeking out over the first season, reminiscing about watching Buffy on VHS, trying to connect Ginger Snaps to Robot Chicken and talking about the influence of fan culture on the series.

And, if at all possible, I plan on giving expert tips on how to play Buffy the Boardgame.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Getting Restless

This assignment on "Restless" is designed to encourage students to look at the series as a narrative with a novel's narrative complexity in foreshadowing and events that require re-reading the text in light of their implications. Students work in teams to study a particular aspect of this episode. They write a 3-5 page paper collectively that precisely describing how the topic affects how we read the series and how it works in this episode. Then, each group presents its findings to the class, where they lead a short discussion on that aspect. The following class, I lead a discussion with my own insights and present clips for them to examine.

The topics chosen were:
· Sound and score
· Willow’s dream
· Xander’s dream
· Representation of or the character’s perception of their Self
· Characters who are not their ordinary selves
· Echoes of past episodes
· Foreshadowing
· Cultural References

Topics not chosen this year: Sets and props, Acting and performance, Color, Costume design, Camera movement and framing, Editing, Giles’s dream, Buffy’s dream, Restless in comparison to other dreams and nightmares in the series.

A close observation of the episode and its implications is what is desired here. What does the episode do differently? How is the viewer positioned by these artistic techniques? How does its placement as the finale impact the reception of these choices? What does such complexity and loosely narrative structure accomplish? Is this typical in the art history of the medium, the genre or Whedon’s work to that point?

There are a few high-quality comprehensive analyses of this episode and dreaming in general:

· Donald Keller, “Spirit Guides and Shadow Selves: From the Dream Life of Buffy (and Faith),” Fighting the Forces. p. 165-178.
· Rhonda V. Wilcox, “Poetry: T. S. Eliot Comes to Television: ‘Restless’,” Why Buffy Matters: The Art of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. p. 162-173.
· Matthew Pateman, The Aesthetics of Culture in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
· Laura Kessenich, “I’m beginning to understand this now”: Explicating ‘Restless’,” Watcher Junior. http://www.watcherjunior.tv/05/kessenich.php
· Gerry Bloustien, “And the Rest is Silence: Silence and Death as Motifs in Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Music, Sound and Silence in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (Paul Attinello, Janet K. Halfyard, and Vanessa Knights, eds.)

Students feel free to use those works to provide a critical frame or for insights into particular moments.

Papers will be evaluated based on the following criteria:

· Title: Does the title prepare the reader for the argument to come? Does it describe the paper? Is it catchy? Or is it a simple statement of the topic question answered?

· Quality of Introduction: Does it have an introduction that directly declares the thesis, briefly states 2-4 premises that the paper will use to support its point, and indicates the impact of the argument (i.e. why the topic matters)? Does the reader know what to look for in the body of the paper or are they uncertain what the author is trying to prove?

· Writing and Rhetoric: Does the paper undermine the author’s authority by having basic writing errors in spelling, word choice, paragraph transitions and grammar? Does the author craft an argument that demonstrates their insight into the question posed or do they simply provide a summary? Does the author anticipate reasonable counter-arguments, summarize them fairly, and refute them?

· Evidence: Does the paper use concrete examples or does it simply refer to the episodes in question? Does the paper precisely describe the acting or does it use empty adjectives like “interesting” or “meaningful”? Does the paper describe the actor doing things on screen to create meaning or the character?

· Impact: Does the author impact their analysis or are they trapped on the screen? Media is one of the more social human endeavors, made and consumed by a great number of people. The media arts are social and thus political. What is the social result of encouraging these ways of seeing, listening, feeling and thinking?

· Variety: Does the paper understand the entire work or do they understand only a part of it? Each media product works on several levels at once:
o text (narrative, character, form)
o viewer (individual perception, audience, social use of the product, author’s construction of preferred readings and viewers)
o author(s) (intention, previous works, influences)
o genre (patterns of pleasure, narrative and formal expectations)
o art history (genre across media)
o economic (placement within industrial, national, and global economic structures of production, distribution and exhibition)
o medium (means of communication)
o culture (ideology, myth).

One goal of this course is to foster your ability to discern the entire meaning of a media product.

· Mastery of Course Content: Does it demonstrate fluent understanding of the theories, evidence and arguments raised in class and the readings, or does it ignore them?
· Citations: Do the citations follow the MLA format such that readers can verify claims made by the paper?
· Quality of Conclusion: Does the paper have a conclusion that briefly restates the main points and best evidence to leave the reader with the best understanding of the argument? Or does the paper just end when it reaches the page minimum?