First I want to give you an idea of the scope of this conference. There are three full conference days, running from 9am until well past 7pm. It is a dense conference and the amount of information we receive comes at such a rapid pace that it's easy to get overwhelmed. By the last day, I honestly couldn't make it through the end of the final panel. One needs a truly sturdy constitution to make it through without wavering. It would take Rupert Giles himself.
But this is a digression! Follow me behind the cut to continue our adventure:
We skipped the actual beginning of the conference because we were asleep by 8:30pm. You see, we're Bostonians and the three-hour time difference in Vancouver, plus the 10-hours of travel, made us a little wonky. So, no banquet nor "The School of Whedon" (links to .pptx file) interactive presentation for us. However, David Lavery has graciously made his presentation available on Slayage's website for all to experience. Please do check it out!
The next morning, we were treated to Cynthea Masson's keynote: “Break Out the Champagne, Pinocchio”: Angel and the Puppet Paradox. ...I have puppet issues.1 I'm not even kidding. Cynthea encouraged the audience to bring puppets with them to the conference and I may have had a little moment when they all came out. Puppet Issues aside, the keynote was superb. David already did quite a good job of covering this in his post, but I'll say that I loved how Masson talked about puppets as ensouled objects and how Spike often alluded to Pinocchio in his dialogue.2
The first panel I attended was Law and Language panel, which was appropriate as the conference was held at UBC's law school. Also, law and language are two of my favorite things. In college, I began as a history major who had been a mock trial team member ("Outstanding Witness" award winner — haha!) and ended up as an English/Creative Writing major with a massive media obsession. This panel was the conflation of these two interests.
Erma Petrova presented first on the "state of exception" with "I’m Declaring an Emergency”: Leadership and the State of Exception in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Petrova referred to the Slayer as operating "outside the law" and that Buffy had the power to declare emergencies, therefore circumventing the law, as is done with executive branches of government. Although modern states of exception tend towards becoming totalitarian regimes, Petrova noted that Buffy refused to use the Potentials as "expendable pawns" and that she truly did act for the greater good.
Next, Sharon Sutherland and Sarah Swan on Vampires, Reavers, and Lawyers: Joss Whedon’s Lens on Law. I'm going to say this upfront: If Sutherland and Swan write a book on Law in the Whedonverse, I'm going to buy that thing right up. They had an enormous amount of material, and I would love to see it collected. The Whedonverse is enormous and the topic is so dense. Like a delicious, whedony law-cake. We have Buffy who declares, "Human rules don't apply. It's only me. I am the law." (Selfless, B7005) And on Angel, we have Wolfram & Hart, the Big Bad law firm and its merry band of lawyers. Amongst those lawyers is Gavin Park, the solicitor who tried to throw building code violations at the Fang Gang and then declared that Angel doesn't exist:
"The guy has no social security number, no taxpayer ID, no last name as far as I know. How can he go down to the building department, or anywhere else in officialdom for that matter? He's the rat and we're the maze. Don't you wanna see what he'll do next?" (Carpe Noctem, A3004)Delightful.
There wasn't a lot of time to go into Firefly or Dollhouse, but they discussed with the audience the multitude of law topics that can be found in each program: trade, trafficking, borders, transactions, contracts... The list is enormous. And this is, again, exactly why I want to see it in a book. I will love it forever.
Finally, Rhonda V. Wilcox presented A Soliloquy by Any Other Name: Speech-Making in the Whedonverses. Wilcox is an amazing presenter. If you ever have the chance to see her at a conference, do it. She noted that while monologues are rare outside the Whedonverses in modern television, they are not rare within the Whedonverses. These soliloquies and monologues require the audience to pause and think about the speech, the characters, and their context. The only other show that I can think of off the top of my head that has memorable dialogue that can be considered soliloquy or monologue is Mad Men.3 Oh! And South Park.
Wow, this is going to be long, isn't it?
The next panel was a true highlight for me as it's sort of in one of my areas interest4: Music in the Whedonverses. Neil Lerner presented first with Spike’s Musical Motif in Season Seven: Notes of Melancholy and Mourning. Lerner's presentation was extremely well put together; I was impressed with it! As you know, Robert Duncan wrote nearly all of the music for Buffy Season 7. Lerner looked at a motif that began its development in Beneath You (B7002) after Spike says, "Hold the torch, would you?" and Buffy flashes back to that scene in Seeing Red (B6019). At first, it's only two notes; it's something that begins small and slow. This motif is sprinkled into the seventh season and culminates, in a new key, in the moment when Spike is consumed by fire in the end. Lerner posits that this is possibly the only love theme (and he does believe it's a love theme) in the Buffyverse that shows us the point of view of the lover and not Buffy. It's the love theme of someone whose love isn't returned. "The torch he bears is scorching him."
Steve Halfyard, whose Slayage 4 keynote I'll never forget, presented next on Music in (and out) of the Dollhouse. Specifically, she explored the opening title song and the significance of stripping out the lyrics of its original form (the lyrics, not the video). If you listen, you can hear significant plot points given away. That wouldn't do for an opening theme for a program that relies on intrigue. So, Halfyard says, the theme was "stripped down" in a way that that recalls the "glossing" Cynthea Masson talked about in her lecture at Slayage 4, Who Painted the Lion?: A Gloss on Dollhouse's 'Belle Chose.' On an somewhat unrelated note, there was a lot of talk about the glockenspiel notes at the end on the song. ...I played the glockenspiel in high school marching band.
In the next session, David and I met up again and we were treated to Beyond the Textual Text: Format, Authorship, and Meaning in the Whedonverse. Casey McCormick was up first with Paratexts Across the Whedonverse and the Disbursal of Narrative Signification. First, I must note that the podium was decorated with a collection of paratexts — DVDs, comic books, action figures, video games... These are all part of the Whedonverse and should all, according to McCormick's presentation, be considered when we study the Whedonverse. She goes further by saying that fan-created media — tweets, fanfic, fanvids, reviews, blogs — are all paratexts to this universe. "It's one big, happy Whedonverse!" David did balk at the idea of having so much more to take into consideration for scholarship, but I think he just doesn't want to write that paper on my Sims family based on Buffy characters. Seriously, though, I hope this presentation will be made available. It was very informative and fun!
Julie Hawk presented next on 'Watch how I soar': Finding Serenity in the Death of the Author and the Death of the Book. Hawk talked to us about finding the voice of the author within Whedon's work, specifically pointing out that Wash "carries the voice of Whedon." And we all know what happens there.5
I'm sorry, but I feel like I need to rush to get through this. The post is enormous!
Marc McKee's presentation Topher Brink and Joss Whedon: The Death of the Author as the Gift of Narrative Agency tied in very nicely with Hawk's presentation. McKee presented Topher Brink as the author surrogate of Dollhouse. The theme of "the death of the author" was present throughout the conference this year and something that McKee said really stuck with me here. He said, "The birth of the reader comes at the cost of the death of the author."
The final panel of the day for me was Firefly and Serenity (I). I'm really glad I came to this panel! The first speaker was Matthew Pateman, who had switched into this panel due to travel arrangements. He presented Whedon Studies: The Director's Cut. Why don't television directors get any love? We write about actors, writers, "to a lesser extent, composers," but there is very little scholarship on the inner-core of Whedonverse directors outside of Mr. Whedon himself. Pateman says that, in television, "directors are not considered central to the creation" of the program. The creator is the auteur. He gave a call to scholars to study the work of Whedon regulars such as David Solomon, Marita Grabiak, Michael Grossman, James A. Conter, and others. I must also note that, as someone who edited for about six years, I love that Pateman gave a shout-out to the contributions of Lisa Lassek — Whedon's go-to editor for several project — for helping create a cohesive vision of the Whedonverse. Editors rarely get love, too.
Next, K. Dale Koontz talked about the parallels of Firefly and Cowboy Bebop in her presentation: Some Call Me the Space Cowboy: Anime, Outlaws, and All That Jazz. This had two great things going for it: 1) Koontz is an incredibly engaging speaker; and 2) I love Cowboy Bebop. Koontz reminded us that Gene Roddenberry initially pitched Star Trek as a "wagon train to the stars." Romantic, no? This combination of Science-Fiction and Western was the forbidden fruit of the speculative fiction world for years, though, thanks to an "ad" on the back cover of Galaxy magazine slamming the genre. "You'll never see it in Galaxy."
Too bad. Here come Cowboy Bebop and Firefly, getting all mixy with your genres!
Koontz drew parallels between opening credits sequences (in that they both set the tone for the series, despite the fact that the music is very different), the characters, and the fact that they are misfits in a world where Earth no longer exists. Honestly, it made me want to break out some Bebop and pretend I was in college again.
There it is! The first day in one incredibly long recaptlet. The banquet and sing-along followed, but you don't need to hear me chat about David's tone-deafness.6
1I'm fine with finger puppets and sock puppets. It's marionettes and ventriloquist dummies I can't handle. Or mascots that look like people. Those count.
2"Strong. Someday he'll be a real boy." (Once More With Feeling, B6007)
"To making me a real boy again?" (Hell Bound, A5004)
"Deserves to become a real boy." (Soul Purpose, A5010 — Fred referring to Spike in that whole Blue Fairy fantasy)
"What do you think all this means for that Shanshu boogaboo? If we make it through this, does one of us get to be a real boy?" (Not Fade Away, A5022)
3Please note that I haven't yet caught up on a whole mess of new programs, like Game of Thrones.
4I write for Film Score Monthly Online.
6It's endearing. Mostly.