Tag Archives: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

The Rich, Bold Flavor of Full-bodied Storytelling

My recent blog entry on the precipitous decline in quality of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time has me wondering about those moments when a series of books, or a television show, or a film franchise, take that almost inevitable plummet from something we once loved to something that, at best, earns our disinterest, and, at worst, irritates us with how unabashedly its potential was squandered.

The contemporary pop culture vernacular calls these moments “jumping the shark.” This is an idiom whose meaning has expanded and evolved over the years, but it’s always boiled down to being a convenient shorthand for those moments in a franchise that mark the point-of-no-return from when it was great, to when it was not. For those who are not literate in the language of pop culture, “jumping the shark” refers specifically to that infamous episode of the sitcom Happy Days when Fonzie, on water skis, jumps over a shark, definitively marking the point where the writers had run out of ideas and were relying on gimmicks.

But when has something truly jumped the shark, and when has it simply veered into a new but perfectly valid direction that leaves some of its audience behind?

Some claim that Buffy the Vampire Slayer was never the same after Buffy and crew graduated from high school. True, it never was the same, but different doesn’t always equate to worse. Moving Buffy from high school to college, and then from college into the “real world,” allowed Whedon and company to explore other avenues of the show’s metaphorical nature. If monsters and vampires could be metaphors for the turmoils of high school, why couldn’t the show deliver similar metaphors for the confusion and pressures of higher education, or the scary, sobering realities of the responsibilities of adulthood? The arrival of Buffy’s sister Dawn was not a cheap plot twist to introduce a new character, but a clever use of the show’s mystical mythos and magical setting to force Buffy into a parental role. Pairing up Buffy with Spike was not a cynical move to have Buffy romantically involved with yet another vampire, but rather a logical character progression to illustrate how far Buffy had fallen into depression and self-loathing.

Battlestar Galactica didn’t jump the shark when its second season cliffhanger was followed by a four month story gap. It was simply a bold move to shake up the status quo and send the story into new directions. (Though the whole “final five” rigmarole might be a different matter.)

The Chronicles of Riddick was not a bad movie simply because it wasn’t trying to recreate Pitch Black. Say what you want about the quality of the film, but it would have been a mistake to simply emulate the original.

Tales from Watership Down does not fail as a sequel to Watership Down because it doesn’t live up to the epic nature of its predecessor. Quite the opposite. It succeeds because it doesn’t even attempt to capture the same scope and breadth of the original novel.

Unless a story gets completely gutted of its essential traits that made it stand out as something special in the first place, shouldn’t our first instinct be curiosity about where the story is going, rather than a knee-jerk dismissal of anything that doesn’t fit our comfortable status quo? Rather than being bitter about creative change, maybe we should consider the possibility that the creators are simply bold enough to try something new rather than cynically driving a property into the ground through stagnation.

You may prefer that brand of tea that you’ve become accustomed to, but maybe you’ll end up enjoying that mug of thick, hot coffee as well.


Metaphors Be With You

Metaphors are capable of cutting to the truth of a matter, or of casting images that sear and brand the mind, in a way that simple descriptions or statements of fact are not always capable of.

Odysseus threw the stool.

Odysseus let the stool fly.

The first example perfectly explains what happened. Odysseus threw the stool. The second example explains the exact same action, but it simply and poetically implies the grace and strength with which Odysseus hurls the stool, as though the stool has a mind of its own and wants to fly toward its target. The second example is laced with a sense of power and truth that the first lacks.

Fantasy and science fiction can have a lasting, hard hitting impact on audiences because fantasy and science fiction are fundamentally geared toward the delivery of striking, powerful metaphors. More than that, fantasy and science fiction are fundamentally geared toward being read and interpreted as extended metaphors. When a story is set in a fictional world, or an altered world, it’s easy to begin perceiving it all as symbolic and metaphorical. Witness the compulsive need that some readers have to interpret The Lord of the Rings as an allegory for World War II, despite all the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The human brain is so adept at perceiving patterns that it perceives patterns even where none exist. Fantasy and science fiction, lacking a one-to-one parallel to reality, is open to being formed into very personal and deeply held patterns that the reader places onto them, even in the lack of such a pattern.

I wonder if this is why some fans (myself included, if I’m being perfectly honest) develop fan obsessions that can resemble some form of religious zealotry.

Luke Skywalker is not really a young farm boy who becomes a Jedi. He’s a metaphor for the pains of transitioning from youth to adulthood.

Buffy Summers doesn’t really battle demons, but rather the perils and hurts of high school adolescence.

Captain Malcolm Reynolds isn’t really hiding from and ineffectually railing against the Alliance.  In truth, he’s the geek’s patron saint of lost causes.

These are metaphors that can speak to us in very personal, meaningful ways.

I wonder if this is why some of us fly into a rage when our favorite properties “betray” us by transitioning to a new mood and tone, to a new storyline, to new characters, to new themes… Perhaps we become so lost in our personalizing of these stories that when these stories change, it doesn’t simply feel like change, but like a personal attack on aspects of ourselves that we hold dear.

But before we become angry, maybe we should consider the opportunity that’s being offered us to discover and formulate new metaphors, new patterns, and new meanings.

And sometimes we simply outgrow our stories, or our stories outgrow us. That’s just life.

And sometimes something is just not very good, but still, that doesn’t mean that the Star Wars prequels kicked your puppy or ate all your french fries.

Metaphors be with you.


The Point

Stories are worlds?  Various mediums such as books, movies, and comics are the doorways that allow us access to these worlds?

I know, this is hardly an original or particularly deep thought, and it even sounds a bit pretentious (though I choose to interpret any inherent pretentiousness as romanticism), but I believe this notion of “worlds” and “doorways” gets to the heart of why many of us love and obsess over fantastical and imaginative works of science fiction and fantasy.

Those who are critical and derisive of such genres would point to this observation and claim it as damning evidence that science fiction and fantasy are mere escapism, suitable only for adolescents (and woe to any adult who actually enjoys The Lord of the Rings or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for they must be emotionally-stunted cretins).  But like many criticisms that are spawned and driven by bias and spite, this claim that genre stories are no more than simple escapism is so tightly focused on proving the worthlessness of science fiction and fantasy that they only see one or two trees and become completely blind to the infinite varieties of trees, mountains, rivers, seas, streams, and skies that these genres have to offer.

More on this in the future, I think.

So the point of this blog?  To simply provide me an outlet with which to express my life long appreciation of science fiction and fantasy, to spout any ideas I may have regarding these genres and specific works, and perhaps to share these thoughts with other fans.

Happy adventuring!


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