Academic ramblings on pop culture - Buffy, Farscape, gender stuff

In an attempt to get back into the academic swing of things (Autumn Session begins 21 Feb) I have been perusing a couple of academic tomes on popular culture Quality Popular Television: Cult TV, the Industry and Fans, and Action Chicks: New Images of Tough Women in Popular Culture.  Both books, of course have chapters on Buffy, as well as Star Trek:TNG, Xena, Farscape, La Femme Nikita.   The Buffy chapters deal with violence on TV and the pulling of the 2 episodes after Columbine; and the usual feminist schtick that crops up all over the place.  I know Joss intended it to be a subversion of the helpless blonde chick in the alley, but the latter seasons make me doubt how strong the feminist message remained.


My gripe about academic musings - the assumption that the reader is ‘in’ on the nomenclature.  In the chapter on the transgendered nature of the characters in Farscape, the author refers to science fiction being the perfect tool for exploring gender issues, and mentions the James Tiptree Award which honours works of science fiction that explore and expand gender roles.  It would behove the author to not assume that every one reading has the historical knowledge of why the name James Tiptree is so important in regard to the exploration of gender issues.  The following quote is from the official website for the award

“Why The Name Tiptree?

The award is named for Alice B. Sheldon, who wrote under the pseudonym James Tiptree, Jr. By her impulsive choice of a masculine pen name, Sheldon helped break down the imaginary barrier between "women's writing" and "men's writing." Her fine stories were eagerly accepted by publishers and won many awards in the field. Many years later, after she had written some other work under the female pen name of Raccoona Sheldon, it was generally discovered that she was female. The discovery led to a great deal of discussion of what aspects of writing, if any, are essentially gendered. The name, "Tiptree" was selected to illustrate the complex role of gender in writing and reading.”

The most interesting point here, as with any female who chooses to write under a male name - would they have been as successful if it was known from the beginning that they were indeed female.  One of my favourite episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine "Beyond the Stars", deals with this very question.  The characters are placed in a 1950s Earth setting, working on a sci-fi magazine.  When it comes to taking a publicity photo for the writers, the African-American male and the female (who writes under a non-gendered name) are told to stay home.  Of course this reflects the ability of a science fiction show to deal with issues of this nature but also highlights the inability of mainstream TV shows to do so.  Wrapping the characters in fantasy makes them less subversive or threatening to an audience but does not convey a clear feminist message that would modify social conventions.  As I said once upon a time in an essay when “female representations such as Buffy step out of the fantasy genre and into ‘real-world’ situations, and in greater quantity, mass culture can then be viewed has having embraced feminism.  Until that occurs audiences will have to continue enjoying the rare moments of Buffy and her ‘sisters’ kicking patriarchy’s butt”.

  • Current Mood: productive productive
You are going to write such a kick-ass thesis!! That's about 500 words down in that post alone. And you are so right about arcane jargon. I never let a student get away with an acronym or an unexplained cultural reference.

BtVS doesn't give consistent messages about gender, which is not a bad thing. Puppet Show is interesting from that perspective, Buffy is prejudiced by the dummy's sexism, then realizes that he is good and the so-called powerless boy is evil. Hmmmm. Oooo, Parker is worth a whole subhead, especially if you are focussed on the men in Buffy. Then there's Xander. And the transformations of Warren and Jonathan. Very interesting attitudes towards SNAGs, yes?
What got me about the mention of James Tiptree is that I definitely had the feeling that the author really didn't know the significance of the name - you would think they would research a little better than that, because when you do know the significance it takes on deeper nuances than I think the author was aiming for.

In one of the books it refers to a teenage Buffy with mini minis and cleavage, but then goes on to comment that "Buffy's wardrobe seems less a sop to the heterosexual male gaze and more an indicator of her personal development as a woman growing comfortable with her body". That may well be, but with most of the articles I have read about Buffy there is rarely any discussion of the male body, or as you say "the men of Buffy". I did hear an interesting presentation (and read the whole article later) by Jennifer Dowling (a lecturer in Yiddish language and culture in the Department of Semitic Studies at the University of Sydney) at a Uni of Melbourne symposium on Buffy where she discussed the 'other' in Buffy and Angel in reference to Xander and Gunn (as well as Willow and Fred), but it was more from a racial viewpoint then a gender one. Seeems to me there is an academic gap on the 'men of Buffy' - still not sure whether I'm the one to fill that gap.
You don't have to be "the one to fill the gap", you just have to take an interesting topic that hasn't already been run to the ground and add something to it.

Now you have me all giggly about Buffy and Yiddish, I'm afraid. Oy gevalt!
Don't mind me - my biggest fault is my own self-doubt. I've just been reading more of one of the books mentioned, and it's got me so damned cranky - will post about it later, or tomorrow, or whenever I calm down.

If you're ever interested in the article about the 'outsiders', I can give you the link.