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 http://www.tiptree.org/
“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”.