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March 20 2007

What you want, what you need: fans and endings, and narrative satisfactions. A timely blog entry written after news broke of Buffy #1's success and the proposed IDW Angel season 6 comic book. It's probably the best Buffy and Angel (fandom) analyis you'll read all day.

This was good, yes, but I found myself getting increasingly irritated by the number of assumptions and assertions that were being made as if they were true. I am unfortunately too tied up right now to comment at length, but while I understand the idea of what the author says, I think he is too direct in his claims. Plus, I have a real bias, well known here: I really get upset at the "give you what you need, not what you want" trope, though I'd prefer to not bring up my old arguments about authorial intent and reader response theory (to which some are saying, thank God!). :-)

But I suspect this thread will generate a lot of comments. Have at it! :-)
Nice article, which does raise a lot of thoughts. I agree with him for much of it but have problems with one of his closing lines. "We don't actually need to know 'what happened' - nothing happened. We weren't there; there's no there to begin with"
The magic of storytelling is that there is a there. Inside us as well as on the screen. It is the difference between something being true and something being fact.
Dana5140 I felt the same way (w/the irritation). Just because 'Not Fade Away' was brilliant, doesn't mean that nothing could ever follow. BtVS Season 5 ended with Buffy's great sacrifice, and a lot of fans felt that Season 6 shouldn't have happened, but I wouldn't have given up Seasons 6 and 7 for anything (and I am THRILLED with S8!). So similarly the brilliance of 'Not Fade Away' doesn't mean, to me, that nothing can ever be added. My need to learn more is not some childish dissatisfaction with 'Not Fade Away', it is based on knowing that Joss has more stories in head and I want to hear them. I want to be able to enjoy every single story inside Joss Whedon's head, and I don't care if he tells them to me on TV, in film, or with comics (but for the record, I prefer TV). If he says that there is more to say about Angel, then that is what I need.
Actually, Lioness, I completely disagree with you. There isn't a there - but we have been trained to crave it by the ongoing television narrative. Particularly in the case of a TV show that was cancelled early or not allowed to wrap its narrative up as cleanly as we might like. I don't necessarily think either of those things describes Angel, though. If the show was indeed cancelled because Whedon asked for an early answer, the very least that gave him was a chance to wrap things up. Remember, the show wasn't renewed for a fifth season until after Season Four had finished airing; if "Home" were the final episode of the show, viewers would have had more right to decry a lack of closure.

It is more true that reality continues whereas fiction ends. Not every story is about a character's entire life; in fact, very few are. Whereas in reality, the fascinating stories of some people's lives do not often begin with their birth and end with their death - but they do all indeed get born and die.

If we look at film in comparison, its narrative can more easily be criticised for wrapping up too early or without satisfying resolution. It only has a limited time to tell its story, whereas a television series - by necessity - is about delaying gratification. But you don't generally find viewers or critics coming out of great films saying - "wow, I want to know what happened next" or "I hope they make a sequel"! Well, sometimes you might.

Just because something could happen next, it doesn't necessarily follow that it should. See: The Matrix trilogy, for one example. Or, at the other end of the scale, the Star Wars prequels which aren't necessary to enjoy the original films, but are constructed from back story; obviously there was always a there there - but we didn't necessarily need to see it.

Ongoing television narratives feed the audience desire to see what happens next. If you were dissatisfied with the ending to "Angel," you might want to know what happens next - but that doesn't make it an invalid ending. Thematically, "Let's Go to Work" - cut to black - is clear. As clear as Buffy's smile, fade out, was.

Personally, I think the writer has a very well thought-out approach to what the viewer desires as opposed to what the narrative needs: which is what Joss' quote was always about. "What you want, what you need" is a contentious quote because it is taken out of context. You might want to know what happens next, but you don't need to know. You might want Wesley to still be alive, but you don't need him to be; the narrative needs him to be dead. Or maybe the writer just wants him dead to tell him the story (he thinks) you "need" to hear.

I am having an easier time with reading the continuation of Buffy than I will ever have with the idea of seeing what comes after "Not Fade Away" - because the endings of both shows serve different functions. "Chosen" asks the question of what they will do now - and Season 8 is one answer to that question. "Not Fade Away" is not about what happens next at all.
I liked the article, very perceptive. I agree with the author about 'need'. I was perfectly happy with the end of Buffy and Angel (note, not the fact they ended - though for Buffy it felt like time, just the way) and it's only really because the continuations are in Joss' hands (or at least partly his hands) that I want to see them at all (he's earned some trust).

Stories, like lives, end. And, also like lives, it's partly this fact that bestows meaning upon them. Any narrative is about imposing order on the world but how much order can or should we impose before that narrative ceases to comment on the world ?

Must confess it sometimes still surprises me that people feel Angel to be incomplete as is. It's true it was cancelled and could easily have continued but the story ended almost exactly as it had to IMO.

Crossoverman basically sums up how I feel. 'Chosen' was about entering a new phase of life, there's a very natural 'What next ?' hook. 'Not Fade Away' was about how you lead an adult life once you're there and, ultimately, the things that are worth ending that life for, the things in a sense that are bigger than your life. The 'What next ?' feels a bit more contrived and a bit less thematically coherent (it's more like, 'Cool, more events in the Angel story' than a natural continuation of that story - not saying it can't be done, and done well, but it's a tougher task IMO. Sleep well Joss and Brian ;).

It's on my mind because I watched it last night but, to me, 'Stranger Than Fiction' talks about exactly this tension between what we want to happen and what would actually make the narrative most true (in the 'truth from the lie' fictional sense, not the factual sense). Well worth watching IMO.
"And it means this: there might be more stories to tell in the Angel universe, and maybe Joss Whedon really does have more to say with and about those characters, but the narrative of Angel is done. Angel himself might have done more, but the story entitled Angel ends in an alley. The events afterward weren't really supposed to exist, not even in fictional representation; they were supposed to be implied, and that's all. They exist in the viewers' minds for a purpose, and that purpose is only to heighten the drama of the final moments of 'Not Fade Away'."

Am I the only one who found myself saying, "not if Joss disagrees with you"? I never had a problem with NFA as the ending of Angel, but if Joss says it is not really the end, who is anyone else to say, "Yes it is." In a way, the money men of Hollywood tried by not funding the continuation in movie form that Joss had planned while writing the end of the series. Joss is saying very clearly by going forward in comic books that it is not the end. If the author of the article were to say that NFA was the end of that portion of the narrative, fine. That was how BtVS and Ats were constantly structured. They told individual parts within a continuing story.

"When the story's done, the reader is owed absolutely nothing,"

I agree. But the "whining" that the author mentions fans doing is not usually pointed at the author in the case of BtVS/Angel fans. (Ok. Some fans seem to think that Joss does not really love and will always short change the story of their particular favorite character, but I don't get the impression that is most fans.) Whedon fans have been assured multiple times by Joss that he wants the stories to continue...all of them. The whining is directed towards the people who can give Joss the means to tell the stories about these characters that he has said all along are clamoring inside his head to be told.

"But you don't generally find viewers or critics coming out of great films saying - "wow, I want to know what happened next" or "I hope they make a sequel"! Well, sometimes you might."

I always think of Whedon shows more like books then movies. Since I was a kid I would always continue the book in my head. I would draw a narrative line for the characters off into the distance to see where they go and what they do. That is why I don't read fanfic. Until the original author continues the story, I have my own story that I don't want ot be distracted from. I always back off for the original author's vision, however.

I am glad to see this take on the need/want statement. It always seemed like such a simple statement of what art was about. The anger and interpretation of it as a dictitorial and paternalistic statement always totally perplexed me.
Simon - Thanks for the kind words.

Um, hi everyone, I wrote the post in question.

embers sez:

My need to learn more is not some childish dissatisfaction with 'Not Fade Away', it is based on knowing that Joss has more stories in head and I want to hear them.

To clarify, I agree with you and Dana5140 that the show can go on, and that it may as well, in some as-long-as-we're-making-money sense. As long as Joss has stories to tell, I'll run out to read them, no question. If he feels the story's not done, that's his prerogative, and I'm happy to be the recipient of a genius's largesse.

But your comment is illustrating my claim, not countervailing: 'My need...is...I want to hear [new stories].' Part of my criticism of the standard 'fan position' w/r/t cult narratives (the same argument applies to professional sports, etc.) is that for a whole constellation of reasons, fans choose to suspend certain critical faculties in order to enable certain social interactions; one effect of this is a growing partial or complete inability to recognize the distinction between the desires they feel within the narrative (I want Buffy and Angel back together at the Prom because Buffy wants that) and their own status as readers of a text (if Buffy and Angel get back together at the Prom the emotional/characterological integrity I love about this show will be at some level undercut). That's why I started the center of the post with Hansel and Gretel: no one actually wants to see kids suffer, not that they would admit to. Not in real life. But we desire injustice in our drama insofar as it sets up redemption or heroic counterpoint or at least the birth of hope. As kids we're different - we suffer right alongside the Good Guys, 100%. But later on I think a new kind of imagination takes over. So that one's conscious analytical mind, rather than the reptilian stuff, is in the cockpit.

This isn't to call any particular fan 'childish' - but no matter how it makes fans (makes us!) feel, I think it's important and helpful that we acknowledge the willful naivete at work in such a social reading practice. I've ranted at embarrassing length on my blog about the screwed up attitudes that many (most?) NaNoWriMo participants have toward inspiration and authorship (and by extension fandom); the crux of that argument is that if you're writing only for yourself, rather than from a desire to give away a story and produce a set of feelings in an abstract imagined reader, then you're not serving dispassionate story-logic at all, you're masturbating. Joss Whedon is (with a few exceptions) as dispassionate as they come when it comes to story construction. Examples of the other thing include, for instance, Lost and Grey's Anatomy and etc. etc. etc.

I think those general categories - selfish pleasure vs. generous communicatory pleasure - could reflect a (hopefully!) more mature, actionable attitude toward art: an attitude that can lead a fan to turn around and produce more original art rather than burying the self in escapist texts.

('Original' on a sliding scale, of course. Derivative art might be a letdown but it's necessary, everyone presumably knows that.)

Dana5140: Where would I go to hear this theory-wanking? :) I'm happy to admit that I'm aiming at a theory of fan consumption and socialization that can be generalized - wouldn't be much of a theory if it couldn't - and that we as individual fans perceive our own reactions to the text in a very different way from the one outlined in my post. Which is (again) in part the point of the post. That fannish self-perception is wrong in some ways that I take to be inauthentic. It's like talking about a romantic relationship. There are some things that lovers are incapable of recognizing about one another until they're no longer in love; indeed such recognition often prompts falling out of love in the first place. So I figure one sign of emotional maturity is knowing how to distance yourself from your own romantic feelings enough that you can do what's sustainably good for yourself. Which is to say, that maturity is knowing that you-in-love are not the only you, and are necessarily limited in what you can know.

Does that make sense? I'd love to hear your take on the post in any case (indeed I'd love to hear everyone's). I know the tone is in some places combative but that's 'fandom' I suppose.

As for the 'what you want, not what you need' quote, I talked about it at sufficient length in the article, but I'll happily respond to a specific complaint. It seems to me merely a blunt acknowledgment of the storyteller's responsibility, and I sure as hell don't mind bluntness. Willow and Tara were having real trouble at the beginning of Season Six, totally justified by the tone and events of the story and the evolution of both characters; it was good that the writers dealt with the ramifications of Willow's (um) fall from grace at such length, even if that made Willow/Tara getting back together an impossibility. (It would've been inauthentic, by analogy, to turn Andy Sipowicz into a saint overnight because he got sober. Or to refuse to show him falling off the wagon a couple times. It makes sense that Whedon et al. would stick with it.)

As for Tara's death (which prompted the infamous quote, if I remember correctly) - if we start from the premise that the characters don't exist outside of the story, the overheated protestations of comic book geek/apologists notwithstanding, then the main question for the author is, what has the biggest impact on the reader? What will make the reader most desperate to turn the page, to tune in next week, to know what comes next in the story? I have mixed feelings on the end of Season Six, but there's no question it was a shattering period on the show, one that defined much of Season Seven's tone and progress. What would Tara have done while Willow went insane, do you think? The decision to kill Tara was no more arbitrary than the decision to kill Buffy, and was made no more lightly - we can assume that safely, I think. Joss's responsibility is to the story and the story's audience, not to 'the characters' or the small group that identifies with them even beyond the scope of the narrative, and again, that's the distinction at the center of my long post. I'm not certain it amounts to an argument, exactly, but to the extent that it does, that's its heart.
Dude. People who comment here are like, really smart. To read you all makes my speaking English good.

Saje: Stories, like lives, end. And, also like lives, it's partly this fact that bestows meaning upon them. Any narrative is about imposing order on the world but how much order can or should we impose before that narrative ceases to comment on the world?

My word, Saje, are you actually Yoda? *is impressed*

I enjoyed that read. Personally, I've always hated the whole 'giving you what you need' argument. Because I'm like, 'Shut UP! I just need the people to be happy, WHY CAN'T THE PEOPLE JUST BE HAPPY?' I mean, if I need to be happy myself, and I need my friends and family to be, why would I *need* anything else for my favorite characters?

However, I can obviously see that this would leave a series going straight to Big Fat Nowhereland, so I guess to a certain extent they are right.

BUT - I do think that some people - viewers - enjoy an endless cycle of tension and trauma more than others. For example, people who really enjoy soaps. I can't watch soaps because I hate the fact that bad things keep happening to everyone, unrelentingly, all the time. I'm the kind of person who stops watching a beloved series halfway through, when all the original relationships and characterisations start to alter, because it depresses me.

I feel this comment of mine is, as usual, going to ramble along pointlessly, so perhaps best to stop now. Oh, but I must say:

Reading the story Hansel and Gretel, we want the kids to make it home safely... But frankly, we also want to see the little motherfuckers get hurt.

Best. Fairytale Analysis. Ever.
waxbanks- I will comment at length later, because I have to go teach class (scientific writing), but I do have one quick comment for you. You say this: "the overheated protestations of comic book geek/apologists notwithstanding, then the main question for the author is, what has the biggest impact on the reader? What will make the reader most desperate to turn the page, to tune in next week, to know what comes next in the story?" And this is made with regard specifically to Willow and Tara and S6. I can definitively state that once the decision was made to kill Tara, in my case (and speaking only for myself) I stopped caring what came next, was no longer desperate to "turn the page," and found that my pleasure (a word I use very specifically here) disappeared. Buffy lost resonance for me at that point. Now, I will comment more when I've the time, which may be in a couple of hours or so, by which time I think there may be many more posts, but I hope to come back to yours. Hang tight. And though I felt you were indeed combative and bit too assured in your pronouncements, I did enjoy the read. But hey, I'm an academic, so arguing papers is, like, my lifestyle. :-)
NFA was a great series finale. I had no need to know if or how Angel, Spike, or Illyria survived the alley. But if we're getting canon post-NFA stories, I for one, will feel jerked-around if they don't tell us what happened.
When I commented in the Angel Season 6 comics thread, which prompted this debate, I said I would be excited to see new canon Angel stories. I also said though, that I'd be sad to have to let go of my story of what happened after the end of Not Fade Away. (And for me it's not just a narrative but a visual understanding down to camera angles of the first twenty minutes of episode one of my season six!)

I agree that NFA was a superb piece of story telling and I don't *need* to know what happened in the alley. As Saje says NFA was about 'how you lead an adult life once you're there'. It is fundamentaly different from the finality of the pardigm shift in Chosen. However, if there is going to be a canon contiuation of the Angel story then I want to know what that is. Why? Because in the final analysis I'm a Joss Whedon fan before I'm a fan of his characters. It's his voice that I want to hear more of. It's why I'm reading Astonishing X-Men even though I have no concept of the backstory and consequently must miss so many nuances. Joss' writing has great moments of humour, but it always makes you care. It's that opinion that makes me excited about an Angel contiuation, not either a need or a desire to know what happened.

I suppose my point is that a fan's response to a 'text' is surely coloured by what he/she perceives to be the object of his/her fandom. If his/her object is the characters and their story (or even just a particular character) then maybe he/she cannot get the necessary distance to understand the narrative requirements of the story in question, but if it's the author then doesn't that make a difference? Yes I may have spent four hours unable to say much beyond 'They killed Wash' after first seeing Serenity, but I now think I can appreciate the narrative drive for Joss to write that event into his film.

I don't want to sound too ranty so may I just say that I totally agreed with the comment in the article that, 'our feelings at the story's end are the storyteller's gift'.

[ edited by ArielWillow on 2007-03-20 16:35 ]
Dana5140:

I can definitively state that once the decision was made to kill Tara, in my case (and speaking only for myself) I stopped caring what came next, was no longer desperate to "turn the page," and found that my pleasure (a word I use very specifically here) disappeared. Buffy lost resonance for me at that point.


I don't want to jump off from particular wording choices too much, but I'd like to respond to this talk of 'resonance' a bit.

First of all, I should lay out a core assumption here, and it's maybe a bit mean, but there it is. If you consider yourself a 'shipper,' you're probably gonna reject most or all of this comment, and I've just got no chance of convincing you otherwise. The particular social phenomenon known as 'shipping' is to me a distillation of the tendencies I'm criticizing in my post. I can well understand daydreaming about an alternate world in which Willow and Tara live on; that's what happens when people die, even fictional ones. Indeed such imaginings can take on new power precisely because we know they're impossible, because they're defiant, because we feel we're confronting death by denying its claim on us. We can imagine that there's something heroic about carrying the torch, because reality (even textual reality) has abdicated what we narcissistically take to be its responsibility. Hell, I even think writing diary entries and stories in such a universe, and even sharing them, can make sense. I'm not sure this kind of clinging-to-the-past is helpful in the long term, but it's necessary in the short term, at certain times of life. I get that.

(I use the word 'narcissistic' in this case not as a pejorative. I mean it's bad but it's not bad bad, just kind of depressingly normal.)

But.

I said only this:

overheated protestations of comic book geek/apologists notwithstanding, then the main question for the author is, what has the biggest impact on the reader? What will make the reader most desperate to turn the page, to tune in next week, to know what comes next in the story?


...and from your reaction to Tara's death it sounds like Joss's story had a pretty serious impact. Like it or hate it, the narrative put you in a certain place, and the writers moved on from there knowing that they were going to get a broad range of reactions.

Did you go on watching the show? If so, why? Couldn't be hope, could it? That hope is what Joss was trying to get you to feel, along with grief, loss, betrayal, anger, all those things and more. From inside the story it's impossible to know in analytical terms whether the story is doing its job; the minute you start wondering, the answer starts becoming a little bit 'no.'

The contract between writer and reader (or showrunner and viewer) doesn't say 'Thou shalt be reassured at all times' - quite the contrary. Drama requires that other thing. Maybe the question for you is whether the 'punishment' of the characters was out of proportion with the norms of the Buffyverse, or maybe you disagree with and reject the decision to kill Tara, not the final shape of the story; the former is an aesthetic question and to my mind a worthwhile one; the latter is a presumption, inserting the reader into the author's decision-making process to satisfy an emotional logic rather than story logic. It presumes a kind of contract between Joss and the Jossholes that is, unreasonable. Or more specifically: bad for the art. If Joss worried about preserving the happiness of his shippers (who make up a miniscule fraction of the millions-strong audience for his show), he'd never have sent Angel to L.A. (or hell), never have brought Oz into the picture (because Xander would've realized how perfect Willow is for him). Indeed, Tara would never have arrived in the first place.

Narrative is movement and change, and change hurts. (I know, typically wannabe-butch male sentiment, but hopefully you can take the point.) You can argue that it hurts more than it's supposed to, more than is merited; I'd wonder how you'd arrive at that calculation. Indeed you can argue that Joss Whedon has a social responsibility to portray happy lesbian relationships, even say it to his face, and I'm sure he'd point out with justifiable pride that four two years he gave fans one of the richest lesbian partnerships in American popular culture, that he did justice to the characters he portrayed. But pity is cheap. Without the death of Tara there's no whitehaired goddess Willow in 'Chosen', and that (for me) was one of the most empowering and uplifting images the show ever offered. It had to be earned. Did I bloody hate Kennedy? Oh God yes. But then how often is the plight of the Rebound Gal taken seriously in pop culture?

Which brings me back to your mention of 'resonance': I don't think that's the high purpose of storytelling. It's part of the mechanism, sure, but 'I relate to this' and 'I recognize the accuracy of this observation' aren't strong aesthetic metrics, they're preliminary observations. I sure as hell don't know what it is to be betrayed by a son while casting out his loving sibling, but King Lear moves me to tears. I know what it's like to lose a beloved friend, though, and the 'death of Tara' storyline did justice to those feelings. I didn't turn all super-villain-y when my roommate killed himself, but Willow's grief made sense to me. (Then again I have problems with the finale of Season Six, to do with certain directorial/writerly choices about portraying Willow's humanity. But I've forgiven greater lapses by Joss and company.)

All of which boils down to this: Of course you have a right to react as you'd like to Tara's death. You don't owe Joss your viewership. But then Joss doesn't owe anyone anything. And the perception that in some way he does - that somehow the creator of a fiction has done wrong by his long-suffering fans if he doesn't make the 'right' choices in his narrative construction, if he places too many obstacles in the path of a desire generated by the narrative rather than constitutive of it - is (to my mind) the misperception that I was talking about in my post.

I know I'm waving at a particular ethical stance toward narrative, and I don't expect everyone to share it. But it seems to me the most provocative outlook for me as a writer, and the most forward-thinking for me as a reader. I still cry my guts out watching Buffy, still wish Willow and Tara coulda made it. But while my pain at Tara's death is real, Tara's death is not. The fantasy of a benevolent writer-god doesn't comfort me, and I don't get puffed up when the television relationships I'm rooting for turn out fine. Which is why I'm not a shipper, and why (in all honesty) I find it hard to meet in the middle on so many questions of fan-investment and imaginative projection. It strikes me as bad, ungenerous reading, and that just...bugs me.
As much as I loved how season 5 of Buffy ended with her sacraficing herself, I absolutly loved "Chosen" as the series final. Joss brought Buffy's character full circle; she always wanted to be just a normal girl, and after Willow's spell she and the other potientals were normal so to speak. Buffy was no longer one of a kind. She could enjoy life without the weight of the world on her shoulders; not because she doesn't care about the world, but because it's not only her responsiblity anymore. She shares it with many other females out there in the wide world. Angel on the other had a slow start, not telling us where his story would end up, until the last episode of that season. That epi revealed that Angel was not only helping the helpless because of redemption and it being the right thing to do, but that his character had a journey to go through. It's more than just a reward, it's like: you go to school, study, do homework, and you know somewhere down the road you'll graduate. Angel's character arch is not complete.
Yes, I understand the message of "Not Fade Away"- to never stop fighting, but do you think just because Buffy isn't the only slayer that she stopped fighting evil? Do you think Giles stopped being a watcher? Title or not these people fight because they know its right, just as Angel does. Human or souled vampire, he'll still fight; but to give us a fully developed character, Joss might have to make Angel more than human.
Sometimes I read an analysis and it takes me twenty-four hours to even absorb its premise, because I'm so annoyed that the writer expressed his theories as fact. Maybe I'm just particularly sensitive, but I feel as though I've be yelled at and my first instinct is to yell back that I disagree with everything yelled. Is an 'in my opinion,' or 'I think,' or 'my theory is,' so very hard to inject? If Joss is God, can so many other writers be dieties as well?
...which is to say, I realize perhaps a bit too late, that the original post wasn't really about the end of Angel, nor (strictly speaking) about Jossholes as such. It's about a particular stance toward fiction, and the particular social forms that exist in part to rationalize that stance (and further enable it). I don't mean to get mired too much in talking Jossverse specifics, but it's hard not to. And I dwell on the death of Tara (really Willow's whole S6 arc starting with the less-than-great 'Smashed'/'Wrecked') because it's such a sticking point for fans, and for shippers in particular, and as such has illustrative value. Hell, if Joss writes a new Angel ongoing comic I'll probably subscribe. But even the mighty Joss isn't be-all or end-all of storytellers (OK maybe), and the broader point about story speaks to other cultural/psychological matters. Which, in frankness, I may well not have any idea about. But then only a fool goes to a Josshole fan board to learn about such things. ;v)
I have to agree with Dana5140, in that after Tara's death, I did lose pleasure watching the show. I continued to watch, but I no longer relished it. Why?

Because I'm basically a softie.

Kennedy wasn't right for Willow and never could be, and Oz ruined his chance. Tara was Willow's true love, her soulmate, and they deserved to be together at the show's end. I really hope Joss agrees with me and brings Tara back in Season 8. I also hope Amber Benson gets to write dialog for Tara, because she really does understand the character and is a talented writer herself.

Personally, I "need" stories where after all the pain, conflict, and disasters are finally resolved, true love wins. No, it's not like real life, but we're talking about a show with a female vampire slayer and two lesbian witches. I don't exactly watch the show to have reality slapped in my face. The show is escapism, and escapism is necessary because the world we live in is far from perfect.

In real life, we're constantly embattled by trajedy. We have real human monsters (i.e. terrorists) who lack any empathy at all and make the demons in Buffy look symathetic by comparison. Escapism helps us unwind, and get involved in a world far from our own troubles. We realize there are troubles in that world, too, but we want a satisfactory resolve at the end.

Tara's death just didn't do that for me. It never will. Maybe some viewers really didn't care about Tara, but I did. I still do. Her death still hurts. I related to the character so much (i.e. shy, intelligent, moral and loyal). She was the show's moral center, and after she died, the show lost so much.
cmbackshane: You haven't been yelled at. I've absorbed a whole lot of the forceful-yet-windy-declarative style of grand literary criticism/theory, I suspect, and for readers not accustomed to the 'My word is my identity' style of academic textual analysis that can seem more dismissive than it is, or than it's intended to be in any case. But there's a lot of backtracking and parenthetical softening/clarification in the post - starting with the initial thesis statement, which begins, 'I propose the following for the sake of argument...'

If I just wanted to piss on you it would look more like this.
quantumac (and everyone else actually): Thanks for your emotional comment. I find the notion of 'soulmates' a little sickening but I think you're right that Tara was the best match for Willow; personally I've found that that means basically nothing in determining who ends up with whom, in life. But I do want to point out that, like an earlier commenter, you made the following little slip of the keyboard:

Personally, I "need" stories where after all the pain, conflict, and disasters are finally resolved, true love wins. [...] The show is escapism, and escapism is necessary because the world we live in is far from perfect. [...] We realize there are troubles in that world, too, but we want a satisfactory resolve at the end.


...which is to say, you're eliding the difference between desire-engendered-by-the-narrative (what you provisionally want because that's how the story is set up, because of the kind of story, etc.) and the demands of narrative coherence and characterological integrity (i.e. pretending the world is good and 'escapable' cuts hard against the lesson of Buffy, which is in part about surviving in a world that's relentlessly and boundlessly shitty). What we all need we have a heck of a hard time even knowing, much less knowing in-the-moment. What we want is only selfish. Sometimes that selfishness is nothing (I want chocolate); sometimes it's mixed. Sometimes it makes our lives harder or poorer when we give in to it. As (in my mind) in this case.

All of this raises a separate question, namely whether Tara is actually anywhere near as complex a character as the others on the show. No question, I loved her 'til the day she died, but this is a supporting character who in her two years on the show never did a damn thing wrong (even her 'See no more demons' spell was explained away as a totally justifiable mistake by contrasting her with her somewhat-hackneyed family of rubes). I'm inclined to say that one thing about Willow/Tara shipping in particular that bugs me is that it's so easy; Willow is a complex and powerful character and Tara is something like an ideal type. Even their fights are totally one-sided, morally speaking (cf. Willow flying off the handle about 'lesbo street cred' when Tara was presciently talking about her power in the brain-sucking Season Five ep).

That aside, though...:)
Ama-40000:

Angel's character arc is not complete.


Not to geek out too much here (ahem), but I thought Angel's willingness to sign away the Shanshu prophecy was the ultimate statement about his character, and runs strictly counter to your sense of him; it was the literalization of his motivation throughout the series (I can regain my 'humanity' through service to mankind - perhaps that's the only way it can be achieved by anyone) and by the end of 'Not Fade Away' he'd obviously arrived at quite a different notion of what moral reward is and what level of compromise is allowable in order to get it. As a number of commenters have said, Angel was a more 'adult' show than Buffy in that sense; there's no self-serving nobility in Angel's sacrifice anymore, only something like revenge-on-behalf-of-the-concept-of-freedom, which might be slightly crazy zealotry but definitely wouldn't make sense coming from the Scooby Gang.

But then perhaps my own ever-encroaching lack of faith in any afterlife is why I'm enamored of Buffy's pragmatic let's-win-it-on-earth attitude in 'Chosen' - and why Angel's cosmic reward talk left and leaves me ever so slightly cold.
waxbanks,

True, Tara was a supporting character, but I disagree with the assertion she wasn't a complex character. Perhaps her character wasn't allowed to develop as fully as it should have, partially because she was so shy to begin with, but also because there were so many other forceful characters competing for screen time.

As a shy person, I know I'm rather complex inside, but an outgoing person who interacted with me might never know. That's what I got from Tara's lines and Amber Benson's performance.

I'm not alone in this observation. Check out "thekittenboard.com" if you want to see a seemingly endless supply of W&T stories, some of them are quite excellent. Many people saw a lot in Tara even though Amber Benson wasn't given much to work with.

Should Tara have been allowed to confront Dark Willow, I think we would've seen Tara's true mettle. Can you imagine having to go up against your soulmate (I, bein' the softy, like the term)? I would have rather seen that.

As for pretending the world is good and escapable, if Joss had really been true to our "boundlessly shitty" reality, the First and his Caleb boy would've won, Buffy would've been crushed under their jackboots and that would've been that. One could even argue that was the most probable end, and that ending would be more in line with the events of the story.

Only, that's not the way it went down. Buffy won.
Waxbanks, thank you for giving us all a LOT to think about. I must say, I agree with you from start to finish, even though I wasn't always entirely sure what you were saying :)

My reaction to the Buffy comic coincides with yours. Liked it -- my 3-year-old son is already quoting lines from it ("still got my demons, still got my watcher"), he's read it so many times! -- but I didn't need a new story because the previous story (S7) was resolved. I'm grateful for the new story, but the old story didn't need it. The same could be said for every season finale of Buffy and Angel, except for Angel S1 and S3, which were clearly cliffhangers and therefore intended as momentary suspensions of one story, told in two parts -- the finale and the beginning of the next season.
waxbanks: I really enjoyed your post, though I think you came down a bit hard on the idea that there is an "ideal readerly position" I know that I for one wouldn't fall into that category... I tend to be more aware of the narrative underpinnings than the intended emotional core. That's why, for example, "A Hole In The World" don't really work for me. Certainly, there was plenty of precedent for the Wesley/Fred relationship, which was why the Wesley/Illyria storyline culminating in Wesley's death DID work. But story-wise, we had the hints of mutual attraction/full-blown love/Fred's tragic death crammed into one episode and the B or C storyline of the episode that proceeded it. I just couldn't buy the narrative at that point, which ruined any chance of me buying the emotion, though it was exceedingly clear what I was supposed to be feeling. If I hadn't been so aware of the narrative, perhaps I would have felt the same way that more fans did.

The truth is that there are very few readers/viewers who can surrender themselves completely to a story (and honestly, those who do scare me just a little bit.) Frankly, I think what viewers bring with them, both their biases and desires, is what makes writing so worthwhile (reader-response theory, hooray!) Would an episode like "The Body" have had such an impact otherwise? A writer like Joss is able to play on the want vs. need brilliantly. When it's obvious what needs to happen but we are so blinded by what we want to happen that the obvious surprises us, that is effective storytelling.

(This was probably mostly incoherent due to a bad case of melty brain... sorry!)
I wish I could write as well as others here. As it is I will stick with a "hear, hear" to what quantumac says.

[ edited by moley75 on 2007-03-20 18:27 ]
re Dana5140 and quantumac:

I think you're saying that a character's death taking away your enjoyment of the show disproves the waxbanks' theory that a writer is constantly looking for inventive plot happenings to keep an audience involved, right?

That may be true in some cases, but I think that very fact speaks to his general point in the entire essay. That is to say (and this is what I took from it), fans placing more importance on their own emotional needs being fulfilled by a story than on actual good storytelling are going to miss out.

Season 5's "The Body" wrecked me. WRECKED. I've seen it probably 4 times and it gets worse every time. I'm a blubbering idiot by the end of it and swear I will never inflict that on myself again. I do not like feeling like that. I do not WANT to feel like that. But I don't watch the episode and say "That made me sad. I don't want to be sad. Therefore, this was a bad piece of fiction." I say "I cannot believe a piece of fiction made feel this strongly. That was amazing."

It reminds me of the big reaction to Wash's death in Serenity. You had a bunch of fans on the Browncoats board calling for Joss Whedon's head on a platter after the preview screenings, threatening to boycott the movie and make it their personal mission to make sure that no one else will go to see the movie. Simply because something bad happened to a fictional character that they liked. That, frankly, is an unhealthy response to fiction.

Being depressed over Tara's death and not wanting to watch the show afterwards is not as bad as that, but I think it's similar, just to a lesser degree. No one can really control how they respond to things. If it makes you sad, be sad. It's supposed to. But I think sitting back and letting the authors (especially ones you've grown to trust) take you for a ride will ultimately lead to much more satisfaction with a story than turning off after the first bump and wishing things were different.
quantumac

Only, that's not the way it went down. Buffy won.


Yes. That's the fiction.

There's another Hellmouth in Cleveland, you know. Only took them seven years to close the one in Sunnydale, using an army of Slayers...I've more to say - as a former reader of the depressing Kitten Board, for instance - and hope to respond shortly, specifically to this:

Perhaps her character wasn't allowed to develop as fully as it should have, partially because she was so shy to begin with, but also because there were so many other forceful characters competing for screen time.


'Her character' exists only insofar as she was portrayed on the show; sure Tara was shy, and over a couple of years got over a lot of that owing to Willow's support and fellowship, but she was developed even less than Oz (who had a complex and justifiable defense of his questionable liaison w/Veruca). Tara didn't really act much on the show, and when she did, it was as a kind of Force of Good rather than a fallible moral agent. Her appearance at the end of 'Normal Again' sent me over the moon with happiness - but a tough-minded shy damsel in occasional distress is still a damsel. All of which speaks to the point of the article but I gotta head out for a bit. I appreciate the comments and look forward to more, though. :)
Hokey dokey, class is over, lunch is eaten and it's time for some combat. :-)

Waxy, first, the easy stuff. I think you have too simplistic a reading of Tara. And beyond that, why does it matter whether or not she is complex? If she is not, to you, cool. I don't see her that way. Did she do wrong? Sure; she was complicit with Willow in bringing Buffy back, for example, despite her fears for what they were doing. She ruined the demon finding spell wiht Willow out of an understandable fear that WIllow would think the less of her did Willow know she was part demon. But none of this matters. It is all in how each of us approach those characters we have come to care for, right? Am I a shipper? I suppose that's a code for me caring for the W/T relation, but for the period of time it was on the show, that's what I watched and drew enjoyment from, much more than from anything else on the show. But I'm a nearly 54-yo guy, and so perhaps not typical of the average shipper, not that I know what one looks like. But to me it is all in how each of us experiences the show- some via Buffy, some via Xander, and I have argued in teh past the most via Willow.

AS to theory wanking, let me wank here on reader response, as postulated by Stanley Fish:

<<< This aspect of Fish's theory is one of the most radical and controversial. He posits that meaning inheres not in the text but in the reader, or rather the reading community. "In the procedures I would urge," he writes, "the reader's activities are at the center of attention, where they are regarded not as leading to meaning but as having meaning."Footnote33 He can hold this because he believes that there is no stable basis for meaning. There is no correct interpretation that will always hold true. Meaning does not exist "out there" somewhere. It exists, rather, within the reader.

In his earlier work he made a claim, not wholly disavowed in his later material, that what a text means is the experience that it produces in the reader. To define meaning he says, "It is an experience; it occurs; it does something; it makes us do something. Indeed, I would go so far as to say, in direct contradiction of Wimsatt and Beardsley, that what it does is what it means."Footnote34 Here Fish stakes out the territory of his critical enterprise which is to set himself against the formalist principles of the past with its supposed scientific agenda. This project he admits took some time from which to effect a complete liberation. But this is the principle that will eventually lead his theory from (what his critics would call) an "objective" to a fully blown "subjective" interpretive theory. Indeed, his early theory appears to be completely vulnerable to the criticism of subjectivity as he posits an experiential dimension to meaning which inheres in "the active and activating consciousness of the reader," a charge he will later attempt to counter.Footnote35

Fish's next move in his anti-formalist agenda is to deny the text as object, which was so important to Wimsatt and Beardsley and the New Critics. "The objectivity of the text is an illusion and, moreover, a dangerous illusion, because it is so physically convincing."Footnote36 What exactly Fish means by this statement is somewhat unclear. He does not, as it may appear, deny the ontological reality or the existence of the palpable object, although one could argue that that is exactly what this sentence by itself means because he apparently pairs the word "objective" with "physical."Footnote37 It is the context that illuminates what he is driving at. But he does deny the text's independence as a repository of meaning.Footnote38 The text does not contain meaning: despite being written upon, it is a tabula rasa, a blank slate onto which the reader, in reading, actually writes the text.

Fish takes the idea of the hermeneutical circle seriously. The reader is always reading her preunderstanding back into the text with no possibility of achieving an "objective" or author-centered interpretation. Fish claims that an interpretive theory is itself circular, that the interpreter will always find what he is looking for in the text, that formal patterns "are themselves constituted by an interpretive act."Footnote39 He claims at one point that:

Theories always work and they will always produce exactly the results they predict, results that will be immediately compelling to those for whom the theory's assumptions and enabling principles are self-evident. Indeed, the trick would be to find a theory that didn't work.Footnote40

Because the assumptions one begins with will determine the outcome of the study, for Fish, "success is inevitable."Footnote41 The methods with which one approaches the text have already determined the outcome, one's presuppositions actuate the product.Footnote42

For Fish a text is only a RorschachFootnote43 blot onto which the reader projects her self-understanding or, as we shall see, her culturally determined assumptions. The text contains nothing in itself, rather the content is supplied by the reader. It is the reader that determines the shape of text, its form, and its content. This is how Fish can claim that reader's write texts. Worthen's comment is apt. He says, "as far as Fish is concerned, reading can only repeat reality, in that it necessarily consists of nothing but replications of independently existing collective interpretive strategies."Footnote44 This is exactly what reading does and this is one of the difficulties of his theory. It fails to account for the text being able to expand the readers' understanding or Weltanshung by introducing her to a different way of perceiving. For Fish the text can only function as a mirror that provides a reflection of its reader.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Authorial Intent
It is in this same manner that Fish dismisses the idea of authorial intent as the guiding principle in interpretation. In analyzing one of his previous critical works he declares,

I did what critics always do: I "saw" what my interpretive principles permitted or directed me to see, and then I turned around and attributed what I had 'seen' to a text and an intention. . . . What I am suggesting is that formal units are always a function of the interpretive model one brings to bear; they are not "in" the text, and I would make the same argument for intentions.Footnote45

To claim that the author intended to say or do such and such is really a declaration regarding the interpreter, in Fish's theory. Thus different interpreters will see different intentions because they are a creation of the reader and not the author. As with New Critical theory, the author fails to live past the creation of the text, indeed, for Fish the author as well is a creation of the reader.Footnote46

Fish can make this move because of his epistemic beliefs that nothing we see, perceive, or think is uninterpreted. He considers the attempt to access the author's intention as naive; for how would one ever access an intention as it does not exist in any objective or uninterpreted realm that can be mediated to our consciousness without itself being interpreted? We could have access to documents regarding the author's true intention, "but the documents . . . that would give us that intention are no more available to a literal reading (are no more uninterpreted) than the literal reading it would yield." Thus when John writes, "These things have been written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God; and that believing you may have eternal life in his name," we are no closer to his intentions than were he to have said and written nothing.Footnote47

Fish is following after the New Critical school, which as we have seen, disregarded authorial intent as well as historical interpretation. For Fish it is not important to access the original context in order to access meaning. He says, "to consult dictionaries, grammars, and histories is to assume that meanings can be specified independently of the activity of reading."Footnote48 But as we have seen it is the activity of reading which takes center stage in the making of meaning. Fish posits this because he believes that we as interpreters are cut off from past worlds or cultures. In other words, he believes that we are without commonality with past cultures and that, therefore, a complete disjuncture exists. The interpreter belongs to a different world from the author.>>>>

The idea is, of course, that the reader constructs meaning in his or her reading based on culture, expectation, etc. I see this as fitting in with Barthes' theory on the death of the author. There is a text. But it exists in a vacuum until it is read and interpreted by the reader, who often sees meanings that the author never intended or even considered. Joss Whedon often complimented his audience for their interpretations of his work, for showing him things he had never considered. It may explain in part why the outcry over Tara's death was so severe; certainly, Joss could not have planned that or wanted what happened as a result of his authorial decision. He admitted as much- leading, of course, to the statement that I find so troubling and which you defend; I argue that the hardcore GLBT community that loved the relation did not "need" what happened, and I do not want authors deciding for me what I need- but this is all in how we interpret what he meant by that comment. I'd like to think he might state it differently now, since it has been somewhat of a nettlesome comment over the past 4 years. It is, for certain, not understood; it may be that even now, I do not properly understand. But I did not "need" that death, nor did I want it, nor did I like it.

You've asked what makes a story enjoyable. I'm not sure this can be answered with any authority. I like what I like, for whatever reason I like it. Why do I like Willow and Tara but not, say, Cordy and Xander? I dunno, I just don't. You say "the structure with the greatest integrity, is precisely the ideal readerly position." But I don't see why you say this, nor do I see what you mean by this. Now do I see how you define integrity here, or what you mean by a "readerly position." I am not being obstreperous, but I am trying to understand the foundation from which you are working. Partly, this is because I am working in a different field; I'm a clinical researcher, not an expert in critical theory.Why do Love Willow and Tara and not, say Fred and Wesley? I don't know. I just don't. Why does Angel not speak to me? It has no resonance for me, like Buffy did and does. ANd resonance is important in my viewing pleasure; it's why I turn in to see how Grissom and Sara are developing in their hidden romance on CSI, and why I no longer care at all about Lost, which has utterly no resonance at all for me any more. It does not speak to me. But CSI does, and Buffy does.

We had a lengthy canon argument, which I am afraid I helped to instigage. We tried to understand what comprised canon, given the comic book and what it meant to the future of the Buffyverse. I plan on reading the books. Whether or not they appeal to me or resonate will depend on what they do, and whether it involves the characters I experience the show through.

I know you take issue with my use of the term "resonance." But that is what matters to me. I invest in shows when they resonate with me. Buffy does, CSI does, Angel does not. ANd I do not know what the "right" choices are, since there is no way to define them. But, I know what I like, and in the end, that is the only thing that matters, right? Joss does notwe me a thing, but neither do I owe Joss a thing, to simply take your point. And this is beside the issue of the commodity called Buffy- Joss still has to sell the show in order to keep it on TV. But that is a different issue for a different day.

Finally, as to white Willow. I have a hard time with it. Willow killed two people, one horribly. Are we to take from that that the cosmic slate has been wiped clean because she did nothing more than cast a spell? That she has atoned for what she did? I could argue this issue at length, but I felt it was a copout for her crimes, designed to try and bring closure to a series that was ending. WIllow in S7 was a pale shadow of herself- but again, this is an argument for a different day.

This is very interesting, this debate, and I enjoy your perspective a great deal. Thanks. :-)
Dana5140: Some very good points. I think for me, the term "need" refers not so much to what the readers need (because really, they don't NEED anything from a writer--they CHOOSE to accept what the writer offers) but what the STORY needs in order to work. Like you pointed out, intention depends on interpretation and the writer can't hold our hand along the way (although in this day and age, that's becoming less and less true as technology allows more and more creator/consumer interaction. Not that "I'll explain it in my podcast" is an excuse for lazy writing.) So a writer can't really assume that all readers will have the same need. Or even if they do, that the writer is the one who has the right to meet that need.

First and foremost, the goal has to be to craft the best story that you can. Of course, that requires predicting the reader or viewer response to some extent, but more to the effect that the story itself works rather than making sure everyone will be happy and fluffy and kittenish over the outcome of every single occurrence. There are many times, the story works best when you establish a viewer want (we want Buffy to be with her mommy) and then forcibly subvert it (Joyce dies, we weep, we declare it one of the best episodes of the series despite/because of our agony). And there are times that the attachments viewers (or the creators themselves) develop that end up turning the story in a completely different direction than originally intended, especially in ongoing series where fan input does have an actual impact on the narrative. But again, all of this can't always be predicted in the earliest stages of the creative process. So the needs of the story HAVE to come first.
"All of which boils down to this: Of course you have a right to react as you'd like to Tara's death. You don't owe Joss your viewership. But then Joss doesn't owe anyone anything. And the perception that in some way he does - that somehow the creator of a fiction has done wrong by his long-suffering fans if he doesn't make the 'right' choices in his narrative construction, if he places too many obstacles in the path of a desire generated by the narrative rather than constitutive of it - is (to my mind) the misperception that I was talking about in my post."

waxbanks, I agree with this completely, but it makes it that much more difficult to understand how you can come down so clearly on the side of the writer being in charge of his own creation and having an obligation to good writing rather than to the fans demands, and then say that you, in your capacity as analyst or fan, know better than the writer when the end of the story has been reached. There are many places a story can end. The writer decides when he will actually end it, when he has come to the end of the story he is telling. IMO only after the consumer has gotten to the end of the story the writer has chosen to tell, can he/she decide when they *think* the story *should* have ended. It becomes a matter of whether you agree with the writer once you actually have experienced the full story. A fan deciding that the story is over when the writer is continuing to write it, is no different to my mind than a fan demanding more or something different from a writer who has said this is the story, and this is the end of the story.

Admittedly we are all aware of the stories that have been continued for money rather than the author having a story to tell, but my point is that that can only be determined after the finished product has been produced. I am truly doubtful that Joss will fall into that trap anytime soon.
Simon, once again, thanks for finding such an interesting topic! Several in fact.

Dana, kinda' agree with you about Willow in season seven. Her story really went in the wrong direction there and, lets be frank, you know the reason why. In truth, she was a broken person within and I truly wanted to see her find herself with Giles and Buffy towards the end. Never happened.

Still, quite a story from season one-to-six with Willow. Willing to give Joss the benefit of the doubt.

Now, if only we can get him to write a cool story for HBO.
"All of which boils down to this: Of course you have a right to react as you'd like to Tara's death. You don't owe Joss your viewership. But then Joss doesn't owe anyone anything. And the perception that in some way he does - that somehow the creator of a fiction has done wrong by his long-suffering fans if he doesn't make the 'right' choices in his narrative construction, if he places too many obstacles in the path of a desire generated by the narrative rather than constitutive of it - is (to my mind) the misperception that I was talking about in my post."

Really? Can you really accept the toaster and then kill Tara like you did? I mean sure we talk about artist freedom all the time, but at some point social responsibility should take precedent shouldnt it? I mean at some point, shouldnt we ask ourselves NOT whether we CAN do something, but whether we SHOULD do something? I have no problem with Tara's death, I really dont, and I believe that Joss Whedon can do whatever he wants with everything that he creates, which means that he can pretty much do whatever he wants for his story. But its like Jurassic Park, Jeff Goldblum says "you were in such a hurry to find out whether you could, that you never stopped to think about whether you should!"

To me, it seems there is a moral imperative here, not with the death of Tara, but with the nature of the narrative itself, one built around the notion that social responsibility can truly take hold. I dont believe for a second that Joss Whedon killed Tara because she was a lesbian, not one second do I believe that, but I also believe that he failed to take into account the social responsibility his story took on when he does things like accepts toasters, says thats awesome, and makes political statements about guns in his shows. And to me, you cannot hide beyond the idea that the story was more important, that you gave me what I needed and not what I wanted, and still accept credit for doing things that are socially responsible because its either the story or its you. You cant have it both ways, you cant be held as someone socially responsible and then hide behind the story and need, when it appears that you werent anymore because then I am going to ask whether I should send the story a toaster.

Its the old story of dichotomy, the social responsibility that seriously gave people what they wanted and then the social irresponsibility that gave people what they needed, and yet, all I can think is that there were some people who WANTED those things all along. Its when people dont like a part of the story that it really does become what you want, instead of just something that we dont like, and I think thats the real distinction of the want/need debate. If you liked it then you needed that, if you didnt like it then you wanted something else, but thats just a cover IMO. Artistic freedom is something wholly great, but viewer and consumer freedom is even better.

ETA: Oh and Dana? Well done sir, well done...

[ edited by jerryst3161 on 2007-03-20 19:39 ]
Thanks for the discussion of Fish Dana5140, it was a good review. I also was struck in the OP by the seeming assumption of a fixed authorial intent and its partner the fixed audience response, or as it was phrased the "ideal reader", leaving me wondering ideal to who?

Another thing I had trouble following was that there seemed to be no acknowledgment that different reading strategies are employed in different mediums. There's talk of written text, of television and film, of comics, all as if there was no difference among the mediums in terms of the depth of cues to the reader/viewer or even the composition of the likely audience, all of which affects reader positoning. Given that different narrative formats even within the same medium, such as a written text, produce different reader positions to that text, and thus interpretations of its content, this blending of discussions is a real stumbling block for me.

Also, Jossholes? Whatever happened to Whedonites or Buffistas?
Quick answer, yourlibrarian. I think "text" here encompasses anything in which reader interpretation occurs- text, graphic, TV media, film, etc. All have to be interpreted by the reader/viewer, no matter the cues each uniquely may give.

However, I also think your question would be an interesting one to investigate. :-) I do not have the knowledge to offer many thoughts on this, though.

newcj: Even though an author may end a story, as Joss did with Buffy Chosen, that does not necessarily imply that the story has ended, not with fanfic. I find much to enjoy in jetwolf and her S8 and 9, for example. It is not "canon," but it brings me pleasure and resonates for me. :-)

[ edited by Dana5140 on 2007-03-20 19:41 ]
I think for me, the term "need" refers not so much to what the readers need (because really, they don't NEED anything from a writer--they CHOOSE to accept what the writer offers) but what the STORY needs in order to work.


Lady Brick, I think you miss a point that I'd like to make: the audience isn't always, to borrow Shel Silverstein's poignant imagery, composed of "Big O's". Many have pieces missing, some are themselves missing pieces--we don't need to recount the heartaches involved, but they are varied and deep. Some of these folks see Joss' work as a meaningful anesthetic for the pain in their lives. For them, it's not merely entertainment, but a crutch (and I use the pejorative term intentionally) to help them cope with an unsatisfying life.

Tara, for instance, becomes a type of someone they want to be--a happy lesbian, a powerful witch, a stutterer who's overcome her limitations, a fat[1] girl who's loved, a woman who finds true love after her family rejects her, or some other facet of her character. Or Willow represents their own journey, and their hope for happiness. Whatever is missing from their lives, is satisfied in fiction. For a while, it makes them forget their rejection, their powerlessness, their pain.

Then, when the *story* needs it, Joss kicks the crutch out and sends them sprawling to the ground. Maybe they started watching after Angel snapped Jenny's neck. Maybe they discounted the possibility--after all, Oz and Riley had both left and come back, right? No one died there. But for whatever reason, some fans have needs unmet in real life, are getting those needs met through fiction, and the needs of the story and their needs diverge.

Here is the real issue--not those who enjoyed a particular period in a show's history, but those whose unmet needs are masked by the show. It's folks in this situation who may be able to intellectually understand the story, but never forgive Joss on an emotional level for the hurt they endured watching him shred their security blanket before their eyes.

That is the context in which I think 'need' makes more sense. Need is a fan perception, based on the utilitarian value of the fiction in masking their real life pain.

[1] Only in comparison to the rest of the female cast.
Dana5140:

Aah, Stanley Fish. Is There a Text in This Class? was one of the first Theory books I bought for pleasure - though I justified it to myself and my pocketbook as a thesis-related buy - but his recent writing is so hermetic and pompous as to make me look like goddamn Stephen King. Still, I go back to his stylistics-takedown with pleasure once in an increasingly long while, and even stroll through Surprised by Sin when I'm in an I-wish-I-had-an-easier-time-reading-Milton kind of mood.

But OK let's start with White Willow (to the tune of a certain Billy Idol song):

Willow killed two people, one horribly. Are we to take from that that the cosmic slate has been wiped clean because she did nothing more than cast a spell? That she has atoned for what she did? I could argue this issue at length, but I felt it was a copout for her crimes, designed to try and bring closure to a series that was ending.


I don't see that extraordinary image as redemption; notwithstanding its usefulness as a dramatic marker (we're satisfied/comforted by someone being redeemed on the brink of death), 'redemption' is largely an unattainable goal in the Jossverse, sensibly so. I don't think she transcended at that point, I think she was offered a vision of transcendence - which is to say in simple terms, total acceptance, of her lot and her crimes - and to the extent that she's 'redeemed' by show's end, it's by her resolve to continue acting out of motivations other than revenge. She's Angel, now: paying for her deeds, endlessly. That strikes me as a bit of a cheat (she probably should be in jail) but an understandable one: she has superpowers, and people with superpowers are, as Spike sensibly pointed out to Buffy in 'Dead Things', somewhat beyond the ken of the Sunnydale PD. I don't buy the 'It wasn't her fault' argument but it's an argument.

(Speaking of which: I think the tribunal should find Gaius Baltar not guilty. How's that for moral slip-n-slide?!)

OK, working back toward Fish:

You say "the structure with the greatest integrity, is precisely the ideal readerly position." But I don't see why you say this, nor do I see what you mean by this. Now do I see how you define integrity here, or what you mean by a "readerly position." I am not being obstreperous, but I am trying to understand the foundation from which you are working. Partly, this is because I am working in a different field; I'm a clinical researcher, not an expert in critical theory.


I think some of the quotation got clipped, here. Snipping out some flowery excess in the middle, my sentence is:

an inability to admit the structural requirements of the story [...] is precisely the ideal readerly position


...which is to say, the author wants you lost in the story and not thinking about extrinsic motivations or structural logic. This isn't true with someone like Joyce or Pynchon, writers who foreground structural logic and formal distancing devices. (Though both would presumably want you to blast through their novels the first go-round, laughing at the jokes, crying about the lost loves, cheering on Roger and Jessica and Molly and Leo, etc.) But Whedon is unabashedly a pulp writer, so suspension of disbelief is assumed in his readership/viewership to entail suspension of critical/analytic faculties, if only temporarily. (See TV-writer definitions of 'fridge logic' for a dodgy negative application of this principle.)

By 'integrity' I mean a combination of coherence, consistency of character and world (i.e. no lazy retconning, only freaky-smart Dawnie-has-always-been-there retconning!), and the justifiability of formal gestures.

I get a lot out of Wolfgang Iser's account of reader/writer games in The Fictive and the Imaginary, and though Norman Holland gets pissed on all the time I admire his project in 5 Readers Reading and elsewhere. Both lead me toward a notion of what I call 'imaginative stances' - a position about halfway between purely formal analysis and purely reader-response/social-conditioning criticism, the idea of which is that formal and generic features prompt us think in certain constrained/circumscribed ways about the stories we're encountering, limiting our ability to think 'outside the (story) box' as it were. So that gamers, for instance, achieve a kind of emptied-out fullness because they rejigger their own sensorium, in a way, so that it's limited to the relatively simple, quantized sensory output of a video game. So they're seeing and hearing a lot less than elsewhere in life, but experience it as abundance, excess. For gaming that's kind of ideal - but it makes criticism impossible, by definition (because criticism is going outside the text to see it in the context of a reader/author/text/society/etc. exchange). Fandom is a kind of deliberate social extrapolation of this altered mindset - a way of continuing our reader-of-fantasy imaginative stance within a social formation. That's why it's Oh So Supportive to be around fans - it's like attending a Cancer Survivors group, or a Young Republicans meeting. Part of what we like is that we're not the only ones with this particular semi-conscious rewiring of head and heart.

It's my own individual wiring, I know, that leads me to react to statements like this, from Fish -

I did what critics always do: I "saw" what my interpretive principles permitted or directed me to see, and then I turned around and attributed what I had 'seen' to a text and an intention


- with disdain, and confusion that Fish is denying the knowability of pretty self-evident formal choices by authors. Enough with the self-hating critic routine, Stan! Obviously writers are situated within interpretive communities and work within systems of generic and formal expectation (presumably Fish talks about this, it's been a long time since I cared enough to look up the specifics of his theory, my late-nite browsing notwithstanding). OK but let's leave him aside. To Tara for a moment:

I think you have too simplistic a reading of Tara. And beyond that, why does it matter whether or not she is complex? If she is not, to you, cool. I don't see her that way. Did she do wrong? Sure; she was complicit with Willow in bringing Buffy back, for example, despite her fears for what they were doing. She ruined the demon finding spell wiht Willow out of an understandable fear that WIllow would think the less of her did Willow know she was part demon. But none of this matters.


So Tara does occasionally get up to mischief, but the show always lets her get away with everything. That's fine. It certainly doesn't bother me; everyone in my household last year used to watch Buffy and Angel together (we all watched every episode of each in a row over a few months, at my urging), and everyone was in love with Tara. No question. But let's be frank: Tara's main quality is that she elicits sympathy, but there's not really enough depth to her character to earn empathy. She's almost solely acted upon; sometimes people act on her behalf. She's obviously smart and perceptive, but at a step back from the narrative she's substantive mainly as an aspect of Willow's character. The genius of the Buffy writers is to incorporate that quality into the character of Tara herself, so that in late Season Four and the beginning of Season Five one of the character's defining traits is her touching concern that she's...a supporting character. I love it, I love her! But Romeo and Juliet (or even, more appropriately, Hamlet and Ophelia) they're not.

There is a lesson to be learned from Tara's character about story-construction, which requires a dispassionate attitude toward the fannish identity-projection and sympathy that's unavoidable from readers/viewers caught up in the narrative. Which is part of the reason people are always surprised - but shouldn't be - when the best TV showrunners talk about how little contemporary television they watch. (The best, like David Simon and David Milch, appear to watch next to none. Whedon's a bigger geek than them, and something of a storytelling savant, so he's got more disposable free time, in spite of his shocking work ethic.)

[Joss's 'what you need, not what you want' comment] is, for certain, not understood; it may be that even now, I do not properly understand. But I did not "need" that death, nor did I want it, nor did I like it.


This raises the point, more interesting to me probably than any of this formalist gobbledygook (ha!), of what the experience of watching the death of Tara at age 50 would be like. I'm out of my depth here but will ride the Poetry Train anyhow: I imagine that there's something callous and unbearable about the death of kids - and the Scoobies were that, even through Season Seven, though they played older at the end - for older viewers. I wouldn't presume to tell you what death is like or how humans deal with it, but I can say what the nearness of death has felt like to me. Joss Whedon killed Tara. I used to think God killed (for instance) my mom. But I don't have the luxury of deciding (realizing, whatever) that Joss Whedon doesn't exist. Indeed as time has passed (I'm just 28 now) I've found my own reactions to death molded by my experience of death in beloved stories, particularly on the honest and often pitiless Buffy: it happens, someone is responsible or no one is, but the responsibility of living doesn't lessen because of someone else's departure, and wishing doesn't unmake tragedy. Given the moral framework of Buffy, Tara's death was as 'justified' as it needed to be - because no justification was needed at all. When John Lennon died, Lester Bangs wrote this:

So in this time of gut-curdling sanctimonies about ultimate icons, I hope you will bear with my own pontifications long enough to let me say that the Beatles were certainly far more than a group of four talented musicians who might even have been the best of their generation. The Beatles were most of all a moment. But their generation was not the only generation in history, and to keep turning the gutted lantern of those dreams this way and that in hopes the flame will somehow flicker up again in the eighties is as futile a pursuit as trying to turn Lennon's lyrics into poetry. It is for that moment - not for John Lennon the man - that you are mourning, if you are mourning. Ultimately you are mourning for yourself.


He didn't live to watch Buffy, but he would've understood.

More geeky now for a second: People piss and moan about Kennedy, but what in Christ's name should Willow have done? 'Too soon, too soon!' That's not for the audience to decide. (It's also not for Kennedy to decide, grumble, but let's leave that to the side for a moment, particularly since she genuinely helped Willow a number of times. Spoiled little brat, but she was right about Tara.) There's a difference between critical analysis and a cry of the heart for the dead, and 'shippers' forget it. They have to. Forgetting is what enables them to be shippers in the first place. Pretending is what we do as fans, and though we shouldn't be ashamed - it lets us enter fully into an emotional exchange with author and text and story, and grow through that exchange - I'd like to think we can take our fannish pleasure without holding onto more harmful delusions. Joss Whedon's work wouldn't have existed without fans; it wouldn't have been seen without fans. But without fans, it would still have been a great achievement. Which is sort of a goofy extrapolation of the argument in the original post, and hopefully one that heartens us - as fans - rather than bringing us down.
Whoa, a lot of comments while I was stringing 2,000 more words together. I'd definitely like to respond if it seems worthwhile.
Lady Brick:

(Joyce dies, we weep, we declare it one of the best episodes of the series despite/because of our agony)


No! Or rather: I disagree. :)

Briefly, our agony is only supporting evidence for our claim that 'The Body' is one of the best episodes of Buffy. To badly mix metaphors, it's like an amicus brief: it's not the case. Again, these are my biases, but I say the case for its greatness is made by stepping back: to look not at what the episode gives you, but by inquiring more deeply into the mechanisms by which it satisfies (and crushes, and defies, and teaches, etc.) us. You're outlining a traditional fan position, one that makes a lot of sense in the immediate wake of the initial experience of an episode. But if art is part of a conversation - and we talk back, in part, through more art (even if that art is criticism) - then that initial reaction says nothing to us that can further the conversation. That's not to discount our agony/ecstasy, quite the contrary. Why else make art in the first place? But the aesthetic worth of the art doesn't originate there.

Wow: two cents and about that size. A nice change for me, I imagine. :)
jerryst3161:

Artistic freedom is something wholly great, but viewer and consumer freedom is even better.


You don't live off your art, I take it.

OK I was gonna say more here but I'm totally confused: What toaster? Did a group of fans actually send Joss Whedon a toaster for some reason?
newcj:

A fan deciding that the story is over when the writer is continuing to write it, is no different to my mind than a fan demanding more or something different from a writer who has said this is the story, and this is the end of the story.


Aah, this is a good point. But this is a style weakness of mine: I seem to have made it insufficiently clear that I'm definitely gonna run out and buy Angel Season Six if it comes out, and will happily wonder what happens next, what became of the Fang Gang, what Joss's apocalypse actually looks like. No question. I'm not in any way quibbling with his decision to go on; I'm interested in the fan reaction(s), and the implied attitude toward the fandom-object, the cult text. That's the object of criticism in this article - but it's not meant to imply any strong attitude toward Joss continuing the story, on my part.
"You don't live off your art, I take it."

LOL, do you consider philosophy to be art? If so, then yeah I live off my art...

And my bad about the toaster, thats just the easiest way to make my point waxbanks, some fans of the Willow and Tara relationship sent Joss a pink toaster thanking him for the relationship.
jclemens: You're saying that a writer has a responsibility to fill an emotional need an audience has. Dana5140 says that a writer isn't in a position to decide what emotional needs an audience has that need filling. It can't work both ways.

waxbanks: That's what I meant by "despite"... the ability to step back from our initial visceral reaction and judge art for art's sake. Some people see "The Body" as great because of the structure of the episode, the effective use of one-shots, the stellar acting, the directing choices, etc. Some see the episode as great simply because it makes them sob every time they watch it. I think both are valid responses and both are unlikely to come from people who went "Woohoo! Joyce finally bought the farm!" Hence, despite/because :)
jclemens: You're saying that a writer has a responsibility to fill an emotional need an audience has.


Not quite. Rather, I'm implying that compelling presentations of fiction, especially in a serial form like TV, will attract those with unmet needs who can identify with the characters. By virtue of being good, compelling writing, shows attract such folks, and thus, Joss shows more than most.

Does that create an obligation on the part of Joss to continue meeting those needs? I don't see why or how that could be the case--there are so many problems with that interpretation of obligation that I'm not even going to start naming them. I have nothing to say to folks who claim otherwise: an author's control over his or her creative output should be absolute.

Still, it would be shortsighted to deny that people really do develop attachments to fictional characters who are subject to death, or, worse, cancellation.
I don't see Tara as a cypher upon which other project goodness. I have a very different reading of her. I see her as a moral compass, the one person who would do right regardless of the consequences, regardless of what it meant to her herself. But then I posit Tara as a representation of the Buddhist boddhisattva Tara, compassionate savioress of the world, protector of women. Which is why Tara loved the most powerful woman in the world- Willow (and was willing to leave her- self sacrifice- in order to save her); was confessor to the savior of the world- Buffy; was mother to the power of universal chaos- Dawn, and even gave solace to the woman who wrought vengeance on evil men- Anya. And still had time to tweak Spike! :-) I read Tara in this light, as the person on Buffy who provided a moral direction for the Scoobys at a time when it became increasingly lost.

I also viewed the relation in light of queer representations in media. There were virtually none. Ellen had come and gone, and was played as comedy. Willow and Tara were the first time that Other got to see themselves portrayed in media. Lesbian relations is now a game- look at The OC, for example. It's used as a ratings ploy. But not W/T. That was different and may never be repeated, L Word notwithstanding. And L Word is soap, so is hyper-real, not real. And let us not argue that Buffy is not real; I think everyone knows what I mean here. We will not see that kind of relation on TV ever again. And we are the poorer for it.

As to death. In truth, I just returned two days ago from my grandmother's funeral. For real. Not many 53yos have grandmothers, but mine was 98 when she died last Friday. That was really real. And it hurt, in lots of ways, but was not unexpected. The week I spent with my family was rough, really rough. I hold no beliefs that the death of a fictional character is the same; it patently is not. But we still can be moved when it occurs, and a good writer can manipulate an audience in many ways. I just think Joss miscalculated the impact of his authorial choice. And I think we will never know if he harbors any misgivings about that choice. It is on threads and discussions such as this that I wish he would post a comment; I would love to hear his thoughts when we get into issues this deeply.

I have not read the other authors you note, and once again I do not have the training to truly respond with any authority to your comments. I am at a disadvantage as a result. My own thinking is that despite the best intentions of authors, they cannot predict how people will respond to what they write. Tara's death being a case in point.

I don't like Kennedy because she was written as the anti-Tara at a time when there was still a huge well of pain out there. It was a further slap in the face, a sop to say that Willow was still gay (though Joss and Marti Noxon both have stated that they had lengthy discussions about this issue- an indication to me that they still did not get it. I can only imagine the outcry that would have occurred had they returned Willow to guyville, no matter how much they have always argued it was about who you love and nothing more- and Joss is just not that dumb, so had to realize that he could not make that move, not at that point. I still think, though, the TKIM was a bit of a slap at the shippers, bringing Warren back as Willow- what could be worse than thatto the Tillow shippers, at that point, aside from making Willow hetero again? But I digress.).

But I am not sure I understand this comment: "There's a difference between critical analysis and a cry of the heart for the dead, and 'shippers' forget it. They have to. Forgetting is what enables them to be shippers in the first place." Help me out here.
And my bad about the toaster, thats just the easiest way to make my point waxbanks, some fans of the Willow and Tara relationship sent Joss a pink toaster thanking him for the relationship.


Gotcha. Oh I've got a whole mess of thoughts about that kind of pleasure/guilt complex but that's for another time. Lunchtime!
an author's control over his or her creative output should be absolute.

Gotcha, gotcha. I completely agree. Of course, there is also the occasional writer who seems to delight in purposefully pissing on the audience's emotions to the point where that control appears to be the focus instead of the story. As with all things, moderation usually works best.

But I am not sure I understand this comment: "There's a difference between critical analysis and a cry of the heart for the dead, and 'shippers' forget it. They have to. Forgetting is what enables them to be shippers in the first place." Help me out here.

I believe that's intended to mean that shippers by necessity view the entirety of the series through the filter of what THEY want the story to be, rather than what the story IS. And when you're at that point, objective critical analysis isn't really possible.

[ edited by Lady Brick on 2007-03-20 20:43 ]
I'm afraid I don't have sufficient experience (or memory of coursework at the moment) to explore the issue either, Dana5140, but when the OP raised the issue of people reacting differently to a film than a television show it seemed to me to be highlighting the fact that a given text is interepreted differently based on the audience's positioning, not least of which is the knowledge they are expected to bring to a text (which may be their own life experience, their prior experience with the medium, their previous experience with elements of the narrative or all of the above). For example, supposing we took a 2 episode arc of Buffy and translated it directly to film, comic, or text. How would we expect consumers of those new texts to react to the story assuming they had no other knowledge of the series? And would those all be the same reactions regardless of which medium they were given? Also, what if all the readers were from different cultures as well? How would that affect their positioning to a given story?

I'm wondering in part if the OP's discussion of the "ideal reader" is not in fact a discussion of the "imagined reader" or "intended reader" since the determination of reading competency is different in different mediums, and also is something determined by the text not the author. I'm afraid it's been some years since I was that conversant with different parts of reception theory, but I'm assuming the OP is using its elements since the theory is broad enough for interpretation of diverse mediums.

I don't want to get sidetracked into a discussion of Tara specifically as I have no particular connection to her character. This statement, however, struck me.

"there's not really enough depth to her character to earn empathy. She's almost solely acted upon"

By you, I assume you mean. Because there are many people who are largely reactive in their lives and I imagine they empathize quite strongly with her. Are you suggesting people can only identify with characters who are active and strong?

I think most TV showrunners watch little television because they are simply too busy. It's a very demanding job with long hours and keeping up with a television series is time consuming.

Also, the term "self-evident" is a bit of an oxymoron. Anyone who has ever devised a syllabus or given out an assignment with lengthy, explicit instructions would tell you that all we can hope for is "mostly evident."
I can only imagine the outcry that would have occurred had they returned Willow to guyville, no matter how much they have always argued it was about who you love and nothing more


To me this says more about the marginalization of bisexuality among queer interest groups than anything else - I find it obvious that the important thing, in terms of authenticity of identity, is whom you love rather than what direction their genitals are turned in - but to each his or her own, I suppose. Still, this politicization of aesthetic judgment, this transparently self-satisfying socialization of it, is definitely the sort of thing I was talking about in my original post.

I just think Joss miscalculated the impact of his authorial choice [to kill Tara].


I hear stuff like this all the time from W/T shippers, and it never fails to disappoint me. C'mon, level with me: do you really think Joss Whedon, famously one of the more conscientious storytellers in Hollywood when it comes to feminist viewpoints and sexual empowerment, didn't think people would lose their shit when Tara died? This is a man whose writing staff was very much in touch with the fandom, and more importantly, in touch with currents in American popular culture. You really think he and they couldn't have imagined that people would be upset? For God's sake, that's why they killed Tara. Because the structure of the story demanded it, and they wanted to provoke emotional turmoil. Why do bad things happen in drama? To upset us, safely. Whether everything comes out OK or not is a generic question more than an individual-psychological one, I think.

But the protestations of W/T shippers - 'No, they couldn't know how much we're hurting! If only they could have known, they would never have done this!' - fly in the face of the message of the show. Death happens, even in drama. Even to lesbians in love, even outside of the context of the 'lesbian cliché.' Those tiresome self-justifications from (e.g.) post-'Seeing Red' Buffy boycotters went a long way to excuse what amounts to fans forgetting why they watched the show in the first place - or acknowledging, perhaps more nervewrackingly, that their reasons for watching the show stemmed from a simplistic grasp of the show's morals, the belief that Joss (the writer-god) was really looking out for them and just wanted to make them happy, astonishing overwhelming episode-after-episode evidence to the contrary.

Besides which, the bigger deal is this: Tara died, and only a miniscule fraction of viewers stopped watching, and only a slightly larger miniscule fraction hated the show because Tara had been killed. That's the real blow to the collective ego of fandom, here: we're a tiny group, and our perceived importance to the show is out of proportion with our actual role in the audience. Some episodes of Buffy were watched by five million people, as I recall. Thus far nearly 1,800 people have found my blog post on Whedonesque. The math should be humbling - but fandom is a defense against humility. Whedon has had some things to say about that, as you probably know, in the context of the 'holy emotion' of surprise and spoiler-whores.

Oh well.
So...many...words. I just can't seem to get past "Jossholes". Call me petty/picky. .(Please not literally as I am terribly sensitive).

Editied to clarify not being bitchy. Just flip. I love to read these posts when they get very academic like this and I am not at all trying to diminish what anyone is saying here by being flip. But honestly, I have a child's love for all things Joss. And as entertaining as all this is, my thoughts eventually boil down to, (badly paraphrased Xander), Me Love Buffy, Buffy not Dead, Me Happy.

[ edited by skeezycheeses on 2007-03-20 21:20 ]
yourlibrarian:

Also, the term "self-evident" is a bit of an oxymoron. Anyone who has ever devised a syllabus or given out an assignment with lengthy, explicit instructions would tell you that all we can hope for is "mostly evident."


LOL. :) Perhaps my bias stems from my habit of being very explicit in my syllabi and assignments, and very generous - perhaps too much so - in accepting the students' work itself.

"there's not really enough depth to her character to earn empathy. She's almost solely acted upon"


By you, I assume you mean. Because there are many people who are largely reactive in their lives and I imagine they empathize quite strongly with her. Are you suggesting people can only identify with characters who are active and strong?


This is a good point, and illuminates another bias of mine - though this no doubt sounds mean, it's not meant that way: I find shyness wearying, a problem to be overcome as quickly and safely as possible rather than encouraged, indeed an evolutionary disadvantage but one that can definitely be left behind by most people with enough support and honest feedback. But we'll stick to the text: tell me, what exactly does Tara do? In general, I mean. She just doesn't actually do much. As Dana points out, she's a 'moral compass' - which is very important, formally - but as a person, what are her traits? She's good, kind, deeply in love with Willow, forgiving, sexually progresive (never moreso than in 'Dead Things'). What does she like? What has she done? How does she spend her time when Willow's not around? We don't have to see such things to know them; the show could characterize her in passing, so to speak, and that's what's happened in part. But her identity was never a focus.

I think that's part of what people love so damn much about Tara Maclay. Her relationship with Willow was beautiful, in part because until Season Six it wasn't in any way messy (except for Willow's own questions about her sexual identity, about which Tara was boundlessly supportive).

jclemens:

I think your observations about Tara and fan identification are spot-on. But as I'm getting grouchier I don't know that I could get away with making them in quite the same terms without being called out. So danke schoen. :)
So...many...words. I just can't seem to get past "Jossholes". Call me petty/picky.


You're being petty and/or picky.
WB: It is certain that Joss knew people would "lose their shit" when he killed Tara. He wrote this for maximum impact. I still hold that the result of that decision was far greater than he anticipated. And he has admitted as much, as has Marti Noxon. Don't allow your apparent kittenboard hatred to color your comments here. I'm not a kitten, nor am I stupid. I don't agree with his decision, but that's my right. As is the decision to then lose interest in the show. It does not matter that it was in the context of a fictional relation. It could be for any reason; I don't owe Joss or JJ Abrams or Tim Kring or anyone any allegiance whatsoever, and when they upset me, for whatever reason (ie, failure to answer anything on Lost) then they lose me. But this is banal, right? you have much to offer in your comments but you are veering a bit too close to the personal here. I have no ego, and fandom is not monolithic. You attribute entirely too much power to them (or perhaps it is that you attribute utterly no power to them; it is not entirely clear to me).

But if you think that our role as fans is out of proportion to our impact as audience, I would refer you to Serenity.
I've loved this discussion and find myself pretty much on Waxbank's side the whole way. Wish I could articulate things so forcefully, but, since it can't be me (sniff), it's wonderful to see someone else doing it. Great stuff!
Perhaps my bias stems from my habit of being very explicit in my syllabi and assignments

Well, I was trying to use a bit of humor to get the point across, but let me put it another way. Saying that something is "self-evident," particularly in a discussion is usually a shorthand way of not proving a point but merely asserting it. One's belief in the truth of something is not equal to it actually being so.

As I said before, I don't want to get sidetracked into discussing Tara or any other particular character. I am assuming from your response that you do, in fact believe, that only certain characters can be a point of identification for a given audience.
My word, Saje, are you actually Yoda?

Clouded, of most of these posts the meaning is. I've never seen myself and Yoda in the same room so it's at least possible ;).

Very interesting discussion which I can barely follow. I reckon that Fish guy may exemplify pretty much everything I have trouble accepting about po-mo lit-crit though. Does he literally mean that in his view every reading of a text is a separate interpretation and every separate interpretation is equally valid ? I.e there are no empirical 'facts' one can claim for a text (e.g. Buffy is female) ?

Cos that, in my considered though uninformed estimation, is bollocks ;).

If all meaning is individually interpreted then there's basically no such thing as meaning and even discussing it is, well, meaningless. If art is partly about communication (and I think it is) then there must be a common framework in which to communicate (e.g. language, a common culture etc.). If everyone's interpretation is individual and distinct then there is no culture which seems to contradict the state of the world (or there sure are a whole lot of coincidences happening every day ;).

Artistic freedom is something wholly great, but viewer and consumer freedom is even better.

Err, can you have one without the other ? Artists are viewers and consumers too. To me, as soon as an artist mediates his or her intentions for another's then their art is adulterated (obviously in the real world this happens to a greater or lesser extent all the time, doesn't make it the ideal). Great art happens when despite that lack of attention to 'receiver' wants the artist still touches something inside their audience.

I see her as a moral compass, the one person who would do right regardless of the consequences, regardless of what it meant to her herself.

Surely a 'person' that would always follow a certain path regardless of consequences is a kind of cypher (in the sense of being a mystery with little apparent internal life) ? Certainly not a fully realised rendition of a human being. I loved Tara but waxbanks is spot-on IMO. She was more an archetype than a person (compared to someone like Xander with his pettiness and jealousy as well as his bravery and insight).

I just can't seem to get past "Jossholes".

I agree. We Josshitheads deeply resent those fucking splitters being given the oxygen of publicity that we have long striven for. And if one particular Josshole is reading this, I want my Marillion CD back you bastard !
Marillion! Way cool. I love that band. But Magma is way damned better. Oh, and remember, Stanley Fish is not Fish!

Wax Banks has a few more Buffy posts on his site than just the one here. And I do have one majorly agreement with him- Anya and Xander's breakup was out of character for Xander and not earned. Just sayin.'

I don't think the idea of reader response criticism is that there is no meaning, and that words themselves have no meaning. I think the idea is that the meaning we glean from our reading of a text is based on our own learning, expectations, cultural assumptions, etc. It is not deconstruction, for example. So it is not the worst of pomo analysis.

Hey, saje: "Great art happens when despite that lack of attention to 'receiver' wants the artist still touches something inside their audience." Define great art for me, wouldja? I think this might be a bit hyperbolic. Great art is in the eye of the beholder. I think Magma makes superb music, but whenever I play them I usually drive everyone else out of the room. A little more lucidity on this comment might help. :-)

[ edited by Dana5140 on 2007-03-20 21:36 ]
Dana:

I knew Serenity would get busted out quickly in response to my whole 'fans aren't terribly important' thing! Well-played. But don't think for a second that it was love and not dollars that led to the film getting the greenlight. The studio doesn't see loving devoted fans, it sees customers. Think of the studio as IBM - that clarifies the role of fans a bit, I think. You're right about Whedon and Noxon underestimating the intensity of the feedback they'd get from fans as well; but then it's my position that many of the complaints they received were understandably unreasonable, and that it was no crime not to expect some people to overreact. (Wish I could change that feeling but I can't.)

All of which is separate from the fact that eventual acceptance - ridding oneself of resentment - would seem to be the minimal adult response to the events of 'Seeing Red' and after. I'm not suggesting I'm more emotionally mature than other Jossholes (how can people not love the sound of that word?), but when it comes to getting over Tara's death, particularly given its status as a fictional event within a narrative that for better or worse it did fit organically into, I'm...well, I guess as far as such things go I am saying there's a more and a less mature reaction. And honestly, I don't know that going further down that discursive road will do anyone any good. I recognize that fandom and shipping are complex phenomena, but part of that, for me, is recognizing the essential quality of defensiveness that permeates geek-fandom.

(Which might be a more profitable avenue of inquiry, as it abstracts away from any namecalling that might be temping. :)

I don't agree with [Joss's decision to kill Tara], but that's my right. As is the decision to then lose interest in the show.


I don't suspect the latter was actually a fully conscious decision as you're indicating, but no matter. The implied equivalence here - that fans, by dint of their status as fans, are equally qualified to made consumer decisions about how they spend their time, and criticize the storytelling methods of a man most of them (in this case) love unreservedly as long as he's giving them the thing they want - well, doesn't that strike you as odd? We can give our opinions about killing Tara all day, but Joss Whedon knows Buffy better than anyone else, and he made a principled storytelling decision that, given the enormous support he'd always gotten from fans (think of the common slogan 'In Joss We Trust' here), he very reasonably assumed would be painful for viewers but eventually accepted. In other words, he assumed fans would understand him. But fan (specifically shipper) complaints about Tara's death, many of which stem from the feeling 'We don't understand,' manifest within the fandom as 'You made a wrong decision.' The question of whether the art affects us in one or another way is separate from the question of whether the art was approached by its creator(s) with integrity and consistency. In this case it was.

People are fond of busting out the 'social responsibility' canard when their feelings are hurt, but rarely prior to that point. Hence this rush of wings.

I'm not calling you stupid, Dana - nor am I expressing or even feeling hatred of anyone. I guess I am saying that your considered reaction to Joss's decision to kill this fictional character - to which, though it shouldn't have to be said, you're fully entitled, and which I wouldn't try to take away - that your reaction is grounded in a particular kind of denial of readerly responsibility, a reaction common to geek/fans, which kicks in as soon as our easygoing pleasure is undercut by real-life narratives. I live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and I see this phenomenon up-close among Red Sox fans. The fantasy identity-projection that happens among Sox (and other sports) fans - who 'adopt' a team and then somehow see it as a fulfillment of their own destiny when $200 million of hired hands defeat $150 millions of hired hands in a one-off competition - is just a starker version of the more communicative, feminized (I'm talking demographics here), generative (in terms of fiction/commentary production) fan-investment that goes on among Buffy fans. You see the same thing among NaNoWriMo writers and fanfic writers in general, who desperately want to substitute their own pleasure-in-writing for the authentic pleasure-in-reading of their imagined readers. And the world of fandom goes 'round.

I know my tone in these comments is immoderate. In part I'm just kind of chuffed to be writing thousands of words of conversation with impassioned committed knowledgeable fans of something I love. In part it's because there's something deeply unsettling about certain aspects of fandom as constituted today, as I experience it, and my original post - along with these comments - marks an attempt to get to its heart. Only an attempt. I know, I know.
yourlibrarian:

(Hey are you actually a librarian? Academic? Or is that a Giles reference? Just curious.)

I am assuming from your response that you do, in fact believe, that only certain characters can be a point of identification for a given audience.


Oh, no no no. Sorry I wasn't clear. But the nature of each character - formally, in terms of characterization, etc. - goes partway to determining the kind of identification that will occur. And I don't believe all kinds of audience identification are equally healthy, though by that I'm not implying a negative judgment of people who identify with Tara or any other shy character. [My impatience with shyness reflects badly on me, no question - but I'm not convinced that shyness itself reflects well on anyone either. Separate questions, really.]

Shipping is one kind of identification/projection about which I personally have complicated feelings that are, in the aggregate, negative overall. Let's label that can 'Warning - worms inside' and leave it aside for a bit if you'd like. :)
Does he literally mean that in his view every reading of a text is a separate interpretation and every separate interpretation is equally valid ? I.e there are no empirical 'facts' one can claim for a text (e.g. Buffy is female)?

I wouldn't claim to be an expert on Fish, Saje, but to some degree, yes. For example, let's say you read a book in childhood and then read that same book as an adult. Your interpretation of that text would likely be altered, even if it was largely the same. Your interpretation may in fact be wildly different at given points in your life. However it isn't the text that's changed. You have.

I think one could certainly say there are points in virtually everyone's interpretation that would be identical. However just because many people's interpretations of a text overlap is not the same as saying they're all the same. That's my understanding of what those excerpts of Fish are discussing. Reader-response changed things because instead of having interpretation be a guessing game about what the author intended, it became an effort to understand why people had so many different takes on what the author intended.
Saje:

Very interesting discussion which I can barely follow. I reckon that Fish guy may exemplify pretty much everything I have trouble accepting about po-mo lit-crit though. Does he literally mean that in his view every reading of a text is a separate interpretation and every separate interpretation is equally valid ? I.e there are no empirical 'facts' one can claim for a text (e.g. Buffy is female) ?

Cos that, in my considered though uninformed estimation, is bollocks ;).


Fish is a can of worms himself. Very very smart man, bit of bastard when it comes to his polemics if you ask me. His reader-response theory is a very helpful corrective to the universalizing 'It's all in the text' outlook that characterized midcentury bog-standard Anglo-American literary theory, as I understand it. But I suspect that in his particular statements he's of a piece with most such theorists: more helpful than 'correct.' There should be good introductions to him online.
"newcj:

A fan deciding that the story is over when the writer is continuing to write it, is no different to my mind than a fan demanding more or something different from a writer who has said this is the story, and this is the end of the story.

Aah, this is a good point. But this is a style weakness of mine: I seem to have made it insufficiently clear that I'm definitely gonna run out and buy Angel Season Six if it comes out, and will happily wonder what happens next, what became of the Fang Gang, what Joss's apocalypse actually looks like. No question. I'm not in any way quibbling with his decision to go on; I'm interested in the fan reaction(s), and the implied attitude toward the fandom-object, the cult text. That's the object of criticism in this article - but it's not meant to imply any strong attitude toward Joss continuing the story, on my part.
waxbanks | March 20, 20:12 CET "


Actually I did get the part where you said that you were going to read the rest of the comics and probably enjoy them, but the following, which I quoted much earlier but you may have missed because I posted it 2 minutes before you did at one point, was what I was referring to.

"And it means this: there might be more stories to tell in the Angel universe, and maybe Joss Whedon really does have more to say with and about those characters, but the narrative of Angel is done. Angel himself might have done more, but the story entitled Angel ends in an alley. The events afterward weren't really supposed to exist, not even in fictional representation; they were supposed to be implied, and that's all. They exist in the viewers' minds for a purpose, and that purpose is only to heighten the drama of the final moments of 'Not Fade Away'."

Joss has said all along he had plans for the narrative to continue after NFA. In that quote, it seems like you personally are the one deciding that "the narrative of Angel is done" and anything that comes after is a new narrative. That is what I find incongruous. As I have said, I am fine with NFA as an ending if Joss says it is. Since he has consistently said he had more to tell after NFA, however, the narrative can't be done, only the portion of the narrative we have seen so far is done.

Dana5140
"[Joss's 'what you need, not what you want' comment] is, for certain, not understood; it may be that even now, I do not properly understand. But I did not "need" that death, nor did I want it, nor did I like it."

I did not really want to get specifically into the death of Tara, but here I go anyway. Geronimo!

I never thought the point was that the audience needed Tara's death, but instead, that in order to explore that absolute darkness that humans are cabable of being driven to through grief and IMO guilt, Willow's *story* needed Tara's death. Without Tara's death there could have been no truly and seemingly unreachable Dark Willow. You said you would have liked to see Tara confront Dark Willow, but nothing but Tara's death could make Willow go that far into darkness. If there is a chance that Tara still could be with Willow, her focus is going to be mostly on Tara, and only partially on revenge or grief. If Willow does go dark and is confronted by Tara, are we really going to imagine Tara not being able to talk Willow out of destroying the world and by extension Tara herself? What becomes the point? For me it risks becoming a sappy story about romantic love that I have seen before, only with two women.

I am sure that there is fanfic that comes up with lots of other ideas, but I am not into fanfic. Joss was trying to tell a particular story and explore a particular part of the human makeup, to do that he needed Willow to feel more grief and anger than she could bare, and he needed us to understand/feel/believe that grief and anger with her. IMO nothing else could really have done that other than the death of Tara.

[ edited by newcj on 2007-03-20 21:55 ]
For example, let's say you read a book in childhood and then read that same book as an adult. Your interpretation of that text would likely be altered, even if it was largely the same. Your interpretation may in fact be wildly different at given points in your life. However it isn't the text that's changed. You have.


To take a related point: Fish talks (or talked, I may well be out of date on his work at this point) about 'interpretive communities' - basically social settings, institutions, and discursive formations that dictate, to an extent, the parameters of possible interpretation, limiting what can be said and indeed what can be understood about a text. When we read, we read as a certain kind of reader, and our 'kind' is a major factor in our process of individuation - and we tend to differ only so much. Not an entirely useless framework for talking about, say, LGBT audiences/fan groups and the Willow/Tara pairing.
I think your example of sports team is a canny one. The reason we watch sports, those of us that do (and I do not, save for running, which is never shown on TV and never the events I am truly interested in- 5k, 10k)is that we identify with our teams. And great expense is put out by those teams to maintain those identities. And I am always confused by people who show up colored green and bare-chested in 20 degree temps to cheer their team on. And I know that the decision to greenlight Serentiy was made on a financial basis; the DVD set was selling like hotcakes and was a good indicator of potential success, when added to Joss' street cred and geeklove. But it merits note that the fans really and truly drove this and hard. It was unprecedented, and that's why I played that card. Fans did it. I also further agree that some reactions to Tara's death were equally unprecedented and in some cases well out of proportion. To this day if you try to argue on the KB that it was a fictional death, you will be shouted down. But I cannot couchsafe the kittens their anger; that's their gig and no more incorrect than loving the show. Though I do not understand it- and I have born the brunt of some truly troubling past responses on the board when I had the temerity to question the conventional wisdom there. I am sensitive to both sides of the issue.

Nonetheless, what does it mean to be a shipper? I love the W/T relation, I frequent boards where it is intelligently discussed, and I draw pleasure from viewing it. I guess that's my gig. I do much the same with what is called GSR, on CSI (GSR, in addition to standing for gunshot residue, also stands for Grissom Sara Romance). I have not tried to analyze why these relations have captured me. In both cases we have a geeky person (Willow, Grissom) involved with a shy and abused person (Tara, Sara Sidle). I am neither, but I find great pelasure in watching them. In fact, I always watch Tara when she is on screen, even when she is not the focus of the shot. As I do for Sara Sidle. ANd it is testament to the actors who play them (Amber Benson, Jorja Fox) that they never break character when they are not the center of attraction; I learn about them in those moments. Does this make me a fan or a geek? And if so, what does that mean? You've thrown this issue out there, but I am not sure exactly what it all means to you. As a fan, I want what I want, right? It might be I want angst, it might me I don't. But as I noted before, there is no monolithic "fan" that means all things to all people. All us fans are different in our needs and desires for the shows we love. It may be this that is giving me such pause.

I should note that I was never one to argue that Joss invoked the dead lesbian cliche, nor that he had an obligation to the GLBT community. I argued that he made a bad storytelling decision. I have never argued he did not have that right. Just that in my estimation he made a bad decision. I still believe that, and it is of course tied up in my love for the character, but so what? That's my gig.

So maybe the question I have for you is, what is about "fandom" that bothers you? And, how do you define fandom? We are all fans here, but we sure have many disagreements. And, we are not monolithic.
Joss has said all along he had plans for the narrative to continue after NFA. In that quote, it seems like you personally are the one deciding that "the narrative of Angel is done" and anything that comes after is a new narrative. That is what I find incongruous. As I have said, I am fine with NFA as an ending if Joss says it is. Since he has consistently said he had more to tell after NFA, however, the narrative can't be done, only the portion of the narrative we have seen so far is done.


I think of it this way: if Joss reopens Angel then my view of 'NFA' as an end will change. As it is, 'NFA' is a complete story - there's no chapter yet to be written that comes after it. If another chapter does come into being, that view will change. But 'Not Fade Away' told a story that was meant to end. It wasn't like the other season finales - it was a Grand Finale, written and played that way. But the series ended in the alley. If I didn't read Whedonesque I wouldn't know about these rumblings of a new story, and - pleasantly - I'd be left with 'Not Fade Away' as merely itself, a self-contained story. That's why they go up against hopeless odds, in part, and why Whedon didn't write an 'out' into the last episode. Because there isn't one.

I also believe Whedon altered the nature of the Season Five finale after the cancellation. Couldn't give you a quote about it though (can't even remember Bell's interesting finale DVD commentary, unfortunately). I've said elsewhere that to my eyes it's the most darkly autobiographical episode of Angel, or rather the one that speaks most transparently to some external concern of the writer. In a non-cancellation universe (kill me for writing that) it might well have ended with the same big brawl, but it also wouldn't have killed Wesley or Gunn. No way would the final conversation have been so charmingly fatalistic, either. If the show continues, Joss will have some hoops to jump through to bring things back.

If he doesn't go ahead, nothing will be lost. That's probably a better way of talking about it than what I wrote originally.
Define great art for me, wouldja? I think this might be a bit hyperbolic. Great art is in the eye of the beholder. I think Magma makes superb music, but whenever I play them I usually drive everyone else out of the room. A little more lucidity on this comment might help. :-)

Ah Dana5140, you should know I laugh in the face of lucidity, chortle at clarity and snuffle in barely suppressed giggles at straightforwardness. Possibly ;).

I don't think I can fully define art (I know it when I see it though ;) but part of the definition really would be "despite that lack of attention to 'receiver' wants the artist still touches something inside their audience". I can't remember ever reading an artist interviewed who didn't say they wrote, composed, painted etc. for themselves, to express how they felt. Yet art still touches something within the viewer (or at least, it does if it's great ;). For me this is because of our commonality of experience as humans (including the biggie, shared mortality) and knowing that is part of what allows art to move me.

(if you just mean examples, well, I like Turner's seascapes, i'd call them great art. I lived by the coast for a number of years - still miss the sound of the surf - and I think he captures something true about the sea and our relationship to it)

I think the idea is that the meaning we glean from our reading of a text is based on our own learning, expectations, cultural assumptions, etc.

Ah, OK, don't really take issue with that (or yourlibrarian's "you can never step in the same river twice" style explanation - that's very true IMO) but:

Fish apparently said: "but the documents . . . that would give us that intention are no more available to a literal reading (are no more uninterpreted) than the literal reading it would yield."

Isn't this saying that textual statements of fact are impossible since we can never read a text literally (i.e. as fact rather than our interpretation of fact) ? I don't know what a 'formal unit' is so I can't comment on your previous quote of his but that sounded like it was saying something similar.

(read waxbanks post about him and maybe I should be taking what he actually says with a bigger grain of salt. But how else am i to judge his ideas ? I sense some 'introductory' reading in my future ;)
If he doesn't go ahead, nothing will be lost.


I'd go one farther. Most authors tend to not know when to quit. Or, more cynically, maybe they DO know when to quit, but keep going anyways: they come to a great conclusion, then, for the allure of dollars, keep writing.

If Joss DOES go ahead, he risks becoming another hack riding the coattails of his own past inspiration for sheer greed. I doubt he's going there with this or any other currently planned creative effort, but the temptation is always there. For this reason, a Joss who is moving forward on to new projects (Goners, Runaways, etc.) rather than milking his best successes is most likely to continue providing us vibrant, meaningful content in the long run.
I doubt he's going there with this or any other currently planned creative effort ...

Certainly not this. Not only is his love for the Buffyverse and its characters completely genuine IMO but comics just don't pay that well ;). I agree with the gist of your comment about hackery jclemens but surely that is not an arbitrary line (i.e. you've worked in this 'verse for ten years so now it's time to stop), surely it totally depends on the quality of the work ? If Buffy 8.1 is anything to go by that isn't suffering at all.

(well, quality and intentions but we can never know those so best just to judge on quality)
"If he doesn't go ahead, nothing will be lost. That's probably a better way of talking about it than what I wrote originally."

OK.

"That's why they go up against hopeless odds, in part, and why Whedon didn't write an 'out' into the last episode. Because there isn't one."

Oh com'on. Are you flirting with us? You are obviously smart and savy, you just want to see if anyone is still reading with this one, right? ;-) Ok, I'll play. Just in case you aren't pulling my leg:

Was there an (obvious) "out" when Buffy died and was buried and enough time passed for her to have a tombstone? Was there an (obvious)"out" when Angel was sunk to the bottom of the ocean and the one person on his side who had any clue where to look for his trail was transported to a higher plane? Precident shows us there is always an "out" if Joss wants there to be.

[ edited by newcj on 2007-03-20 22:28 ]
True newcj (that's what makes it fantasy not sci-fi - hey it's my favourite hobby horse back again ;) but surely waxbanks is saying (and I agree) that NFA was deliberately written with no 'out' at the end, the theme being the never-ending fight against evil. Never-ending fights don't, as a rule, have endings ;).

The 'resolution' was there is no resolution, no ultimate battle, no final win, no shan-shu, no 'happy ending'. 'Nothing but the rain' (and in finest noir tradition, you can bet it's a 'hard rain' ;).
newcj:

Of course I'm flirting. Also serious though. :)

And: My, this thread has gone on a long time! I'm too scared to do a word count on my own contributions but I imagine it's up around 5,000 words by now. Gah.

To your point: In the latter case the Angel S3 finale was written deliberately as a cliffhanger, of course. After S5 of Buffy Joss knew the show would be picked up again, so he wrote with a continuation in mind, but that would've been a fitting end to the show (though he was going to sink Sunnydale into the ground at that point, and didn't, because he knew the story wasn't ending). You have a point - there are a number of places where the stories reasonably could've ended, though Angel 3x22 isn't one of them - but there's finality and then there's, y'know, finality. The whole moral center of Angel 5x22 is that they're going off to die. All else aside, if they don't die, that will be a betrayal (of sorts) of the scene's original intention. They might make it, but if they do it'll be luck, in part, that sees them through - and in a way that has nothing to do with the luck that's helped the Fang Gang in the past.

As Saje said: the ending of 'NFA' is that there is no ending. Which is only an example of the phenomenon of fan-denial I'm interested in, and not the thing itself, but still of interest (it appears!).
Saje,

The authors I fault most for taking good stuff and later making it into dreck are Roger Zelazny, Frank Herbert, Orson Scott Card, and Tom Clancy. Others started as enjoyable but not particularly inspired hacks, and essentially kept writing at the same level: J.K. Rowling, George Lucas, John Grisham, Jack Chalker. Others may have different folks to include, or disagree with my personal opinions--it's their right, and I don't mention names to disparage them, merely illustrate my point.

There is no hard-and-fast rule for when someone should stop working in a universe. Terry Pratchett is my favorite example of an author who gets, on average[1], *better* the longer he keeps writing Discworld.

To tie this back into the original debate, how many people were upset with Rowling for killing Dumbledore? Too many, perhaps, but then Harry Potter was marketed to children, while Buffy was not.

[1] Monstrous Regiment being a notable exception.
Yeah, I stopped reading Clancy when his books became a 'franchise'. For some reason I can take that idea in films but in novels, even potboilers, it feels like a, well, perversion is maybe a bit OTT but it's close to how I feel.

(i'd add Stephen King to the list but for the fact that I really think he still does it from love, it's just his books aren't as good as they were and I totally agree about Pratchett. With few exceptions his books seem to manage to say something profound about the human condition time after time and they're certainly better executed than they were back in the day)
I don't believe for a second that the "fans" had any influence in the decision to greenlight Serenity unless by "fans" you mean "fan" and by that you mean Mary Parent. The decision was made long before the Firefly DVDs set any records (and I have yet to see anything compelling to indicate that they did).

This "the fans made Serenity happen" myth is just that. A myth.

I was one of those fans who went to every convention, wrote letters, and saw the movie 20 times. My efforts did not drive a single business decision and it is ridiculous hubris to think that it did.
I guess Joss was thanking the fans just for the hell of it then.

But I am not sure you are speaking to me, Tamara, but I never said the DVD sales were setting records. I said they were selling like hotcakes. And there is no hubris to think that the fans mattered in this decision. Do you honestly think the movie would have been made if there were no fans interested in seeing it?
Dana5140 even though it is my second favorite movie ever, I don't think enough fans went and saw it for it to make any difference anyway. There simply weren't enough of us to make a difference to the finances of the film. We constantly overestimate our numbers, IMO.

The decision to make Serenity was motiviated by Universal wanting to work with Joss and the decision was made before the Firefly DVD release.

History got rewritten by Universal's marketing staff and some over-invested fans, but the truth is that the fans did not make Serenity happen nor did they help it become a box office success because clearly it wasn't.

I think Joss was thanking the fans for their emotional support. That is it. I don't think he was saying that the financial decision makers decided to go forward with this project solely based on the fans rabidity. He didn't say that because it simply isn't true.

We may have motivated Joss to continue in that 'verse, but we were not the motivation for Universal to greenlight the film.
I think Universal were far more interested in working with Joss and the potential of the Serenity franchise than greenlighting the flick due to fan power (or even DVD sales of Firefly). From what I recall at the time, the Browncoat base though vocal was rather small (compared to what it is now). Efforts had been spent to trying to save the show and then get it released on DVD. I don't remember any huge demand for a movie.

During the run up to Serenity's release, it was convenient for the PR people to sell the myth of "the movie only happened due to the Browncoats" as it was simple and looked good in the press.
I dunno; this seems a bit of revisionism to me. I hold that the film wouldnot have been made without the built-in benefits of the fanbase. And I say that as a person who is not a browncoat and is not invested in Firefly. I have no ticket in this argument, so to say.

And hey, Tamara, what's your first? Mine is Ponette...

[ edited by Dana5140 on 2007-03-21 01:46 ]
It's actually 110% false that Browncoats made Serenity happen, or whatnot -- Joss wrote the script for the movie for Universal, on their request, long before the DVD was out. Hell, Universal registered serenitymovie.com and had the project with their marketing department (that's quite far into development) before the Firefly DVD was even released. There were no campaigns from fans for a movie, at any point.

It became their marketing pitch that fans made the movie happen, and that is now seen as the truth of what happened, but that truth was written by marketing people -- like much of history.

"Millions of fans" - the first Serenity trailer. If it had millions of fans, it would have been a success. That's the sad fact.

[ edited by gossi on 2007-03-21 01:58 ]
""Millions of fans" - the first Serenity trailer. If it had millions of fans, it would have been a success. That's the sad fact."

Even as a non-serenity fan Gossi, I really find that hard to believe. I mean, from what I saw, Universal saw the rabid fan-base and sought to profit from it, and even being the complete skeptic that I am, the browncoats and Firefly fans had to have some kind of impact in getting the movie made. Admittedly, I am not verse in what happened back then, but still I thought the browncoats were instrumental in its production. Is that wrong?

"But the protestations of W/T shippers - 'No, they couldn't know how much we're hurting! If only they could have known, they would never have done this!' - fly in the face of the message of the show. Death happens, even in drama. Even to lesbians in love, even outside of the context of the 'lesbian cliché.' Those tiresome self-justifications from (e.g.) post-'Seeing Red' Buffy boycotters went a long way to excuse what amounts to fans forgetting why they watched the show in the first place - or acknowledging, perhaps more nervewrackingly, that their reasons for watching the show stemmed from a simplistic grasp of the show's morals, the belief that Joss (the writer-god) was really looking out for them and just wanted to make them happy, astonishing overwhelming episode-after-episode evidence to the contrary."

And what happens when the creator of that show uses that very misguided notion to elicit even more tragedy and sorrow within the story itself? See, its easy to say that they were just misguided in their belief that Joss was looking out for them, but honestly waxbanks, it isnt as simple as want/need, its the idea that canon can become more a product of an interview than what we actually saw on screen. When that happens, how is it not really easy to think that he actually is looking out for your interests, when he accepts the toaster and accepts the praise of doing something so great within society, then how is not almost required thinking that Joss Whedon is looking out for you. Not only that, but the writers and Whedon knew and are known to have lied about Seeing Red in order keep the suspense. What really happened was that they employed the "misguided" notions of the W/T shippers so that they could elicit even more emotion, and then when that emotion boiled over, they claimed that it was something the story made them do. And you are right Wax, Joss Whedon is smart, he knew exactly what was happening, and at some point, dont you think that in the need for emotional truth in the story, that even the creator can go too far?

ETA: In many ways, I think you don't go far enough in your analysis, you dont wonder whether those who boycotted could actually be correct for that belief because as someone said above, artistic freedom cannot exist without consumer freedom. But those things dont exist in a vacuum, there are times when the artist is wrong and times when the customer is wrong and times when the customer is right. Seeing Red went beyond want/need, it went beyond artistic freedom, to some the ideas, beliefs, and love they held for the show were tested because they felt they had become pawns in the emotional truth of the story. Thats not what drama is about, its not about using the consumer, its about affecting the consumer, and there are some who believe that the show crossed the line between affecting and using because of the toaster and because canon seemed to be more and more a part of interviews instead of the story itself. Thats the line you really should look into wax, the line between affecting and using because as much as Tara's death didnt get to me, the fact that she was in the credits, Steven Deknight lied about Tara, and that canon seemed to be an integral part of interviews seems to support those people that you find tiresome.

[ edited by jerryst3161 on 2007-03-21 02:33 ]
Dana, the revisionism happened during the publicity for the movie.

My favorite movie is The Princess Bride. Note that I am saying my "favorite" movies not what I think are the "best" movies. It's totally different in my mind. :)
A lot of great thoughts expressed as always at the big W. I admit I am way too tired from "drama" going on at work to read all of the posts now but wanted to thank waxbanks for the points way upstream made about death in a fictional setting. And from this point forward, this stuff ... only my own opinion. No group of people or individuals are exempt from sudden, tragic death. And if real life informs how writers think about their fictional worlds and Joss wanted Buffy's, or Angel's world for that matter, to reflect that truth, than he cannot be less than truthful in creating the narrative that serves the stories he wants to tell.

The single greatest piece of dialogue, and I may have already used it in some thread here at W already, from a favorite film of mine called Impromptu is Mandy Patinkin snarling "Art does not apologize." In that film's context, he and his other artist friends have just intentionally insulted their host and patron for the weekend with a play designed to show how stupid she is. But it applies nevertheless. And waxbanks' statement, But then Joss doesn't owe anyone anything goes right along with it. Not in a mean way, or a crude way, just an uncompromising way. I watch Joss' shows to go on a ride, not to judge what he and the other writers do. That I have a relatable-to-my-own-life emotional, intellectual, and psychological response to the sadness and the joy in the shows is a testament to the skills working behind the scenes. Rather than losing interest after Tara died, I wanted to see what would happen to Willow, how she would heal and how Buffy and Xander would help her. To me, that's art. Asking yourself, "Wow. What comes next?" Not "Thanks a lot, my life is now in pieces on the sidewalk."
And you are right Wax, Joss Whedon is smart, he knew exactly what was happening, and at some point, dont you think that in the need for emotional truth in the story, that even the creator can go too far?

Well, I'm not Wax but I basically agree with everything he's said so far. My two cents: I think the creator can only "go too far" in the sense that he writes a scenario that is unbelievable or unpalatable to a particular segment of the audience; even the confluence of events surrounding the death of Tara doesn't leave me thinking Joss should never have written what he did.

Everything that happened outside the narrative: fans praising Joss for his depiction of a loving lesbian relationship, fans sending him a toaster oven, Whedon accepting both, the writers putting out foilers about the story to keep the suspense - none of that has a bearing on the text itself.

The show does not exist in a vacuum, of course - which is why a small percentage of the audience were outraged by this turn of events. And I'm sure the fans who praised Joss AND sent him a toaster oven AND believed the foilers were beside themselves and began to call for a boycott. But how does that affect the story itself? Why does one group get to claim ownership over a pair of characters like that?

The answer is, they don't. They might be more inclined to watch a show for that relationship, but they have no more right to dictate the narrative than anyone else. And as someone alluded to above, I'm sure there wasn't a faction of viewers who said "Yay! Joyce finally bought the farm" in relation to The Body, nor were there many people happy to see the end of Tara. But if there were, why isn't their viewership of concern? Again, it's not because they have no more right to claim the narrative than anyone.

I perfectly understand the acute loss felt over Tara's death. I am not blind to the fact there are few queer characters on television and the loss of such a complex gay relationship on NETWORK TELEVISION is a huge blow. But does this mean Joss Whedon was more responsible to that segment of the audience than the rest?
Waxbanks, I enjoyed all of your Buffyblogs.

I'm a shipper, but I don't believe in the concept of soul mates. I'm not sure I got what I wanted or needed in terms of my emotional investment. There wasn't a big payoff in the traditional romantic ride-off-into-sunset way for me, more of a "the checks in the mail" type of ending.

But, I do believe absolutely that my ship (Spuffy) had a wonderful story arc, from beginning to end. And despite not having being 100% satisfied, I don't think I would change anything.

Romance in the verse exists to grow and evolve characters, to deconstruct them and then reintegrate them. And in that sense Spuffy did it's job in a remarkable way and I'm very happy about the outcome.

I don't think the above paragraphs were shippy in the forbidden way.
"But does this mean Joss Whedon was more responsible to that segment of the audience than the rest?"

Is that the real question though? I am saying he is responsible to that segment of the audience, I am not saying that he is "more" responsible to them than to others, and in that sense, to me this really is a question of social responsibility in general. While W/T are the example we were talking about (because I took Dana's argument further) here, there are others, and its not just a question of responsibility to the kittens. Its a general responsibility to all fans. And the question is really this, is there a point where social responsibility (whether to feminists, homosexuals, young girls, or whomever was deeply impacted by Buffy) is greater than the demands of the story? Furthermore, is it just the story that demands these things, or can we blame the creator of that story? If a creator accepts the praise for the socially responsible parts of his show, if he creates a scenario where its easy to see how people would think he is actually looking out for them, and if he betrays that trust in the consumer, then at some point those socially responsible things we praised him for can easily turn to things that we BLAME him for, and that was my point.
Why couldn't Joss accepting the toaster just be accepting a symbolic thank-you for a positive portrayal of a lesbian relationship? Was there a note with it saying if you accept this toaster, you are accepting the responsibility to portray the characters and their fates in a way we will always approve of? I don't think he thought that accepting praise or a gift was the same thing as agreeing to a social compact.

As far as "lying" to the fans about Seeing Red, were they supposed to just tell W/T fans in advance what was going to happen? And if the writers had, how would the W/T fans' response have been any different? They'd still have been just as outraged even though they'd been privileged in a way no other sub-set of fans got to be, and the spoilers and hubbub would have ruined the ep for the mass of viewers.

The writers had been issuing misleading statements about what was going to happen in upcoming eps on the Bronze for years. They did what they'd always done before, and this becomes evidence of them using the fans? I just don't see it.

[ edited by shambleau on 2007-03-21 03:50 ]
Nice post Reddy. I'm a shipper too, a Buffy and Angel shipper.
I don't think you can judge all shippers, and believe me how I have come to loathe that word, by what other shippers do.
More than shipping Buffy and Angel, I am a die hard Buffy Anne Summers fan. I am a die hard Joss Whedon fan. A proud and loud Sarah Michelle Gellar fan.
Are there things that I would have changed? Sure. Was I profoundly disappointed in the events of the series. At times.
Have I ever seen anything that I love as much as Buffy season 1-3? Nope and I never will. Were seasons 4 and 5 excellent? Oh yeah. Despite my feelings for seasons 6 and 7, was it still better than anything else I will ever watch on t.v.? Without a doubt.
What does all this mean? It means that the term shipper has become a dirty word and although what we want has morphed into what we need, we're still here rooting for Joss to crank out more.
It took hours to read through this, and I'm absolutely riveted by all. I mostly fall with waxbanks but everyone is making good points.

As far as Serenity, I am a little bit amazed that the fans' involvement has been apparently so blown out of proportion; I really believed that on some level we helped. (It's kind of like Stephen Colbert's constant declarations, "I did it!"--maybe it's egotism after all....) And then there's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, I suppose: "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

I don't really think that Joss Whedon made the wrong decision in killing Tara, but I do see jerryst3161's point about the interviews, and I do understand that there is some level of social responsibility there. I'm just not sure where that should start or end. I wasn't there for the interviews he mentions (I was not part of the fandom at the time) so I really can't comment on that.

[ edited by WilliamTheB on 2007-03-21 04:14 ]
Mawwiage!

Tonyaj: "I watch Joss' shows to go on a ride, not to judge what he and the other writers do." Well, that's what you do. I have different reasons for watching, and I see nothing wrong with judging what he does; we do it all the time when we like one episode more than another. And we can discuss the cultural meanings of his shows, and talk about depictions of the African American experience or absnce thereof, of depictions of consumer culture, of religious and philosophical themes, of whatever. That's more than a ride and suggests we are more than pasive watchers "going along for the ride." I actually tend to think you do more than go for the ride since you post here, which suggests your active involvement in the construction of meaning out of Buffy's texts.

As Jerry knows, with regard to Tara I agree with him. I think that the misleads that occurred at the time Seeing Red was released were done by design, to heighten the pain, and it was miscalculated how effective they would be. Does anyone really believe that the only reason Amber Benson was added to the credits was to give her props for her role as she left the show? Listen, 4 years later this is the one issue that won't die, it really won't. That tells us all something. Joss seems to want to have it both ways, to be socially aware and get recognition for it and yet explode that awareness at the same time. I remain beholden to the view that he misunderstood the forces he was trying to invoke. And I note that in all the time that has passed, he has rarely if ever commented directly on this issue. Jane Espenson has, Dave Fury has, even Marti has a bit, but Joss has not gone into detail over the outcry. I do not blame him here; I think he is like most working in the entertainment industry; this issue was 4 years ago and he is worried about now. Alyson Hannigan cannot tell you with any autority what Willow meant when she said "X" in S5E3; she likely can't remember the ep at all since all she had to do was spend a week learning her lines, and get them done, and then get on to the next ep and its sets of lines. Us fans, we have the freedom to study issues and episodes and wax on at length over meaning.
TamaraC: Out of curiosity, how do you know this stuff about the Serenity script and Universal? I've only ever heard the 'Fan uprising made it all happen' storyline, but am (as mentioned upthread) cynical about it to the point of outright dismissal. Do you have a connection to Universal or Mutant Enemy? Not a 'Show yer credentials!' challenge, just a followup.

Reddygirl: Well put. I'm not sure how to respond, and though I suspect your sang-froid is rare when it comes to this topic I honestly couldn't say, so I'll just thank you (and the other commenters!) wholeheartedly.

I imagine I'll pop back in tomorrow but am likely done commenting; I don't comment here pretty much ever, but I really enjoyed spending today going back and forth with a bunch of you guys, and am utterly heartened by the positive feedback (and the other damn stuff!) I've received in response to my post. Talk to y'all soon. :)
Dana, please don't presume to tell me what I think and do, okay? I said at the outset of my post it was just my opinion. I also said plenty in my post about how I feel about Joss' work and what it does for me. I'm talking about taking the dramatic ride as a viewer and leaving criticism of Joss' actions as the creator/writer out of it. I come here, of course, to engage in discourse about the shows, but I would never tell anyone else how to feel or think about their viewpoint of it or displeasure/disappointment in Joss for not fulfilling their expectations.
Waxbanks, I'm glad you aren't asking for my credentials since I have none. :)

I was obsessively and overly involved in all things Serenifly from the fall of 2002 through Serenity's release. Really. It very much wasn't healthy and it ended up being tremendously expensive.

I just know from memory that the deal with Joss and Universal was struck before the DVD came out and had (reportedly and not at all verified) massive sales. There were many articles at the time (or shortly thereafter) that quoted Mary Parent saying that the reason for the deal was that Universal wanted to work with Joss.

It was only after the movie was filmed in the summer of 2004 and the viral promotions and marketing started that all the sudden the fans were credited for accomplishing something that they really didn't do. It sounded really good, but it wasn't true. The press picked it up and every subsequent piece of fluff written about Serenity erroneously credits the fans for its existence.

Would I love to take credit (if even the teensiest bit) for this movie getting made? Absolutely! I also know as a corporate finance professional that my readiness to buy anything and everything Serenifly related made absolutely no difference to the decision makers. There is simply not enough mes. There has never been enough Browncoats and I seriously doubt there ever will be.

All of us have heard the "We're too pretty to die." and other taglines from the movie and series repeated as anthems so many times that it was taken as common wisdom that the fans made this happen.

It.Simply.Is.Not.True.

And wishing won't make it so.

And on the Tara thing: I never understood the uproar and found it quite ridiculous. That is where Joss took the story and the story is King. I don't question the author nor do I judge.

[ edited by TamaraC on 2007-03-21 04:39 ]
I never got the fuss over the writer's 'lying' about Tara's death or any other upcoming plot point. They did it all the time because they believed it was better to tell the story on screen rather than lay it out ahead of time in interviews. Tara's death was intended to be an unexpected and shocking development. That's not going to happen if a writer says she's going to die and to be honest a refusal to answer the question would be taken as confirmation too.

As for fans being 'owed' anything, I really don't buy into that either. As a fan I choose to watch. If I enjoy what I see I continue to watch, if I don't I stop. A show works when the story satisfies the audience but there'll always be people turning off because they're disappointed with a plot development. If Oz had been my favourite character I might well have chosen to tune out when he left. If Tara had been my favourite I'm sure I'd have had little desire to keep watching once she died. But in the same way that the author can't dictate who we'll love and who we'll loathe, we can't dictate who gets a happy ending and who gets killed along the way.

Going back to Waxbanks point about 'endings', I tend to feel that tv is a tricky medium in that it is designed to deal with stories that can go on indefinitely and the ending is dictated by actors wanting to leave (BtVS) or networks no longer wanting the show (AtS). Thankfully for both shows there was sufficient warning and thus they both were able to fashion an ending but at the same time neither ended purely because the creator felt it was the story was told.

TamaraC: Out of curiosity, how do you know this stuff about the Serenity script and Universal? I've only ever heard the 'Fan uprising made it all happen' storyline, but am (as mentioned upthread) cynical about it to the point of outright dismissal. Do you have a connection to Universal or Mutant Enemy? Not a 'Show yer credentials!' challenge, just a followup.


I have a copy of one of Whedon's drafts of Serenity from 2003 (thanks, ebayers!). You can also check out the registration of serenitymovie.com: " Record created on 16-Dec-2003." Both before Firefly was out on DVD, and fans had even had the idea of a motion picture.

Fans were involved in the production, in that a few of them were extras. That's it. Nobody had to convince Universal to make the movie -- Joss Whedon gave Mary Parent a copy of Firefly, she watched it, they wanted to make the flick. The fan base was embraced as part of the marketing campaign. There's a few Whedon interviews where he basically says the above -- in one of them he refers to Universal's understanding there might have been a 'small fan base' whilst making the movie, and that was as much as they knew in advance.

That's not to say the fan base didn't help with release, because they (and, you know, me) totally did. But none of us made Serenity happen, and sadly there aren't millions of us.
This long thread has been an interesting and well-written read. Thanks, everyone.

So... Just my humble opinion.

I can see where both sides are coming from, but tend to side with waxbanks. As an ex post facto Buffy DVD viewer, I didn't get into the fandom until after the whole Tara death outrage. I didn't even know that it caused such a fuss until I got into the Buffy fandom. Which is why (with regards to Tara-death-issue) I come down firmly on the side of Waxbanks. I liked Tara - I didn't love her, and much like Oz, I saw her as just another aspect of Willow's personality. But what Joss said, that it would be offensive to NOT kill Tara just because the character was gay, resonated with me. I was shocked when Buffy was killed in S5. I had a similar "I can't believe they just did that! I wonder where everyone goes from here! (OMWF flashback)" moment when I saw Tara die, and yet another similar moment just two weeks ago when I watched Battlestar Galactica. That I would respond differently to Tara just because she is gay is wrong and prejudicial. That I would want Tara to not-die because she is gay is equally wrong.

There has been talk of social responsibility upthread, and my view on this is that the death of Tara in no way constituted social irresponsibility. Let's look at the facts:
- Willow met Tara.
- They fell in love.
- They represented an "ideal" homosexual relationship on TV, which is rare.
- Tara died.
- Willow turned dark and killed Warren, tried to destroy the world blahblahfishcakes.
- Willow turned non-witchyfoo-scared-human.
- Willow met Kennedy.
- Willow started dating Kennedy, and didn't become a representative figure in the ex-gay troupe.
- Willow was HAPPY, even if sad about Tara.
- Kennedy's relationship with Willow, while unideal, constituted a more realistic relationship than the Tara/Willow relationship.

In no way do the facts imply that Willow became all dark magicky because she was a lesbian, or that the reason why Willow "recovered" was because she became an ex-gay. I am aware of the dead lesbian/violent bisexual cliche, but I don't think this is part of it. Tara did not die because she was a lesbian. She died because of a bullet from Warren's gun, on the same day that Buffy, a symbol of female strength, was similarly hurt (which I took to be symbolism of impotent misogyny, but I am extremely anti-gun). She died for no reason, and for lots of reasons. But again, that may just be my reading of the text (because this is non-canonical).

What Joss does/does not owe the audience can be argued about forever. The fact is that where social responsibility is concerned, he has already done a lot of good by bringing issues to the table to be discussed. People watch shows for different reasons, obviously. Many people got pleasure out of the Willow/Tara relationship, many got pleasure out of the metaphors and symbols, others got pleasure out of Riley *coughs*. It is therefore unsurprising that some became indifferent to the show after Tara's death. I personally loved the Willow character, and viewed Tara as an aspect of Willow - an important part - but only a part, nonetheless. I was more interested in seeing how this death would impact Willow. Essentially, I was reading the text - watching the show - in the context of how events would affect the character of Willow. Perhaps that is the reason why I don't understand the outrage over Tara's death.

On the other hand, I watch other shows in the context of "shipperhood" and because I love certain characters. For example, I loved the character of Alex Cabot from Law and Order: SVU. I am well aware of the fact that the writing isn't... smart. I'm also aware of the fact that she and Olivia Benson didn't have a relationship (in canon) on the show. But I love that pairing, and read fanfiction about it. I stopped watching the show when Alex left, because there was no reason for me to watch anymore. I heard that the show went downhill after that, and tried watching a recent episode, but it was so bad that I ended up surfing the 'net instead. I started watching another bad show ("Conviction") simply because the actress was reprising the Alex Cabot character, and there is nothing that I love more than snarky badassery (also the reason why I watch "House"). I would stop watching "House" if he was no longer that old grump that I love (an example of that would be if he actually started dating Cameron). Or if he was killed off. Which is unlikely given that he's the titular character.

Some people would say that I have no right to feel this way, or that I'm a Shallow!Viewer, but I assert that I have every right. I watch different shows for different reasons. Some to be entertained by, some because a character represents me, and some because they actually teach me something. As far as I'm concerned, the writers/creators of the show have every right to make the decisions that they do, and I have every right to like or actively dislike those decisions.

I'm not of the opinion that every show must have a "lasting effect" or "teach the audience something". That is the reason why I don't think social responsibility should be "expected". There are already enough censors out there. Artistic decisions should not be moderated by how well one group is represented. If a character makes sense, that's good enough for me. If a show is well-written, it doesn't bother me that there are no Asians on it (I'm Asian). I don't need the UN parade, ACLU, rainbow crowd and Nazis represented on every single show that I watch. One of the reasons why I loved Buffy and Angel so much was because of its irreverence. The shows can be taken seriously, but it doesn't take itself seriously all the time. They were, above all, entertaining.

As for where the show ends... Personally, I'm glad that Buffy ended when it did. I haven't gotten to the end of Angel yet (still procrastinating on S4 DVDs) but since I'm already spoiled about the ending, I must say that I am glad that the ending is as fitting for the show's mission statement as Buffy's was for its own. I am continually inspired and entertained by both shows, even 3 years on (God, has it been that long?!) and found different things to love in the show as it changed, characters moved on/grew, and scenery changed. These are shows that really grew with me, and made me feel. Perhaps that was because my needs and wants as a viewer changed with time. I found that I reacted differently to different plot developments as I changed as a person. E.g. being that I felt a lot more sympathy for Xander when he ran away from Anya now, compared to before. That is maybe one of the few things that I disagree with Waxbanks about. The whole need/want thing implies that as a viewer, what I need/want is static. I enjoy Buffy a lot more now than when I first saw it.

Now I'm rambling, so I should shut up. Thanks for posting this though, it's been a great read.
Tonya, I am always very careful not to inpute anything to people who post here, and I tried to be sure to note I was offering nothing more than my opinion, so I apologize if that did not come through. I've no desire to irritate anyone, just to discuss my issues. :-)

As to the rest, listen, we are rehashing the same old arguments about Tara's death. I think that for those people who simply feel it is no big deal, is "ridiculous," you should understand that to some of us it was anything but. The arguments here did not drive very deeply into the dead lesbian cliche, nor too much into social responsibility; however, it should be patently clear that to some of us, it really really matters. A bit more udnerstanding instead of Joss defense might be nice every now and again. It might not be your gig, but it is mine. I do get tired of having my feelings so easily dismissed.

ns- you say "- Willow started dating Kennedy, and didn't become a representative figure in the ex-gay troupe." Well, remember, Joss and Marti had long talks about this and ultimately decided to keep Willow gay. To me, there should have been no need for them to have any talks about this issue at all; that they did is an indication to me that they still, at least at that time, did not fully get it. This is, of course, before anyone questions this, my opinion- but the discussions did take place.

And you say "- Kennedy's relationship with Willow, while unideal, constituted a more realistic relationship than the Tara/Willow relationship." Well, sure, Kennedy hit on Willow the moment she met her without knowing anything about her or even if she were gay, and basically had her in bed within about a 3-week period, all while Willow barely had time to actually grieve. That's pretty realistic, I'd say. They were really in love, yep. :-) I'm not so sure I agree with you here...

But I do note that you really are like me in some ways with regard to the characters that interest you. They be gone, you lose interest- as do I. I have great fears for the end of this year's CSI- and Jorja Fox has still not signed a contract for next year. No Sara Sidle, no me. Without her, the show just becomes a procedural with no emotional center. As Buffy did when Tara left.
Damn, look what I missed. Dealing with the computer crash from hell & will be dealing with the aftermath for quite some time to come. But I do want to get my two cents in. I believe that a writer's only responsibilities are to his/her artistic vision, to the story and to the characters. In the case of Tara, as lovable as she was, she was a peripherial character and in terms of story development, her primary function was as a foil for Willow.
I cried like a big idiot at the end of Tabula Rasa, when they broke up. When Tara died, I was too shocked and numb to cry. But my main preoccupation, in both cases, was: how is this going to effect *Willow*. One of the main characters from the first episode to the last. I really believe that this is what great storytelling is all about. Follow the journey of your main characters. Be true to how they develop.
And I wont even get into the debate of "how could Willow have turned as dark as she did"? Power corrupts, people with power live with a constant struggle regarding what constitutes misuse. Some step over the line a little, some leap into the pit & maybe they can fight their way back up & maybe not. This is a supernatural world, so power corrupts, squared. This is a world in which fall and the struggle for atonement and redemption are major themes. And the seeds of Willow's being corruptible were there from the very beginning. Who is more easily blinded by power than someone who didn't think they would ever have any? Someone always second fiddle, in someone else's shadow? Someone blinded by pain and rage?
I *loved* Willow's story arc, start to finish. And her journey wouldn't have been possible without Tara .... her part in Willow's life, and ultimately, her death. And a much neglected tip of the hat to Allyson Hannigan here, as well. She was never less than spot-on, from the compulsively self effacing school girl to "I'm going to destroy the world girl" to something of a goddess in her own right,& all the twists inbetween.
I really don't understand anyone who wants "everyone to be happy", in fiction. How incredibily boring that would be. The greatest works of fiction have always been tragic, from the Greek myths to The Wire (may seem an odd choice, but that show IMO *defines* modern tragedy).
So maybe that makes me a maschocist (sp). Joss can hurt me a little more, any time he wants :) as long as he gives me that wild emotional ride in the process.
OK, falling asleep now & my computer is only a fraction put back together. Gods but I love this forum and all the people here. Whether we agree or disagree is almost irrelavent, it's the discussion, the stimulation of the brain & the senses, that makes it so much fun. Joss is God.
non sequitur, I think you are saying somehting close to what I said very near the start of this tread. People watch shows as fans of different things - a particular character, a particular relationship or a particular show style. I see myself as a Joss Whedon fan, rather than as a fan of any one of his shows or any one of his characters.

I've no theoretical knowledge of such things, but it seems reasonable to me that each possible different level of investment in a show will affect how a viewer feels about, to use waxbanks' example, his/her need or desire to know what happens after a show ends. Surely the object of a fan's fandom makes a difference to his/her ability and desire to consider the narrative imperative behind a storyteller's decisions?

Non of this is meant as a criticism of anyone here. I agree there is no one 'right' reason to watch a show and no one legitimate response to that show.
"Joss and Marti had long talks about this and ultimately decided to keep Willow gay. To me, there should have been no need for them to have any talks about this issue at all; that they did is an indication to me that they still, at least at that time, did not fully get it. This is, of course, before anyone questions this, my opinion- but the discussions did take place. "

Here I have to disagree. Joss and Marti had the responsibility as the creators of this story to discuss every aspect and possibility. The more important the story point the more discussion. It does not mean that they did not "get" the issue, it means that they were being responsible. I never heard that they argued about it or debated about it, only that they discussed it. I'll bet they discussed every other part of every other character arc as well. If something concerning character development on the show was not worthy of being discussed before it was put on the air, I'm guessing it would not be considered worthy of airtime at all.
Dana: I didn't know about the discussions, but it doesn't really matter to me anyway. Being gay is an integral part of Willow's identity, and I took it for granted that she would remain so.

Also, Kennedy was... 18? 19? When she met Willow. I know lots of 18/19 year olds (gay and heterosexual) who hit on people whom they've just met. Then again, I'm in college now. I didn't say anything about them being in love. I said that it was realistic. In my knowledge of people of my age-group, few realistic relationships constitute being "in love" as we define it. Kennedy was rebound-girl, like Riley was rebound-guy. Consequently, they are much-disliked by many parts of the fandom. I've never read the Willow character as being an independent one. In fact, I've always read her as emotionally insecure. It made sense to me that she would accept the next person who came along, even while grieving for her previous relationship. Didn't the same thing happen for Willow when she got her heart broken by Oz?
Joss and Marti had the responsibility as the creators of this story to discuss every aspect and possibility.

Exactly right, newcj. And as sympathetic as I am to Dana5140 and anyone else who watched the show through Tara and/or Willow, it becomes clear that while Joss and Marti are continually derided for killing Tara in the first place, it is often forgotten that A) Kennedy was created basically in response to the outrage over Tara's death - the original plan was to have Willow fall for a guy (or possibly have Oz return) and B) there was also a plan to bring Tara back, although that may also have been planned in the wake of the controversy.

So the fact that Joss Whedon never issued a statement directly addressing the fallout, it is clear that he really didn't expect the shit to hit the fan quite the way it did nor did he bury his head in the sand after the fallout.

In a way, it's a pity that Joss and Marti didn't stick to their guns - but I think the fact they created Kennedy was some acknowledgement that they did understand the pain of one small section of their audience, as well as realising how the text might have looked had Willow gone back to Boy Town after three years with Tara. Even though the character of Willow might simply have been redefined as bisexual, it's hard enough to have queer relationships accepted on television without the complications of characters who slide up and down the Kinsey scale. One day it will happen...

None of this is to belittle the argument of Dana5140 or the Kittens, though. I certainly understand their pain at losing one of the longest running lesbian relationships on television. I just think it's a pity that it continues to be a black mark against Joss and the show's name so many years later - as if the show never did any good for queer characters on television at all.
Or as if the fact that a gay character was treated exactly the same as everyone else somehow undoes all that good work.
"the original plan was to have Willow fall for a guy (or possibly have Oz return)"

I have never heard that. Any recollection where that info came from crossoverman?
Stopping by to say thanks to Simon for posting the link. Very interesting, well-thought out entry. I've enjoyed reading all of your comments and seeing the divergence of viewpoints. I don't have much to add, except this-

Want vs. Need:Not Fade Away

I think NFA was brilliantly written and as perfect an ending as could be devised, given the cancellation. I don't feel as if I need more from Joss Whedon. I'm more than capable of creating more for myself in my own head, in a poem or a piece of fanfiction, and get the ending I want in the process. I will, however, gladly take whatever Mr. Whedon comes up with and be happy with it, just because it's there.

So, no, I don't need more because to quote....

the narrative of Angel is done. Angel himself might have done more, but the story entitled Angel ends in an alley.


That is true and if Angel had been a book, I'd have closed the page after I finished reading. I'd have still been in tears at the death of Lindsey but satisfied that the story was done.

But Ats was not a book, it was a television series and I am by no means satisfied with the way Angel ended. This has little to nothing to do with Mr. Whedon himself, who did his best.

It has everything to do with the cancellation and the now defunct WB. I felt cheated as a fan then, still feel the same now and undoubtedly always will. I hate the fact that money, numbers and the like stifled one of the most creative shows on tv. It left a bad taste in my mouth, and I did not feel a sense of closure at all.

That's why I want more. So yeah, there's gonna be a season 6 of Angel? Bring it on, I don't care what medium it's in. I'll feel as if sometimes the good guys really do finish last, mentally give whoever was responsible for the cancellation a damn rude gesture and to paraphrase Spike...

I'll have a real good day.

[ edited by menomegirl on 2007-03-21 16:36 ]
gossi: "It's actually 110% false that Browncoats made Serenity happen, or whatnot -"

Well, gossi, I'd have to disagree with you there - I think it's more like 109% false, but I don't have any actual statistics with which to back that assertion. Let's just say that I'm right.

JOSS: I’m privy to the essentials. Ultimately how good the DVDs sold certainly helped. But nobody ever said to me “Ok we need a number on the DVDs before we greenlight the movie.’’ I was already into the script, I was giving it to them, the timing was fortuitous and if nobody had bought the DVDs they might well have gone, 'Well gee I don’t know.' At the same time, everybody knew that nobody saw the show so we didn’t really know what a big fanbase there was.

I don’t think Universal gets enough credit. People assume they decided to do it after the DVD sales. But they’d been in it for almost a year before that. Based on the shows, the cast and the world they said 'Yeah there’s a movie in there.' ”
- http://suicidegirls.com/interviews/Joss+Whedon/

As my partner is so fond of saying, I'm essentially a simple person, and my theory is this: if the storyteller wants to keep telling the stories and I like the way the storyteller keeps telling 'em, then I keep on keeping on with 'em. That's all.

Q. Well, and the danger with genre creators, particularly because they tend to develop very rabid fans, is that you get so into managing your fiefdom -- and I'm certainly not talking about John Byrne at all -- that you lose touch with whatever made what you were working on special to begin with.

JOSS: Yeah. I mean, it's the finest line you ever have to walk -- because you spend your entire artistic life trying to get to a place where you have absolute control over your work and can say exactly what you're trying to say the way you want to say it. And in order to do that, you have to get through so much oppression and nonsense and pain. But once you do it, you're instantly in danger of becoming hermetically sealed and cut off from anyone around you. And so you have to walk this incredibly fine line where you get as much control as you possibly can and then always know that while you have it, you have to be in the world, listening to the people around you and learning from the experiences you're having -- and not just sort of swimming around in your power.

And it's hard. I mean, you see a lot of great artists who finally realize their dream and…. You know, I think it's no coincidence that very often, when a person makes their most personal film -- you know, the one they got in movies to make -- it's their worst. It's like you have to serve a master of your own -- and that's the audience.

And the way I work is through connection with the audience. The way I work is through the audience going, 'That's me! I'm doing that! I feel that!' And so if I lose that, then I'm useless.

And I think at some point I may become useless, anyway: The things I have to say will no longer be things that people need to hear -- either because I've accomplished what I set out to accomplish and created a new genre paradigm with characters -- where people go, "Okay -- now we accept the strong women, and the morals click, and you're just sort of doing this over and over again." I might become the old guy. But I hope that if I do, I become the old guy who … realizes it.
- http://homepage.mac.com/merussell/iblog/B835531044/C1592678312/E20050916182427/
Thanks for the quotes, reliable QuoterGal. I knew he had spelled out the "Universal on board way before the DVD thing" explicitly somewhere.
I love Tara dearly. The main reason I wanted the W/T relationship is because I just fell in love with Tara in Hush.

But, even though I adore Tara to bits and only like Kennedy, I do think Kennedy and Willow were a better match.

Imo, because of Tara's background of having a very controlling, possibly abusive father, she had a hard time aknowledging to herself that Willow's real problem wasn't with magic addiction but with the power that Willow gained through magic. Tara bluntly compared the mindwipe to Glory's violation but imo the unspoken outrage was that Willow acted very much like Mr McKay when she tried to control Tara's thoughts and memories.

Because I love Willow and Tara and W/T, I would like to believe that Tara eventually would have dealt with Willow's issues and accepted Willow's real flaw, which was about misusing magic to gain power.

As for Willow's being gay, I believe she's bisexual, that she falls in love with the person, not their gender.

Having said that, I don't have a problem with Marti and Joss worrying about being insensitive to the gay community and deciding to have Willow's next romance after Tara be with another woman.
I have a recollection similar to that of crossoverman, that initially they did plan on Willow falling for a guy, but then after discussion did not do so. But I cannot locate it, and I did try and look, but I have so much Buffy material (banker's boxes full) that I have not organized... anyway.

Y'know, it does interest me that with regard to Tara, we see two kinds of comments. One suggests that just a very small component of the audience was affected, as noted by a comment like this: "...The show does not exist in a vacuum, of course - which is why a small percentage of the audience were outraged by this turn of events." And others in this thread have made similar comments, which I feel in a sense is a marginalizing comment- ie, hey, only a small group was upset... so, be quiet. But that small group- and I do not agree it was a small group, but for the sake of the argument let's say it is- was STILL hurt, and don't they matter? Is the goal to hurt your audience? Do you really want to do that? Does Joss? The othe ris that it was a larger part of the audience, and that viewership was affected, though I am aware there are competing versions of ratings and viewership from S7.

In the end, the goal of Tara's death was a storytelling goal, making Tara a means to an end. And in truth, much as it might have made compelling TV, the Dark Phoenix saga had already been done elsewhere, and if Joss had truly wanted to affect his audience, than he should have had the courage to have Willow remain evil at the end- because despite the horrors he inflicted on her, and on Tara, there was never any question that at the end she would come out of it okay, she would be salvaged or redeemed or absolved or choose your term- changed, perhaps, but okay. As she did, though a pale shadow of the loveable person we used to know. There was tension along the way but the outcome was never in question. Which is why he could have done this so many other ways- and it would have been more compelling to make Dark Willow confront Tara, rather than simply sacrifice Tara to create Dark Willow. IMHO.

So, to bring this back to the issue at hand, initially I was interested in the comic series as a continuation of the canon simply because it makes possible a storyline that returns Tara. In provides me a different ending than the one I had, which is what Waxbanks' argument turned on. But I cannot invest myself in this comic, because it may not give me what I want. I love what Joss does, but I won't allow myself to ever invest in his characters, because they become pawns he uses to create or evoke responses in his audience. Unlike, say, 224, where death is a common occurrence so you never get close to anyone, on Buffy there is a resonance in nearly everything that happens- he knows how to turn those screws and it is part of his talent, which is undeniable. But quotergal (what a resource she is!) provided the perfect quote there- the audience is master. "It's like you have to serve a master of your own -- and that's the audience. And the way I work is through connection with the audience. The way I work is through the audience going, 'That's me! I'm doing that! I feel that!' And so if I lose that, then I'm useless."

What happens when the audience goes, whoa, that is not me, and I don't feel that?
"As for fans being 'owed' anything, I really don't buy into that either. As a fan I choose to watch. If I enjoy what I see I continue to watch, if I don't I stop. A show works when the story satisfies the audience but there'll always be people turning off because they're disappointed with a plot development."

Fair enough, but judging by the archives here at Whedonesque there are alot of people who believe that creators or actors owe them something. How many people got angry when SMG was going to do comic con 2004? How many people commented in AH's commentary in the HIMYM DVD? If fans arent truly owed anything, then half the archives here at Whedonesque contain arguments about extra curricular stuff that shouldnt be here in the first place. If Joss doesnt owe me anything then neither does SMG, DB, AH, or any of the other actors, and I know Helcat that you personally didnt make the argument but I am merely pointing out that here at Whedonesque there seems to be a difference of opinion...
What happens when the audience goes, whoa, that is not me, and I don't feel that?

Well, when it's a small percentage of the audience (however vocal) and everyone else is happy with the story choice, nothing happens. And why should it ? I was absolutely devastated when Wash died. I mean, real physical 'pain' in my gut (and I thought I was long past feeling that way over a fictional character). Would I want Joss to alter the way he tells stories or which stories he tells because of my pain ? Not hardly.

My pain matters just as yours does Dana5140 but that doesn't give us any right to dictate what an artist (or anyone else) does or doesn't do. We only have the right (as always, as we should) to remove ourselves from the process (and thereby avoid future pain).

As the adage goes, "You can't please all of the people all of the time".

If Joss doesnt owe me anything then neither does SMG, DB, AH, or any of the other actors ...

Correct. Whether some people on here think it or even the majority do doesn't (as i'm sure you're well aware jerry ;) determine whether it's true or not. They don't owe us anything in the same way we don't "owe" them continued patronage in perpetuity though, when we stump up the cash for our ticket, they then "owe" us the best performance they know how to give. If we don't get that it's up to us whether we stump up cash the next time.

Must confess I find this late 20th/early 21st century idea of entitlement in Western society puzzling and occasionally annoying (in general, not anyone on here specifically).
Fair enough, but judging by the archives here at Whedonesque there are alot of people who believe that creators or actors owe them something.

None of them owe us anything. The actors do these things out of love or because its their job, not because they owe the audience anything. And the archives are full of appreciation for the work that these artists do, Whedonverse-related or not, because we admire their talent and enjoy watching/reading/hearing/etc what they do.

As for the ongoing Tara death debate, I was never really involved in the online Buffy fandom when the show was on the air, so a lot of this is new to me. But I have to argue the statement made earlier about lack of social responsibility in the Dark Willow saga. For me, watching someone hurting both those she hates and loves due to the anger and grief of an important loss has more real-world relevance than watching a once-loving couple take opposite sides in a magical battle royale. Besides, a large portion of Season 6 had already dealt with Tara's response to an out-of-control Willow. I agree that Tara's loss was the ONLY thing that logically would have brought about Dark Willow and that there's nothing to be gained from a Dark Willow/Tara confrontation that wasn't already covered way back in Season 2 with Buffy/Angelus.

As for the idea that Willow would obviously recover... Dark Phoenix (who Dark Willow was compared to) sacrificed herself. Medea (who I personally see parallels with) rides off into the evil sunset of unredeemedness. And neither of them suffered the same kind of loss that Willow did. Plus, the show's titular character had already died twice. I for one didn't find it "obvious" that Willow would be coming back from the black.

[ edited by Lady Brick on 2007-03-21 19:59 ]
Agreeing with Saje here. I'd add this. Different groups feel that the show owes them totally different things. If you satisfy the Buffy/Angel fans, you've ticked off the Spuffy-lovers (Spuffistas? Spuffyites?).

I think Willow's bi-sexual and I'm not alone. The show owes me a representation of Willow's bi-sexuality. My girlfriend thinks Willow's transformation was a plot device and untrue to her character. She's not alone. The show owes her an episode where Willow goes back to Oz. You can go on forever.
"Correct. Whether some people on here think it or even the majority do doesn't (as i'm sure you're well aware jerry ;) determine whether it's true or not. They don't owe us anything in the same way we don't "owe" them continued patronage in perpetuity though, when we stump up the cash for our ticket, they then "owe" us the best performance they know how to give. If we don't get that it's up to us whether we stump up cash the next time."

LOL, no I hear you Saje, and I agree completely. I guess my point is this: I know majority opinion isnt always right, in fact most of the time it just means that the majority of people are wrong, but when we talk about someone owing us something, there is a line somewhere. I argue that Joss Whedon doesnt have to do anything he doesnt want to do with the story, but I wonder sometimes why fans feel like he owes them and why some of those same fans will fume when a certain actor doesnt do commentary or feels as if they distance themself too much from the fandom after her show is over. Is it just that some people feel entitled to these things? I dont think thats completely the case, though I can see and agree with most of that argument, I think it does have something to do with the creator and actors themselves, its the idea that Joss Whedon posts on Whedonesque, its the idea that Jennifer Garner does commentary for Alias, and the idea that writers and producers of Buffy have an intimate relationship with the online community when they post here or on the Bronze Beta. Of course part of that argument is a feeling of entitlement, I feeling that since you watch the show and made these actors famous that they should do what you want them to do, but more than that, is that when you bring the fans into your world as a writer or producer, you cant expect them not to rebel, get pissed, or demand things. You let them in and now you wonder why they get pissed when you killed Tara? You accepted the toaster and then said that the storyline was what mattered? Well great, but I should have known that from the beginning so I could send the story a toaster and not Joss Whedon.

See, I just dont think its as cut and dry as especially Wax makes it out to be, if you really believe that actors dont owe you anything, then many of the comments about SMG in the archives here shouldnt be there, but they are. And there is a reason for that, a reason gleamed from both a sense of entitlement (how many times have you heard the argument--we made her a star, she should do this or that...), and a sense of being an insider that the writers and producers create. Its both the fans the creator, its not just want/need and the story mattering more, its about Joss Whedon, and hence, I argue that it isnt just fans, its him too. And thats why I wanted Wax to go further, because yeah its the fans, but its all Whedon and others...
Then, shambleau, there is no point in having any discussions at all; the idea here has been shifted to the concept of "owe." This is not an issue I bring up, but it is getting conflated with those that I do. I don't view TV from the idea of people owing people, in either direction; I well know we owe the creators of show nothing at all; they owe us only their best work at putting a show on TV that we will watch. End of story.

Lady brick, very elegant alternave storylines to the death of Tara/Dark Willow arc have been written, such as by Robert Black. They do exist and they do have resonance. I take your comment that what you say is "to you" the best way it could have gone. Obviously, it was not, to me. :-)

And I am sorry it was not clear but I was not making a direct, one-to-one, comparison of Willow to Dark Phonexi; I know both storylines quite well. My point was that the entire arc lost power because, and I know you don't agree, there was never any question in my mind, and in the mind of others, that Willow would end the show evil or dead, notwithstanding Buffy's two deaths, and all the others. For that to happen, Tara would have had to live; it is really the only way Willow's loss would make sense in a greater context- not that I think anyone will agree with me here. But I am saying Willow was not going to end up evil or dead- and that was clarified in all of 3 episodes and just over 2 days of fictional show time. Willow was needed for S7, not that she ever got a lot to do there. But that's a different rant.
Though late, I got an approval from a colleague to offer his comments, made on a different forum, though speficially directed at this debate:

"And on a related topic mentioned in the Whedonesque
> posts, I understand perfectly the nature of the
> argument regarding Tara's death. In the Whedonesque
> discussion, waxbanks (who I am assuming is the
> author
> of this essay) makes constant comments over the fact
> that Joss was perfectly justified in killing Tara
> because it was an organic fit into the story and it
> was his right (as author) to kill off any characters
> he created as he saw fit. This second statement is
> absolutely true of course, but I would disagree with
> his assessment that Joss' decision to kill Tara was
> motivated strictly by the demands of the story and
> that fan reaction to the death was "irrelevant." I
> believe reader/viewer reaction is intensely relevant
> to any storyteller. A storyteller wants to relate
> his
> tale to the reader in such a way as to not alienate
> the reader/viewer, leaving the reader/viewer angry
> and
> dissatisfied. To use his example of Hansel & Gretel,
> he claims that as much as readers want to see the
> title characters overcome the conflicts they face in
> the story and escape, we as readers also want to see
> them get hurt. Over this I strongly disagree. If the
> story had ended with Hansel & Gretel unable to
> escape
> from the witch and killed or even seriously injured,
> the reader would have decried that ending as "crap"
> and immediately hurled the book into the nearest
> trash
> can.
>
> Certainly, we want to see the characters brought
> into
> conflict since conflict makes the story interesting
> and such conflicts are occasionally wrought with the
> potential for bodily injury and death. However, I
> don't believe (unless the reader is some sort of
> sadist) that you ever really want to see the
> characters get seriously hurt or killed. You want to
> see how they figure out how to get out of the deadly
> situation unharmed. The expectation is that the
> author will create a way for the characters to get
> out
> of the situation alive and unhurt, and we as
> readers/viewers can all share in the enjoyment of
> the
> characters having escaped from their precarious
> situation.
>
> Tara's death turned that expectation on its ear. The
> reader/viewer neither "wanted" nor "needed" Tara's
> death; it was something established by the author as
> a
> part of his plan to move the narrative (and Willow's
> character) in a direction he felt it (and she)
> needed
> to go. There were other potential storylines that
> could have been developed that would have brought
> story and character to the same place ultimately,
> but
> Tara's death, for the author, seemed the most
> expedient way of doing so. So a well-beloved
> character was sacrificed at the altar of
> storytelling.
> However, by doing this, Joss created a situation in
> which he alienated vast sections of his audience,
> which led to audience dissatisfaction and anger.
> Mostly this anger came out in written form (in
> essays,
> postings on message forums, etc.), but it came out
> in
> other ways too, including a drop in viewership. I,
> for one, believe many people are frankly
> dissatisfied
> with seasons six and seven primarily because of the
> death of Tara. For them, the show just wasn't the
> same once that incident occurred; therefore, we get
> the claims that the last two seasons of the show
> were
> "crap" and were discarded into the proverbial "trash
> can," leading many of those viewers to dismiss the
> final two seasons of the show and declare "The Gift"
> as the true final episode of the series.
>
> And quite frankly, I find Tara to be as much a
> complex
> character as any on the show. An audience will not
> develop an attachment to a one-dimensional,
> stereotype
> character that is simply a functionary device in the
> story (just ask how many viewers formed attachments
> to
> Riley). A viewer will only form an emotional bond to
> a character that they feel they have a connection
> with
> on some deeper level. So many viewers could not have
> formed this emotional attachment to Tara if she was
> merely a cardboard character, created simply as a
> device to be killed off at the appropriate time to
> turn Willow evil. There is clearly deeper levels to
> the character that many viewers (like those on the
> Whedonesque posings) clearly either did not feel or
> refuse to acknowledge.
"
Saje - As the adage goes, "You can't please all of the people all of the time"

I couldn't agree more with this statement. The most brilliantly told story will always have its detractors. For every much-loved episode, I'm sure there are some fans that don't like it. And for every episode that most fans consider lower-rate, some fans will consider that episode one of the best. People obviously have widely varying likes and dislikes.

I'm sure that Joss knew that Tara's and Wash's deaths were going to be devastating to some fans (although I think we were all devastated to a certain degree). How could he not? He loves the characters just as much as we do. However, Joss has to maintain his integrity as a storyteller and tell the story in the best way that he knows how. That is his only responsibility to the audience (if he actually owes us anything) and to himself.

Personally, I prefer a storyteller who takes chances and doesn't always have his/her thumb on the pulse of the audience to determine the direction of his/her story. Most of what is on television follows that sort of storytelling and what we end up with is highly forgettable shows that don't resonate with me or probably very many others.

I really liked Tara, but wasn't destroyed by her death. I was, however, a huge fan of Wash and was very upset when he died. Nevertheless, his death totally sold the end of the movie for me and I am excited at the possibilities for the future of SereniFly (I may be delusional, but I'm still hopeful!!) because of what his death (and Book's, of course) will mean to the entire crew. How will they deal with what they've been through? Where will they find the strength to go on? Will everything they've been through draw them closer together or push them apart?, etc, etc. The possibilities are numerous. Oh, and the angst also! (I loves me some angst sometimes :).

I think that one of the things that drew me into the Buffy fandom was the feeling that no one was really 'safe'. Even if they didn't die, really bad things might happen to them. It feels more real to me in that sense and I always enjoy following how characters deal with what has happened to them or around them. In other words, it's all about character development for me. In Joss Whedon's shows, there are always consequences. Things are not reset at the end of the day (or episode). As a viewer, I am always irritated when a character seemingly forgets something important that had transpired in previous episodes. Not because I think the writer owes me, but it's just sloppy, unrealistic storytelling that pushes me out of the story.

But anyhow, I should stop before I really start to ramble. :)
Lady brick, very elegant alternave storylines to the death of Tara/Dark Willow arc have been written, such as by Robert Black. They do exist and they do have resonance. I take your comment that what you say is "to you" the best way it could have gone. Obviously, it was not, to me. :-)

I'm not discrediting the fact that people can create beautifully-written alternative histories to fictional worlds, but at that point, it becomes a different story. I think the difference is that you're focusing on what the story means to you while I'm focused on the story as told by the creators, which means that things like the logic and effectiveness of the of story structure (to go back to the article that spawned this whole mess) are what capture my interest. That's not to say that I don't get drawn into stories emotionally or lost in the moment at all, but in the long term, impersonal criticism seems to be the basis for most of my opinions on writing. Of course, I'm a writer myself, so that's what interests me the most. And I doubt it's a common viewpoint.
Well, JIzB, what did Tara's death mean to Willow by the time we were in S7? Outside of the daft TKIM, what really did it mean to anyone at all? Did we see any follow up whatsoever on the loss of Tara? Using your argument there, I did not see any of this addressed. Tara was a scarce afterthought in S7, just a quick visit to her grave, a representation by Cassie, a throwaway comment by Willow about "girl" in the bar, and Willow made into Warren with no explanation until the very end, which only set her up with Kennedy. Yet this was the love of Willow's life, was beloved by Dawn, etc. It was as if she scarcely existed. SO we did not get the kind of payoff or lead into continuation you mention here. I have often wondered why that was; other deaths had long-term repercussions but not this one.
Sigh. This comment irked me enough to merit a quick response:

And quite frankly, I find Tara to be as much a complex character as any on the show. An audience will not develop an attachment to a one-dimensional, stereotype character that is simply a functionary device in the story (just ask how many viewers formed attachments to Riley).


Wrong about Tara, wrong about Riley.

By 'wrong about Tara' I mean to gesture at a wider point, which is this: people absolutely do form emotional attachments to abstract beings and one-dimensional characters. Dana, has your colleague read Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics? Marvelous work of media theory. It contains an illuminating discussion of the importance of iconic representation as an explanation of the power of comic books to engage readers who nominally prefer 'more complex' representations. (Briefly, he argues that icons prompt identification, while realistic representation provokes recognition of Another, with all the complex relations that entails.)

Ever played Ico? Or The Legend of Zelda? Or enjoyed Seinfeld? Or even Waiting for Godot? Of course there's value in iconic representation and part of that value (for the author) is the instant generation of sympathy. We empathize with more complex characters; we sympathize with icons. Buffy, to Joss Whedon's everlasting credit, is somewhere between the two.

This isn't a competition to determine who loves whom the most, or correctly/incorrectly. But there's no shame in pointing out that Tara was presented as a much less complex character than Riley - and that the content of the Willow/Tara relationship was never given the attention that the writers lavished on the prickly Buffy/Riley pairing (cf. Buffy/Riley/Faith body-switching drama, or the Riley/Spike scenes, for the ways they illuminate everyone's character). As I said above, I think your colleague's totally wrong about Riley; the character did evolve in interesting and unexpected ways, i.e. moved well beyond his premise. Not to take away from Amber Benson's lovely performance as Tara, but Tara's evolution was largely an elaboration (moving-through) of her character premise(s).

I don't think Riley was at all one-dimensional, and I had a strong reaction to him; my reaction to Tara was and is even stronger, in part because she's Just. So. Good. Unrealistically so, you could argue (I'm not sure I wanna).

Well no matter. Back to work.
waxbanks: 100% agree about Riley. My mom LOVED Riley early on, when he came across as the iconic representative of the type of guy she wants her daughters to marry. As his complexity and flaws came out more and more, she became less and less attached to his character, though she was still quite sad when he left the show. Clearly, he didn't quite serve as the icon she wanted him to be for fair portion of his run.
Dana - Well, JIzB, what did Tara's death mean to Willow by the time we were in S7? Outside of the daft TKIM, what really did it mean to anyone at all?

Ok, I'll give you that, Dana. I'll agree with you that Tara was given very short shrift in season 7. But I would argue that season seven sort of got off track for most of the season, save for the last 5 or 6 eps, where it eventually wound to a fairly satisfying conclusion (for me).

Nonetheless, I would also argue that Tara's death and her incredible importance to Willow led to the events immediately following her death which, I'll admit, totally blew me away when I first saw them. Those were some powerful, emotional, gut-wrenching episodes.

The random, sudden way in which Tara and Wash died made their deaths all the more shocking. We weren't even aware that they were in peril (Wash had just survived peril and was probably going to be in peril soon, but we didn't know he was in immediate peril). But these deaths, as difficult as they were to cope with, spoke to me about the randomness of life and the human condition. People often die - suddenly, randomly, accidentally, and for no apparent justifiable reason - and their loved ones are left behind to deal with their loss. The episode "The Body" dealt with this whole phenomenon beautifully.

Since Willow is an incredibly powerful witch, she tried to do everything in her power to first, bring Tara back, and then to strike out at everyone around her because of the injustice of it all. Most of us who have experienced grief over the loss of a loved one will identify with her actions (at some level).

I guess I wasn't upset over the lack of attention to Tara's death in season seven (more than say, the lack of attention to many of the other storylines), primarily because the end of season six dealt with her death in such a powerful way (for me at least).
I'm glad Saje brought up feeling pain at the death of Wash, because I certainly felt that too. It's not quite the same as the death of Tara - in that I'm sure there's isn't a group of disenfranchised wacky pilots who feel aggrieved that there is one less fictional wacky pilot representing them on screen. But in a similar way, there was a call for boycotts of "Serenity" and Joss Whedon because of that story choice - which stemmed from the very early previews of the film.

Dana1540, the fact is that Tara's death probably upset 95% of the viewing audience. It's a brutal and shocking death. I was spoiled for it and still was shocked when it happened the way it did. But the truth of the matter is that those who were so shocked by Tara's death that they stopped watching the show and/or called for a boycott is a small percentage of the audience. And this is not to dismiss your pain, nor suggest that a small segment of the audience should be ignored. Except, the show wasn't written just for you or the Kittens or the LGBT community or lesbians everywhere or whacky pilots.

Whedon writes with an audience in mind because he wants a lot of people to watch his stuff. There are a lot of artists who write for themselves and hope an audience finds them; Whedon takes another approach - and is generally pretty inclusive. But occasionally he upsets people and complaining about how the story should have gone is kind of irrelevant.
Dana5140 if you're going to quote somebody else's writings, please try and format it so it's easier for people to read.

Also some of the more recent posts seem to be on the border line of bashing characters and posters which is not what Whedonesque is all about it. So I would ask that the discussion get toned down a notch or two.
Sorry, Simon; in my preview it looked different than when it got posted- and by then I had to leave to have my taxes done (yay! I only owe $890 this year!).

JIzB, I actually was less hurt by Wash, whom I like quite dearly, but it was largely because I had already figured out that he was going to die in the movie; I just was not sure how. Past posts of mine discuss my reasoning as to why Wash, so I won't waste space here redescribing this. However, part of the reason I anticipated it has to do with Joss' screenwriting tactics; that is, he uses death as part of his logic patterns, nearly always to make viewers feel that no one is safe. When you know this going in, you also know that the death you know is coming will come when you do not expect it to come, not when you do think it will come. So, look! Wash made it through the worst of the piloting. Then blam, no more Wash. Wherever you look in Joss 'verse you see this repeated- whether Jennie Calendar, Tara, motormouth, Book, Wash or even Joyce in the specifics of her death (we thought she made it, and then she didn't), and even Anya. And JIzB, I do not think Willow did everything in her power to bring Tara back. Honestly, I've thought about this. She tried to invoke just one God, who turned her down. But she could have implored D'Hoffryn, who certainly has the power to bring someone back, and this would have had the added "benefit" of making Willow not just a witch but a vengeance demon. She could have tried to cast a spell, like she did for Buffy. And if, as Joss posited, Buffy could have gotten a "get out of jail card," that presupposes Willow could have as well. There really are other ways in the Buffyverse to bring people back. Heck, even Dawn nearly succeeded, though we are not sure that was really a zombie Joyce at the door.

As to Riley, he is not someone I am invested in, but I always liked the big galoot. I am not a Riley basher, but I do think that far less ink has been dedicated to him than to most other regulars, and certainly far less ink than Tara- who was not even a regular as far as the credits go (though that was Amber Benson's decision). I cannot speak to my colleagues knowledge of the material you cite, though I do love your call on Waiting for Godot, which I actually got to act in (I was Estragon). Qua qua qua! And though this may be hard to believe, I have never seen an episode of Seinfield, nor have I ever played a video game- though my youngest son (who is 21 until next week, when he is, oddly enough, 22) loves Zelda as much as I love Buffy.

In fact, wb, I think both you and my friend are wrong; I think both characters are complex, but we invest differently in them.

There may be a different area in whedonesque to explore some of these tangential issues in more detail without going off topic too far. I am highly interested in this concept of "owing," as well as in the idea of "authorial integrity" external to an audience in a commodified environment, but I don't think this is the place for the discussion, nor am I sure there is even interest. But too often my discussions regarding Tara devolve into respect Joss' authoritah vs. respecting the reader's authoritah, and everyone knows where I fall on this spectrum, even if this is whedonesque. :-)
Whoa, I have to take serious issue with some of the statements in the post from Dana5140's "Colleague". And I haven't read any of the rest of the posts after that one, which I will go back and do. Still don't trust myself with the quoty thingy, so I'll do it like this:

Dana5140's Colleague said: "However, I don't believe that (unless the reader is some sort of sadist) that you ever really want to see the characters get seriously hurt or killed. You want to see how they figure out how to get out of the deadly situation unharmed."

Well I guess I'm "some sort of sadist" because what I "want" (read appreciate and am stimulated by, both intellectually and emotionally) is the unpredictable, unexpected twist. As long as it isn't gratuitous and serves the story line. The seeing 'how they figure out how to get out of the deadly situation unharmed' is IMO the perfect definition of all that is mediocre and boring about ninety percent of TV, movies and books.
And I really have to shake my head in awe at the tone and mindset that makes an unequivocal statement about what "you" (me, us, everyone?) *wants* to see.
I *want* stimulation, I want to be shocked and appalled and angry and devastated and also, *sometimes*, joyful and satisfied and happy with the direction of the story and the characters. I want the fullest range of emotion possible, wrapped up in a package that allows for endless stimulating conversation and debate. If I wanted a predictable ending to every story, where every sympathetic character ultimately 'figures out how to get out of the situation unharmed', I would most certainly not be a fan of Joss and all his creations. Or of Shakespeare or John Fowles (my favorite novelist) or Dan Simmons (my favorite SciFi writer) or of Edgar Allen Poe or T.S.Elliot or the creators of Battlestar Galactia.
So how about stating your own opinion as *your* opinion, rather than making blanket statements about what other's want out of entertainment? Sorry if that sounds rude, it isn't my intention to be confrontational. But it really irks me to be spoken for as some cog in the great wheel of "you".
Here endeth the rant.
Shey, I think that's a writing style decision, the use of "you." It is not meant to imply that these are definitive statements; it is, rather, at least in my estimation, a rhetorical device. So if you can, read beyond the style to the substance. Which you do not, of course, have to agree with, but don't lose the message in the medium, so to say. We all read differently, interpret differently; that's a given. If we did not, this would be a boring place here on whedonesque. :-)

I am very different than you. I prefer to be spoiled about TV shows going in, because I do not wish to see what I know will bother me. That is really an odd way to watch TV, I know, and likely very much out of synch with the vast majority of people here. But, if I can use my current TV flame, if the writers of CSI plan on killing Sara Sidle in the finale this year, as has been bandied about, I want to know before I go watch. IN fact, I may not watch, and may wait for the DVD to come out so I can decide whether I DO want to watch. It is not pleasurable for me in any way to see characters I love get killed unexpectedly; I get no thrill. And that is very different from your manner of watching. It is in part why I watch and rewatch movies I love, as my wife will tell you- it's actually hard to get me to go see movies when they are released, because I would prefer to know what to expect rather than be completely surprised. I get more pleasure that way. But that's me, and I'm quite odd. :-)
Dana5140...I've enjoyed reading your posts. We are all so passionate here about the things we love. It's a true testament to the writing power of Joss Whedon. The way he can create characters that we are totally invested in, feel like we know and strangely, want to protect, well, it's amazing. Not something many people can do. Joss is a special guy.
I understand what you are saying about "not getting it" and how that affects you. Sometimes Joss does his job so well that the audience follows him where he's going. Believes what he's showing. Sometimes he creates characters that we literally fall in love with and when something bad happens to them, it affects us as if it were one of our own. Our own family. Blood.
For you that is Tara. Coupled with Willow. For me that is Buffy. If coupled it would be Angel.
To the rest of the world we must seem a little crazed, to be affected by fictional characters this way. To the rest of the world I would say, you've never seen Buffy. The power of Joss is an amazing gift or sometimes the most brutal weapon. It's really up to Joss which he chooses to thrust upon us but it's up to us if we let him do it.
This will end on a good note, I swear.
A few years back, I attended a Comic Con in Chicago and was lucky enough to hear Joss speak. He talked about many things that day, some that did my heart good and some that might have helped to heal yours. He had a plan to bring Tara back to season 7. It involved Buffy receiving a "get out of jail free card". In this scenerio, Buffy could use that card for anything but she would use it to bring Tara back to Willow. The emotion in his voice, as he told it, was beautiful. He had it all mapped out but obviously things didn't work out for him as he had hoped. IMO, Joss knows his characters better than anybody else, he knows what they need. He wanted to bring Tara back to Willow. If we were to ever get that Big screen movie, I think you'd get your wish. What Joss wants Willow to have, she will have. :)
Which is why I have such hope for the comic, Cheryl. I think you've captured the greater issue so nicely in your post. He does draw us in. I love Buffy. I study it. I have become learend in critical theory because of Buffy, because in order to understand all those academic papers out there (on slayage, for example) I needed to understand what all that dense jargon meant. I've never been affected by a fictional character like I was Tara, and even Sara Sidle does not have the kind of resonance that Tara did for me, though she certainly is a character I worry about, a lot. :-)

I did hear about the "Get out of Jail" card and alluded to it above. There is a part of me that has a hard time believing it while at the same time feeling that it would have been a great thing. Joss is always so canny; he plans things out years in advance, and it is hard for me to understand why, if he really planned this, he did not tie Amber Benson up in a contract during S6 for S7 (except, knowing that, we'd have known Tara would be back- but we would not have known whether it was Tara or evil tara or zombie or vampire Tara). By the time S7 rolled around, the outcry had grown fairly large, Amber was apparently hard hit by it, and for whatever reasons, whether business related or more emotionally related, she refused to sign on. She did comment that she did not want Tara to come back as an evil character but would have to play her however she was written, though I think the sitch between her and Joss was much more complicated than either has let on. (Personally, I think Amber made a bad decision, but that is neither here nor there). And it is certain that Tara would have had at least a short appearance as evil since the original script for CWDP had her present, rather than Cassie. But however it was, it never happened. And it is possible that Joss really was responding to fan pain with that plan, whether he planned it advance or was hit by the creative juice right then and there. But I'd have loved to see the script, and I do worry that without context, the return of Tara would have had less emotional resonance- I'd like to have seen a big lead into it, and I have to tell you, Willow casting that final spell with Tara by her side would have been a far greater and emotionally wrenching scene than having Kennedy there, no aspersions on Kennedy.

As to being crazed, I have 26yo twins and a 21 (almost 22, again) who think I am out of my mind. They have no clue how they got the dad they did. :-)
Dana sez:

...I have to tell you, Willow casting that final spell with Tara by her side would have been a far greater and emotionally wrenching scene than having Kennedy there, no aspersions on Kennedy.


One of the more moving messages of Buffy, to me, has always been that love is stronger than a lot of things, but not death. In all of Joss's adult fictions, heroes (cf. Serenity) are people who get other people killed - and move on in spite of it. Which is to say, moving on in the face of death is heroic - which is why the opening of Season Six is so powerfully ambivalent. (Was bringing Buffy back from the dead an act of friendship, or weakness?) There's no way around the costs of heroism, of living a complicated but awesome life as the center of the Whedonverse. Malcolm Reynolds (by far Joss's most interesting hero, in my opinion) definitely understands this. Buffy learns this lesson in 'Becoming' and I think Willow learns it in Season Seven, to an extent (along with the other Scoobies). Angel knows it - hell, he was sent back to earth in part to punish him further. Life after death is that way (which is a gnarly little lesson from the atheist Whedon).

So how do you square your vision of the finale - with Tara there instead of Kennedy - with this fairly clear moral throughline to the show? I admit up front, it's a leading question: I believe some selfish evasion is required to see the show in the light you're suggesting. (And personally, though I respect Amber Benson, I don't give a damn what she thinks about Tara except insofar as her feelings help deepen her portrayal. Which is too abstract a conversation for this site I suspect.)

The 'Get out of jail free' card is an interesting conceit - but its purpose, as Joss described it, would be to illuminate some aspect of Buffy's character. And I find the idea of bringing someone back into the world from the grave just to satisfy someone else's romantic fixation more than a little sickening. Don't you? (Again, see the beginning of Season Six - and Spike's complex equivocal pragmatism in the face of Buffy's return, chastising the Scoobies while obviously beyond grateful.)
Scott, I don't square my vision of the finale- which I only really considered for the first time in response to Cheryl's post- with the moral throughfare of the show because I do not think in those terms. I am not being contentious in saying that, and I am not thinking here in terms of academicizing the show. As a viewer, I just want what I want, end of story; I need not have any reason at all for what I want. And I am, again, not being coy in saying this. Having Tara there with While Willow simply would have meant more to me than having Kennedy. There is no evasion, though I am certainly being selfish, because I want what I want.

As to the idea of the get out of jail card, I had problems with it but for different reasons. For one, we are capable of considering it only in the context of what we know about S7, which is that Tara was not there, and Kennedy was. In order for Tara's return to really mean something, either Kennedy could not be there, or she could not have a relationship with Willow, not if bringing Tara back in the penultimate episode would have meaning. And for it to occur out of the blue, this would also not be great. Just returning her alone has no resonance; I think we would need some sort of buidling tension to make her return have meaning- because here it is Buffy's choice to bring Tara back, not anything Willow has decided or has done. Now, I suspect that had the storyline been written that way, it would have that resonance, but it was not, and so I do not see it in that way. As to sickening? No. Why would it sicken me? I'm still hoping they do this in the comic.

[ edited by Dana5140 on 2007-03-22 18:15 ]
Dana, I agree with your last sentence. A few of us are discussing it on .org if you wanna amble over. :)
Willowy: :-)

ETA: I can't seem to register. Each time I try to type in the code it tells me I am not giving it the VIP, and I have no clue what it is talking about.

[ edited by Dana5140 on 2007-03-22 21:08 ]
Dana, I posted this on .org, but since you cant register there, I wanted to ask. Ive always cried foul about the whole get out of jail free card thing, Ive always thought it was suspect both because it didnt fit into season 7 and because I would assume that Tara isnt in hell. If she isnt in hell, then why would Buffy ever try to pull her out of heaven, given the consequences of season 6 for her? How could Buffy do that to Tara?

I think we talk about want/need all the time, but Joss definately tried to give W/T shippers what they wanted and not what they needed when he told them about this story-line. A story-line that doesnt make a whole lot of sense, and has pretty bad consequences, tells me that Joss either really wasnt going to do the storyline or didnt think about the consequences. Foul, I say...
Waxbanks...I think the fact that Joss wanted to bring Tara back to Willow says it all. I don't find anything about that sickening. Why is it so hard to believe that JOSS himself wants Tara back and with Willow?
Yes, the context was about Buffy. Buffy's selfless nature, she could bring Angel back to her but she would choose to give Willow a gift instead. I have little doubt that if his plan would have worked out, we, the audience, would have been surprised and relieved. It would have made perfect sense.

I find that I don't agree with this statement from the beginning of your post. " One of the more moving messages of Buffy, to me, has always been that love is stronger than a lot of things, but not death."
One of the first times that the series made a point of dealing with the issue of death and love is in the Buffy and Angel storyline after his "death". What was the message? That sometimes love can not be dulled by death or separation. That love can enable a blind man to see. That love will continue despite unmeasurable guilt. That love CAN force death to return a loved one. A naked Angel laying on the floor of the mansion, swapped for a Claddaugh ring, tells me this.
Joss wrote of many different types of love, it would be my opinion that he wrote romantic love to withstand all obstacles, including death. For that reason, it would have made perfect sense for Joss to find the believable way to return Tara to Willow.

Many people died in the series and many people came back to fight another day. Buffy died, we thought Angel died, Buffy died again, Darla died, Spike died, etc...
Each of these deaths made a deep impact on our hearts and each one made a deep impact on another character when they returned. Can I see Tara added to that list? I can.

Dana....I want what I want too but I would take that one step further and declare that what I want is what Joss Whedon made me want. :)

Jerry....Come on, you can do better than that. :) If I can think of a couple of ways to get around that way of thinking I bet you can too and I'm sure Joss did.

[ edited by cheryl on 2007-03-23 03:31 ]
Interesting stuff. I still believe that the wording "what you want", in the context it was used, is a condescending phrasing, indicating that there is only one "right", acceptable way to tell a story, i.e. the foregone conclusion that all the good guys will ultimately be OK & no one will be offended. (Lie To Me, anyone)
I for one would be bored to death with that scenario & Joss & all the other ME alumni would be permanently out of work, replaced by Stepford producers & writers. Not to mention that the Van Goughs and Picasso's would all be replaced by "paint by numbers". And on a much darker note, that way lies Brave New World. But that is of course, just IMHO :) As it is, there is plenty of predictable, never gonna rock the boat entertainment out there for those who like that kind of thing, & plenty of edgy, blow your mind a lot stuff for those .... like me .... who prefer the wild ride. Viva diversity.
Shey...I think it depends on who you have grown to love in the series, whether or not you can take that attitude when the horrible happens. If it isn't your favorite, it simply doesn't affect you the same way. I really don't think you can claim it's as simple as one prefering a no rock the boat against someone who does.
For example, there are many characters in the series that I would cry a river for if they died and then there are the ones, Buffy, Giles, Xander and Willow, who I could not accept the story anymore if they died. It would hurt too much. By die, I mean permanent, never coming back dead. Try to imagine watching the series without the character that you identify with.
Maybe some viewers aren't as character driven as others. I wouldn't fall into that category so that notion kinda baffles me.

On a side note, I think there are many ways to tell a story but only one Joss way. :)
jerry- reading my post just above yours, you see that essentially I agree with you. I list the reasons why the idea just does not fit into S7 as it was presented. And much as I hate to say this, there is a (small) part of me that thinks that this was just Joss talking, at a time when the show was over and there was no way to know what the heck might have happened. The only thing I do know is that Tara was scheduled to be present in CWDP; beyond that, I never saw a complete shooting script that had her in it. As I noted, this is likely due to whatever business problems Joss and Amber had, but there it is. So the story is as it was, and the idea remains nothing more than an idea.

Now what is interesting in a sense to me is that speculation about who the shoes were in Buffy Comic 1 centers on whether it might be either Adam or possibly Rack (given that it was Amy who was there at the end). We will soon find out, and betting is on Adam, but if Rack that is bringing someone back who died. And if you can do it once, well, you can do it twice. But, y'know, we have not yet seen Willow, and Joss is setting her up for the big entree in #3- and then there will be that screech across the blackboard of comic Kennedy. :-)Anyway.

Shey, I am sorry you took those comments as condescending. But where, really, is it any different that someone saying that he knows what the audience needs? Isn't that equally condescending? And I am not trying to delve into the deeper meaning of Joss' comment, since this has been discussed to death. My point is simply that people describe their thoughts using different tactics, and I honestly don't feel anyone was trying to condescend to anyone. AS for me, I am always careful to describe that I speak only for myself.

Cheryl, I agree. No more Sara Sidle, no more me. No more Willow, no more me. No more Tara, no more me. My pleasure is gone without these folks. Does not mean the story is no good, that is has no heart; it is just that my means of entering that world is gone. And the show is therefore diminished.
We will soon find out, and betting is on Adam, but if Rack that is bringing someone back who died

Actually I think most of the speculation centres on whether Amy's companion is either Adam or Warren (with Rak (sp ?) being a distant third cos of the whole 'weapons lab' thing). It's worth noting that all of these died as a result of magic and so bringing them back wouldn't break the apparent taboo on 'natural' deaths as seen for Joyce and Tara.

(AFAIK none of them are contenders for 'the feet' since 'Subject 2' was elsewhere at the time of the feet)

No more Tara, no more me. My pleasure is gone without these folks. Does not mean the story is no good, that is has no heart; it is just that my means of entering that world is gone.

Just to be explicit Dana do you mean you stopped watching after Tara died (and so haven't seen S7) ? I'm wondering how you could've continued without an 'in' given how strongly you clearly feel.

Try to imagine watching the series without the character that you identify with.

If that line of reasoning held cheryl then I wouldn't want (or be capable of enjoying) a 'Serenity' sequel. I do (and am) though obviously. My method would just involve finding ways to identify with other characters more (though I don't tend to identify with one character to the exclusion of all others anyway and only usually consider title characters to be indispensable - pretty hard to imagine 'House' without House himself for instance and on that show he also happens to be the character I identify with most strongly).
saje- I have never seen the end of Seeing Red. I have watched S7 through only once but have never come back to it and rewatched as I do time and again with the earlier seasons up to the middle or so of S6. The loss of Tara, and the fact that her loss is scarcely addressed limits what pleasure I might have had. I just don't have a reason to see it again.

AS to Warren, I have not seen any spec that it might be him. That would, in my opinion, be a horrible choice and I do not think Joss would do that. Putting Warren out there at the outset immediately moves Tara's death fron and center, and I can't see that happening this early in the new series. And in truth, the Trio was in my opinion the worst by far of the seasonal bad guys. So, I do not think it will be Warren.

PS> I had a much better response written, but lost it when I got a grrr message and when I returned it was gone. This is a poor second, I am sorry to say.
cheryl sez:

Waxbanks...I think the fact that Joss wanted to bring Tara back to Willow says it all. I don't find anything about that sickening. Why is it so hard to believe that JOSS himself wants Tara back and with Willow?


Since I've already presented 10,000+ words of argument on this subject (in and around this thread, starting with the 4,000-word initial post), I'll just quote myself:

Authors are readers, and authors desire order and satisfaction as well. But the job of an author is to suspend satisfaction, that is, to sustain the reader's desire so she'll finish the story. Therefore the author's discipline is to resist the narrative path-of-least-resistance - in simple terms, to put off the happy ending.


I notice sometimes a form of (let's call it...) narcissism that suggests that Joss Whedon thinks of his characters the same way the fans do - or more specifically, that he has (and allows himself) the luxury of fans' fantasies and willful self-delusion and -denial. Is he a fan of the Jossverse? Sure, to an extent. I imagine he's more proud of it than enamored of it, justifiably so. But he's also its lead disciplinarian, and the one in charge of breaking the bad news. Storytellers have to think about their art very, very differently from readers/fans. (This is serial linear narrative, not Dungeons & Dragons.)

Did Joss want to bring Tara back to Willow? Yeah, I believe it. He was obviously invested in the relationship for both personal/sympathetic and political/polemical reasons, which is part of the reason it was so absorbing for fans. Could he have done so in Season Seven, as it stood in final form? Sure. Would he have done so? We're all speculating anyhow, so I'll speculate: no. Based on the evidence of the show, I think he's too committed to the irretrievability of the dead, and had predicated too much drama (late in Season Six) on the fact that Tara was beyond Willow's reach, to take it all back with a 'Get out of jail free!' card. It's a neat conceit, but as I said before: in the moral terms that Whedon himself has carefully laid out on the show, that kind of cheating-the-cosmos carries consequences so severe that it's ultimately immoral. That was, after all, the entire lesson of the episode 'Forever', the followup to 'The Body'.

Or as Dana says:

And much as I hate to say this, there is a (small) part of me that thinks that this was just Joss talking, at a time when the show was over and there was no way to know what the heck might have happened.


For a long time my sense has been that if you're deeply invested in some viewpoint, and yet a persistent voice tells you that it's sensible to believe otherwise, and though you 'hate to say it' you have to admit the voice is probably right, then - no matter how many caveats and qualifiers you lay in - you already know deep down that your cherished belief is screwed up somehow. That's not to piss on Dana, rather to say that I admire his candor but it can always go further, in all of us.

cheryl, you also said this:

One of the first times that the series made a point of dealing with the issue of death and love is in the Buffy and Angel storyline after his "death". What was the message? That sometimes love can not be dulled by death or separation. That love can enable a blind man to see. That love will continue despite unmeasurable guilt. That love CAN force death to return a loved one. A naked Angel laying on the floor of the mansion, swapped for a Claddaugh ring, tells me this.


Ah ha! This is what I'd call a pleasurable misreading - I like it, but I believe it's wrong. Not least for the following reasons: Buffy didn't bring Angel back, the show suggests that something else did, perhaps the First; Angel arrived back on earth at the moment, and in the precise spot, that Buffy had finally begun the process of moving on; when he arrived, he didn't provide wish-fulfillment, he provided an enormous problem for her, and she was driven back to Angel when her current boyfriend dumped her; of course Season Three Buffy/Angel is a story about how First Love is so often a broken thing that makes those in love blind themselves (Angel was right to leave Buffy - this is one of the show's central tenets, I think, yet some people refuse to accept it for some reason).

My own feelings on this are strong, since I believe transcendent romantic love-that-conquers-all is not only a convenient fiction but a pernicious and dangerous one in practice - which is why I can cry like a hungry angry baby watching Angel and Buffy dance at the prom, but don't long for that kind of love in real life, and chastise people who should know better than to bank on True Love. (The history of courtly/romantic love is not a gentle one - nor transcendent in any way.) And in Buffy I see constant reiteration of this point, or points like it: life is suffering, heroism is suffering, love is suffering, and the action of getting on with life often cuts hard against our enabling fantasies. Growth, on Whedon's shows and in life (it seems to me), comes from the hard work of accepting that tension and discarding what can be discarded - namely fantasy. (See Angel Season Five and the fate of 'We help the hopeless' for instance.) For a Gothic-romance show Buffy's got a hell of a lot more pragmatic philosophy than some give it credit for.

If Buffy exists solely to satisfy your most selfish desires, then yes, Tara should come back, and Buffy should live forever with Angel/Spike/Riley/Xander/Parker/Jonathan/Snyder/Jane Espenson or whomever you love best. (I'm pulling for Jane - she's so cute! And an excellent writer.) Dawnie should mature into a 30-year-old married woman overnight so as not to be confused or endangered anymore; Xander should get his eye back, and Anya should be resurrected (but with social-democratic tendencies), and the Trio should be locked in a box to just say funny things all the time and never hurt anyone, because in the 'real world' of our narcissistic fantasies no one ever gets hurt, nothing ever changes, no one grows. (Most over-the-top fantasy in recent TV history? Seinfeld.) Plus as a bonus: Falstaff isn't rejected, the madwoman in the attic gets justice, Septimus doesn't commit suicide, Pennywise lets all the children live, Humbert is punished for his mistreatment of Dolores yet his passion for her is somehow legitimated, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are granted a reprieve and allowed to move to Florin - where they work for a Sicilian named Vizzini who incidentally also had an immunity to iocane powder.

But that's not what these stories are for (as my original article repeatedly insisted, as Joss himself and every other writer ever has insisted). And particularly in the case of something like Buffy, if Joss brought Tara back (for instance), my bet is that she and Willow wouldn't last. That Joss isn't crazy enough to believe that 'soulmates' get a chance to make it despite being separated by the grave. Didn't work for Angel and Buffy (the show's first such pairing). Wouldn't and shouldn't work for Tara and Willow. Joss Whedon has repeatedly demonstrated that he's too committed to telling the painful truth about relationships. As someone said upthread: 'Lie to Me', anyone?

Last bit though:

Many people died in the series and many people came back to fight another day. Buffy died, we thought Angel died, Buffy died again, Darla died, Spike died, etc...


OK, I'll bite: Darla's return to the world was a thing of evil and led to her (repeated) death and the shattering of Angel; Spike was brought back to goose ratings on Angel and as thematic counterpoint to Angel himself; Buffy died in part (in my reading, which seems plausible though not definitive) as an illustration of the demands of heroism - and look what it did to her character, both times, nearly destroyed every shred of life in her.

And while we're here, let's talk about the fates of those who love the Scoobies, shall we?

Anya: dead.
Jenny: dead.
Tara: dead.
Oz: gone.
Riley: gone, happily married.
Angel: gone, and cancelled to boot.

Extra bonus: the Fang Gang and their partners!

Nina: gone.
Connor: gone.
Cordy: dead.
Fred: dead.
Darla: dead.
Gunn: half-dead.
Lilah: dead.
Wes: dead.

Double bonus!! Sex in space!!

Nandi the Companion: dead, with barely ten minutes of screen time having elapsed since she slept with Mal!

This isn't just a pattern to be undercut; it's part of who these characters are and how they live. I sometimes wonder if Joss isn't too brutal about love and sex. But I don't mind: one of the grand lessons of his shows is that there's always more of both, when we're ready. My mentor in college was fond of saying that great literary works teach us how to read them - not a bad lesson for a thread like this, I think.
PS> I had a much better response written, but lost it when I got a grrr message and when I returned it was gone. This is a poor second, I am sorry to say.

Damned t'intarwebs, they'll eat us whole one day Dana. Wish I could say that too but sadly this is exactly how I meant it to come out ;).

I guess you didn't read the "Hercules has seen Buffy season 8.1!" thread (it had a spoiler tag so if I hadn't read the issue yet i'd have avoided it too) since there were a few in there that speculated along 'Warren' lines (really, with the request for a lab it can only be Warren or Adam as far as Buffy big bads go). Though I wouldn't mind it being him I also hope Joss somehow manages to come out of left field since the 'weapons lab' comment seems so obvious i'm hoping it's a feint.

It's a pity you feel that way about the remainder of seasons 6 and 7. In some ways i'm jealous of what was clearly a very intense connection to a specific character, in others i'm glad it didn't spoil my enjoyment of the show that completely (even Wash's death, painful as it was, wouldn't put me off viewing more Serenifly). As others have said, I guess i'm just more a Joss fan than I am a Buffy/Tara/Wash/Mal/Zoe/whomever fan. Each to their own ;).

waxbanks, but, but, the Easter Bunny's still real right ? ;). I agree for the most part though i'd probably say Buffy still had a healthy dose of idealism (within limits) certainly when compared to Angel's final means/ends, morally pragmatic 'solution' (even within the text, explicitly not one Buffy herself could subscribe to).

To me it's down to the different ways people relate to fiction. Many fans for instance hate "Dead Man's Party" because of the way Buffy is treated after all she's been through. My feeling is, despite some problems with the episode itself, the 'horrible treatment' near the end is fantastic. Sure Xander acts like a prick but in a true way. Pretty much all of the characters act in exactly the way a real person might but at enough of a remove for us to learn from it and that makes it great TV to me (it's worth remembering that Buffy disappeared, was maybe dead as far as the Scoobs knew, for months and didn't even pick up the frikkin phone to tell anyone ! I'd be acting like a prick too I imagine).
Saje:

You picked one of my very favourite scenes from the whole of Buffy: that argument at the welcome-back party, along with Willow crying in the bathroom after learning about the Faith/Xander liaison, stands as one of the high points of Season Three - it's got a really sticky situation to untangle and it does so beautifully.
waxbanks, just have to say your longish post above is one of the best posts I've ever read here concerning Buffy, and an excellent analysis of what this thread has been discussing. The show is unequal parts pain and love, and in some episodes like Dead Man's Party, you can feel the overload (but in truth, I think "real" life v. "TV life" is much more harsh) - also in the episode where Giles and Xander go at each other (something about Jenny) is hard to watch, can't remember which one at the moment. I like having fun here, but posts like yours is why I really come by.
It's also one of my fave scenes. Though I really think my fave forever is the "I am, you know. What? Yours." But Willow in the bathroom- there are layers to that pain there. It's just a powerful and meaningful scene.

Waxie, regarding the jail card, you've captured my concerns about why I never bought into this, but you also note the problem. It does not make sense in the world that Joss created for the reasons you note, but it is Joss who advances the idea that this is what he was going to do, until darned Amber refused the contract. So, and I know you don't know the answer, which is it? It does not seem to be planned, it does not appear in any shooting scripts, Amber was not tied up to a contract in S6 for S7, it just is something Joss tells us years later in response to a question at a con. And it seems as though the only thing that kept it from happening was Amber- it wasn't his doing. It shifts the focus, and it has always troubled me. And I know this is an old discussion with no way to answer it save Joss and Amber appearing in a joint conference to discuss their differences and all, but there it is.

For me, it is always about the resonance. What I mean by the term is that it carries emotional heft; it makes you feel for the characters in ways you don't normally feel, because you care for them. The return as conceived here just does not have resonance. Buffy wins the card, and using a bit of joke, there is Tara. Where is the power in that? Sure, it would make people squee that Tara was back, but it does not carry that meaning that the best of Buffy has. Now, we are speculating here on a scene that never happened and that would have been in some sort of context, but as a stand alone, I also don't find the idea, beyond the conceit that Tara is back, either appealing or resonant.

Oh, another fave scene: end of Family. The words and the final float...
Dana5140, you apparently feel that BtS was (or should have been) "The Tara Show". You can take it to the grave :) but Tara was always a peripheral character, although a very important one. Her death served both the story and the specific arc of Willow's journey, Willow being one of the *main* characters in the entire seven year series. So it made perfect sense in terms of both story and character development.
I loved Tara, but then I'm one of those fans who loved every single character, good or evil, because of what each character brought to the Buffyverse.
There has been some debate about whether the best storytelling is when the characters serve the story or when the story serves the characters, but I believe that the very *best* storytelling is when the characters and the story(s) serve each other. And that is what we got in BtS, a masterful interweaving of character development and long term story arc.
I don't know whether or not Joss will bring Tara back in the comics. All that matters to me is that if he does, he does it in a way that serves both the ever developing characters and the ongoing story line.
I've never understood the fans who obsess over not getting what they wanted for a single character, because the whole of the show, in all it's depth and richness, tragedy and humor, was always so much larger in scope than that.
My personal favorite character by a mile is Spike, but I didn't ever get angry at Joss or any of the other writers because of the hell they put him through in the final season. I just marveled at the skill that went into creating a character of such spectacular complexity. I think it's safe to say that there has never in the history of TV been another show with the imagination & sheer audacity to ultimately turn their darkest villain into the guy who saves the world. It takes a staggering amount of artistic courage to take a character on a network TV show on that kind of journey. But it makes for damned fine art. As did Tara's death.
Oh, and the end of Family is a personal favorite of mine, too. As well as the end of Tabula Rasa. So I guess I'm both a sadist (the Hansel & Gretel analogy) *and* a masochist, because I love a sequence that can still bring tears to my eyes as much as I love the emotional jolt of .... well, the "emotional jolt" factor of the series is pretty much off the scale.
Dana5140...I wish you could have heard Joss talk about the moment in question. I think you would have enjoyed it as much as I did. It would seem that season 7 would have played out much differently if Joss could have done what he wanted to do. I doubt very much that we would have had the same season 7.

Saje....I became a die hard Joss Whedon fan because of my insane love of Buffy. Buffy the character. I'll admit that if Buffy is gone, my desire to continue is gone. I'm sure some would say that's a bad thing and makes me less of a fan. I don't think it does.

Waxbanks...I'd just like to point out that each of us seems to view this series in our own separate way. We each get something out of it we need. For me, I love the transcending true love angle. Unlike you, I think it does exist. Not often but it is there. What Joss does, goes beyond writing true love, he adds a mythical twist. Inserts something magical. Not only is true love possible in his Universe, sometimes it is strong enough to cheat death. All those corny and cheesy methods out there, used to decribe true love, Joss does those and makes it a serious thing. Something you can stand up to and scream "Hell yeah". Something you feel deep in your heart. Joss makes you believe and hope for more. So, for me, this thing he did, with Buffy and Angel, the thing about true, forever, always, eternal, transcends all...I bought that hook line and center.
Is it wrong for me to be passionate about that? I have no idea what you would say but for some of us, this is our entertainment. It isn't something that I want to study, further than watching the same eps over and over. It isn't something I want to associate with work. Buffy is my free time pleasure.
While I am viewing Buffy, I am not thinking about the writers methods or styles of writing. I am not thinking about plot devices. While I am watching Buffy I am totally there in the story with the characters. For the first time ever, I am being 100% entertained.
Obviously I have heard Joss speak of methaphor in his writings and in hindsight, the arcs rich in Joss Methaphor are my favorite but did I know that when I viewed it initially? No and I really don't want to. I want to be entertained, that's it.
You and I are both fans but very different and I can admit that I will never view the series in quite the clinical way that you do. This series makes me feel, where it makes you think. At the end of the day, we're both fans of the same thing. Joss Whedon.
I will never view the series in quite the clinical way that you do. This series makes me feel, where it makes you think.


Perhaps you missed my repeated emphatic insistence that this isn't true, that indeed the basic requirement of a viewer/reader with integrity is to do both. But I'm long past wanting to argue that distinction in this long, long, too long thread. Instead I'll refer you back to the many thousands of words I've written here and in the original post, and offer that the whole spiel might be read as an exhortation to more complex viewing and reading, and wish you much continued enjoyment of the show.
Hey Waxbanks, I wasn't trying to stike a nerve or be arguementative for the sake of arguement. Maybe our viewing differences are so severe that it's impossible to see eye to eye on anything and while that's unfortunate, it doesn't take anything away from the obvious viewing pleasure we receive. I see you as a fan just like me and in my mind, that's really the most important thing here.
As to your last thought on the matter...right back at ya. :)
wazbanks said: Perhaps you missed my repeated emphatic insistence that this isn't true, that indeed the basic requirement of a viewer/reader with integrity is to do both.


Exactly, waxbanks. I totally got what you were saying & I couldn't agree more.
And cheryl .... for some of us, "studying it further" is the farthest thing from being "work", it is rather an integral part of the pleasure of the experience. And obviously, talking about it further, as well. :)

[ edited by Shey on 2007-03-26 10:34 ]
Bloody hell!! I still can't figure out the quotey thingy, I just don't understand the instructions. so .....

Cheryl said: "So, for me, this thing he did, with Buffy and Angel, the thing about true, forever, always, eternal, transcends all...I bought that hook line and center."


You know, there was a recent very strong statement from one of the mods about all things shipperly. I have to say that this kind of "sneaking it in" makes me crazy. Because now I'm dying to put forth my point of view as to why the Buffy and Angel thing was so obviously *not* "forever and eternal" & make my case for the ... um, *other* point of view. Just saying.
Shey...I may be wrong but it seems as if the problems arise when the debate is turned into a " mine is better than yours" arguement or when posters can't say what they feel without someone ready to sweep in and tell them how wrong they are.
I have no intention of entering a discussion like that. All I can offer is my heartfelt view and possibly a small amount of comfort to another fan of the series.
I think you have taken my post out of context. It wasn't about a ship so much as about how and why I view the series the way I do and why I adore Joss Whedon. More than that it was about the "feeling" and "emotion" that this series generates within me and a desire to reach out to another fan who is obviously hurting.
Sorry I didn't reply sooner, work has been a bitch.

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