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April 08 2007

"The Physics of the Buffyverse" are discussed on NPR. Liane Hansen discusses the scientific facts behind the fiction with author Jennifer Ouellette in a segment of NPR's Weekend Edition.

(It's presently 7am PST/10am ET. The audio will be available online at at about 10am PST/1pm ET.)

[ edited by AmazonGirl on 2007-04-08 15:24 ]

Thanks for this cool link. I'm sure I'm just the last to know, but I was thrilled to see that Joss had been interviewed on Fresh Air back in '02, and can't wait to have a listen. Talk about a sweet spot. (If Elvis Costello was in the studio, playing faintly in the background, and Terry & Joss were eating cheese off each other's heads throughout the interview, I would know for certain that this was a Restless-inspired herding together all of my favorite things in one place taking place in my sleepy, addled brain.)
I listen to weekend edition practically every Sunday, and heard them mention that later in the hour they'd talk about the physics of Buffy but first they had to do a piece about Pope Benedict. Considering where we were led to believe Buffy ended up near the end of the Angel tv series, I found that very amusing. Unfortunately I was called away from the radio for several minutes and when I came back it was already the top of the hour, so I missed the Buffy bit completely. Thankfully, NPR puts their stuff on the Web.

Elsewhere on that page we get to see a summary of the respectful lip service that NPR has given to Buffy over the years. From their "Buffy Studies" piece some years ago they feature this quote:

“We are at the point where we're developing textual studies of Buffy and debates about what constitutes the actual text of Buffy.” -Buffy Studies academic David Lavery, professor of English at Middle Tennessee State University

Does anyone know if that debate was ever resolved? If I wrote a respectful short story about characters from the Buffy universe - Buffy fanfic - while it would of course be apocryphal, would it still be considered "actual text of Buffy"? If Jane Espenson wrote a Buffyesque novel, would hers be actual text of Buffy? I've always found this ongoing debate rather humorous, but never heard if a solution had been uncovered. The debate has been waged for at least a decade now. Did the great professors and historians and students of literature of the day ever come to a suitable conclusion?
Wow. Hagfish mucus and Buffy in the same interview. I'm sorry I missed this on the air but I'm glad you listed it here, AmazonGirl.
I enjoyed the interview and the fact that it might encourage young people to study science, but while Ouellette offers a few interesting parallels, Buffy is fiction and made up of beings and magic and dimensions beyond our ken. Since there isn't really "magic," Ouellette's book can't explain it. The show is what it is, and while scholarly papers and books on the characters are interesting, I don't want to think about a real science behind it all. That takes away the mysteriousness of it for me, and makes it mundane, and the show is anything but that. It's just what it is, something that would be highly interesting if it did exist (though I could do without a curfew to avoid vamps).

I do love though that the weird orbit was dubbed "Buffy" by the astronomers.

[ edited by Tonya J on 2007-04-08 19:23 ]
It really seems less like she is trying to "explain" the magic in Buffy, and more like she is trying to use some aspects of monsters, dimensions, and the like as imagined in the buffyverse, to make some scientific concepts more intriguing to the nonscientist, and get us layperson types more interested in science. As being fun. Which is, you know, fine, if a little random.
I still don't think Buffy is the most natural jumping off point for this stuff but most of these 'Science of' books just use the show as a sort of 'in' to talk about science in general so not as random as all that.

Not read the book but the fact that Buffy is all about magic and not science could actually be a great way to talk about conservation of energy, belief vs knowledge etc. I.e. as a way to point out why magic doesn't work in our universe and maybe have a crack at reducing 'superstitious thinking' in general. Also, did it strike anyone else strange that it's supposedly about the physics of the Buffyverse but she kept giving biological examples in the interview ? Not selling it that well from what i've seen so far.

(the weird Kuiper asteroid was only actually temporarily named 'Buffy', BTW. Just like 'Xena' - now called 'Eris' - it'll get a different official name eventually)
I've seen Jennifer's presentation of this, given to a packed house of scientists. She explains the physics behind the operation of a crossbow, what sort of physics are involved in an exploding head, and closes with the comment that while the world isn't magic, it is, in fact, wonderous.

It's a way to teach physics to a lay audience.

Ouellette isn't confused about the fiction, she's a fan who watched the show and then thought, "this is how that would work." That's all there is to it, and her presentation makes you laugh and clap, especially when she shows the part when a portal opens in Supersymmetry when Fred is giving a presentation, and it's textbook theory.
Then I wish they had talked about that more in the audio that was linked, because the overall idea of her book would have made more sense to me.
I wish they had talked about things other than mucus and slime though. When I realized there was a Buffy story on Weekend Edition I thought, oh good, I can send it to my friends who think Buffy is too childish to be interested in, and they'll see that it get's respectful treatment on NPR, and that it's worth seeing. And then we get lots of talk about slime and mucus demons, both of which were extremely minor in the Buffy world, though you'd never know it from this discussion. Yeah, that'll pull in the viewers.
This does seem to be the weekend for NPR and favorite genre shows. On yesterday's "This American Life" Ira Glass interviews real-life astronaut Marsha Ivins (it even says that on her business card), who talks about watching space shows, "Farscape", "Battlestar Galactica" and how the Borg got it right. You can listen to it by downloading the episode at the following link. The television stuff is about five minutes into the show.
did it strike anyone else strange that it's supposedly about the physics of the Buffyverse but she kept giving biological examples in the interview ?

Aren't the two sciences supposed to be congruent, if not entirely now, then eventually?

Still, "Science Vaguely Suggested by the Buffyverse" might be a more accurate title.
What is this--grumpy science geeks? There's no such thing as bad publicity for the Whedonverse!

Nice set of links to other NPR BtVS stories, too.
"Whedonverse Deemed Root of All Evil, Causes Blindness in Puppies. Film at 11"

(never understood the whole 'no such thing as bad publicity' idea ;)

Not sure dreamlogic. I wonder if maybe even though biology is obviously based on physics there may be concepts in biology that aren't readily explainable (possibly even in principle) at that sort of fundamental level. That aside though, in common usage 'biology' and 'physics' are clearly different things, as I (and others) have said, just seems like she's not selling the book in interviews etc. as well as she might.

That said, unconvinced as I was, i've still just ordered it on impulse so she must've done enough. Or i'm an obsessive buyer of books. It's still an open question ;).
I don't know if you're an obsessive book buyer in general, Saje, but you're definitely obsessive about the Whedon. Well, who isn't? (I have three bookcases in a studio apt. and there's room for more ... you'll have to show me yours if I ever make it to England).
Saje and Tonya J: Ever since books have become so easy to order online,, I have been fighting a losing battle with impulse control. I have bookshelves in every room, some are two books deep, no room for more, and yet...
My latest ploy for tricking myself is to get them ordered, except fo the last step, and try to wait a couple of days to see if I still want them. Unfortunately, I usually do.

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