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Whedonesque - a community weblog about Joss Whedon
"I can see the maudlin segment of tonight's binge is in full swing."
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February 24 2008

The Buffy guide to the Internet - 1997 style. Cause you can never have enough "I Robot, You Jane" discussion.

A fairly interesting analysis of the episode there. I've always been interested by how TV and movies portray computers and the internet. Usually, fairly ridiculously.

Also, I know I'm in the minority on this one, but I really like I Robot, You Jane. The first season is, in my opinion, the weakest season of Buffy, just by virtue of it being so short and lacking much in the way of an over-arching arc. But it does have some delightful stand alone episodes, like The Puppet Show, The Pack (my favorite episode of the first season), and I Robot, You Jane.
Totally with the guy on the short-skirt-and-boots ensemble. Shallow shallow me.
one glaring error in the article... unless was experiencing some weird time travel around that time, I remember sitting in my halls at uni watching buffy in early 1998, and as it was only a half season I doubt it would have taken a whole year to get to I robot, you jane!

other than that I enjoyed it
What I loved about early-Buffy was that Willow could find ANYTHING online. Police files, autopsy results, sewer plans, demon biographies etc.
And why did it take Buffy until S7 to get a cellphone?

Jaynesgirl, I believe Sky transmitted early Buffy before the BBC, could you have seen it there?
if you look really carefully at Willows computer screen in early BTVS, it says PlotDeviceOS on the screen.
I Robot, You Jane was first broadcast on Sky One in the UK on 21 February 1998 and subsequently on BBC2 on 24 February 1999. BBC first began its broadcast of the show on 20 December 1998.

I adore the first season. It is clearly not the best, but it remains my favourite. I've always loved 'I Robot You, You Jane'. I think we all know that the depiction of the use of PCs and laptops, etc, in television and films is usually verging on the ludicrous. I doesn't really bother me, to be honest.
Heh, that was a fun read. My favourite (aka most hated) computer-related mistake in Buffy is in the season 2 episode "Passion", where Angel falls into the classic bad television trap of "MwaHaHaaaa, I destroy your computer and all the files on it by smashing the screen!" A great shame, as it is an otherwise great epiode. *sigh*
Definitely one of the weaker S1 eps IMO but it still has fun bits.

Whether every email address in 1997 came equipped with a 'profile' based on a 'user name' that you could look up if you received an 'e-letter', well, that's another matter.

For the youngsters, this might be "knowledge" from way before 1997. Used to be (when the net basically ran on some variety of Unix and a lot of email addresses were from academic institutions) that you could "finger" someone, based on their username/email address, and get some information back about them (a lot of which was, indeed, entered by the person themselves in e.g. a ".plan" file). The rise of the web and home net access has largely seen the end of finger as a useful resource outside universities though (or maybe US high-schools ;).

And though there was no geo-IP backtracing etc. in 1997, ISPs tended to be smaller, more local affairs so that "dave@thebigfizz.com" could yield at least the general locale where Dave lives and if they included their surname - "davejones@thebiggfizz.com" - with a combination of simple, publicly available white pages services you could sometimes get right down to the street and house. Did it for a laugh once to a few random email addys on Usenet and it scared the bejesus out of me. Even today i'd suggest people think twice before including their surname in publicly available email addresses (though it's much harder to narrow it down now that ISPs tend to be large, multi-branch companies and it never worked on e.g. AOL).
I like his comment on Willow and Malcolm chatting:
"The next computer interlude features Willow and 'Malcolm' using some kind of instant messaging interface. I guess, maybe in 1997, the screen-names 'M' and 'W' might have still been unclaimed."
That was funny. I love the tiny scanner (skimmer) on the big book pages. Even I noticed that.
Ha, good article. Makes me think of Profit and the funny computers on that show. "I'll modem it to you..."
That was a nice article. I don't rate the episode much myself - except for the last scene, between Giles and Jenny, which is probably amongst my top-twenty scenes from the whole series. Just wish it'd been bolted onto a better episode than this.
I always thought it was too big of an idea to be done and dusted in one episode - so it felt a bit rushed and peremptory to me. And Moloch-robot clearly escaped from the Buck Rogers back-lot. But there were some choice moments, to be sure, especially the final fountain scene between B, X, and W.

(And I completely forgot that Joe's brother, Thomas Swyden, cowrote the episode . . .)

Reminiscingly, I saw the Internet for the very first time in 1995, but didn't really use it again until mid-1996. For a long while I really thought one could scoop out municipal plans at will a la Rosenberg.
I assumed Thomas A. Swyden was a nom de plume, but thought it might have been Joe himself. It was his brother, then?

The computers look old, but we actually still have a few monitors where I teach which look pretty much the same.
SNT, so glad you're back, I was running out of posis cards! Welcome back, old man, we've missed you.
The phrase "jacked-in" is my favorite part of that episode. My memory of 1997 is a little fuzzy, but I don't think I've ever heard a real person say that, ever.
"The next computer interlude features Willow and 'Malcolm' using some kind of instant messaging interface. I guess, maybe in 1997, the screen-names 'M' and 'W' might have still been unclaimed."

Although your onscreen name isn't always the same as the username you registered with in IM programs. MSN is one example that I know of. My log in name is my full name, but within the program you can change your name to whatever you want. And I'm pretty sure that it's always been that way. So Willow could have registered with a proper username and chosen W as her onscreen name.


I agree that the use of computers in Buffy was often ludicrous, but I do sort of have an affection for it, such as Willow's ability to access any type of information imaginable and hack into any system. Having characters sitting alone whilst speaking the words they're typing is really annoying though.

One event that really annoyed me was Willow tracing the source of the Trio's secret cameras in Entropy. I may not be a computer hacker but I seriously doubt that tracing a camera would look so ridiculous.

I actually think it would be more interesting for them to analyse shows which do use computers much more convincingly, at least for average users, such as 24. I can't recall any obviously ridiculous computer moments in 24, although the fact that they are much more complicated tasks than those that most people would be familiar with.
As a very heavily technical computer user (and yes, once named hacker in the media in the depths of my past) I can safely say that nearly all computer use in media is completely and utterly ridiculous, Razor. I mean, there's only one motion picture I can think of which made an effort to look vaguely plausible, and that was the 2nd Matrix film (which shows Trinity nmapping and brute forcing a system via SSH passwords - kudos, although it's incredibly simplified). The reality is computer hacking is incredibly boring for 95% of the time, an incredibly slow and involved process and involves complete concentration - which isn't good for drama.

But in all honesty, I don't care. "Juno" is my new favourite film ever. It is flat out brilliant from start to finish, and is the closest thing to a joss Whedon film in the cinema you're going to see in the near future by the looks of it. It's central plot point is adoption. Is adoption tackled in it in a realistic fashion? No. It's exploration of adoption is mythic, but that's not what the film is about - adoption is a plot device for a character drama. Much like Willow's computer (mis)usage.
Yep, genuine (if old and - hopefully - long patched) SSH vulnerability and a shout out to the very handy, slightly venerable nmap (i'm so not a hacker that I actually suck hack out of any room I walk into but nmap's also useful for general network auditing on the cheap). 'Wargames' was also fairly realistic in an old school stylee (and even showed it taking Lightman at least days, possibly longer, to get into Joshua/WOPR) then went a bit wobbly once he actually gets in.

If you're at all technical though you just have to get over it, otherwise you'd never watch films again.

OT but I really liked 'Juno' too. It's maybe a little bit too consciously hip and cool and the dialogue, though brilliant, isn't exactly realistic but all in all, fab. Ellen Page, man, that kid is destined for big things I reckon. Everyone was good though, might be the best job i've seen from Jennifer Garner.
Gossi:
Juno" is my new favourite film ever. It is flat out brilliant from start to finish, and is the closest thing to a joss Whedon film in the cinema you're going to see in the near future by the looks of it.


Right there with you - loved it. Modern cinema needs more Mott the Hoople - especially singing a song that always makes me think of the Scoobies and how damn long it took for them to realise (or, in Buffy's case, never) how thoroughly cool Giles is.

[ edited by Wemb on 2008-02-25 00:01 ]
Hah, Wemb - me and a friend are just setting up a music night in Liverpool called "Nice Cushions", which is inspired by the music from Juno.
Aw, that last fountain scene between the three of them is like one of my absolute favorites from the first season. Ah, memories.

P.S. Has anyone else read the back synopsis of each season DVD set here in the UK? They're hilarious! They're so over the top and awkwardly phrased, and I wanted to buy them just for the descriptions! They read like a Spanish telenovella (if Spanish telenovellas were written in English). Alas, PAL would ultimately prove futile on my home DVD viewing apparati once my semester abroad is finished.

[ edited by cookiepartier on 2008-02-25 04:47 ]
Everyone was good though, might be the best job i've seen from Jennifer Garner.

Easily the best thing she's ever done.
That was a really creepy article. Fun, goofy episode, though; I remember it fondly :)

That was a really, really, really creepy article.
I watched 'Supersymmetry' (Angel, 4-05) last night after reading this thread, and it made me wonder about what a physicist would make of Fred's theories and formulae - any basis in real science?
The phrase "jacked-in" is my favorite part of that episode. My memory of 1997 is a little fuzzy, but I don't think I've ever heard a real person say that, ever.


:) Ah, young William Gibson fans... I've used the phrase, jokingly, in front of other Gibson fans.

I, too, quite enjoyed Juno. Too consciously clever to be perfect, for me, but I did love it and there were some seriously great performances in it. On that note, if anyone hasn't seen Once, they are missing out, as Oscar reminded us last night. Was sooooo happy to see Hansard/Irglova take home the award for best original song. No offense, but the songs from Enchanted could've been written by a small, slightly randomizing shell script -see? Still on topic!

Sidenote, anyone who needs a multi-region, NTSC and PAL capable DVD player that's not too expensive ($169 - $229, and beats $3500 Denon decks) should check out Oppo Digital's players. Love 'em!
Ooh! Thanks for the multi-region DVD player tip! I'm going to look into that.

Also, to stay on topic, I think the article writer was a little hard on the episode at some places. If they were writing a "For Dummies" book on tech specs, then I'd fine-tooth comb it, but since it's a television show with, ultimately, other goals, I'd say nit-picking is just a waste of time, really.
zeitgeist - Definitely with you on ONCE. We saw it at the theater thrice ;) (and saw Glen and Marketa when they came to town ... awesome, tears-streaming-down-the-face awesome, show).

I have this dream universe I visit, where Joss Whedon puts Glen & Marketa into a show someday ... The kind of humanity on display in Whedon's work would jibe very well with the honesty of their performances, IMO. Plus, Joss needs to use the word "Busker" in a screenplay anyway; he's good with slightly offbeat words.
I watched 'Supersymmetry' (Angel, 4-05) last night after reading this thread, and it made me wonder about what a physicist would make of Fred's theories and formulae - any basis in real science?


It's funny, supersymetry or the "string theory" was also mentioned in an episode of The West Wing, and it always makes me think of Fred when I watch it :)
This was quite well done- as a person who has dismissed 'I Robot' a little too quickly in the past, it is always good to get some fresh perspective. Has it ever actually been confirmed that it was Joss doing the radio announcer voice in this, or am I hallucinating again?

(And Dervish, speaking of 'Passion' I watched it on Sunday to commemorate a decade since the original US air date. Where does the time go?!)
"I can't recall any obviously ridiculous computer moments in 24..."

Here's one of the most common TV/movie errors in portraying computer technology...

Investigator and computer person are looking through some CCTV footage and stop on one frame. Investigator asks computer person to zoom on some feature of interest, e.g. a face. Computer pesron obliges, but zoomed feature is blurry, so s/he presses the magic button that converts a blurry unrecognisable image into a crisp high-resolution picture, the extra detail appearing out of nowhere!!!

These magic buttons occur even in otherwise quite sensible productions, almost certainly including "24", though I can't remember for sure.

(Now I bet someone will point out that I'm wrong, and explain how there's actually some way in which this is technically feasible!)

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