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May 25 2008

Buffy Mentioned on NPR—Again. In a program on geeks and nerds, author Holly Black uses Buffy as an example of when geeks began to be cool. And, unrelatedly, an amusing BtVS/Angel mention in the L.A. Times' review of the Hallmark Channel movie "Shark Swarm," directed by the familiar name of James A. Contner.

Sorry to hijack your thread, swanjun, but I didn't think the Times reference deserved its own and, selfishly, I'd be interested in hearing members' reactions to the following relevant passage:

There were times when I wondered if "Shark Swarm," written by Matthew Chernov and David Rosiak, was satire; after all, it's directed by James A. Contner, of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel." But if it is, it's ultra-sneaky, subtle satire, because the most hilarious aspect of "Shark Swarm" is its, pardon the pun, deadly earnestness.


Anyone else scratching their head over this insinuation that BtVS and Angel were satire? Perhaps certain characters were, loosely speaking (Principal Skinner erm, Snyder, the Mayor), but overall?

[ edited by SoddingNancyTribe on 2008-05-26 14:55 ]
Now I'm going to be a public radio nitpicker and say that PRI is not the same thing as NPR. PRI brings you shows like To the Best of Our Knowledge and This American Life, and is friends with NPR but is not actually part of NPR. This information is of little use except to other nitpickers.
They aren't satire. Certain aspects are slightly satirical of the horror genre--such as twisting around the convention that the blond cheerleader who is the usual victim is actually the hero. But even that stretching the definition of satire. I think of BtVS as more allegorical than satire. The diference being that BtVS was about showing and celebrating the hero's journey using fantastical elements, not heigtening her flaws and foibles to point out the flaws of all heroes in general.
Anyone else scratching their head over this insinuation that BtVS and Angel were satire? Perhaps certain characters were, loosely speaking (Principal Skinner, the Mayor), but overall?


Principal Skinner?
I took the LA Times writer to mean that as she knew James Contner had done much better work on Buffy/Angel maybe Shark Swarm was supposed to be bad as a satire of that type of movie.

[ edited by Derf on 2008-05-25 20:12 ]
Heh, Principal Skinner. And Mayor Quimby? (Both of whom are satirical characters.)
Well, there we three principals on BtVS. Principal Flutie (eaten by hyena possessed bullies). Principal Snyder (eaten by a snake). Principal Wood last seen alive... waiting to see who eats him. Unless, he will survive that end seeing as he retired before something Sunnydale based ate him. Although, he sure did come close. That's funny, satire like... right? ;)

But to return on topic. I actually didn't care either way about being a geek until I fell into the endless Whedon pit. Now I a happy and proud to be a geek (with good taste lol).
Sorry to hijack your thread, swanjun
No biggie. :)
Now I'm going to be a public radio nitpicker and say that PRI is not the same thing as NPR. PRI brings you shows like To the Best of Our Knowledge and This American Life, and is friends with NPR but is not actually part of NPR. This information is of little use except to other nitpickers.
Oh, I didn't realize this was a PRI show. I generally do know which are what, but I'm fairly unfamiliar with this program. It just happened to be on, and happened to be talking about geeks, and I had to leave it on until the guy came on and said what the name of it was. :)
Calling BtVS satire is even more of a stretch than trying to fit the show exclusively in the horror genre. Absolutely there are elements of satire; I think that Reptile Boy is a great example of satiring fraternities.

But occasional use of satire does not a satire make. When I think of satire, I think of Monty Python or many of the shows on Comedy Central nowadays.
BtVS, on the other hand, has so many more elements that it truly is impossible to categorize, which is something that's been said by creators, reviewers, and the brilliant persons on this site. I don't think satire ever came in the list of the top 5 genres the show hits, though...

And how much effect can a director have on satire? I'd think that it would be mostly the writers who would intentionally put it in the script, though I guess the director could have some influence in the actors' portrayals of the characters to push it into satire. But if it's not intended to be satire, I hardly think that a director could have much to do with making it so.

I think that somewhere, Jonathan Swift is laughing his arse off.
I think the premise of Buffy might be construed as a satire of horror films where the little blonde chick is all helpless. But really, it's more of an answer or spin of same, I think.
I have seen "Shark Swarm" via a preview copy. I noticed James Contner's name as director, but since I couldn't find anything to link to (kudos, swanjun!), I hadn't mentioned it. I was all set to keep that very hallucinogenic experience to myself, at least whedonesque-wise, but since there's now a thread, I have somewhere to talk about what has got to be one of the most bizarre things I've ever seen in terms of something that has an exploitation premise, an exploitation title -- and then, never mind satire, but less *blood* than an episode of "Buffy" or "Angel" (you know, the episodes with no blood? Those episodes). Okay, to be strictly true, there is a *little* blood -- sharks swim toward person, person yells, cut away to top of ocean surface, a bit of blood in the water with no trace of shark or person. Now, you don't need to be a gorehound to find something a little weird at this level of squeamishness in something called "Shark Swarm." The movie is also incredibly earnest. The version I saw is also, without commercials, one hundred and sixty-four minutes long (I'm guessing what I saw is the miniseries version). I'm delighted Mr. Contner is still gainfully employed and I recommend this as something to watch if you don't feel well, can't sleep and need some sort of audio/visual experience that makes you feel that you are watching entertainment being beamed over from some other planet.

As to "Buffy" and "Angel" being satire -- "Buffy" and "Angel" are certainly self-aware, which "Shark Swarm" is not. Perhaps the reviewer was trying to quickly sum up the concept of characters that are self-aware and aware of their pop culture antecedents and used the word "satire" as imprecise shorthand. I fear I'm using imprecise shorthand also, but for example, everybody in "Buffy" knows who Dracula is and most of them know who Bram Stoker is/was. Nobody in "Shark Swarm" seems to have heard of "Jaws," Peter Benchley or even Snidely Whiplash.
Hmm I agree with Derf above that I took the writer to mean that she's seen Contner's work previously and that he is much better than "Shark Swarm", and so wonders if it is purposely bad.
I haven't seen "Shark Swarm" but based on the way the article described it, I find that comparison a little insulting to both series.

Both Btvs and Ats were series with with so many elements involved that it's impossible to put a definitive moniker to either. There were moments of satire as well as horror, romance, drama, comedy and science fiction.


Maybe if the Times reference had been to Buffy the Vampire Slayer the movie, I'd have agreed.
Ah, but the BtVS movie should be mentioned as little as possible, menomegirl.

I kind of want to see this solely to make fun of it, but the last time I watched something with the sole purpose of mockery (Spice World), I ended up making it my "ignore and laugh occasionally while building my IKEA furniture" movie.

Though I pity Contner for being associated with this, since we know how good he can be. But those poor actors...this sounds like a fate worse than Disney.
Principal Skinner?

Indeed. This is my brain on kids . . . :-)
Kids stopped watching the simpsons years ago

[ edited by mark on 2008-05-26 02:10 ]
Well, there you are. Welcome back, SNT, we've missed you:)
Hmm, the movie, the movie.

You know, I think I could sit through Btvs (well, okay, that'a a lie...but I'd totally fast-forward through it) most of the movie just to watch that locker-room scene where Merrick throws a knife at Buffy and she catches it.
Hah! The knife scene is one good part. "This is a naked place!"

It's funny, because the movie came out when I was four, and it scared the crap out of me. It was that which convinced my parents that I shouldn't watch the TV show. I had to rebel, and finally did as a teenager, around S5 or so.

So I have a little vendetta against the movie and its keeping me from watching the show from the beginning when I heard of it.
Ironically, the Simpsons are another show that I wasn't allowed to watch, because it taught my older siblings to be disrespectful.

Back on topic: it's kind of cool that NPR realizes how awesome BtVS is, because that might serve to interest listeners, which would serve to convert more people, which would mean more fans of Joss's, which would mean more watchers of Dollhouse, which would lead to the show's success...and many, many happy seasons.

*Catches train of thought, holds on until it crashes.*
That would mean Emmys for Eliza and the rest, which would mean more prestige for Joss and his actors, which would mean more shows from Joss, which would mean that Fox decides to give Firefly another try...
*BOOM* Okay, I'm done.
A little off topic but a little on topic, I was listening to This American Life driving home from work today, and the show topic was prom. They mentioned Buffy in a list of pop culture entities that featured a prom.
Aw, boo, I missed TAL this weekend.

I remember a few years ago listening to TAL and falling in love with Sarah Vowell. I went out and bought all her books. To my delight, her essay "The Nerd Voice" included her opinion on why Gore lost the election: he was a know-it-all nerd, and people dislike know-it-all nerds. She said Joss should have run Gore's campaign, because Joss knew how to create self-deprecating nerds like Willow--the kind of nerds people like. As if I couldn't love Sarah Vowell enough.

Whenever people roll their eyes when I tell them BtVS is one of my favorite shows, I like to point out that everyone in NPR world loves Joss. :)

[ edited by Dizzy on 2008-05-26 19:08 ]
BtVS is actual horror (albeit horror lite). A horror satire would use horror tropes to mock the horror genre whereas Buffy mostly used horror tropes as genuine horror tropes i.e. to horrify. If a satire actually becomes the thing it's satirising then I think it's probably failed on some level.

It subverted a lot of the old clichés though and satire is most definitely subversive so they've things in common (in the same way that 'Scream' subverted a lot of horror movie clichés by having characters that were aware of horror movie clichés while still being a horror movie in and of itself).
I loved the review of Shark Swarm, what a great title - I wonder if it'll be released on DVD.
Silvius, you aren't actually thinking of seeing it, are you??
I remember a few years ago listening to TAL and falling in love with Sarah Vowel. I went out and bought all her books. To my delight, her essay "The Nerd Voice" included her opinion on why Gore lost the election: he was a know-it-all nerd, and people dislike know-it-all nerds. She said Joss should have run Gore's campaign, because Joss knew how to create self-deprecating nerds like Willow--the kind of nerds people like. As if I couldn't love Sarah Vowel enough.
I've long been meaning to read her stuff. I think this seals the deal.
Swanjun, Sarah Vowell is made of awesome. She's my girl-crush. She's nerdy and smart and funny and friends with everyone I want to be friends with. If I remember correctly, the title of "The Nerd Voice" came from something her friend Doug Petrie said to her. She and Doug talk a lot about BtVS in that essay, including how Giles was an old-school nerd, and how Doug envisioned Wesley as a George Stephanopoulos type, and why Joss insisted on making him British.

[ edited by Dizzy on 2008-05-26 19:12 ]
I think it's the satire that many people miss when they are only vaguely acquainted with the show. It's teen drama, it's horror, it's action, it's romance, it's comedy, and it satirizes them all for various purposes.

For example, the ad NPR played over and over for the segment last week (I missed the segment, but not the ads) contained a quote where Buffy said something typically teenage and, without context, seemingly quite shallow. I think it was about breaking a nail. The show gets misunderstood quite often, and I think that's got a lot to do with it-- on a quick first glance, Buffy's just a teenage girl worrying about her nails. A lot of the depth comes from its subversive elements that often deliberately play to your expectations-- like the first scene in the pilot-- and then turn the tables completely on them. And that's satire of whatever genre gave you that expectation. It's a two-way street. 1) You thought Darla was in danger with that guy? Surprise! 2) Isn't it aggravating how that's what always happens on horror shows when really she could be powerfully evil?
Hmm, not convinced. I really don't think BtVS mocked its source genres though it certainly subverted them and used our expectations based on its clichés to surprise us.

Satire surely has an element of derision for its inspiration and I never got that impression from either Joss or the show. Always seemed like Joss liked horror but felt (rightly IMO) that it needed tweaking. Still, irony abounds in BtVS (from the title on up ;) and irony's one of satire's keenest tools so maybe it was (or maybe the middle ground is to satirise a genre's clichés while still respecting the genre itself ?).
A lot of the depth comes from its subversive elements that often deliberately play to your expectations

I agree with this, but I wouldn't call it satire. For example, the nail-breaking line wasn't satirizing shallow teens, it was showing us that on certain level Buffy was a "shallow" teen--though of course, she was much more than that.

Now, Andrew's video showing Buffy with the wind blowing through her hair and Anya eating the grapes--that was satire. (Until we got to Faith the Vulcan-killer, of course, which was just funny.)

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