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September 04 2010

Art Nation: Buffy as a Guilty Pleasure. Aussie TV series Art Nation has featured a segment on Buffy being a Guilty Pleasure where writer/performer Casey Bennetto discusses the influence of OMwF on his own musicals.

The video is on the site so I swapped the URL etc.
If Buffy is a guilty pleasure to you then your guilt is clearly broken and I recommend you seek immediate professional assistance from your nearest Catholic church or synagogue ;).

(I get that it's an affectation of the segment though, similar to 'Room 101')

And the old chestnut about the show "kind of losing its way" after they left high-school. Let the "Oh no it didn't"s commence ;).
Throwing in my "Oh no it didn't" first then...

The "kind of losing its way" accusation always comes across to me as "I prefer my shows to stick to the exact same formula from beginning to end. Change is BAD!". I've rarely heard anyone give a reason for why they didn't like later seasons of Buffy that didn't basically boil down to the fact that they missed the library and Giles in tweed.

I think many people miss the point that season 4 was all about losing your way. All of the central characters found themselves in unfamiliar surroundings, struggling to find their path again. I can understand how that might make the show itself feel like it had lost direction, especially if you are of the opinion that young television show characters should never change or evolve and should live out their entire fictional existences stuck in twenty-something high-school, but thankfully Joss didn't write Buffy that way.
'Guilty' pleasure? In what way?! Surely just pure, wholesome, shame-free pleasure.
Somebody told me musicals were widely considered a guilty pleasure a year ago. I still haven't worked out why.
Musicals/dancing are the new vampires.
That was just... awesome. xD Except the thing at the end about the show "losing its way." Idiot.
It's not a guilty pleasure for me! I'm a Buffy Academic!
Preaching to the choir of course, but Buffy is so much more than a "guilty pleasure". True Blood is a guilty pleasure. Or Desperate Housewives (not my guilty pleasure mind you, I loath it).

And thank you RockPagan, for sparing me the typing of my usual defense of the "BtS lost it's way after the high school seasons" argument. You expressed it perfectly.
I agree that Buffy did kinda "lose its way" (cue the shouts of protest), but only for bits in the first few episodes. Like the Parker bits. After she got rid of Parker and her infatuation with him faded, everything went back to normal. Just like in real life.
Protest ! Protest !

(I also have rotten fruit and vegetables if you like)
To write or tell a story is an act of sublimation. The writer puts them self in the role of "the other." They walk in different shoes from their own. The opinions and points of view they portray are often not their own. That's what I figure that guy was doing. I figure it would be a guilty pleasure for someone who's peers find it odd. Main stream America certainly doesn't get it. I find I get a lot of those "O-kaaay" looks and abrupt subject changes myself. (I'm never gonna pass my proselytizer test for the Church of Whedon.)


It's never bothered me that people thought that BtVS "lost it's way" after season three. I thought that they had a point. I'm not sure though that what they were reacting to was really the loss of the high school years. If I may be so bold as to presume (and I think I will ;-) ), I think what they were really reacting to was the loss of a strongly realized thematic metaphor. The "high school as hell" thing was really well done, but the "exploration and confusion of becoming an adult"...not so much. I contend that it wasn't manifested as clearly as the high school one. I think evidence for this position is partly in the viewer response to the show. I don't think the "lost it" response can just be dismissed as people "not getting it." Season's two and three consistently rank as the over all favorites every time one of those lists come up. (I'm not saying that other people don't have other favorites, just that when there are votes, those are the top two.) And I think the reason for this was the strongly realized theme. Season four had the Initiative and Adam as the big bad. I'm still not sure what that has to do with the "exploration and confusion" theme--and it should have something to do with it.

Themes are subliminal, they are felt. And then they are the cause of tortuous essays. But I think we can skip that bit. Basically I'm saying I don't think the general audience was feeling the theme, hence all the "lost it" comments. Which means... If that was their true intention, the writers failed to some extent. It happens. And I'm sure it happens much more easily during the chaotic production process of a tv show. Everything in a story is supposed to reflect the structural element of the chosen theme. That's what makes it a story--as opposed to life.


Do we know by the way, that "the confusion and exploration of becoming an adult" were the definitive themes of season four? I feel like I remember Joss saying that somewhere, but my mind for specific details is not the best. And was it supposed to be the theme for the rest of the series or did it change each season, and if so what were the other themes they explored?
"Guilty pleasure?" How inane. Buffy is a pleasure, much the same as good food, good drink and good friends are.
I always felt the theme just expanded from high school is hell to growing up is hell.

They seemed to try to hit all the most obvious freshman girl horrors in the first few episodes of s4 and then move on. Upper classmen demons, roommate demon, belt-noching guy who targets freshmen girls (doesn't need to be made into a demon)all needed to be addressed. One of her mean professors (had to hit those too) was originally going to be the big bad which would have worked with the having traded high school hell for college hell, but that had to be changed and they ended up with Adam...not my personal favorite. But having a professor turning students into Frankenstein monsters who then betray her does still work with the college theme.

For the rest of the show she continues growing up and having more crap to deal with...just like in life. Dealing with a teenage sibling, loss of a parent, being surrogate parent to a teenager, (hell if I ever heard it) sacrifice of yourself for someone you love, survival, depression, getting sexually involved with a dangerous partner, recovery, self-doubt, etc. are all hellish things people deal with growing up and Buffy had them all. Until I came on line, it never occurred to me that the show had lost it's way at all. I thought it had carried it's theme forward very consistently and I was incredibly impressed...even awed. Still am.
I always felt the theme just expanded from high school is hell to growing up is hell.

... to being grown up is hell. Yep, 'bout says it.

Said before that I sort of agree that the episodic storytelling engine never purred quite as smoothly after they left high-school (because at that age and in that sort of controlled environment lines are clearer and individual experiences so distinct and meaningful) but the show as a whole really just kept ticking along as far as I could tell, it felt like it did the same as it always had - examined life through a metaphorical lens. Without moving on, without change, there's no way BtVS could be the show it is - which is to say, among other things, one of THE best rites of passage stories ever told, on TV or otherwise.
newj - yeah, I've never really gotten the whole highly vocal "lost it" thing either. Season four is one of my favorites and even the much bashed Season six is very special to me. I'm right there beside you, feeling the awe.

I do think though that structurally speaking, the later seasons aren't as tight thematically. (You really think "growing up is hell" was the theme? ... Huh.) Maybe they didn't end up as tight 's because of the AtS start up. Maybe it's because they were stretching their creative chops (always a hit and miss thing to do). Who knows? I do think though, that if enough people have the same reaction to a work of art, it's worth considering that they might have a point, even if one doesn't feel/think the same thing. (It's certainly never bothered my personal enjoyment though. I guess that wasn't where it came from...)

And by the way, I'm not saying BtVS didn't need to move on. Of course it did. I'm just saying structurally, some things could have been done better. I wish I had some examples to pull off the top of my head right now, but it's been too long since I re-watched it and I don't know that I've ever watched it for these specific issues. I guess it's something to look forward to during the next viewing. Well, that's one of the ways that you know how great a show it is; it can be re-watched so many times for so many different things. : )

One of the things that might have helped imo, is if they had mined the college experience more fully. I always felt like they barely touched upon its possibilities--and it was supposed to be the framework for exploration, as I understand it.


I guess growing up was hell after high school... Well, it was hard anyways. But what I really remember is this sense of new possibilities that I never felt in high school. Confusing and overwhelming possibilities maybe, but it was waaay better than what had gone on before.

Edited because my smile had something in it's eye.

[ edited by BreathesStory on 2010-09-05 21:02 ]
But what I really remember is this sense of new possibilities that I never felt in high school.

Sure but those possibilities are also a contributer to charges of shapelessness i.e. university - or just life after school - is more free-form, less well defined which is what makes it so exciting in reality and also what makes it harder to write to a clear through-line for in fiction (high-school has it's own clear through-line, uni needs one adding).

And i'd say "high-school is hell", "growing up is hell" and "being grown up is hell" are three broad descriptions of S1-7 but clearly you could break it down further. S4 felt to me to be about finding your identity and place in the world for instance, university traditionally being a time of "trying on" new personae (Willow blossoms and comes out, Xander starts looking for work he can be happy doing, Buffy struggles to find her place, at first looking to a rigid hierarchical structure, Giles struggles similarly but goes in entirely the opposite direction and so on).
I agree that each season explored its own more specific themes starting with s1. How about: Discovery and acceptance of who we are and what the world is really like for S1? Love is not always smart; people we love can betray us for all different reasons for S2? We all have inner demons that we have to deal with and how you deal with them determines what kind of human being or monster you are for s3?

I can't continue right now, but you get the idea...
We Lutherans know a good bit about guilt and I never felt guilty about being a Buffan.

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