Academic conference studies Whedon Universe

by Paul William Tenny

Whedon directing James Marsters in "Buffy"
No, I'm not joking about this. Yes, there is a lot we could all learn from the Joss Whedon Universe. Doesn't matter if you're a writer, wanna-be, fan, or just someone looking for more than just cookie-cutter entertainment.

If you can stick with it (Buffy, Angel) or take a few minutes to test it out (Firefly) you'll agree.

But a conference, complete with crusty old academics and papers and lectures too?
Sure. Why not? Buffy has a bad reputation with some people because it started off slow, shallow, and generally uninteresting unless you were really, really bored. But by the seventh and final season, Whedon was producing some of the best drama on any channel at the time. All the beats were there. The bad person who does bad things for the wrong reasons, then good things for bad reasons, and finally good things for the right reasons. You have previously good people fall into darkness who eventually find their way back -- damaged -- but still back.

You've got middle-of-the-road characters who are a little of both. The hero who was cool with being a hero for a while, then didn't want to be a hero anymore, only to realize doing the right thing and the hard thing even when you don't want to is kind of the definition of a real hero. Happy, optimistic, and eventually like all people who go through crazy things, ends up eventually damaged.

Everyone is damaged in some way, I think, that's what attracts us to them. "House" believes it, and so does Whedon because everyone in his stories are damaged in some way or another. Someone who can't get what they really want and never will. Someone who falls into darkness only to find on the way back out that now they really need it; can't feel complete without it.

The guy who always does the right thing when the time comes but has no qualms about being a thief or putting down the bad guys who justly deserve it.

Good people inside but hardly ever on the outside, because they know that opening up like that is how you get damaged in the first place.

Buffy took things to the extreme in the 6th and 7th seasons, while Angel did so in its final 5th. Firefly took a little different route, isolating the darkness in a single person. We could see it, touch it, poke at it, but never be consumed by it. I think if it had gone on for a full season or more, that would have happened at some point. You can't not explore that really, because that's part of who we are. You have to balance the good against the bad or it loses meaning.

Anyway, if you think that Buffy was lame and that Whedon's stuff is just typical TV fare then you're certainly welcome to that opinion, but I disagree. I think Whedon above nearly all others can dig really deep in drama without letting it consume you. You can laugh one minute and have some of that skipped-heart-beat shock moment the next. Not everyone can do that, but he can, and the universe that he imagines for the rest of us is full of great moments, living and breathing characters, and well worth studying to every extent possible.

Because really, it's a study in the human condition. It's who we are and understanding that helps us to understand ourselves.
in Television


Related posts:

Leave a comment

View more stories by visiting the archives.

Media Pundit categories