Sing Until Your Lungs Give Out - the Buffy and Supernatural essay
August 2013
 
 
 
 
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sharpest_rose
sharpest_rose
Isn't moral anarchy kind of the point?
Wed, Aug. 23rd, 2006 10:14 pm
the Buffy and Supernatural essay

Because it wouldn't fit in the subject line (due to it practically being longer than the actual essay), I'll have to put it here. The real title of this post is: '"Less Campy": Supernatural's attempted reassertion of a pre-Buffy status quo.' Because I really am that silly.

As with that time I was totally snotty about Tim Drake, the following criticism is not in any way meant to imply that I am not fond of Supernatural. I think it's rather obvious that I adore it to itty bitty pieces; it's far and away my favourite currently-produced TV show.

That doesn't mean, however, that I'm blind to its shortcomings, and the one I look at here is the one I consider to be its major failing.

Oh, and disclaimer 2: I also like On the Road. But I don't think it's perfect, either.

So!

"Less Campy": Supernatural's attempted reassertion of a pre-Buffy status quo



Eric Kripke, creator of Supernatural, is a self-confessed acolyte of the 'Hero With A Thousand Faces' school of character arcs. One of the pivotal moments in this story-form is the 'return from the dead'; sometimes this journey is metaphoric, sometimes literal.

In the opening episode of season 6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the heroine of that show is brought back to life and, struggling to live, thrusts her hand up through the earth of her grave. This image is repeated in the second episode of Supernatural but here the possibility of a young woman's return has become monstrous, the stuff of nightmares.

There is a female character in the first season of Supernatural whose character arc can be mapped onto the Hero's Journey, mirroring as it does the progression of Sam, one of the show's two regular cast members (both of whom are male). Meg, the woman in question, is shown moving through a "death" and then returning. Like Buffy, she is a young, fair-haired woman with demoniacally-imbued strength.

Meg is one of the central adversaries of Supernatural's first season, and a serial murderer. She is also one of only three recurring female characters in the season; the other two are 'good' women, and are both killed off incredibly violently after only a couple of scenes apiece (just enough time for the show to establish that they are 'nice' girls). They return in later episodes to swan around the afterlife in floaty nightgowns. Meg, the only one with agency or initiative, is thrown out a window; shot in the chest; put through an extended and apparently torturous exorcism; and dies with what sounds like every bone in her body broken.

I'm not suggesting here that Meg is a hero done wrong by the text. She's a villain. But there are no female heroes on Supernatural. There have been strong female characters in a number of the episodes (though the ratio of them versus the generic, simpering damsels leaves a lot to be desired) but they are never the ones to solve the mystery, kill the monster, or help the helpless.

This can be explained by the fact that it is, after all, the hero's prerogative to save the day, and Sam and Dean -- the heroes of Supernatural -- are both male. But the masculinity the characters attempt to embody is one which reinterprets tropes which were introduced into the postmodern horror genre by Buffy, and the ways in which Supernatural seeks to recontextualise these images is distressingly easy to read as an attempted regression away from the new frontiers opened up by Buffy.

Jared Padalecki, the actor who portrays Sam on Supernatural, responded to a suggested comparison between the two shows with "That was a great show and obviously went for several seasons and had a huge fan base, but I like to think that our show is different. I think it is less campy... Our show is more of a blue collar, in-your-face scary horror."

Padalecki's remarks are particularly interesting in light of the fact that Sam's own Hero's Journey is centred around his wish to leave behind his "family business" (hunting monsters) in order to attend college and become a lawyer. Kripke's invocation of Star Wars as a classic example of a pop bildungsroman underscores the role that discontent with the family legacy plays in a story such as Sam's: Luke Skywalker doesn't want to be a farm boy; Sam rejects the "blue collar" class coding which Padalecki marks the show as embodying.

If Supernatural is "in your face", then the implication is that Buffy is something else: Tricksy, complicated, smug, compared to Supernatural's honest straightforwardness? If it appears I'm reading too much into a throwaway remark, perhaps a concrete example is necessary.

Buffy's male offsider, Xander Harris, is a screwball sidekick often played for laughs. Of the three core characters, and the wider ensemble as well, he is the one without easily definable skills: he's not a Slayer, like Buffy, nor a witch like Willow. In a season 3 episode, The Zeppo, Xander's seemingly tenuous place within the group becomes the central narrative element.

In The Zeppo, Xander attempts to prove his usefulness by becoming "Car Guy. Guy with the car." The car in question is a classic Chevy, which Brett Rogers and Walter Scheidel point out "brilliantly evokes American car culture and cinema in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, an era when cult heroes like James Dean were making movies about tough teenage rebels and dangerous chicken fights of masculine bravado".

The Chevy owned by Dean in Supernatural is from 1967, a full decade after Xander's model, and the cultural connotations shift slightly with the difference and with the switch from Bel Air to Impala. However, the Chevrolet is a symbol of a particular kind of mythic branding in American pop culture, no matter what the make. In Buffy, it's played for irony, for hypereality -- "imagery of the 1950’s appears repeatedly in “the Zeppo,” reinforcing the connection between the Chevy and a specific brand of rebellious American machismo" (Rogers and Scheidel) -- while in Supernatural it's straight-faced.

In another car-related plotline in Buffy, Xander spends the last months of his time at high school reading Jack Kerouac's On The Road and planning a road trip across America. Buffy mocks him for this dream and, by extension, can be seen as mocking the particular brand of mid-20th-century, male-centric romanticism which such narratives are seen to carry. Xander's travel plans are thwarted when the engine falls out of his car in Oxnard.

Sam and Dean of Supernatural are named for the two central characters of On The Road, and their endless road trip is a direct counterpoint to -- and, I would argue, a refutation/backlash against -- Xander's inability to tap into a traditional form of American masculinity.

Xander and Dean are very similar characters in many ways -- they both pepper their conversations with references to popular entertainment, their libidos are extremely active, and they both tend to avoid emotional vulnerability with quipping and wisecracking. Neither are as formally educated as those they fight alongside. Dean is, it can be argued, what you get if you strip the irony away from the make-up of a Xander.

The real irony of this is that Xander's eventual ease with himself, and confidence in his abilities, affords the character a far less generic and more honest concept of himself as a man than simply adhering to the motifs later taken up by Supernatural would have provided him with.

Another way in which Supernatural directly addresses ground previously covered by Buffy is in each show's relationship to firearms. While Buffy will use them when she needs to (season 2 sees her wield a rocket launcher), she doesn't put any faith in them at all -- "These things? Never helpful." In contrast, guns are Sam and Dean's primary weapons, and make up the bulk of their arsenal. Firearms, like the Xander/Dean figure, are given back their traditional signification and narrative place by Supernatural; a role Buffy had removed them from.

Finally, and perhaps most obviously, a parallel between the worlds of Buffy and Supernatural can be found in season six and the episode Hell House respectively.

Season six of Buffy features a trio of villains; a group of young men who fit the stereotype of the sci-fi nerd. They collect action figures, hang out in a basement, attempt to dabble in the occult, speak with exaggerated self-importance and earnestness, and dream of the day when they might have sex with a girl. The characters are intended to be, for the majority of their appearances, read as comic figures, but are eventually revealed to be extremely dangerous.

Supernatural's season one episode Hell House features a pair of characters who adhere to almost exactly the same template as Buffy's three. They collect action figures, hang out in a trailer, attempt to dabble in the occult, speak with exaggerated self-importance and earnestness, and dream of the day when they might have sex with a girl.

In one scene, as the pair attempt to gather their thoughts, one reminds the other of their mantra: "What Would Buffy Do?"

This, then, strongly suggests what Supernatural really sees Buffy's legacy as: bumbling, inept, absurd male characters out of their depth in the world. No matter what role these characters were put into within Buffy, or what other nuances and strengths various depictions of male characters on the earlier show may have had.

Buffy gave the world a story in which the traditional roles of masculine hero figures were questioned, and Supernatural responded not only by attempting to restore those revisioned tropes, but also by putting the girl back in her grave and leaving her there.

Tags:

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storyjunkie
storyjunkie
Graceless
Wed, Aug. 23rd, 2006 12:56 pm (UTC)

::low whistle::
Your brain is an amazing place.


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sharpest_rose
sharpest_rose
Isn't moral anarchy kind of the point?
Wed, Aug. 23rd, 2006 10:10 pm (UTC)

Cluttered is the word I'd use, but thanks! :D


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karenhealey
karenhealey
chocolate in the fruit bowl
Wed, Aug. 23rd, 2006 01:55 pm (UTC)

Fabulousness (I have not seen Supernatural, but I know good thinky when I see it).

However! You might want to replace some of the "this *is* what Supernatural is" with "this strongly suggests a reading of" or "can be read as".

We don't, as critics, deal with what *is*.


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sharpest_rose
sharpest_rose
Isn't moral anarchy kind of the point?
Wed, Aug. 23rd, 2006 10:09 pm (UTC)

Whups! That's what I get for writing in the middle of the night. I've tweaked a bit. Thanks. :D


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sizeoftheocean
sizeoftheocean
Gretel was getting fatter
Wed, Aug. 23rd, 2006 02:08 pm (UTC)

Oh, wow. Oh. Wow.

Can I borrow your brain for like, two months? Just til I get this thesis thing done? Please?


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sharpest_rose
sharpest_rose
Isn't moral anarchy kind of the point?
Wed, Aug. 23rd, 2006 10:08 pm (UTC)

Only if you promise to teach it how to actually finish a thesis. It's not so good at that.


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deirdre_c
deirdre_c
Entendre? Make mine a double.
Wed, Aug. 23rd, 2006 02:39 pm (UTC)

Very interesting analysis. The comparison of Xander/Dean particularly intrigues me.

The real irony of this is that Xander's eventual ease with himself, and confidence in his abilities, affords the character a far less generic and more honest concept of himself as a man than simply adhering to the motifs later taken up by Supernatural would have provided him with.

I agree completely. Xander is much more of a genuine person, a multi-faceted man, as compared with the fairly one-dimensional iconic, heroic, self-sacrificing Dean we've been given. Once again, people make the mistake of allowing Buffy's campiness to overshadow the complexity and depth of its characters.

On the other hand, Supernatural is in its first season. We can hope that the uber-masculinity of this narrative arc may be tempered as the series matures, in the same way that the Buffy characters became more nuanced as it went along.


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sharpest_rose
sharpest_rose
Isn't moral anarchy kind of the point?
Wed, Aug. 23rd, 2006 10:06 pm (UTC)

Yeah, I'm giving SPN the benefit of the doubt because it's still so young. But it doesn't get to play that card forever.


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phantomas
phantomas
phantomas
Wed, Aug. 23rd, 2006 03:01 pm (UTC)

I like what you wrote and how you wrote it, especially the car references. I'm not now and I've never been sure, however (and I doubt I'll ever be) that Buffy is this most progressive of female empowerment text.

It was innovative in some aspects, and definitely, as you point out, Xander and his compromised masculinity are among them - but this also goes into the direction of my buddy theory, whereas the absence of female presence it's less an affirmation of male power than the need to have a companion sharing your masculine crisis with.

I agree with you that Meg's character is more than what it seems, btw, although possession is a tricky tool, and one could argue what possession really could mean for characters like Meg and John...

Anyway, fascinating essay, so glad you wrote it and posted it!
Thank you! :D


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sharpest_rose
sharpest_rose
Isn't moral anarchy kind of the point?
Wed, Aug. 23rd, 2006 10:05 pm (UTC)

I've never been sure, however (and I doubt I'll ever be) that Buffy is this most progressive of female empowerment text.

I agree with you on this point, but I think it's still more progressive than Spn by a long shot.

I'm really interested in your buddy theory. :)


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grimorie
grimorie
Grimorie
Wed, Aug. 23rd, 2006 03:27 pm (UTC)

Jared Padalecki, the actor who portrays Sam on Supernatural, responded to a suggested comparison between the two shows with "That was a great show and obviously went for several seasons and had a huge fan base, but I like to think that our show is different. I think it is less campy..."

I find this statement vaguely distasteful. I've handwaved the absence strong female characters and focused on Dean but actually reading that.. its just... I think it makes me look at the show differently.

This, then, is what Supernatural sees Buffy's legacy as: bumbling, inept, absurd male characters out of their depth in the world. No matter what role these characters were put into within Buffy, or what other nuances and strengths various depictions of male characters on the earlier show may have had.

Urgh.


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sharpest_rose
sharpest_rose
Isn't moral anarchy kind of the point?
Wed, Aug. 23rd, 2006 10:04 pm (UTC)

I think it makes me look at the show differently.

It did that to me, too.


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winterlive
winterlive
danny
Wed, Aug. 23rd, 2006 03:30 pm (UTC)

Asylum featured a pair of teenagers, a boy and a girl. The girl had sense and wound up nearly taking Dean's head off with a shotgun full of rock salt. The boy, while not a caricature, was a normal kid with some funny lines.

I think you might be jumping the gun just a little bit, there.


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sharpest_rose
sharpest_rose
Isn't moral anarchy kind of the point?
Wed, Aug. 23rd, 2006 10:03 pm (UTC)

She gets to cock a gun. She also needs to be saved at multiple points in the episode, is locked in a room with a terrifying ghost, and cowers in a corner when she feels threatened.

I think you're giving her more credit than the show does.


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angstslashhope
angstslashhope
Hope
Wed, Aug. 23rd, 2006 03:32 pm (UTC)
pt 1

You knew I was going to do this, right? Being the only "Supernatural academic" on your flist? *grin*

I think your argument is an interesting one, and I'm also partly intrigued by it because of its reflection on your own gender ideology.

I think it's interesting that you're talking about postmodernism in relation to Buffy, though, and not at all relation to Supernatural. If anything, it seems like you're conflating Buffy with the postmodern aesthetic and thus, when you talk about SPN "re-establishing the status quo" that Buffy challenges and "returning to tradition", you're suggesting SPN is valorising the aesthetics and ideals of modernism. (And, to a degree, aligning feminist femininity with postmodernism and masculinity to modernism.) Which I personally don't think is entirely the case.

I think in the case of the different attitudes of Buffy and SPN (as you know I've written on before!) you need to dig a little deeper than postmodernism vs. modernism. Or even deeper than postmodernism = *good*.

I agree that masculinity is a big part of SPN, but I don't agree with your reading that it's at the expense of the female characters. It's interesting that throughout your discussion of Buffy you never really directly addressed the concept of Xander being emasculated, or rather, never addressed it as anything but a positive thing.

If you're talking about postmodernism with these two texts, especially in terms of gender, i think it's worth considering not only how they could be considered misogynist, but how they could be considered emasculating! Buffy's often talked about how it empowers female characters, but rarely how it emasculates existing texts. Sure, it *counters* misogyny in previous texts but I think that often it throws the baby out with the bathwater (though I should note here that I haven't watched the majority of Buffy, but have read a fair bit of theory and analysis). In disempowering old villains and killing them in new ways, Buffy derides the very validity of these previous texts. Not just of their ideology. When she's deriding Xander's need to road trip, and when Xander's road trip *fails*, it's not just a re-writing of On The Road's championing of masculinity. It's a derision of On The Road itself.

So. When looking at SPN in terms of postmodernism and emasculation, I think it's totally worth looking at the (arguably) masculine fan-culture surrounding the horror genre. There's a case for arguing that postmodern film and television can (or should) be read through a lens of audience/fan theory; as in, Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino films see to have whole lot to say about the position of the fan-creator in relation to the text they're creating, and how and what they say about the original texts through the 'new' texts. As opposed to critical theory that can't seem to get past the identification of tropes as 'postmodern'.

Supernatural's postmodern approach (and yeah, I've spoken on this before - homage by pastiche vs. dis-assembling by parody) really *does* challenge what Buffy did - in terms of Buffy's relationship to other texts. Instead of castrating/emasculating existing texts, Supernatural does actually approach them with a degree of respect, even if it doesn't entirely agree with their ideologies. Instead of destroying the original texts, it negotiates different meaning from them. I don't think it re-valorises misogynist villains of yesteryear.


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angstslashhope
angstslashhope
Hope
Wed, Aug. 23rd, 2006 03:33 pm (UTC)
pt 2

And I think it avoids doing that in the female characters it has week by week. Whereas the villains are generally stock footage taken from existing texts (though, as mentioned above and previously, the *reading* of the villains within Supernatural offer a challenge to their original ideologies), the victims generally are not. Out of all the episodes with female secondary characters, I can't really think of *any* that didn't have agency or initiative that is usually narratively denied those in their position by a script that writes them only as a response to the (main) male characters. Possibly Jess and Mary fit that role the best, though I think the extent of their 'agency' and 'initiative' is yet to be revealed (in terms of hindsight and their potential futures). I can't think of a single female character in Supernatural that I would classify as a "generic, simpering damsel" - I think Sarah comes closest to dinging my cliché-meter.

Meg, on the other hand. I think the construction of gender in Meg is something else entirely. I've discussed with you previously the issues I feel are inherent in the *gendering* of Meg - whereas the demonic possession of male bodies in Supernatural results in a kind of inhumanness; Meg's results in some kind of highly stylised, sexualised femininity. I had issue with this initially because I was questioning the reasoning behind her gendering where the possessed males remained genderless. After further thought, I'm thinking there could be a Mulvey-esque reading of the way Meg's gendered there. In Shadow, especially, she's performing for them - there are multiple scenes of voyeurism; when they're watching her from the elevator shaft, and of course when Sam's looking in through her window as she's dressing (the classic peeping tom). Could Meg's offensively appropriated 'femininity' be, in effect, drag? that the demon's gender itself is unimportant; it is rather in fact wearing the female body as a costume, and behaving accordingly. Possibly Supernatural doesn't give us enough extraneous information to support this reading, or suggest it more outright, but it's an interesting slant.


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muccamukk
muccamukk
Muccamukk
Wed, Aug. 23rd, 2006 04:04 pm (UTC)

I miss Meg. -sigh-

Howerver "They return in later episodes to swan around the afterlife in floaty nightgowns." is the best like ever!

If I didn't love that show as much as I do, I might be forced to kill it.


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sharpest_rose
sharpest_rose
Isn't moral anarchy kind of the point?
Wed, Aug. 23rd, 2006 09:52 pm (UTC)

If I didn't love that show as much as I do, I might be forced to kill it.

Exactly!


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snarkhunter
snarkhunter
ready the rhinos!
Wed, Aug. 23rd, 2006 04:14 pm (UTC)

Here via a rec on my flist--this is an amazing essay that tackles my one big problem with SPN. I love the show--don't get me wrong--but I find myself profoundly disturbed by its devotion to what you rightly identify as the cult of "American machismo." In Dean, in particular, I find this rather attractive, if only because he seems like the kind of guy who would embrace Buffy's strength. As you said, he's Xander with the irony stripped away, and Xander likes strong women. (One of my favorite fantasy-SPN episodes is one where Dean meets Faith. Witty banter and Faith smacking Dean around ensue.)

Sam, however...I don't know. Maybe it's partly me taking your Padelecki quote and using it to reinforce my irritation with Sam, but he does seem peculiarly invested in the idealization of both his mother and Jess as literal Angels in the House.

I agree with your essay here, but it does raise one question for me. What do you do with Angel as an extension of the Buffy universe? That, too, is a male-centered universe in which guns are brought back as a viable weaponry option (Wesley, of course, uses them as his weapon of choice), but it's a Joss Whedon show, and thus many of the most powerful characters are women. How might you compare Angel's universe to that of Supernatural? I think they have a great deal in common, particularly by Season 5 of ATS.


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ficbyzee
ficbyzee
most amazing damaged cupcake ever
Wed, Aug. 23rd, 2006 06:27 pm (UTC)

Sorry, couldn't help but jump in here: but it's a Joss Whedon show, and thus many of the most powerful characters are women.

Darla gets staked to save her son, Cordelia gets impregnated by a demon and then dies, Lilah gets killed *and* gets her head posthumously chopped off, and Fred gets her soul eaten by a demon. Kate Lockley attempts suicide and is saved at the last minute by Angel. Harmony and Eve get out all right in the end, but I don't think you could describe either of them as 'powerful'.

I do love Angel, and I think it's similar to Supernatural in a lot of *good* ways, but this is one of the ways where I hope SPN doesn't follow in Angel's footsteps.


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some_stars
some_stars
superheroes failing at oatmeal
Wed, Aug. 23rd, 2006 05:43 pm (UTC)

oh, i *love* this. i feel like it suffers a little from being so short, because there's SO MUCH to talk about--hell, i'd read an entire paper comparing the geek Troika to the joke ghosthunters in hell house. but yes, this is brilliant and gives me THOUGHTS and pleases me greatly. woot!


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some_stars
some_stars
superheroes failing at oatmeal
Wed, Aug. 23rd, 2006 06:52 pm (UTC)

also, was talking with zee, came up with this:

[13:46] lcsbanana: man, you know what spn is? it's totally trying to have both worlds. traditional mostly-unironic manhood, but with emotional bonds and talking about feelings--BUT ONLY WITH OTHER MEN
[13:46] lcsbanana: it's like how men are allowed to cry at movies if they're about (1.) father/son reltaionships or (2.) baseball
[13:52] lcsbanana: because dean is--there's SO MUCH emphasis, from 16 on, on dean being SO DAMN NEEDY
[13:53] lcsbanana: whereas sam turns into the more stoic grrrrr kill kill no human attachments one
[13:53] lcsbanana: now, what i WORRY about
[13:53] lcsbanana: is that this is going to be continued as sam advancing on his quest/growth/maturity whatever
[13:53] lcsbanana: and dean...holding him back? being unable to mature?
[13:53] lcsbanana: but oh, the potential :D

(zee also said interesting things, but i will leave her to post those herself. *g*)


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ficbyzee
ficbyzee
most amazing damaged cupcake ever
Wed, Aug. 23rd, 2006 06:23 pm (UTC)

I really love this essay, and I think it needed to be written. I agree with most of it. I think there are some things Supernatural does better than Buffy (the fact that it took them less than half a season to introduce a black character, and that that black character wasn't just there to be mocked is *right* up there); also, unfortunately I don't think Supernatural is the first to try and reassert sexist masculine ideals post-Buffy--that show would be Angel. (Disclaimer, disclaimer, I love Angel but it is not good with the womenfolk.)

(And not that this is particularly related to your essay, but if we're talking Buffy characters that Dean is similar to, I see a *lot* more resemblance to Faith than to Xander. Faith's love for 'the hunt,' Faith's libido, Faith's dismissal of academia and Buffy wanting to plan things, etc etc.)

(Also I wish you were online, I want to talk more but all of it won't fit in a comment box!)


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sharpest_rose
sharpest_rose
Isn't moral anarchy kind of the point?
Wed, Aug. 23rd, 2006 09:46 pm (UTC)

Oh, if I started on Buffy and race, this would be a much less 'woo! Buffy!' essay. I... have ranted at length to friends about why I find Buffy troubling on that count.

I must make the horrible confession that I stopped watching Angel midway through season 3, and was never a big fan. So I can't really comment either way, except that it failed to offer me what I wanted from a show.

I think there's a lot of Faith-Dean correlation, you're very very right -- but I wanted to avoid that, as I've got this other essay percolating in my head about the way female fanwriters match the Winchesters up with physically strong women from other texts, having been denied such characters in spn.


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jgracio
jgracio
JG
Wed, Aug. 23rd, 2006 06:53 pm (UTC)

Here from a friends post.

SPN is less campy than Buffy. At least in regards to the horror, the monsters, the supernatural threats. Which were never the point in Buffy, and as such didn't really need to be treated with much seriousness.

SPN treats the monsters as being serious, as real threats to the characters, while Buffy usually didn't, focusing instead on what the monsters meant to the characters. It's not the FE that matters, it's how the character dynamics change because of the FE. In SPN, the monster matters. What they do to stop the monster matters. Character dynamics come second.

So, in that regards, the actor is right. IMO.


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sharpest_rose
sharpest_rose
Isn't moral anarchy kind of the point?
Wed, Aug. 23rd, 2006 09:42 pm (UTC)

Character dynamics come second.

I don't think that's true at all. The relationships in Supernatural are the driving force behind every episode, and unlike Buffy's ensemble cast they always focus on the single central relationship.

I'd also question whether the threats in Supernatural are more serious than Buffy -- in both cases, we know the heroes will survive, and in both cases the characters give their all to combat their foes.


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lazar_grrl
lazar_grrl
Lizard
Wed, Aug. 23rd, 2006 06:57 pm (UTC)

Could you also identify this show with Women in Refrigerators syndrome? The deaths of Jess and Mary both served to catalyze the men's determination to Fight Evil.

The other women presented on the show are either potential victims of evil who must rely entirely on Dean and Sam for protection or appear to be villains who were "driven to do it" by stereotypically feminine reasons. The list of what they do/why they do it is pretty telling, in that these women do what they do for reasons related to men. (I have missed a few episodes, so this list is not complete.)

Pilot-Female villain; because she was cheated on and murdered her children, then committed suicide; avenges herself on unfaithful men
Bloody Mary-Female villain; was apparently murdered for having an affair with a married man
Hookman-Female villain; attacks those who transgress the bounds of morality; one of her victims is a girl who encourages her to dress in a slightly provocative manner
Scarecrow-Female villain; ritually sacrifices couples to maintain the prosperity of her home town (and one could argue that her role was fairly passive)
Faith-Female villain; acts to save her husband's life and profit his ministry
Dead Man's Blood-Female villain; attacks the hunter who killed her mate's pack and is then used as leverage to entrap him

Only in two, Asylum and Benders, are women portrayed as competent and capable of taking care of themselves in a combat situation. Oddly enough, in both of those situations, the women are acting to protect or avenge men.

Meg is a special case. One can argue that by virtue of her being possessed, the responsibility for her actions lies not with her, but with the possessing entity. This makes her an entirely passive victim, rather than a villain, since any power or decision-making came from the demon, not her. Thus, the only female villain who appears to be independent of male influence for her actions turns out...to not be a villain at all, just another helpless victim.

I hope this was reasonably coherent.


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sharpest_rose
sharpest_rose
Isn't moral anarchy kind of the point?
Wed, Aug. 23rd, 2006 09:40 pm (UTC)

It was totally coherent, fear not.

I've sometimes snarkily referred to spn as the 'girlfriend on the ceiling' show. I think it very much relies on the traditional -- misogynist -- revenge narrative trope of the dead woman spurring the man into action.

Your list is very interesting, and I shall have to ponder it before being able to give you any kind of useful reply.


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teh_no
teh_no
Anti-penetrite!
Wed, Aug. 23rd, 2006 07:35 pm (UTC)

One could argue that Supernatural is primarily a reaction to the emasculation of male figures in Buffy (that is to say, "if girls are to be heroic, men must then be unheroic"). Angel turns into Angelus, Oz becomes a werewolf and cheats on Willow with another woman, Giles leaves and (when he returns) is suspected of being the First Evil (if it seems like he's getting off easy, that's because he's a father figure, not a sexual one), Riley Finn cheats on Buffy and marries another woman, Xander gets his eye gouged out after breaking up with the womah he loves on their wedding day, Wesley is a bumbling idiot, and finally, Spike, who starts off as a Big Bad, ends up a lovesick moron simpering for Buffy. His attempts to reclaim his masculinity are, by turn, attempting to rape her and getting his soul back (which is framed in misogynistic terms, as him "giving the bitch what she deserves"). This drives him insane. Not very flattering, I would say.

So then, Supernatural could be seen as an attempt to meld the "soap opera" of BtVS with the more masculine revenge fantasy/monster movie. The women get to see menfolk being all emotional with each other, the men get a cool spook. Yes, I will admit to geeking out more over the shape-shifter's big grody transformation scene than over any of the "family" moments. As for how successful it is, that's in the eye of the beholder.


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sharpest_rose
sharpest_rose
Isn't moral anarchy kind of the point?
Wed, Aug. 23rd, 2006 09:38 pm (UTC)

So then, Supernatural could be seen as an attempt to meld the "soap opera" of BtVS with the more masculine revenge fantasy/monster movie.

I agree that's what it's aiming to do, but I feel like it's throwing the good out with the bad in rejecting what it sees as Buffy's negative elements.

Oh god, that transformation scene was so grotty. *disgusto face*


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butterfly
butterfly
Diana
Wed, Aug. 23rd, 2006 08:29 pm (UTC)

While I pretty much completely agree with you, this post also totally reminded me of how much I adore Xander.

*sighs*

Oh, Xander.

Buffy gave the world a story in which the traditional roles of masculine hero figures were questioned, and Supernatural responded not only by attempting to restore those revisioned tropes, but also by putting the girl back in her grave and leaving her there.

It does feel, in some ways, that Supernatural is a step backward.


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sharpest_rose
sharpest_rose
Isn't moral anarchy kind of the point?
Wed, Aug. 23rd, 2006 09:35 pm (UTC)

I am feeling so, so much love for Buffy and for Xander at the moment. And all the other characters, but on my re-watching it's their stories that're really grabbing my heartstrings.


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brown_betty
brown_betty
Betty
Wed, Aug. 23rd, 2006 08:34 pm (UTC)

Your brain is so shiny! *chews on it*

I noticed, watching Hell House, that there was some criticism of Buffy going on there, but I didn't put together anything anywhere near this concise.


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sharpest_rose
sharpest_rose
Isn't moral anarchy kind of the point?
Wed, Aug. 23rd, 2006 09:34 pm (UTC)

Well, to be fair, I've stewed this over in my head for a while before writing it. And watched a lot of Buffy.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Aug. 23rd, 2006 10:40 pm (UTC)

1. Buffy didn't use firearms. Instead, she used swords, sticks, and her bare hands. Weapons which have far more traditional and narrative significance than guns. Weapons which are heavily dependent on reach and upper body strength, thus helping ensure male dominance for countless millennia. I fail to see why you consider firearms to be a bad thing in this case.

2. I find it amusing that you got through an essay on exaggerated machismo without mentioning Spike and Angel, who drove cool cars and wore cool jackets and weren't portrayed ironically.


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sharpest_rose
sharpest_rose
Isn't moral anarchy kind of the point?
Wed, Aug. 23rd, 2006 10:45 pm (UTC)

I wasn't examining Buffy except where Supernatural was refuting it, so her use of non-firearm weapons had no bearing; she and the Winchesters have the same relationship with other weapons.

Likewise, Spike and Angel's existence has no impact on Supernatural and is therefore irrelevant to this essay. There's never been a correlating character to either of them, unless one considers the demon.

Also, if you're going to take that smug tone with me, be willing to put your name to it.


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labellementeuse
labellementeuse
worryingly jolly batman
Thu, Aug. 24th, 2006 01:49 am (UTC)

Very well-put. The geek trio comparisons are particularly apt (although frankly, I didn't like the Hell House duo because it perpetuates geek stereotypes that, you know. Suck. Geeks are people too! Or something. Way to alienate potential ex-Buffy fans, guys.)

"[...]Our show is more of a blue collar, in-your-face scary horror."

I haven't seen this quote in context, but I have to say to me it reads more like a (mis)use of "blue collar" to mean "straightforward/simple, direct" rather than "working class." Working class horror? Although I can buy Sam's rejection of his family's lifestyle as a rejection of a blue collar lifestyle, as I see it SPN is much more typical of television in that it avoids discussing issues of class and economics. Sam's family conflict is defined much more heavily in his criticism of their upbringing "raised like soldiers" blah blah. At no point does he say "Hi, we ate spaghettios and breakfast cereals for days at a time because Dad couldn't afford to feed us," it's all, "We at spaghetti and cereal because he abandoned us and you were a shitty cook." (I mean, not always, and Something Wicked is kind of interesting in that respect.)

On the other hand, "straightforward/simple" horror dynamics definitely adhere to certain roles for women and a certain standard of masculinity as embodied by Dean & Sam.


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magickly
Our love is God. Let's go get a slushee.
Thu, Aug. 24th, 2006 02:23 am (UTC)

I think your comparison of Dean and Xander is really something new. I think I agree with some of those comparisons. Awesome thoughtful post. More meta is always a good thing.


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maygra
maygra
aliquid stat pro aliquo
Thu, Aug. 24th, 2006 03:57 am (UTC)

I'm not sure I know how to respond to this, firstly, because I think using JP's commentary from an interview that was part of a press package designed to intrigue viewers and set SPN apart from everything else offered in the season, is putting a lot of weight on a single opinion -- and not necessarily that of the show's creators.

On the other hand, I also have to say that I gave up on watching Buffy with any kind of regularity because of just that reason -- that it was campy to an extent that I, personally didn't find appealing and that Buffy, as a character, as a heroine or even her journey, never appealed to me very much (whereas Willow did -- but not so much that I felt compelled to never miss an episode.)

Your comparison (however passing) to Buffy's journey and Eric Kripke's vision of Sam and Dean as a combination of Sal and Dean from On the Road and Luke and Han from Star Wars I also have a little problem with, if only because ostensibly more of the overriding Buffy stories (arcs?), as I recall, had to do with Saving the World from Great Evil...and while I think it's possible that SPN may be at least trodding down that path a little bit, it's more my impression that SPN isn't focused so much on the Saving the World from the Apocalypse, per se, as it is in saving individuals from small evils. (Granted, those small evils may be coalescing into a big evil, even a Hellmouth of sorts, but thus far...I'm not seeing it, no matter where fannish minds (mine included) are going.)

And that may be kind of why I'm having problems seeing SPN as trying consciously to regress or reconceptualize a genre that Buffy left it's mark on. One season against six is kind of an uneven comparison.

Kripke is not Whedon, just as Peter Jackson is not George Lucas. I think if anything, SPN is more closely akin to cinematic releases like Scream, or I Know What You Did Last Summer, The Ring, or even (God help us) Halloween (ad infinitum) but without the excessive gore.

Given Buffy's ensemble cast -- even with its central fixture around which all else resolves, Buffy -- it might make more sense to compare SPN to Xena if only for the central pairing. I mean, in my estimation (and in the appeal to me) SPN is closer to being a buddy cop show in tone and structure than a horror show -- except that they hunt down ghosts and demons and monsters rather than criminals.

(And obviously I figured out how to respond to this *g* although not necessarily cogently)

Although I do recognize that I'm challenging the choice of comparative source as opposed to the argument itself, so feel free to ignore. But that said, I don't actually feel like SPN is challenging Buffy at all. And I think references to it are merely that, pop-culture references that are sprinkled throughout the show, regarding shows on the same network or similar network. I mean, I don't think the toss off reference to Chad Michael Murray indicates that SPN is trying to challenge or otherwise counter the OC or OTH (or whatever show it is he's on) or the reference to Sam's psychic abilities in relations to the Ghost Whisperer is meant to challenge that show (although it could easily do so since both shows deal with ghosts.)


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vassilissa
vassilissa
Vass
Thu, Aug. 24th, 2006 08:42 am (UTC)

Buffy gave the world a story in which the traditional roles of masculine hero figures were questioned, and Supernatural responded not only by attempting to restore those revisioned tropes, but also by putting the girl back in her grave and leaving her there.

You're kind of devastating, did you know that?

I don't have enough knowledge of Buffy or SPN to respond intelligently, so I'll just have to watch you and angstslashhope and ficbyzee be all brilliant.


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misshallelujah
misshallelujah
ミス☆ハレルヤ (JY Yang)
Thu, Aug. 24th, 2006 12:00 pm (UTC)
Taking the gender thing and running with it.

Came here from a link in angstslashhope's journal. Interesting analysis--not being a Buffy watcher, I can't really comment on the whole comparison thing, but I do agree that what SPN sorely lacks at this point are strong female characters to counter the imbalance.

One of the gender-related issues this show has gotten me thinking about, however, is the subversion of traditional gender roles. This I see occurring in two ways. First, there's Sam. Here you have Jared cast into the role. Now, Jared is ten feet tall and about as wide. He's a big, built Texan boy. Linchpin of masculinity, right? Yet you have Sam, who is always getting his ass rescued by his brother, who is sensitive and emo, and who never, ever needs to shave. Even after being locked in a cage for god-knows-how-long. In effect, Sam's character has been stripped of much of its masculine characteristics.

And then you have Dean, the foil to Sam and a study in machismo. Dean hits on waitresses, runs around saving the day, and treats emotions as an unnecessary evil. No chick flick moments, declares he! And yet paradoxically, Dean is the nurturer in the family. He looks after Sammy, he diffuses quarrels, he keeps the family together. He takes on the maternal role in the series without losing any of his masculinity-- and in fact, imposes that masculinity on that role.

Now, what I can't figure out is whether these transgressions are intended to negate the need for substantial feminine characters in the show, or whether it's meant to be an ironic subversion of masculine dominance... in which case there still might be some hope for the series, after all. :D


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angstslashhope
angstslashhope
Hope
Thu, Aug. 24th, 2006 01:21 pm (UTC)
Re: Taking the gender thing and running with it.

Thank you for raising the ideas of gender-questioning within the main characters!!! *showers you with glitter* I think it's a totally valid path to take, and not an easy one within the typical feminist 'environment'. One close to my own heart :)

er, sorry Mary. I'll butt out eventually.


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meret
meret
Meret
Fri, Aug. 25th, 2006 12:34 am (UTC)

Excellent post! That's the precise reason I don't watch SPN or any shows with no female leads anymore. They don't care about me. Why should I care about them?


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adrienneherbst
adrienneherbst
adrienne
Fri, Aug. 25th, 2006 01:26 am (UTC)

I think it is less campy... Our show is more of a blue collar, in-your-face scary horror."

Or, nevermind what the actual Beats that inspired On the Road were getting up to with one another "Supernatural" is about real men, not those uppity fags from that chick horror show.


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