Term Paper, 2004
18 Pages, Grade: 1,7
Giles: “What did you sing about?”
Buffy: “I, uh… don’t remember. But it seemed perfectly normal.”
Xander: “But disturbing. And not the natural order ofa things and do you think it’ll happen again? ‘Cause I’m for the natural order of things.” (“Once More, with Feeling”)1
The pop cultural TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BtVS, 1997-2003), produced and directed by Joss Whedon, definitely exceeds the movie Buffy the Vampire Slayer in 1992. Especially “Once More, with Feeling”, a musical episode that very much differs from the rest of the series, is an extraordinary treasure in the history of television. In this, Joss Whedon self-ironically summits the developments from previous episodes and makes it a climax of the series.
Dawn’s question: “Come on, songs, dancing around… what’s gonna be wrong with that?” in the beginning of the musical episode as well as the knowledge that there is no day in Buffyverse that leads to hugs and puppies, has the viewer automatically suppose that this episode offers a meaning beyond pure entertainment. Sweet, the summoned dancing demon, forces the inhabitants of Sunnydale to sing their most intimate secrets to one another, and this - how else could it be - leads to chaos, desperation, and pain.
In this critical approach, an analysis of the musical episode’s different layers of reality and fantasy will be given in order to prove that the highest fantastical level still deals with the most realistic issues of life. Only by recognizing the most fantastical layers as encrypted reality, it is understandable that in BtVS the Scooby Gang does not only kick ass but that the series, and especially this episode, carries high philosophical potential as well.
In order to understand the different layers of reality and fantasy, it is necessary to make clear what this exactly means in the given context. As reality, we do not understand the perceptive faculty of the existing nature by the individual but by the public at large. In this approach, the audience’s shared universal knowledge and everything which is considered as real will be defined as reality. In fact, the medium of television itself cannot be seen as pure reality any more; it reflects reality but can not be real. One often forgets that this medium is only a construction of reality: stories are created, plot lines are written down and developed. Since childhood on, people in the Western culture are so much used to television that it feels real to them. In fact, it is not. Uncountable technical tools, such as, to give an example, slow motion or time- lapse photography, serve to achieve certain effects. A clear proof for this can be found in “Once More, with Feeling”, when Giles throws knives towards Buffy in order to train her speed. While Giles is moving in regular pace, Buffy is pictured in slow motion. This special effect, indeed very similar to many scenes in the movie Matrix, serves to visually make clear the emotional distance between the vampire slayer and her watcher. By not paying extraordinary attention to this phenomenon, it is not recognized as unnatural by the audience. It must also not be forgotten that the TV medium is not three-but two-dimensional and very limited in space. In conclusion, television as constructed reality is a layer one needs to be aware of in order to fully understand the amount of reality in this approach.
Because of the many different genres which can be found in this series, fantasy cannot be defined in a few sentences only. In general, fantasy is considered as counter part of reality, as a piece of fiction which sets the focus of attention on the supernatural (e.g. mystics, legends, magic).2 In order to understand its high amount in BtVS, there is a need to give a closer analysis of the different genres which are mingled together in this series.
Though recommended for 16 year old adolescents and older, the major audience of BtVS also includes younger teenagers who are not only fascinated by the contemporary girl power discourse in the media3 but also love the idea of this series which defines High School as a place of hell. Teenagers can often very well identify with the high amount of metaphors made literal (or at least partially literal) in this series. Throughout BtVS there are elements of several genres mingled together, making this series so popular. It takes place in present day America (in fact, a city called Sunnydale is near Santa Barbara, California) and mainly depicts the life of a teenager gang named the Scoobies.
Within this, for the viewer realistic earth dimension, many fantastical elements appear. In Sunnydale, everything impossible is made possible and there is no chance given to escape the supernatural events. It is impossible to ignore the influence of fantasy by trying to give reasonable explanations. Moreover, because BtVS is a pop- cultural TV series, different genres are not displayed traditionally but are fully or at least partially reversed. This is the case in the genre of horror: Buffy, the blonde, attractive teenage-girl is not a weak victim but a powerful adolescent who, with the help of supernatural strength and speed, stakes demons and vampires and fights for ‘the good’. This leads to the next genre. Martial arts play a great role as well since one of Buffy’s major activities is to fight. She is often depicted in training with Giles and several times explains the use of weapons to the rest of the Scooby Gang. This goes hand in hand with the genre of action. The series is usually fast-cut, shows a lot of hunting, and mostly deals with the cliché that Buffy and her Slayerettes are the ‘good guys’ who need to save the world from the evil. The evil mostly appears in form of vampires, demons, or gods in lower cases who present the mythic elements in BtVS. Mythical is also the major theme of Buffy as the ‘Chosen One’. She cannot escape her destiny; her life is pre-determined. While the common teenage-girl in BtVS cares about boys and make-up, she is on duty to eliminate the evil and to save the world. Elements of drama can be found too. The series deals with problems the audience can also be confronted with in daily life: problems of adolescence, bad school grades, but also of love and loss - issues which make this series, besides all its fantastical elements, very realistic. In addition, the genre of comedy very much influences the series. Especially Xander is extremely witty but the other characters also have their own special kind of humor and their individual style of language, well known as ‘Slayertalk’ among fans. Except of the genre of drama and comedy, the other genres offer a high amount of unreality and make, with the help of many special effects, BtVS a fantasy series.
“Once More, with Feeling” differs from the usual Buffyverse. The characters are introduced in a musical; the action takes place in an alternate reality. An alternate reality which can be defined here as a variation on places and events which are nevertheless closely related to Buffy’s usual world.4 It must be distinguished between both the episode in form of a musical and the content of the episode which actually deals with the alternate reality itself.
In fact, many teenagers do not sympathize with the genre of the musical. In order to make them feel more comfortable, most of Joss Whedon’s major characters look critical at the genre of the musical.
1 Buffy the Vampire Slayer. 6.7: “Once More, with Feeling”. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, 06-Nov- 2001. P: Joss Whedon. 50 Minutes.
2 Hahn, Ronald M.: Das Neue Lexikon des Fantasy Films. Berlin: Schwarzkopf & Schwarzkopf, 2001. 5.
3 Helford, Elyce Rae: Fantasy Girls. Gender in the New Universe of Science Fiction and Fantasy Television. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000. 164.
4 Masquerade, Ph.D. "All Things Philosophical on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel: the Series.” 12-Sep- 2003. http://www.atpobtvs.com/metap.html#ar (15-June-2004).
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