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Cultural Marxist Linky

A quick article on “cultural Marxism”, which is like the full conspiracy theory version of “political correctness” (via Gareth S)

How Harry Potter would go if Hermione was the main character

To fall out of love, do this

British Medical Journal study explaining why the magazines in Doctor’s waiting rooms are always old and boring. (via Steph P)

80s retro-synth soundtrack to Twin Peaks

A charming supercut of clips from those enthralling “interactive” games that used your VCR. THe Klingon is amazing.

How the ideal body shape for women has changed over the last 100 years

Sheriff’s Office rug says “In Dog We Trust”, no-one notices for months (via Bruce N)

Model train enthusiast makes a Miskatonic Railway layout. The scale model geeks and the Lovecraft geeks will both enjoy this one.

Excellent longread on the mystery of consciousness and arguments going on between neuroscientists, psychologists, and philosophers. I still find it hard to get past Dennet’s position that consciousness is just what it feels like when your brain does its thing – it beats the others on the Occam’s Razor test at least. But I do have sympathy for the notion that everything, the entire universe, is conscious.

And finally, via Billy… David Lynch cooks quinoa and tells a story

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Watching Buffy: Original Film Script

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Joss Whedon has spoken about the origins of Buffy the Vampire Slayer many times: “I had seen a lot of horror movies, which I love very much, with blond girls getting killed in dark alleys, and I just germinated this idea about how much I would like to see a blond girl go into a dark alley, get attacked by a monster and then kill it.” (source)

That reversal of expectations, where the victim is revealed to be anything but, isn’t in the TV show. In “Welcome to the Hellmouth” Buffy’s true nature is introduced piecemeal, dropping clues to the audience then revealing the truth in dialogue, but not actually showing her in action until the back half of the episode. Instead the episode begins with a swerve on that originating set-piece, a reversal of the reversal: the boy goes into the dark place with the weak, vulnerable blonde girl, but it turns out she is not the victim, nor the slayer, but in fact she is the monster. These choices seem odd to me – Whedon had the chance to bring this potent scene to life, and passed it over. I can see why, primarily because the character arc here is Buffy figuring out that her Slayer life has followed her to Sunnydale, and it’s hard to tell that story if she fights a vampire in the precredits sequence. Still, there are ways to square that circle, and I think this stands as one of the show’s biggest missed opportunities.

As I’ve worked through season one, I’ve usually referred to the creative force behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer simply as “the show”: “the show is trying to do this”, “the show did that”, etc etc. I’m deliberately murking up the relationship between showrunner Joss Whedon and the final content we see on our screens. There are lots of complications and compromises and improvisations involved in the journey from vision to final form, and a large team is needed to make a TV show possible. In fact, I feel like pretending that the show itself has creative agency is quite truthful – large collaborative projects take on their own shape under the accumulation of conflicting interests, systemic needs and unexpected pressures. Choices emerge from the morass without any obvious author, like a planchette moving across a ouija board. You can still see the forceful vision of the showrunner, the distinctive rhythms of the director, the unique choices of the screenwriter, but these are just ingredients in the whole.

I was curious, then, to take a look at the first takes on the concept of Buffy, which are relatively undiluted Joss Whedon. Buffy originated as a screenplay that long-haired Whedon shopped around for a while before some producers took it up. His dissatisfaction with the final film is well-known, but that original script could tell us something about what he saw in this concept.

There are plenty of places to find it online – here’s the one I referenced. It’s an interesting read. It obviously isn’t the TV show, because the structural demands of film force it to resolve things that you don’t close off if you’re going to make a TV series out of it. It also doesn’t quite fit the TV show’s backstory – Buffy is older and not a virgin, and she doesn’t burn down the gymnasium. However, it does show some of what we’ve been told to expect. Buffy starts out as a Cordelia-type popular girl dating a jock and screwing up her nose at the weirdo social outcasts, and she discovers she can sense vampires and she has the strength and speed to fight them, but it’s pretty devastating for her social life.

It’s a fun expression of the bimbo vampire slayer concept, but I think the script does have one major flaw: the female characters are pretty empty. Buffy’s mother (who bears zero resemblance to the TV show’s harried but engaged version) and her popular-girl friends have nothing much to say, and nothing much going on beneath the surface. Obviously the point is that Buffy acquires new dimensions when she engages with the unpopular vampire-slayage path, but it’s unfortunate that her friends are depicted as such empty caricatures of people.

In fact, for a film with such a central interest in female power, there is a notable lack of interest in female relationships. Buffy’s important relationships are all with men – with her jock boyfriend, with her burner love interest, with her mysterious watcher, with her vampiric nemesis. Even the school principal has a more meaningful and multi-dimensional relationship with her than her mother and friends.

All of which makes me think about vampires. Buffy is conceived as a vampire slayer, and though the show expands to imagine many other kinds of critter, they are the iconic monster against which Buffy stands. The show was always aware of the metaphorical dimension of its monsters, but it was never entirely clear what vampires stood for. Partly this was because they weren’t meant to have just one meaning – different vampires could be used to represent different concepts (or just to provide an action sequence in an otherwise quiet episode, for that matter). However, the film script really points the concept of Buffy at one reading above others: that vampires are a metaphor for the sexualised power of men, which is to say, vampires are rape culture.

The film isn’t a strong coherent feminist statement of course. For example, Buffy’s internal journey is expressed primarily through realising that her current boyfriend is a sexist jerk and she should switch to a new boyfriend who is not a sexist jerk. Still, throughout the film it’s clear that the physical threat of the vampires is being mirrored by social threats from society in general: “She’s had sex!” says the random younger student at the football game when he sees Merrick is watching Buffy; “You’re a dyke!” says the motorcyclist whose come-on is rejected and whose bike is commandeered; “I’ve always wanted you!” says the vampire footballer as he prepares his killing blow. Men watching and desiring Buffy and conceiving of her in sexual terms is presented, over and over again, as an oppressive force that is threatened by Buffy’s power. The two sides come together in Lothos, the vampiric big bad, who uses the same kind of language to speak of the Slayers he has killed in the past: “The names, the faces, they all melt together. After a time, there really is no difference. One more pathetic bitch, begging for me to suck on her clotted heart.” Lothos is a big speechifying dick, basically.

I think this take on vampires-as-rape-culture makes a lot of sense in thinking about the TV show, and indeed, I am hardly the first person to frame it in this way. It’s one more point of reference I’ll try to keep in mind as I keep watching, anyway. I don’t think it was ever a deliberate interpretation but it doesn’t need to be – the nature of vampires and their associated imagery is such a good fit for the pervasive harms of rape culture that the linkage comes through regardless. TV shows are cultural products and reproduce that culture, even (especially) when they want to interrogate it. Rape culture sits under the whole series, like the spirit at the seance, slowly spelling out its name.

Other thoughts:
* Movie Buffy can sense vampires through menstrual cramps. It’s a vivid, interesting idea, but I honestly can’t tell if it’s a good idea or not.
* There’s a great Whedon 3/4 swerve in the death of Merrick the Watcher. You know it’s coming – the setup is exactly like the death of Obi-Wan in Star Wars! But how it plays out is a definite surprise.
* The weird slang that became known as Whedon-speak makes sense here. It’s the same valley girl caricature depicted in Clueless. Buffy transitions out of it as the movie goes on, to the point of saying to her friends “what language are you speaking?” – but Whedon obviously liked the rhythm of this hyper-stylised form of expression, and Buffy in the TV series keeps using it.
* The other pure-Whedon thing to look at is the original pilot for the TV series. Easily findable on Youtube (such as here) but I didn’t find much to say about it. Although it is interesting to imagine an alternative universe where Riff Regan carried on as Willow.)
* Two links relating to Buffy & rape culture, but both of them are about stuff much later on in the series – Gem told me about this episode of the F word podcast analysing the season 6 episode “Seeing Red” which has a controversial plot development; and Phil Sandifer writing cogently on the same subject. Phil’s epic Doctor Who analysis, the TARDIS Eruditorium, is transparently an influence on these Buffy posts. He’s deep into some fascinating stuff on Alan Moore and Grant Morrison in the comics world, too – basically, I strongly encourage you to check out his work.

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MacGyver Linky

Via Steve Hickey, the MacGyver opening credits, with music removed:

So it’s Back to the Future 2’s future. This article on Jaws 19 reveals BTTF fans have made Jaws 5-18 to bridge the gap. Humans are weird.

To promote the American Psycho film, people could sign up to receive emails from Patrick Bateman, set a decade after the novel/film. Approved by Bret Easton Ellis. Bizarre.

That time someone asked a bodybuilding forum whether they could do a full workout every other day, and it all went very weird very fast. (via Pearce)

Here’s what happens when you download the top 10 free apps from respected internet provider Download.com. Hint: it ain’t good.

Well-timed street photographs (from China)

Chinese photographer shoots big groups of people, arranges them into plaid and tartan patterns (via my mum)

Twin Peaks women as pinups – wins points for including Denise. (also via my mum. Very risque, mum.)

Blimey. A January tradition in Japan: eating rice cakes that are so sticky they can kill you. (via Bruce Norris)

Detailed breakdown of the third Hobbit film’s Battle of the Five Armies. Who fought who when and how?

Which shows changed the most between unaired pilot and broadcast version?

Nate Cull embarks on a deep dive into 80s synthpop

Via Mike Upton, a Twitter Choose Your Own Adventure:

Tenured professor at West Point writes brutal, relentless takedown of West Point and the whole institution of military academies in the USA.

Love is a choice. Some very lucky people have heard me ranting about this for twenty years already and I’m not done.

The rise and fall and rise of Lego – lengthy piece from Fast Company

Via Billy and then the entire internet: Who the F… is my D&D character?

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Watching Buffy: s01e12 “Prophecy Girl”

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Blocking gets tricky when you have 7 cast members and you’re shooting in 4:3

The scene that sticks with me is the conversation Xander has with Willow after Buffy turns him down:

Xander: Hey, I know what we’ll do! We can go! Be my date! We’ll, we’ll have a great time! We’ll dance, we’ll go wild… Whadaya say?
Willow: No.
Xander: Good! What?
Willow: There’s no way.
Xander: (exhales) Willow, come on!
Willow: You think I wanna go to the dance with you and watch you wish you were at the dance with her? You think that’s my idea of hijinks? You should know better.
Xander: (exhales) I didn’t think.
Willow: I’m sorry it didn’t work out for you. I’ll see you on Monday.

It’s the “you should know better” that stings the most, because it’s aiming not just at Xander, but also at us, the viewers. You think this works like television, where my emotions don’t function? No. Welcome to the real world.

Well, not exactly the real world. The extremely-stylised and artificial world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is nonetheless a world in which people have real emotions. This is it, the final part of the show’s formula, showing up for the last dance. Right at the start I talked about the problem of Jesse, which is the challenge of combining real threat and real emotion without destroying the show in the process. There was some hesitation in that discussion, though, because the “real emotion” part of that equation wasn’t yet in place. Across the season, you saw a few flashes of the show’s emerging commitment to real emotion: the scene with Buffy and her father in Nightmares, some of the Buffy/Angel stuff in Angel, some of the Willow/Xander stuff in The Pack. But here it all comes together in what is a mission statement for the show: our characters feel every punch. And to emphasise the point, it punches them, over and over again.

The punches land because of the other part of that formula: real threat. Again, real threat has turned up a few times this season: the pack hunting Willow, Darla biting Joyce – but in this episode the show makes it stick, most notably when vampires kill Cordelia’s boyfriend on the school grounds, and when the prophecy demands that Buffy die. There are plenty of lesser threats in there too, such as upset in the unspoken love triangle between Xander, Willow and Buffy.

It turns out that real emotions require real threats. Without threat, emotion doesn’t have enough provocation, nor enough consequence, to feel significant for storytelling. And conversely, without emotion, threat doesn’t ever really matter to us – if we don’t have a chance to feel the effects through the characters, then it just can’t hurt us. It isn’t balancing threats and emotions that threatens the funny, fizzy tone of the show – it’s their mere existence. Real threats and real emotions are intertwined, and they inevitably drag a narrative towards misery.

How can you weight a TV show with these burdens and still try and be funny and fun? This is the fundamental question at the heart of this show, its core ambition. For that matter – why would you even try? This was clearly Joss Whedon’s vision for Buffy, but did he just not realise going in how hard it would be? And when the difficulty did become clear, why didn’t he change course? The problem of Jesse, in the end, illuminates the purpose of this show. Buffy is saying something about life beyond “high school is pretty rough you guys”, and the high school setting is just a convenient microcosm to talk about bigger questions. It will take a while for the show to articulate this question properly and give a clear answer, but there is a sense of it right in this episode: life will try to harm you, and you will be hurt and scared, but the right response is to stand up and keep fighting and keep making jokes and keep loving your friends. In the face of misery, that funny and fizzy tone isn’t ignorance – it is defiance.

So, the episode. Buffy faces down the Master, the Hellmouth opens and tentacles come out, everyone stands together to fight them, Buffy dies (3/4 swerve!) but is revived, the Master gets killed in the library. Plenty happens. The episode makes a point of using every one of its assets to the fullest. Sarah Michelle Gellar gets two knockout sequences. First in the achingly awkward scene where she tells Xander she’s not interested in him romantically – this is the longest scene in the episode and Gellar just nails every aspect of it, using her ability to communicate what’s going on inside her head to take you through every moment of her discomfort. Then, even more so, in the scene where Buffy discovers she’s fated to die that night, and where she has the entirely natural reaction of throwing it all in and walking away.

Nick Brendan’s Xander channels all his flop-sweat hopefulness into that long, long scene with Gellar, and it kind of makes sense of the character’s behaviour all season, his awful teen boy behaviour feels much less odious when you know this sharp lesson is ahead of him. Alyson Hannigan’s Willow does her full big-eyed emotion to give us a snap between the eyes at the deaths at the school, ensuring we can’t dodge this awful intrusion. And Anthony Stewart Head gets to do every part of Giles, enriching and deepening his character and showing that being the grown-up can mean many different things.

Plus, Cordy is right in the mix, and the very appealing Jenny Calendar makes a reappearance and is more or less inducted into the core cast.

But that’s not all! Lots of things get resolved. Among them:

  • The love triangle. Xander admits his feelings for Buffy and asks her out; she refuses. Willow acknowledges her feelings for Xander but accepts they aren’t returned. After just twelve episodes, the show is done with the love triangle and ready to move on.
  • Cordelia’s opposition to the gang. Most of this change happened last episode, but it is brought into a wider context here. Cordelia is friendly with Willow and ends up fully involved in the climax. She’s still an outside element, but she’s no longer in opposition to them.
  • Buffy’s core issue this season, balancing her desire for a normal high school life with her Slayer responsibilities. The choice is made brutally stark: if she chooses to be a Slayer, she’ll die tonight. She chooses to be Slayer anyway. This question is resolved.
  • Giles’s relationship with Buffy – is he the cool and distant Watcher, using her like a pawn on a chessboard, or a father figure, concerned about her welfare and seeking to keep her safe? Here Giles defies his own rules and indeed prophecy itself, trying to keep Buffy safe. Their relationship is now much more equal, and much more emotionally complete.

Each of these is a prominent part of season one. The show tosses all of them away. This is a show committed to reinvention. It’s the flipside of the problem of Jesse – real change is possible, too. It’s an interesting move for a show with a future – they throw out the moves that work for them so they don’t get stale. But they have to trust they’ll find new moves that also work. I understand Whedon and his team having that confidence, but they’re not the only ones calling the shots. If this was a bigger show, I doubt they’d get permission from higher-ups to make such radical changes.

Luckily, Buffy wasn’t big. It was small. Very small, with a name people couldn’t take seriously. People underestimated it, never guessing just how hard it could punch.

Hmmm. That description reminds me of someone.

Other notes:
* You know, it strikes me that this would actually be a perfectly effective first episode. Is the rest of season one redundant?
* To my eyes, the opening fight scene is shot differently to previous fight scenes. Buffy comes into her own fully here. She is fierce, dominant, tough: the Slayer, fully-formed.
* Willow talks about being in “the club”, which is better than “the Slayerettes”. The definitive nickname for the Slaying gang is still a while away!
* The show has a nice nudge at the audience where it leads you to expect the big climax at the Bronze, one of the show’s two standing sets. Then it reveals, no, the big climax is at the Library, the same boring place you’ve been in all season!
* That Anointed One kid turns out to have been a bit of a waste of time, huh? The perils of making story as you go – sometimes you realise that gun on the mantelpiece doesn’t actually need to get fired, oh well.
* Cordelia’s troubled driving is a callback to her driving lesson way back in episode three.
* Angel’s not having breath is funny given he can speak, and will thereafter be completely ignored by the show. Nevertheless it gives Xander a suitably downbeat moment of heroism – building on his courage in Nightmares, where (as Maire pointed out to me) we saw Xander willingly face his greatest fear for his friends.
* After Buffy’s resuscitation she says something like “I feel strong, I feel different”. This is interesting – and something the show doesn’t make much of thereafter. Still, the implication is clear, that she becomes at this moment “slayer plus”, something other than she was before. This could be read as an escape from patriarchical control – but all of that subtext is some way from being developed. As it is, this is just an intriguing dangling thread.

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Watching Buffy: s01e11 “Out Of Mind, Out Of Sight”

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This is the episode where we finally discover more about a Buffy character who’s been there from the beginning but has mostly just come across as a vapid popular girl. At this point in the show’s history, it was impossible to know how important she would later become! Well, the journey from side player to important feature really begins right here. That’s right, this is the episode where we are properly introduced to Harmony Kendall.

Also, Cordelia Chase. We’ll get to her in a moment.

Harmony gets her name in this episode. Oddly enough, she is the longest-running character in the entire Buffy television mythology. She first appeared in the unaired pilot for Buffy, and she was also in the final episode of Angel, the beginning and the end of the Buffy-verse. (If you discount the unaired pilot because it was unaired, then she drops below Angel to second place – by only one episode.) Her longevity tells us a few things about this show – here are three I can think of right off the bat:

  • This is a show that loves to hold on to its bit players. (Harmony is not the only background face from the unaired pilot who eventually turns into a significant character.) That’s another sign of the show’s comics-inspired commitment to build a world around the characters and reward loyal and attentive viewers.
  • Harmony, or a character like her, is useful for storytelling. Mean, dumb, and popular, Harmony is a great contrast character for the show’s central figures, who repeatedly choose to be kind, smart and unpopular. Her poor judgement and mean streak also mean she’s an easy excuse to make a bad situation worse – always handy for writers who need to hit four climactic moments every episode.
  • Harmony, or a character like her, is useful for the theme and tone. This show needs to find laughs, and Harmony is essentially a comedic figure – even in these early episodes where she’s played straight as a mean girl, the show’s stance on such people is essentially that of mockery. Not only that, but she’s a female comedic figure, and when you look at the entire Buffy/Angel mythos, there are precious few of those. For all its limitations and flaws, the Buffyverse tries hard to speak with a female voice, and Harmony is a useful contributor to that goal.

Which brings us to Cordelia. At the start of this episode, Cordelia sits in the mean girl chair that Harmony will later occupy. She was intended to serve the show’s themes and narrative by being Buffy’s dark reflection, the representation of what Buffy might be like if she hadn’t pursued the slayer path. However, Buffy rapidly became a different sort of character and the mean girl just wasn’t so important to the stories the show pursued. So this episode, the show makes the moves it needs to make Cordelia relevant again.

A change like this isn’t easy. You need to take an audience from one view of a character at the beginning to a completely different view by the end. To set up the change, the episode revisits the relationship between Buffy and Cordelia. Buffy has a clumsy moment, spilling her weapons on the floor in front of Cordelia, exactly the same move from the pilot. Clumsiness like this is out of character for Buffy by now, but needs must, and it neatly shows the massive status difference between the two.

We also get some deft character work, with one of Buffy‘s increasingly rare classroom scenes. Cordy is intensely insensitive to Shylock’s famous “if you prick us, do we not bleed” speech. This is the kind of move high school shows often makes with the vapid mean girl – the amusingly skewed interpretation of something that shows how self-involved they are. But the show is ahead of the game here, because it upends this cliche by making Cordelia absolutely right. Shylock *is* self-involved, and he should get over himself. But then, before you’ve even realised she’s hit the nail on the head, she seamlessly moves to some actual self-involvement (“I ran over her leg and she thought it was all about her!”), and it’s all the funnier because it comes right after the Shylock bit. Without drawing attention to it, the show is complicating her character, and suddenly giving her a power that she will carry forward: Cordy starts being right far more often than she’s wrong. And if all this complication wasn’t enough, the scene next has Cordelia asking her teacher for academic help. We haven’t seen her asking for help before, and an interest in academic success isn’t a strong feature of the mean girl archetype, so with only a few lines of dialogue Cordelia’s character has irrevocably shifted from how she seemed in every previous appearance.

So with all this at work, we are set up for a bigger swerve in Cordy’s character and role. First, when the bad supernatural trouble kicks off, Cordelia goes to find Buffy to ask for help. Despite the status differences, she acknowledges that Buffy has power in this domain and she isn’t too proud or stupid to ask her for help. And then, building further on this, Buffy and Cordy get to have a heart-to-heart – which, in line with Cordy’s new role as truthspeaker, comes in the form of Cordy pointing out Buffy has misjudged her. It’s a short scene, but perfectly executed to reframe everything about Cordelia. It changes her position in the show. Cordelia is no longer Buffy’s dark reflection, now she’s the one who says what no-one else will say, the outsider perspective, the reminder of the need for humility, the unexpected intrusion that forces reconsideration.

Cordy’s thank you to Buffy at the end is a moment that’s been earned. This is a significant change in the basic structure of the show. It’s not a big change, Cordy isn’t really a core character despite being in the credits, but it is a clear sign once again that Buffy is not afraid to make changes and to allow its premise to shift and its characters to change and grow (or die). This is priming the audience for the next episode, which doubles down on these kinds of structural change.

The monster in this episode is related to these themes, but unfortunately the links aren’t very strong. Marcie, the villain of the piece, is invisible, and she turned invisible because no-one noticed her. She’s a successful example of the monster-as-metaphor approach Buffy shoots for – her power and her villainous motivation both derive from social exclusion, with Cordelia as the most powerful excluder. (Willow and Xander also implicated, however.) There are obvious connections between Marcie feeling invisible and Cordelia and Buffy feeling that no-one really knows them, but you can’t push this too far – true social isolation is much less pleasant than Cordelia’s and Buffy’s complaint of being misunderstood. It makes Marcie a deeply sympathetic character, as she is presented very much as an innocent.

Turning Marcie into an exciting Buffy episode turned out to be a little bit harder, though, and ultimately the episode decided to throw out that sympathy. Invisible Marcie’s behaviour is simply inexcusable, and probably sociopathic. She uses her invisibility to physically assault and injure unsuspecting victims, which is far beyond any reasonable response to Cordelia’s meanness. I’d be curious about an alternative run at this episode where Marcie’s revenge was more petty and in keeping with the “crimes” against her, and the threat developed not through her aggression and malice but through some other means such as escalating unintended consequences. I think the drama in such an episode would be much more engaging, but the story would obviously be harder to put together, and you’d also lose the hilariously pointed coda where Marcie is recruited by the government.

It’s also possible to read Marcie’s extreme behaviour as the show refusing to abide by the rules for how female power is exercised. If the invisible foe was a male character, would I have taken such exception to his use of violence? Probably not, if I’m honest. And it’s worth noting that the idea for Marcie comes from Joss Whedon’s own feelings and experiences in high school. There is nothing about invisibility that demands the character be female. Marcie could even be seen as closing a loop on gendered stereotypes – she is so profoundly diminished by her feminine meekness and mildness, that she becomes perfectly suited for unfettered masculine violence.

This brings up one of the underlying themes hiding in plain sight in Buffy – girls can punch stuff too! – and it is quite a profound one, a sharp rebuke to the sexist idea that women fight their battles through words, particularly through gossip and verbal cruelty. Which is, I suppose, another reason why the “vapid popular mean girl” is a useful figure in the narrative world Buffy is constructing. Cordelia can’t be that character any more, but narrative abhors a vaccuum, and luckily Harmony was right there waiting to be sucked into position. Welcome to the hellmouth, Harm!

Other thoughts:
* According to wiki, this episode is also known as “Invisible Girl”. That’s how I always think of it. Not sure where that name comes from – early TV listings maybe?
* The comics-style structure of Buffy is again visible in the scene where Angel visits Giles in the library. This scene is entirely there to set up future developments, and it’s done exactly the same way Chris Claremont would introduce an upcoming storyline in an issue of Uncanny X-Men.
* The discussion of non-mystical explanations for Marcie’s invisibility is neat – if perception can become reality, then we have a ready-made mechanism for literalising metaphors. It’s perhaps too easy, though, or it makes the mechanics of the storytelling too obvious, because the show doesn’t really use this kind of explanation again. (At the same time, moving it into the non-mystical realm justifies the intervention of government at the end.)
* The “Be my deputy!” bit is lovely because of Willow and Xander’s goofy delivery. This bit is in the show to reinforce Buffy’s isolation, but to my mind it justifies itself as the only depiction I’ve ever seen of how bizarre an in-joke can be when seen from the outside.

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One Star Linky

Via Pearce, this guy only gives one-star reviews on Amazon, and he writes them as poetry. And they’re awful.

Via Grant & Lorin, an expert skewering of those “cosmic” science docos:

Re: last week’s linky: maybe Jack Davis isn’t retiring after all? Reports differ. He’s 90, he’s allowed to change his mind!

I think I might have linked to this before, but anyway: download heaps of pulp magazines from the Pulp Magazine Archive

My friend Jen is doing interesting freelance indy journalism on the Guardian-supported Contributoria platform. People put up article proposals, and anyone can sign up with a free membership to indicate support for any articles they like. It’s a fascinating model for getting new voices and new stories out there in a sustainable way – well worth looking into. Do sign up and have a look around – to start with, check out Jen’s latest proposal (which has been fully backed so she’s working on it now) here: The Road to Iguala: The search for 43 students missing in Mexico

A year of Listener covers. Not pretty.

Pratchett & Gaiman’s Good Omens – BBC radio adaptation with stellar cast. Free to listen around the world for another month or so.

Amazing amazing cosplay. Look at this even if you hate cosplay, it’s wild.

John Cage’s 4’33”, autotuned

Why airlines want to make you suffer

And finally, also via Pearce: penis injuries from 2014, as recorded in the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s database of emergency room visits. Take care out there everyone.

(Friday Linky’s gonna take a break for a few weeks I reckon. Holiday time!)

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Wee Beastie 2014 Omnibus

On Facebook I share random snippets from life with our Wee Long-leggedy Beastie. Here’s the 2014 collection:
(last year: part 1, part 2)

Dec 30, 2013:

Me: Would you like some stonefruit, Wee Beastie?
WB: Yes please, I am very fruitable today.

Jan 20:

Wee Beastie, on grandparents’ bird bath: “Birds don’t like to have baths in it. I think it’s because they don’t have any toys in there to play with.”

WB knows what’s required for a good bath experience.

Jan 21:

Wee Beastie awarded a yellow lollipop for entering a colouring competition. She is extremely excited.

WB: You know what this tastes like? It tastes like the inside of the sun.

Feb 2:

Life with a Wee Beastie, middle-of-the-night wakeup edition:

WB: DADDY!
Me: (wake up, stagger into WB’s room)
WB: DADDY…
Me: Yes honey, I’m here?
WB: Daddy…
Me: Yes?
WB: I want you to go away.

WB instantly falls fast asleep.

Feb 12:

I knew you when you were just a caterpillar.
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Feb 13:

Wee Beastie:
Daddy, there are four things!
(Holds out hand, starts count at her thumb)
One, two, three, four, five.
(Obvious double take, stares at unexpected fifth finger.)
(Comes to decision.)
The fifth one is for tomorrow.

I actually had no idea what she was counting, this was the entire conversation.

Feb 24:

Wee Beastie: I wonder when i will get a cat.
Me: Well, there’s a bit of a problem with that, because cats make me sneeze.
WB: Oh that’s okay. You might disappear for a long time. That would solve the problem.
Me: Wouldn’t you be sad if I disappeared?
WB: I don’t think so, because mummy would be there, and I would have a cat.

Feb 28:

Wee Beastie, riding in the car on the way home from running madly around the Mitre 10 play area with her friend Charley, pipes up suddenly:

WB: You know dad, we are all in a story.
Me: What?
WB: There is a story about a mummy and a daddy and a little daughter.
Me: What is the name of the daughter?
WB: It’s me!
Me: And what do they do in the story?
WB: Nothing, they just have adventures.
Me: Are you saying that we are in a story right now?
WB: Yes!
Me: Well… who’s telling the story?
WB: I don’t know! I wish I could find out.
Me: How could we find out?
WB: I think we need to jump.
Me: Jump?
WB: We’d jump really high. If we get lots of trampolines and put them on top of each other then we could jump up really high and see who is telling the story. And mummy would hear the sound of us jumping on the trampolines at her work and she would ask her friends at work “who is on those trampolines?” but it would be us!
Me: And if we jumped really high we might see…
WB: Yes. I’m sure he’s up there. I think it’s a really tall man up in the sky who is telling the story. I’m sure he is.
Me: And we’re in the story.
WB: We are a story.

—-

This conversation was kind of amazing.

Mar 12:

Wee Beastie has turned on Monsters Inc. DVD, arranged her cuddly toy friends on the floor to watch it, sat with them with words of comfort through the scary bit, and has now left them to keep watching while she plays in the other room.

Mar 13:

Wee Beastie has taken to hollering “Stop, thief!” at me whenever she wants me to slow down. Wondering where she picked that up, I asked who else says “Stop, thief”. Answer: Mr Macgregor, shouting at Peter Rabbit.

I anticipate many happy visits to the mall with a small child shouting “Stop, thief!” at me as I progress through the shops and aisles.

Mar 19:

Wee Beastie has been listening intently while adults do wedding planning around her. She has told me that tomorrow she will have a wedding. She is marrying Randall from Monsters Inc, and the guests will be characters from her other DVDs.

Mar 20:

FEIJOAAAAAAAAA
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Mar 30:

Wee Beastie singing to herself as she plays with her cardboard Maisy house:
“Maisy’s world! Maisy’s world! Maisy’s worldy world!
Maisy’s world is so much fun, umpy dumpy durld!”

Apr 11:

Wee Beastie: Daaad come with me and play in my room
Me: But I was just about to sit down and have a cup of coffee
WB: You can do that in my room!
Me: It isn’t really the same. I can come and play with you now, but when will I be able to have my coffee? Soon?
WB: Yes, soon. You can come and play with me now and then we’ll both come in here and have drinks.
Me: How long will we play?
WB: *thinks* Four years.
Me: Four years?
WB: Yes, in four years you can come here and get your cup of coffee. Now let’s go!

May 14:

wee beastie!
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May 17:

Wee Beastie has started asking for stories about the giraffe pictured on the height chart on her wall. She has named this giraffe “Pickle Dumb Harry” which is basically the best name ever for anything.

This one led to some actual fan art by the amazing Matt Cowens:
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Jun 27:

Wee Beastie: “When I grow up I want to be a tooth fairy.” This is the first time she’s ever announced an ambition in life.

Jul 10:

Cal: Wee Beastie, we might go on an adventure! What do you think of that?
WB: Urrrrrn!
Cal: What was that?
WB: *squints* Gnnnnnn! Nrrrrrr!
Cal: What are you saying?
WB: I WAS TRYING TO WINK BUT IT DIDN’T WORK!

Jul 27:

Wee Beastie, looking at Auckland’s Sky Tower: “There should be a lookout on the top because a monster could break that into pieces very easily.”

Aug 15:

Wee Beastie at music today – they do an activity using objects from the natural world.

Teacher: And this is called a wish-bone.
*children all stare in wonder*
WB, confidently: It’s from a wish dinosaur.
Teacher: From a wish dinosaur you think?
WB: Yes, those are its wish antlers.

Which led to this amazing art from the marvellous Lorin O’Reilly:
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Aug 18:

Wee Beastie was a bit troubled when some other kids pretended to be chased by an imaginary monster.

WB: If only Randall was there to tell them the monster isn’t real!

Randall is an imaginary monster, so I guess he’d be well qualified for that job.

Aug 29:

Wee Beastie eagerly playing “accountants” with her Lego. She says she heard about them on Play School. They go to schools and do lots of counting.

Sep 22:

Cal shows Wee Beastie a parody version of “Let It Go”. She is perplexed by the different lyrics.

WB: I think he is still learning all the words.
*listens a bit longer*
WB: He’s really not very good at learning, is he?

Oct 12:

Wee Beastie used to hate the noise of the lawnmower outside (and similar big noises) – not afraid exactly, but like it physically pained her. So we bought earmuffs. Which, of course, she absolutely refused to wear.

Now, two years later and no longer bothered by noise, she has discovered them and taken to wearing them around the house. She calls them her “eargloves”.

Yes the whole point of this story is “eargloves”.

Oct 12:

Wee Beastie is babysitting her cousin. Time for a musical interlude.
[can’t embed the video, watch it here, 11 seconds]

Oct 17:

Bedtime:
Me: I love you to the moon and back!
Wee Beastie: I love you to the sun and back! Daddy, how do you get to the sun?
Me: You have to fly in a rocketship for a really long time.
WB: But by the time you get there, won’t it be nighttime?

I told her that was a great question and we’d talk about it tomorrow, because GO TO BED CHILD. But it is a great question!

Oct 31:

This morning’s fashion advice from the Wee Beastie:

WB: What outfit are you going to wear today? You should wear the red stripey top with your jeans, I’ve never seen that outfit before. Well I have seen it one time and it was so smooky.
Me: It was smooky?
WB: It was so smooky I just laughed.

Nov 29:

Wee Beastie: “Wearing two skirts at once makes me dance beautifuller!”

Dec 7:

Wee Beastie rocks the stage at Christmas in the Hutt!
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Dec 18:

Wee Beastie is visiting her cousin’s music session. On being told some of the songs are in the Māori language:
WB: I speak Spanish, and Dog.

Dec 20:

Wee Beastie is four today!
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Dec 21:

Wee Beastie asked if there would be a second Frozen movie. I asked her what the story would be if she made it, and she instantly began outlining. It goes like this:

* It’s Christmas but there is no snow!
* The people ask Elsa to use her magic powers to make it snow for Christmas.
* She agrees and uses her powers but then the magic turns everything to ice! (Again.)
* Elsa goes and builds an ice house on a pointy mountain! (Again.)
* Anna wasn’t there to help her sister because she had “done a marry” with Kristoff
* But then she comes back to help!
* Elsa locks the doors with ice so Anna can’t get in.
* Anna unlocks the doors with her keys.
* The snow monster throws Elsa outside!
* But Anna throws a big rock on the snow monster which smushes him into pieces.
* Elsa is saved!
* And then the winter stops because it isn’t Christmas any more.
THE END.

WB also says that this time, it’s _Elsa_ who sings “First time in forever” and _Anna_ who sings “Let it go”.

Watching Buffy: s01e10 “Nightmares”

dean butler in buffy the vampire slayer4

With the exception of one notable scene, this episode is a perfectly serviceable monster-of-the-week entry. It introduces a Buffy subgenre that will pop up once or twice every season: the whole world goes wacky! (See also “Bewitched Bothered & Bewildered”, “Band Candy”, “Gingerbread”, “Once More With Feeling”…) In this case, everyone at the school starts having their nightmares come to life. Turns out there’s a psychic kid in a coma making the nightmares happen, because his little league coach beat him into the coma.

The explanation is a bit vague but the concept of this episode is great. Nightmares coming to life is a great opportunity to reveal more about the characters and show some of the hidden aspects of who they are. That’s interesting to the audience by itself, but it also means you can help the characters learn about each other, giving them insights into the secret fears their friends are holding back.

Yet for all this potential, the reality is underwhelming. For some reason the episode ignores the “highschool is hell” motif of the series and makes the cause of the nightmares a younger boy. Making a kid be the cause puts the problem outside of Buffy’s world; Buffy is positioned as a considerate adult helping a child in need, which is a default storyline for procedural TV shows but a poor fit for this one. As we’ve seen, whenever the series steps away from its highschool milieu, it feels weaker. The show will be able to tell stories outside of high school eventually, but the groundwork is not yet in place. And there is no reason why Billy couldn’t be a high school student! That simple change would have charged much of the narrative with direct relevance to the characters. A missed opportunity.

Also, the nightmares we see revealed are utterly mundane – Willow’s stagefright (which was played for laughs in the episode just before this one!), Xander’s fear of clowns (also revealed last episode), generic nightmares of being naked in front of people or screwing up exams… Boring. Even when the episode builds towards climax and gets more personal, most of what we see is completely unsurprising. Giles’s worst fear is Buffy dying? Gosh that must be the secret reason why he’s said “be careful” five times in every episode before this one! Buffy’s worst fear is dying and turning into a vampire? Hmm well you are a vampire slayer so that’s about as insightful as the “you had one job” meme.

The whole episode feels undercooked. Even the gags, which are usually pretty reliable even in the weak episodes, just don’t land – there’s this Wizard of Oz bit when the kid wakes up that just thuds. And the episode closer, with Willow getting Xander to admit he still fancied Buffy when she was a vampire, is among the weakest finishes in the entire seven seasons of the show. This episode just isn’t finding the good stuff. Maybe it was a rush job?

Except for one scene. In fact I think it’s possible this whole episode was created as an excuse to play this scene, because it works like crazy. It’s the scene with Buffy’s dad in it. I feel like quoting the whole thing (source):

Hank: I came early because there’s something I’ve needed to tell you. About your mother and me. Why we split up.
Buffy: Well, you always told me it was because…
Hank: Uh, I know we always said it was because we’d just grown too far apart.
Buffy: Yeah, isn’t that true?
Hank: Well, c’mon, honey, let’s, let’s sit down. You’re old enough now to know the truth.
Buffy: Is there someone else?
Hank: No. No, it was nothing like that.
Buffy: Then what was it?
Hank: It was you.
Buffy: Me?
Hank: Having you. Raising you. Seeing you everyday. I mean, do you have any idea what that’s like?
Buffy: What?
Hank: Gosh, you don’t even see what’s right in front of your face, do you? Well, big surprise there, all you ever think about is yourself. You get in trouble. You embarrass us with all the crazy stunts you pull, and do I have to go on?
Buffy: No. Please don’t.
Hank: You’re sullen and… rude and… you’re not nearly as bright as I thought you were going to be… Hey, Buffy, let’s be honest. Could you stand to live in the same house with a daughter like that?
Buffy: Why are you saying all these things? (a tear rolls down her cheek)
Hank: Because they’re true. I think that’s the least we owe one another.
She begins to sniff and cry.
Hank: You know, I don’t think it’s very mature, getting blubbery when I’m just trying to be honest. Speaking of which, I don’t really get anything out of these weekends with you. So, what do you say we just don’t do them anymore?
She stares at him in shock. He pats her on the leg.
Hank: I sure thought you’d turn out differently.
He gets up and leaves.

It’s a brutal sequence. Almost hard to watch, and a thousand times more affecting than anything else in the episode. But take another look at the scene, read that dialogue again: it’s so on the nose, it’s almost a parody. There’s no subtlety to it at all. Dad just comes up and says all the things any child of divorce fears the most. The simplicity of it, played straight, gives it power but also carries enormous risks that it would all fall over and become laughable, like a soap opera sequence. That it works as well as it does is down to one person.

So it’s time, finally, to talk about the MVP of Buffy, the person carrying this whole joint. Her name is Sarah Michelle Gellar, and she’s the lead.

Let’s be clear right away: Gellar is not a great actor, whatever that might mean. She can’t pull off the wild feat of making you really believe in the unlikely world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She’ll never really convince you that she’s a badass fighting type. She can’t trick you into thinking Whedon’s dialogue, which would soon earn its own adjective “Whedonesque”, is emerging spontaneously from her character’s mind. But hey – those are significant challenges.

But. She’s good. And there are some things she can do really well. She was early in her career, and stepped effortlessly into a sole lead aged just 20. She had come out of the daily daytime soaps, All My Children specifically, for which she won a Daytime Emmy. Her time on that show had honed some aspects of her craft to a very high degree, and they were perfectly suited for the Buffy gig.

Gellar has excellent timing (comic timing gets talked about plenty, and she has it, but it’s a general skill and her instincts for playing responses and pauses and emotional beats are impeccable). She has a big range – she can creditably play all over the emotional spectrum. But above all, she can communicate pretty much anything. Every step of her internal journey is clear on the screen. The audience always knows where she’s at and what’s driving her, and while she’s sometimes not exactly convincing, you never lose the thread. In a show like this, that’s a huge asset. It lets Buffy get away with big monsters as well as real emotional responses to those big monsters. Gellar sets the tone. She’s perfect.

As this show commits to long-form storytelling and emotional development, Gellar’s ability to tell stories with her acting choices will become an essential part of the show as a whole. By this episode, the show knew what Gellar could do, and this episode – this one scene – gave her a chance to dig a bit deeper than before. She sells this scene like crazy. She makes it land. You know exactly what she’s feeling, and it hurts.

And then fifteen minutes later she’s wearing vampire makeup and making jokes while she punches people. That’s the gig. That’s Buffy.

Other thoughts:
* Despite Mark Metcalfe’s great performance in the role of the Master (straddling the funny/scary divide), this episode is the first time he actually meets Buffy – and it’s in a dream. They don’t come face to face in real life until the final episode. Keeping the Master isolated is not the strongest choice for their conflict, although you can see why they did it – Buffy needs to be free to develop through the season step by step, and an early confrontation with the Master would make that harder. Still, it’s one of the reasons the Master is not remembered as a great villain, only a good one.

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Watching Buffy: s01e09 “Puppet Show”

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Pictured: a piece of wood shaped like a person, and also oh forget it you can do the rest of the joke yourself

Last episode I talked about how the show had built up a lot of confidence and then promptly screwed up. This time around, they stick the landing – with style. If this episode was a talent show entrant, it would win the prize.

It surprises me that this episode has a poor reputation. It’s charming as hell. The show is relishing being itself, telling here a story that only Buffy the Vampire Slayer could tell, and the gags are interwoven with horror flourishes and solid character work in a way that shows off the potential of the Buffy formula.

Most of all, this episode wants to show off the 3/4-ish swerve that is steadily becoming a more important part of the Buffy style. This show doesn’t just want to keep you entertained, it wants to utterly wrongfoot you at least once an episode. The promise to the viewers is clear: we will surprise you.

Surprise, genuine surprise, is rare on television. The Twilight Zone traded in surprise, but most other classics of television found that surprise didn’t deliver what they needed. Structure and repetition were the things that kept viewers happy and kept them coming back. Now and then TV did offer surprises planned and unplanned, but these were memorable precisely because they cut against the ethos of the times. By the 90s, surprises were more frequently encountered on the screen, especially on the fringe networks where shock and surprise had value. They still didn’t have too much penetration in weekly scripted comedies and dramas, where they tended to be saved for “sweeps week” episodes where surprises were teased in advance to create a ratings bump. And here was this new young show deciding to make surprise one of the stylistic anchors of their whole endeavour.

Of course this goes right back to the pilot episode and the death of Jesse – the idea that noone, and nothing is safe. The flipside of that is, everything is possible, and this episode lays that out in the most clear-cut way possible.

So, the story. This episode is about a sinister ventriloquist’s dummy. Mysterious deaths are happening at the school talent show, and the dummy (and its owner) are implicated. The audience even sees the doll stalking Buffy. And yet the sinister dummy motif is openly mocked throughout the first half of the the episode. The show is taunting us: do you really think we’d go there, to the living ventriloquist’s dummy, the stupidest of all horror motifs? Can you guess what we’ve got up our sleeve? Here, let’s tease that the new Principal is the villain! Ha, that’s too obvious a swerve. Or is it?

This gamesmanship will only work if the reveal, when it comes, lives up to the hype. And they nail it. The dummy is alive! But – wait a second – it’s a good guy? It’s a demon hunter?

People who, like me, have fallen in love with the Buffy mythos are inured to its flourishes of weirdness and goofiness. This episode is where all that really starts up. Once you introduce an animate ventriloquist dummy demon hunter, you have opened a road to kooksville and put up a welcome sign. But that’s not the whole story, of course: Sid the dummy isn’t just a piece of weirdness, he is a character in every sense, and given both respect and sympathy by the script. They don’t just play him straight, they put him right at the centre of the episode’s dramatic arc. There was no other show that could tell this story. Buffy was marking its territory.

With 9 episodes down, Buffy isn’t done growing yet. It hasn’t properly started grappling with the problem of Jesse, and the dense emotional content that will become the show’s backbone isn’t in place. But so much else is right there to see in this episode, and that’s why I think the bad reputation is inexplicable. This is far and away my favourite story in season 1.

Other thoughts:
* The show’s confidence is also on show in the willingness to let the cast play a bit more loosely, encouraging and keeping some ad libs, like Xander’s “redrum” and – this one’s perfection and signals the actress’s future anchoring a long-running sitcom – Willow freezing and running off-stage. There’s also a marvellous gag where Giles brings all the young performers in for a “power circle” just before the show starts. Hilariously deadpan.
* Poor dead Morgan was the smartest kid in school. So were the demon-abused computer geeks in episode 8. It doesn’t pay to be a geek in Sunnydale High!
* Sinister, nasty, slimy Principal Snyder is introduced this episode. He immediately starts laying the groundwork for the world of Sunnydale beyond the confines of the school.
* More signs of the influence of 70s/80s Marvel Comics on this show: the subtle continuity references when Snyder refers to the school’s reputation for “Suicide, missing persons, spontaneous cheerleader combustion…”; the willingness to embrace goofiness plays to me very much like the stranger end of 70s Marvel, particularly the work of Steve Gerber – Sid the demon hunting dummy would fit right into his Defenders run.
* But most of all, this episode plays out like every single superhero team-up – two heroes meet, have a fight due to a misunderstanding (they each think the other is a demon), then figure out their mistake and team up to take out the bad guy.

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Missile Toe Linky

Carol of the old ones (via Tom Crosby)

Why James Cameron’s Aliens is the best movie about technology

Lord of the Rings: Let It Go

Quartz has picked its chart of the year.

Talk about your end-of-an-eras – cartoonist Jack Davis retires at 90. Truly a legend.

Slate has selected their picks for the 25 best podcast episodes ever.

Introducing Carrot: a pitch-perfect satire of the tech industry (from the Atlantic)

Rewriting the rules of Dreidel so it’s actually fun and doesn’t take 19 hours to play. (If, like me, you didn’t know the rules of Dreidel, this works as a neat example of how simple rules that *seem* sensible have unexpected consequences, and how simple changes can deliver much much more fun. I spend a lot of time playing Snakes and Ladders right now, and it’s pretty tedious, but I keep myself entertained thinking of simple hacks like this that would make it awesome.)

The transfer of Buffy to HD/widescreen has been something of a debacle. Characters have their heads cut off, crew members appear on the screen, etc. i09 has the goss (via beloved leader David R)

And finally, Pulp Fiction’s most famous scene, a shot-for-shot remake, underwater

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