Before there was a Team Edward and a Team Jacob, there was Team Angel and Team Spike. The mastermind behind “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Joss Whedon creates worlds that people are easily sucked (pardon the pun) into.
Whedon has amassed a cult following that wear “Joss is my God” t-shirts, attend charity screenings of “Serenity” (the film spawned from “Firefly”) and follow every interview he obliges, hoping to figure out what he’s going to do next.
“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” aired from 1997 to 2003, with its spinoff “Angel” running until 2005. It was bounced from WB to UPN, was the first show to air a lesbian sex scene on network TV, and launched the career of a number of its stars. It’s also spawned a graphic novel series picking up where the TV series left off. Afterward, he moved to the short lived series “Firefly” and most recently “Dollhouse,” which starred Buffy alum Eliza Dushku. He’s currently working on the big screen adaptation of The Avengers for Marvel.
Hollywood is looking at rebooting the franchise, but what they’ve forgotten to take into account is that Whedon is solely responsible for making his ideas come to life. Apparently, they didn’t learn much from the failed movie starring Kristy Swanson. The fandom isn’t supporting a teen killing vampires; they are instead supporting the heart and soul that comes with a smartly written piece of fiction.
Allison Higginbotham hopes to bring Whedon’s brand of metaphor and wit to the classroom. She’s going to be teaching a class at Portland State University titled “Exploring ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’” She was gracious enough to answer some questions about the class and the show in general.
Salem Weekly: What moved you to develop a class on the television series? What was the process like, getting the class approved?
Allison Higginbotham: Shockingly, I’m a huge fan of the series. Last year I was rewatching Buffy (it was my first time I had rewatched it since I started university) and found myself wanting to look at the more academic side of Buffy. I started checking out books on the series and reading Slayage online. Portland State University has this great program called Chiron Studies which allows students to develop a course (syllabus and all) and teach it. I had taken one on Jane Austen in Film a few terms ago and loved how personal the class was. It was great to have discussions with people who were passionate about the subject matter and not just trying to get requirements out of the way. I thought mixing the show with the academic readings would make a really interesting class for fans, who haven’t really looked at the academic side of Buffy. A big hurdle was choosing which episodes to watch.
The process started with me creating a syllabus and submitting a proposal to the Chiron program along with getting a faculty sponsor. I think I first submitted my proposal in February for spring semester 2010. My class actually got rejected twice. Some of it had to do with only a limited number of Chiron courses being taught, but I also had to change some of the course around. I kept getting the critique that they didn’t feel it was “academic” enough. I won’t get into how I feel about that. Anyway, in October I resubmitted my proposal and it finally got accepted.
SW: One of the things that appeals to many is the feminist stance and the metaphors that Whedon uses in most of his work (ie: drunk college kids turn into Neanderthals in the episode “Beer Bad”). Can you talk about how that fits into the class syllabus?
AH: The metaphors behind the monsters are actually one of my favorite things about the series! Along with looking at things like production, we will spend a few classes on metaphors. One class we will be looking at Buffy through a feminist lens (while also discussing some of the arguments AGAINST the series as being feminist.) Another week is the over-the-top after-school special episodes, in which I almost included Beer Bad, but thought it would be too cruel to the students. The metaphors are how many find the series relatable, so it’s a big part of the course.
SW: What’s your favorite episode? Why?
AH: My absolute favorite episode from a film major’s point of view is “The Body”. The way it tackles the subject death within the narrative is great, but Whedon’s camera work and direction in that episode really provide the emotion for the episode.
As a Buffy fan, though, “The Prom” is probably my second favorite. It’s great to see the other students acknowledge how important Buffy is, even though she’s been an outsider throughout her time at Sunnydale High. I tear up everytime she gets the “class protector award.”
SW: The class synopsis talks about the impact of fans. I saw the class originally on whedonesque.com (the unofficial blog for all that is Whedon). Can you talk about the reception among fans and students at PSU?
AH: When I started creating the course I sent the syllabus to a couple of my friends from high school who were Buffy fans. They seemed pretty enthused, but I wasn’t prepared for how much students I didn’t know would react. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that they’re excited for the class and that Buffy is their favorite program. Though the most frequent response when I announce that I’m teaching the class is “For real?” I’ll take it as they see the class as too good to be true.
SW: Portland also has an active community of “browncoats” (Whedon’s “Firefly” fans) that I’m sure would jump at the chance of participating in a class on that show. Are there any plans to branch out into other TV shows or to continue the Buffy class into the future?
AH: I currently don’t have any plans and the class is only being held next semester. The good thing about the Chiron program is that it provides a variety of classes each semester. However, I would love to see more classes on TV shows. There seems to be a bias in academia that television shows and pop culture aren’t academic, but I hope to prove that it can be with my class.
SW: Is there still room available in the class? If so is it available to people not enrolled at PSU already?
Unfortunately my class is all filled up. Occasionally a spot will open up though, so keep checking. You do have to be registered to enroll, however.