Buffy studies is a term applied to the collection of written works about, and the university courses that discuss aspects of, the television program Buffy the Vampire Slayer and, to a lesser extent, its spin-off program Angel. It explores issues related to gender and other philosophical issues as expressed through the content of these shows. Such work is concerned with the scholarly study and exploration of Joss Whedon's popular television series that take place in the fictional Buffyverse.
Neda Ulaby of NPR describes Buffy as having a "special following among academics, some of whom have staked a claim in what they call 'Buffy Studies'". Though not widely recognized as a distinct discipline, the term "Buffy studies" is commonly used amongst the academic Buffy-related writings.
Development as academic field
The debut of Buffy (1997–2003) eventually led to the publication of a number of books and hundreds of articles examining the themes of the show from a wide range of disciplinary perspectives including sociology, psychology, philosophy, theology and women's studies. Since January 2001 Slayage: The Online Journal of Buffy Studies has published essays on the topic quarterly, and it continues to do so. Fighting the Forces: What's at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer was published in 2002, and since then many more Buffy books have been published by academic book publishers. There have also been a number of international conferences on the topic. "College courses across the globe are devoted to the show, and secondary schools in Australia and New Zealand also provide Buffy classes." The topic can even be undertaken as part of a Master's degree in Cult Film & TV at Brunel University, London. Increasingly Angel is being analyzed alongside its predecessor, e.g. in the recent 2005 publication, Reading Angel.
The creator of Buffy, Joss Whedon, has responded to the scholarly reaction to his series: "I think it's great that the academic community has taken an interest in the show. I think it's always important for academics to study popular culture, even if the thing they are studying is idiotic. If it's successful or made a dent in culture, then it is worthy of study to find out why. Buffy, on the other hand is, I hope, not idiotic. We think very carefully about what we're trying to say emotionally, politically, and even philosophically while we're writing it... it really is, apart from being a pop-culture phenomenon, something that is deeply layered textually episode by episode."
The response to this scholarly attention has had its critics. The English lecturer Mary Graber is unimpressed with the growing presence of Buffy in universities: she wrote in an article "most parents who send their children off to college have no idea of what is being taught in the humanities classes: pornography appreciation, analysis of the clothing of transvestites, Native American scalp dances, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Jes Battis who authored Blood Relations in Buffy and Angel admits that study of the Buffyverse "invokes an uneasy combination of enthusiasm and ire", and meets "a certain amount of disdain from within the halls of the academy".
Examples of explored themes
- Lorna Jowett, 2005: Sex and The Slayer: A Gender Studies Primer for the Buffy Fan.
- In this paper, published by Wesleyan University Press, Jowett, senior lecturer in American Studies at The University of Northampton and Buffy fan, states that ‘Buffy may be “Barbie with a kung-fu grip”, but she is still Barbie’ (p. 197). Jowett identifies the show as being “post-feminist”, while arguing that it fails to challenge gender stereotypes in meaningful ways. Jowetts book’s first 3 chapters are entitled: Girl Power, Good Girls and Bad Girls, in which Jowett dissects the stereotypes within the female characters that, she argues, are reinforced by the show. The next three chapters are broken into the male stereotypes: Tough men, New Men and Dead Boys. Jowett states that reinforcement of stereotypes exists within the show for male characters as well.
Pop culture studies
- Dee Amy-Chinn and Milly Williamson, 2005: The Vampire Spike in text and fandom: Unsettling oppositions in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
- Amy-Chinn, senior lecturer at Oxford Brookes University and Williamson, of Brunel University, focus on a specific character in this paper, Spike, who as argued by the authors, embodies “the simultaneous expression of erotic repulsion and attraction” and a “fear of and desire for the ‘other’”. The authors compare and contrast the character of Spike to the show’s general treatment of sexuality and self.
- Rhonda Wilcox, 2005: Why Buffy Matters: The Art of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
- Why does Buffy Matter? In this paper Wilcox makes the attempt to bring this television show into perspective for us. Wilcox says, “It matters because it shows that television can be art, and deserves to be so studied…the depth of the characters, the truth of the stories, the profundity of the themes, and their precise incarnation in language, sound and image – all of these matter.” (Wilcox 419). While giving in depth details of all of these elements and also drawing on other academic articles about Buffy, Wilcox helps to bring this television series to the same page for all fans interested in Buffy; from those who are a bit unsure about the series all the way to those die hard fans.
- Wilcox, Rhonda & Lavery, David, 2002. “Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake for Buffy The Vampire Slayer.”
- "Fighting the Forces” explores the struggle to create meaning in an impressive example of popular culture, the television series phenomenon “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. These essays analyze the social and cultural issues implicit in the series and place it in its literary context. Editors Wilcox and Lavery have opened an intriguing doorway to fans of this show, “Issues of gender, generations, race, class, and violence are treated seriously, through an in-depth analysis of both main characters and sidekicks. Class and race are discussed through a study of Buffy’s and her friends’ relationship with the two "other" slayers, American white trash Faith and Jamaican Kendra.” Wilcox and Lavery analyze these many concepts while critiquing other scholarly essays such as “God, New Religious Movements, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Everything Philosophical About Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
- Burr, Vivien., and Jarvis, C. Sept. 2007. “Imagining the Family Representations of Alternative Lifestyles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
- This paper offers studies of the family and how media families affect the views of young people. Through the television show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Burr explores the dangers and advantages of non-normative family forms, especially the non-genetic or ‘chosen’ families. (Burr) There is also a focus that Buffy “endorses a non-hierarchical, ‘democratic vision’ of the family. (Giddens, 1992) Also, Buffy can generate ‘interactive social worlds’ that are a main focus of the spreading of new social, familial practices (Plummer, 1995). Family is viewed in a new and different way through Buffy that leads to such innovations as well in practice and research on the subject.
- Kociemba, David, 2006: “Actually, it explains a lot": Reading the Opening Title Sequences in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
- This paper examines the opening title sequences of the television series in detail, looking at the use of imagery, color, editing, logo, credits, title, and scoring. The opening title sequences of Buffy the Vampire Slayer function as a microcosm of the series itself. They reveal the influence of the creators’ perception of their audience and their own work, the medium’s narrative and artistic conventions, and the media industry’s own practices. They construct the series’ past, shape the viewer’s present experience of the episode, and prepare the way for future narratives. This article won the "Short Mr. Pointy" award for excellence in scholarship in Buffy Studies from the Whedon Studies Association.
The full title "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is shortened to BtVS in the following table.
|Buffy and Angel Conquer the Internet||2009||A multidisciplinary examination of the two series' fandom.|
|Buffy Goes Dark||2009||A look at the final two season of BtVS, aired on UPN.|
|Faith and Choice in the Works of Joss Whedon||April 2008||Exploration of the spiritual and ethical choices made in the Buffyverse by K. Dale Koontz.|
|The Existential Joss Whedon: Evil and Human Freedom in BtVS, Angel, Firefly and Serenity||April 2006||This book examines Joss Whedon's work in an existential light, focusing on ethics, good vs evil, choice, and free will.|
|Aesthetics of Culture in BtVS||January 2006||Matthew Pateman's examination of the cultural commentary contained in Buffy.|
|Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BFI TV Classics)||December 2005||Extended overview of the history of Buffy.|
|Why Buffy Matters||October 2005||Rhonda Wilcox, presents an argument for Buffy as an art form as worthy of respect and acknowledgment as film or literature.|
|Reading Angel||September 2005||Collection covering many topics including the cinematic aesthetics of Angel, its music, shifting portrayals of masculinity, the noir Los Angeles setting, and the superhero.|
|Blood Relations||June 2005||Explores conceptions of family explored in Buffy and Angel.|
|Sex and the Slayer||April 2005||Sex and the Slayer provides an introduction to feminism through Buffy.|
|Five Seasons of Angel||October 2004||A science-fiction novelist and other writers contribute a collection of essays on Angel.|
|Televised Morality: The Case of BtVS||April 2004||Book arguing that TV helps shapes society's moral values, and in this case specifically Buffy.|
|What Would Buffy Do: BtVS as Spiritual Guide||April 2004||Look at the spiritual guidelines on display in Buffy despite the atheism of the show's creator.|
|Reading the Vampire Slayer||March 2004||The book gives in-depth analysis highlighting the many hidden metaphors held within Buffy and Angel.|
|Seven Seasons of Buffy||September 2003||A science-fiction novelist and other writers contribute a collection of essays on Buffy.|
|Slayer Slang||July 2003||An in depth study on the post-modern youth language used in Buffy.|
|Bite Me: Narrative Structures in BtVS||May 2003||Relating narrative structures with: audience pleasure, mise en scène, and the use of symbolism and metaphor.|
|Joss Whedon: The Genius Behind Buffy||May 2003||Short biography of the creator of Buffy, featuring interviews with various casts and crews he has worked with, and an analysis of his creative processes.|
|BtVS and Philosophy||March 2003||Links classical philosophy to the ethics in Buffy.|
|Fighting the Forces||April 2002||Looks at the struggle to examine meaning in Buffy.|
- Ulaby, Neda, "- 'Buffy Studies'", National Public Radio (May 13, 2003)
- Lavery, David, & Wilcox, Rhonda V., Slayage.tv (2001-). The term is in use from the full title of Slayage: Slayage: The Online International Journal of Buffy Studies, and thus has become used in essays by those who contribute to scholarship relating to Buffy. For example, Cantwell uses the term in her essay "While such studies, particularly in Buffy studies, have explored these knowledges, and modes of community 'politics' and interaction" (Marianne Cantwell, "Collapsing the Extra/Textual: Passions and Intensities of Knowledge in Buffy the Vampire Slayer Online Fan Communities", 2004)
- See: "Boffins get their teeth into Buffy", BBC (18 October 2002). "Vampires: Myths and Metaphors of Enduring Evil" Wickedness.net (2002). "The Slayage Conference on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Paper Archive", Slayage.tv (2004). These sources report on three conferences respectively: "Blood, Text and Fears" (University of East Anglia, UK, 2002), Myths and Metaphors of Enduring Evil (Budapest, Hungary, 2003), and "The Slayage Conference" (Nashville, USA, 2003).
- Scholars lecture on 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer', Ctv.ca (May 29, 2004).
- "Study Buffy at university", Metro.co.uk (May 16, 2006) MA course at Brunel University, West London. Although this course has now been withdrawn from the postgraduate prospectus from Aug 20111, and is no longer available.
- "Joss Whedon". The New York Times. 2003-05-16. Retrieved 2007-12-19.[dead link]
- Graber, Mary, "Colleges open minds close door on sense", Ajc.com (2006).
- Battis, Jes, Blood Relations, McFarland & Company (June 2005), page 9.
- Slayage: The Online International Journal of Buffy Studies - A fully electronic peer-reviewed journal dedicated to the scholarly exploration of the creative works of Joss Whedon - especially Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It is edited by David Lavery and Rhonda Wilcox. New issues appear approximately every three months.
- Buffy The Patriarchy Slayer - Bibliography of scholarly articles on Buffy Studies.
- All Things Philosophical - A comprehensive guide to philosophy and ethics relating to the Buffyverse.
- Buffyology - Extensive bibliography of academic articles available online or in print.
- Tea at the Ford - Literary discussion of Buffy/Angel
- Watcher Junior - This is a fully electronic peer-reviewed journal devoted to publishing undergraduate scholarship on the creative works of Joss Whedon - especially Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Three issues have been published.
References in the media
- Financial Times -
- Lancasteronline.com - "'Buffy' the academic slayer"
- Ajc.com - "Colleges' open minds close door on sense"(Broken Link)
- Salon.com - Report on Buffy conference (article featured on front page in November 2002)
- Ctv.ca - Scholars lecture on 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'