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Describing a Certain TV Show (Or Two)

I’m going to describe a TV show that aired when I was in college. I won’t say the name of the show, but you should know that this post has MASSIVE SPOILERS for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Alias (up through the first few episodes of all of Season 3, which is as far as I’ve gotten). Hint hint and such.

Photo of a doll of Buffy

“This is obviously about me.”

In this show, Female Lead is an attractive young woman who can kick anyone’s butt. She’s adept at using any weapon that comes her way, but she’s especially impressive at hand-to-hand combat, using lots of kicks and flips. She’s the subject of a prophecy, and sometimes has nightmares involving religious iconography and blood. Perhaps the hardest thing about her life is the hidden nature of it: some of the closest people to her don’t know anything about the butt-kicking, evil-fighting part of her life. She dies at one point, yet when she returns she has a sort of shadow around her, a new sort of dark seriousness and fierceness that wasn’t there quite as much before. She would gladly sacrifice herself to save the people she loves. (While I won’t tell you her name, it has two syllables, emphasis on the first, ending with an -ee sound.)

Female Lead has two best friends. Female Best Friend is usually whimsical and fun, except for that time that her boyfriend ran away from her, which crushed her. And there was also that time that she turned evil and tried to fight Female Lead–long story. Male Best Friend often gets the show’s best humorous lines, but he senses that he’s often seen as merely the jokester: he feels left out of all the awesome evil-fighting that Female Lead does, wondering what he can offer. At the beginning of the show, he has a secret crush on Female Lead, but that kind of evaporates. At one point, Female Best Friend and Male Best Friend even get together for a while. (It ends badly.)

Female Lead’s fight against evil is helped tremendously by a father figure, a fellow who has a lot more experience in this kind of fight than she does. Sometimes he seems cold and distant, but deep down he really loves her and trusts her abilities.

Photo of Sydney Bristow from Alias

“Who is that other girl up there? Is she trying to take my story or something?”

Female Lead’s main Romantic Interest is a man who hangs out in all those secret places in Los Angeles that most people don’t know about. He looks great in a trench coat and gets beat up a lot. Once, for the greater good, Female Lead even stabs him, despite her love for him–but it’s okay, he doesn’t die. And even though he has flings with other women (most notoriously a blonde woman with a nasty side), we all kind of know that Romantic Interest and Female Lead are destined to be together.

Female Lead puts up with some flirting from Young, Blonde, British Bad Guy (YBBBG), a man who has led a successful life of crime over the years. Even though he fights with Female Lead a lot, he still proposes they work together at one point. He’s a fan favorite, a cool guy with a soft spot for a certain red liquid. (His British accent is faked for the show.)

Gina Torres doesn’t enter this fictional universe often, but when she does, bad things happen.

One trademark of the show is its heavy use of pop music–especially moody, female singers singing sad songs, often heard toward the end of an episode over a montage of events. Besides that, the orchestrated music accompanying other action and emotional scenes is notably good.

The man who created this series wasn’t nearly as popular and well known when it began as he is now. He’s gone on to direct major stars in big-budget action flicks, but some of his directing roles have shown that he still has a nostalgic memory for older styles of filmmaking. He’s pretty much required to be at Comic-Con from now until he dies.

(What have I missed? There must be more parallels.)


Two more for you, and they’re good:

  • Lindsay Crouse guest stars on this show as someone who investigates secrets that the general public doesn’t know about.
  • In the second half of this show, Female Lead discovers that she has a sister (and in a way has kind of had a sister all along, but it’s complicated). This sister’s name is short, with three prominent sounds: the consonants and and the vowel-sound AH.

Images: quichisinsane, “Sydney Bristow” and Scorpions and Centaurs, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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Sirc, Shipka, Summers

Note: This post is my response to Michael J. Faris’s call for a CCCarnival–individual bloggers responding to the same piece in CCC–on Geoffrey Sirc’s recent review essay “Resisting Entropy” (pdf). Check out Michael’s original post for links to other responses.

I guess I should respond to the most controversial points Sirc makes in his essay: his call that we reconsider “composition’s sniffy attitude toward literariness” (510), his frustration with our preference for “savoring ideas” over “savoring prose,” his diss of “us[ing] student texts as the central content focus of a course” (516), and his surprising willingness to throw peer review out the window (518). I’m sure those are the things the other CCCarnival writers will be writing about, so I ought to as well. (I haven’t read anyone else’s responses yet, on purpose.)

But really, I’m thinking about Buffy. Namely, this video that made the rounds a while back:

(And ooh! A pop-up video version!) It’s been discussed to death a million times, but what makes this vid so important is that its creator Jonathan McIntosh wrote so much solid and public commentary on the rhetorical purposes he had in mind when he told this story of Buffy dusting Edward (which we might call meta in a fic/vid context). I.e. he wasn’t just playing around, but he wanted to alert people to the dangerous visions of masculinity and femininity built into the Twilight universe.

After reading Sirc’s piece, my guess is that  our pedagogical visions are most aligned when it comes to texts like “Buffy vs. Edward”: I suspect we both value classes that study texts that blur the boundaries between what counts as rhetoric or poetics and that happily include pop culture (even “literary” texts that tell stories instead of make heavy-handed points). So from that starting point, I felt myself aligned with Sirc on many of his points: his critique of Thomas Miller’s focus on political speeches at the expense of popular culture, his unabashed love for the prose of Henry James (enshrined in the #sircisms hashtag that Trent M. Kays has hilariously begun using), his praise of Byron Hawk’s and Jody Shipka’s moves to dismantle the rhetoric/poetic split, and his plea that we “shake off the gloom” of writing studies and writing itself.

Much of his advice seems to come back to a privileging of style as the heart of what we should be teaching in composition classes–style that is surprising, lively, gut-punchingly-dynamic. And on many days, I’m with him on that. When I turned extra attention to sentences themselves, rhetorical figures, and even They Say, I Say-derived templates in my last expository writing class, I started to feel that students were really learning writing in more concrete, beauty-infused ways than in any of my previous classes. And from Sirc’s glowing review, it sounds like Shipka’s Toward a Composition Made Whole is about the best thing ever, partly because of its emphasis on surprise and effectiveness, but also partly because of her embrace of multimodality and her study of how composers actually compose. (Seriously, I’ve been telling people to pay more attention to composing processes for a while now; it feels affirming to hear that Shipka is helping us out with this needed gap in our knowledge.)

In the midst of all my gushing, though, I can sense myself avoiding the controversies I listed above. I suppose that’s partly because I don’t know what I think about all of them, but I admit that there’s also that bit of fear as a young scholar in the field who knows he hasn’t read everything everywhere; it’s hard to throw in your oar when you feel you might risk saying the wrong thing, annoying the wrong people. I mention that teardrop of fear not (just?) to gain a bit of sympathy, but to point out that these issues of literature in the classroom, the idea/prose split, the use of student texts, and peer review are all high-stakes issues that many have dedicated their hours to dissecting and discussing. It makes me wonder if the sheer bulk of scholarship our field has produced leads more often to the “gloom” that Sirc describes or more often to those discoveries of “the faintest hints of life” that renew our conversations and keep us going. That’s a study in itself: the attitudes and fears of young scholars who are inventing the university in their own ways.

But with that said, my one-sentence takes on some of the #sircisms that are sure to spark the most discussion:

  • Literature in the classroom: Let’s allow that lit can be useful for studies of style and the ways rhetorical points are blended with poetic surroundings (The Hunger Games, anyone?), but let’s always fight to keep class time from turning into a never-ending literature class that privileges the study of texts over their creation.
  • Ideas vs. prose: Let’s revive our interest in prose as Sirc (and Hawk?) promotes, but let’s not fall into the other trap (that Sirc is falling into) of dismissing the crucial work our field can do in areas of civic engagement and critical pedagogy.
  • Student texts: As someone who says that he values student writing so much in his classrooms (top of 516), I don’t understand why Sirc seems so hellbent on criticizing Harris, Miles, and Paine’s collection so thoroughly–especially since it seems hard for me to believe (having not read the book–or any of the four books Sirc reviews, by the way) that so many of the differently authored chapters take the “unnerving” (515) direction Sirc describes.
  • Peer review: I keep moving back and forth between Gut Reaction 1–“Sirc is simply transferring his own dislike of peer review to students, who can get seriously awesome writing instruction from a solid peer review session”–and Gut Reaction 2–“But even when I structure it well, peer review does so often seem to fail. . . .”

Finally, a note on the review’s medium and mode: after watching that Buffy video above, I can’t help but imagine what a live acted video review would look like, and what its strengths and weaknesses might be. I see Sirc in the Buffy (or Angel?) role, walking down a dark street in Sunnydale, Sex Pistols in the background. Thomas Miller, a vamp, leaps out and starts spouting his history of literary and literacy studies, but Sirc (because this is Sirc’s video, his review of these four books) stakes him. Hawk and Shipka approach, and Sirc gives them each a high five; maybe they make small talk about Hawk’s counter-history or Shipka’s pedagogies. But eventually, they make it to their destination: a large catacomb guarded by Harris, Miles, Paine, and all the authors of their collection, and a battle begins. Every time someone throws a punch, they make a claim: “Student [umph] texts [ugh] should be [POW!] the center of [arrgh!] our classes!” “No! [KAZAM!] They shouldn’t!”

There’s an obvious reason this is a bad (even mean) analogy: Buffy was fighting the minions of evil, staking demons and vampires who were hellbent on killing. Our conversations are much more even, with both sides having valid points that deserve attention. And I applaud work that moves us away from the agonistic model of scholarly discourse. Really, I do. But still, I dream of a review essay genre that tells a story, makes its points through a blend of the discursive and nondiscursive, and leaves audiences both entertained and thinking about the issues long after the review is over–much like Buffy vs. Edward.

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