[Patrick sent me this as a guest blog. This is territory we cover every once and a while on this blog, but it is also one of my favorite topics, and also one that never really ends. So I thought I would print this, weigh in, and then see how interested everyone is in the comments.]
Recently on the CGS message WetRats had some interesting comments on the current direction of Marvel Comics.
I read the latest Daredevil today at lunch. It was incredibly well-written. But I'm dropping the book. I've come to the realization that nothing good is ever going to happen to Matt Murdoch. And I don't want to keep watching an endless series of horrible things happening to a character I care about. Upon thinking more about it, I realized that's the way I feel about the entire Marvel Universe. There's no heroes in Marvel anymore, only survivors. Nobody triumphs, they only win the latest fight. Nothing gets better for anybody. Nobody is happy. There is no joy in Marvel.
I must say that gave expression to a great deal of my thoughts and feelings toward Buffy post Season Six. The senseless whacking of Tara and Willow's subsequent descent into nerd-flaying marked the end of both the sense of the Scoobs as a family (you know, what the series WAS ABOUT), and the possiblity of any real sense of fun or joy in the series. After S6 all I see are endless series of horrible things happening to people I care deeply about, there are no heroes , no triumphs, nothing ever gets better, nobody is happy and there's no joy, either in the characters or the storytelling (and no I don't believe for a second Whedon ever intended to resurrect Tara).
I realize a lot of fans respond to this and that a lot the time this is how "real life" is.
Yet, I am kinda of the opinion that art or literature(especially escapist fiction like Buffy) is under NO obligation to reflect "real life" to that soul-killing extreme. If anything I believe one of the key purposes of art is illuminate and even REDEEM our bleak, crummy world totally absent of time travel and jet-powered apes.
The most recent issue of Season Eight has kinda confirmed this suspection. Whedon seems to have no interest in healing the divisions between Buffy and Willow and only wants to further the rift. I highly doubt they will even be friends anymore by the time issue 25 comes out.
I'm going to continue with the fandom for as long as I can, but I'm starting to think it would be less and less of a major loss to get off the bus at any point.
I could be entirely wrong about this. Opinions?
[Well, here is mine. "The senseless whacking of Tara and Willow's subsequent descent into nerd-flaying...". In order to talk about this, I have to separate these two things, because they are quite different, in my opinion, and take us to the heart of the issue.
Tara's senseless death was shocking, which was fully intentional: on a show that often focuses on heroes and heroic violence, often in a flip way, here comes something brutal and absurd. I thought Tara's death was one of the more amazing things about the Buffy run -- it showed a capacity for surprise six seasons in (not an easy thing to do); the emotional shock was real and powerful; because conflict is the essence of drama, as McKee puts so forcefully, there must be a cost for heroism, and this is a serious one; it offers an important counterpoint to Buffy's self sacrifice -- there is more to the story than people dying heroically to save others; it is a moving and necessary consequence of Willow's decision to play with black magic, regardless of how well intentioned -- we can't have her draining the blood from a deer to bring back Buffy and then nothing, everything is right with the world. For me this works, this is strong writing.
For many fans it was the wrong choice, but this judgement is muddied by the fact that the Buffy story, from this moment on, becomes badly told. Unlike Angel, who we really get to spend time with as a bad guy before his redemption, Whedon has hardly any time to establish Willow as evil, and redeem her -- the whole thing is rushed, and a mess. Also Wheon loves "Ally" as he calls her, and does not really have the desire to write her as evil, and it shows. By the time the deaths of the series finale come along more than a year later, Whedon's core "Scooby Gang" (Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Giles) will have become an awful smug and safe little clique, in no danger of real change (which, I counter, was what the show was really about); because someone has to die, it becomes everyone around them, characters that had more complex life to them, like Anya (the demon trying to fit into a world where she can never be fully redeemed) and Spike (the rapist who feels real love). Most fans will tell you that the end of season six and arguably all of season seven are bad, but it is because the story is being badly told, not because of the subject matter. And here come my point:
Shakespeare's King Lear -- a horrific vision of nihilism -- cannot be dismissed as a soul-killing picture of a bleak, crummy world totally absent of time travel and jet-powered apes. It cannot be dismissed in that way because, for all of its dark subject matter, you have to be happy to have found something that well written. In that way the crummy real world is redeemed -- because you just experienced a work of unbridled GENIUS. The content is not the point, the form, the language, is.
I think Patrick is right to be angry and frustrated with Whedon to a point. But I think he is mistaking the cause of that frustration. Just as in the context of Shoot Em Up I argued that you cannot expect your "cool" content to do the work for you, you have to write it well, so here a bleak story is not why we should dismiss the end of Buffy season 6 and most of season 7. We should dismiss it because it is badly written.
As for sticking with a book, that depends on whether you think you are getting enough well told story for your time and money, and whether you want to stick it out. I have invested in the Buffy canon and I am going to stick it out for a while, but I also would not grab someone and force it into their hands as I would The Wire.]