Sunday, 5 July 2009

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Storyteller


I’m away at a conference all next week so I’m not sure whether I’ll be able to post anything. I had hoped to leave y’all with a really nice, long, detailed post like my Troy post below, but unfortunately I got sidetracked watching one of the longest Wimbledon finals in history (I think I actually cried a few tears for Andy Roddick at the end of that). So I’m afraid this is all I have time for before I finish my packing and get sorted for the conference. This episode of Buffy is not really related to Classics – basically, it has one joke relating to Classics in it that I find so funny I decided to base an entire post around it. It does have some universal themes though, which can be applied to Classics as much as anything else and in fact, considering the nature of ancient historical writing – often more interested in telling a good story than reporting accurately – and classical epic poetry, it could be considered particularly relevant to classical history.


I’m not a huge fan of season seven of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for various reasons,* but ‘Storyteller’ is a work of comic genius and includes the funniest Classics-related joke in Buffy history (OK, that might not be that hard, but still). This is the epidsode in which Andrew, ex-supervillain, tried to record the gang's work for posterity, but his version of events is a bit... interesting.


I’m sure Andrew’s fantasy set-up with the library, the armchair and the fireplace is making fun of something, but I think it must be an American programme that I haven’t seen. Andrew pronounces ‘vampire’ ‘vam-PY-re’, presumably because he thinks it sounds cool. He speaks for many pedantic viewers when he questions how it’s possible for vampires to show up on video (because the camera uses mirrors).


Andrew is trying to leave a legacy for future generations, which is a decent enough idea – the Greeks would certainly have approved. Only Buffy has a problem with it – everyone else quite sensibly points out that it would be nice to have a record of their achievements if they do manage to save the world (as an historian, obviously, I approve of this sentiment).


Much of this story revolves around the Hellmouth, which always strikes me as very underworld-y. ‘Hell’ is a Christian concept, but classical mythology always put Hades, the land of the dead, firmly underground. That’s about where the similarity ends though.


The bit with the wind machines around the breakfast table really has to be seen to be fully appreciated. Suffice to say, it is completely hilarious. It doesn’t seem to be on YouTube at the moment, though there’s a tiny clip in the promo.


The intense feeling of relief experienced by the viewer when Andrew moves away to discuss how boring Buffy’s speeches have become is a testament to just how tiresome her seventh season speeches were. Andrew’s re-writing of his own history with the other two late supervillains is both very funny and an important reminder that no historian, especially those telling their own history, is entirely to be trusted.


Anyway, I am spending far too long on things that are not, strictly speaking, Classics related (though the themes of storytelling and how we record our own lives have an obvious relevance for anyone working in any historical field). We eventually come to a flashback showing Andrew and Jonathon in Mexico, explaining how Andrew came to stab his best friend to death, and that is where we see the reason this episode appears on a Classics blog. Andrew has been led astray by the First Evil in the form of his late friend Warren (long story), who has

promised him that, if he obeys its orders, the three of them will all be reunited and will live as gods.


This is Andrew’s idea of what it would be like to live as gods.


He’s got the laurel wreaths and white robes from classical mythology, and mixed them with instruments that might be classical lyres (like the one Nero played) or might be angelic harps. He’s placed the whole thing in a field of beautiful flowers which presumably is meant to be the Elysian fields, or something similar. The gold is pretty self-explanatory; I don't know where the unicorn came from, and I think it would be best not to ask. It is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen (though this may say more about my sense of humour than anything else).


Anyway, a whole bunch of other stuff happens and Buffy eventually has to force Andrew to stop telling stories and face up to his own actions and their consequences. Really though, Andrew doesn’t need to stop telling stories – he just needs to tell the right ones. Buffy has a point though. Romanticising horrible things can become a serious problem when the romantic story becomes the only story and the nasty reality gets forgotten. I could suggest all sorts of real life examples, but I’m sure you can think of them yourselves.


And so, I'm off to the conference, which should be very interesting (its about Classics in children's literature). I'll try to get another post up if I can, but otherwise, I'll be back next week.


*The potential Slayers are so annoying I want to rip my own arm off and throw it at them (thank you Friends for that line), Buffy herself becomes a cold and emotionless walking soapbox, they still can’t work out how to deal with Spike, the First Evil was never my favourite villain anyway and the ubervamps are just dull. And I have never yet forgiven Buffy the Vampire Slayer for season six.

7 comments:

  1. Not having seen this episode (or any Buffy at all for that matter) I can only conjecture, but the set-up with the library and armchair sounds like it could be a send-up of Masterpiece Theater. This appeared on the Public Broadcasting System and was hosted by Alistair Cooke (a Brit) for many, many years in just such a setting. Basically, it was a vehicle for showing various British productions, initially literary things like Dickens, then went a little more popular with Upstairs, Downstairs and the Lord Peter Wimsey series of the mid-70s. By the 90s they were showing any British drama that was halfway decent, like that thing with Helen Mirren as a police detective. Anyway, that's my guess.

    Hope you get to do a post or two while you're gone. Sounds like an interesting conference and it could give you some post material.

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  2. Yeah, but Caleb is such fun! ;o)

    You definitely should share some of that conference with us, sounds very interesting!!!

    As for Wimbledon... last year's final was even longer! (and that's not counting the rain delays, argh!!!)

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  3. Ah yes, I watched *all* of last year's final - better result last year though... (nothing against Federer, I just like a bit of variety!)

    I don't like Caleb either I'm afraid - he coincided with Jasmine on Angel (urgh!) and he was just... gross!

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  4. I hope you are still at the conference on Friday morning; I'll be mentioning Buffy in my talk called The Historical Detective!

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  5. Brilliant, I shall make sure I'm there!

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  6. Yes, the armchair bit is definitely alluding to Masterpiece Theatre. (Oops, Theater).

    Thanks for reminding me of this -- I've never re-watched season 7, because it irritated me so much, but I know there were at least a few episodes I liked, and this was definitely one of them.

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  7. Yeah, I liked this one and 'Selfless', the one about Anya and her history. And 'Him' isn't the best episode ever, but it is kinda funny...:)

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