The Entertainment Value of a Buffy the Vampire Episode

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In this essay I ultimately want to address the musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Once More with Feeling" (season 6, episode 7). However, I do not want to look at this episode in isolation from the remainder of the Buffy franchise but rather argue that it exemplifies a certain entertainment strategy that courses through the Buffyverse. Now it seems to me that entertainment is either too often denigrated as a specific ideological formation that produces negative effects of audience passivity as against more overtly challenging texts, or, alternatively, entertainment is celebrated within a postmodern theoretical framework that views the multiplicity of pleasures afforded as inherently productive and even oppositional. Alternatively I want to concentrate on entertainment for entertainment's sake which is to say as a dialectical operation that in Fredric Jameson's terms intermingles wish fulfilment and repression by arousing radical fantasies in order to contain them (Jameson, 1990: 25).

In order to analyse this mechanism I will concentrate less on consumers and ideology (that assumes unilateral transmission) and more on fans and affect (that inscribes a dialectical procedure into reception). What seems to me to be of specific interest therefore is the manner in which Joss Whedon, Marti Noxon and the other writers/directors working on Buffy for Twentieth Century Fox target affect and fans by constructing scenarios that feed into and exceed audience expectation. I will argue that his formula culminates in the episode "Once More With Feeling" that ventures beyond Jameson's dialectical formula in that it appears to wilfully play with wish fulfilment/invocation that both figuratively and literally run the risk of arousing utopian fantasies that cannot be contained. Before turning to the musical episode in particular I believe our exposition would benefit from a brief survey of critical approaches to the Buffyverse.

The critical material on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in print at least (see here the Slayage online journal), is expanding but currently somewhat limited. However, as a general rule two tendencies emerge. The first is to treat some self-contained aspect of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" as an ideological work. Such analyses concentrate upon the encoded more or less implicitly pre-determined messages that the text transmits. Certainly some ideological responses are definitely triggered by Buffy and I will briefly make reference to two critical examples. Brian Wall and Michael Zyrd adopt a Marxist master frame of analysis to determine the world historical content of Buffy.

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