Friday, September 09, 2005

Camera Obscura - Life on The Hellmouth

"Bottom line is, even if you see 'em coming, you're not ready for the big moments. No one asks for their life to change, not really. But it does. So, what are we, helpless? Puppets? No. The big moments are gonna come, can't help that. It's what you do afterwards that count. That's when you find out who you are."

This Friday's movie post is going to be a little different, given the apocalyptic state of the Gulf Coast and the daily struggle to both cope and understand what is an ongoing crisis. Life during wartime was surely hard enough, and the grisly visions and stories from the southern half of this country have made life even more difficult.

Likewise as grisly are the dueling political fights over responsibilities met and failed, but it is undeniable that the leadership at the national level is floundering like a ship riddled with gaping holes. What has created a flourishing sense of hope, however, are the tens of thousands of volunteers who have been stemming this disaster's tide. When critical care is required, so many people -- none of them elected -- provide comfort, food, shelter, clothing open the doors of their homes to strangers or lost animals, create ways to fund supplies and show a force of compassion which are all part of the best in human nature. They expose themselves to levels of shock and horror which has its own price, but they are willing to pay that cost.

We all saw it during and after the attack on 9-11. Heroic actions from firefighters, police, emergency workers, and much of Manhattan's residents as they fought for life and combated the carnage became an inspiration to many. And the yearning of the nation to bring additional help was also visible. We see it today in the Gulf Coast as Red Cross volunteers rush in food and water, or when a lone 18 year old commandeers a bus and drives survivors to safety, or other stories most of us will never know because we weren't there and often survivors and real leaders go unknown.

At almost any time, each one of us could face events that threaten to throw us to the ground, leave us ragged and beaten. Living in this world often turns to just enduring, and heroes often wonder how they got to be labeled "hero."

Lessons like this, and many others were presented in a television show with the laughable title of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (the quote above is from the episode "Becoming") and most of my friends will tell you they feared for my sanity to hear my fanboy ravings about the show. Yes, it's "just TV for God's sake!" they cried. Yet writer and producer Joss Whedon took the conventions of television and made sharply written commentary on Growing Up American-Style, from high school to college to the burger joint job in a series that had to jump from one network to another and still it plugged along. The typical Jump-The-Shark moment in season six of a musical episode rocked the fans and the critics and inspires public kareoke sing-alongs across the country.

Such a sing-along will occur in Knoxville this weekend as part of Slayercon, a bonafide Fanboy (and Girl) gathering at the Marriott. Details here and in MetroPulse.

Whedon is a third-generation TV writer, from his grandfather (who wrote for "Leave It To Beaver") to his mother and father (who wrote for Dick Cavett and "Benson") and now to him.

I tuned in for episode three in the first season and was amazed at how the metaphors for combating a witch were used to reveal ways parents try and live thru their children. And that same unique style remained, show after show as a teenage girl and her friends discover their town is located over a ''dimensional portal" called the Hellmouth and bad things were always ahead. I watched in secret at first, but soon started drafting others to watch. There was terrific humor, and of course vampires, a literary creation that has been with humans as far back as you care to look thru myths and legends.
And after a short time, the strength of One was shared among many, and yet it still became a burden. The "Scooby-gang", as they called themselves in mocking tones, were valiant but still endured unexpected changes. Villains could become heroes and vice-versa. It was risky for TV to go to philosophy and tragedy and humor in one show. Today, the International Buffy Seminar takes place in Murfreesboro, TN each May and countless conventions take place around the globe. Buffy had stories that resonated with most anyone.

And there was the music too. I learned of some great bands thru the music used in the show, like Ciba Matto, Velvet Chain, The Sundays, The Dandy Warhols, Blur, Lunatic Calm, and of course there were artists I did know -- Alison Krauss and Union Station, Joey Ramone, Amiee Mann. No wonder the cast and Whedon did such a terrific musical episode, "Once More With Feeling." Pop culture references were like popcorn -- it was everywhere. Fairly quickly the fans began to call it "The Whedonverse" because it contained so many different elements.

The spinoff series of "Angel" also became more than just a story of a "vampire in L.A." As the show continued, Angel and his crew battled with the grown up world and eventually the corporate one in the guise of the evil law firm (aren't they all?) of Wolfram and Hart. That show ended too, with the Angel gang in mid-swing during another apocalypse.

That's what they did -- they fought the bad things. As Buffy said "Yeah, sacred duty, yatta, yatta, yatta." Mostly the survivors had no idea a Scooby Gang was fighting for them. But once you become aware of a problem, whether its small or apocalyptic, how can you not stand your ground and fight for a better world?

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