Academics and Fandoms: You Can be a Scholar and a Fan

Academics are nerds.  I say that as an academic.  Generally speaking, we love media.  We love to analyze media because we love it.  I hear people question the idea that academics are fans of the media they analyze, as if loving something can’t co-exist with being an academic.  My favorite fandom is the Whedonverse.  I love to dig in and look at various characters and themes and pull them apart to examine every facet.  But I can also turn off my academic brain and enjoy the shows as entertainment.

I’m a casual observer of Star Wars and I see attacks hurled at academics who dare to examine their sacred texts.  I’ve known professors who love movies and see them as a reflection of the Arthurian myths; Luke is Arthur, Han is Lancelot, Leia is Gwen.  Of course, it only works for the first film, before the audience knows that Luke and Leia are siblings.  I can see people—fans—dogpiling this professor if he dismantled these characters on Twitter or YouTube.

I never watched Game of Thrones, but I enjoy listening to arguments as to why the show took a nose-dive in the latter seasons.  I recognize how passionate these scholars are about this show, only to be let down by the showrunners.  Even if I don’t know the content, I understand the excitement of dissecting a piece of media.

The only media I would consider examining lately would be DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.  I don’t know what I would say about it, but it would be fun.  I’d say go watch this awesome crazy show.  I could talk about various characters’ masculinity, and how the show presents a spectrum.  I could talk about queer representation.  Or character development or superpowers or magic or my love for Gary as a great wacky character.  I could gush about this show, but I don’t feel like doing the work, honestly.  I’d rather, in this time of Rona, re-watch the latest season, turn off my brain, and laugh.

Why do academics love looking at and talking about media?  It is a common language.  Few people have read novels like Mary Barton or Passing (humble brag).  But people have seen Wonder Woman or Star Wars.  Citing media to speak about queer theory, colonialism, feminism, and more helps people not only understand the theories, but also the very media they consume.  I, for one, expanded my understanding of feminism and language by reading books by scholars looking at Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  One of my favorite papers, which I hope to revise and expand, is about Firefly, River Tam, and the weaponized female body.  I need to do more reading to expand it, but the topic makes me excited to do so.  That’s the best feeling a scholar can have, that carries us through long nights and tough times.  We study media because we care.  Instead of mindlessly consuming media, we also want you to think critically about it, to expand your knowledge base and learn new ideas.  The goal of academics is to educate.  If we can bridge our ivory towers by talking about Game of Thrones or Star Wars, then so be it.

Favorite Television Shows

I’m struggling to write anything, so I decided to tackle an easier topic: television shows.  The following list does not include reality show-based content, which may comprise another post.  When I tried to rank my favorites, I quickly gave up for a general list instead.  I will also include a list of honorable mentions that aren’t as beloved and enjoyed by me now but did deserve a spotlight.  Keep in mind, this list is not a ranked list, but rather a chance to gush about some of my favorite shows.

 

Drum Roll….

 

Penny Dreadful (2014-2016)

This Showtime series posited a question that several low budget horror films have also asked: What if a bunch of Victorian novel villains interacted with each other?  Unlike those horror movies where the Wolfman meets Frankenstein, Penny Dreadful handled the idea with care and consideration.  The plots of the various “monsters” intertwine in interesting ways and leave the viewer wanting more.  From the novels I have read (Dorian Gray, Frankenstein, Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde, etc.), the series kept the characters pretty close to their literary counterparts.  The biggest take away is the setting of this show.  Victorian London is shown in all its grime and glory.  The costumes are stunning.  And the cast is great.  The one actor I thought would stick out worked in the role, as he’s meant to go against the grain of Victorian London manners (I’m speaking of Josh Harnett as Ethan Chandler).  Other standouts include Eva Green as Vanessa Ives, Billie Piper as Lilly, and Rory Kinnear as John Clare, and Reeve Carney as Dorian Gray.

 

 

Supergirl (2015-)

This DC show started on CBS with—for me—a weak first season.  The characters grew and expanded once the show moved to the CW and joined the Arrow-verse lineup.  While some missed Cat Grant’s character in season two, I maintain that this was the beginning of a strong show.  I do admit that season two fell neatly into the CW mold, for better or worse.  However, the best part of the show is the relationship between Kara (Supergirl) and Alex (her adopted sister) is the heart of the show.  The show also has a strange habit of casting actors who previously played a superhero, such as the actress who starred in Supergirl movie from 1980s, both Superman and Lois Lane from Lois and Clark in the 90s, Hercules star Kevin Sorbo, and Lois Lane from Smallville.  While some are fun cameos, others are reoccurring characters, such as Kara’s adopted mother and father.  I get the gesture but…

I sometimes struggle with this show and how close it aligns itself with real world politics.  My main gripe is not the parallels—far from it—I just want the lines to be a little more blur and not so obvious.  One character in season four is clearly an Alex Jones type.  Otherwise, I’m very happy that the show is progressive, including casting a transwoman as a main character in season four.  I wish the writers’ room could get better at veiling their real-life inspirations for their plots and characters.

 

 

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (2016-)

This show is batshit crazy and I love it.  While the first season did explore life aboard a timeship, by season four, we have puppets in the mid-season finale.  I don’t what kind of drugs they have in the writers’ room, but they are strong.  The cast is made up of side characters from other Arrow-verse shows (The Flash, Arrow), but they really get to shine in this show.  I haven’t seen much of Arrow, but you don’t need the character’s complete backstory to understand his/her motivation.  Sarah, for example, is a complex ninja warrior with a troubled past; I know there’s more to the story, but I get the basics.  The show really has fun with the concept of misfit heroes on a ship that can travel the world and the timeline.

 

 

The Flash (2014-)

This show sits somewhere between Legends and Arrow for tone.  While season one features a monster-of-the-week setup as Barry learns to master his speed force powers, the show has evolved nicely (if unevenly) over the years.  Barry has become a true hero, who has a bit of a dark side, but part of his charm is the positivity.  While the approach is very different, The Flash plays with the timeline too.  But unlike Legends, the consequences for Barry and his team are far-reaching.  The best part of recent seasons is the exploration of the multi-verse, including visiting Supergirl and world where the Nazis won WWII.

 

 

Bones (2005-2017)

While I hate most procedurals and their copy-paste formula, this series starring Emily Deschanel and David Boreanaz landed on my radar two years after it premiered in 2005.  I continued to watch the show regularly until they killed off my favorite character (Dr. Lance Sweets, in case you were wondering[*Spoilers*]).  Otherwise, I found the series interesting and I loved how the show tried to use real science terms, to the frustration of the cast.  The characters were all developed naturally, and the procedural aspect quickly moved to the background.  Each week’s case usually helped shed light on one of the main characters, giving them time to explore something, rather than just solve a case.  Over the course of several seasons, you understood these people and their motivations.  I actually felt bad when I gave up on the show, but I haven’t revisited the series.  Maybe one day I will return to the Jeffersonian Labs.

 

 

Veronica Mars (2004-2007 [film in 2014])

If you like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you will like this show.  It has the same quick wit and surprisingly great acting.  Keep an eye out for some of the original Buffy cast, too.  Not enough is said about star Kristin Bell’s acting range.  While you may know her from The Good Place or Frozen, if you want to see her play smart, kickass character who outsmarts the bad guys and solves the case, this is the show for you.  I always recommend this series to anyone looking for a new binge-worthy show; I’m super upset that Netflix—in all their wisdom—doesn’t have this show in their roster.  If you can get your hands on this great show, please check it out.  You’ll thank me.  The cast is great, the story is compelling (although it does verge on edge of soap opera at times), and the writing is brilliant.  As a fan of well-written shows, I’ve followed creator/showrunner Rob Thomas (not the singer) throughout this career.  If you want more like this show, check out his latest venture iZombie.

 

 

Angel (1999-2004)

Well, the inclusion of this show was destined.  Although I haven’t binged the show in several years, the cast of oddball characters holds a place in my heart.  Based on the character of Angel from Buffy, the show follows the vampire with a soul as he tries to live and not die in Los Angeles.  While you shouldn’t get me started on some of the choices later in the series, the cast keeps me rooting for these characters.  Standouts include Cordelia, who evolved greatly after her time at Sunnydale High; Fred, who is sweet and sassy; and Lorne, a demon with the voice of an angel; and Wesley, another character who follows Angel from Sunnydale to LA.  I’m keeping this short because I could really fill a book with all that I have to say about this series.

 

 

iZombie (2014-)

Speaking of Rob Thomas, this is his current series and I absolutely love it.  The main character, Liv Moore, is a zombie working as a medical examiner, who takes on the personality of the brain she eats.  Rose McIver is a chameleon as she transforms into various characters; she does such a great job that I couldn’t picture anyone else in this role.  Her co-worker, Ravi, is a gem and her partner, Clive, is clueless about Liv’s true nature.  The whole cast is perfect and the writing, like Thomas’s other show, is sharp and crisp.  As a side note, my favorite brain is Liv as a grumpy old man.  Don’t worry, the gore in the show is minimal and almost comical.

 

 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)

I’ll keep this short.  Great show, great cast, great writing.  I haven’t read much of the comics.  Go watch it if you somehow haven’t done so yet.

 

 

Supernatural (2005-)

I’ve been watching Jensen and Jared since this show debuted in 2005.  I remember watching season one on an old tube television, that’s how long this show has been running.  While I have taken a few breaks from Supernatural, I always find myself coming back to the show.  I even went to my first-ever fan convention this last year and it was magical.  This show is like the music you loved as a teenager, it holds a special place in your heart.  You connect it to moments in your life and couldn’t imagine not having it around.  I won’t get into if it should still be on air.  I have my nit-picks about recent seasons.  For my money, the first five season are pure gold.  I have come to appreciate music I would never otherwise listen to because of this show, including the very important song by Kansas (you know the one).  As this show becomes more popular, I find myself strangely possessive, like I found it first so get your hands off of it.  However, I did love sharing my fandom with fellow Waywards (is that the fandom name?) last November in Minneapolis.  Whatever I think about the current goings-on, this show will always be a safe bet on Netflix for me.

 

 

Firefly (2002 [film in 2005])

Much like Supernatural, I always find myself returning to this short-lived show about space cowboys.  This show managed to be wonderful in less than a season.  The movie is a great continuation of the story, as are the comics, which I have read.  These characters are not unique (many are based on Western tropes), but they are all individuals.  Much like Buffy or Supernatural, you know which character would say what time.  You know these characters and I always wish the series had continued.  I’d love to pull up a chair to the dining room table onboard Serenity and share a meal and a fight with these fine folks.

 

 

 

I know, I didn’t list your favorite shows.  No Game of Thrones or Orange is the New Black.  My life is too busy to take on another series, but below are some honorable mentions.  One day I will watch GoT, but until then…

The O.C.

Arrow

Smallville

The Good Place

Lucifer

Sherlock

The Vampire Diaries and The Originals

Misfits

 

The Character of Faith: One Tough Chick

Faith is the dark image of Buffy.  She didn’t grow up with the love Buffy experienced, sFaith_Lehanehe has different issues with liking and leaving guys, and she was in a rougher place when she was chosen.  It doesn’t mean that she’s bad.  She slipped like everyone does (and can), especially in the Buffyverse, and she paid for it.  She lost her only friend and exiled herself from the outside world.  Then she gets busted out by Wes, whom she hurt (badly) and goes to fight for the good guys back in Sunnydale

Faith is the Angelus to Buffy’s Angel character.  Like Angel/Angelus, one character isn’t singularly good and one is evil; its more than one happily leans one way while the other struggles down the path of righteousness.  As its been pointed out, Buffy isn’t always good.  She has slipped the line a couple of times.  No one is perfect all the time.  And no one is bad all the time.

I love the character of Faith; she’s everything that Buffy maybe wants to be but could never be.  She’s sexy, flirty, sometimes careless, tough, and she’s a brunette for Pete’s sake, which clearly shows that blonds don’t always have the must fun.

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All that said, she grows out of being a vehicle for the third season plot about the power of being a slayer and becomes a full character in her own right.  Faith finds a father-figure of her own in Mayor Wilkens, much like Giles is Buffy’s pseudo-father; their relationship, when it is looked at without the “evil” involved, is pure and sort of sweet.  He cares for her completely, as a daughter, and even looks after her in death.  For Faith, she finally finds a man she can depend on; no doubt she had daddy-issues of her own before coming to the Hellmouth, leading to her feelings about men.  Wilkens doesn’t ask much from her, just to kill a few people, poison Angel (partly revenge for Angel not going with Faith earlier), things that Faith is willing to do anyway; he helps focus her energy, her powerful slayer gifts, for the evil side.  He has been alive for 100 years, lost his wife when she died naturally, and might just be lonely even if he is going to be a pure demon.  This is something that has been standard from season 1, villains who are just as human as the heroes.  The Mayor may be evil but he is also loving and caring, just like everyone else.Fuffy