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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Paperback now available

It took me longer than expected, but I managed to edit the book for a paperback version. Mostly that involved taking out a lot of the links -- useful in an e-book, pretty worthless in a paperback. The new version is now available on Amazon here.

The big advantage to the paperback format is that you get a "real" book to read, annotate, dog-ear, or whatever. I'll probably always have a personal preference for this form even if I can see value in e-books. You also get a really great cover courtesy of The Passion of the Nerd, to whom I'm very grateful for this and other reasons. Go watch his videos (here or here) -- they're really good.

As I said, the big change is that I took out lots of the links. If, for example, you don't know who Sherlock Holmes was, you'll have to look him up rather than click on a handy link. I honestly don't think that's much of a disadvantage, but it could be in some cases. If you find you want those links, feel free to buy both versions. :)

Another benefit of the e-book is that it's easy to update. You can get an updated version for free by asking Amazon for it. Be warned that downloading the updated version will cause you to lose any bookmarks or annotations. That may become a non-issue if you annotate the paperback.

I've made updates fairly regularly since I first published the e-book, and in fact made a few more changes while I was fixing the text for paperback. The changes are pretty small at this point; I doubt you'd notice unless you read obsessively or tried to access a broken link. The fact that the changes are now so rare made me think that a paperback would work. Still, I may make changes in the future and the e-book will always be easier and cheaper to work with. 

That brings me to the final point, namely cost. The way these self-published books work is that Amazon prints each one as it's ordered. There's a minimum cost, below which I can't price the book. The actual price is a bit above that, but not much.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Of Art and Artists

I'm writing this post reluctantly. I'd prefer to ignore personal issues when it comes to discussing art (and oftentimes politics). I decided I needed to say something about Kai Cole's recent blog post about Joss Whedon for two reasons: (1) I'm quite complimentary about Joss in various essays here and in the book; and (2) some of her accusations touch on Joss' relationships with people involved in BtVS (I wouldn't care if he had an affair with someone outside his shows -- that's a matter between the parties).

Let me get some things out of the way at the beginning. I refer to "accusations" against Joss because that's the lawyer in me. We haven't seen the actual letter(s) to which Kai refers, nor do we know any of the actual details. I'm cautious about interpreting evidence as a professional matter. However, I'm going to write this upon the assumption that Joss had at least one affair with someone involved with BtVS.

I have to say that IMO the details do matter here as far as my personal judgment is concerned. I'm not going to try to define the precise boundaries of  what's acceptable and what's not, as if I were some arbiter. I'm not. I can only say that my personal view depends on the details. I started to explain with some examples, but decided that was unfair to individuals and distasteful to me. Moving on.

I'm going to assume that Joss had an affair with someone on BtVS which involved him being in a position of authority over that person, which is, to me anyway, the most potentially disturbing case. Note that I don't know if he did; I'm assuming that for the sake of discussion.

There are, in my view, two significant issues which arise from this assumed fact. The first is the question of Joss' credentials, if any, as a feminist. I'm not going to say much about this. I don't consider myself competent to discuss feminism as a topic generally, and I'm certainly not an arbiter of "true feminism" if there is such a thing.

The question I've seen raised is whether someone can be a feminist while having affairs, particularly affairs with someone over whom s/he has a position of authority. Notwithstanding the fact that some commenters, probably justifiably, noted my tendency to be judgmental when discussing, say, Xander, my answer is "sure". In my view, people aren't perfect. They not only make mistakes, they do stupid things. Failure to live up to your own professed ideals pretty much makes you human. That might irritate me (see Xander), but outside of extreme cases people don't have to be perfectly consistent. They can do good things and bad ones too.

The second issue, and I think it's related to the first, involves how we deal with artists who are unpleasant or even awful. I can't pretend that I have a perfectly consistent view on this. I'd never go to a Ted Nugent concert because I think he's despicable. On the other hand, I have no problem thinking that Chinatown is a great movie even though Polanski's conduct was horrific and I was one of the lawyers representing Polanski's victim.

If we ask how many artists do bad things personally or advocate for them publicly, my first guess would be all of them. Maybe more. We can't demand a test of personal perfection or else we could never enjoy any art. In some discussion with shadowkat on her lj page, we came up with 2 potential grounds for justifying my response to the Nugent and Polanski examples. One involves the distinction between personal conduct as opposed to political views. The other, the distinction between individual works versus collaborative ones.

The personal/political distinction kinda sorta works, as long as you're willing to agree that the personal isn't necessarily political (and that's a contested point). My view is that while behaviors that lots of people engage in are certainly political, not every private action is intended as a political statement. So, to continue with my examples from above, Polanski didn't intend his rape to be a political statement, whereas Nugent makes overt and obviously political comments. YMMV on this.

The other distinction is that a TV show, as I said in the essay on The Freshman, requires the collaboration of lots of people: actors, producers, writers, censors, et al. I have much less problem separating art from artist when "artist" is a plural. Even if Joss Whedon was the single biggest influence on BtVS, he was not the only influence, and the triumph of the show didn't just include others, it required them.

That brings me to the final point, which is that of hero worship. I'm not a big fan of hero worship, for exactly the reasons I gave above: people aren't perfect. Well, Willie Mays was perfect, but one counter-example just proves my point more generally. I gave Joss a ton of credit in the essays here, and I still do. That never meant that I accepted everything he did uncritically. That's evident, too (I hope), in the essays. It's not just that some episodes are weaker than others, it's what remained unsaid: as is obvious, I never sat down to write about Dollhouse, for example, because I don't think it's a great show. I respect and admire what Joss accomplished in BtVS, but I don't extend that any further than I think it's deserved. That's the flip side of my view that  I generally don't consider an artist's personal life to affect my evaluation of the art.

While I'm obviously disappointed that this issue ever even had to arise, it doesn't affect my personal attitude towards BtVS. But I don't think I have stated or could state a definitive rationale and I think reasonable people can reach different conclusions here.

Thursday, June 22, 2017


I got asked by some readers on the Reddit Buffy board about a paperback version of the book. I'm generally willing to create one, at least in theory since I have no idea what Amazon requires. However, I thought I should ask for comments here on whether people think it's a good idea.

The advantage to a paperback is that it's easy to take places, simpler to underline and mark up. The disadvantages, though, are inherent in the way I structured the book: it's very reliant on hyperlinks for citations and other information. That's all lost in paperback. In addition, I continue to update the book by trying to clarify passages, fixing links, etc.* I'm unlikely to add anything important at this point, but it's easy to update an ebook, not so with paperback.

I'd appreciate comments either way.

*You can always get the updated version by asking Amazon for it. The downside is that you'll lose any underlining or bookmarks in your own copy.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

20 Years Later, Are You Still Buffy?

I assume everyone reading this knows that Buffy the Vampire Slayer premiered on March 10, 1997, 20 years ago. I thought it would be worthwhile to review how I think the show still speaks to us.

This may seem redundant, since I wrote the essays here and the whole book to demonstrate that the show provides timeless themes. What I want to do in this post is to distill its core message, not just for reference, but for inspiration. SPOILERS for all episodes and for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

We begin as individuals: “You are the center. And within you, there is the core of your being ... of what you are.” It’s that core from which you draw the strength you need to face the challenges of the world:

Angelus:  So that's everything, huh? No weapons... No friends... No hope.

Buffy closes her eyes and steels herself for whatever's coming.

Angelus:  Take all that away... and what's left?

He draws the sword back and thrusts it directly at her face. With lightning-fast reflexes she swings up with both arms and catches the blade between the palms of her hands. She opens her eyes and meets his.

Buffy:  Me.

You were not born with that core. You were not given it by someone else. You created it by the choices you’ve made in your life. Those choices were never entirely unrestricted. Our abilities have natural limits and we make choices within those constraints. Others make choices too, and those may constrain us as well. Past choices may affect the options available to you now.

Don’t mistake those constraints as traps. “You have a choice. You don't have a good choice, but you have a choice!” The choices you make going forward today can reinforce or even redefine the kind of person you are. I wish there were a pithy quote from the series to highlight this point, but it’s implicitly shown throughout almost every episode. Instead I’ll quote from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (edited for brevity, my bold):

“Professor Dumbledore….. Riddle said I’m like him. Strange likenesses, he said.”
Did he now? And what do you think, Harry?”
“The Sorting Hat told me I’d – I’d have done well in Slytherin. Everyone thought I was Slytherin’s heir for a while…. The Sorting Hat could see Slytherin’s power in me, and it – ”
“Put you in Gryffindor. Listen to me, Harry. You happen to have many of the qualities Salazar Slytherin prized in his hand-picked students. … resourcefulness – determination – a certain disregard for rules. Yet the Sorting Hat placed you in Gryffindor. You know why that was. Think.”
“It only put me in Gryffindor because I asked not to go in Slytherin.”
Exactly. Which makes you very different from Tom Riddle. It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

Not every choice defines your life all by itself. Most choices are small ones, though their cumulative impact may be large. It’s hard to know, though, at any point in time, which choice will prove to be critical; that’s why we need to make every choice a deliberate one. “There's moments in your life that make you, that set the course of who you're gonna be. Sometimes they're little, subtle moments. Sometimes... they're not.”

What is it that you do afterward? That’s when we remember that we are Buffy: