Thanks in no small part to the pod-evangelism of Jenny, FF and me are hooked on podcasts! Our fave is the Buffy the Vampire Slayer podcast (buffycast, for short) hosted by one Revello, whose mellifluous tones and wry humor are indeed very entertaining. This podcast straddles the worlds of pure fandom and the more rarified discourse of pop culture theorists, and as such is a really fascinating glimpse into how some fans watch and think about the shows they love.
Since my brother and sister-in-law are in the pop culture scholarhsip biz, I have had the good fortune to discuss with them some of the problems of fan discourse. For them, it seems , the most limiting aspect of fans' relationships with shows is the tendency to evaluate the quality of a given episode or season based on the behavior (or perceived misbehavior) or treatment (or perceived mistreatment) of cherished characters. So, Poncho and John becoming meth addicts or Mr. Belvedere strangling Wesley with a table runner should not, in theory, bother us so long as the narrative remains compelling and the writing and production values strong.
If television fans typically object to seeing their favorite characters behave badly or treated poorly, Buffy enthusiasts have more beefs with Joss Whedon and company than a Jack in the Box triple jack and cheese has, er, beefs. Whedon and friends love making good characters turn evil, crafting romantic couplings that make no sense, killing off beloved minor players, and introducing annoying new personalities for no reason. (NB: This may make me a rube, but when these sorts of things happen, I get totally irked. Super-irked. I hate you, Marti Noxon!)
Now, Revello's podcast fits firmly within this fan conversation-- most installments center on a single character, and evaluate whether or not they act honorably... And for what it's worth, I find this very entertaining, especially because the whole enterprise of dissecting characters in this way is simultaneously engaging and pointless, my all-time favorite combo. But where I find myself losing patience is with Revello's discussion of morality and ethics. One podcast installment, concerning the theme of "penance" in Buffy, reveals the mismatch of the kind of legalistic, neo-Kantian liberal ethics favored by Revello and other Buffy students (the one "Buffy and philosophy"reader I picked up at Border's was nauseatingly stupid as a result of the preference for this kind of interpretation on the part of the jokers who submitted chapters) and the real questions raised by Buffy.
This "penance" podcast centered mainly on the character of Angel, played by David Boreanaz. Even those who haven't watched Buffy are probably familiar with the character of Angel, the demon with a soul, who is Buffy's true love, but who is cursed to turn evil if his and Buffy's love is consummated physically. Part of the Buffy backstory is that when Angel is given a soul as part of the same curse that puts the kibosh on hanky panky, he wanders for 100 years, wallowing in guilt. Revello asks whether Angel's guilt and penance trip are necessary-- since he was a vampire when he committed the heinous deeds he attempts to atone for, these deeds are not, strictly speaking, his to answer for. For me, the real point is this-- not that Angel should be left off the hook, but rather that we should put ourselves on the hook-- his story serves as an allegory for the rest of us, who, collectively must confront our burden of guilt, for actions that seem to have been committed by some demonic other, and that yet haunt us. Angel's story in fact brings us much closer to a proper ethics for a globalized, adavanced capitalist, post-genocide world.
Coincidentally, there is another "penitent" TV "Angel" who has been occupying our thoughts lately-- the heinous Ashley Parker Angel, star of the emetic disasterpiece "There & Back" on MTV. This show was promoted as a look into the efforts of a former made-for-TV boy-bander (APA, of O-Town) trying to recover from having sold his soul to the soulless corporate music machine and actually launch a legitimate music career. The ads featured APA busking for spare change on the street. I thought: finally... one of these fascist moppets acknowledging that their miserable sell-out prefab music past was traumatic and evil, and trying to engage in some hardcore "penance" in order to overcome this stigma. But once the shows started to air, it became obvious that APA: 1) is proud of O-Town and has his feelings hurt when his wife mocks them; 2) has no more musical vision than, say, Talan Torriero, but is simply looking for the next Svengali to use and abuse him; and 3) sincerely believes that the world owes him infinite attention, wealth, sailboats, and hit singles.