Previously on Buffy

Curator's Note

This is a RFC (Request For Comment)* In this recap - played before ‘The Gift’, the final episode of the fifth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Joss Whedon discovers, perfects and exhausts a brand new artform in 30 seconds. Give the man an Emmy. * The RFC was the mode by which information was shared in the design of the Internet. Designers put out proposals, not claiming that they were the absolute truth, but offering them as suggestions, for others to agree, disagree, or use to think with. The idea appeals to me as a model for discussion in the humanities. By putting out my own interpretation of a text as an RFC, I can avoid both arrogant assertions that this is the truth about the text; and a solipsistic ‘anything goes’ attitude. I’m not telling people that this is the correct interpretation of this text; I’m asking if anybody thinks the same way, or finds this a useful approach.


How coincidental. I was just reading Wired Magazine and this months issue focuses on "Snackness" which they take to mean the increasingly short presentation cycle, and they have a short blurb about the "recap" and its lineage in American television. This seems to me to be a particular art form, compressing narrative into a short time period, that as Wired, and your comment point out, are in part descriptive of this media moment. (A good size for a YouTube clip seems to be under 5 minutes.) So, the ability to produce this style of narrative becomes ever more important. And, as fast and reductive as it can seem, it is actually informed by a labor intensive, highly mediated process. So on the one hand you have a shortening of the cycle of the clip, but on the other you actually spend more time per second producing a clip.

Even Buffy's regular intro sequence is a tour de force of editing -- I challenge anyone to count the number of shots in it with the naked eye. In 30 seconds or whatever, it introduces us to multiple characters, inter-relationships, themes, motivations, etc. It really is the ideal defense against those who feel images and fast-editing have killed information acquisition (you know: "Grumble, grumble, MTV generation, grumble, grumble ADHD"). In that context, I see this clip as Whedon playing with his intro. Certainly, that intro plays a large role in Buffy fandom: a while back, I tried to get the Buffy intro on Youtube and had to first wade through about 50 fan-made intros, where they pieced together their own favorite clips of the characters. It seems to function something like a sports fan chant, or another highly ritualized moment of textual announcement.

1. is this a typical recap (narrative-based)? What I particularly like about this is that it *isn't* narrative-based. That's why, I think, it is such a good example of Whedon's genius. The recap as a format is in essence purely utilitarian, bringing the viewer up to speed with plot information from previous episodes necessary to make sense of the current one. It usually does so by cutting together expository dialogue, with little interest in humour, characterization, visual pleasure, or the traditional rules of what constitutes good editing. Joss Whedon, typically, saw the potential to do something different. As with all of his best work, this recap is at once purely generic – here is what has happened previously on Buffy, clips edited together – and, at the same time, staggeringly innovative. You are not presented with the plot information you need to make sense of the upcoming episode; rather you’re presented with the emotional context that will add to the richness of this episode of Buffy. What do you need to know before you watch ‘The Gift’? You need to know that this is the end of the season, and that it is the end of an era (nothing will ever quite be the same again in Buffy, in seasons 6 and 7, even when she comes back to the dead). This is a climax, things are heating up, getting faster, running out of control. So let’s build a recap that tells you this. 2. The move to snackness Culture is becoming more dense - but at the same time, don't forget that the total Buffy text is 144 episodes - over 100 hours - long. We have no need to worry about 'short attention spans'!

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