WMU News

New book explores the lore, lure and love of 'Buffy'

May 14, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- By day, Dr. Toby Daspit writes articles, conducts research and teaches classes in school curriculum and educational organization and management. By night--more specifically Tuesday nights--the WMU assistant professor is a devoted follower of the show "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and its circle of supernatural, stake-wielding friends who face evil head-on--every week.

After tuning in for seven seasons of the popular broadcast, Daspit explores the deeper truths and academic lessons offered by the show in a chapter he wrote for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy: Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale." His work is among the writings of about two dozen scholars and researchers whose essays about the philosophical implications of the show and its characters were selected for the book.

"The whole Buffy phenomenon is amazing," says Daspit, who joined WMU's Department of Teaching, Learning and Leadership nearly five years ago. "A lot of people walk by my door and see the Buffy posters, the action figures in my office and other collectibles and are at an absolute loss as to what's going on."

Released in April by Open Court and edited by James B. South, a philosophy professor at Marquette University, the book follows other titles in the publisher's Popular Culture and Philosophy Series, including "The Simpsons and Philosophy," "The Matrix and Philosophy" and "Seinfeld and Philosophy."

The books have become best sellers, appealing to academics and the mass market alike, largely because the perception of pop culture icons like Buffy and their place in scholarly discussion is changing, Daspit says.

Although the setting is a place called Sunnydale, and the local high school sits atop the Hellmouth--the source of all things evil--there are valid lessons to be learned from Buffy and the rest of the cast.

"This type of work is really about treating popular culture seriously as a legitimate art form," Daspit says of the plethora of research focused on "Buffy" and similar topics. "The standard explanation you often hear is that Shakespeare was the popular culture of his time. His work was meant for the masses, not just the highly educated class."

Daspit's chapter is titled "Buffy Goes to College, Adam Murders to Dissect: Education and Knowledge in Postmodernity." In it, he discusses how the show "challenges many taken-for-granted assumptions of the classical Western mindset," and draws on several philosophical theories to examine matters of identity among the slayers and the slayed, classroom authority and collective learning.

From "Buffy and Feminist Ethics" to "High School is Hell: Metaphor made Literal," the chapters in the book explore a wide range of serious issues, including gender, religion, romance, morality, sexuality and others.

That's part of the beauty of the show, says Daspit, who counts himself among the nearly 3.6 million viewers who tune in to the show each week. The series meets its maker Tuesday, May 20, when, after 144 episodes, the show ends. But thanks to syndication, whole seasons served up on DVD, innumerable fan-fueled Web sites, international academic conferences and the continued work of people like Daspit, Buffy will never die.

"I don't just look at 'Buffy' as a scholar; I'm a fan, too," he says. "People are reading the book for different purposes and they watch the show for different purposes. Either way, it's a way of intelligently looking at life's transitions without applying a heavy academic hand."

Daspit, a former Louisiana high school teacher, is the co-editor of "Popular Culture and Critical Pedagogy: Reading, Constructing, Connecting," published in 2000, as well as the forthcoming "Science Fiction Curriculum, Cyborg Teachers, and Youth Culture." He has written extensively about vampires and has incorporated issues related to hip-hop music and other segments of popular culture into his research and teaching interests. Toby Daspit can be reached at (269) 387-3490 or <toby.daspit@wmich.edu>.

Media contact: Gail Towns, 269 387-8400, gail.towns@wmich.edu

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