June 13th, 2010
You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.
When I sat down to considering the overwhelming amount of feedback in regards to the future of the Cultural Catchup Project, I felt as if I was a supreme court justice considering the fairness of a long-standing law. There were clear arguments from both sides, and it wasn’t as if any one opinion was wrong: for a while, it seemed like my decision would in some way serve as a definitive argument in favour of a particular side, a power that comes with a great responsibility which is a little bit exciting.
However, I realized when I really sat down to consider the situation that it is a power that I am not capable of wielding. What the response to that post demonstrate is that everyone feels differently about this issue, and prioritizing any one person’s opinion or even the majority opinion would be almost impossible. I’d love to be the one to finally determine the absolute best way to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, but it’s impossible to make that determination unless I’ve, you know, actually watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel in various different configurations with an objective eye towards what I’ve been watching.
And when I really think about it, as much as I remain objective regarding my view of this series due to my position as a critical observer of television, I ultimately want my experience with Buffy and Angel to be as subjective as possible without losing all semblance of objectivity. I want to follow not necessarily what will result in the best experience but rather what will result in the most satisfying experience even if it is objectively inferior to other alternatives.
As a result, I can officially announce that…
I’m going to be watching them simultaneously, for now.
I’d like to say this is because I decided that this would result in the best possible experience, or that I strongly believe in the value of experiencing the series the same way that fans experienced them at the time. However, to be honest, my reason is quite simple: I am really curious about Angel. I like Buffy a great deal, and am certainly curious to see how it evolves outside of the high school setting, but I love the concept of a spin-off, and I feel like I’m too intellectually curious to be watching Buffy and not wondering what else Whedon was up to at the time. Comments logically pointed out the fact that I would feel like I was missing out on those characters who transfer to Angel, and while this is undoubtedly true I’m more curious about what Whedon is doing with those characters.
Curiosity is a good thing, in most cases, but I think it would be a problem were I to watch Buffy on its own. While I understand that there will be thematic breaks between the two series and that it may on occasion be jarring, I also understand that the constant speculation I would be unable to contain would amount to “I wonder if this is in some way because of what’s going on at Angel” or “maybe this episode of Buffy is weak because Whedon was otherwise preoccupied on Angel.” And while that curiosity wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, I think it would in many ways distract from judging Buffy on its own merits, so concerned about this unknown entity of Angel that I’d feel like I was missing something. Oddly, I think I’ll be able to better separate the two series, rather than combine them, by watching them at the same time: the tonal shifts and the like will be disarming, but in a way which allows each show to remain its own entity even while being watched simultaneously.
Of course, there is a “for now” caveat there – while I am going to start watching them simultaneously, there is a good chance that I will deviate from this plan in the future. I also don’t think I’m going to be tying myself to any particular viewing schedule (as impressive as they are). I’ll watch the crossovers together, and try to pay some attention to continuities, but I might just go from disc-to-disc at other points in a season, having Buffy or Angel days and accepting any missed continuities as part of my viewing experience. I don’t want to strive to make this experience “perfect,” I simply want to watch some good TV through a structure that I enjoy and which offers an interesting or valuable perspective. And it’s very possible that these two criteria are mutually exclusive in some ways, which is why I’m sort of just going with my gut on this one, and why I reserve the right to change my gut’s opinion in the future.
I know this this is different from many of the suggestions that you made, and that in some ways it may seem like I am “ignoring” the feedback I received by making a decision for reasons largely independent of those listed – however, in the end, this decision comes as a result of the collective voice of the comment section, which was diverse and intelligent and told me more than anything else that this is not an objective decision. There is no “right way” to watch these series, but rather various individual experiences which offer insight into how others should perhaps take on the project, which we all must filter through our own television viewing patterns and subjectivities. There were some amazing points made in those comments, and it’s quite possible that I will regret not following some of them more directly in the future: however, I don’t think I will regret making that “mistake” should this happen, as the lesson I took from the comments is that many made a “mistake” (which is relative to each individual) on their first time and yet still love the series, and were inspired to go back, and in no way seem as if they were irrevocably damaged by the process.
And so I’m putting off my supreme court decision for a little while at least: when I finish the process, as adventurous as that process may become should I switch things up, I will perhaps be able to say that the way I watched these series was either satisfying or distracting. And yet, until I watch it again differently, or perhaps a third time with a different structure altogether, I’ll never be able to make a statement about which process truly worked best for me. And even then, I would remain incapable of making a definitive statement about which way is the “best” because I don’t watch television like everyone else; as a result, all I can do is make my own decision, come to my own conclusions, and then share them as a new set of responses alongside your comments, which will hopefully become an archive of sorts for those who end up sharing my dilemma. I can only hope that those comments are able to inspire more decisions in the future, and that my decision feels as if it respects their breadth and intelligence.
I will be back later this week, once I rest from my Midwest adventure, with thoughts on how the start of this process goes. Wish me luck!