Wednesday, 23 August 2017

If the apocalypse comes, beep us: Sheffield Gothic launches our Buffy Blog Series

'In every generation there is a Chosen One. She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer.'


Welcome Slayers, Scoobies, Watchers and newbies to Sheffield Gothic's latest blog series, dedicated to the one and only Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The series, which ran for seven seasons between 1997 and 2003 - and spawned a spin-off, comic books, and games - recently celebrated its twentieth anniversary, and (though fashionably late to the party) we wanted to do our part to celebrate. As those of you who follow us on social media already know, we of Sheffield Gothic have quite the soft spot for Buffy (and you can read our top ten episodes it here). So, over the next few weeks we'll be publishing a series of blogs focusing on various aspects of all seven seasons from a variety of contributors, focusing on a season per week. And if you want to carry on the discussion, feel free to use the hashtag #BuffySlays20 (disclaimer: other hashtags are available) or email us at: gothicreadinggroup@gmail.com.

(Reunited! Cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer celebrating the show's 20th anniversary)

When the 20th anniversary celebrations began to cross my path earlier this year, I decided it was finally time to devote my full attention to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I had never been an avid Buffy viewer as a teen, but it was always in my periphery: it was on in the background at friends' houses, there were posters of Spike and Angel on bedroom doors, and in depth discussions on forums I hovered around back in the dark ages of online fandom. I absorbed bits of plot and lore here and there - enough to be interested, but never quite enough to fully draw me in.

So earlier this year, I decided to start a full scale Buffy bingewatch.

It's easy to romanticize something we loved when we were young, to view through glasses tinted with comfort and nostalgia. I loved the idea of Buffy as a teenager, and what she represented to me as a young woman, but I wasn't attached to the show. Sitting down to watch the first episode, I wondered if I was actually going to enjoy it - would it be too dated, too cringey? Would the 90's fashion be too great an offense to my sensibilities?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer isn't a perfect show. But it's a pretty freaking good one, even with the bad 90's fashion. I watched three seasons in the space of two weeks. I loved it as much, if not more, in 2017 as I probably would have in 2003 had I been paying attention. 

(Cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer rocking bad (or good?) 90s fashion)


There's a reason that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the pop culture giant that it is. It's sharp and thoughtful, blending the ridiculous camp of the Gothic with the high school drama hilariously but also often for devastating emotional effect. It's as watchable, as insightful and as interesting now as it ever has been.  There's so much I could say about BTVS, including the way in which it works as a Gothic text, how much I love Buffy Summers, her status as a heroine and icon, and of course how much I hate (HATE) Xander Harris.

This blog series has been in the works, and planned for release this week, for months. However, in light of recent news we felt we couldn't begin the series without addressing the allegations that Kai Cole has made against Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. We at Sheffield Gothic want to say two things. Firstly, this is and always will be a feminist collective. We support Kai Cole and her statement. Secondly, this series is intended to be textual, critical readings of the show, its cultural impact and its identity as a Gothic text. We promote being critical of the media we love, and whilst revelations such as these can make loving that media very difficult we can't ignore them or push them aside. We are open to input- if you feel that this needs addressing further, or would like contribute on the matter then please don't hesitate to get in touch with us.

Over the next few weeks, these are the kinds of conversations we'll be having here on the Sheffield Gothic blog. So whether you're a long time fan, or you've not been bitten (yet), we hope you'll join us both here and on Twitter (@SheffieldGothic) to take part!


Lauren 'Bee Afraid' Nixon is a PhD researcher at the university of Sheffield, whose research focuses on masculinity in the Gothic. Co-organizer of Sheffield Gothic along with Mary Going, she is the Watcher to Mary's Slayer, and like all good Watchers, she's sarcastic, English, and always cleaning her glasses.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Review: The Handmaid’s Tale



In this post, Sheffield Gothic's Hannah Moss reviews Hulu's recent series, The Handmaid's Tale. To explore the Gothic origin's of the show's source material, check out Hannah's previous discussion of Atwood's novel here.

You only have to turn on the TV or flick through a magazine to see that The Handmaid’s Tale is a hot topic right now. Reviewers have been praising the 10-part adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel for capturing the zeitgeist, commenting that its release could not have been timelier. As a woman stripped of her rights and treated as property of the state, the figure of the Handmaid has gained particular significance in Trump’s America. A recent protest against the GOP healthcare bill, which seeks to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and defund Planned Parenthood, saw 30 women dressed as Handmaids march on Capitol Hill. Red-cloaked women are now becoming a familiar sight at protests against inequality, slut shaming and the limitation of reproductive rights, but the truth is that Atwood’s dystopian tale is timeless and these are issues that were prevalent before the novel was published and remain so now. If the TV series has helped to raise the political awareness of its audience, then it can be judged as a resounding success for this alone - but how does it measure up against the book?


In the UK The Handmaid’s Tale has filled the Sunday evening slot where Channel 4 so often place hard-hitting US shows as an antidote to the nostalgic period dramas favoured by rival broadcasters. Watching The Handmaid’s Tale is by no means a relaxing way to end the weekend, and for that very reason I would find myself tuning into Poldark, avoiding the Twitter commentary and waiting until Monday lunchtime to catch up with the latest instalment from Gilead. If you’ve not seen it yet, this is not a series to binge watch over a couple of sittings. As gripping as it may be, The Handmaid’s Tale is far too intense for that! Rich in symbolism and produced with the attention to detail of a true perfectionist, each episode requires your undivided attention in order to fully process the nightmare unfolding before your eyes. The series is a dark and dystopian assault upon the senses.

The first thing that strikes the viewer is the visually arresting cinematography. From the colour contrast of blood red against clinical white to the choreographed movement of the cloaked figures, it is very clear that beauty and horror co-exist here. Even Serena Joy and Commander Waterford gain youth and glamour their characters distinctly lack in the novel. As played by Yvonne Strahovski and Joseph Fiennes, they are presented as a power couple being driven apart by infertility, infidelity and the reality of living by the religious and political ideals that they fought so hard to implement. Somewhat ironically, Serena was once a successful writer whose works promoted the Gileadean family values that have since seen her excluded from the corridors of power and confined to the domestic sphere. It sounds frivolous to mention that at one point I found myself admiring the cut of one of her chic dresses before some instance of horrific brutality snapped me back out my reverie. However, the costume designers want you to notice these things – after all, appearances matter in the branding of Gilead! Everyone has their place, and punishment for even minor transgressions involves mutilation so that the perpetrator must wear their shame. Eyes, arms and feet are fair game as long as such ‘damaged’ Handmaids are kept well out of sight from the Mexican trade delegation and their reproductive capacity remains unharmed.


Although Gilead can be an eerily silent place, music is still used to heighten the tension. The sometimes jarring, yet always brilliant transition from the foreboding score to the ‘echoes from the past’ in Offred’s head includes loud blasts of Simple Minds, Nina Simone and Blondie designed to shock the viewer into the realisation of how much life has changed. The use of Lesley Gore’s You Don’t Own Me at the end of episode 1 is so apt that it sends tingles down your spine. The haunting combination of audio and visual stays with you long after the credits roll. 

So often viewers can be left feeling infuriated when a literary favourite is adapted from page to screen, but I was definitely not disappointed with Bruce Miller’s highly anticipated reimagining of Atwood’s 1985 novel - praise be! In many ways the series is a how to lesson in adaptation. Miller sticks to the source text whilst at the same time updating ideas and developing certain characters further. For example, Ofglen’s story of so called ‘gender treachery’ makes a heart-breaking addition. Caught having a same-sex affair with one of the Martha’s in her household, Ofglen is forced to watch as her lover is executed before she is herself forced to undergo a clitoridectomy in an attempt by the state to control her sexuality. Death is not an option for her whilst she still has viable ovaries. Such departures from the source text mean that the mounting tension is maintained for those of us who have read the book numerous times before. Given the dystopian setting, it is suitably unsettling when you are never quite sure if the narrative will take an unexpected turn.


With Margaret Atwood on board with the project the series could never stray too far, but some changes haven’t been as well thought through as others. Whilst it is refreshing to watch a series with a racially diverse cast, it is perhaps surprising that a regime so grounded in far-right ideology would accept women of colour as Handmaids without comment. Furthermore, Elisabeth Moss’ voiceover monologue does at first sound like the woman readers feel like they know so well from the stream of consciousness narrative of Atwood’s novel, but this Offred is different. For the want of a better word, Offred is as content as she can be with Nick and becomes lazy and self-absorbed – she doesn’t want to resist, she wants to stay safe. However, the TV series turns her into a heroine with added sass. She scratches out the reply ‘you are not alone’ in response to the battle cry ‘Nolite te bastardes carborundorum’, defiantly refuses to stone Janine to death, and feels let down by Moira’s resignation to life as a sex worker at Jezebel’s. What’s more, with her knowledge that Luke and her daughter have survived, hope of a family reunion is provided thus making this more a story about escape and over-coming adversity rather than about the ease with which human rights can be violated and the frighteningly fast pace at which normalization occurs following a regime change: ‘in a gradually heating bathtub you’d be boiled to death before you knew it’ is a line that will never lose its poignancy. 

One of the most moving moments of the series comes when Offred opens the package she has received from Mayday via Moira, who is anxious that it could contain a bomb or even anthrax. What it actually contains are the written testimonies of hundreds of Handmaids, describing the horror of being routinely raped and forcedly separated from their children. This serves as a potent reminder that Offred’s voice is one of many. In the shift from novel to television, the power of the written word is not lost. What is lost, however, is the ambiguity which is central to the experience of reading Atwood’s text. We, as readers, don’t know people’s real names, their backstories, or what really happens to Offred once she is taken away in the black van. Even though it can be assumed that Nick has arranged for her to be smuggled out of the country, the lack of certainty makes you question everything you have read. As much as I am looking forward to seeing what answers are provided when The Handmaid’s Tale returns to our screens next year, we will inevitably lose the tantalizing element of mystery to puzzle over. Until then, there’s just one thing left to say: Nolite te bastardes carborundorum, bitches!



Hannah 'Nolite te Bastardes Carborundum' Moss is a PhD researcher on perceptions of architecture in the 18th Century Gothic novel at the University of Sheffield, and without her Sheffield Gothic would definitely fall apart! When she is not delving into Atwood's fiction, she can be found roaming the halls of Gothic country houses.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Goths On Tour: Sheffield Gothic attends the IGA and explores a very Gothic Mexico



Unless you’ve been hiding out in a remote convent, been on the run from a vengeful feudal Lord, or have been imprisoned by a vampiric count in his Transylvanian castle, you’ll probably be aware that the IGA’s 13th Biennial conference took place last month. Hosted by UDLAP in Cholula, Mexico, and running from 18th-21st July, this year’s IGA brought together scholars from across the world to discuss Gothic Traditions and Departures, and all of it organised by the wonderful and simply fantastic Dr. Enrique Ajuria. Several members of Sheffield Gothic were lucky enough to be able to attend the conference: presenting papers, chairing panels, and networking with the amazing community of Gothic academics. Yes: us academic Goths are a friendly, unique, and interesting bunch, and we put on the best conferences!

(Sheffield Gothic UDLAP Image)

Gothic Mexico

Before the conference started, Sheffield managed to fit in a *little* bit of sightseeing and exploring (disclaimer: we did a *lot* of sightseeing and exploring!). And we have to say, Mexico is both incredibly beautiful and incredibly Gothic. Touring Puebla, we discovered amazing carved skulls, learnt about the fascinating pre-Hispanic cultures and rituals (yes, Blood Tacos are a thing), and were amazed by the beautiful architecture of its Cathedral, churches, and library! And what better way to get over some post-conference blues than by exploring Cholula, its pyramids, and even climbing up to the church on top of the pyramid. We all agree: Mexico was the perfect setting for a Gothic conference.  

(Carved skulls, churches, and pyramids - Puebla and Cholula)
 
Reimagining the Gothic Panel

Ever keen to promote and share our projects, Sheffield Gothic presented a special ‘Reimagining the Gothic panel.’ For the past three years, our Reimagining the Gothic project has invited papers and creative projects to be presented, showcased, and displayed at our yearly conference and on our project website (reimagininggothic.com) with the aim to explore how the Gothic can be re-read, re-analysed, and re-imagined. At the IGA, we wanted to showcase some of our own research through the reimagining lens.

(Reimagining Panel, L-R: Mary Going, Dr. Kate Gadsby Mace, Lauren Nixon, Daniel Southward)

Chaired by yours truly (Mary Going and Sheffield Gothic co-organiser) the panel was comprised of three members of Sheffield Gothic: Dr. Kate Gadsby (founder of the Gothic Reading Group) with her paper ‘Reimagining the Nation: Britain and the Gothic’; Lauren Nixon (co-organiser of Sheffield Gothic) with her paper ‘Reimagining Gothic Masculinities: Heroism, Villainy and the Figure of the Soldier’; and finally Daniel Southward (member of Sheffield Gothic) with his paper ‘Reimagining the Self: The Development and Dangers of Self-Mythology within the Gothic.’ It is hard to discuss this panel without stumbling into the path of ‘my colleagues and friends are amazing and so is their research,’ but I hope that those who attended the panel enjoyed the papers and found them all thought provoking. And if you have any questions regarding these papers, want to pick the brains of the speakers, or if you want to find out more about the Reimagining the Gothic project itself, then do get in touch with us at gothicreadinggroup@gmail.com (we don’t bite!).

Other Sheffield Gothic papers

Besides our shameless self-promotion through our Reimagining the Gothic panel, there were several members of Sheffield Gothic presenting papers throughout the IGA. Presenting on the ‘18th Century Gothic and the Literary Tradition’ panel was Sheffield Gothic alumni (and continual Goth Queen) Dr. Kathleen Hudson with her paper ‘“Either heare my tale or kisse my taile”: Gothic Servant Narratives and Literary Traditions.’ Since returning to her home country of America, Kathleen has been keeping busy with her brilliant Gothic Servants project, which you can check out here: https://gothicservants.wordpress.com, and you can also follow the project on twitter at: @GothicServants. Also presenting was Hannah Moss and member of Sheffield Gothic, who contributed to the ‘18th Century Gothic: Gothic Origins’ panel with her fantastic paper ‘The Art of Imitation: Copying from the Antique in Ann Radcliffe’s The Italian (1797).’ If you want to find out more about Kathleen and Hannah’s research, or if you have any questions regarding their papers, then do get in touch!

(Sheffield Gothic, L-R: Christopher Scott, Lauren Nixon, Dr. Kate Gadsby Mace, Dr Kathleen Hudson, Hannah Moss, Mary Going)


On the last day of the conference Sheffield Gothic hijacked one of the final panels on ‘Gothic Theology and Morality’ to present two papers and also launch our Gothic Bible project video. Chaired by our own Lauren Nixon, and also featuring a paper by Carina Hart (on ‘Beauty, Morality and the Gothic Fairy Tale’) Christopher Scott (member of Sheffield Gothic and Gothic Bible project co-lead) presented his paper on ‘Gothic Theologies: Eden, Religious Tradition, and Ecological Exegesis in Algernon Blackwood’s ‘The Lost Valley’ and ‘The Transfer’, while I also presented a paper titled ‘A New Cain: Examining Matthew Lewis’ Wandering Jew as the Archetype for the Gothic Wandering Jew.’ If you have any questions regarding our papers, or if you want to find out more about the Gothic Bible project and upcoming conference (see our cfp http://sheffieldgothicreadinggroup.blogspot.co.uk/2017/02/gothic-bible-2017.html), then do direct emails to Christopher and myself (Mary) or check out the project homepage: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/siibs/sresearch/gothic-bible-project.

Sheffield Gothic’s Favourite panel

Over the four days of the conference, Sheffield Gothic was able to attend a lot of truly fascinating panels discussing topics as varied as the Female Gothic, Gothic Cosmogonies, and Children’s and YA Gothic Fiction. Unfortunately there were so many panels and papers that, having left our Time Machine in the UK, we were unable to hear them all (our only criticism of the IGA is that there were too many parallel panels!), but if we had to pick one panel as our favourite, then it would definitely be the ‘The Perfom-Antics of the Latinx Gothic in Music, Drama, and Dance.’ While Sheffield Gothic are novices when it comes to Latinx Gothic, this panel was incredibly fascinating! With papers exploring: Indigenism and the Cholo-Goth Aesthetic through the band Prayers; queer assembly, performance, and protest of Zombie Bazaars; the representation of borders and Border Horror in the From Dusk Till Dawn franchise; and a focus on the queer dystopian lens to explore Space as Dystopia – it is safe to say that we learned a lot. Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of this panel was the demonstration that religious rituals and practices – and especially as lived experiences – is as much a part of Latinx Gothic as it is to the Gothic overall.

Keynotes

Along with the rich variety of papers and panels, this year’s IGA included three fantastic keynotes (and whether unintentional or not, we think it’s great that all three were women!). Sharing their diverse research were: Professor Isabella van Elferen, with her ‘Dark Sound: Being and Timbre in Gothic’; Professor Maisha Wester, discussing ‘Duppy vs Ghost, Obeah vs Witchcraft: Dueling Folklore in Black Diasporic Gothic Fiction’; and finally Professor Aurora Piňeiro, leading us through her talk on ‘A Trail of Bread Crumbs to Follow: Gothic Rewitings of ‘Hansel and Gretel’, from Angela Carter to Mariana Enríquez.’ All three keynotes were excellent and perfectly apposite to the conference theme of Gothic Traditions and Departures. Sheffield Gothic also looks forward to welcoming Maisha Wester to the University of Sheffield as a Fulbright scholar later this year!

Los misterios de las monjas vampiras

Perhaps the highlight of the conference (although admittedly one of many, many highlights) was the premier of ‘Primer misterio: Las monjas vampiras contra el hijo de Benito Juárez’, a short video and first instalment of a larger project created and directed by Antonio Álvarez Morán.  What more can be said of this film other than: if you like nuns, or more specifically if you like Vampire nuns, and if you like watching films about vampire nuns with Mexican wrestling, then you need this film in your life! The film, and the Q&A session with its fantastic director and fabulous vampire nun actress were incredible; and Sheffield Gothic awaits the next instalment with baited breath!

(Top, L-R: Hannah Moss, Dr. Enrique Ajuria, Director Antonio Álvarez Morán, and Dr. Kathleen Hudson.  Bottom, L-R: Dr. Kathleen Hudson, Vampire Nun Actress, and Mary Going)

Conference Banquet Dinner and Gothic Disco

Another highlight of the conference was the banquet dinner and famous Goth disco, held at Restaurante Hacienda Las Bodegas del Molino. The dinner – comprising of traditional Mexican dishes including the delicious mole poblano – was lovely, and the disco everything a Goth academic could want (yes, Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ was a key feature!). Before the dinner, we were also treated to a very Gothic tour of the manor, where we were lead first by a Monk, and then several other characters including a mad man and what I can only assume was a vampire women as they recounted the Gothic history of the manor.

Breaking of the Piñatas

What better way to end an IGA in Mexico than with the breaking of piñatas! Throughout the entire conference, the piñatas (of which there were five: a rather creepy lady and equally creepy gentleman; a witch; a spider; and the much loved Black Philip) were a constant Gothic presence. Certainly, we were treated with a lot of amazing Gothic creativity during the conference, from the specially curated murals to displays Antonio Álvarez Morán’s own artwork before the premiere of his film. However, piñatas are made to be broken, smashed, and destroyed, and the Gothic community gladly obliged. Sadly, Black Philip did not survive – but he will be forever remembered dearly in our hearts.

(Piñatas!)
 
Looking forward

Although this year’s IGA is sadly over, there are lots of things to look forward to and celebrate. The new IGA co-presidents were announced - Professor Justin Edwards (University of Stirling) and Professor Jason Haslam (Dalhousie University) – marking the IGA’s first inter-continental presidency of the IGA, and we look forward to seeing the community of Gothic scholars and the IGA grow under their leadership. We also have not one but two IGA’s to look forward to two IGAs in the next few years: IGA Manchester 2018 and IGA Chicago 2019. Without a doubt, there is a lot of Gothic activity on the horizon to sink your teeth into. #GothsAssemble

Mary 'Slayer' Going is a PhD Researcher at the University of Sheffield and member of Sheffield Gothic. her research focuses on representations of Jewish figures in Romantic and Gothic fiction. She is our very own website and vampire expert (especially on all things Buffy!).