Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Buffy 101: Scholar studies holiday episode


Madeline Muntersbjorn, 39, an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Toledo is working on a scholarly paper based on the show's 1999 Thanksgiving episode.


In case you were wondering, Buffy the Vampire Slayer likes to celebrate Thanksgiving too.

The cult hit television series of the same name has its devoted fans as well as its devoted scholars who care about this kind of thing, including Madeline Munters-bjorn, 39. The associate professor of philosophy at the University of Toledo is working on a scholarly paper based on the show's 1999 Thanksgiving episode, which examines the dark side of the holiday and poses the philosophical question of whether vengeance is ever justified.

Numerous academic books have sprouted up exploring the meanings suggested by the series that lasted seven seasons on the WB and UPN networks, ending in 2003, and Ms. Muntersbjorn has contributed to one of them, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy.

Q: How long have you been a Buffy fan?

A: Since the end of season two, beginning of season three.

Q: Your speciality is the history and philosophy of mathematics. How do your colleagues feel about this? Do you get teased?

A: No. I do think that there are people who find it hilarious that there are Buffy conferences. So do I. But not in the sense that there's something wrong with it, but in the sense that something is happening here that none of us saw coming.

Q: How seriously do you and your colleagues at these conferences take it?

A: Oh, we take The Buffy very seriously. And we talk about Joss Whedon [who started the series] as the Creator with a capital C.

Q: Why use Buffy to study Thanksgiving?

A: Because in the Thanksgiving episode of Buffy, "Pangs," there are four distinct perspectives on Thanksgiving offered. And then the rest of the plot is Buffy trying to both save the day and have a nice dinner with her friends. How we integrate the political and the personal and the connections between them is a prominent theme throughout the work of Joss Whedon.

Q: In the episode, [Buffy's friend] Willow looks at Thanksgiving as a holiday that's about lies and conflict between Native Americans and colonists.

A: No, it's more than that. It's a sham perpetrated on the part of white people to promote the myth that we got along with natives ever since we got here and that the United States has been one big, happy melting pot for three-some centuries. The fact is, we repaid native people's generosity with genocide.

Q: Buffy calls it a sham with yams.

A: Right, it's a yam sham. It means that Buffy's interested in celebrating Thanksgiving not because of its political implications but because of what it means to her personally. To have the personal memory of the smells of the Thanksgiving food means something to her.

Q: Who do you side with?

A: Oh, it's a yam sham.

Q: What can we all learn from Buffy about Thanksgiving?

A: In the Buffy episode, Native Americans rise up in vengeance against the people they see as their conquerors. And the philosophical question is raised: Is vengeance ever warranted? I find that this is an important debate because we're at war now and a lot of people believe that the suffering that we endured on 9/11 justifies our current military action. What it says on Buffy is no, vengeance is not warranted. That's Buffy's answer.

Q: Well, a lot of this is a bit of a downer.

A: Yes, I'm sorry.

Q: Is there anything about the actual holiday or the event that is worth celebrating?

A: I think that we can celebrate the potential we have to get along. The potential is that we can learn to sit around a table and eat with people who we do not share a genetic history with but nevertheless share common values. There's a huge potential in Thanksgiving.

Q: What do vampires and slayers eat for Thanksgiving?

A: Oh, turkey and pies.

Q: What will you be serving?

A: We'll have pumpkin pie. And maybe some pecan pie. There will definitely be pie. We'll be focusing on the pie.

Q: Do you ever ask yourself, "What Would Buffy Do?"

A: Yes, yes I do.

Contact Ryan E. Smith at:

or 419-724-6103.

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