One of the ways I learned to write was analyzing the work of Joss Whedon. I will be moving some of my essays over here in the next few weeks. I start with the song "I've Got A Theory" from his masterpiece (as if every episode wasn't a masterpiece) Once More with Feeling.
This originally appeared on the discussion forum of All Things Philosophical about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel the Series.
I've Got a Theory
I just wanted to share something I noticed. The flow of the song "I've Got a Theory" is probably the best example in the Buffyverse of how Joss views society. Not his perfect society, but the reality of how it is.
It opens with Giles, representing the Patriarchy singing first. His first reaction is what he knows, demons. "That it's a demon." He goes on a bit further, "A dancing demon." To his logical mind that sound ridiculous. Demons don't dance and he dismisses it. The thing to remember is that Giles is right. It is a dancing demon. Giles not only represents the Patriarchy, but someone who is limited/hurt by it This won't be resolved until the finale of the series.
Then we go to Willow, who really doesn't want to sing (at least AH doesn't). Her inclusion is very important. No one else could have said those lines, so poor AH had to sing a bit. The Patriarchy is unable to solve the problem, so what happens? Something that happened in the first season is remembered "some kid is dreamin.'" When we don't know what to do, we often do fall back to the past. Willow's image of herself, which is based on her past, is going to seriously mess her up this season and the next. This too really isn't resolved until the finale of the series.
Next comes Everyman Xander. He is concerned with the practical "we should work this out." That is importantly followed by the trio of Willow/Anya/Tara who are concerned with feelings "It's getting eerie. What's this cheery singing all about." The rhyme scheme paired Giles' patriarchy with Willow's reliance on the past. It also pairs the male Xander with the female trio.
What follows is probably the best statement of what Joss believes and why he is a feminist. Everyman Xander comes after the pairs are set up. There is no rhyming scheme and he is paired with no one really. His first reaction, his gut reaction is "It could be witches. Some evil witches." Joss has been raised in the Patriarchy. No matter how much he carries the banner of Feminism high, his gut reaction is still "It could be witches. Some evil witches." In "Hush" when he needs 2 new characters to be terrified of the Gentlemen, he relies on Tara and Olivia. As much as he hated seeing the blond victim in the alley in horror movies and empowered her, when he needed victims, he turned to two women.
Then Xander sees Tara and Willow's reaction and changes his statement. "Which is ridiculous 'cause witches they were persecuted wicca good and love the earth and women power." Joss' feminism is a corrective measure to counter the Patriarchy that causes him to think "some evil witches." We have seen an evil witch, again in that first season. Witches aren't all wiccan good. Still, Xander feels bad and so now "and I'll be over here." The music drops off after "ridiculous" and comes back after he leaves. Xander has been taken out of the song by trying to correct the Patriarchy's view. Could there be a more succinct statement of the male feminist's dilemma which includes why he is a feminist in the first place?
Then we get Anya. Anya's reason is her biggest fear. She too doesn't rhyme with any one. Our fears separate us. It is simply stated. It sounds completely logical to her. The others look at her weird. To the audience, it is a ridiculous answer, but often our fears are completely rational to us, but to others aren't.
Tara tries to speak. She is almost the last person to give her idea and speaks quietly. She can barely be heard. We don't get to hear her. Before Anya's fear was calmly stated and fit with the melody. Now it overcomes her and Tara doesn't get a chance to be heard. Instead the music changes to a driving rock beat. She tries to rationalize her fear, giving us ridiculous reasons why "Bunnies aren't just cute like everybody supposes." She is incredibly insistent that "Bunnies, bunnies, It must be bunnies," but then the melody returns and she ditches that answer for an equally ridiculous one "Or maybe midgets." Fear tends to be rather irrational and can grip us one minute and cause us to do wild things. Then just as quickly, it leaves. Think of the mob mentality that follows national tragedies. It grips us and then just goes away.
Fear drowned out the feminine represented by Tara and Tara doesn't reassert herself. Earlier we had Xander - male Willow/Tara/Anya - female. The fear of Anya drowned out Tara, so next to sing is poor Willow. She goes over to Giles and opens a book. "we should work this fast." Tara couldn't to that and neither could Anya. Willow is representing the female here and she is trying to work with Giles. When this happens, the next line is a duet between Giles and Willow who are focused on the problem "Because it clearly could get serious before it's passed." They are right.
Then enter in Buffy. The music changes as Buffy rallies the troops. Buffy isn't concerned about the current problem. She is really the everyperson in this song. How many of us try to actually solve problems (I'll give you a hint we live in a REPRESENTATIVE democracy)? They just get solved somehow.
Everyone, but Giles joins in the song. Eventually he does join, but as the descant voice, not singing with the others. The song ends with they can face anything "except for bunnies." Fear is even stronger than together.
That song is more than just exposition to music. The flow of it shows stuff not only about each character and their motivation, but the flow of it from one character to another, shows how Joss sees society, most importantly, his/Xander's view.