Buffy The Milton Slayer

Australian Education Minister Brendan Nelson has created something of a row with his criticism of university education in his country. His complaints boil down to the claims that there is an excessive focus on postmodernism and more emphasis on pop culture studies than the classics.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald,

“You’ve got teacher education faculties that are in essence quasi-sociology departments,” he [Nelson] said, adding that it was hard to find undergraduates studying Milton “and stuff like that Â… but you can study Buffy the Vampire Slayer and those sort of things”.

Not being familiar with Australia’s education system, its hard to know how serious a problem this really is. Postmodernism is certainly a scourge — the intellectual equivalent of the Black Death, destroying rational inquiry where it alight.

Same thing with pop culture/media studies. Hey, my home office is filled with Buffy action figures, but I can’t imagine paying thousands of dollars for my daughter to go to a university where she can get credit for writing a Marxist or Postmodernist analysis of the show.

Criticism of Nelson seems to run along lines outlined by The Australian columnist, Emma Tom. According to Tom,

Yet postmodernism’s nibbling at the artificial divide between high and low culture makes a lot of sense. You only have to imagine what that old populist Shakespeare would have done if television had been an option when he was in the crowd-pleasing game.

As with the works of Shakespeare, Buffy the Vampire Slayer can be hilarious, gut-wrenching and immensely thought-provoking.

And – contrary to the notion that all products of postmodernism are devoid of values – it offers some extraordinarily old-fashioned conclusions about what it means to be a good person.

Characters are rewarded for selflessness, family fidelity and putting duty before hedonistic teenybopping. They’re punished for greed, betrayal and wanting to suck too much blood out of people’s throats while trying to destroy the world. Not very cappuccino-y at all when you think about it.

So give us Milton and his mates by all means. But anyone who tries to remove modern classics such as Buffy from the curriculum just because they were created in the 20th and 21st centuries and don’t have dusty pages deserves a good, hard, slaying.

Postmodernism’s destruction of the distinction between what Tom calls high and low culture is idiotic. Comparing Joss Whedon to William Shakespeare is beyond bizarre. Moreover, Buffy doesn’t even hold up against 20th and 21st century classics. Buffy is a wonderful show, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the best Akira Kurosawa or Ingmar Bergman films. If Tom wants students learning from recent masters, they should be reading Camus or Salman Rushdie, not wasting their time analyzing Buffy scripts.


Buffy slays the stuffy in schoolroom stand-off. Emma Tom, The Australian, August 10, 2005.

Deconstructing Buffy leaves Nelson clueless. Justin Norrie, Sydney Morning Herald, August 6, 2005.

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