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Buffy vs. School shooting: A controversy from 1999

V

Vamp Jenny

Guest
I know you've all been waiting for it, so here is the revised version of my english essay about Buffy vs school shootings:

Over the last few years, a lot of shootings in high schools and universities happened all over the United States. We only have to think about the Newtown shooting back in December 2012. American teenagers being an important demographic for TV shows, episodes can sometimes be delayed or cancelled due to those tragedies. In light of this well known problem, I asked myself: "Is it smart to delay the American showing of certain TV shows related to tragedies touching their public?" I used the example of two episodes from Buffy the vampire slayer, along with a few school shooting that happened in 1999, to illustrate.

The first episode that was delayed was Earshot, from season 3. That specific episode showed a teenager (Jonathan Levinson) trying to commit suicide and a lunch lady wanting to murder the entire student body with rat poison. Earshot was scheduled to air a week only after the Columbine High events, in which two teenagers killed 13 people before shooting themselves. The whole country was in shock after April 20th and the WB people took the reasonable decision to delay the episode. The suicide storyline might not usually be associated to this, but Jonathan brought a rifle to school and half of the episode was in correlation with the mysterious murderer-to-be. It was enough of a reason to postpone it. Earshot was later rescheduled to air September 21st, 1999. The network presented a rerun of Bad Girls in its place April 27th.

Later that year, there were other school shootings, such as Texas University in Austin and Heritage High, GA. Another episode of Buffy was pulled: Graduation Day part 2. This time, the episode showed students blowing up the school to kill the giant snake the mayor had become. Everyone was against that second pull, partly because this episode actually demonstrated students working together toward a common goal. It also represented the finality of high school and teenage years. Plus, no guns were used during the fighting scene. They used bows and arrows, axes, stakes, the occasional flamethrower, but no guns. After the pull, Seth Green (interviewed by Entertainment Weekly) said that "only a few crazies in a wave of people watching a violent show will become dangerous". That second postponing was taken more badly than Earshot, since the first part had already aired the previous week.

In a paper I found about the Entertainment Media and teenagers reaction to it, one of the respondent to a survey talked about Buffy in these words: "[it] dealt with a lot of teenage issues and always promoted tolerance and acceptance." If the message of this show is so good, why pull episodes? And while they were at it, why didn't they postpone The Zeppo (where a guy told he'd been killed during a drive-by shooting and showed the wounds to prove it) or I Only Have Eyes For You (in which the ghost of a former student recreated the scene when he shot his teacher and secret lover)? I also made a survey on Buffy-Boards.com and the results were close, but it came back that 54% of the fans responding didn't agree with the postponing.

In conclusion, the WB network pulled two episodes in the same season due to school shootings. During the six other seasons Buffy was on, and the five seasons Angel was (including an episode in season 5 where he killed a few military guys in a middle school), no other episode was pulled, not even after 9/11. This is a little weird, considering the spin-off (Angel) had a darker underline and was more violent. As for other shows, Promised Land (1996 to 1999 on CBS) had an episode pulled because it showed a drive-by school shooting. That episode was never rescheduled. A WB spokeswoman gave an explanation about Buffy's Earshot, but we're still waiting to hear the reason for Graduation Day part 2... In the end, was it necessary to pull both episodes when the show is supposed to be about growing up and helping each-other? Or was it just the network freaking out?

_____________________________

And the mediagraphy:

Bonin, Liane. May 25th, 1999. School Daze. Entertainment Weekly: www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,84403,00.html. Consulted December 23rd, 2012.

The Complete Buffy Episode Guide: www.buffyguide.com. Consulted December 23rd, 2012.

Jackson, David J. and Thomas I. A. Darrow. 2009. Politics and Popular Culture: How Some Young Anglophone Canadians Perceive the Political Content of the Entertainment Media. International Journal of Canadian Studies, # 39 & 40. Pages 15 to 38

Ryan, Joal. April 23rd, 1999. "Buffy" slayed by school massacre. E! Online: http://ca.eonline.com/news/38063/buffy-slayed-by-school-massacre. Consulted December 23rd, 2012

Whedon Studies Association. Created in 2001. Journal of the Whedon Studies Association: www.slayageonline.com. Consulted December 23rd, 2012
 

SMG14Fan

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Honestly, I think some people are too sensitive. I've always thought it was ridiculous to postpone episodes due to their nature. I feel like it violates the first amendment of freedom of expression. Plus, the episodes do not glorify school shootings or killing students.

I do, however, think Earshot is an eery episode. It was written and filmed before Columbine, but it almost seems like it predicts it in a way. Particularly when Oz says how school shootings are bordering on trendy. I can understanding postponing Earshot for a couple weeks while the nation dealt with the tragedy of Columbine, but I really feel that delaying it for five months was just ludicrous.

As for Graduation Day part 2, I don't think it should have been delayed at all. That was just straight up overreaction, in my opinion.
 

Black Eye Guy

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Black Thorn
Interesting article, thanks for posting.

I agree there can be a possibility of over reaction in cases like this, although I think it was correct to postpone them.

I think if the episode is in the area of school shootings, out of respect it should be pushed back. I think the viewers going in wont view it in the same frame of mind they might do at a later stage. Having witnessed something similar in the real world, could completely change how you'd relate to that episode.

I do think Graduation Day was a bit of a stretch, but I think if they had been overreacting both Buffy and Angel would have been delayed allot more considering the nature of the show, I hadn't realised that no other episodes were rescheduled, I think overreacting would have been postponing any episode with violence if it wasn't related to school violence.
 

Myheadsgonenumb

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I think delaying 'earshot' so close after Columbine was the respectful thing to do. Obviously there is nothing disrespectful in the episode - but the timing was unfortunate and airing it tight then would have been in bad taste. I also agree with @Black Eye Guy that, for american viewers, watching 'earshot' the week later would change - possibly forever - the way they experienced and enjoyed that episode. The memory of Columbine would always cast its shadow over it - even now, for those who saw it when the tragedy was still raw.

Graduation Day part 2 is less clear cut. But two - essentially copy cat - massacres within a month of Columbine ... I can't blame the network for panicking. We had one school shooting incident in Britain in 1996 - Dunblane - and the government banned handguns off the back of it. We haven't had another in 23 years (touch wood). This stuff just doesn't happen in other countries - and the U.S needs to find a way to deal with their problem. And if the gun lobby is too powerful to allow the government to introduce stricter gun control - then it is up to individual businesses to decide how they are going to proceed with their attempts to mitigate mass shootings in their own backyard. I can understand why the WB didn't want anyone to claim their shows were glorifying violence - so soon after 3 massacres - even if the actual message of the show was not one that supported that type of violence. There are always people happy to be outraged - even if they didn't see the thing they are outraged about - and an outcry would damage WB - and piss off their shareholders. They are a business first and foremost. Plus - if there was a chance the episode would spark 'concerned outrage' ... that might have led to the WB having to cancel Buffy before the 4th season in order to kill off the scandal. Now that would be something to complain about! And obviously not a risk the WB were interested in taking.

And of course - its one thing to claim people are too sensitive - but if you were part of the Columbine community or near the Georgia community - it isn't being overly sensitive is it? There will have been Buffy fans at Columbine high school. Trying not to upset people, especially those who have recently suffered trauma, is hardly a business trait that we should be being negative about.

The episodes might have been delayed for too long - but the delays in and of themselves were not necessarily the wrong call.

As to why not pull 'the Zeppo' or 'I only have eyes for you' as well? - They both aired before there were three high school massacres within a month.
 

GraceK

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I think delaying 'earshot' so close after Columbine was the respectful thing to do. Obviously there is nothing disrespectful in the episode - but the timing was unfortunate and airing it tight then would have been in bad taste. I also agree with @Black Eye Guy that, for american viewers, watching 'earshot' the week later would change - possibly forever - the way they experienced and enjoyed that episode. The memory of Columbine would always cast its shadow over it - even now, for those who saw it when the tragedy was still raw.

Graduation Day part 2 is less clear cut. But two - essentially copy cat - massacres within a month of Columbine ... I can't blame the network for panicking. We had one school shooting incident in Britain in 1996 - Dunblane - and the government banned handguns off the back of it. We haven't had another in 23 years (touch wood). This stuff just doesn't happen in other countries - and the U.S needs to find a way to deal with their problem. And if the gun lobby is too powerful to allow the government to introduce stricter gun control - then it is up to individual businesses to decide how they are going to proceed with their attempts to mitigate mass shootings in their own backyard. I can understand why the WB didn't want anyone to claim their shows were glorifying violence - so soon after 3 massacres - even if the actual message of the show was not one that supported that type of violence. There are always people happy to be outraged - even if they didn't see the thing they are outraged about - and an outcry would damage WB - and piss off their shareholders. They are a business first and foremost. Plus - if there was a chance the episode would spark 'concerned outrage' ... that might have led to the WB having to cancel Buffy before the 4th season in order to kill off the scandal. Now that would be something to complain about! And obviously not a risk the WB were interested in taking.

And of course - its one thing to claim people are too sensitive - but if you were part of the Columbine community or near the Georgia community - it isn't being overly sensitive is it? There will have been Buffy fans at Columbine high school. Trying not to upset people, especially those who have recently suffered trauma, is hardly a business trait that we should be being negative about.

The episodes might have been delayed for too long - but the delays in and of themselves were not necessarily the wrong call.

As to why not pull 'the Zeppo' or 'I only have eyes for you' as well? - They both aired before there were three high school massacres within a month.
Thank you. School shootings , and mass shootings are such a common occurrence now that I think Americans forget what such a shocking event Columbine was when it happened. Well, Pepperidge Farms remembers! I was 12 when it happened and all the way in New York we were thunderstruck. It never occurred to me before then that my school could get shot up. Immediately we ended up with metal detectors in our school and that was the new normal in the cities at least from then on all through high school. It changed a lot. It makes sense that network tv, Who wasn’t even comfortable with lesbians yet would pull an episode that has a student with a rifle in a tower and threats of students being murdered right after a tragedy like that. It’s pretty tasteless. A few years later 9/11 happened to us and rest assured a lot of programming was also pulled out of respect for a little bit. Whole episodes of tv were rewritten. Seeing live on television buildings falling down and humans running for their lives doesn’t make people want to see that for entertainment purposes for awhile. It’s not about being “ too sensitive” .
 

AlphaFoxtrot

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I think the WB made the best decision under what were difficult circumstances. I wasn't watching at the time, but Graduation Day was a pretty big event episode, and I probably would have caught it.
 

AshSlays

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Black Thorn
Y'know, thinking about it, I remember a really similar incident occurring fairly locally for me. Before I moved here and was even born, sure, but it sent shockwaves through my community and the effects are still here today. In a middle school 2 miles off from Jonesboro, Arkansas (a relatively close drive for me, about 3 hours), there was a huge school shooting on March 14, 1998. I actually know someone who attended the elementary school nearby at the time of the shooting, and she gave me a really close account of what happened. I'll tell what she told me and then I'll link to the encyclopedia of Arkansas article on the event if you wanted to read it. Here's a direct quote, at least from what I can remember.
"I was in class at about 12:30 and someone came rushing in saying that the fire alarm had been pulled over at the middle school. They told us they still hadn't found the fire, but were evacuating in case. A few minutes later, we heard gunshots through the window, coming from a field nearby where we all went for fire drills. My entire class freaked out, and we heard screaming coming from the other rooms as well. The office assistants came over the PA and told us we were under lockdown, so the teacher did the normal lockdown procedures. After about thirty seconds of shooting, they finally stopped. We heard a bit later that the two shooters, a 6th grader and a 7th grader, killed a teacher and four students as well as injured 9 other students and a teacher. The police finally managed to catch them after a while, but it still was a scary time for all of us. I can only imagine what it felt like for the middle schoolers..."
Her account of the story greatly adds what it felt like to be in other schools at the time, and remembering it really helped me put this together. Apparently, they also delayed certain episodes of shows after the incident, although I can't find records of what. However, it was only locally, not nationally. It really makes me wonder what happened to separate this one from Columbine a year later in terms of national panic... Was it possibly the fact that there had been a couple of other school shootings in the year between West Side and Columbine? Did that cause the nation to think it was planned or something? The national mourning shown after West Side and the hysteria after Columbine just don't match up to me, and it makes little sense...

Anyway, here's the links to some articles over the incident:
Encyclopedia of Arkansas: Westside School Shooting - Encyclopedia of Arkansas
ABC news talking about what happened to the shooters after the incident: The Only Two Living US Mass School Shooters Who Are Not Incarcerated
 
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