‘It all seems so real’: Intertextuality in the Buffyverse – Vivien Burr

Through quotation and intertextuality Buffy the Vampire Slayer constructs a universe that is shared between viewer and character. The viewer is aligned with characters through shared memories and experiences. Viewers are positioned sometimes inside the text and sometimes outside of it. The vivid and personally engaging experience of TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer is central to enjoyment, and intertextuality plays a key role in producing this experience by psychologically aligning the viewer with the fictional space. While the problematic concept of identification goes some way towards explaining the psychological investment in particular characters through the creation of point of view, Vivien Burr argues that identification is not the primary means by which a sense of reality is constructed. Although it seems likely that some degree of allegiance is necessary in order for viewers to be willing to enter into and invest in the fantasy space, it is argued that it is intertextuality that provides its sense of reality.

A vivid and ‘realistic’ subjective experience of TV dramatic fiction is almost axiomatic of viewer enjoyment. To feel a personal engagement with the depicted events, to experience a sense of the fictional space as subjectively real and to become drawn into that space are arguably defining features of enjoyable television viewing, as they are of film and of literature. In this paper, I will argue that certain forms of intertextuality play a key role in producing this experience. In cult TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BtVS), these forms of intertextuality are used in abundance, and BtVS is therefore an excellent vehicle for exploring their psychological impact.

Krzywinska (2002) notes that BtVS demands a sophisticated level of engagement by viewers, and that this is encouraged by a number of strategies, including intertextual references. She notes that the show makes many references, for example to shows such as Xena and the novels of Anne Rice, and that these are ‘Part of a common cultural vocabulary that connects characters to a broader “real” world culture. Such references lend the series a greater sense of meaningfulness, and textual richness, further encouraging discussion between viewers and helping to interlace the Buffyverse with everyday life’ (p 190). Other references to the ‘real’ world (for example the fact that Giles is said to have brought many of his books from the British Library, and the frequent use of the Internet): provide an important way of linking the diegetic world to other texts, to history, and to viewers’ cultural knowledge This is important to the series’ project of making connections with viewers’ lives: the aim of which is to build a cultural vocabulary gleaned from the “real” world that is common to both viewers and characters’ (pp 192 3). For Krzywinska, such devices make the audience attentive and make the viewing experience richer and more rewarding. However, the argument presented here will be that such intertextuality has further psychological effects that serve to draw the viewer into the fantasy world of BtVS and to intensify the feeling of involvement. So that the rewards for the viewer go beyond merely ‘catching the references’.

At this point, it seems necessary to enter into a brief discussion of what I am assuming by the term ‘the viewer’. What follows is fundamentally a textual analysis of the positions that BtVS makes available or offers us, and invites us to take up (however, as will become clear, I am in no way suggesting that these subject positions are identificatory in the usual sense.) Nevertheless, this analysis has been occasioned by my own experience as an actual viewer, an experience which I am implicitly assuming will be common to a large enough number of other viewers to render the argument valid. Of course I am aware that, without further research into audience reception, I can only acknowledge the wide range of possible readings of the text that will be made by people who have quite a different biography and viewing history from my own.

The ability of TV and film fiction to create a powerful subjective experience has of course already been given much attention. This has largely focused upon the textual construction of subject positions through the manipulation of point of view (POV). Such ‘focalisation’ (Genette, 1980; Rimmon Kenan, 1983; Stain et al, 1992) is achieved through the use of camera angles and through narrative techniques, where the narrative is received by us as if we were in the situation of the character (Branigan, 1984; 1992). Smith (1995) further proposes that the spectator is ‘aligned’ with certain characters in so far as we follow their ‘spatio temporal’ path in the narrative.

The central psychological concept through which this subjectivity has been said to be achieved is that of identification. It is through character identification that we are able to experience the fantasy world as our own, providing its life likeness, its vividness. The life likeness of a character is created by fleshing out the character in our minds, making a rounded, real person out of the skeleton provided, a process that Smith (1995) refers to as ‘recognition’. Through devices such as POV, alignment and allegiance (Smith, ibid) we are then invited into the world view of a character and the process is completed through our psychological desire to experience, control or overcome in fantasy what we cannot in reality. Corner (1999) argues that alignment is established between characters or kinds of action and the viewer’s own subjectivity, desires and anxieties, and that the pleasure of fantasy involves the viewer projecting themselves into fantastic (improbable for the viewer) circumstances. But Corner also recognises that this view of pleasure is too simple, and cannot accommodate the ironic and self conscious pleasures of TV today.

However, the concept of identification in TV and film has attracted a good deal of criticism and is widely regarded as problematic for numerous reasons. Since Mulvey’s (1975) now classic paper, in which she argues that the (film) viewer is positioned within pervasive, patriarchal ideologies, the potentially oppressive effect of identification has occasioned much anxiety and discussion and led to a range of alternative views. Fiske (1987) argues that identification with characters is a matter of choice. He prefers the term ‘implication extrication’ to refer to the alternating between identification and distancing that he feels is characteristic of the viewer’s experience and illustrates their control and agency rather than their subjection to ideology.

The notion of ‘subject positioning’ (see, for example, Stain, 1992) allows the spectator’s locus of identification to shift across various characters, suggesting a possibly more dilute ideological effect than identification with a single character. Flitterman Lewis (1992) points out that the differences between film and TV mean that subjectivity in the case of TV is less focused on a particular character, and more distributed. And Smith (1995), drawing on Carroll (1990), critiques the notion of identification in its implication that we either lose ourselves in the character or take on that character’s POV. He suggests instead a third interpretation of the concept: that we simply imagine ourselves in the situation of the character. It is therefore possible for us to identify with numerous characters, and are not necessarily drawn into the ‘world view’ of any.

Smith distinguishes between alignment and allegiance, two ‘levels of engagement’ with characters. Alignment gives us access to the thoughts and feelings of a character, but does not necessarily lead to identification. This is more likely to be produced by allegiance, where the spectator is invited to sympathise with the perspective of a character. Identification as an explanation for the vividness and life likeness of the viewing experience, in addition to the problems outlined above, allows us to focus only upon character as the viewer’s route into the fantasy world. Intertextuality is also a key concept for film and TV analysts and has already been subjected to a good deal of analysis. However, its psychological implications and impact have perhaps been insufficiently explored.

Intertextuality is often taken to refer to the way that the TV personality or star comes to be polysemic, through the use of secondary texts (such as publicity and promotion) and through type casting. It also refers to the ways that narrative expectations are set up by the repeated use of particular actors within a certain genre. However, I shall be primarily using forms of intertextuality where explicit references to other texts are made, or to instances where the text refers to itself.

In the remainder of this essay, using examples from BtVS, I will suggest that these forms of intertextuality function to psychologically align the viewer with the fictional space in general rather than a specific character or characters. My use of the term ‘alignment’ here broadly follows Smith (1995), in that I will be looking at how we are given access to the thoughts and experience of characters, but my use of the term does not extend to techniques whereby we follow the spatio temporal path of a character through the narrative. I shall argue that through the use of intertextuality the viewer is invited into a world of memories and experiences that feel subjectively ‘shared’.

As a consequence, the terms ‘real’ and ‘fantasy’ come to operate simultaneously with respect to both character and viewer; the boundaries between reality and fantasy become blurred, enabling the viewer to easily reside in the fantasy space but without this residence being necessarily occasioned by identificatory, ideologically suspect desires. Furthermore, I shall argue that while some forms of intertextuality position the viewer within the fantasy realm, others position him/her outside of it. The viewing experience may therefore be dense in layers of meaning but these are never monolithic and the fantasy world does not threaten to completely colonise the viewer’s subjectivity. In similar vein to Fiske (1987), this suggests that the viewer may shift between involvement and detachment.

According to Stam et al (1992), Kristeva’s conception of intertextuality (her translation of Bakhtin’s notion of ‘dialogism’) suggests a limitless breadth and depth of references and associations evoked by any text, producing a ‘mosaic of citation’ (p204) and Genette (1982) later proposed the broader term ‘transtextuality’ to refer to ‘all that which puts one text in relation, whether manifest or secret, with other texts’ (cited in Stam et al, 1992, p 206). Genette defines intertextuality more restrictively as ‘the effective co presence of two texts’ (ibid: 206). It is this definition that I shall use here. Although Genette applied the concept mainly to literary examples, I shall follow Stam (ibid) in the assumption that these can readily be applied to film.

Although film and television are quite different in some respects, I shall assume that for present purposes Genette’s use of intertextuality can be appropriately applied to television perhaps even more so than film. Genette suggests that intertextuality has three forms: quotation, plagiarism and allusion. While these should not be taken to be definitive or exhaustive, I have adopted them because they provide a useful framework for discussing their psychological effects. Focussing upon quotation and allusion, I will argue that the effects of these are quite different from each other.

Whereas quotation serves to draw us into the ‘Buffyverse’, allusion invites us to step outside of it. With apologies to Genette, therefore, I will interpret ‘quotation’ and ‘allusion’ as follows: Quotation: where a text cites or makes explicit reference to other existing texts (including itself, i.e. self referencing).

Allusion: where a text evokes, either verbally or visually, some aspect or part of another text, thereby commenting upon its own construction.

I will consider two types of quotation: self referencing, where the text refers to itself by ‘quoting’ events from earlier episodes, and what I will call ‘external quotation’, where the text quotes other, different, texts.

External quotation

The serial format of BtVS, its use of several simultaneously running storylines and development of character means that it may be regarded as an example of soap opera. With regard to this form of television, Corner (1999) points out that:

Viewers typically experience episodes of their favourite soap opera as a routine engagement with an imagined world running concurrently with their own real one. The frequency of episode transmission (on current British television, often either daily or two or three times a week) reinforces this kind of viewing relationship. Soap narratives also follow a calendar co extensive with that followed by audiences, although there is considerable variation in the way soaps choose to register and comment upon the on going public world (Corner, 1999:59). BtVS makes relatively few references to specific real world events, and where these do occur they do not demand that the Buffyverse is contemporaneous with the real world. In ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ Buffy says ‘You just went OJ on your girlfriend’, referring to the trial of 0.J. Simpson for murder, and in ‘Earshot’ Xander refers to someone about to gun everyone down and Cordelia ironically replies ‘Because that never happens in American high schools’. The show makes rather more references to real world objects and people that are comparatively ‘timeless’, for example in the very first episode, ‘Welcome to the Hellmouth’, Giles says ‘I’d much prefer to be at home with a cup of Bovril and a good book’ and numerous famous people are mentioned, from Evita to Ghandi. Situated at least partly within the science fiction (SF) genre, BtVS shares its need to locate its improbable events in a world that appears otherwise realistic and convincing.

By contrast, BtVS is positively saturated with external quotations of the variety where characters make references to other popular cultural texts. This practice is established in the show’s very first season. In its 12 episodes there are at least 17 such references, including TV shows ( Sabrina the Teenage Witch , The X Files , Star Trek ), numerous movies ( Mommie Dearest , Gidget , The Wild Bunch , The Exorcist , Soylent Green , The Wizard of Oz , The Shining , The Usual Suspects ) and comic characters ( The Fantastic Four , Superman , Spiderman ). Throughout the series, references to SF and horror shows, films and characters are particularly noticeable.

Such intertextuality is typical of the SF genre and a recognised source of anticipated pleasure for the audience. For example Roberts (2000), referring to Star Wars , says that watching this as a SF fan ‘is a process of identifying a web of allusions and quotations from SF texts’ (p87). In ‘Helpless’ Xander and Oz are arguing over the effects of green versus red kryptonite on Superman, and in ‘The Zeppo’ Xander makes a ‘Jimmy Olson’ joke to Giles and there are several references to ‘BizarrO world’ (‘Reptile Boy’, ‘The Wish’, ‘Gone’). Xander calls Giles the Locutus of Borg (‘Prophecy Girl’) and refers to his collection of Babylon 5 commemorative plates (‘The Replacement’).

In ‘The Pack’ Buffy says to Giles ‘I can’t believe you, of all people, are trying to Scully me’ and in ‘Gone’ talks of ‘Muldering out what happened.’ References to Kubrick’s The Shining include “Redrum! Redrum!” (‘The Puppet Show’) and Jonathan’s remark that he is ‘going Jack Torrance in here” (‘Normal Again’). Throughout season 6, references by the Troika to Star Trek and James Bond movies appear in numerous episodes, and season 5 opens with a whole episode devoted to one of the most famous figures from vampire literature (‘Dracula’). Such sci fi and horror references are only a fraction of the references regularly made to works of literature, film and TV throughout the six seasons of BtVS.

My argument is that such intertextuality operates to create a potentially shared universe between viewer and character. When characters refer to other film/TV personae or events, or refer to other icons of popular culture they appeal to a shared experience, shared between character and viewer. In this way, the viewer is aligned with one or more characters in the fantasy space through an appeal to shared memories and experiences. Paradoxically, this reference to other worlds that are, nevertheless, fantasy in themselves (such as Star Trek and Superman) creates a greater feeling of reality. That the ‘real’ world that is referred to in the Buffyverse, and that we as viewers share, is composed mostly of other fictional spaces serves to blur the reality/fantasy boundary. The Buffyverse is fictional, but through it we share with its characters ‘memories’ of real experiences outside of it. But those ‘real’ experiences are of other fantasy worlds.

Some references confound the fantasy/reality divide in particularly interesting ways, for example in ‘Dracula’ this fantasy figure assumes real status in the Buffyverse, and the viewer is drawn in by references to this widely read text, such as the ‘special dirt’, and Xander’s references to the ‘bug eater’. Dracula is here a fictional character assuming a real existence within another fictional space. In ‘Helpless’ when Xander and Oz are arguing over the effects of green versus red kryptonite on Superman, Buffy draws them back to the task at hand with: “Guys … reality?”, but the ‘reality’ she draws them back to is itself a fictional space.

There are also occasions where what might be called the ‘fictional spaces of the real world’ are explicitly incorporated into the Buffyverse. Here, characters do not simply make humorous references to TV shows but actually watch them or make reference to watching them. For example, in ‘Checkpoint’ we see Spike, Joyce and Dawn about to sit down to an episode of Passions. In ‘Something Blue’, Spike loses his temper when he fears he may miss the next episode, as ‘Timmy’s down the bloody well!’, and at the beginning of season 5 Giles admits to having been so bored in the previous year that he watched Passions with Spike. In ‘Out of My Mind’, when Spike is watching TV the show is obviously Dawson’s Creek as he says impatiently “Oh Pacey, you blind idiot. Can’t you see she doesn’t love you?”

Self referencing

This occurs when references are made to earlier events, as when characters talk of remembering things that happened in earlier episodes or seasons, events that are disconnected from the current story arc. In TV serials, redundant information is presented for the new viewer, to bring them up to date. Past events are referred to in away that explains the significance of current ones. The serial ‘constantly re establishes its characters and their situations’ (Butler, 2002). But Butler argues that this also serves to create a dense, multilayered narrative for the regular viewer. Apparently trivial occurrences, for example a look exchanged between characters, can be loaded with meaning because of what has gone before.

In BtVS, the recapitulation of relevant earlier events is explicitly achieved in the ‘previously on Buffy’ section that has opened each episode in all but the very early ones (season 1 and part of season 2). It can be argued, therefore, that references to previous events during the actual narrative are primarily about creating this richness. The casual or irregular viewer is unlikely to ‘catch’ these references and they are not necessary to engagement with the current narrative.

Self references obviously potentially increase as the history of the show lengthens. There are none in season 1, the first being in the second episode of season 2, ‘Some Assembly Required’, when Buffy and Angel fight over her dance with Xander (in the previous week’s ‘When She Was Bad’), and this is also referred to by Willow later in this episode. The BuffyGuide.com gives no fewer than 11 self references in season 2. Some of these refer to earlier events in the same season. A large part of ‘Innocence’ turns on Xander’s recollection of the events of ‘Halloween’ (when he temporarily becomes a soldier) and in ‘Ted’ Buffy, Xander and Willow refer to the events of ‘What’s My Line?’. But some of the later episodes refer back to events that took place in season 1. In ‘What’s My Line ? (2)’, Buffy and Xander refer to Xander’s crush on Ms French in ‘Teacher’s Pet’.

In ‘Surprise’, Willow refers back right to the very first episode of the show ‘Welcome to the Hellmouth’, saying to Buffy “Carpe Diem. You told me that once.” (Buffy had told Willow to “seize the moment”) and in ‘Phases’, Xander ‘remembers’ being a hyena in ‘The Pack’. Self references continue to abound in the later seasons, with characters often referring to events taking place in the previous season. In ‘The ‘Initiative’ (season 4), Spike remembers what Willow wore in ‘Lover’s Walk’ (season 3). In ‘Intervention’ (season 5), Xander remembers being split in ‘The Replacement’ earlier in the same season. When faced with Buffy and the Buffy bot together he says “I know this you’re both Buffy”, another reference only meaningful to the regular viewer. In ‘The Replacement’ when Xander implies that Willow doesn’t understand how it feels to have an ‘evil twin’, without direct reference to the events themselves she reminds us that this is just what happened to her in ‘The Wish’ and ‘Dopplegangland’ (season 3).

The later seasons have even made reference to events occurring two or more seasons before. In ‘Forever’ (season 5) after Joyce’s death, Giles listens to the music he and Joyce enjoyed two years earlier in ‘Band Candy’ (season 3). This is a most subtle reference, without any dialogue to mark it out as significant for the viewer, and its significance will not be picked up by someone who has not seen the earlier season. In the musical episode ‘Once More With Feeling’ (season 6) Anya makes reference to Xander having suffered a form of syphilis, caused by the member of the Shumash tribe whose spirit he had unwittingly released in ‘Pangs’ (season 4). And in ‘Gone’ (season 6) Xander refers to a possible explanation for Buffy’s invisibility that requires the reader to have seen an episode from season 1 (‘Out Of Mind, Out Of Sight’) in which a girl becomes invisible because no one notices her.

As with external intertextuality, self references create a blurring of the fantasy/reality boundary. They invoke the presence of real memories in the characters. We, the viewers, remember what happened ‘last year’ (or earlier) and are invited to share these memories with the characters. If our memories of these events are real, they become by implication somewhat real for the characters too, lending the characters themselves a form of reality so that the categories ‘real’ and ‘fantasy’ are confounded. We remember an event that happened last season. We have a real memory. However, the remembered event has both real and fantasy elements. It is a real memory of a real event (we remember having viewed the episode, in which the referred to events were depicted), but the event that we remember is itself a fantasy construction.

The character who remembers is fictitious, and yet within the terms of reference of the narrative his/her memory is real and this is demanded in order to make the narrative and the character coherent. Since we could envisage a character having ‘false’ memories – remembering ‘things that didn’t really happen’, we can therefore experience a character’s ‘normal’ memories as ‘real’. Nevertheless, both false and real memories of a character are undeniably fictitious. That the viewer takes this coherence and reality seriously is suggested by the strength of reaction against the proposition (in ‘Normal Again’, season 6) that the Sunnydale narrative was Buffy’s elaborate fantasy. ‘Normal Again’ cleverly plays with the reality of the Buffyverse. It explicitly makes the preposterousness of the show’s premise it’s subject, and poses both Buffy and the viewer the question ‘is Sunnydale, it’s events and its characters real?’

On one level, this could be seen as an example of allusion, as the show is making explicit reference to its construction as a work of fiction. However, by setting up a reality/fantasy divide that mimics the viewer’s own (where that divide refers to the real world vs. the Buffyverse), the viewer is brought into alignment with Buffy as a character, as she is set the task of trying to work out which of the two worlds she is experiencing is the ‘real’ one. And of course the resolution (that Sunnydale is real or at least that Buffy chooses it to be so) disrupts the viewer’s own reality/fantasy dichotomy, where the Buffyverse is the fantasy side of the equation.

Audience responses (on discussion lists) to ‘Normal Again’ were in some instances quite angry. Although this may in part be a response to the implication that the liberal political messages of the show (girl power, acceptance of lesbian sexuality etc) are also ‘fantasies’, it is also a reaction to the feeling that part of our own experiential world is being invalidated. In both forms of quotation intertextuality that I have discussed, the terms ‘real’ and ‘fantasy’ operate simultaneously with respect to both character and viewer, and as a consequence the boundaries between reality and fantasy become blurred, enabling the viewer to reside in the fantasy world without a great deal of effort after suspension of reality testing. Since both we and the character appear to remember the same event (either within or outside of the narrative space of the show), that event serves as an objective reference point for both our own experience and that of the character, placing the character’s experience on a level with our own. The show builds up a network of constructed memories and history that mimics real life. Thus, quotation intertextuality draws us in via an appeal to our real memories as viewers, making the Buffyverse a more real, 31) space for us to inhabit.

Allusion Intertextuality

Allusion is a favourite technique of cult TV, which habitually addresses its audience and invites them to ‘spot the references’. The writer/director is saying to the audience ‘can you remember where you have seen this before?’ Allusion may take the form of borrowing a technique from earlier productions (often movies) or by mimicking scenes from them. In ‘Two To Go’ when Willow magically transports the action from Rack’s hangout to the Magic Box, the technique used here is directly borrowed from Hitchcock’s classic Vertigo . ‘Life Serial’ uses the premise of Harold Ramis’ Groundhog Day in Buffy’s attempt to make a career in retail, and the famous ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ scene from The Shining is humorously mimicked in ‘Gone’. In ‘Angel’, the image of Darla firing both pistols repeatedly while sliding backwards on the pool table clearly alludes to the work of John Woo, and, through Woo’s influence, also that of Robert Rodriguez in Desperado .

Other references are less self consciously done, however, and the effect for the viewer here clearly depends upon the extent of their prior movie experience. In ‘Bad Eggs’, the monster concept is very reminiscent of Ridley Scott’s Alien and ‘Entropy’ has shades of Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark , with the use of a ‘location finder’ disc on a staff, directed at a map. In ‘Helpless’ Buffy wears a red hooded coat. A vampire attacks her, ripping it from her. He later entices Buffy’s mother out of the house, and she finds what she believes is Buffy on the floor of the porch, covered in the coat. She says ‘Buffy’ and rolls him over, and his monster visage is revealed, a scene reminiscent of the final horrific denouement in Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now .

Because it is the producers of the text, and not the characters, who are offering these references, attention is explicitly drawn to its method of production, to the constructed nature of the text. This positions the viewer outside of the text world, aligning him/her with the producer of the text (rather than a character) at that moment. For example, in ‘Once More With Feeling’, when Anya says to Giles that she felt as though the 4th wall of their apartment was absent, the show draws attention to its mode of construction, inviting the viewer to share the knowledge (held by the producers but not the characters) that the apartment is not real; it is a studio set.

Fiske (1987) argues that realistic shows (those with an ‘invisible’ author, like traditional film) have an increasing tendency to draw attention to their own production and regards this self reflexivity as a mark of a ‘radical’ text (e.g. see Kaplan, 1983). Here, ‘the mode of representation is made visible and thus the relationship between the representation and the real is brought into question’ (Fiske, 1987: 238). Fiske notes that much of the pleasure of viewing soap opera lies in playing with the boundary between representation and the real and that TV viewers are increasingly sophisticated, demanding access to TV’s mode of representation. He sees TV’s demystification of its mode of representation as at the heart of its ‘producerliness’, generating more democratic relations with its audience. According to Buckingham (1996), research with soap audiences has shown that viewers typically shift between an intense involvement with characters and the fictional world of the text, and a distanced, playful recognition of its artificiality. The effect of such allusion in BtVs is therefore likely to be complex. On the one hand, such allusions may function, for the experienced SF and BWS viewer, as instances of the intertextuality that is expected in the genre and that enrich and intensify the viewer’s involvement in the text. For viewers with less cultural capital, such allusions may be more likely to produce a sense of distance from the text, momentarily lifting them out of the fantasy space.


Through quotation intertextuality a universe shared between viewer and character is constructed. When characters refer to other film/TV events they appeal to an experience potentially shared between character and viewer. Thus the viewer is aligned with characters through shared memories and experiences. ‘Reality’ and ‘fantasy’ are terms that appear to operate simultaneously with respect to both (fantasy) character and (real) viewer, so that they do not uncomplicatedly denote two sides of a duality (reality and fantasy) that are clearly distinguished. This is not to say that the viewer becomes unable to tell the difference between fantasy and reality, nor is it an argument about the modality of BtVS. Modality (for example Buckingham, 1996) refers to the extent to which a show is judged to be realistic in its portrayal, the extent to which it appears to reflect real life. Rather 1 am interested here in the creation of the sense of reality, of sensing and being psychologically present in a space that feels real even when it may at the same time be judged as quite unrealistic.

Allusion intertextuality offers a subject position that is outside of the narrative space and directs attention to its construction. Because it is the producers of the text who are offering these references, the viewer becomes aligned with the producers (rather than a character) and attention is explicitly drawn to the constructed nature of the text. Depending upon particular viewers’ cultural capital and genre expectations, the sense of reality may be temporarily broken at these moments. The argument that the viewer is not ‘lost’ in a character, compelled through the pleasures of identification to adopt the ideological assumptions carried in a character’s point of view, is one challenged in different ways in the work of Fiske (1987), Carroll (1990), Stam (1992), Flitterman Lewis (1992) and Smith (1995) as outlined above.

In broad terms, then, the argument presented in this paper is in agreement with the principle that a variety of subject positions may be adopted, that viewers are positioned sometimes inside the text and sometimes outside of it, and further that subject positioning does not necessarily involve identification at all. Drawing on Barthes’ notion of ‘plaisir’, both Corner (1999) and Fiske (ibid) argue that the pleasure of watching TV is not the pleasure in losing ourselves in a prescribed world but in representing, figuring it and playing with it ourselves. Plaisir allows the possibility that we get pleasure from (and from resisting) a diversity of social identities on offer in TV. Fiske calls TV a ‘producerly text that invites a producerly set of reading relations’ (p237). He argues that TV’s demystification of its mode of representation is at the heart of its producerliness, generating more democratic relations with an audience that is increasingly demanding access to TV’s mode of production.

BtVS responds to this demand and is certainly a producerly, radical text in Fiske’s terms. I have argued that a vivid and personally engaging experience of TV dramatic fiction is central to enjoyment, that intertextuality plays a key role in producing this experience by psychologically aligning the viewer with the fictional space. While the problematic concept of identification goes some way towards explaining the psychological investment in particular characters through the creation of POV, I would argue that identification is not the primary means by which a sense of reality is constructed. Although it seems likely that some degree of allegiance, either with a character or with the general ideological message of the show, is necessary in order for viewers to be willing to enter into and invest in the fantasy space, I argue that it is intertextuality that provides its sense of reality.


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