Buffy vs. Dracula”:Intertextuality, Carnival and Cult – Patrick J. Porter

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Buffy: Who are you?
Dracula: I apologize. I assumed you knew. I am Dracula.

p1 Contemporary television drama serials often rely on media-literate audiences who are able to trace a plethora of often subtly encoded and obscure allusions to other narratives. However, explicit and acknoweldged intertextuality via direct and detailed allusions to specific antecendent texts is relatively rare. Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s “Buffy vs Dracula” (5.1) from its fifth season offers a particularly interesting example of just this, asking its cult audience to traverse the contours of Bram Stoker’s originating narrative for the vampire sub-genre: Dracula. It is the contention of this article that this playful ‘cross-over’ narrative reveals a leveling of any perceived hierarchies of value ascribed to either the Victorian novel, its filmic offspring or its contemporary television counterpart. Mikhael Bakhtin’s theory of the carnivalesque is therefore pertinent to an exploration of the episode’s narrative format and intertextuality. In Bakhtinian terms the ‘carnival’ of this episode involves a textual (rather than thematic) inversion of the program’s and the genre’s (predominantly) unspoken ‘rules’. The foregrounding of these rules thus exposes the very ‘bodies’ of the respective texts and invites Buffy’s (postmodern) audience to actively participate in a process of textual scrutiny and cultural exploration.

As “Buffy vs Dracula” begins Buffy questions the identity of the dark stranger who has entered her world. Of course, such a question is ridiculous; Buffy knows who Dracula is, perhaps more than he knows himself.  Her knowledge of the Count and his legends comes not from the antiquated myths or the Victorian novel, but from a range of his textual incarnations, and particularly from his movies. The question is not really Buffy vs. Dracula. Buffy is Dracula, or more correctly Buffy is Dracula. Her own postmodern televisual universe debuted in 1997 but Buffy/Buffy is a product of the vampire sub-genre spawned by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel and developed over the interceding century in a variety of media. The very premise of Buffy The Vampire Slayer revolves around a subversion (but also a celebration) of the variety of horror fiction in which helpless damsels are constantly threatened by powerful and seductive monsters, like Dracula. 

This episode of Buffy provides a novel variation of Bakhtin’s notion of carnival, a contemporary version of the sixteenth century author Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel. Rabelais, Bakhtin argues, was “ more closely and essentially linked to popular sources” (1984: 2) than his literary compatriots, and Rabelais’ work is derived from folk humour and thus “requires an essential reconstruction of our entire artistic and ideological perception, the renunciation of many deeply rooted demands of literary taste, and the revision of many concepts” (1984: 3). This article echoes these sentiments, calling for a reconsideration of Buffy as a text that not only persistently turns canonicity on its head, revises genre, challenges social and cultural norms, but also draws on popular culture, which is, after all, a contemporary version of the folk humour and ‘popular sources’ of Rabelais’ world. Although implied, Bakhtin’s work on Rabelais and the carnivalesque does not explicitly acknowledge the parallels between the inversion of social norms depicted through the ‘images’ of his work and the inversion of cultural norms (and thus the ‘canon’) performed by the work itself. Nonetheless we might think of both Gargantua and Buffy as performing their own respective literary and televisual carnivals – carnivals of textuality.

Bakhtin’s descriptions of Rabelais’ critical reception and lack of popularity also suggest that Gargantua and other works may indeed have, at one time or another, been the ‘cult’ texts of their day. For Bakhtin, Rabelais’ imagery was “opposed to all that is finished and polished, to all pomposity, to every ready-made solution in the sphere of thought and world outlook” (1984: 3). As a result Rabelais’ work suffered a cultural marginalization, or “isolation”, never fully appreciated by high-minded audiences: "The Romantics who discovered him, as they discovered Shakespeare and Cervantes, were incapable of revealing his essence and did not go beyond enraptured surprise. Many were repulsed by him. The vast majority, however, simply do not understand him". (1984: 3) Such a description could also apply to Buffy’s reception by contemporary audiences.

The correlation between Rabelais’ narratives and their reception requires further examination. Bakhtin immediately saw value in the depiction of a carnival-like culture within these narratives: a social and cultural world in which the vulgar and the popular ruled, where humour brought about the debasement of moral authority and where multiple voices competed with one another on more or less equal terms. A work of “literature” which rejoiced in the popular celebrations of carnival was capable of more than merely entertaining its readers, it offered alternatives to the strictly regulated and repressive cultural forms of many eras following the middle ages, including our own.  Many contemporary theorists working from Bakhtin’s observations, not all of whom agree that it is as liberating as Bakhtin suggests, have touched on the fleeting liberation carnivalesque texts allow their audiences. [1]

Approaches to film and television often produce social or political readings that examine the carnivalesque interaction of characters and events taking place within the story-world and their real life applications for audience members. One might discuss Buffy’s subversion of traditional depictions of gender roles, for instance, in this light.[2]  The application of carnival theory in this article is not one which questions social norms, but rather cultural norms and assumptions relating to texts, specifically the formation of canons based on the evaluation of certain texts, often by virtue of their historical or media context. In this respect I offer Bakhtin’s theory a tangent that removes it somewhat from his original concept. This tangent explores not the materiality of the human form, the body, but the materiality of the text and the telling of narratives, the textual body. It explores not social or political hierarchies, but the specific hierarchies of postmodern industrial and artistic production of cult television texts and their consumption and interpretation by fans.

Laughter and participation were essential to carnival. Carnival laughter, writes Bakhtin, “is directed at all and everyone including the carnival’s participants (1984: 41). The tale told by “Buffy vs. Dracula” includes the audience in a form of carnivalesque ritual involvement: the ‘cult’ is asked to laugh at/with the text, the intertextual references, and themselves. “Buffy vs. Dracula” demonstrates, by inviting participatory audience laughter, that “carnival does not know footlights, in the sense that it does not acknowledge any distinction between actors and spectators” (Bakhtin, 1984: 7). As will be demonstrated, Buffy’s intertextuality is as integral to its carnival nature as it is to its ‘cultishness’.

Buffy’s Intertextual Carnival

2“Buffy vs. Dracula” acknowledges the origins of Buffy’s generic make-up, exploring the origin story of the Vampire sub-genre itself. Furthermore, the episode foregrounds both the inescapable intertextuality of genre and the more deliberate intertextuality that marks Buffy as a postmodern text. Whilst knowing and ironic intertextuality is typical of Buffy the naïve intertextuality essential to Umberto Eco’s (1986) formulation of Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942 ) as ‘cult’ is also amplified in this episode. Umberto Eco’s concept of the cult movie demonstrates how intertextuality has the potential to interpellate a cult audience, to call them forth and invite their participation.  Eco could be writing about Buffy when he suggests that Casablanca “becomes a cult movie because it is not one movie. It is ‘movies’” (1986: 208).  It does not simply utlize one or two established formulas, but “uses them all” (202), resulting in an intensively intertextual film that carries with it a sense of déjà vu, an intensification of the effect of genre in general. As Casablanca is more than just a movie, so Buffy is more than just a television series.

This intertextuality is a “family resemblance” of cult texts, a term borrowed from Ludwig Wittgenstein by Matt Hills (2002:143) in Fan Cultures to describe the traits that cult texts very often share. The idea that Buffy has a textual ‘family’ suggests a text can be perceived of as a text-person, with a ‘body’ exhibiting numerous traits shared with or derived from a ‘family’ of antecedent and contemporary texts. As with all families, however, individuals can differ significantly from their siblings and parents.  Buffy’s textuality is more complex than that described by Eco. Buffy is layered and reflexive; Casablanca looks positively naïve in comparison. Buffy is also more than TV – it is a movie, novels, short stories, fan fiction, computer games, an academic curiosity, and a genre hybrid (although the term hybrid seems inadequate to describe the full extent of what Buffy does with genre) that is in constant dialogue with other texts, and its audience. What sort of dialogue ensues, then, when Buffy the text meets (Bram Stoker’s) Dracula the text? The episode “Buffy vs. Dracula” is this meeting.

Dracula’s first appearance on one Buffy’s graveyard patrols leaves her, and the audience, incredulous: She exclaims, “Get out!” But why our shared incredulity? Buffy, while drawing on a multiplicity of other texts, very rarely explicitly acknowledges its source material. With Season Four’s demon/human/machine hybrid take on Frankenstein’s monster, “Adam”, the acknowledgment of the creature’s textual heritage was achieved by visual homage (“Goodbye Iowa” [4.14]), or by ironic references to him as “all frankenstein-looking” (“The Yoko Factor” [4.20]); he was Frankenstein-like, not Frankenstein’s monster itself. [3] Dracula, conversely, is presented as just that – Dracula. He is not implicitly aligned with the general Dracula mythology, but is the explicit (yet somewhat parodied) embodiment of this myth’s origins. It is, perhaps, Buffy’s only deliberate interpenetration of diegetic spaces, as Dracula crosses from his own (various) text(s) into the not thematically unsympathetic world of the Buffyverse.

Buffy’s initial conversation with the Dark Prince foregrounds the program’s place within the array of vampire narratives that most explicitly feed its own generic make-up:

BUFFY: So lemme get this straight. You’re … Dracula. The guy, the count.
BUFFY: And you’re sure this isn’t just some fanboy thing? Cause … I’ve fought more than a couple of pimply overweight vamps that called themselves Lestat.
DRACULA: You know who I am. As I would know without question that you are Buffy Summers.
BUFFY: You’ve heard of me?
DRACULA: Naturally. You’re known throughout the world.
BUFFY: Naw. Really?
DRACULA: Why else would I come here? For the sun? I came to meet the renowned … killer.
BUFFY: Yeah, I prefer the term slayer. You know, killer just sounds so…
BUFFY: Like I … paint clowns or something. I’m the good guy, remember?
DRACULA: Perhaps, but your power is rooted in darkness. You must feel it.
BUFFY: No. You know what I feel? Bored.

When Dracula quips that Buffy is known throughout the world he refers as much to the show’s cult popularity as he does to her character. Dracula’s prescient observation that Buffy’s powers are rooted in darkness hints at the demonic origins of the slayer’s powers (finally revealed in “Get it Done” [7.15]), but simultaneously alludes to the program’s dark, Gothic traditions. In a show that often features ‘origin episodes’ that explore a character’s past (such as Spike’s story in the episode “Fool for Love” [5.7], Anya’s in “Selfless” [7.5] or Angel’s in “Becoming: 1 and 2” [2.21, 2.22]), this episode is, in many respects, the origin episode for the series itself.

Meeting Dracula, Buffy and her friends acknowledge not the physical threat he might represent, but his (inter)textual manifestations in various other vampire narratives; for the “scoobies” Dracula is simultaneously the Sesame Street Count and Anne Rice’s Lestat and the Dark Prince of other films and novels. By acknowledging Dracula’s fictional manifestations, Buffy acknowledges her own fictional nature. Dracula is both real and fictional within Buffy’s diegesis. As Vivien Burr argues, “this fantasy figure [Dracula] assumes real status in the Buffyverse and the viewer is drawn in by references to this widely read text” (2003: np).  Intertextuality therefore creates “a potentially shared universe between viewer and character” (Burr, 2003: np). Both Buffy and the audience have been exposed to cultural products that explore his myth. Buffy derives her knowledge of Dracula from her experience of these cultural products, just as Buffy’s vampire mythology is derived from its textual antecedents. By acknowledging other texts in which Dracula and his variations feature, she acknowledges a cultural world outside of the Buffyverse, simultaneously highlighting her own world as another ‘fiction’ in a range of vampire texts.

Buffy’s “get out!” is almost an involuntary act of self-preservation. The believability of her world is threatened by Dracula/Dracula’s invasion. The “get out” is not directed at the influence and ever-presence of the Dracula myth in Buffy, but to its literal realization and therefore dominance within both the diegesis and the cultural discourse of the episode. Buffy’s excited tone makes it clear that no one really wants Dracula and all he represents to ‘get out’, nor is this actually possible. Without Dracula there would be no Buffy.

Buffy is subsequently played as an infatuated fan (as are other characters and, quintessentially, Xander as he becomes Dracula’s fan/lackey), enacting a self-consciously overblown homage to Dracula that simultaneously mocks the characters, the fans, and Dracula himself. That Buffy and Dracula are mutually enamored is not simply a narrative device, but a comment on the cultural influence both texts have played on each other and the way audiences, and more particularly cult audiences, read them. The two word line, “get out”, and the conversation that follows flags this as an atypical episode of Buffy. It will utilize the show’s metaphoric and allegorical strengths to examine a different set of cultural questions: a self-reflexive questioning of genre, intertextuality and textual canons.

The idea that the “family resemblance” of cult texts can allow us to view these texts as having textual bodies can also be related to Bakhtin’s image of the carnivalesque grotesque body.  Buffy and Dracula are diegetic embodiments of their
respective texts, narratives, attendant mythologies, generic discourses and conventions. Furthermore, the episode provides a carnivalesque environment for these textual bodies – a temporary topsy-turvy state in which role reversal, laughter and rebirth (of genre, of the show itself, of cult audience engagement) are literally and figuratively realised on screen.

Buffy’s characters are also offered greater proximity to the textual tradition that spawned their world. Dracula’s arrival prompts Buffy’s characters to play roles that closely mirror characters in his own founding narrative. [4] These roles, particularly those played by Buffy and Xander, are akin to the roles played by carnival’s participants – they engage in intertextual mockery of Stoker’s original text and its rearticulations. However we also laugh at the way in which Buffy’s characters don the ‘costumes’ of Stoker’s characters. Just as Dracula re-emerges to literalise the intertextual debt that Buffy’s owes to him, so Dracula’s ‘Crew of Light’ enact a ghost-like possession of Buffy’s ‘Scoobies’, highlighting the already present parallels between both texts’ characters. [5] Xander takes on the persona of Stoker’s Renfield, the crazy insect-eating lackey. Giles, who always partially resembled the original Van Helsing (as opposed to recent rearticulations of this character), [6] again plays the role of the wise and knowledgeable guide (although this is itself ridiculed as the narrative comically drives Giles into the seductive hands of the three vampiric sisters).  Riley, Buffy’s boyfriend, becomes the amalgam of the masculine suitors of the novel, particularly Quincy Morris and Jonathon Harker. Buffy is herself seduced by Dracula. Playing the role of Mina Harker, [7] she eventually finds herself in his castle (Dracula’s own textual turf invades the diegesis of Buffy), almost succumbing to his charms. [8]

Buffy momentarily becomes the figure she was created by Joss Whedon to subvert ­– a passive female horror-film victim: we laugh at Buffy’s fallibility, and simultaneously at the generic tradition this fallibility alludes to. The beating that Dracula receives when Buffy reclaims her usual power also induces laughter. Her eventual battle with Dracula enacts the carnivalesque logic Bakhtin describes in the beating of Rabelais’ Catchpoles, “slanderers who came to [Lord Basché’s] castle with a summons to court” (1984: 204), echoing Dracula’s own arrival in the Buffyverse with his attempted seduction of Buffy. Bakhtin argues that the blows administered to the Catchpoles have “a broadened, symbolic, ambivalent meaning; they at once kill and regenerate, put an end to the old life and start the new” (205). The comic repeated return of Dracula out of the dead-vampire dust at the fight’s conclusion, and Buffy’s repeated slaying of him, accompanied by her admonishment, “You don’t think I watch your movies? You always come back,” attests not only to the renewal of Dracula/Dracula, repeatedly being reborn, but also to the rebirth of Buffy/Buffy, both symbolically and more literally –after all, this episode begins a new season, and a new exploration of the slayer story.

The Grotesque Buffy Body

The grotesque was a key element of carnival, reminding the carnival’s participants of the cycle of life, death, and (re)birth. Bakhtin reminds us that the world and our existence in it is not static through his examination and celebration of the grotesque body’s foregrounding of transitional spaces of change, typically expressed through images that emphasise bodily functions, orifices, and protuberances. A celebration of the grotesque is ultimately liberating, breaking the spell cast by official, orthodox culture, which insists on completeness, uniformity and control. Bakhtin writes that “the unfinished and open body is … blended with the world, with animals, with objects,” representing “the entire material bodily world in all its elements” (1984: 27).  The materiality exposed in this episode is not human flesh but the materiality of the text itself – the body of the text itself is laid bare.

Like Rabelais’ work, to which Bakhtin applies his analysis, Buffy is analogous with the grotesque. For instance, Buffy defies the notion of a concrete canonical genre system with set boundaries, the show’s full title attesting effectively to a deliberate merging of comedy and horror, the contemporary and tradition, superficiality and depth. [9] Buffy’s textual orifices are the gaps and contradictions that are built into its serial narrative (for example, the gaps between episodes, between seasons, within episodes as commercial breaks). Gaps also arise as a bi-product of seriality through inevitable contradictions and unanswered questions (for example, why didn’t Xander tell Buffy that a spell was being cast to return her lover’s soul in season two’s “Becoming Part 2” [2.22] only for this question to be raised again in season seven “Selfless” [7.5] and again go unanswered?). It is an unfinished text: the final episode “Chosen” (7.22), ends with an enigmatic smile from our heroine, suggesting that a new ‘unseen’ narrative will unfold. This narrative is hinted at on and off throughout Angel’s fifth season, itself another grotesque bodily opening (a textual orifice) via its status as a spin-off series  (see particularly “Damage” [A5.11], “Shells” [A5.16], “The Girl In Question” [A5.20]).

Buffy is an open, heteroglot text, either unable or unwilling to entirely close off or finalize any specific political, social, or cultural meaning it may contain. This is a defining feature of ‘quality/cult’ television for Catherine Johnson (2005). For example, the treatment of demons and vampires moves away from a simple good/evil dichotomy as the serial progresses, more often revealing human beings to be the true progenitors of evil in the Buffyverse. This openness for interpretation is also exemplified by the enormous variety of perspectives expressed online both by fans and by academics (see, for example, the e-journal Slayage [www.slayage.tv], a kind of academic cult). Buffy is blended with the world: as demonstrated by the popular culture references to the vampire myth in “Buffy vs. Dracula”, Buffy refuses to be a hermetically contained entity, acknowledging the popular culture which surrounds it, came before it and which may follow.

In Bakhtin’s terms, Buffy is blended with “animals, with objects”, the animals and objects in this case being its wholesale blending of generic conventions and, in particular, those episodes which specifically foreground a playful game with generic systems and their production of meaning. Consider in particular the musical episode “Once More with Feeling” (6.7), the Twin Peaks-like [10] dream episode “Restless” (4.22), or the reworked fairy-tales including “Helpless” (3.12), “Gingerbread” (3.11) and “Hush”(4.10).

In addition, other orifices open up spaces that embrace and extend to other media, and which play an important role for the creation of meaning for Buffy’s cult audience. Computer games invite the player to be Buffy. Fray (Dark Horse, 2003), Whedon’s spin-off comic-book series, introduces the weapon that Buffy eventually uses to empower other slayers in “Chosen” (7.22). Consider also the television spin-off Angel ( which, at least to start with, differentiated itself from Buffy through its use of the Noir and Detective genres, an epic sweep of narrative, and a more masculine focus on narrative and metaphor). There are also novels and episode guides. These form a meta-textual arena to complement the diegetic Buffyverse and play “a significant role in [activating] seriality, allowing fans to rework, re-write, and reread televised sequences of episodes by erasing the temporality of unfolding seriality” (Hills 2005: 200).

Grotesque imagery stresses those parts of the body “through which the world enters the body or emerges from it, or through which the body itself goes out to meet the world” (Bakhtin, 1984: 26). The textual body of Buffy is a producerly one. Producerly texts must be “open, to contain gaps irresolutions, contradictions” (Fiske, 1992: 42). Eco might refer to Buffy as a rickety text that displays “organic imperfections” (1986:198). Eco and John Fiske identify these qualities as conducive to a loyal following, elements which define the text for these theorists as ‘cult’ and ‘producerly’ respectively. Buffy allows the cult audience to fill its gaps, allowing us to penetrate or be swallowed by the text. Buffy also “meets the world” through an active producer/audience relationship most easily demonstrated by its writers’ direct interaction with fans on the internet.

For Bakhtin the grotesque body is a double body that, “in the endless chain of bodily life … retains the parts in which one link joins the other, in which the life of one body is born from the death of the preceding, older one” (318). The interpenetration of diegetic spaces in “Buffy vs. Dracula” enacts a grotesque doubling, offering both worlds as simultaneous options. These “kindred” worlds and their composite mythologies are both contained in a textual body of work that acknowledges the generic history of literary, filmic and televisual storytelling, in which Dracula is a text that has its starting point in Stoker’s 1897 novel, but is continuously ‘dying’ and being ‘reborn’ in new forms such as Buffy.

This notion is counter to the very idea of a canon, of a literary or filmic hierarchy of value in which certain texts or genres are favoured over others. The textual rebirth facilitated by the episode also allows for “temporary liberation from the prevailing truth and from the established order … [marking] the suspension of all hierarchical rank, privileges, norms and prohibitions” (Bakhtin 1984:10). Dracula, has become a symbolic figure of the retrospectively endowed respectability of Stoker’s novel. The age in which it was written and its novel format have come to position Dracula as a part of the canon of Victorian literature, and by insinuation, as a work of ‘art’. Acknowledging the origins of the vampire genre, Dracula is once more redu
ced to the level of ‘popular culture’ by Buffy and Xander’s laughter and their recognition of his more recent manifestations in other popular texts. Yet Buffy/Buffy is also mocked by Dracula who simultaneously alludes to the irony of the location “Sunnydale” and Buffy’s “darkness”, an allusion that aligns Buffy with Dracula’s own gothic discourse. In a fashion, both Dracula/Dracula and Buffy/Buffy are simultaneously raised up and lowered down to each other’s presumed canonical ‘level’, their supposed hierarchical places cancelled out and equalised by references to one another.

“Buffy Vs. Dracula” exposes competing or overlapping layers of carnival. While Bakhtin’s analysis of carnival acknowledges the participation of dominant cultural authority figures, it is primarily these figures whose authority is mocked. In “Buffy vs. Dracula” we are never really sure whose authority is being undermined –both Buffy and Dracula, in true carnivalesque spirit, are laughed at (by other characters, by each other, and by the audience). However, carnival is also usually characterised by the reclamation from the margins of a subjugated group and the (temporary) debasement of dominant, ‘normal’ (hegemonic) positions of authority. In this example, it appears that Dracula is both reclaimed from the margins of the text, but also represents the orthodoxy which is temporarily overturned by the celebration, one which posits Dracula as a figure of the old world of Victorian literature. [11]

More importantly, Dracula and Buffy are also participants in a carnival that rails against a third force. This force is exerted by those who seek a clear delineation between the two texts, and who elevates Dracula to the level of high and/or respectable culture (art) and Buffy to that of low and/or disposable (popular) culture– a force which insists on valuing the novel over a television show, and that values the historical over the contemporary.  By playing out these roles (high vs. low), the episode, in typically postmodern fashion, undermines the notion of such a hierarchy while simultaneously arguing for the validity and value of both texts. [12]

Despite obvious differences, these texts both offer a grotesque self-reflexivity. As textual avatars Buffy and Dracula sink their teeth into a playful metonymic examination of genre. The title characters exchange fluids in two different scenes. Initially, Dracula billows as a grey mist into Buffy’s bedroom. She subsequently succumbs to his charms and allows him to bite her, his teeth literally penetrating her flesh, while metonymically penetrating her text. Towards the end of the episode, this time in Dracula’s “big honking castle” as Riley describes it, Dracula and Buffy’s taste each other’s blood. This exchange of bodily fluids reinforces Dracula’s assertion that he and Buffy are “kindred” (itself a pun on the vampire myth that is common to both texts). The episode itself is a grotesque exchange of textual ‘fluids’ – both texts are thus defined by their ‘bodily’ functions; they are made naked, their fleshy textual bodies exposed for scrutiny as they perform a perverse (incestuous) act of generic copulation.

As Ken Gelder points out, it becomes difficult not to invoke the metaphor of vampirism when discussing texts such as Dracula (1994:85), a metaphor employed here when discussing the exchange of ‘textual fluids’. Buffy’s creators, it seems, could not resist including their own highly self reflexive moment which exploits the tropes of vampirism (the penetration of flesh, the sucking of blood) as a comment on Buffy’s place in the array of vampire narratives. Buffy’s tasting of Dracula’s blood induces a (grotesque) montage flashback: we see Buffy’s slayer ancestor (first encountered in “Restless” [4.22]), the rushing of corpuscles of blood through veins accompanied by the sound of a strong pulse, and images of her previous hunting expeditions. This scene requires the cult audience to possess knowledge not only of Buffy’s diegetic and narrative histories but also, by extension, the generic history extending back beyond the show’s inception – Buffy/Buffy’s blood is also Dracula/Dracula’s blood. Buffy’s powers are most certainly “rooted in darkness”, as Dracula insists. He recognizes this darkness because it is his own.

Bakhtin vs. Collins: a Hyperconscious Carnival?

p4 The grotesque doubled textual body demonstrates the co-existence and interpenetration of texts. Buffy exists in an array of antecedent, contemporaneous, and even future texts. This idea is sympathetic with Jim Collins’ notion of “hyperconsciousness” (1991). A “hyperconscious” text such as Buffy acknowledges not only its place in the current media-saturated environment (both in terms of the variety of media and the penetration and proliferation of media forms into our lives), but also where it sits historically in regards to the popular culture that preceded it, or rivals it. Describing the mutations of the Batman narrative(s), which have either re-invented the “point of origin for the seemingly endless rearticulations” (1991:164) of the Batman story, or have otherwise reworked or remodeled this story, Collins points out that these narratives appear as simultaneous options which move “across genres, mixing different forms of discourse as well as different media” (1991:165).

The foregrounding of citations such as occurs in “Buffy Vs. Dracula” is an explicit “calling-up/cutting-up process [that] reflects a different dynamic in the exchange between producer and audience, one based on the sophistication of both parties, each possessing knowledge formerly (and allegedly) accessible only to the semiotician” (Collins 1991:170). Here, Collins tackles Eco’s assertion that contemporary texts, which are deliberately tailored for an audience of “instinctive semioticians” by producers and directors, lack the kind of naïve cult quality of Casablanca (Eco, 1986: 210). Casablanca, Eco suggests, was constructed almost accidentally by authors who weren’t looking for audiences to recognize the archetypes, but who were simply “forced to improvise” (1986:202), the result being a work that evidences his claim that a cult text must be constructed so that “the addressee must suspect it is not true that works are created by their authors” (1986:199). In contrast, Collins sees contemporary ‘hyperconscious’ works as displaying a hybridization of popular narrative which, rather than revealing an authorial cleverness, or a suspicious and uninteresting embedding of deliberately hidden messages for the audience to ‘find’, actually reveals a dismantling of hierarchies and a broadening of meanings in these texts. Collins writes that the hybridized nature of these texts “does not destabilise the already said as much as it reveals its fluidity, the absence of any kind of unseen hand or unitary hierarchy that might still delimit the appropriate subject matter, function and audience for different forms of cultural production” (1991:167). Collins’ argument and Bakhtin’s theory of the carnivalesque are obviously sympathetic in their emphasis on fluidity and the dismantling of hierarchies.  

Collins identifies the intertextual ‘arenas’ constructed by these texts. His analysis also implies that the persistence of antecedent texts (their narratives, media forms, generic make-up and so on) in contemporary re-articulations of the Batman story are, in fact, evidence that antecedent texts are always already in the process, even at the time of production, of constructing intertextually the texts that will follow. Collins’ work argues for acknowledgement of the historicity of texts and that we finally take notice that contemporary texts such as the Batman Comics, television series and films are themselves always already acknowledging this historicity. Such historicity is not hierarchical – the ‘original’ text “persists”, as Collins phrases it, and therefore exists alongside those that followed; each text is inescapably and, as the term “hyperconscious” suggests, deliberately acknowledging the other texts within its intertextual array.

Even the Nineteenth Century novel Dracula, as an originator of the popular vampire myth, was itself inspired by European folklore, and is nowadays (most) often read via texts that followed it, including television shows like Buffy. “Buffy Vs. Dracula” offers its own mediated reading of the original novel, acknowledging the history of popular culture and the simultaneity of Dracula with a variety of other texts.  This in itself points to the grotesque nature of Buffy: it promiscuously flaunts its intertextual orifices, and it is consistently interpenetrated by alternative texts, contradictory discourses, and other media. In the broader scope of Carnival, Dracula and Buffy are competing textual bodies, always inextricably linked, simultaneously giving birth to each other, as if the intertextuality at play is an infinitely re-looping umbilical cord.

“Buffy vs. Dracula” also applies the power of carnivalesque laughter to all participants via its hyperconsciousness. We laugh at Dracula, at Buffy, and at ourselves. References to a pimply overweight Lestat, or Sesame Street’s The Count mock us for our guilty recognition in the (cultish) pleasure our inner nerds take from these figures. Xander’s mocks Dracula by invoking his Sesame Street alter-ego: “one, two, three victims, bwa ha ha”. Xander becomes avatar for the cult audience, as a fan-like figure, reading the intertext for the audience from within the diegesis. This necessarily relies on the audience recognizing the deliberate deployment of allusion. The cult audience is thus invited to vicariously or virtually enter the space of the carnival. [13]

The mocking of Dracula, the text, is not only performed by Buffy. Dracula is woven into the fabric of the episode through specific allusions to the original novel –allusions that require audience recognition (either of the ‘quotes’ as they appear in the original novel, but perhaps also of their re-appearance in various re-articulations and re-inventions of the myth) in order to be fully effective. The aforementioned ‘costuming’ of Buffy’s characters are just one example of this. The storm at the start of the episode, the castle, the ‘special dirt’, Dracula’s transformation into a bat, a wolf, and a grey mist –all mirror the narrative events of Stoker’s novel.

Additionally, the episode comments on the novel’s style and format. Dracula has an epistolary format, composed entirely of anecdotal fragments. It comprises the individual recollections of various characters who are witness to the events: newspaper stories, journal entries and reports. Spike’s comments that Dracula owes him money, and Anya’s confession that they “hung out” provide a humorous variation on the anecdotal format of the original novel:

What can you tell me about Dracula?
SPIKE: Dracula? Poncy bugger owes me eleven pounds, for one thing.
RILEY: You know him?
SPIKE: Know him? We’re old rivals.  But then he got famous, forgot all about his foes. I’ll tell you what. That glory hound’s done more harm to vampires than any slayer. His story gets out, and suddenly everybody knows how to kill us. You know, the mirror bit?
RILEY: But he’s not just a regular vampire. I mean, he has special powers, right?
SPIKE: Nothing but showy gypsy stuff. What’s it to you, anyway?
RILEY: He’s in town. Making his presence known.
SPIKE: Drac’s in Sunnydale-way?  I guess the old boy needed closure after all.

These casually related anecdotes expose and mock the illusion of objectivity provided by the original narrative format’s ambiguous nature. Dracula, the novel, utlises a narrative technique that offers a variety of subjectivities; it is a polyphony of differing accounts and perspectives. What was serious and innovative in Stoker’s novel is rendered ridiculous by Spike and Anya’s own contributions to the collage of Dracula’s ‘back-story’.  The chara
cters’ casual remarks on Dracula’s past are grotesque penetrations of the original novel – these anecdotal fragments of character narratives allow Buffy and its viewers to reciprocally invade and laugh at Dracula’s own universe and his various narratives. Thus, Buffy and Dracula penetrate and devour each other, both in representational terms borne out on screen (which have provided a symbolic reading via the episode’s self reflexivity here), but also through a radical recalibration and merging of both texts’ identifiable characteristics, their semantic elements (such as their various narrative, iconographic and character types).

Buffy eventually recognises that literary references alone are no longer sufficiently potent. Dracula is more than the Bram Stoker novel. Stoker’s novel is comprised of narrative fragments, written, then compiled, and then re-read by the narrative’s characters, becoming itself a novel that appears to be compiled simultaneous to our reading of it. Collins, in Uncommon Cultures, has argued that in writing, and then reading the manuscript that comprises the novel, the characters in Dracula are empowered to defeat the vampire. He suggests: “The writings slowly but surely ‘circumscribe’ the monster by pulling him within the confines of their discourse. The eventual stake-driving and beheading are anti-climactic since Dracula’s fate is already sealed when the group discourse is formulated; in it, he is narrated into and out of existence” (1989: 89). By reading their own written recollections, their own history as text and, unwittingly, the novel in which they exist, the heroes of the novel gain an understanding that defeats the monster.  Writing and collating this writing become acts of empowerment as fragments are brought together as an emblem of ‘gothic discourse’, a kind of ‘truth’, where the very act of writing is itself powerful. But the act of reading is even more powerful for it allows the characters-as-readers to “recognize the limitations of other types of discourse, emphasized by the inclusion of newspaper accounts, ship’s logs etc., ­–all of which fail miserably in trying to account for strange occurrences” (Collins, 1989: 89). As a narrative that appears to be in the process of being written as it is read, it is as if the fate of the heroes and of Dracula himself can also be determined by what the characters write, and therefore read, next.

The same kind of information collation occurs in “Buffy vs. Dracula”. The Scooby Gang agree to research Dracula, to separate the man from the myth, as it were. Spike advises that Riley is “not gonna catch [Dracula] napping in a crypt. No, the count has to have his luxury estate and his bug-eaters and his special dirt, don’t he?” Riley knows where to start looking for Dracula thanks to Spike, but this information also flags a parallel on a narrative level to the actions taken by characters in Stoker’s novel who track down the cases of dirt to locate and finally destroy Dracula.

Importantly, references to the ‘original’ text are rendered largely useless for Riley and the gang. Buffy arrives first, not armed with knowledge of Stoker’s ‘original’ narrative, but her own armoury of cultural references. The final showdown in typical Buffy/Buffy fashion is between just her and the vampire. The seemingly naïve horror movie blond girl is, in her own textual universe, powerful because she possesses a very contemporary, perhaps even postmodern, knowledge not of the ‘old world’ novel but of the contemporary popular texts that exist alongside it in the array. The ‘scoobies’ have researched the evidence that trapped Dracula in the novel (Spike reminds them, and us, of ‘the special dirt’). This is no longer enough – Dracula is more than just the literary tradition now, and they arrive too late to assist Buffy in any meaningful way.

Buffy’s rhetorical question “you think I don’t watch your movies?” underlines her own understanding that Dracula now permeates a vast range of texts. Her familiarity with popular, contemporary vampire narratives empowers her. In this line, Buffy is avatar for her text and for the cult audience. Like the characters in Stoker’s novel Buffy both writes and reads the text in which she exists but also simultaneously acknowledges the writing and reading of other texts that always already occurs within the construction and interpretation of her own narrative. A variety of other ‘types of discourse’, of other media, other ‘writings’ of the Dracula myth already link intertextually to and therefore permeate Buffy. We too have seen ‘his movies’ – the combined textual knowledge and laughter of Buffy and the cult audience ultimately defeats Dracula

Before this defeat can be enacted, however, Buffy, her gang, and the audience have to first re-live a version (the ‘origin’ story in fact) of Dracula. By playing the roles, and replicating the narrative structure of the original novel, Buffy’s characters simultaneously re-write and re-read Dracula, as do we, the audience. This allows for the surfacing of the submerged re-reading and re-writing of the various multiple Draculas that have always been a part of Buffy’s underlying and evolving mythology. Furthermore, Buffy’s “you always come back” can be appropriated theoretically as a comment that uncannily and simultaneously describes both the rebirth of carnival and genre and multiple rearticulations of the vampire myth in popular culture. [14]

The semiotic pleasure for Buffy’s cult audience here is facilitated by the self-reflexivity, the hyperconsciousness, of a text that remembers its own cultural history and thus acknowledges its own place in the ‘array’ of vampire related narratives. Buffy therefore simultaneously acknowledges the semiotic prowess of the contemporary cult audience. Dracula is a fan of the slayer. He travels to Sunnydale especially to meet her. Just as Dracula sinks his teeth into Buffy, so Buffy’s cult fans are invited to sink their teeth into the grotesque intertexts explored by the episode, to penetrate its flesh and taste the generic make-up that marks Buffy as not only a hyperconscious text but also, importantly, a cult one.


Casablanca, Michael Curtiz, 1942

Frankenstien, James Whale, 1931

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Stephen Norrington, 2003

Nosferatu, F.W Murnau, 1922

Van Helsing, Stephen Sommers, 2004

Television Programs

Angel: The Series, Mutant Enemy, 20th Century Fox Television 1999-2004

Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Mutant Enemy, 20th Century Fox Television/UPN 1997-2003

Scooby Doo, Where are You?, Hanna-Barbera Productions, ABC (USA) 1969-1972

Sesame Street, Children’s Television Workshop/Sesame Workshop 1969


Fray, Joss Whedon, Karl Moline and Andy Owens, November 2003 (Collection of 8 issues in softcover trade paperback). NY: Dark Horse Comics Inc.


Bakhtin, Mikhail, 1984. Rabelais and His World, trans. Helene Iswolsky, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Barthes, Roland, 1974. S/Z, trans. Richard Miller, New York: Hill and Wang.

Burr, Vivien, 2003. “‘It all seems so real’: Intertextuality in the Buffyverse” Refractory: A Journal of Entertainment Media, Vol 2. www.refractory.unimelb.edu.au/journalissues/col2/vivienburr.htm Accessed 31/05/04

Callander,  Michelle. 2001. “Bram Stoker’s Buffy: Traditional Gothic and Contemporary  Culture.” In Slayage: The Online International Journal of Buffy Studies  3 http://www.slayage.tv/essays/slayage3/callander.html. Accessed 31/05/04.

Collins, Jim, 1989. Uncommon Cultures: Popular Culture and Post-Modernism. NY and London: Routledge.

_________, 1991. “Batman: The Movie, the Narrative, the Hyperconscious” in The Many lives of the Batman: Critical Approaches to a Superhero and His Media. eds. R. Pearson and W. Uricchio, 164-181. London: Routledge.

_________, 1995. Architectures of Excess: Cultural Life in the Information Age. London: Routledge.

_________, 2002 “Genericity in the Nineties: Eclectic Irony and the New Sincerity.” In The Film Cultures Reader . Ed. Graeme Turner. 276-90. London: Routledge.

Docker, John, 1994. Postmodernism and Popular Culture: A Cultural History. New York and Melbourne: Cambridge University Press.

Dupuy, Coralline, 2003. “Is Giles Simply Another Dr Van Helsing?” Continuity and Innovation in the Figure of the Watcher in Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. In Refractory: A Journal of Entertainment Media. Vol 2. http://www.refractory.unimelb.edu.au/journalissues/vol2/coradupey.html Accessed 3/10/05.

Eco, Umberto, 1984. “The Frames of Comic Freedom”. In Carnival! ed. T.A Sebeok. 1-9. Berlin, New York and Amsterdam: Mouton Publ.

___________, 1986. “Casablanca: Cult Movies and Intertextual Collage”. In Travels in Hyperreality. Trans. William Weaver. London: Picador.

Gelder, Ken, 1994. Reading the Vampire, London: Routeledge.

Gwenllian-Jones, Sara, 2004.“Virtual Reality and Cult Television”. In Cult Television, eds. S. Gwenllian-Jones and R. Pearson. 83-97. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Hills, Matt, 2002. Fan Cultures. London and New York: Routledge.

Johnson, Catherine, 2005. “Quality/Cult Television: The X-Files and Buffy The Vampire Slayer in US Television of the 1990s”. Telefantasy. 95-123. London: British Film Institute.

Milner, Andrew, 2005. “Postmodern Gothic: Buffy, The X-Files and the Clinton Presidency”. Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies. Vol 19, No.1, (March): 103-116

Ndalianis, Angela, 2004. Neo-Baroque Aesthetics and Contemporary Entertainment. Cambridge (USA): MIT Press.

Pateman, Matthew, 2006. The Aesthetics of Culture in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Jefferson: Macfarland and Company Inc.

Pender, Patricia, 2002. “ ‘I’m Buffy, and You’re History’: The Postmodern Politics of Buffy”.  Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy The Vampire Slayer, eds. R. Wilcox and D. Lavery. 35-44. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.

Rice, Anne, 1985. The Vampire Lestat. London: Warner Books.

Rose, Anita, 2002.  “Of Ceatures and Creators: Buffy does Frankenstein” in Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy The Vampire Slayer. eds. R. Wilcox and D. Lavery. 133-142. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield.

Sherman, Yael, 2004. “Tracing the Carnival Spirit in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Feminist Reworkings of the Grotesque”. Thirdspace 3/2 (2004). 89-107(print version). http://www.thirdspace.ca/articles/3_2_sherman.htm. Accessed 31/5/04.

Stallybrass, Peter and Allon White, 1986. The Politics and Poetics of Transgression. London: Methuen.

Stam, Robert, 1989. Subversive Pleasures: Bakhtin, Cultural Criticism, and Film. Baltimore and London: John Hopkins University Press.

Stoker, Bram, 1993. Dracula. Chatham: Wordsworth Editions Limited.

Wilcox, Rhonda, 2002. “T. S. Eliot Comes to Television:  Buffy’s ‘Restless.'” In Slayage: The Online International Journal of Buffy Studies  Issue 7 (December) http://www.slayage.tv/essays/slayage7/Wilcox.htm. Accessed 01/02/03.


1. See for instance Stallybrass and White (1986), John Docker (1994), Robert Stam (1989), and Umberto Eco (1984).

2. For example, see Yael Sherman’s (2004) excellent example of a feminist reading of the carnivalesque in Buffy. Sherman makes the point that the laughter of television “does not echo”, being not the “degrading and rebirthing laughter of carnival, but the laughter of spectatorship.” This article demonstrates the ways in which television does have the capacity to offer a more participatory form of carnivalesque laughter via intertextuality.

3. See Anita Rose (2002) and also Andrew Milner (2005), both of whom examine Buffy’s postmodern reworking of the Romantic Gothic discourse of Shelley’s novel and the 1930s film incarnations of Frankenstein’s monster.

4. Despite the more literal role-play of the episode, various authors have commented on the way in which Buffy’s characters always already paralleled various characters from Dracula (Callander: 2001; Dupuy: 2003). Michelle Callander (2001, np) argues that parallels between Buffy’s ‘scoobies’ and Stoker’s ‘Crew of Light’ were already there, despite her article being completed before “Buffy vs. Dracula” aired. In a sense, Callander anticipated the inevitable, literal emergence of Dracula in Buffy by highlighting the already present ways in which Buffy is linked intertextually to its gothic antecedents.

5. Interestingly, the main group of characters in Buffy refer to themselves as “the Scooby Gang” or simply “the scoobies”, a reference to the animated childrens’ television program Scooby Doo featuring a gang of ghost hunting teenagers and their talking dog. This is in turn a reworking of the “original” Scooby Gang of Stoker’s Dracula novel, the ensemble cast of characters who band together to form the Crew of Light in order to track down and defeat the vampire who has invaded their quiet Victorian lives.

6. Van Helsing (Sommers, 2004) reinvents the character, and the mythology, becoming yet another rearticulation of the ‘origin’ story, and another text in the ‘array’. The film offers a self reflexive acknowledgement of its place in this array when Dracula slyly suggests to Van Helsing that the characters share “a history”.

7. Mina Harker, too, is rearticulated in The League of Extraordina
ry Gentlemen
(Norrington, 2003), where it is revealed that she has become a vampire herself, albeit a feisty, heroic and very un-Victorian manifestation.

8. In contrast to Stoker’s Mina who is sidelined at the final showdown with the vampire due to the risk of being finally turned into Dracula’s vampire minion, Buffy is the only one to confront and defeat Dracula in this episode. In the novel Mina is on the verge of being turned, but this darkness imbues her with the power to feel and hear what Dracula feels and hears – her powers are rooted in darkness in a similar way that Dracula suggests Buffy’s are. The parallels between Mina

9. Patricia Pender argues the title of the program “enacts, on a microcosmic scale, the shift from ridiculous to sublime” (2002:31)

10.  Or, as Rhonda Wilcox suggests, “Restless” also resembles TS Eliot’s “The Waste Land” (2002). Interestingly, she quotes Brooker and Bentley (1990: 24), who argue that Eliot’s poem “cannot be read: it can only be reread”, which is similar to Barthes argument in S/Z (1974:16) that “we immediately reread the text … in order to obtain … not the real text, but a plural text: the same and new”, a notion that itself seems to be drawing on Bakhtin’s notion of dialogism and its later incarnations as a theory of intertextuality.

11.  Buffy quips when staking Dracula that he is “eurotrashed”. Pateman observes that throughout the program the  British characters in particular persist on referring to the USA as the New World (2006:56). The ‘Old World’ is, of course, Europe.

12.  For an excellent rebuttal of positions that view postmodern culture as a culture of empty signs and surfaces see Jim Collins “Genericity in the Nineties” (2002: 281 -284), or Angela Ndalianis’ Neo-Baroque Aesthetics and Contemporary Entertainment (2004: 57-60).

13.  Sara Gwenllian-Jones likens the fictional universes of cult television texts to a virtual reality experience in which participants utilise matatextual elements and trace intertextual “pathways” in their building and mapping of the virtual environment of the text (2004: 83-97).

14.  Dracula’s literal re-emergence in this episode is not simply a very large intertextual joke. As with all carnivalesque moments, the status quo is reasserted at the ritual’s conclusion, but this moment has been the catalyst for continued struggle and rebirth, a fertilization of the text, and a new dawn, a new character, a new season, and a renewed relationship with its cult following. It is as if this encounter with Dracula was necessary in order for Buffy to make a new start, symbolised by the unexpected insertion of Dawn, Buffy’s previously non-existent mystical kid sister in the concluding scene of this episode. As with Dracula, Dawn is an enigma who invades the text, but whom we later realise is an integral part of Buffy’s story, and of the text that shares her name.


Author Biography:

Patrick J. Porter has recently completed a Masters Thesis that explores the intertextuality and temporality of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its relationship with its cult audience. He also teaches within The University of Melbourne’s Cinema Program.


  1. Renae says:

    what an in depth analysis of the intertextuality of Buffy with other cult genres.
    I am writing a short paper on intertextuality with Buffy as my obvious choice. I am indeed a fan. This really opened my eyes to alot of underlying tones that even I hadn’t realised despite watching the series several times over. You and this paper will be a great reference for my own. But I must admit I’m so glad mine is going to be of a fraction of the size.
    Congratulations, I look forward to reading more of your work.

  2. Renae says:

    what an in depth analysis of the intertextuality of Buffy with other cult genres.
    I am writing a short paper on intertextuality with Buffy as my obvious choice. I am indeed a fan. This really opened my eyes to alot of underlying tones that even I hadn’t realised despite watching the series several times over. You and this paper will be a great reference for my own. But I must admit I’m so glad mine is going to be of a fraction of the size.
    Congratulations, I look forward to reading more of your work.

  3. Dracula or Vampire both the same in-terms of killing the people and drinking blood.Buffy vs Dracula” begins Buffy questions the identity of the dark stranger who has entered her world. Of course, such a question is ridiculous; Buffy knows who Dracula is, perhaps more than he knows himself