Mockery and Meta-sharks
You get old, you get bitter, you start writing…metafic. Metafic is fic about fic, something that looks like a normal piece of fanfiction, but is actually a reflection upon fandom and the show. Pardon me for illustrating with examples taken from my Voyager stories - there will be Buffy content (and spoilers) at the end.
Metafic can deal with the fan’s thoughts about writing (e.g., The Author), her end-of series sentimentality (A Light Beyond), the anti-canonical traditions of fanon (The Efficiency Expert), or the foibles of TPTB (DQ Babes in the Mirror-Mirror Universe). Of course, any decent AU fic is an opportunity for frequent digs at TPTB (The Museum), but it requires an effort to take years of abuse from TPTB and twist it around after the fact into the story you wanted them to tell (Lurking).
It may sound like all fic is metafic, and all fic queens are bitter, but I don’t believe so. Sometimes a story is just a story (Taboo). Some fanfic, it has been alleged, could go pro if you just swapped out the trademarked names and airbrushed the galactic map (Colony). Other times, the act of writing is itself the protest, while the fic, in order to be a proper slap in the face of TPTB, must be as tame and believable as possible (Take it on the Run) - “C/7?” says the fan meta-metafictionally, “I’ll show you C/7!”
If not all fic is metafic, surely all humorous fic is parody. Sometimes the mockery is overt (Seven of Borg), sometimes it’s borderline (The Bottle of Bajoran Blue Wine), but all our shows are dramas - funny how no one writes sitcomfic - so all our humor clashes with the genre, making parody. It is not our place to write “The Trouble with Tribbles” - the fan takes the show too seriously. It is the producers who tend to take the show too lightly, to our unending bitterness.
This post is not about Trek. (Pardon the meta-contradiction.) This post is about “Normal Again”, the most recent BtVS episode. Once again, we find The Jossy One doing it better than the fans. I blogged once that I would never write Buffy because it was already fanfic. First it was The Musical to End All Filk, and now, now my personal territory, the exclusive BOFQ genre of metafic, has been Jossed. They warned me about getting Jossed, but I always thought it was a plot thing. If I’d known he had this little respect for the division of labor, I’d have gone back to writing J/C (and that’s saying a lot).
Let’s review it for him: The producer produces the show. The fans mock the show. The producer produces the plot holes. The fans mock the plot holes. The producer produces first-order stories. The fans write meta-fic. It’s a simple system that has worked for thirty-five years now in Trekdom. Undermining the system because you’re some sort of artistic genius who’s caught on to the secret meta-heart of fanfic and is now sucking it dry, leaving us fans nothing to write…well, that’s just not acceptable. Why can’t you write mediocre time-travel episodes like Brannon Braga, eh? Is that asking so much?
What did he do? the unvamped reader may ask. Think of it as “The Six Years of Hell” - a reverse dream-sequence in which Buffy’s superheroic feats are merely a symptom of her pesky catatonic schizophrenia for which she’s been institutionalized all these years. Which is the dream state and which the reality is an open question at the end of the episode, and perhaps will still be at the end of the season. On one level, this is just more Cruelty to Buffy, but if you think Joss drew the line there, refraining from fan-level mockery of his own show, you must come from a happier fandom than BtVS.
It was lovely, it was cutting - the best bit being when the doctor in the institution told Catatonia Buffy that she used to hallucinate much more impressive enemies than this season’s batch of a few evil geeks she went to high school with. Second only to that was Buffy’s own realization that her slayer-fantasy was ludicrous - she told Dawn so while she was stalking her in order to bring a premature and violent end to her Sunnydale delusions. In the midst of an episode full of self-mockery, Joss dares a poignant fannish double-reverse (I did one at the end of A Maquis Holiday, but of course it can’t compare), when Joyce is trying to convince Buffy to return to the land of the sane and instead convinces her to go back to vampire-slaying.
Joss jumped the meta-shark, he confessed his sins of the season - and I do believe that they were sins rather than an intentional setup for a final Catatonia Buffy arc - but he did it so well that we are forced to forgive him. There is a law in literature, there is a social contract of fandom, that was, strangely enough, coined by Freud: “I promise to believe anything that can be made to look reasonable.”
Still, he should have made it look reasonable from the start, or left it to the fans to make it look reasonable after the fact - that’s our job.