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The Early Days of Joss Whedon Fandom

on Fri, 01/24/2014 - 00:00

Will the Vampire People Please Leave the Lobby
Buffy the Vampire Slayer premiered on The WB on March 10, 1997, and slowly but steadily built a reputation for inventive and quality storytelling as well as a solid group of fans that helped turn the show into the cult classic that it is today. More significantly, Buffy came along at a point in time when the World Wide Web was becoming an increasingly significant component of everyday life. This subsequent merging of the popularity of both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Internet inevitably created a new kind of fandom that allowed fans to instantly congregate and discuss the latest episodes of the show, no matter where they happened to live in the country or even the world.

Allyson Beatrice may not have been the first member of that fanbase, but she eventually emerged as one of its leading advocates during the early part of the Twenty First Century nonetheless. In 2007, she published a collection of essays that recounted her experiences within Buffy fandom along with her own thoughts on life in the Internet Age. Will the Vampire People Please Leave the Lobby? (Sourcebooks, 2007) is thus both a personal memoir and testament to the ways that a television show can resonate beyond mere images flickering on a small screen. As Beatrice makes clear, the fanbase built around Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its creator Joss Whedon wasn’t so much about the show itself but the friendships and relationship that grew out of that shared love for all things Buffy.

“During the times in my adult life when I’ve been lonely or frightened, I found solace leaning on the fandom,” Allyson Beatrice writes. “Those strangers living inside the electric walls of my beat-up Macintosh Performa were like a white-collar geek platoon. I’ve always been fascinated by the sense of community and trust I found online. My cyberfamily, scattered all over the planet, have left their fingerprints on just about every aspect of my life, and have brought me more joy than I probably deserve. The real-life people, the Buffy fans living in my decade-old Mac, chiseled my life into what it is today.”

The title of the book—Will the Vampire People Please Leave the Lobby?—is an actual comment made by an employee of a Los Angeles hotel that served as the base of operation for a Buffy fan gathering while the show was still on the air. The main Buffy posting board, known as the Bronze and named after the fictitious band venue on the series, quickly built a solid group of fans who wanted to meet each other in person in addition to interacting over the Internet.

Thus was born the Posting Board Party, or PBP for short, a yearly get together over President’s Day weekend in California that grew larger over the years as not only fans, but actors and writers from both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff Angel started to attend. At one of these gatherings, the attendees were so excited to see each other that hotel management felt the need to ask them to not clog the lobby area of the establishment.

Despite the implied insult of being called “vampire people,” however, everyone took the remark in stride. As Allyson Beatrice points out, it’s just one of the many things a science fiction fan needs to endure while expressing their love for their own personal passions.

“Past the age of four, it suddenly becomes unacceptable and weird to dress up as an elf, or fashion a cape out of an old blanket and pretend to ‘fly’ down the sidewalk,” she explains. “It stops being cute at some point. However, it is acceptable for a 52-year-old man to paint a bull’s-eye on his giant gut and jiggle it while naked from the waist up in twenty degree weather behind the goal post at a Packers game, while wearing a giant wedge of cheese on his head. People in traffic watching him walk into the game may point and laugh, but they’re laughing with him. It’s acceptable. Sci-fi/fantasy fans don’t get Super Bowls and playoff games as an excuse to let their hair down and be obnoxious with fannish love. They have conventions and parties. It’s pretty much the same concept, but I think we drink better beer.”

The Bronze Posting Board had originally been located on the main WB website and was largely left alone by the network, leaving members to self-police themselves. When Buffy the Vampire Slayer jumped from The WB to UPN following its fifth season, however, the subsequent UPN version of the site failed to meet the expectations of the fandom.

“As we looked around the new digs, we realized something,” Allyson Beatrice remembers. “It sucked. It wasn’t our Bronze, it was a Bronze. The format of the board was unwieldy. It was difficult to read and post. It didn’t archive properly. It required registration, so we had to rush and claim our screen names.”

Beatrice and her friend Maya immediately started a crusade to have the format of the original Bronze reinstated, spearheading a postcard campaign, appearing on radio talk shows and even meeting with members of both UPN and the company it had hired to build the new Bronze.

While Allyson Beatrice and Maya were unsuccessful in bringing back the Bronze of old, Beatrice and another colleague—Kristen—were later triumphant in developing various fan-funded advertisements that celebrated Buffy the Vampire Slayer, including “Stand Up for Buffy,” “Give Buffy an Emmy” and “Congratulations on 100 Episodes of Buffy.”

These efforts likewise demonstrated another issue that fandoms often face, namely an inability on the part of outsiders to believe that fans could organize their own campaigns without more professional assistance. “Stand Up for Buffy,” for instance, was an effort to persuade The WB to air the season three finale of the show, which the network had pulled after the real-world high school shootings at Columbine. When the ad appeared, The WB was convinced that Joss Whedon’s own production campaign had paid for it, not realizing that fans of the series were more than willing to donate money to causes they felt were important.

Allyson Beatrice was not initially sold on Joss Whedon’s next foray into network television but did eventually find herself drawn into another fan-led movement nonetheless. Firefly takes place 500 years in the future, with the human race spread out across the galaxy and under the leadership of an Alliance government that emerged victorious in a civil war against proponents of independent rule. Captain Malcolm Reynolds was one of those independents and Firefly follows his determination to eke out a living under the radar of the Alliance. Although Firefly has attracted a strong fanbase over the intervening years since its premier in 2002, the FOX network failed to take the show seriously and cancelled it after a mere eleven episodes.

Fearing the inevitable at the time, Whedon’s wife Kai contacted another member of her husband’s fanbase named Kiba for help in keeping Firefly on the air, and Kiba in turn reached out to Allyson Beatrice. Noting that online petitions were a dime-a-dozen and useless, Beatrice and her friend Kristen instead mobilized the Firefly fanbase to help promote the show in an effort to raise its ratings. Another ad was designed and published, and Beatrice personally called everyone from Entertainment Weekly television critic Ken Tucker to talk show host Conan O’Brien, pleading for their help in supporting the show.

Once again, the effort met with failure, but as Allyson Beatrice states over-and-over again within the pages of Will the Vampire People Please Leave the Lobby?, the shows themselves were never really the point. Yes, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly were the reasons that online fandoms first formed, but eventually it was those communities themselves that mattered more than whether a particular episode of Buffy actually aired or if Firefly was picked up for an entire season.

“My fandom/Internet story isn’t a weird fluke,” Allyson Beatrice concludes. “I suspect there are thousands of books unwritten with similar stories. The anecdotes that make up this collection aren’t just mine, there are people within them with their own stories to tell. There are people who met their lovers, partners, or spouses on line and now have children born of dial up connections. I watched as people got their doctorates, passed the bar exam, got divorced, grappled with the death of a parent, left their homes and countries to start a new life. ‘Watched’ is the wrong verb. I watched Buffy, and I engaged the fandom. All of their life stories, as well as mine, are documented in Google searches and long-dead websites that drift on the Net like ghost ships. This is the true legacy of Buffy.”

As well as the centerpiece of the story that is told within the pages of Will the Vampire People Please Leave the Lobby?

Anthony Letizia

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