I've been so happy and excited about the responses to "Origin Stories," I can't even tell you. One of the best parts has been people making interpretations or extending the critique in ways I never imagined, but which nevertheless seem validated by both the vid and its source texts--people starting with giandujakiss , but not ending there. So this isn't an "explanation" of the vid, which for better or worse has to explain itself, and it isn't meant as a definitive guide to interpretation (I don't believe in definitive interpretations); as long as it is, it isn't even everything I could say about what I meant or what I wanted or what I love about the vid giandujakiss made.
And, as GK says, none of this is meant to override or take the place of any other interpretations, and it's not meant to be necessary to understand the vid. It is more a concession to my vanity than anything else. Feel free to skip over it.
1. The story of the coat
I had the line "It's Nikki Wood's fucking coat" long before I had a song or a vidder or a title.
Spike wears the long black duster from his first appearance on Buffy, but we only find out its history in S5's "Fool for Love." Spike relates his history to Buffy (in, it's strongly implied, somewhat unreliable terms) and the viewers see how he came to adopt his Johnny Rotten persona in a series of flashbacks. Spike starts out as a young aesthete in Victorian London; after his romantic overture is rejected by the woman he's in love with, he accepts vamping by Drusilla. Once turned, he adopts a tough, lower-class persona, which reaches full expression once he kills a Slayer during the Boxer Rebellion and literally consummates his triumph by sex with Dru over the Slayer's corpse. Two of Spike's physical identifiers -- the scar through one eyebrow and the coat he wears -- are souvenirs of the Slayers he's fought and killed: the Chinese Slayer slashes his face during their final battle and he steals the coat off the body of a black Slayer in the '70s subways of New York after he kills her. Spike responds, ultimately, to rejection by a woman by the murder of other women and by stealing their identifiers--their identities, their stories--for his own.
Even in "Fool for Love," it's clear that Spike misunderstands the Slayers he's fought as he misunderstands Buffy: he thinks that the Slayers' lives and thoughts center on him, that they are as obsessed with his Romantic conflation of sex and death as he is. He argues that they died because they didn't want to live enough; he argues that Slayers are as in love with death as he is. The Chinese Slayer tells him in Chinese, "Tell my mother I died well," before she dies, but Spike's only response is: "Sorry, love, I don't speak Chinee." Her mother is unimaginable to him, as the son of the black Slayer--Nikki Wood--is also unimaginable. Spike subordinates the stories of these women of color to his own story; he literally cannot understand the Chinese Slayer when she speaks in her own language of her own concerns.
When Robin Wood confronts Spike in S7's "Lies My Parents Told Me," fighting him in revenge for Nikki's death, Spike responds that Nikki never cared as much for her child as she did for fighting, or she wouldn't have died: he is incapable of seeing Nikki as having an emotional existence outside the fated and fatal love affair between vampire and vampire slayer. In Spike's revised and expanded version of his origins and his fight with Nikki, he adds an additional layer of justification: Once vamped, William's mother, who is defined solely by her affection for her son, expresses her "evil nature" by revealing her desire to travel the world and making incestuous advances on her son. Spike frames a mother's desires independent of her child as a betrayal of that child, equating his mother's wish for independence with her incestuous advances and with Nikki Wood's obligation to fight as a Slayer. Again, he rewrites his confrontation with Nikki into a choice that she made, rather than a duty she had to fulfill, obscuring the limitations of her life and his own responsibility for her death. His denial that Nikki's maternal feelings were as important as her role as Slayer once again erases her personhood--and it's notable that the only personal aspect of Nikki Wood we ever see is another relational role defining her, that of mother.
Robin strips his mother's coat off Spike before beginning the fight, but Spike wins and reclaims Nikki's coat as his own, as a symbol of his defeat of Robin and of his triumph over his own unpleasant memories. Spike dies in the Buffy finale but appears on Angel, initially as a discorporate ghost tormented by another ghost at Wolfram & Hart. The other ghost demonstrates his power over Spike by stripping him naked--and of course Spike establishes his regained self-mastery by imagining his coat back on.
Spike eventually regains a corporeal body, complete with long black coat. In the episode "Damage," he finally acknowledges the harm he did other people as a vampire when faced with Dana, a young Slayer who's been driven insane by a combination of childhood trauma and the memories of previous Slayers, including the ones Spike killed. Dana refutes Spike's claims from "Lies My Parents Told Me," speaking in Nikki's voice of her longing to see her young son; she strips Nikki's coat off Spike's back before torturing him. But Dana is captured by the Angel-headed Wolfram & Hart and despite Spike's new self-realization, in the next episode he's wearing the coat again.
There's a moment near the end of the series, in the antepenultimate episode "The Girl in Question," when it seems like Spike will really learn better, like he will really acknowledge and accept the self-centeredness of his conception of the world, women, and Slayers; there's a moment when he loses his leather coat. But no: there's an admiring fangirl in the text who returns an exact copy of the coat to him.
If I'm charitable, I guess I can read the return of the coat by the head of the Italian office of Wolfram & Hart as an acknowledgement that wearing the coat represents the evil Spike's done: but most of the time I just feel like the show is fucking taunting me, holding justice just out of my reach. And this is the problem, this is where I can't speak in the detached academic tone anymore, this is not where the understanding of the character breaks down but where the understanding of the text does. Because ultimately the text argues what Spike does: that it's Spike's story that counts.
And Spike goes out of the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer like he came in: wearing Nikki Wood's fucking coat.
He might as well be wearing her flayed skin.
2. The story of the vid
Excerpts from the letters I sent giandujakiss after winning the auction:
1) Aesop Rock (feat. John Darnielle) - Coffee
Summary: It's Nikki Wood's fucking coat.
A vid about Robin Wood and the other Slayers, mostly Nikki Wood, the First Slayer, and the Chinese Slayer, with a bit of Dana from "Damage". The untold story of the underappreciated vampire fighters.
I really want this one, but it's highly metaphorical, uses minor characters without much footage, and I'm not sure it will interest you, and I don't want to make you crazy. So I am sending it to you first, but will send you the next three in a separate letter.
This is mostly a character study of Robin Wood, with his mother brought in for depth, and then the other Slayers brought in for emphasis. It should start off with a menacing power shot of Robin Wood*, or maybe a fade-in of the First, the Chinese Slayer, and Nikki to set that up. Walkie-talkies = vampire fangs, possibly the Watcher hierarchy. Tchochke hell = Sunnydale high. Porcelain dolls = students or possibly baby slayers. New recruit with a playdoh spine = Spike. A model of mercy and might = Nikki in the mirror.
The first chorus sets up Robin as a player, a fighter, and his uneasy alliance with Buffy. The second is about his fight with Spike. Spike here should be deemphasized as much as possible, antagonist not subject: I'd love to see the iconic images of Spike leaving behind or killing the Slayers with Spike dimmed out and the focus on the Slayers.
The final verse by John Darnielle is all or almost all Dana, maybe interspliced with the Robin/Spike fight, ending on the medication line: the meds her kidnapper used to shoot up Dana and then ending on Robin's bruised face as he sags against the wall.
* "Menacing power shot" is shorthand for "I want to call back to the typical Jossverse power shot of Buffy, Angel, every Slayer, and also evoke and refute the Scary Black Man trope," all of which I could condense because GK and I have talked BtVS, media, and race before. For a different audience--like the unknown person reading this--I would have put in more explanation. In retrospect, I'm glad we ended up framing the Robin Wood power shots in a different way.
GK suggested adding Kendra and the Potentials/new Slayers to the vid and asked me to clarify whether I wanted a character study of Robin Wood or a study of female Slayer power, and I responded:
I don't know how coherent or stable my ideas were. Part of it is coming out of discussions of race and fandom and how the community deadbrowalking was named for Robin Wood -- because all the fans of color expected him to bite in s7, because the black guy always bites it. And Robin doesn't, and that's great, but he still seems to be kind of neglected in fandom, and a bit on the show, despite the potential for more. And I think the neglect is related to race and also to the way Buffy/Spike took over the show. And I'm not sure I ever thought of the vid as Robin's entire story, because it didn't include, say, Faith -- it's fine if your vid does, but that's not what I was focusing on. What I was focusing on was Robin as ambivalent and apparently threatening at first, not quite under control, not quite having the same goals as Buffy, because he wanted to do good, but he also wanted revenge. I wanted Robin as a symbol of his mother, because I can't tell you how frustrated I was, every time in S7 and in Angel S5 Spike would *put the coat back on as a symbol of self-reclamation and self-empowerment*. Because it was Nikki's coat first, and it was also the symbol of her murder, of Spike's power and coolness being appropriated from this black woman, and you have to forget that to cheer Spike on. I wanted people to watch this vid and not be able to forget that. But I didn't want it to be a vid about Spike.
So what I see linking Robin to the female Slayers, and especially the female Slayers of color, and especially the *black* female Slayers, isn't just that Nikki is his mother, but that his story, like Nikki's story, gets swept under by the master narrative of Spike's reformation. And I want the story to be uncovered and reconstructed again.
I love a lot about "Damage," and one of the specific things I love is that it refutes Spike's argument that Nikki cared more about slaying than about Robin, that it makes it clear that was Spike's projection, Spike's need to see the slayers as his enemies/lovers rather than as women with full lives, women damaged and killed by him, when Dana speaks in Nikki's voice about Robin. And I don't think you can represent that visually--it's all in the dialogue--but it's one of the things that links Robin's story to Dana's story, and the Slayers' stories, for me. (Another connection is how Robin becomes an important link to forgotten Slayer history, in himself and in his memories and in the box full of tools and shadow puppets he brings to Buffy. So I'd love to see images of that, although I don't know if they'll fit.)
Does that help any?
Then, after I saw the first draft:
Now that I see it, I feel very strongly that the first image in the vid should be the hand lighting the flame on the shadow box. [In the first draft, GK had opened the vid with a power shot of Robin Wood as I'd originally requested, with the hand lighting the flame coming second.] Because it's such a striking image--light out of darkness--and because it has meaning in canon and in our recontextualized story, the hidden brought out, the secret origin story. It should appear after a beat of darkness, and maybe even before any music--play with the timing to see what works best.
I think the vid could use a little more of the Robin/Nikki relationship: is there a scene where she bends down to kiss wee Robin's forehead or tug at his clothes, or am I imagining that? I don't mean at the beginning necessarily; just somewhere in the vid. I know the vid revolves around fight scenes, but for me that connection between Robin and Nikki hints at what the fight scenes obscure, that these Slayers had lives beyond fighting.
Everything in the vid -- the actual images, the gorgeous intercut fights, the addition of Kendra and the Potentials, the indictment of Buffy as supportive of Spike rather than other women, the implicit association of the white audience with Spike/Buffy/the vampires, the pointing up of the way we mostly got Slayers of color when they were already doomed (the Chinese Slayer, Nikki) or deliberately and explicitly can(n)on fodder (the Potentials), you know, the vid -- was all giandujakiss 's. I suggested she credit herself as "Storyboard and editing" in the end credits because I wanted to make it clear that she didn't simply act as the hands for my idea; she did all the actual work of coming up with visuals to illustrate the concepts, not to mention deepening and extending the concepts by making connections I hadn't anticipated.
3. The story of the title
In the back of my head, I always had the idea of a different title for the vid than the song title, because the vid I had in mind didn't have much to do with the basic "getting morning coffee" metaphor. But I didn't have the title until pretty late in the process, at least two drafts in, when I saw how GK had used the footage of the First Slayer and the First Watchers.
This is what I wrote GK while brainstorming:
I've been trying to think of one with the right emphasis and meanings and the best I've come up with so far is "Origin Stories." I like it because it captures both canonical and recontextualized stories: The First Slayer, the dead Slayers, the origin of the Slayers, the origin of the Slayer army in the potentials, Robin's origin in his mother and his childhood, the origins of the Slayers in vampire/demon/Spike's threat. And I like it because of the general racial/political implications of "origin stories": stories of origins are stories of justifications, the various historical origin stories about Africa, the multiple of "story" indicating both that there's more than one story in history (canon) and that we're telling the stories of multiple people.
I also liked it because the title links the vid to Donna Haraway's feminist, antiracist critique of Western civilization's origin stories in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women, much of which is based on a close reading of Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis trilogy; because superheroes have origin stories,and Slayers are superheroes, and so is Robin Wood; because the plural in the title makes you think, "Whose origin? Whose story?"; because there isn't just one story, ever. Because I wanted to say, "Pay attention to whose stories don't get told."