Defining ‘Deconfliction’

Scholarly interest in Joss Whedon’s cult classic points to the growing belief that TV shows deserve to be studied as literature.

When Joss Whedon’s classic show Buffy the Vampire Slayer went off the air in 2003, its cult status was still very much nascent. Cue the novels, comics, video games, and spinoffs, not to mention fan sites, fan fiction, conventions, and inclusion on scores of “Best TV Shows of All Time” lists. But while it remains good fun to watch a seemingly ditzy teenager and her friends fight the forces of darkness with super-strength, magic, and witty banter, the show’s seven seasons have also become the subject of critical inquiry from a more intellectually rigorous fanbase: academics.

Buffy, along with critically acclaimed series like The X-Files and Twin Peaks, came before The Sopranos and the beginning of the Golden Age of Television, but helped pave the way for scholars to treat television shows like The Wire, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad as sprawling works of art to be dissected and analyzed alongside the greatest works of literature. Academics have found Whedon’s cult classic to be particularly multi-dimensional—trading heavily on allegory, myth, and cultural references—while combining an inventive narrative structure with dynamic characters and social commentary.