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'Buffy Studies'

The genesis of the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer began with a 1992 tongue-in-cheek film about a high school cheerleader who discovers she's the latest in a long line of young women destined to battle vampires.

The series picked up where the film left off, and became an instant cult classic. In the television version, Buffy lives in the picturesque town of Sunnydale, Calif. -- which just happens to sit on top of a portal into Hell. For the past seven years, Buffy has fought blood-sucking vampires, hellhounds and giant snakes, as well as the more typical adolescent demons of school and boyfriends.

From its name on down, Buffy sounds a little silly -- but Buffy's fans say the show stretches the boundaries of the medium, and challenges clichés.

Buffy enjoys a special following among academics, some of whom have staked a claim in what they call "Buffy Studies." NPR's Neda Ulaby reports there are serious academic studies on the characters and themes in the series -- titles like "Buffy the Vampire Disciplinarian: Institutional Excess and the New Economy of Power."

Now the series is down to its final two episodes (the final episode airs May 20), and the fate of "Buffy Studies" is up in the air. David Lavery, helping to organize the second Buffy Studies Conference in Nashville, Tenn., in 2004, says the end of the series will actually be just the beginning of the debate. "We are at the point where we're developing textual studies of Buffy and debates about what constitutes the actual text of Buffy," he tells Ulaby.

Lavery finds comfort in the words of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, whose theories are frequently invoked in Buffy Studies. "Nietzsche said the secret of life is to die at the right time -- and I think it's true of a television series, too."

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Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.
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