So I'm enjoying my full immersion into the Joss Whedon Universe (or more properly, Whedonverse) as I do research for a paper on Firefly (in collboration with This Guy) and work my way through Whedon's original Buffy and its spin-off/parrallel show Angel. Spending time in all three 'verses at once really brings Whedon's core themes to the surface, and he just keeps blowing my mind.
Most recently I watched the Angel episode "Are You Now or Have you Ever Been..." (nodding to the Mcarthyism themes throughout the episode) which is a largely a flashback to the 1950's wherein Angel, (the vampire with a soul) is keeping a low profile in LA. When a scene opened on the LA Observatory, I immediately said "Okay- how are they going to reference "Rebel Without A Cause"? You really can't shoot anything involoving the Griffith Observatory without evoking the climactic scenes from the James Dean classic.
Well, the camera pulls back to reveal David Boreanaz as Angel wearing the iconic red windbreaker, white T-shirt and dark jeans of James Dean's Rebel character Jim. Going further, we hear the female character introduce herself as Judy- also the name of Natalie Wood's character in Rebel. Judy (who looks strikingly like Natalie Wood as well) goes on to talk about the planetarium show about the end of the world, which is also the show the students in Rebel watch at the beginning of the film. So no question about it- Whedon is unabashedly underlining Rebel Without a Cause.
But the intertextual detective in me started wondering why? If one text references another, then the intertext must have some significance of shared or contrasted meaning. But other than both stories having to do with people rejected by or rejecting society, the intertext just didn't make sense to me, not to the extent of its prominence. That's when I had to reflect on the idea of textual poaching, which Ian introduced to me in his paper on Fandom and the works of Joss Whedon. With textual poaching, it's not so much about drawing parallels between the two texts, but in sparking recognition for the viewer. Therefore, using the imagery, costumes and names from Rebel Without A Cause is really just paying honor to the iconic film and James Dean, and inviting the viewer to do the same.
It's an opportunity for the viewer to recongize something and feel included in the storytelling, moreso than adding to the story being told. It's kind of post-modern intertextuality I guess. For me, seeing the observatory and anticipating James Dean references then having them ready and waiting for me, was the best part of watching the episode. Yeah, it was a smart and moving story, but the moment where I recognized "James Dean" and "Judy" made me feel like I was on the same page with Joss Whedon- like I was in on the inside joke, or at least the inside homage to great filmmaking. It didn't have to mean anything more than that.
What I'm not-so-on-the-same-page with is the action figures Fandom can lead to- this is the Angel figure made specifically from this episode. He's got the James Dean jacket on and comes with an ax, a noose and a liter of blood. You can make your toy Angel textually poach your GI Joes I guess.