Unfortunately, I don’t think I tagged that post, haha, or if I did, I can’t remember how or with what I tagged it. It probably wasn’t a very coherent post, anyway! So, let’s just do this all over again, why not.
Why I Do Not Like Joss Whedon And His Works Very Much Or At All, Abridged
by Memlu, Age 24
First things first: Joss Whedon has a rep for being a Very, Very Feminist Creator, and, as a friend of mine suggested, if he had received stronger critical advice during BTVS or if he had taken what critical advice he received more to heart, perhaps he would be now. As it is, I cannot agree that he is feminist! IIRC, Whedon has himself noted, quite proudly, that when he took a women’s studies course, he, the sole dude in the class, educated all the women about women’s rights and feminism. This probably tells you everything you need to know about Whedon and feminism, namely that he is a mansplainer and prone to appropriative behavior.
While women are superficially empowered in many of his works, they are also frequently undermined narratively, being either victimized or deliberately sexualized (or both), in need of the protection and assistance of male heroes who, while superficially presented as weaker, are also upheld by the narrative and often excused for even the most execrable of behavior, or significantly and permanently damaged whether physically or psychologically. Women overcoming physical or psychological damage is of less interest to Whedon than the damage itself. (Hey, guys! Did you know mental illness is sexy? Crazy women are DANGEROUS and HOT! Or they’re TRAGIC and NEED A MAN TO HELP THEM and ALSO HOT!) Basically: he makes women and then he breaks them. If you give a woman a gun and then you cut her legs out from under her again and again and again, that ain’t progress.
I’m also real tired of his fetish for tiny, underage girls with big, bruised eyes who are sexualized for their bruises as much as their fists. Also noteworthy: with but a few exceptions, all of Joss Whedon’s Important Women are white women.
Which brings me to the next point, which is: Joss Whedon has got some serious race issues. Namely, nearly all of his major (and by major, I mean named and recurring) characters are white, which, to be fair, isn’t much different than the industry standard, except Joss Whedon also:
- invents a sci-fi universe in Firefly which is explicitly, textually the results of China and the USA cooperatively terraforming and populating other planets. There are absolutely no Asian people to be found in this sci-fi universe, at all, but you can sure bet the predominantly white heroes speak (badly mangled) Mandarin, and white characters wear formal and informal traditional Chinese clothing.
- invents Dollhouse, which in at least one episode also indulges in some blatant Orientalism, with ~Asian~ modes of dress and design presented as exotic window dressing. (Dollhouse is also perhaps the most egregious of all Whedon’s “feminist” works, being as it is a show which in its very premise is about rape and the unwilling sexual commodification of women and their bodies; rather than critically examine the premise, it uses it again and again for sexual titillation, focusing yet again on violence against women as erotica instead of on the triumph of women over violence.)
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel both take place in California. Yet again, there are no Asian people to be found. Not many Latin@ people, either.
- There are maybe a grand total of ten black characters in all of Whedon’s works, and maybe half as many Latin@ characters. They tend to get short shrift. Characters played by actors who aren’t white but are pale-skinned are nearly universally coded as white.
Don’t expect much in the way of GSM representation, either. You’ve got Willow and Tara (then Willow and Kennedy) in BTVS, maybe a gay dude here or there (but don’t worry, he won’t be in a relationship), and that’s about it for his original stuff. Then you’ve got Whedon taking over writing chores on Marvel’s Runaways, in which he erases a genderqueer character’s identity and has characters refer to Xavin with slurs, which is never once critically examined—rather, we, the readers, are expected to laugh.
And that brings me to my next point! And that’s this:
Joss Whedon is just a crappy writer. He’s capable of moments of brilliance, mostly having to do with his premises, but if you’ve seen one season of any given Joss Whedon show or if you’ve read one issue of one comic written by him, congratulations; you’ve now seen or read everything by Joss Whedon. He writes the same eight characters in everything he writes, and when he starts writing preexisting characters, he turns those characters into the eight characters he knows how to write. He places an enormous amount of importance on superficial wit, without bothering to ground it. His jokes are predictable, his plots are predictable, his execution is tired and worn, and he is an INCREDIBLY lazy writer. He mistakes pop culture for poignancy. His work is so dependent upon shock factor and narratively unfounded “twists” that sometimes I think he’s a prepubescent kid writing a fancomic about how Batman is, like, so much more h@rdk0r3 than Superman, omg. To put this into the proper perspective: Joss Whedon is the Shrek the Third of TV writers.
And the thing is, Whedon has done some good stuff. He’s done some great stuff! He just fucks everything else up so colossally that I don’t care enough to bother trying to dig the tiny flakes of gold out of the crap.
~*~AND NOW YOU KNOW.~*~
I’m going to attempt to write a defense of Joss Whedon because there are some parts of this whole thing that just seem a little off. First of all, let me point out that the level of feminism in Joss Whedon’s works is at or above that which is found on most television series and in most movies. For example:
- Charmed: We have three women who have these kickass powers, but instead of focusing on those powers, the show tends to focus on relationships (where they are dependent on a stronger male), barely there clothing (this even gets mentioned in the third season), and the tendency of these women to either be bitchy or get manipulated. That implies that women can only be super-bitches or that they are so weak that they can constantly be tricked.
- Alias: Not as reliant on supernatural themes, but still sci-fi/fantasy enough to qualify for this list. How many episodes was Jennifer Garner’s midriff shown? How many times was she hypersexualized for the show? And how many times was the only true geek on the show Marshall? Women on the show were either easily manipulated or fell within the super-bitch archetype.
- Supernatural: How many strong women have you seen on this show that didn’t fit either of those two stereotypes already mentioned? Again…it doesn’t happen. Most of the comments made by the guys is misogynistic and homophobic.
- Vampire Diaries: Girl meets vampire. Girl becomes so infatuated with vampire and then his brother as well that she constantly puts her own life in danger (every single week) to prove her devotion.
- True Blood: Sookie is dependent on men. Tara is self-defeating. Jessica is whiny. Pam is a bitch. Arlene is ignorant. Race-wise: Lafayette and Tara are both archetypes. LGBT-wise: Lafayette is a continuing stereotype.
- The Secret Life of the American Teenager: Girls manipulated or talked down to/tricked by boys regularly.
- Beverly Hills 90210: Early on, at least, girls were often either crazy, slutty, or manipulative.
- Gossip Girl: Basically, repeating the BH90210 school of thought.
- One Tree Hill: Also repeating that school of thought.
Now, all of these series are ones I like (love might not be too strong a word for some), but they are/were constantly subjected to anti-women, anti-gay, anti-non-whites stereotypes. And do you know what part of the reason is? That is what sells. That is what the world seems to expect. That doesn’t make it right, but that’s what makes it the fact of these shows. Women could be stronger in the series, races could defy the expectations, and gay and lesbian characters could be more believable if people would watch that. Despite what we want to tell ourselves about people in this world, they are a lot more ignorant than most folks would like to think.
Now, women were not the only sexualized or victimized characters in Whedon’s work. Men were also constantly treated in the same way. How many times did Buffy or Willow or Anya or Faith or Tara rescue Xander? Xander was constantly in danger. Giles was in danger a lot, too. Hell, even Oz, Spike, and Angel needed to be rescued. (Riley was also a constant damsel.) These male characters, even the overmasculinized ones, were dependent on very small (frame-wise) girls. Every character went through ups and downs.
At least you admit (somewhat) that his major characters don’t differ much from the industry standard. Now, even he had some issues with the content of Dollhouse. His words:
It’s terrifying. There’s no way you can avoid the idea that this feels like high-end human trafficking. But what I’m interested in is the idea of a woman who has no identity, who is gradually becoming self-aware and saying, “I think I know more than they want me to.” It hurts me and intrigues me.”
Also, in the show, there weren’t just women. There were male “dolls” as well, which you seem to have forgotten in your rant.
About the lack of Hispanic and Asian people in Buffy and Angel, I should say that Buffy took place in what was supposed to be a small town. I don’t know if small town California is anything like small towns in other places, but generally small towns tend to have a very homogenized look. There were Asians and Hispanics. Kennedy was Hispanic. Aiko was Japanese. Chao-Ahn was Chinese. Caridad was Hispanic. Satsu was Japanese. Soledad was Hispanic. Xin Rong was Chinese. Isabel Cortes was Spanish. Yuki Makimura was Japanese. Mariko was Japanese. All of these were Slayers/Potential Slayers, which means that not only were they significant/important (even if they didn’t get much air-time or, in the graphic novel characters, written time), but that they were strong. Kal Penn, though not of Eastern Asian descent, is of Indian descent and has been in Buffy and Angel.
Other Asians and Hispanics (including multiracial folks) in his works (including guest directions, treatments, and uncredited works), that I’m sure you overlooked: Jennifer Tilly (The Getaway), Keanu Reeves (Speed), Raymond Cruz (Alien Resurrection). Sierra in Dollhouse was portrayed by Dichen Lachman who is of Indian and Tibetan descent. Also, Morena Baccarin is Brazilian, which isn’t Hispanic, but it often gets linked with being of Latin descent. And the actress who played the Slayer from the Angel episode Damage is Navi Rawat, who is half-Indian.
Now, for black characters: Rona, Sineya, Kendra, Nikki Wood, Robin Wood, Asha Sayre, Zoe Washburne, The Operative, Boyd Langton, Nick Fury, Storm (he did a treatment for X-Men), the guys who created the Slayer Line. Gary Dourdan was in Alien Resurrection. Also, the actress who played Zoe Washburne, Gina Torres, is of Cuban and Black African descent. She was in two of his shows, Firefly and Angel. Off the bat, I have listed 15 that I can remember. Now, there are probably more that I’m just not remembering at the moment.
Also, if you factor in Glee and The Office for some of “his works”, then you are dealing with an even more diverse palette.
Having Willow and Tara and then Willow and Kennedy was a major feat for LGBT representation in primetime television. He had, both times, two major characters in an actual relationship. They weren’t just lesbians off-screen. He had them hold hands, kiss, and (eventually with W/K) in bed together, which was a major thing at the time. You have to remember the time frame for the series and the movies that he’s been tied to. Back ten years ago, gay and lesbian couples were not a mainstream type of thing, and he helped make them more acceptable to the populace, so don’t discount those relationships.
As for reusing characters? Oh, my God. Find a writer that doesn’t reuse characters or storylines or archetypes or same basic ideas and that might be news. Alan Ball does it. (He’s got an Oscar.) Charles Dickens did it. (He’s generally well-respected by most people.)
Yes, there are ways that he could improve his works, but that is true for every single writer—alive or dead. Unless you’re going to trash all other writers to such an extent, then I would recommend you back the Hell off this one in particular.
Perhaps before going into some diatribe about how you think someone über-suckz, you should actually be a little more familiar with their work. It seems like you didn’t actually pay attention to any of his work, but just went through synopses and papers written by others who didn’t pay attention, and have chosen to write some essay that is filled with a lot of stuff that just isn’t completely true.
BTW – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If you hate a writer or a show or someone so much, then don’t pay attention to them and certainly don’t write insanely long essays about them. I don’t watch “The Office”, but the most I ever really say about it to any person (ever) is that I don’t like the show and I don’t watch it. I could launch into a list of reasons that I don’t like it, but I don’t. That would be a waste of my time.
a) sexism, racism, and bigotry are okay because that’s just the way things are, and calling out problematic elements as problematic is not only meaningless but itself problematic,
b) Xander lost an eye once, so that’s just like all those times when women were humiliated, brutalized, raped or threatened with rape, necessitating rescue by men,
c) Whedon meant for Dollhouse to be terrible and dark which means it’s okay that it never constructively or critically examines, deconstructs, questions, or rejects the premise, instead using it solely for sexual titillation, repeatedly prioritizing the needs, interests, and experiences of men over women, and consistently strips agency from women,
d) “look, here’s a comprehensive list of characters of color present in Whedon’s work, the majority of whom are minor characters, and this definitively proves he isn’t racist even though all of the major players whose story arcs are explored at length and in detail are white, and also, Orientalism is okay,”
e) to reiterate, pointing out problematic stuff is hateful, and oh, right, having passionate opinions about problematic stuff is bad, but only when it means someone else might have to stop and think about why it is that stuff is problematic.
Yeah. Good defense. You’re right. I should definitely never call out or be critical of shit for being shit. Truly, you have taught me to never again engage critically with fiction, ever. Never before did I realize how much better it is to just accept things as they are.
P.S.: Don’t know if you noticed this, but you seem to be a bit confused. So, either Joss Whedon’s stuff is above criticism because he has done so much more and so much better than anyone else, and also here’s a handy vague justification that erases all the things he’s done wrong, OR it’s above criticism because it’s as fucked up as everything else.
P.P.S.: I realize you might not get this, but I used to really enjoy Joss Whedon’s stuff. That’s why I consumed it. You might also not have noticed that image there at the top, you know, that screencap of ask messages in which people asked me to elaborate upon a generally stated dislike of Joss Whedon. I’m just checking.
P.P.P.S.: I’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell me, the queer woman, that I should be thankful for minimal and frankly problematic representation.
P.P.P.P.S.: Don’t describe shit as “insanely.” That’s ableist, it’s gross, and I don’t appreciate it.
Okay, let’s, yet again, break down what you’re saying.
One, I never said that those things were okay. I was just explaining why they seem to be commonplace (aka NORMAL) for <em>all</em> of television and movies. Explaining that it is normal in the entertainment industry doesn’t mean that it is okay. God, I am so sick of people thinking that saying something is commonly done means that I’m saying it is okay.
Two, Xander was humiliated more than just that one time. He was also threatened with rape at one point by Faith, but I bet you don’t remember that.
Three, look at what I said about Dollhouse again. Even he was disturbed by it, and he did it to push boundaries and to open a dialogue about what society will do.
Four, get over your whole schtick on racism. It’s truly tired.
Five, your tone was hateful. Saying you hate a guy and then launching into an essay about why you hate him is justification of your own biases. Of course, you won’t think that because you think that you’re some superintellectual that doesn’t have biases.
Okay, let me explain the problem with your criticism, since you don’t understand it:
- What you are complaining about with him is common in all productions by all writers and directors.
- Because of #1, it is unfair to single out one particular writer/director for shaming.
I’m basically trying to explain to you that critiquing Joss Whedon is a waste of time, since there are so many other writers and directors who do the same (or worse) shit all the time and don’t get half the flack over it. If you’re going to critique him, then critique them as well. Give everyone hell or don’t give anyone hell. Simple, no?
The screencap that you provided isn’t readable. You may not realize that. Tumblr shrank it, so it might be helpful to do a photoset next time or screencap in another way. That way people can read it.
Since you expect me to give you a higher level of respect about LGBT issues because you consider yourself to be “the queer women”, then I will extend you a courtesy. Don’t tell me not to “describe shit as ‘insanely’” because it isn’t “ableist” or “gross” because I am a thundering loony. You see, I don’t know you much, but I do know enough about myself to know that if you Google pretty much any screenname or website I own, then you can find a fairly extensive history of mental illness discussed very openly. In fact, if you Google my main domain’s name, you will find the many times when others on the internet have discussed my tendency to either be crazy or to talk about being crazy. As someone who has been in therapy since age 8, been in a mental hospital, and will be in therapy and on medication for the rest of her life, I have fully earned the right to describe shit as insanely. Cheers!