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It’s Over, Joss

Image by Gage Skidmore

Image by Gage Skidmore

My relationship with Joss Whedon is complicated.

It used to be so good between us. I loved him so much. When I first met him, I thought he could write no wrong. We would go out once a week, to Sunnydale, and have such a great time together. I never knew it could be like that. So perfect. So magical.

I felt empowered just from spending time with him, ready to take on all comers armed only with a pointy stick clutched in my fist. He made me feel strong, but he never made me feel that I always had to be. He understood that was too great a burden for anyone to carry. In his world, strength could coexist with vulnerability and imperfection. Heroes could be flawed and fragile. It was okay to fall short, to break sometimes, to rely on people who love you when you couldn’t do it all alone. It didn’t make you any less of a hero. What Joss gave me is something I will always treasure. He showed me it was possible to be a strong woman who didn’t have to only be strong.

But then things changed. He changed. I could tell he was trying, but it wasn’t the same. I still loved him, but the things that he brought into my life seemed lame and overrated. I followed him to LA and into outer space, but he kept letting me down. I wanted so much more from him than space prostitutes with hearts of gold and women who could fix engines because of intuition instead of brains and hard work. I wanted so much more than an unstoppable killing machine who happened to have two X chromosomes. It felt like a shadow of what Sunnydale had been, like a copy of a copy of a copy. It felt like a TV show. I missed the nuance, the complexity. But he gave me just enough to keep me hanging on, hoping. Maybe if he had more money. Maybe if he had more creative control. Things could be good between us again.

I stayed with him. Every time I would think about moving on, somehow he would suck me back in again. I thought we could start over, but things went from bad to worse. I was embarrassed by him and for him. People were starting to talk and I was starting to listen. I found myself watching him tell stories that I thought were gross and misogynistic but I excused him because I remembered the way things used to be. “He’s a feminist!” I told everyone. “He loves strong women!! You just don’t know him the way that I do!”

He kept trying to make the word “suss” happen. But it didn’t happen.

As he became more successful I thought, “Oh, thank goodness. This is finally going to be it. He’s going to show everyone how awesome he is and then our relationship will be back on track.” I went back to him again only to have my heart broken. It was awful. Our dialogue was stilted and our storyline made no sense. Some of the things he did with women made me feel icky inside. Money hadn’t fixed anything. It only made things worse. But still, I loved on. He was so talented. I knew he was so talented. I believed in him. I had faith in his greatness.

Women kept ending up raped and tortured and dead around him. I still couldn’t see him for what he was. I had loved him too much and for too long. When things got tough, I would boot up Netflix and immerse myself in nostalgia, remembering our time together back in Sunnydale, when we were young and innocent and it seemed like he was going to take me places I hadn’t even dared to imagine.

I think I’ve finally realized something about my beloved Joss. He never changed. He just stayed the same. The world changed around him and it revealed the person he really was. A person with one brilliant idea, executed well, that I fell in love with. All this time I thought it was the man that I loved, but it was just that one idea. The stuff I thought I saw in him was never really there. What we had was an illusion. One brilliant idea is not enough to sustain this relationship.

He had nothing else to offer me beyond Sunnydale. And I guess he’s maybe even a bad writer. Pooping out a clever turn of phrase now and then is not good writing. Good writers do not rely on three-decade long strings of female characters exploited and raped and tortured and dead without even the flimsiest subtext to justify it. He’s had every chance to prove himself, to rise above, to do better and be better, but that’s his go-to move. It must be all there is.

Joss Whedon is a misogynist. It hurts my heart to say that, but it’s true. I can’t believe I didn’t see it before. He was always a misogynist. His misogyny was just masked by the constraints of PG-13 TV.

Joss, it’s over between us. I don‘t love you any more. I don’t think I ever did.

Appendix: Here is a representative sample. Some of these episodes I like, even love. It’s no one moment, no one thing, just an overall sense of being done with the Whedonverse.

Inara and prostitution in “Heart of Gold” and “Shindig“, Kaylee knows how to fix engines magically in “Out of Gas”, and River as unstoppable killing machine in Serenity.

Long string of major female characters ending up dead as a result of violence: Jenny CalendarTaraAnyaKendraBuffy (twice), CordeliaLilahDarla (twice), Fred, and Penny (in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog).

Long string of female or physically vulnerable male characters being verbally abused, tortured, raped, or being threatened with rape, either openly or implied: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (“Consequences” and “Seeing Red”), Angel (“Birthday”, “Expecting”, “Redefinition”, and “Apocalypse Nowish”), Firefly (“Our Mrs. Reynolds”, “Objects in Space”, “Ariel”, and “Safe”), Dollhouse (“The Target”, and “Belonging”), Natasha Romanoff in The Avengers and The Age of Ultron, and pretty much all of Dollhouse.


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Kristin is huge geek, a libertarian, and a mother of 4 sons and a daughter. She lives in a wildlife refuge in rural Washington state and works with women around the world as a fertility counselor.

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315 thoughts on “It’s Over, Joss

      • Do you think if he hadn’t been promoted so much as being a feminist in the first place that it would have changed your perception? Setting the expectation that he produced feminist work and then failing to meet that expectation is surely worse than not setting that expectation in the first place

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        • Very possibly – but then again the reason I liked Buffy was not because it pushed my feminist buttons properly but because it was good. I also really like Supernatural which is widely panned as being anti-feminist and that doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

          So maybe a combo of factors coming into play.

          I think I’d have given up on him regardless from sheer disappointment in quality. But the “he’s such an awesome voice for women”, and worse still, him SAYING that about himself, when I don’t find that to be the case, puts a bad taste in my mouth.

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    • I wondered about that too, to the point of checking his filmography to see if I had missed something. Nope: he has been doing Marvel stuff the last five or so years. This is, in my opinion, a waste. But he clearly is a sincere comics geek, so I expect it is his dream job. And I’m sure the pay is excellent.

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      • He held Avengers 2 together by the skin of his teeth, and the strength of his dialogue.
        (I haven’t seen anything more recent).

        And it’s totally not a waste at all. Firefly proves that he can’t do worldbuilding worth shit, so let him stick to putting characters in other people’s worlds.

        Gortimer Gibbons has better worldbuilding than Firefly, a better thought out premise, and a cooler concept.

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        • I have to agree, so far, his worldbuilding is lacking. As much as I loved Firefly, I never felt like I had a grip on how the world worked, like the rules were whatever served the plot that episode.

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            • I never figured out why they thought they needed to add the backstory about “we left Earth and came to a new STAR SYSTEM not a whole region of the galaxy but an individual system“.

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              • They wanted it to be all different from Star Trek. Also, this made for a “tighter” inner system, and a “looser” outer system.

                Which would have been fine, had they bothered to draw a MAP. Basic, basic worldbuilding, just not done at all.

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              • That is a hell of a lot of planets hanging out in the goldilocks zone. Or we have a gas giant in the goldilocks zone with a butt load of habitable moons. Or a binary system with a bunch of habitable planets and moons, perhaps?

                Seriously, how hard would it have been to have an astrophysicist cobble together a system map that made sense and could be hung on the wall, or shown on a screen every now and again?

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  1. One theme I commonly see in feminist rhetoric is that rape and the threat thereof, either implicit or explicit, is an omnipresent shadow looming over women’s lives. So why the hate for men who incorporate this theme into their fiction?

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    • It’s the execution, not the subject matter per se. If it’s a go to move, if it feels like one of chief weapons in the arsenal, if it’s intended primarily to titillate dudes and not to some extent to represent reality…it’s icky to me. Certainly I’d not prevent others from partaking, but not for me any more.

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      • I recently re-watched Buffy season 6. I gotta say, the Spuffy attempted rape was about the least titillating execution I can imagine. I actually consider it something of a tour de force, in that I understand exactly what motivated Spike and why his action would seem reasonable to him at the time, yet there is no sense of exoneration.

        On a related note, Willow/Tara was a lesbian relationship, but it wasn’t Hawt Lesbo Action for the dudes.

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        • Yes, yes, yes. I think Kristin’s criticisms of the other work cuts pretty deep, but most of the Buffy examples can be pretty well rationalized, execution included.

          Re: Spuffy rape, I agree. It was not only untitillating, but the emotional punch of Spike’s total fall from grace and Buffy’s feeling of betrayal was intense. And it’s not a rape; it’s a rape that failed to happen from female strength.

          Also agree re: Willow/Tara. I remember reading that it was far ahead of its time. (Didn’t watch much television in those days.) I think a scene where they kissed was one of the first such kisses on television. Possibly in the musical episode?

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          • I listed those because in retrospect, in the context of everything else, they appear to me in a different light now. This is me looking back and realizing “hm maybe this was there all along and because the execution was so good, I missed it.”

            I thought the Willow/Tara relationship was brilliant. I thought Tara’s death was a cheap shot and lazy, but overall something I enjoyed.

            I left this out due to lack of space, but Whedon made a Buffy Season 8 comic, in which lo and behold Buffy too decided to experiment with lesbianism. Now THAT felt exploitative to me. But that’s not something most people are aware of.

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  2. I have the same question as . The second to last paragraph is a pretty big tone shift from the rest of the article, which I was rather enjoying.

    Is Joss Whedon really a misogynist, a word that I generally take to describe folks with deep-seated hatred of women or at least serious issues relating to woman as fully formed human beings? Or is he just someone who isn’t as great at writing female characters as you once thought? Maybe I am hopelessly behind the curve on this one, but I think misogyny ought to mean something more than not being sufficiently progressive in your outlook or more than just being merely sexist.

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    • I tend to agree with you, but it’s how the word is being used in feminist circles so I used it that way for the purpose of the article. Thanks for the feedback.

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      • This seems short-sighted. If “misogynist” now includes someone who doesn’t write female characters as well as someone else thinks he should, what word do use for folks with deep-seated hatred of women or at least serious issues relating to women as fully formed human beings? And if we do find a word for those people, how long will it be before it too gets watered down to banality?

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        • I totally agree, but I don’t have that word. To my knowledge that word has not yet been coined. “Sexist” is terribly imprecise and feels outdated. It also implies a deliberate act when I don’t think this is deliberate. Misogyny can be more subtle and perhaps not even something someone is aware of. So I used the word others are using even though I give a hearty “hear, hear” to your concerns regarding the shifting meaning of words.

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          • I suspect that the word is only used this way within a specific community. Your use seemed very weird to me: provocative, and not in the good sense. I think using it this way for a general audience is not a good way to carry your point.

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            • “Misogyny” is like “white supremacy.” When questioned, it’s defended as a technical term with a reasonable meaning. It means something far more severe and incendiary to everyone outside the cadre of self-appointed ideological enforcers. The enforcers know this and throw it around with glee as a sh*t test for allies.

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            • No, I don’t think that at all and I hate the “forced diversity” approach where artists have to include a representative of every group under the sun or face criticism for lack of diversity.

              I think it’s ok to tell stories that are just about men, or just about women, or any combination of individuals. However the spirit moves.

              Artists being told what to produce by committee usually leads to crappy art.

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          • I’d say he isn’t misogynistic, but rather not feminist focused (Feminist unfocused? An unfocused feminist?).

            Basically, it isn’t that he’s writing in a way that shows he is misogynist, so much as he is not writing female characters that appeal strongly to feminists.

            I mean, it makes sense Buffy is appealing, because the show is about her, a strong female character. Angel was about Angel (although your Cordelia criticisms are spot on, I never finished the last season because of it).

            Firefly was gone too fast to really get a depth of character development, but my feeling was that the show wasn’t about Malcolm, it was about the ship, and each crew member was an aspect of the personality (ala Herman’s Head). I mean, they were all way too stereotypical in so many ways.

            Doll House was… I only watched 6 episodes before it lost me.

            As for Avengers, none of those characters are his, so he was probably forced to operate within certain constraints (I seem to recall stories about how much producers, etc. were messing around with his production).

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            • Have you noticed how often these stories appear around Whedon? I don’t know if it’s his way of deflecting blame or his fans’ way of deflecting blame, but I always hear that he’s a genius except for the things people know of his, but they don’t count because of executive interference.

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              • Genius is a pretty strong word. But Buffy was great. Angel, by season two-ish was pretty dang good (the end of final season five was a bit of a flameout). Firefly, which mighta been on level with Buffy for super-cool-TVshow-platforms was obstructed by Fox from the beginning (which is amazing given his track record at the time…). (I read that Inara was one of the execs big beefs.)

                Wheedon has a knack for telling pretty cool stories in a pop-culture vernacular which, if the execs didn’t interfere, would probably be even more so.

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              • Yes, that’s it exactly, that story follows him like a dark cloud, doesn’t it?

                At some point, creative people either go nuts or understand that creativity has to happen within some constraints. And if you can’t operate in those constraints, maybe you’re not quite as creative as you think.

                Maybe true genius lies in recognizing the constraints and working within them?

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                • atom,
                  Well, there was the one creative guy who airlifted the script along with the house it was in, and then put a different house there, and wrote a better script in the seven days it took for the other writer to realize that his script was missing….

                  Yes, insane.

                  Have you seen Voltron yet? It’s got a kickass sense of humor (both at an adult and a child’s level, and the adult humor isn’t visible or “oh, i’m missing something” to the kids). That’s acting within decency constraints while glorying in not having to deal with censors.

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                • The original Buffy movie, Alien: Resurrection, and Firefly were all misunderstood and/or compromised by the studios, to hear Whedon’s fans tell it. He seems to say pretty much the same. His fans give him full credit for Toy Story though. I think (but I might be wrong) that he gets immunity for Titan AE as well. The stories frequently follow a pattern, where he’s either the creator whose vision gets crushed or he’s the script doctor who’s called in to save a failing production. Basically, his leg of the relay race deserves credit and is exempt from blame.

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          • Interesting – I would tend to use those words the other way around.

            Unconsciously & unthinkingly talking over a female friend or colleague or discounting the strength of their knowledge, having a work environment that expects long hours and totally fails to accommodate working mothers, then wondering (or not even wondering beyond half noticing it but hey I guess we must do “men’s work”) why your workplace hardly has any women in it – that I’d think of / refer to as sexism.

            Misogyny I’d tend to use only where there is some degree of ill feeling.

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            • Agreed. The word “sexism”, as it’s used in these types of discussions anyway, strikes me as meaning an institutional arrangement similar to the meaning of “institutional racism”. “Misogyny” strikes me as meaning a very conscious intent of an individual to harm women/females.

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              • I wouldn’t take it as far as “conscious intent to harm” being required to consider something misogyny – that’s a very high bar.

                So, in my example of a workplace environment that fails to accommodate female employees – if it goes beyond “Huh, not a lot of women work here eh?” and into “Good, women shouldn’t be messing up the camaraderie of this kind of job. Nothing against women but they belong where they are, out there at the reception desk. Next thing you know some feminazi’d want the swimsuit calendar gone out of the break room.”

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                  • Not at all, I didn’t mean to convey that – just that I think there is a bar to be cleared for something to be ‘misogynistic’, and I would put it somewhere below “wishing or intending to cause harm to women.” But definitely above the bar for something to be ‘sexist’.

                    With your qualifier of “objective” harm, are you getting at something like this? I could consider my motivation to be “fairness” or “safety” or “protecting my own needs” or “only spending money on what is essential”, but the outcome if I get my way would be experienced as a harm by the other party.

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                    • It’s more this: if I think I have a right to X but deny that person O has a right to X, I’m harming them. If I think that opportunity T based on utilitarian principle P has instrumental value for me but I deny that person O should have the opportunity to act on the same principle, I’m harming them.

                      The old school complaint about the Patriarchy was that men held all the power and kept women under the leash by denying them rights and opportunities which they enjoyed but prevented other (female) persons from enjoying equally. Those complaints are objective in nature. Whedon’s failure to present women in his movies according to an idealization of Y (why?) isn’t.

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              • For what it’s worth, I used “sexism” to describe the general social structures that favor one gender over another. “Misogyny” I use to name those particular flavors that include contempt for or degradation of women.

                Under this structure, indeed Whedon’s art contains misogynistic elements, although I would hesitate to name Whedon a straight up “misogynist,” for a variety of reasons but mostly because it’s just darn unhelpful to jump on people that way.

                That said, his work certainly contains problematic patterns, which repeat often enough that, as a viewer, I kinda want to say, “Good grief, Jos, maybe explore your kinks either more directly or work them out some other way.”

                (Which is to say, it actually wouldn’t bother me if he made unabashed “lost girl” mind-control porn, since he obviously wants to. He could simply label it as such, and then viewers could decide.)

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                Let me add, these things are subtle. For example, Jessica Jones (as presented on Netflix) clearly contains “misogynistic themes,” inasmuch as it’s manifestly about abuse, control, assault, and rape. However, I would not count this as problematic, because it is clear that the writers are exploring these themes from the perspective of the female victim, and portray her ensuing struggle to overcome. In other words, the show is not porn that eroticizes the abuse. It does quite the opposite.

                When Whedon approaches corresponding themes, I get a very different feel.

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                • Wait. So you know Joss Whedon’s intentions and internal mental life better than even he does? (But excuse the Jessice Jones writers for committing the same sins because “context”…)

                  Isn’t this a race to the bottom without a winner?

                  Add: personally, I think the better explanation is “projection”. IOW, if I can’t see it, then it ain’t really there but rather a (subjectively determined) judgment.

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                  • — Are you actually trying to communicate, because to me you’re coming across as an ass?

                    Clearly what I am doing is making an inference based on his body of work. It is a common enough thing to do, at least if you’re not into the whole “death of the author” thing. In any case, clearly I cannot read minds. On the other hand, I often make guesses as to other’s motives, what makes them tick.

                    In any case, back when I was writing, from time to time a fan would point out something they noticed in my stories. Sometimes they were off base. Occasionally, however, they really noticed a pattern I had not quite noticed, but yeah, it was there. Those moments were very rewarding.

                    Am I correct about Whedon? Well, people can judge for themselves. The work is there. Go watch.

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                  • All we can judge on, as viewers, is how it comes off to US. We’re the recipient of the message and just like with any speech, the speaker does have some responsibility to send a message that they stand behind. So I think it’s fair of us as viewers to interpret and even perhaps judge that message, after all, they sent it.

                    Having watched Dollhouse and Jessica Jones, they touch on some similar themes but JJ truly explores them in a powerful way, while Dollhouse is using the themes for other reasons. Is this an interpretation on my part, I suppose, but the makers of Dollhouse sent the message that I received. The message of Jessica Jones was entirely different than that of Dollhouse.

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                    • So, how do you judge Sherlock, which, It’s not much of a spoiler, spent 7 seasons teasing the audience, before doing an abrupt about face?

                      Is it all about the 7 seasons of “ooohh… tension!” or about the quite deflating last episode?

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                    • We’re the recipient of the message

                      Maybe that’s the problem: thinking that everything is a “message”. :)

                      Add: I once knew a woman who thought the show Twin Peaks contained messages speaking to her personally.

                      Also: Post modernism will lead to the death of us all.

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                      • — That’s a pretty weak quibble. Personally I would stick to the general term “text” rather than “message,” but the meaning doesn’t change much.

                        You seem to be objecting to the whole enterprise of approaching a text critically, but criticism is normal. Please explain your point?

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                        • Personally I would stick to the general term “text” rather than “message,”

                          Yes, that’s more on point.

                          My quibble isn’t about criticism, but a certain type of criticism, one which reduces words to subjectively defined texts, defines those texts as objectively real properties in the world, then concludes that THAt subjective reality is not a, but THE objective definition of reality.

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                      • Communication is a message. It doesn’t mean it’s a personal message, there’s clearly a big difference between the message of a TV show and the message of a letter from my grandmother.

                        Text, as mentioned below, has religious connotations that I would prefer to avoid. Subtext, maybe, but some of this stuff is right out in the open and not at all metaphorical.

                        Simple fact is, when the same thing is happening again and again in a body of work, like the PP mentioned, it’s hard not to start to wonder is there more going on here. Take any of these examples in and of themselves they’re nothing. On the whole, it starts to add up.

                        Raindrops become a flood at some point. One can’t then pretend that someone concerned about a flood is angry about a raindrop on their sleeve, when it’s the flood that is the problem.

                        I think it’s a bit of a cheap shot to throw in an example of someone who was insane. Guilty by association?

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                        • The point of throwing in the “insane” person was to demonstrate that hearing a particular “message”, based on the concept that a word is a text (and all that) is show that what you hear constitutes a private activity. Ie., if hearing a certain message (intended or otherwise) requires the prior adoption of a conceptual framework upon which various “messages” gain their meaning, then the content of the “communication” is neither transparent nor subject to critique via a shared discourse.

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                          • Joss Whedon calling himself a feminist and claiming he is writing strong women sets up that conceptual framework.

                            A woman who thinks Twin Peaks is sending messages through her television is an entirely different scenario unless David Lynch had repeatedly said for 20 years that he was indeed sending messages to people through the television.

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            • Which, (half-constructed thought alert) may be tied to his self-identification as “feminist”.

              That is, he knows he wants to be feminist, because he doesn’t actively dislike women, he likes the women he knows and is frustrated by some of their challenges with structural sexism, etc. IOW, he’s not, in my usage, misogynist / in yours, sexist.

              So he goes “I’m a feminist”. But he leaves it there, doesn’t practice acts of feminism in his work.

              But he’s also not doing much of the work required to be really, meaningfully, feminist. He’s not checking his own instincts and ideas and writings for how they fit into gender power dynamics and mechanisms of subtle oppression, if necessary running them by a trusted female collaborator and making the effort to humility when & if she points out problems. He is, in my usage, sexist / in yours, misogynist.

              Now, I don’t know which understanding of “sexism” vs. “misogyny” is the more commonly used one. Perhaps it depends on social milieu.

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              • But he’s also not doing much of the work required to be really, meaningfully, feminist.

                What work is that, exactly? Seriously. What’s the serious work required for being a feminist such that Whedon isn’t one of em? What’s the standard here?

                Oscar said it best somewhere on this thread: “[Whedon] isn’t misogynistic, but rather not feminist focused”. That’s a really important distinction, seems to me.

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                • Stillwater,
                  For a man to be a feminist, he must pass into internet lore as a
                  “cis, transphobic mysogynistic womyn.”

                  And, no, I’m not kidding. [redacted by editor for unnecessary personal attack on another participant in the conversation]

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                • The kind of work I’m thinking of in this case is what I outlined in the very next sentence.

                  Nodding my head in agreement with principles of feminism as elaborated by this writer or that speaker is not yet enacting feminism.

                  The work is
                  (1) devoting mental energy to whether this TV episode I want to produce, that T-shirt I want to wear, the other music I want to play at an event, would contribute to an environment of sexism, if necessary
                  (1a) recognizing my lack of expertise and asking the opinion of someone(s) with more expertise, including the straight-up experience of being a woman, and
                  (2) setting aside my ego as necessary – adjusting or not making the episode I would personally enjoy making (etc.) if it fails the test in (1)

                  So, whether Whedon is not doing (1) – contemplating the possibility that his initial concepts for action might not live up to the things he just nodded his head in agreement with – or (2) – not seeking out feedback, or yeah-butting it when he doesn’t like what he hears and proceeding to action undeterred, I don’t know.

                  And of course I’ve never met or worked with the man, or even watched all that much of his stuff, so I can only speculate based on what I have seen and read here.

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                • I think what is required to really provide decent entertainment for women is deceptively simple.

                  1) Portraying women as people in charge of their own fate and with their own agendas rather than existing mainly for the purposes of meeting the needs of the male characters and/or male gaze of viewer, or for conveniently triggering plot points

                  2)Presenting somewhat realistic personality flaws, interpersonal relationships, and problems (even if subtextual) that are important or interesting to at least some subsection of women, hopefully without demonizing or marginalizing other subsections of women.

                  It’s NOT propaganda or pushing a particular world view. And it’s not to tick boxes off on the “gender representation” checklist.

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                  • To (1) – This is the Sucker Punch question. When is an author calling attention to the objectification of women and violence, and when is he objectifying women and violence? When is he ineptly doing one of those so it looks like he’s doing the other?

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                  • 1) Portraying women as people in charge of their own fate and with their own agendas,
                    2)Presenting somewhat realistic personality flaws, interpersonal relationships, and problems

                    Even when those personality flaws result in them not being in charge of their own fate, or being (thru no fault of their own) recipients of the male gaze?

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                    • 1) Yes, and that was the intriguing premise of Dollhouse.

                      2)Re male gaze, I have NO problem with women in skimpy clothes if the situation calls for it. “Situation” in terms of plot, character, and genre.

                      This is a Gold Bikini argument really – was it sexist for Princess Leia to be in a Gold Bikini? No, because it fit the plot, character, and genre. If she’d been wearing that when she was giving Luke and Han awards or meeting Lando for the first time, that’s different.

                      Please view this in the context the first part of my statement – to provide decent entertainment for women. I’m not trying to set myself up as the czar of Hollywood or tell anyone what they should personally enjoy.

                      Your question was what could Whedon have done differently to set himself up as making feminist entertainment and I’m trying to answer that from a creative angle, a fan’s perspective. What I’d want to see more of as a woman, from his work and that of others.

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                      • Your question was what could Whedon have done differently to set himself up as making feminist entertainment and I’m trying to answer that from a creative angle, a fan’s perspective.

                        That begs the question I was intending to ask. I meant the comment on a more philosophical level. Let me try again:

                        What concept of feminism is being invoked, and what actions must a person take, to satisfy the conditions of “being a feminist”? Seems to me the concept of feminism invoked is very narrow and singular, and that the actions taken must not only be to consistently advance that particular conception of feminism in thought an expression, but do so relentlessly.

                        Above, you provided an analysis of four characters from Firefly and how each of them reinforce misogynistic themes. I responded with an analysis in which those four characters didn’t reinforce misogynistic themes and in fact could be (not must be, but could be…) viewed as advancing a certain type of feminism. Is it possible for people to reasonably disagree that Whedon is a misogynist, or perhaps less contentiously that he’s not a feminist? Veronica D apparently believes there is no room for disagreement on this issue, presumably because (paraphrasing here) “the feminists on this board have spoken!”

                        Now, of course, I’m not suggesting you aren’t entitled to your opinion about Joss and his shows and movies. By the same token, I think I should be entitled to MY opinion about his shows and movies, and also – perhaps more importabtly – an opinion about the type of logic being employed whereby my opinion is presumably regarded as an expression of the very things Whedon is being criticized for. That’s a trap.

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                        • The fact is, Whedon sets himself up for this by making claims about the deeper meaning and message of his work. Under NO definition of feminism, from the narrowest to the broadest, is Joss Whedon’s post-Buffy work feminist. It just isn’t. If he didn’t say that it was, he’d not have opened himself up for the criticism.

                          At no point have I ever said that you’re not entitled to your opinion. Tons of people like Firefly. It’s meh for me, but then again I don’t like 50 Shades of Gray either and tons of people like that. I am simply saying why I personally have rethought my fandom and will no longer be making every excuse in the book for him, which I used to do.

                          I’m not exaggerating to prove a point, or choosing provocative words to make a controversial article. I honestly do find lots of misogynistic elements in his work, I suspect the guy has some larger issues as a result of that (ie he’s a misogynist, even if he’s unaware of it and even if others disagree with the way the term is used), and in good faith have tried to explain why I see it that way.

                          At no point have I ever said that people who don’t see it my way are bad. I enjoy thinking about stuff like this more than most do. Most people just want to come home from work and drink a beer and relax for a few minutes and not ponder the greater context and implications of silly TV shows.

                          But just because I acknowledge the reality that not everyone sees things the same way as I do, I do NOT have to then take some namby-pamby position where I throw up my hands and say “well, I suppose it’s true this is all open to interpretation, reality is subjective, the message is down to the listener”.

                          Re: the feminists have spoken, is that really so very different from someone saying “If you’re not an engineer, you can’t understand?” or “Were you hatewatching then?” or “Is this even proven that Joss Whedon calls himself a feminist?” I replied to these comments, which I found somewhat dismissive, in good faith, so I would hope you’d grant Veronica the same leeway and either respond in good faith or ignore/tolerate.

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      • That seems too much like how a religion claiming universal truth will deal with heretics. “All those who depart from the teachings of the Feminist Circles on the most minor matter will be deemed misogynist and their polluted contagions will be driven out of polite society.”

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  3. Frankly, I didn’t care for Buffy, except for the good looking girls. Firefly I enjoyed. But I’ve never viewed TV shows or said writers as demigods either.

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  4. Hard to read, but as I rewatch Joss’s oeuvre for the nth time, your conclusion is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid.

    Dollhouse was the most disturbing example; it’s unclear how the premise could ever allow the show to amount to anything more than having a sexy woman be a blank canvas onto which all the men around her could project their desires. But as you say, Firefly was a whole new level of just plain embarrassing.

    That said, I think your criticism of the violence done to women is a bit broad. In particular, your “women dead as a result of horrific violence” is drawn almost exclusively from the Buffyverse; it’s hard for me to see how the show could have evolved as it did without the deaths that occurred. And the most notable death by violence was the horrific murder of Warren at the end of Season 6. Wholesale death and destruction to a gender-balanced cast doesn’t seem like misogyny to me.

    As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to believe that artists are almost never as a great as their art. Buffy was not the creation of one man; it was the result of a confluence of circumstances. Reading about the show’s creation would be profitable. In particular, the celestial genius that was Seasons 5-7 came about, I remember, according to Joss, in the following way. Paraphrasing: “We were sitting around saying to ourselves, what is working and what is not? And it dawned on us that whenever we made things worse for Buffy, made them darker, made her have to struggle more, the show got better.” Joss was not a genius acting according to plan; he was a man on a team of people improvising, reasonably well. Another chance element: the increasing isolation of Buffy through 5-7 was written in, but was easy to act and was in part inspired by SMG’s stardom, which was in the ascendant to a much greater extent than that of the other actors.

    In short, whatever the verdict on the man, I believe the show stands on its own. I could go on, but work beckons. Thank you for the thought-provoking read, and I hope that you will consider continuing to enjoy Buffy as the isolated gem that it is.

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    • You’re absolutely right; in a show about vampires and demons and killing left and right there will be plenty of deaths. Lots of male characters have been killed off. It’s only in the greater context where I look back and say, “You know, maybe this didn’t all have to be QUITE this way.” Cordelia is my favorite example of this. In Buffy, she had her own agenda and personality, she had dreams and plans, and then in Angel she’s reduced to a loyal servant of Angel whose life is destroyed by the visions (and she doesn’t even try to save herself, just takes one for the team), falls in love with Angel, has a baby because of outside forces manipulating her, goes into a coma and dies. It’s all so pointless.

      Darla is another example; she’s resurrected largely to be tortured, miserable, and have a baby, and then die. Just didn’t feel necessary to me. Whereas Glory’s death, for instance – well duh, of course that had to happen, she’s the bad guy. :) Buffy’s mom dying had a huge emotional punch and a lot of meaning. Anya’s death, not so much.

      I completely agree that it’s a team effort on these shows, my point is that I once took anything with the “Joss stamp of approval” as something I would 110% for sure watch and enjoy, and after the Age of Ultron I just have to admit that at least for me, that’s no longer the case.

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      • I largely agree. Especially the last paragraph. It has been nothing but disappointment since Buffy. Ultron was terrible.

        I also agree with your Buffy analyses; I think the sentiment of Angel was summed up in his longing for a simpler time when men were men and women were women. The transformation of Cordelia was appalling. The overall female representation in Angel was so bad that had we been alert, we probably would have realized how wrong we were about Joss within one or two seasons. Lilah? Classic simplistic representation of a “strong woman” by someone who thinks they’re being a feminist. Horrible. And her replacement in Season 5 was 10x worse.

        I see a clear division between the deaths in Buffy and Angel, although Anya’s death, yes, was mystifying. I’ve often tried to think about it in the context of the completion of her arc; her quest for redemption failed?

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        • I completely agree. It took me years to understand why I could not connect with Angel and why watching it felt like such a chore. But now when I watch it it’s all I can see.

          Anya’s death occuring as it did annoyed me because it felt like “welp, she existed for the sake of Xander, and he dumped her, so let’s get rid of her as quick as we can without a lot of fussing about it, mmkay?” And then they did. Bummed me out.

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        • They could have done it a thousand other ways. People leave shows all the time. Heck, it’s a magic world, they could have Dr. Who’ed her and had her be reborn into a different body.

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  5. I didn’t like Joss Whedon before it was cool not to like Joss Whedon. Thats mainly because I think his shows are bad rather than anything ideological.

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      • “Cabin In The Woods” is meta-funny because it’s about the millennial-specific existential horror of “your parents are actually right, this vast system into which we feed you to be ground up as unwitting fuel actually is the only choice we have, it really is best for everyone if you buy into the lie, and if you try to fight back and find a different path everything will be destroyed right away”.

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  6. Joss knows a *LOT* about tropes. He’s one of the best deconstructers in the business.

    He knows how to tease you with the thing that you know is going to happen, then make the thing that you *SHOULD* have known was going to happen happen, so you can laugh at yourself and him for being clever at telling stories.

    I mean, go back and watch Roseanne. Many of the seasons have a thematic feel to Buffy insofar as the rule is “nobody is happy for more than one episode” and “people can surprise you by being really, really good at being themselves”. He learned from people who were really good at that and took what he learned and got *REALLY* really good at it.

    And part of that was “take the trope that people are familiar with and then change *ONE* thing and make the whole thing fresh and new” thing.

    If you really want to strum the heartstrings, though, you’re going to be telling stories about relationships… and what are the relationships that pretty much everybody has had? Child-parent. After that one? Besties. After that one? Romantic relationships.

    And if you’re using tropes as your medium, you’re going to have to choose between tropes that go back centuries and tropes that don’t.

    And if you choose the tropes that go back centuries… you’re going to find yourself with attitudes and stories that have themes that just aren’t terribly progressive.

    And if we’re in a place where “progressive” now means more or less what “Christian” meant back when I was only allowed “Christian” media, I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me that more and more Sandi Pattys have started bubbling up all over.

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    • Jay,
      Personally, I’m just asking for women to be written as decent humans, and not as horrible “man stealing emotional vampires.”
      You probably know the shows I’m talking about.
      This isn’t to say that those shows aren’t good, but if so, it’s despite the female characters. They are actively poorly drawn, not passively so.

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      • Some of them are decent humans. Some of them are man stealing emotional vampires.

        If you’re stuck only letting male characters be awesome, you’re going to find yourself with another essay complaining about how chicks are always portrayed one-dimensionally.

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        • The Wire got complaints about “why aren’t there any women?” (and this from former gangmembers). [I’m actually less upset about this than I’d be if all the women were damsels in distress]

          Breaking Bad had horrible, manipulative women and mostly only male characters allowed to be awesome. (I’m only on season 2).

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          • Breaking Bad got a lot of flack for making Skyler a terrible, not very likable character and she was. But Walter isn’t any less terrible and shouldn’t be any more likable.

            It makes perfect sense to me that Walter and Skyler would end up together or that being together would turn each into what they were.

            If folks fine her to be an overbearing shrew and him to be an antiheroic badass, I submit the problem lies with those folks more than it does with the show.

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            • At the moment (middle of Season 2), Walter is a more sympathetic character. Is he breaking the law? Sure, but we’re deliberately put in a place where everyone’s the asshole who breaks the law. It’s not just him. At which point, you have how is he acting? What is his code, and does he hew to it?

              Whereas Skyler emotionally manipulates people, and isn’t terribly good at it to boot. She’s also cowardly and unable to tolerate dissent.

              But her sister’s a bitch too.

              And Skyler is supposed to be a portrayal of a strong woman. You can Tell.

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              • Kazy,
                The show is failing in trying to portray a strong woman.

                It would be one thing if this was Cersei Lannister a person we’re supposed to somewhat understand, but who quite frankly makes terrible choices.

                To some extent, Skyler (or someone) needs to play the antagonist — but they didn’t need to make her a manipulative coward.

                Which is not to say that I would actually mind a manipulative coward — it’s just that they weren’t going for that, and happening upon it by accident makes for weird television.

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                • Just wait. The show goes much more into who Walter is and what made him go down this path. The end result is a portrayal of two flawed people dealing with their flaws. Personally, I think Skyler does a much better job, but you can judge for yourself.

                  Another show that has a similar character arc was Weeds. if you’re paying attention, who Nancy Botwin is by the end of the series is much different than who you thought she was at the beginning.

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        • re: man stealing emotional vampires…

          That’s why Darla is a fun character at first. Our heroine’s new love interest turns out to have crazy ex girlfriend. Sparks will fly.

          No one (here) is saying that you can’t have female characters who are evil, immoral, manipulative, up to and including being the very embodiment of stereotypical female flaws. Cordelia in Buffy IS a lot of those things. She’s the archetypical “mean girl” just like Darla is “crazy ex-girlfriend.” But they are operating on their own agendas. They’re causing trouble and shaking things up. Cordelia called a demon to curse her ex-boyfriend for cripes sake. Cordelia was NEVER a team player, until her personality transplant where she became Angel’s willing servant and was willing to literally die just so she could be of slightly more help to him.

          All Whedon’s female characters post-Buffy have been largely there to meet the needs of the male viewer, the male creator, or the male characters. Those two characters were used and abused on Angel (and I don’t mean by Angel, although that too, I mean by the storyline). Both of them are reduced to miserable breeding machines for Angel’s DNA, and neither gets to be a happy mother. It costs them both their lives. I would take Dollhouse a thousand times over the treatment of Cordelia and Darla.

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    • Related to this, the cricism of Inara as prostitute with a heart of gold seems particularly ill-conceived. The prostitute with a heart of gold is the trope that is being deconstructed. Criticizing the use of the trope, without noticing that she also is a high-prestige member of society who just oozes agency, seems to me an exercise in aggressively Missing The Point.

      Oh, and it’s been a while since I have watched that show, but my recollection is that it was established that Kaylee had been learning about engines long before she showed up on the ship. But I may be misremembering.

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      • I’m not criticizing the trope, per se. I can see how it could be done well in many other circumstances. I just couldn’t connect with it on Firefly. Inara had no purpose in life other than pleasing men and no purpose on the show other than to be a romantic interest for Malcolm. It’s boring to me. It lacks appeal.

        Kaylee could magically fix engines because they talked to her and she just somehow knew.

        Kaylee was hired because she was nailing a dude in the engine room and then spent the rest of the time boy-crazy and chasing Simon, who is indifferent. Inara was taken at 12 years old to be trained to be a prostitute. Zoe follows Malcolm’s orders because he’s her commanding officer and bosses around her husband because that’s what wives do. River had her mind altered against her will and was no longer in charge of her own faculties.

        None of the women in Firefly have any personal agency. They’re all very passive about their fates. It’s not a case of women making the best of a bad situation and being born into a world where they don’t make the rules – the female characters on Firefly are actually passive. Buffy was largely a victim of circumstance, but she stood up to the Watchers and broke the rules and still dared to aspire to things like going to college and having what normal life she could. I just relate to that better.

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        • atomickristin,
          Did Uhura have much agency? I’ll grant you this isn’t Voltron, but a lot of these “captain and crew” shows make the underlings without much agency at all. Particularly in a first season, when you’re supposed to be introducing people. (DS9 being the obvious counterexample).

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          • That’s true, but of course that was in 1966 and Gene Roddenberry also didn’t go around telling everyone who would listen, what a super huge feminist he is.

            Star Trek has come a long way towards giving female characters agency, in the meantime.

            I would have liked to see what Firefly had become over time (and the tv execs definitely meddled in it, to be sure) but it didn’t appeal to me.

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        • Let’s just talk about River. The climactic scene in the film, where she runs out and kills all the Reavers is exactly the moment where she takes agency. Collectively the arc she takes is a magnification of an arc I’ve watched many a girl take as they grow up.

          Because I teach martial arts. There is nothing more satisfying than to train a young woman into a life that’s more authentic and courageous, and watch them realize how much their fears have held them back. Fears that were installed in them by the culture.

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            • I can say that, based on my limited knowledge, that jujitsu would be good for women. Especially the submissions that use the legs. I’ve found women generally more flexible (useful for moves like the triangle) and quite effective if they know how to keep someone’s body weight off them.

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            • I teach Jujitsu. My sensei is a woman. The founder of the system was a Japanese-American man who lived in Hawaii in the 1920’s. We have one list, that everyone learns, that he created as a way to teach self-defense to women, because he thought women had the right to defend themselves.

              Furthermore, I am not a large person. I am short. This gives me more in common with women than a typical man does, and makes jujitsu a much better match for me.

              I also study Tai Chi. I learned it from a Chinese-American man who told us that his sister’s favorite weapon was ‘bench’ (not that it’s within the scope of tai chi practice.) Tai Chi emphasizes ‘4 ounces moves a thousand pounds’.

              Both these arts stress both feminine and masculine aspects, or yin and yang. I think a healthy person needs to manifest both qualities as required by the situation. That is where my feminism is: that ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are both social constructs, and the system of gender constrains everyone.

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              • I’d really like to pick up Tai Chi, but I’ve got just enough awareness of “I don’t think some of these people really know anything” to be skeptical about teachers, but not enough skill myself to pick them out.

                Harder styles? I’ve got a good enough foundation to tell pragmatic from stylistic, and to tell whether a given teacher is somewhat competent. (Heck, just watch their basic warm-up and conditioning routines and see if they adjust them based on age and starting health of the student and that’s a good clue of competence there).

                But Tai Chi? I wouldn’t know a decent teacher from a bad one.

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          • But those are women who have made a decision to acquire a skill and achieve mastery over their bodies, and work hard to achieve that.

            To have someone alter a human being against their will, isn’t that basically turning them into a slave? And then for the victim to use their forcibly acquired skills for their own purposes, yes, I guess that’s better than to continue being a slave, but at the same time it doesn’t feel empowering to me. Not in the way a woman voluntarily choosing to pursue martial arts does.

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          • I didn’t like it right from the start. I expected to love it and I was so excited.

            I’ve subsequently watched it several more times and I still don’t like it. I think I’ve given it every chance and then some.

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        • Inara was also the diplomat, who more often than not smoothed over the mess caused by Mal being Mal. She was also the nurturing mother aspect (in contrast to Zoe, who was the Mama Bear aspect).

          As for Kaylee (the innocent aspect), umm, you’ve never been a mechanic, have you? I have, in the Navy, for some very complex machine systems. I could know what was wrong and how to fix it just by the sound or vibrations. Kaylee’s ‘magic’ was less magic & more Whedon being bad at world building and not being able to show her experientially derived knowledge as anything but ‘magic’.

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          • My husband is a mechanic and he spends a lot of time not knowing what is wrong and troubleshooting a lot of things that don’t work out before eventually uncovering a mystery problem.

            I don’t have any problem with Kaylee being able to listen to the hum of Firefly’s engine and knowing something is wrong. That’s something any expert in a field can do. I feel the characterization of Kaylee as somehow just intuitively understanding how spaceship engines work, gives an air of passivity to someone who could have easily been an awesome character.

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            • I wish Whedon had spend half of the first 13 fleshing out the character backstories a bit more.

              Well, maybe not Book & River, since they were supposed to be enigma.

              But I do agree, an episode where Kaylee gets a backstory would have been good.

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              • Interesting. Cuz I don’t.

                I like the fact that Kaylee exhibits standard male “I wanna get some” behavior and then got hired because she exhibits standard male “I’m better at the job” behavior.

                No back story needed. Unless you think a dude in a similar sitch woulda needed a backstory to establish his skillz.

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                • No back story needed. Unless you think a dude in a similar sitch woulda needed a backstory to establish his skillz.

                  Yeah, I would, eventually. I was just willing to wait for the show to get around to it.

                  I mean, is right that people don’t learn how to maintain complex systems through osmosis. There will be learning, either through formal training, or informal training. Further, when we start getting into stuff like starship engines, unless there is a massive magic black box, you are going to need some advanced physics and engineering understanding. It’s wholly possible to learn all that informally from a person who knows it and is willing to take on an apprentice, or from books, but that’s still something that takes time and is a story to tell.

                  I can also see how someone would think Kaylee is kinda simple because she uses simple language to explain things, but I always took that as her not bothering to go into detail with people who will just glaze over and mentally retreat to their safe place until she is done.

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        • Kaylee was hired because she was nailing a dude in the engine room and then spent the rest of the time boy-crazy and chasing Simon, who is indifferent. Inara was taken at 12 years old to be trained to be a prostitute. Zoe follows Malcolm’s orders because he’s her commanding officer and bosses around her husband because that’s what wives do. River had her mind altered against her will and was no longer in charge of her own faculties.

          Alternative view:

          Kaylee was hired because she actually fixed the mechanical problem when the boy she was nailing couldn’t. She was the better mechanic. Her interest in Simon struck me as just human nature stuff.

          Inara’s role as a companion (not prostitute) was one of the most prestigious positions a person could aspire to in that society. It accorded power, money, freedom, access, agency. That her status rested on sexuality strikes me as Whedon attempting to move beyond conventional sexual morality and norms towards a more liberated place (even tho certain power structures still obtain).

          Zoe follows Malcolm’s orders because it’s his boat (nothing misogynistic about that) and Wash complains all the time about her bossing him around, per Mal’s orders, because there’s more to it than that (and they both know it). Relationship stuff.

          River was taken precisely because she was an exceptionally intelligent kid, a kid who happened to be female. Horrible things happened to her (that happens to lots of girls, yes?) in order to make her a “weapon” of the Alliance. At the end, tho, she breaks loose and finds her own agency and identity (after puking her guts up).

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      • She had a shelf full of Chilton Manuals, too.

        Remember the guy in the first Fast and the Furious who explained how he really can’t focus on anything… but cars let his mind calm down?

        That’s a good trope. I like that trope. I like variants of that trope.

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        • I do too, but we all know that guy had been working on cars since he was a little squirt and had busted knuckles and dirt under his fingernails and several car chassis in his yard to prove that he had worked hard to acquire those skills.

          It would have been excellently fun had Kaylee been putting on that dumb chick thing to manipulate Malcolm into giving her the job, and then once she got her foot in the door, she pulled out the Chiltons and started studying how best to repair Firefly-class spaceships. But they didn’t do it that way. She was portrayed as practically an idiot savant.

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            • Just because a clever set designer put some Chilton manuals in Kaylee’s room it doesn’t mean that it was set up in the plot or character.

              BTW I also dislike Torres on Voyager for much the same reason. They do very little to set her up as an expert on anything and we’re just supposed to accept that on faith. Then again, they do that with Geordi too. Not a gender thing in that case – but at least it’s not magic.

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              • Geordi actually gets some “I’m thinking here” time occasionally. Kind of like the Doctor on DS9 — since you can’t really show things that the audience can’t follow, you show people getting frustrated and having breakthroughs.

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              • See? Assuming that the set designer was behind that rather than the character is totally unfair to Kaylee.

                Dude. She knew her stuff. Remember… um… Hoedown? Shindig? Something? She controlled the room by arguing the relative merits of various ships and she held her own above and beyond the whole “let’s cater to the little lady” thing.

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                • Noone knew their stuff. In a spaceship that routinely lost gravity (and was rather cramped) people had stupid tzotchkes lying around where they could impale someone.

                  I’m sorry, but Western set design does not work in Space.

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                • “She controlled the room by arguing the relative merits of various ships and she held her own above and beyond the whole “let’s cater to the little lady” thing.”

                  Yeah, I always thought that was a pretty good Trope Twister.

                  Disclaimer, Joss and I are not even social media friends. Or acquaintances.

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                • She says she knows how to fix ships because “she just knows”. I’m not sure how much plainer it can be than that. Unless it was clearly established that this was a clever ploy on her part, I gotta take those words at face value.

                  In “Shindig” she had actually been cruelly rejected by the other women first and then joined the menfolk talking engines because that’s where she “belonged” having failed at femininity.

                  I’m surprised anyone found that to be a deconstructed trope at all. I find it to be a very standard trope that’s used quite a lot from Jane Austen to Little House on the Prairie to The Devil Wears Prada. “Your clothes are terrible, you ignorant bumpkin, how dare you not know your place??” But then the woman shows them up by excelling at some other thing entirely.

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                  • Again, are you now, or have you ever been a mechanic? Seriously, I’ve worked on cars, boats, ships, turbine powered hovercraft, and then computers and networks.

                    “S/He just knows” is far more common than you think, especially among people without formal training.

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                    • My husband is a mechanic and there is currently a Ford 9N (carburetor, I think) taken apart on my dining room table.

                      But I do get where you’re coming from. In my day job (which is not mechanics but something also fairly complex) many’s the time I just know what is wrong and what to tweak to fix it. I can’t always explain it, but I can tell what to do differently. It’s like a 6th sense.

                      The thing is, the reason why I know that is because I studied really hard and have years of experience. That came FIRST, before the intuition part of it.

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                      • atom,
                        My husband types things into the computer. The computer then does things. By the time you asked him “what the hell did you just type” he’s forgotten. It’s all muscle memory.

                        “I want, I give signal, Stuff happens.”

                        Intuition is a different skill set than “I can forget everything! Except the really important stuff.”

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                      • See, I just always operated under the assumption that Kaylee grew up around ships, and hence had a great deal of experience and informal training. Nothing was ever said otherwise, and I figured the show would get around to her backstory to give me that explanation.

                        So now my question is, given that you do understand the intuitive part, why are you assuming it’s ‘magic’ and not just unfilled backstory?

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                        • oscar,
                          I didn’t (ships seemed rare if you weren’t on a mechanic/city world). but given how many different engines and stuff are required (they have power lines!)… dude, it makes sense for a “general mechanic” to be decent at fixing the shipengine.

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                          • I know how to fix three types of motors; piston driven IC, turbine IC, and electric motors. I can also figure my way around wankel type. The specifics of any given configuration is important, but they all have enough similarities that I can troubleshoot major issues on the fly, and minor issues once I have a chilton manual handy.

                            So assuming that all ships of a similar size/class use the same basic drive technology, a person well versed in one or two would require very little time to spin up on others in the same class.

                            Note the spin up time will vary if you go from small to large. So a person who knows how to maintain a small turbine (like, say, on a thunderboat) would need more time to learn the systems on a destroyer or cruiser than the tech on a ship would need to learn the thunderboat, because of complexity.

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                        • I thought her character shape was supposed to be ‘shadetree mechanic’. Western in space, right?

                          I mean technically that’s blacksmith, but shadetree mechanic works. No formal training, but a lot of experience keeping old stuff running. A love of all the shiny powerful toys.

                          It’s not even a subversion, really, except the ‘natural/prodigy mechanic’ is generally male.

                          I certainly didn’t blink an eye. I assumed if there was to be backstory, that would be it — grew up among old machines, loved them, taught herself to fix them/took over the job of fixing them, became a love/hobby/amateur profession. (When you’re poor, you don’t buy replacements when you can rig it to keep it working, after all).

                          It’s not like Serenity was a brand new ship. IIRC, she was an old one — hardly any left.

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                        • Because she said it was.

                          If it was just this one thing it wouldn’t have been a big deal. I would have accepted it at face value. But it’s not this one thing. It is an ongoing theme. Regular girls who through some outside, usually mystical influence, become “special” in some way. And I don’t mean “everyone is special in their own way”, I mean special as in “superhero level special”.

                          Buffy: regular girl who is chosen one
                          Willow: regular girl who learns magic
                          Cordelia: regular girl who gets helpful visions
                          Inara: regular girl who is taken to academy to become companion
                          River: regular girl who is altered to become supersmart killing machine
                          Kaylee: regular girl who has some kind of innate natural talent to fix engines

                          Do you see the theme here? I am simply stating a desire for the occasional appearance of a regular girl (and I mean a truly regular girl, not amazingly beautiful like Inara or exceptionally gifted like River) who excels through determination and hard work. It would have taken literally no more space in the script.

                          Even comic books have characters that weren’t bitten by radioactive spiders sometimes.

                          Aside- I acknowledge that Buffy, Willow, and probably Inara worked hard to achieve their skills and there are burdens that come with these skills for most of these characters. It’s just an overall vibe that I find disappointing.

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                          • I heartily disagree with you about Kaylee, you really have to be very uncharitable toward the character & the fact that the show got cut off before we had a chance to get a backstory.

                            Listen, when I got out of the Navy in 1995, I had never owned a computer or even worked with them very much. I had some money so I bought a basic custom built PC. I took to it like a fish to water. Within a year I had rebuilt the whole thing at least once & had graduated from Windows 3.1 to Windows NT 3.51. I was also working as a SysAdmin & learning networking. I have a knack for computers, it’s almost like they speak to me.

                            I have no trouble accepting that Kaylee has a knack for starships that was refined by a set of experiences we just never had a chance to learn about.

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                            • Knack is a good word. I like knack. If they’d have had her say “I just have a knack for it” then it wouldn’t have stood out to me at all. That communicates a natural ability but also something that is learned.

                              “They speak to me” is not the same thing.

                              A big part of my beef here is the passivity of the female characters in Angel and Firefly. I have a knack is not passive. Machines got workins and they talk to me is passive.

                              If it was just this one tiny thing, I wouldn’t even have noticed it.

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                              • You are hanging an awful lot of disappointment on the turn of a phrase, especially from a character not well known for being loquacious.

                                I mean, if no one have ever described to her the idea that she has a knack, if her only context was “they speak to me”, then that is how she describes her knack.

                                And again, we never get her backstory, so you are making this judgement on very little data.

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                                • But this isn’t “the 10 nitpicky reasons I don’t like Kaylee”. It isn’t even “reasons I don’t like Firefly”. It was “over time, looking back, I spy a greater trend here that I don’t like”. I didn’t flesh out my objections to Kaylee overall, I picked one thing (little, tiny, insignificant) that I felt was indicative of a larger issue that I have. I had a realization and looking back on it, I see this thread that I didn’t pick up on before.

                                  Nearly all the women in the Whedonverse are magically delicious. Exceptional either because they’re born that way (Inara being exceptionally beautiful, Buffy is the Chosen One) or because they’re altered by some outside force (Willow, Cordelia) or both (River and Fred are both geniuses to start out with, who are then later altered).

                                  There is not a single “everywoman” character like Zander, for example. Even Tara is half-demon. Most of the guys are just dudes. Not all, but most. Giles may be a Watcher but he’s not super human. Malcolm is not super human, Jayne is not super human, Wash is not super human, Riley’s not super human, Wesley’s not super human. They’re all foible-y and stuff.

                                  The one female character who is not presented as super exceptional is Kaylee (maybe Zoe, but she was a superior fighter and we don’t totally know her background so I can’t say for sure with her) . They couldn’t resist the temptation, they had to give her some kind of inherent talent that sets her apart from the crowd. It’s presented as inborn, a gift from the gods, rather than something that she herself did.

                                  It’s the phrasing. It’s not something any other woman could aspire to, she can do this because machines talk to her. We can argue if this is because of unexplored history or whatever but they selected a certain type of phrasing in the way the character referred to her own abilities. Passive. She was touched by greatness. It’s something that just happened to her that sets her above everyone else. It doesn’t have to be supernatural, it’s no different than being born a super genius like Fred and River, or beautiful like Inara.

                                  Now, standing on its own it would be nothing to me at all, that’s why it seems like such a nitpicky little detail. But in light of all the other stuff, it just seems very odd to me that they couldn’t even create ONE female character without giving her a preternatural ability. That’s why it’s remarkable – because even when the opportunity arises to create a character without resorting to some sort of special ability, they didn’t. It’s like they couldn’t, or something.

                                  Now, I get that everyone can say “oh it’s just the trope”, the guys are largely helpless and the women save them using traditionally male skills. That’s by design. Ok, I accept that. But at some point, when a creator is repeatedly making a very loud claim that they write strong women, I would like an actual, unremarkable woman to show up and be strong. At some point. On her own terms, on her own merits, not because of some inborn skillset that none of the rest of us could ever hope to attain.

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                                  • Nearly all the women in the Whedonverse are magically delicious.

                                    Whedon Women Charms, they’re magically delicious!

                                    Sorry, had to get that out of my head.

                                    You may be right about all the other Whedon Women tropes, I’m not well versed enough in his writing to know (I watched Angel & Firefly, but only a bit of Dollhouse and almost zero Buffy). But I did watch Firefly, and Serenity, and own the DVDs, and in that case, I think you are reaching (excepting River, who is more plot device than character).

                                    Zoe isn’t a preternaturally good fighter, she’s an OK fighter who happens to be brave and very decisive, which are two very good (and not inherent, but rather hard won) qualities to have in a soldier.

                                    Inara isn’t just beautiful, she also spent years training as a Companion. Her talents and skills are also earned through determination and experience.

                                    I assume Kaylee’s skills are also as hard won, but the whole character is passive. Kaylee is a scared little girl trying very hard not to be. Having her stand up and tell everyone that she spent 20 years working hard alongside a talented family member or friend while she learned everything she knows (so damnit, she knows of that which she speaks) is not who she is. She isn’t Inara, or Zoe, even though she very much wants to be.

                                    Hell, the three women represent cardinal aspects of feminism (protective, nurturing, girly) who are all operating in territory commonly held by men (soldier, diplomat, engineer). You may be right that Whedon sucks at crafting female characters, but in Firefly, I thought he did very well.

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                                  • Riley’s not super human

                                    Except, of course, that super-solider serum they had him on.

                                    The one female character who is not presented as super exceptional is Kaylee (maybe Zoe, but she was a superior fighter and we don’t totally know her background so I can’t say for sure with her) .

                                    So you’re seeing Zoe as maybe an example of ‘women given powers’ but not Malcolm, despite the fact they *literally have the exact same backstory*? Their backstory is they were both soldiers in the war, they worked well together, after the war they went into business together? That is all the backstory we know of them, and it is completely identical between the two.

                                    I don’t know a clearer sign that you’ve decided to read things into the show beyond what is actually there then the fact you’ve imagined a different implicit backstory for Zoe than for Mal!

                                    And, again: Assuming a woman can’t be a competent soldier and fighter without some sort of superpower sounds *awfully close* to sexism.

                                    because they’re altered by some outside force (Willow, Cordelia)

                                    …you say, ignoring the fact we saw Willow learn magic over six years. Willow was ‘altered’ to be a villain…she wasn’t ‘altered’ to have magical powers. She had those and were working at those as far back as season *two*, when she did the spell to bring Angel’s soul back, then really started focusing on it when she met Tara in season four.

                                    I guess working at a skill for six years in full view of the audience doesn’t count as women aspiring to something and succeeding and must be some special skill they’re just granted. Obviously, can’t aspire to what is going on *here*, it’s magic, it’s not real…but in the Buffyverse, it’s implied to be something almost anyone can do at the lower levels. Not only does Xander pull off some spells, but totally random people do too. Frickin Jonathon rewrites reality!

                                    Willow practices for years at something and gets really good at it. Oh noes.

                                    Meanwhile, Cordelia getting the powers was just an example of real life writing the plot. Doyle’s actor was leaving the show, which at the time had three main characters. The visions (Which were an important part of the show) had to go to Cordelia or Angel, and Angel already had enough on his plate, character-wise.

                                    or both (River and Fred are both geniuses to start out with, who are then later altered).

                                    That is an extremely odd way to describe Fred. Fred is a genius who was a genius for several seasons and then was *killed*, and the actress continued to play the thing that murdered her.

                                    Even Tara is half-demon.

                                    Tara is not a half-demon. That was a lie by her family.

                                    There is not a single “everywoman” character like Zander, for example.

                                    This is because women keep *getting* powers, because the show (Being basically a comic book) is extremely susceptible to super-power creep. You appear to think retroactively changes their roll in the show previously.

                                    At *almost* every particular point in time for the run of the show, there are at least *two* ‘everywoman’:

                                    For the first three seasons of Buffy we had Willow (And quickly Cordelia also), neither of which had any real powers or skills to speak of. (Willow was a hacker, yes, which might have been a useful skill if Buffy was Leverage or something, but here is was just mostly ‘Got the plans to the building’ or ‘Looked up old newspapers’. Hacking is a superpower on some shows…it’s not on Buffy.)

                                    Season 4 and 5, it was Anya, taking over Cordelia’s roll in the show as the blunt-talking comic relief, and Willow. And a bit of Tara.

                                    Season 6 really is where we lose Willow as an everywoman, not just because of her villainous behavior, but right at the start of the season, because she’s actually started using magic in huge amounts and is a force to be reckoned with. (It can be argued this happened right before the end of season 5.) We also eventually lose Tara because of the breakup, and Anya because of *that* breakup and her becoming a vengeance demon again. For a while in season 6, the only everywoman was, possibly, Dawn, and that’s a bit arguable. (Because she was so young, not because she was technically a magical ball of energy.)

                                    Season 7, we get Willow back as an everywoman, as she’s mostly depowered herself. We also quickly get Anya back. And then we get an *entire boatload* of normal human women of all walks of life, and the only reason they aren’t very good everywomen is that there are so many of them the show can’t figure out who to focus on. But I think Kennedy and Vi both qualify to some extent.

                                    Note the show gave *all other* male character besides Xander bigger and bigger powers, too. Giles got a retcon backstory that made him powerful-ish at magic, and Oz became a werewolf, Angel and Spike were vampires, Riley was being doped past human norms, Andrew was already good at magic…maybe Robin didn’t get any powers, but he was only around for a season.

                                    Same as on Angel. I guess Wesley didn’t technically get any *superpowers* at any time (He just inexplicably became badass and super-knowledgeable.), but everyone else, male and female, did. (Well, if you count Fred dying.)

                                    Basically, what happened here is that the Buffy writers refused to give Xander, and *only Xander*, a superpower, so he got to stay as the everyman, whereas the show kept ramping up the skills and powers of the women, so had to keep *rotating* the everywoman (Actually, everywomen, because we normally had a normal one and a snarky rude one.) to a character that currently wasn’t superpowered.

                                    I am a little baffled as to how to read ‘Show refuses to give one single male character a superpower’ as a sign of misogyny or…as a sign of anything, really. The writers clearly liked Xander in that position, they thought it worked well that way, and, frankly, they didn’t have a hell of a lot of male characters running around on Buffy to play musical chairs with.

                                    But at some point, when a creator is repeatedly making a very loud claim that they write strong women, I would like an actual, unremarkable woman to show up and be strong.

                                    I feel I should point out that Cordelia’s visions *in no way whatsoever* contributed to any of her skills at…anything. And she was shown to be a pretty strong character well before getting the visions. Watch Homecoming again and tell me she’s not a strong character as she bluffs Lyle Gorch by claiming she’s a better vampire slayer than Buffy. (Hell, watch *everything she does* before she gets the powers, and tell me she’s not a strong woman.)

                                    Of course, she’s a pretty *remarkable* woman, but that’s not due to her powers.

                                    Likewise, Anya might have been a ‘remarkable’ character with her history, but spent *almost all of her screen time* having no powers whatsoever.

                                    You want ‘unremarkable’ women, or, hell, unremarkable *people*, you were watching the wrong show. Even Xander was pretty remarkable. (To quote Buffy, he has racked up more field time than all of the Watcher’s Council combined.)

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                  • That’s not the anti-trope. The subversive element is that she fails at being a “conventional” woman and is rejected by those women…only to resurface in an unreconstructed man’s world; she doesn’t have some hidden “womanly” skill that other women envy, nor is she rescued by uncommon manly virtue… What made the scene interesting (in my decidedly non-feminist opinion) was the genuine (well, acted genuine) enjoyment of Kaylee and the boys in conversation.

                    Whether or not that is feminist or not, I couldn’t say… I’m just defending the anti-anti-trope point. Though possibly you are thinking of some other Austen moment that hasn’t occurred to me that would illustrate your point.

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              • “Just because a clever set designer put some Chilton manuals in Kaylee’s room ”

                OK hold up. How exactly would you want them to convey the process of her learning about spaceship propulsion systems? Like, what, you want a backstory with a training montage? From a show that had thirteen episodes and one movie?

                Criticial analysis of a media work must look at the whole work. Splitting out individual parts and focusing on those can illuminate certain aspects of the attitudes and beliefs of the creators, but those must be looked at in the context of the complete work–because, of necessity, a work is the result of multiple actors (in this case, some literal actors) and is therefore inherently a gestalt.

                Meaning, no, handwaving away the Chilton manuals as “just set dressing” because you want Kaylee to be a negative portrayal doesn’t work.

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                • I don’t “want” Kaylee to be a negative portrayal. I found her to be.

                  Rather than a backstory or a montage, maybe she could say “I worked at a scrapyard on Planet X before the Reavers came.” Would’ve done used the exact same amount of screen time and stayed true to the character and the world. “My parents ran the fix-it shop on Docking Ring Y. I grew up on a Firefly doing the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs and I used to hang out in the engine room. I went to school at the Alliance Academy before the…unfortunate incident.”

                  Or she didn’t have to say anything. She knows how to fix the ship, the former engineer didn’t, she gets the job. Or she bluffs her way in and fakes her way through by studying Chilton manuals and working hard at it. anything is better than “gee IDK just intuition I guess.”

                  If you want to see a fun treatment of a female engineer, check out the episode Furlow on Farscape. Not quite as cute as Kaylee though.

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                  • Again, 13 episodes, cancelled mid-season. IIRC, by that point, we kinda had some backstory on Mal & Zoe, a little bit on Jane & Wash, a bit more on River and Simon, and damn little on Inara & Book. He seemed to be taking his sweet time filling in the back stories.

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                    • Archer’s way worse about that, by the way. Backstory that was supposed to hit you like a ton of bricks… put off so long that what was supposed to have an impact had already been diluted by everyone else’s crappy stories.

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                  • Thinking about Kaylee.
                    I believe she said “my dad says it’s a gift…Machines and engines just talk to me”.
                    That statement made me under that her dad possibly had training or because of her dad she was around machines. So I guess I feel like it satisfied my need for her training.

                    Inara, I always read as the pro social, big government is good kinda character. Yes there was mother aspects, and titillating aspects to her career, but she always defaulted until the very end to what I see right now as a liberal, progressive, socialist.

                    I liked Firefly. I LOVED Buffy. I like Angel.
                    After seeing whedon call Ivanka Trump a pekeniese, I was frustrated. (Also a libertarian…So people don’t jump me…I didn’t like either side). Having sat with this and read your article….I think the word we want is not misogyny, or sexism, but exploitation.

                    Joss whedon may love women, and want to be a feminist, but he’d rather exploit his female characters than develop them.

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                    • I suspect that had I used the word exploitative people would have found issue with that as well. There’s a deliberateness to exploiting people, it’s an intentional act. I actually would love to give the guy the benefit of the doubt. It may not even be something he’s entirely aware of. The only term that I’m aware of that implies this is internalized misogyny, and internalized misogyny has an awful lot of syllables.

                      That having been said it’s definitely been a learning experience for me and had I to do it again I’d explain better what I meant. I did not realize people viewed the word so much differently than I do (did, anyway).

                      RE Kaylee, I tried to ignore the “my dad said so” aspect of it because to me, that just makes it kinda worse. Like not only could she not have acquired the skills through any other way but an innate gift, it also has her dad’s seal of approval. I felt like that would open up a can of worms where I am now suggesting that fathers can’t teach daughters things, and I’m not at all. I would have been fine with that.

                      But she didn’t say her dad taught her. She said she somehow just knew. “my dad taught me” or “I grew up around engines” would have taken the exact same amount of time in the script and carried with it a totally different flavor.

                      From a creative aspect it’s also a hugely missed opportunity. How about “Well, growing up we didn’t have nothing to read but Chilton manuals and the Bible, ‘n after I read that a couple-three times, I kinda got the gist.”

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                  • Or she didn’t have to say anything. She knows how to fix the ship, the former engineer didn’t, she gets the job. Or she bluffs her way in and fakes her way through by studying Chilton manuals and working hard at it. anything is better than “gee IDK just intuition I guess.”

                    I’m actually finding your argument that ‘naturally understands engines’ is something that *needs to be explained* in the sense of Kaylee as a bit sexist.

                    Do we need, or get, an explanation of why Topher is good at computers?

                    A character being intuitively good at some specific skill is a pretty standard trope in TV, (And works as a backstory until we get a real one), including having them unable to really explain why they’re good at it or how they know what they do.

                    The fact you seem to be hung up on a *woman* being intuitively good at *engineering*, and demand some sort of explanation for that, is….uh…weird, and hard not to see as sexist itself. She doesn’t have to *justify* why she’s good at something….and making women justify why they are experts, when men do not have to do that, is pretty sexist!

                    Especially, with her comments about her ship, as she’s intended to be a reference to another intuitive mechanic who talked about *his* ship as a living person and how it had moods and whatnot…Scotty. She even almost starting a fistfight because someone insulted her ship! Kaylee is what you get when you take Scotty and make her a female bubbly hick instead of a male Scotsman.

                    And you’ve decided that the comments about her father indicate she needed his approval, instead of what they were clearly intended to convey: a) she’s been good at machines her entire life (Which implies she’s been working on them her entire life, something everyone else already assumed but you apparently want stated…so there it is!), and b) her father exists and is alive, and presumably doesn’t have any problem with Kaylee’s interests, aka, she’s from a loving, supportive family. (In a Joss Whedon show, that probably does need explicitly stating.)

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                    • We DON’T need an explanation of why Kaylee is good at fixing engines! That’s my entire point. She knew how to fix the engine, displayed the ability and aptitude, was hired. No problem. No explanation was required.

                      The show itself offered the explanation. The explanation given was intuition. The character herself said it was intuitive, that machines just talk to her. I required no explanation, I just don’t care for the one that was given. If you would like to explain that away as being implied, that’s fine. But I don’t have to see it as a moment representative of Joss Whedon’s feminism.

                      I have given several examples of how it could have been done differently, including that it didn’t even have to be explained. Any more than Jayne being a good man in a fight needed to be explained.

                      I think this is really quite misrepresentative of my position.

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                      • There are basically only two ways to take what you said:

                        1) You think *women* being described as intuitively good with machines is a bad explanation, which is pretty sexist.

                        2) You think *anyone* being described as intuitively good with machines is a bad explanation, which is not sexist, but doesn’t make any sense, because people are described that way all the time, in fiction *and even in real life*.

                        Kaylee is clearly intended to be a mechanical nerd. She mentioned twice that her father thought she was skilled with machines, which means she’s worked on *some* amount of machines in front of him, and she appears to have a reputation for her work. (And considering how young she is, she had to have started *really* young.) This is 100% standard ‘not really a backstory yet’ backstory.

                        You seem to think the show is implying something else is, like Kaylee is somehow supernaturally gifted…so either you just had some pretty weird brain misfire at some point and thought the show was implying something that doesn’t exist (Kaylee would not be implying actual psychic powers in a universe that, as far as they know at that point, doesn’t have them.), or you’re getting hung up on a *woman* just having a natural aptitude for mechanical stuff and think, because that seem so unlikely, it must be some supernatural thing.

                        So, let’s have it definitively: Do you think Kaylee has *actual powers*? Do you think that was what the show was getting at?

                        I’m pretty sure you’re going to have to say no to that, because that is obviously wrong within any reasonable interpretation of the show.

                        And without that…you’re just basically objecting to a woman being intuitively good at machines with no reason other than ‘she just is good at them’.

                        Seriously, the trope you’re talking about is *real*, where men can have all sorts of skills for no reason, but the skills and abilities of women have to have an explanation. I.e., a man can just be naturally good at fighting, whereas a woman spent years take self-defense classes because [insert reason]. This is a real thing, and it’s perfectly valid to complain about it, because it implies that women are some sort of blank slate and any addition must be explained.

                        But you’ve decided that trope applies here, to a place where the ‘explanation’ is basically ‘There isn’t any explanation beyond natural skill.’

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                        • A presentation of a person being intuitive and a person knowing something primarily because of intuition are two entirely different things.

                          In the posts above someone used the word “knack” and I think that’s a perfect fit. Can someone have a knack for something, sure, but having a knack for something has a totally different implication than “machines speak to me”. Having a knack implies ownership, implies doing something that you discover you’re good at and and you enjoy and you keep doing it and get better and better. “Machines speak to me” is just an accident of fate.

                          I am not and at no time have objected to a woman being good with machines. It is the presentation, that it’s presented as being a fluke thing that she has no ownership of and no power over, just something that happened, good fortune, being smiled upon by the gods.

                          She has a knack. She gets the job. It doesn’t have to be explained. The explanation could have given her more self-ownership even if it was a throwaway line like “I have a knack” or “My dad taught me”. That’s cool too. It could have been written a thousand ways but it wasn’t. It was written in a very passive voice. The guy calls himself a feminist that writes strong women and I think since he does that he should be held to a higher standard.

                          It is not this one moment or that one moment. It’s the overall tone of these later shows where the female characters are simply an embodiment of whatever set of skills or attributes the male characters or plot requires and then spend the rest of the time either insane or in a coma, or else wringing their hands about not doing their jobs good enough.

                          It’s just offputting to me.

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              • All technology in Start Trek is magic. In fact, most of the solutions to problems in the not-so-good Star Trek episodes amount to, “And now I will cast this magic spell using a principle of magic that nobody has heard of up to this very moment in time…” I give them a pass because it’s very hard to show that a character has legitimate expertise in nonsense without just having them do cool stuff while saying nonsense.

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                • Those guys and gals went to Starfleet Academy. There is a huge difference between suspending disbelief in a world in which we assume technology and a high level of training is coming into play and suspending disbelief that people can fix engines with absolutely no training because “engines got workings, and they talk to me”.

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                  • Though the way Star Trek handles it is actually worse, imo, because the Academy can’t possibly teach people to be preternatural mechanics, preternatural military tacticians, preternatural science researchers, and preternatural leaders. Though that’s more the problem of the severe lack of enlisted rates for most of the show’s run

                    (And then there was the Worst. Episode. Ever., when Doc Crusher took the deck and the conn.)

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                    • Well, if you assume the following it can:

                      1. AI assisted teaching. One-on-one education that ‘learns’ your learning style, can tell when you grok something or not, and can tailor lessons on the fly to keep you engaged, retain knowledge, and truly understand the subject matter.
                      2. Some sort of “shove knowledge into the brain” kind of education. Maybe it only works on the basics (call it, say, BA or BS level) but if “college” manages to shove a broad array of information into your head to give you a solid background over a truly ridiculous number of fields, then you can tailor your ‘learn it the old way’ classes more towards application and utilization of knowledge.

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                      • I chalk this up to superior educational techniques, high levels of motivation among Starfleet cadets, and positive attitudes towards learning in the culture as a whole.

                        As an example, Scotty took the Kobayashi Maru test to become a captain and because of his results Starfleet strongly recommended (ie manipulated him into) going into engineering instead because of his natural aptitude and interest.

                        http://memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/The_Kobayashi_Maru

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                    • College students waste an awful lot of time studying prerequisites to be “well rounded” people. (my college-aged son had to take yoga this quarter, as an example – an hour a day, 4 days a week.)

                      I can imagine a culture which values learning more than ours, and in which students were more highly motivated, creating “well rounded” people by better educating young people long before they got to Starfleet Academy. Thus instead of wasting time on yoga class, Wesley Crusher is learning quantum mechanics an hour a day 4 days a week.

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                        • I have always found it rather dystopian that the people in Star Trek seem to have little working knowledge and no appreciation for the culture of our times (ie, always listening to classical music and quoting Shakespeare) Almost as if it’s been forcibly excised from history or something. TV is “no longer watched” and this is said with disdain.

                          They’ve played with this a few times, giving Tom Paris a love of Flash Gordon type shows, Picard and his detective novels, and of course in the newest movie when Jaylah plays hip-hop and Scotty refers to it as “classical”.

                          I’m sure it’s just to keep the universe a manageable size, but I’ve always liked to imagine what sort of horrible purge took place. Bonfires of television sets, DaVinci Code books, and Def Leppard albums…

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                    • For this, the original Star Trek was a victim of its times — the lone genius engineer meme from the Golden Age of science fiction was still in flower. In the case of one Montgomery Scott, none of the other shows/movies have let go of it. Here we have a person who can not only master the mathematics behind both warp and transporter science, but can cobble together a system for transwarp beaming out of assorted bits and pieces. It says horrible things about the Academy’s evaluation of its officer candidates that such a man is stuck in a tiny outpost, out-of-touch, and not in a high-end lab somewhere.

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                    • Ironically, the tie-in novel (“Doctor’s Orders”) in which Dr. McCoy is stuck with the conn in what Kirk had intended to be a teaching moment – is among the best of the hundreds of books.

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    • Also, counting Buffy’s death(s) misses the point. The whole basis of the show is undermining the trope of the helpless female. Little blonde girl is walking down the dark hallway when the monster jumps out. Bad for the blonde? Nope: Bad for the monster. This eventually works is way around the the hero self-sacrificing to save the world. This one was old back when Jesus did it, though it was freshened up with the twist that He wasn’t merely a hero. Having the hero be a heroine is part and parcel of the deconstruction of the helpless little blonde trope.

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    • I’m no Sandi Patty to be sure. It’s not a trope thing. The trope is not the issue. It’s the execution. Aside from the female characters in Buffy, the Whedonverse has been replete with female characters who not only don’t control their own fate – they don’t WANT to. They’re ok with meeting Angel’s needs or Malcolm’s needs or whoever’s needs and their angst comes primarily from “oh gosh I’m not doing this good enough.” It’s just deadly dull to me and at some point, it became offputting.

      Women’s fate throughout history has been somewhat out of their hands in the big picture. The interesting stories (to me, as a woman) come from women taking control of what they can in the small picture. Lady MacBeth, as an example, was not bashing patriarchy or fighting vampires but conspiring with her husband to seize the throne of Scotland. This is certainly an old trope but not one in which women are passively waiting around wondering how best they can serve Angel because he needs them so much.

      Women are many things but very few of them are passive victims (even the ones who pretend that they are.) :)

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      • Oh, pardon me. I wasn’t suggesting that you were a Sandi Patty. I was suggesting that Joss was one.

        I kinda liked Zoe in Firefly.

        As for the execution, I can dig that. I think a lot of it amounts to him looking at a very old story, updating it, and changing one major thing in a fairly interesting way (and keeping the “nobody is happy for more than one episode” rule).

        Don’t get me wrong: I’m not defending him against charges of misogyny! (It’s not like Sandi Patty didn’t cheat on her husband!) I’m just saying that there’s a baby in that bathwater.

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        • Gotcha! I took that to mean “purists coming out of the woodwork to criticize immorality” but now I catch your drift.

          I liked the potential of Zoe, Kaylee, and Inara. A lot. The River character, I’m kinda over that whole thing but would have tolerated her had the other three female characters been more engaging. That’s why Firefly was so frustrating to me. I could see where it could have gone but didn’t, and in retrospect I think the reason why it didn’t is because the girls were there for the sake of the dudes (both viewers and characters) and not for ME. Buffy was for me. That’s all.

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          • Its difficult to blame firefly for not going anywhere with the characters because it was cancelled halfway through the first season. Angel is rightly criticisable because it ran for 5 or 6 seasons. Firefly didnt even run for 1.

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            • But one could make an argument that maybe if the female characters would have been more relatable, more people would have watched…I do think it’s a valid criticism.

              I certainly didn’t clear my schedule to watch Firefly, and I was a huge Whedon fan and I love the premise. I know a lot of people adore it, but it didn’t grab me from the gate. I know, I know, the meddling on the part of the TV execs was a pretty big deal – but even when I was able to sit and watch every episode, I did not connect with the show.

              The first episode I saw of Buffy and Angel both I was on the edge of my seat. Even Dollhouse was more intriguing to me at first than Firefly. So while I agree I’d have loved to see where Firefly went, eventually, I don’t think it’s unfair to view it as a part of the guy’s overall work.

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      • Okay, you classed up the joint by bringing The Bard into this, so let’s run with that.

        Lady Scottish Play is susceptible to the criticism you’re applying here. She’s not immune to it, anyway. Let’s play:

        Here’s your line: “Lady MacBeth, as an example, was not bashing patriarchy or fighting vampires but conspiring with her husband to seize the throne of Scotland. This is certainly an old trope but not one in which women are passively waiting around wondering how best they can serve Angel because he needs them so much.”

        Sure, at the beginning, Lady Scottish Play is all hard and cold and Scottish Play Himself is the one doing all of the waffling and she gets one of the top three speeches in the play and she gets her waffling guy to kill Duncan but then stuff keeps happening for a while and we get to Act Five and she gives one of the other top three speeches in the play because she’s totally fallen apart after, let’s face it, being the deciding factor in her husband ruining everything. Then she kills herself! What the hell! Leading to Scottish Play Himself giving the last of the top three speeches in the play.

        She turns into Lady Waffle as the play progresses and Scottish Play Himself turns into a rod of whatever the hell it is that he was before getting Éowyned at the end there.

        What we needed is a Lady Scottish Play that doesn’t turn to Eggo. What we got was sexist claptrap.

        There. For what it’s worth, I’m not entirely on board with the above.
        But I could see how someone might argue it without being foundationless.

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        • That was pretty funny, thanks for posting.

          My point, of course, was not that a 400+ year old play should be held up as a paragon of feminism in entertainment, but that despite women being largely powerless in society (at least as history would have us believe) they are/were never really passive victims of fate, not in the way that Whedon frequently portrays pretty much all female characters post-Buffy. Even women in the most horrible circumstances try to control their universes by controlling their environment and influencing others in whatever way they can. Lady MacBeth may have used machinations, plotting, scheming, manipulation – of course these are qualities we define as negative, but at least she had some agency.

          Buffy was the Chosen One, a gig that largely sucked, but she stood up to the Watchers and even to Giles and managed to have something of a life. Willow wanted to learn magic and did, by working hard over the course of many seasons to learn it. Cordelia was a bully who ran the school, and when Buffy came along and turned her world upside down, she dealt with it and joined the Scoobies but she didn’t turn into a totally different person. Anya was selfish and greedy and joined the Scoobies but again, she didn’t turn into a totally different person. She was still selfish and greedy. Even the bad girls were operating on their own agendas and not anyone else’s. Darla, Faith, Glory, Amy, even the whiny weak characters like Harmony and Drusilla had their moments.

          A girl that has had her mind forcibly altered so she’s super smart and can beat people up is not the same thing, I’m sorry but it just isn’t.

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          • Well, here’s what I’d say for Buffy (as someone who never watched it).

            There were many goals. One of them was to provide a Feminist Argument to guys like me. Hey, here’s this awesome show, dealing with awesome tropes, it’s got awesome themes, it’s got a Strong Female Protagonist, and you’re going to watch it anyway because it’s awesome.

            Don’t compare it to the television show you wish it were. It came out in 1997.

            Man, 1997 was… wait, this can’t be right. My note here says that 1997 was 20 years ago.

            Instead of getting depressed, I’m going to press on.

            It shouldn’t be compared to the show you would want to watch in 2017.

            You need to compare it to the shows that were on in 1997.

            Let’s scroll down… 7th Heaven… Ally McBeal… JAG… Frasier… Ooooh! Dawson’s Creek!

            The Nanny, Family Matters, Walker Texas Ranger…

            That’s what it has to be compared to.

            In the same way that we need to understand that The Scottish Play is somewhat chronologically challenged, we need to understand that (I’m going to bring this up again), Buffy came out 20 years ago.

            We were still using 56K modems.

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            • I was using an example that I thought everyone would immediately know. I’m not gonna get sucked into discussing why MacBeth isn’t a feminist masterpiece or why we should cut Buffy some slack because it came out 20 years ago and it’s better than 7th Heaven. Because that was never what I was doing at all and it’s changing horses in midstream.

              It is fully possible even in situations where female characters have very little control over their fates, to show that they’re still doing stuff constantly to better their situation and get what they want out of life. Even if it doesn’t work out for them in the end, like Lady MacBeth, they’re doing it. And it doesn’t always have to, or even usually mesh with what the male characters are doing.

              It is NOT a prerequisite for good women’s entertainment that everyone live in a futuristic social justice commune and have equal rights. They do not have to be immune from violence or be the the president of the universe. They do not have to be flawlessly good or likeable. Scarlett OHara is one of the greatest female characters of all time and she is neither.

              All I am asking is that the female characters, regardless of whatever situation they are in have some sense of urgency about their lives and not wait passively around for other people to make the decisions – be it other characters or the writers of the show. I did not get that from Firefly or Angel and a lack of control over one’s own life seems to be the basic premise of Dollhouse (but at least that gets points for thinking outside the box).

              Even passivity can be a (surprisingly effective) method of women getting what they want from life. A passive character is not the issue, it’s a passively written character with no real personality or purpose outside of the plot of the show or meeting the needs of the other characters.

              Just a few other examples, things I generally like or have watched recently, and again, I’m not offering these up as flawless paragons of feminist entertainment. They’re simply representative of what I’m talking about. It is indeed possible to show women who are in dire circumstances who have little control over anything, still trying to control what little they can. And in fact those attempts to control can make for very excellent plot points.

              The women in Game of Thrones, most of the women in Farscape, the women in Jessica Jones, the women in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, the women in Marco Polo, the women in Peaky Blinders, Mariah in Luke Cage. Heck, women in soap operas take more control over their lives than Fred or Cordelia do.

              Scarlett O Hara would chew up Inara and spit her out. That would have been a fun episode, though.

              The guy says he writes strong women. Thus I hold him to a higher standard than I do someone writing, let’s say, an episode of Baywatch. I also hold him to a higher standard than I do William Shakespeare.

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              • No, I think that it was a great example!

                For the record, I’m not arguing that Joss is a great feminist. He’s not. He’s got a lot of weird and creepy attitudes that spill over into his Strong Female Characters.

                With that said, even his weird and creepy attitudes were headed in a better direction than the well-established run-of-the-mill creepy attitudes of his contemporaries.

                He provided nudges to a lot of troglodytes to get them to say “okay, I’ll watch a show that has a mix of male and female characters and gives the best lines to the female ones” when, previously, that wasn’t on the table.

                He’s someone to leave behind, after he’s been outgrown.

                But, seriously, there were a lot of people who needed to outgrow Joss Whedon and wouldn’t have outgrown him without him.

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                • To say “Whedon’s creative work is not a good feminist example now” is not the same thing as saying “Whedon was never ever an example of pro-feminist creative work”.

                  To say “Whedon is an example of pro-feminist creative work” is not the same thing as saying “Whedon is an example of pro-feminist creative work that is useful and relevant to contemporary social issues“.

                  You’re certainly correct that people (on both sides of the discussion!) assume that the latter is just an understood fact and obviously what’s being discussed and agreed to by everyone.

                  As Jaybird points out, Buffy must be understood in the context of its creation. But, as Jaybird also points out (as a joke, so it could be mistaken as not part of his post’s content), Buffy’s context was 20 years ago.

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    • Jaybird: Joss knows a *LOT* about tropes

      What is is greatest strength can also be his greatest weakness. When he’s not kept in check, or is aware enough to self edit, sometimes he can’t help himself and is all “LOOK AT HOW META I AM. CAN YOU BELIEVE I CAN BE THIS META? ARE YOU NOT META ENTERTAINED?!”, getting lost in the sand on the ground story as well wiping out on the meta wave he was trying to surf. Which in turn leads to the (very valid) criticisms of the OP.

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      • There’s also the problem of seeing how he does things. “Nobody is happy for more than one episode” turns every dang season into seeing all of the strings he’s tying to the various things that you know he’s going to start yanking on the second you get comfortable.

        He’s at his best when he takes the tropes seriously and only flips one toggle.

        He’s at his worst when he starts second guessing the tropes and starts flipping two or more.

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  7. Doesn’t Whedon reflect the paradoxes within contemporary feminism – the emphasis on both empowerment and victimhood, and the idea that women should be both feminine (as traditionally defined) and masculine (as traditionally defined)?

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  8. On a less controversial note, the big problem I had with Whedon (other than his recurring archetypes) was his dialogue. It seemed witty at first, and it was/is witty. It’s just very unrealistic. He uses teenager-slang or space-slang or whatever and it covers the fact that he can’t write natural conversations.

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    • It’s like Pop Rocks. I used to love the sensation, but now they just hurt my teeth.

      I do wonder to some extent if some actors are just better at delivering it. Alyson Hannigan and Nicholas Brendan could pull it off, maybe not everyone can.

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      • Valid point. I do wonder if Cordelia’s general slide was partly due to Charisma Carpenter’s limited range, once she was asked to go beyond the HS queen. But part of it is simply that your first packet of Pop Rocks is more interesting than your twentieth. “Oh, look, that strange girl is babbling what seems like word salad but she’s really making odd allusions to something we know is going on off-screen.”

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        • She also had a baby IRL and I am sure, that just like with Glenn Quinn’s drug problem, this affected the character arc.

          Sometimes, it’s better NOT to know how the sausage is made, isn’t it??

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          • Yeah, the behind the scenes reasons for a lot of plot points that seemed awesome tends to boil down to: “Got pregnant” or “Was offered a good role in a movie” or “Kinda went insane on set so we got rid of him”….

            Really good writers can turn that real-life stuff into amazing stuff. Once or twice.

            I think a lot of good TV boils down to “producer, director, or writer turning real life problems into gold”.

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  9. bell hooks defines feminism as “the fight against sexism”. Is Joss Whedon engaging the fight against sexism? As far as I can tell, yes. (So am I). Which makes him a feminist, full stop. Feminism isn’t a club, and nobody gets to decide on membership.

    That doesn’t mean you have to like him, or agree with him. But that’s never how this sort of thing is put forward. I find that mostly women with your point of view do not really want to talk about this with me. I’ve made it a rule not to engage them on their home turf. Things being what they are on the internet, that’s almost always interpreted as a hostile act. I appreciate you coming here and giving me the opportunity to talk about it.

    Joss often tries to put women in narrative situations that reflect the situation that the patriarchy puts women in. He’s trying to dramatize the situation, rather than ignore it. This, I think, was the premise of Doll’s House – a metaphor for the position of women in entertainment, and yes, it’s very icky, it was meant to be icky. Now, where do we go from here? This is how heroism works. Heroes overcome difficulties.

    To be fair, that didn’t work for a lot of people. It may be that the experience was too powerful for them, it reminded them too much of unpleasant things in their own lives. I have a friend that doesn’t like Harry Potter because it reminds her too much of her own time in middle school/high school. This can’t be called unsuccessful art. It’s successful, just not pleasant. I have another friend that often complains that certain films are “too real” (he’s male). That may be what’s going on here. There is also maybe a generational issue. For instance, there were many who were unhappy with the revelation, in Age of Ultron, that Black Widow had had her reproductive ability taken from her. And yet there were many others, and it seemed to me that they were older women, who said, “No wait, this is a perfectly legitimate story to tell. It’s another story about patriarchy interfering in women’s reproductive capability.”

    Another thing about BW in that film. She kicks Bruce Banner over a cliff in order to bring out the Hulk. Bruce, it seems, sees this as an act of betrayal. I think she understood that he would, and did it anyway. She prioritized saving the earth over a relationship, and thus put work ahead of love. Has this been done to her, or is it agency? It’s certainly uncomfortable for us, but it’s a choice men make all the time – putting work ahead of family or relationships. Joss and the actors put this on the screen in a fantastic way, to let us think about those issues, see how we feel about them.

    That’s how it falls on me. It doesn’t fall on other people that way, I guess. That’s how art is.

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        • Pinky,
          If you want people in skintight suits, you need to make a decent reason they’re in skintight suits.

          Firefly had a decent reason to have the Cap’n nekkid, even if that was blatant fanservice.

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          • It’s like the Gold Bikini argument – the fact is, Princess Leia had a legit reason to be in the gold bikini. Because Jabba made her do it.

            Now if she’d been wearing that when she attacked the Forest Moon of Endor, not terribly practical.

            A good part of Black Widow’s superhero ability IS the distraction factor. Her catsuit makes sense because she’s using sex as a weapon at least some of the time. Is it as comfy and conducive to karate as a sports bra and yoga pants, probably not, but it may have benefits outside of that, that outweigh comfort and ease of motion.

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        • Its not really a paradox, so much as a problem without a good solution. Many societies have attempted to control women by seriously controlling their sexuality and insisting that “good girls don’t.” This means that giving women the same sexual liberty that men have should be an important part of feminism.

          Western society has also maintained that women should aim to be more aesthetically pleasing to men than men are to women. Women were supposed to be beautiful, pretty, well-dressed, charming and well-mannered. Feminism should also be about freeing women from these requirements.

          The problem is that a woman who is attractive, well-dressed, and charming is going to probably be more romantically and sexually successful than a woman who is not in the same way that a handsome and pleasant man is going to be more successful than a slovenly man with a sour disposition. This means that even if women are going to be as sexually free as men, they are still probably going to have to somewhat confirm to certain standards that could be seen as sexist. That’s an issue that feminism never successfully resolved.

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    • BW lacks the chutzpah to actually show a functional psychopath where you’d damn well want her reproductive ability taken away. Not terribly heroic that, of course.
      (Dunno, maybe someone put that up as the premise for a bad guy?)

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    • Doctor Jay,
      “Nobody gets to decide on membership”
      Yeah, you can go ahead and tell that to the internet hordes willing to slander women for being insufficiently “transphillic” (While, interestingly enough, being unable to tell that it’s actually a guy behind the screen.)

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    • With Whedon, tho — honestly, over time one gets the sense he enjoys his controlled, abused, and slightly insane woman a bit too much, and once you see this it becomes hard to unsee it. So it goes.

      I too have fetishes. Were I a writer (who anyone read), over time people would notice them.

      Yes, Whedon is portraying icky things — and dammit he loves them, he savors them, and he serves them up so those who share the fetish can savor them too.

      Seriously, go back and what the early Spike-Drusilla episodes and try not to see it.

      (If you’ll allow me some raw, problematic speculation, well honestly, he sets off my egg-dar hard, which if you repress your inside-shit hard enough, long enough, it comes out in very odd ways.)

      (Assign that previous statement a low epistemic confidence.)

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      • Hey! at least he hasn’t done a tentacle girl harem comedy.
        (Sigh. Doumei, he always wanted a TV show…)

        You wouldn’t believe the research into titillation that the TV networks have done. Something as simple as a man assisting a woman into a coat. Done properly, done subtlely, you can evoke bondage kink — without raising the hackles of people who don’t realize quite what you’re doing.

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      • Thanks Veronica, exactly! Once you see it, it’s hard to unsee.

        I’m a fan of icky things – often they provide a lot of interesting mental unpacking to do. But when icky things cease to be interesting they start turning into things that are just icky.

        Women creators absolutely have fetishes that many interpret as disturbing and problematic – Twilight, anyone?? – but the difference is, Joss Whedon shamelessly works his reputation as a feminist. Imagine if Stephenie Meyer went around telling everyone that she was a Native American activist because she wrote Twilight. If he didn’t play the “I’m a feminist” card so consistently, I’d probably just have shrugged and stopped watching.

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    • I actually find Dollhouse to be an intriguing concept and on its face, LESS sexist than the whole “Cordelia tragically swoons and dies” plot. It raises interesting ideas, challenging ideas, makes people think about and discuss some things that they may not have, otherwise. But it isn’t successful at doing that and a good reason why is because it does exactly what it’s purporting to criticize. I wanted it to be more meta and thought provoking and it wasn’t. (there’s actually something meta in the way that it wasn’t, but I digress)

      The problem with Black Widow is not that she’s had her reproductive ability taken from her – and nor is it her catsuit. It’s that Whedon has consistently run a game in which a woman has been taken against her will by outside forces and altered, somehow. Buffy, Cordelia, Willow, Fred/Illyria, Inara, River, the women in Dollhouse, Natasha Romanoff, it’s his go-to move. And these women are then expected for ever after, to be team players and work for the organization as a loyal foot soldier – in some cases even used to the point of destroying her. Buffy, at the least, questioned and rejected that. If it’s always the SAME challenge that has to be overcome, it’s boring to me and it starts making me question a person’s creative motivations.

      I agree that feminism is not a club (and if it is, they would not have me for a member. But when someone like Joss Whedon goes around patting themselves on the back for being a feminist, they open themselves up for people to analyze that. If this was just a guy walking down the street wearing a p–sy hat and minding his beeswax I certainly wouldn’t point a finger and shriek “Ur feminism is problematic to me, misogynist!!” It’s the smug self-congratulatory way he goes about it, and the way so many fans treat it as a foregone conclusion, that got to me, in the end.

      Does this come down to a matter of personal taste, yeah, you betcha. I understand why people like his work. I like a lot of it too. I just can’t see it the same way any more.

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  10. Wonderful piece of writing Kristin. (I loved the “he could write no wrong” turn of phrase!) And rather than get too deep in the weeds about feminism I’ll stick to what I think is your bigger point here: that familiarity with an artist who has a large body of work can reveal things you might not like. Along those lines I’ll just share that I had the same experience with author Jim Harrison. I loved the first few books/novellas I read, but the more immersed in the writing I got, the more I realized that his female characters (and he wrote a trilogy with a woman as the protagonist) are closer to an Harrison’s (apparently) idealized version of a woman than reflective of, say, the women I know. It was sorta shocking when it hit me. (It’s Over, Jim Harrison…)

    But then, of course, I began to re-think his portrayals of male characters as well, and whether they were also “caricaturized” in the same way, and I think they are. I recently tried to read one of his latest books and put it down about 60 pages in. Now, I don’t know if my attitudinal change derives from having “learned” something about Jim Harrison as a person or author which I don’t like, or if I merely grew tired of what seems like looped-themes without much creativity behind them. And I’m not sure it’s a question that can be answered or deserves much thought.

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    • This is why a friend of mine writes under enough pseudonyms that you’ll never figure out quite who he is. Of course, he tends to write on nearly everything (or advise, or write background…).

      I think you might like his entire body of work, but he’d rather you read each one without piecing together the writer behind the tales. (Besides, when it’s television, it’s rarely one person writing. Can you name the show in the last twenty years that was one person writing? If you know what to look for, it’s fairly obvious.)

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          • Aaron Sorkin – there’s another guy who writes too much. You put out that much work, you’re going to fall into repetition. Sorkin and Whedon could do a reimagining of Buffy that centers on a burned-out middle-aged Watcher and the slayers whose brutal deaths reintroduce him to his liberal ideological youth. (That’s youth as in when he was younger, not his son. Although since Whedon is on the project, I’m sure there will be father-son issues.)

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          • What was his latest show? Newsroom?

            Man, that was just a catastrophy. I liked the basic idea and thematic structure, but it was like a really good garage band trying to make a hit record without a producer telling em when to back off a bit…

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            • I more put the failure of the Newsrooom as a highly successful rock band reuniting a decade and a half after their peak with a cultural and media landscape significantly changed – and still trying to be relevant without understanding what made them big stars in the first place.

              (the answer: cocaine)

              (but really, Newsroom is at best, the Audioslave of the Sorkinverse, but it’s probably more like Van Halen Cherone)

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        • The one that wasn’t actually supposed to be televised. (So, um, they let the security consultant write all the episodes… And the theme music, which is another show’s theme written backwards and played about with a bit.).

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            • No, it just meant, even by the permissive standards of soapy period dramas, the quality suffered immensely at about the halfway point in the series run and never fully recovered.

              (There were only a little over 50 episodes over 6 plus years, so not too many more minutes of screen time than an NBC/ABC/CBS/FOX drama gets in 2 years)

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    • Thank you so much!! That’s very kind of you.

      I have definitely had the experience before where it felt like I “outgrew” a writer. It’s a rare writer that can avoid the trap of repetitiveness, so you gotta really LOVE what they’re repeating to enjoy hearing it again and again. Then when you realize you don’t love it, or at least parts of it, it’s hard to unpack that even from the stuff you do love.

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      • Could that explain you breaking it off with Joss?

        Could it be that the person you once viewed as championing feminist causes was actually just telling stories according to his own internal artistic algorithm, one which you now – because oft times familiarity breeds contempt – view as misogynistic, but it’s not that he’s changed (he was on a different trip than you thought he was), or you’ve changed (you’ve always been a feminist), or that he is now “wrong” (according to a certain standard) or you were then “wrong” (according to a different standard), but that the stories he was telling when you first met him were exciting and adventurous but now you view them as hackneyed and boring (and misogynistic!), and you want more from the relationship?

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        • I’ve had that problem. Go back and read a ‘classic’ from 30 or 40 years ago, and it can often feel stiff and unimaginative, rife with over-used ideas.

          Except, you know, it was first. All those over-used ideas, it invented — and other writers explored, extended, invented off of.

          Give it another 20 or 30 years and it’ll feel more classic, more removed from modern day versions. But there’s an awkward period in the middle, where you’re very familiar with other people doing it fresher.

          (That is books, not Whedon).

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        • Stillwater, I see where you’re coming from and that is what I was driving at when I said that he never actually changed, he just stayed the same.

          I think that he probably had a great idea in Buffy (and since he and I are about the same age, maybe it also appealed to me for generational reasons) and then it was well executed – by a team of people, not one man. This created a “perfect storm” and a show I truly love and probably always will.

          Subsequent stuff – maybe it wasn’t quite as versatile an idea (Dollhouse), maybe it was something that wasn’t executed as well (Angel), maybe it was something that appealed more to other people than it did to me (Firefly). That, of course, happens. I can’t think of any creator of any art ever that has always hit a home run for every person all the time and wouldn’t we be jerks to expect that?

          At the same time, though, there also seemed to be a larger trend that I did not see at first, only in retrospect, towards the stuff that I’m talking about (I don’t even know what word to use. People take issue with misogyny, so sexism?) At some point if there’s a trend in one direction it stops seeming like a fluke and starts seeming representative. Then when I think back and see it so clearly, it’s obvious that it was always there. It sneaked up on me, kinda like carbon monoxide poisoning.

          It would all fall by the wayside for me, after all there are plenty of shows that I find stupid or that rub me the wrong way on a personal level. But there’s just such a cult built around the guy and then his self-proclaimed feminism…makes me want to go all “Emporer-has-no-clothes”, I suppose.

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          • At some point if there’s a trend in one direction it stops seeming like a fluke and starts seeming representative. Then when I think back and see it so clearly, it’s obvious that it was always there. It sneaked up on me, kinda like carbon monoxide poisoning.

            It’s one thing to say you don’t like how a person portrays women in movies/film/art. It’s quite another to call them sexist or misogynists because you disagree with those portrayals. The latter claim, unlike the former, requires argument, since it’s purporting to be an objective claim. And here’s the problem with the “argument”: it requires buying in to a conception of “sexism” or “misogyny” which entails that any act or expression inconsistent with the ideologically defined meaning of those terms satisfies the condition. And not only that!, it demands that a person accept the subjective semantics and post-moderny analysis of “institutional structures” and etc. such that not only is the “right” answer spit out like the answer to a math problem, but that anyone who doesn’t accept that analysis is – by definition! – an Xist.

            Look, I’m willing to concede that you think Whedon is a misogynist. I wrote a comment upthread disagreeing with four points about Firefly you use to justify that conclusion. Can we at least agree that my view has equal merit?

            And if so, where does that leave us? Does Zoe + Kaylee = misogynist the same way 2+2=4?

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        • The problem with that theory is that he repeatedly has claimed over and over that his stories ARE feminist. Now, of course there are different kinds of feminisms, but it’s not like he was just telling his own stories without making claims about their content. He was making claims. She believed those claims and now she doesn’t.

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            • — I’m pretty sure everyone has explained their criticisms to a sufficient level. You’re being deliberately dense.

              Whedon claims to be a feminist. When viewed from the perspective of several feminists on this forum, his work is flawed. Furthermore, those flaws are specifically gendered. We’ve detailed those flaws.

              If you cannot understand that, I’m pretty sure the lack is in you.

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                • — That’s not exactly what anyone said. But then, I look at many things in life as a chance to challenge my brain, to see new things from new points of view.

                  But whatever. Your brain is your brain. [redacted by Maribou as unnecessarily personally insulting, because apparently she’s on a quit insulting people who are irritating you rather than attacking you tear tonight…. ]

                  Anyway

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                  • Hey, , I think you’re able to challenge your brain enough to not call anyone else names and run down their general intelligence, no matter how vexing you may find them.

                    Personal attacks aren’t cool and while I also find @Stillwater’s angle on this frustrating, it doesn’t mean you can attack him.

                    I know people say stuff like this on the threads all the time when I’m not watching but tonight I happen to be.

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                    • — What he is doing to us is actually quite rude. It’s a kind of trolling, where you refuse to listen, but keep engaging with a false, simplistic straw version of the other person’s position.

                      My point is, if he wants to argue this way, well it’s his brain.

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                      • That’s why I left most of your comment as is. There’s a difference between standing up to perceived (I’d even be willing to say actual in that I was rather vexed myself) rudeness and direct personal attack.

                        There’s also a difference, IMO and the editorial board’s O generally, between generalized rudeness and direct personal attack.

                        I think you’re wise enough to know the difference and when I see the latter, I censor it. (I actually hate conflict? Like it makes me sick to my stomach? So I’m not often in here moderating / redacting comments at all…)

                        I also think your reasonable self-defense is a lot more effective when it stays reasonable.

                        Which is easy for me to say when I have the power to literally overwrite your words, I know.

                        And yet I will keep doing it.

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          • And not only does he say that his stories are feminist and that he writes strong female characters, he congratulates himself on that all the time despite doing a lot of problematic stuff. If he did the problematic stuff without claiming it’s feminism and dislocating his shoulder patting himself on the back, I wouldn’t care. Like one of the PP said, I wouldn’t care if he did soft core bondage porn if he wasn’t dressing it up like it was pro-woman. It’s a different scenario. I have different expectations.

            It goes beyond dishonesty, it’s almost (and I really hesitate to use this word because again it’s something that carries a lot of baggage with it) a kind of gaslighting. He and the Whedonite clan are telling me something – that he is a feminist icon – and presenting it as a self-obvious given.

            If I don’t accept his clams as a given, if I not only do not think that the guy is a feminist but even detect quite a lot of misogynistic elements in it, it’s because my perceptions are skewed. I’m “hatewatching” or trying to prove some political point or being nitpicky. The problem is with me, my “version” of reality is flawed. He’s a feminist icon, the science is settled on that. No matter what he does from now till the end of time, Joss Whedon is a feminist icon. He’s perfect. He’s beyond reproach. Any flaws in his work are the result of interference by the evil studios. And if I don’t see that, it’s because I’m blind or have an axe to grind.

            All I’m saying is, I don’t buy it any more.

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    • In addition to repetiveness is how we evolve. If I discover an artist in my teens or twenties and follow him for a few decades, I will change profoundly in that time even if just because of growth and maturation. If that artist doesn’t change or changes much less show — a good bet if they were in their 30s or older when I found them — I risk “outgrowing” them.

      Did “Sesame Street” lose its fastball or did I cease to be 5 while it continued writing for 5-year-olds?

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  11. Thank you for this essay – I really enjoyed it. I still treasure parts of Whedon’s oeuvre as both feminist and personally meaningful, but I admit that I haven’t watched Dollhouse partly because I’m not sure if it’ll hold up or just frustrate me entirely and lead to a similar reaction as yours.

    Part of it for me, I know, is contextual. Shows that in the late 90s were amazingly forward thinking purely because they were so much LESS bad than everything else on TV around issues of gender and race, they made me so much less fed up and took me out of the stories so much less often…

    well, now I have examples that aren’t just LESS bad, they’re actually stunningly good on those issues. I am much freer to just embrace great storytelling without getting those reminders that people think in fucked up ways. (I’m still willing to put up with the fucked up stuff, it’s just a lot rarer.) And so when I look at the *same things* that were improvements in the 90s or 80s, the less-bad-then parts are glaringly bad instead of “well but it’s so much better than everything else”.

    Had that experience last weekend with Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, which was made in 1985 and appears to be the ur-dance-contest-romance movie (I mean, maybe Footloose is but it’s kind of doing a different thing) that all 90s and 2000s dance-contest-romance movies were based upon.

    Decent acting for the genre, good dancing, fun scenes, but omg the boob groping as a laugh line. I see someone’s boobs getting grabbed and them being upset, and the last thing I think is “ha ha funny”. But this indie movie from the 80s, which was otherwise super feminist for its time, centralized a female friendship, etc.? Totally down with the humor of *actually* groping the actresses.

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    • I think this is a really good point, though I think it leaves out one important part. In twenty or thirty years those shows that seem very progressive now will themselves have aspects that a future audience sees as backwards or retrograde, perhaps glaringly so.

      This is why I think looking to pop culture to lead us on social or political issues is silly, particularly in an ultra materialistic and consumerist society. I won’t go so far as to say there’s no value in the kind of programming created by Whedon, because I think there is, and I’m never one to deny people’s desire to enjoy whatever art they want, regardless of the politics of the piece. Nevertheless it bears repeating that these shows are all ultimately money making endeavors catering to our culture as it currently exists, not engines of change.

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      • Perhaps.

        And yet I think they DO encourage change, as flawed as they are.

        Much as any progress happens through people doing what they can do with the mixed motives they have to make things that speak to other people about how the world should be, not just how it is.

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    • Some of those shows from the 90’s to early 2000’s were really forward thinking, though. Even just taken on their own merits. And they asked some interesting questions that maybe in a more politically correct time would not have even been raised. I don’t expect perfection or feminist or political purity at all, but like you say I don’t want to be completely taken out of the story by stuff that annoys me, either. And I mean in either direction…preachiness is darn near just as bad as boob grabbing.

      Buffy vs. Dollhouse, Veronica Mars vs. iZombie (or the terrible Veronica Mars movie, for that matter) These are the same people making the same type of show, but one I connect with and one I don’t. It’s like a strange phenomenon of turning away from the stuff that really worked and embracing the stuff that didn’t really matter or didn’t always work (like that quirky, quirky dialogue). Luckily, just like you say, there are other shows that do all this better, but I do wonder about the whys and wherefores of it all.

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  12. Long string of major female characters ending up dead as a result of violence: Jenny Calendar, Tara, Anya, Kendra, Buffy (twice), Cordelia, Lilah, Darla (twice), Fred, and Penny (in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog).

    This list is absurd. You’ve basically decided that any non-natural death is ‘violence’.

    People who on the list did not actually die due to violence: Cordelia (Ascended to a higher plane, and then ‘died’ the second time when someone walking around in her body was reborn as her daughter.), Buffy, the second time (Sacrificed herself by jumping into a portal merging all universes.), Darla, the second time (actually the third) (Committed suicide so her child could be born), Penny (dies from Captain Hammer being an idiot and causing a weapon to explode)

    And Kendra wasn’t a main character. She was in a two-parter, and then brought back for an episode to be killed.

    Additionally, including (the first death of) Darla and Lilah are nonsense. They were *villains*. Darla suffered the same fate as almost every vampire on the show, and Lilah suffered the same fate as almost every named employee or former employee of Wolfram and Hart (And the *only two* employees that walked away? Harmony and Eve, both women.)

    There are, literally, dozens of villains at their level, and basically every single one of them died. That’s how the Buffy and Angel got rid of villains, it killed them. The only villains that really walked away alive from the shows were the First Evil (who is unkillable) and Drusilla.

    Here is the actual list of female main character non-villians that died due to malicious intent: Jenny Calendar, Tara, Anya, Buffy (once), Fred, and Darla (When she’s turned back into a vampire)

    To which I reply: Wash. Book. Spike. Wesley. Quicksilver. Jonathon. Those are all off the top of my head, I’m sure there were more.

    If you want to feel that Whedon isn’t a feminist, feel free. But examples of Whedon killing female characters does not prove that….Whedon kills characters, all the time. He’s famous for it. Presenting a death count of just women is seriously misleading.

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    • This article was not meant as a blow by blow dissection of the Whedonverse. Tons of people have done that already and completely deconstructed all this stuff from just about every feminist perspective imaginable. I could have done that, but I didn’t feel like I’d add a whole lot since others have already done so. They are all available for the Googling if anyone wants to read them.

      This article was meant as an explanation of why I personally am done with defending the guy on his feminist credentials and why I no longer see his name on something as a guarantee of something I’ll enjoy. Many of these episodes I like or even love. It’s just that overall, taking a step back, these things start to look different to me.

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  13. Long string of female or physically vulnerable male characters being verbally abused, tortured, raped, or being threatened with rape, either openly or implied: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (“Consequences” and “Seeing Red”), Angel (“Birthday”, “Expecting”, “Redefinition”, and “Apocalypse Nowish”), Firefly (“Our Mrs. Reynolds”, “Objects in Space”, “Ariel”, and “Safe”), Dollhouse (“The Target”, and “Belonging”), Natasha Romanoff in The Avengers and The Age of Ultron, and pretty much all of Dollhouse.

    And this list is just as absurd. Having ‘physically vulnerable male characters’ being threatened is somehow misogynist? And *if someone is not physically vulnerable*, they cannot be threatened credibly, so what you really means is ‘long string of female or male characters…’.

    So basically, Joss Whedon has characters making a lot of threats made against other characters in his works. *gasp* The misogynist!

    But let’s check this ‘verbally abused, tortured, raped, or being threatened with rape’ list:

    ‘Our Mrs. Reynolds’ is about a woman drugging a man, and no one threatens anyone that I recall. And the only ‘threats’ I can recall in ‘Ariel’ are threats to space Jayne, who tried to betray everyone. (Admittedly I haven’t see those in forever, but neither of them has a plot that would include somewhere for people to be threatened.) ‘Safe’ has people who captured and try to kill a female crew member. Not quite sure what that’s doing there…if you’re including people trying generally kill the main characters, almost every episode of every show (Except Dollhouse) should be on there.

    The only reference to torture in ‘Apocalypse Nowish’ I can recall is when a female character suggests her male boss could use some. I have no idea what you’re talking about in ‘Birthday’. ‘Expecting’, while perhaps problematic in using the ‘magically accelerated unwanted pregnancy trope’, also doesn’t have anything listed above. And ‘Redefinition’ doesn’t have anyone threatened with anything…it has our ‘hero’ set some vampires on fire but deliberately not kill them, because our ‘hero’ has gone a bit crazy.

    ‘The Target’ is ‘the most dangerous game’ plot, and, yes, our star happens to be female, so a woman is hunted. Claiming that this stock plot with a female in the hero’s role is evidence of ‘misogyny’ seems dubious. Women *can’t* equally be victims of crazy entitled rich people hunting them for sport?

    Natasha Romanoff was not threatened with anything in Age of Ultron. She was captured as bait for the rest of the Avengers, but there were no threats made against her at all that I can recall. (By who? Ultron? Ultron can’t rape and doesn’t torture.) And counting the scene in Avengers 1 where she’s threatened with torture is pretty absurd, as it’s made immediately very clear she was ‘captured’ on purpose.

    About half your list is nothing to do with what you say it does. A lot of it isn’t that at all, and some of the rest is just ‘the person in general danger happen to be a woman’. (Which is basically trying to condemn the shows for having a lot of female main characters.)

    And in a lot of the remaining ones, what are you are talking about is *taken seriously and is focus of the episode*.

    Like ‘Seeing Red’. A woman fending off and dealing with an attempted rape of someone she was sleeping with and somewhat trusted is, based on the topic alone, *not feminist*?! You want to make a deeper argument that it treated the topic *poorly* or something, go ahead. I disagree but I won’t try to argue about that. But saying ‘Showing and talking about attempted rape make a writer not feminist based on the topic alone’ is flatly absurd!

    Same with ‘Consequences’, which is about, well, consequences of sex.

    And ‘Belonging’, which is about how Dollhouse, is basically, completely horrible, and everyone who works there now understands that. (I will admin Dollhouse was weird, in that didn’t immediately hit you over the head with the fact you were following *villains*, just lesser villains than the actual villains, but it did make it clear over time.)

    ‘Objects in Space’ does have gratuitous rape threats, and that’s a fair enough complaint. They existed to show that the villain is not at all reasonable, no matter what he’s saying and sounds like, but that could have been done another way. So…well, there’s one. You found one place.

    However, I notice you left out the *instance of actual capture and torture* that happened in Firefly, in ‘War Stories’…which was against two men. Also, you left out Giles being tortured by Drusilla on Buffy. Or Giles and Wesley being tortured, again on Buffy. Or Wesley being tortured by Faith on Angel. Some weird omissions, there. People on those shows might have *threatened* women, but they *actually tortured* men.

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    • This article was not meant as a blow by blow dissection of the Whedonverse. Tons of people have done that already and completely deconstructed all this stuff from just about every feminist perspective imaginable. I could have done that, but I didn’t feel like I’d add a whole lot since others have already done so. They are all available for the Googling if anyone wants to read them.

      This article was meant as an explanation of why I personally am done with defending the guy on his feminist credentials and why I no longer see his name on something as a guarantee of something I’ll enjoy. Many of these episodes I like or even love. It’s just that overall, taking a step back, these things start to look different to me.

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