Sunday, January 13, 2013

Joss Whedon - Nice Guy among Nice Guys

I have a somewhat childish reaction when something I dislike becomes popular. I'm quite happy to dislike something quietly until I keep seeing on Facebook or having conversations turn to how it's ORIGINAL or WITTY or GROUND-BREAKING. Like Avatar. The special effects were very pretty, and Sigourney Weaver was there. That doesn't come near trumping the fact that there was no plot to speak of, and the dialogue was bad, and it wasn't an interesting retelling of the story it was telling, and it created a world which it failed to make interesting or explore well, and if you're going to make up science you need to explain why it's not stupid or I will judge your film as stupid unless you save it by making the rest of the film not stupid, and during one of the SPLOSIONS battle scenes at the end I consciously thought "Oh god, I am so bored, when will this end," and I am not easily bored, plus I saw it in 3D, a medium which has, worryingly, failed to die a death.

All that said, the only reason I have all of those flaws to hand is because people responded to my "Eh, the special effects were good but I didn't think it was a good film," with "But what about X?" X WAS BAD. IF X IS SOMETHING THAT MAKES A FILM GOOD, AND I DIDN'T ENJOY THE FILM, IT MEANS I THOUGHT X WAS BAD.

And so it is with Joss Whedon! I like his shows, but I do not like the man. If I watched his shows and never heard anything about him, or by him, I could just switch off my brain for the misogyny and laugh at the cleverly-constructed lines.

But no. Did you know Joss Whedon is SO FEMINIST? Because his shows are absolutely no indication of that, and it seems like if you believe in something, you should maybe have you art which is directed at teeenagers express that message! And did you know he writes STRONG FEMALE CHARACTERS, it's not just that tiny girls beating people up are what he's into, he is PROGRESSIVE.


The fact that there is one conventionally hot girl who wears glasses or studies science or both!, instead of being conventionally hot and a cheerleader, in his shows and she is meant to be the Thinking Man's Hot Girl is quite skeezy in itself. It comes with the implication, as in the link, that sure, Anya and Buffy and Cordelia (and every female character in the show, seriously, where are the strong ugly characters) might be hot in an OBVIOUS sort of way, but with Willow and Fred, Nice Guys like Joss Whedon see through the outer hotness to the mind underneath that shares their specific interests! Enjoy learning new things from your total bimbo girlfriends who have hobbies and aspirations different to yours, jocks!

In Cabin In The Woods - with which I might be falling into my Avatar trap, because I though it was a diverting horror film that didn't do enough with the scope it gave itself, and the internet thought it TOTALLY TURNED THE GENRE ON ITS HEAD - rather than do something clever with the Stupid Slut Who Dies First trope, he... turns a med student into the Stupid Slut Who Dies first. (... ON ITS HEAD, SUCH A TWIST.) You could argue that his hands were tied by the genre, and he makes a feeble attempt to misdirect by having somewhere say her hair dye is making her stupid, but given the misogyny of the trope, if he really cared, he could have done something clever and non-sexist with it.

There's nothing that makes my skin crawl like the early seasons of Buffy though. I get that it's a lot of wish fulfilment - the most important girl in the world befriends the hottest losers in the school! (But doesn't have anything to do with Jonathan or those creepy losers, ew gross.) The hottest losers in the school fling zingers (or what are meant to be, whatever!) at lumbering jocks who are no match for their wit! It is a bit weird to work your sixteen-year-old esprit d'escalier into a TV show you make as a grown-up, obsessive even, but whatever makes you happy! 

What I can't look past is the treatment of Cordelia. She exemplifies the self-congratulatory pseudo-feminist maxim of "I have nothing but respect for women whom I deem respectable." She's mean for no reason, shallow, vapid, gets poor grades, and probably spurned Joss Whedon in high school. In the pilot, Jesse follows her around even though she has told him to leave her alone (but she's mean, and he's friends with the people who'll be the protagonists, so it's HILARIOUS, not creepy). In the next episode, Vampire Jesse appears behind her when she's dancing, leering and getting creepily up in her space. When she tells him to go away, he tells her to shut up. She looks confused. "Okay, just one dance, she says." Because bitches like that like jerks, not Nice Guys like teenage Joss Whedon! They deserve the abuse that's coming to them! Get it? FEMINISM!

Cordelia later redeems herself by going out with Joss Whedon, I mean, Xander, which compounds, rather than diminishing, the misogyny.

I honestly do like Joss Whedon's shows, but I'd enjoy them more if not for the hypocrisy. I can switch off my brain for a certain amount of misogyny - a girl's gotta leave the house and consume some media, after all. It's the hypocrisy of writing lazy sexism and then crowing over how feminist he is. He has described himself as a "lesbian in a man's body", which is something that some people do have to deal with in daily life, but coming from him sounds like the "I wish I were oppressed" or someone who thinks their privilege is so unhip.

From here.

But every time I see that quote floating around fandoms, and I want to sit Joss Whedon down and explain some things to stop ruining not-being-sexist for the people who put thought into not being sexist, and, while he's at it, to stop being sexist.


Jessica Córdova said...

FInally, someone else who doesn't like Joss Whedon! I thought I was all alone.

Forkis said...

I like his shows, they're usually entertaining premises (and Buffy was a good monster of the week show in the early days) but his shows his shows are so full of unhealthy messages, and then he congratulates himself for them. I'd have the same gripe if he called himself a champion of anti-ableism, while having no PWD in his shows.

I recently finished watching Avatar: The Last Airbender, and the contrast is pretty stark. It's a children's show which is better in terms of race, gender, ability, and how to treat people than any of the Whedonverse shows. Also the characters are more nuanced, and really the only thing missing is LGBT characters (which I'm told the sequel has). It's a really good show and doesn't go shouting about it.

Also, I may be missing some nuances of American class dynamics, but all Joss Whedon's 'bad' misogynistic characters (as opposed to Xander etc.) have Southern accents. It seems like it's a play on the redneck stereotype, which is needlessly classist.