In Which We Are Finally Not Jossed


I totally love when other people write posts that say what I wanted to say, but better.  Admittedly, I’m also a little jealous, but still, it’s gratifying to know you’re not alone.

So yeah, my frustration with the cult of Whedon is well-documented, and my frustration with those who would take the other end of the spectrum and call him a misogynistic and racist bastard is also well-documented.  I enjoy Firefly and own Serenity, but get irritated by the whole ‘Oh, Joss is totally a feminist, how dare you’ thing that I see a lot in fandom.

Well, thank god for Naamenblog and The Hathor Legacy, for showing that there IS a middle ground, and it’s okay to be there.  Both have excellent things to say about enjoying Whedon while recognizing and identifying the problems therein; that ‘well, he does the best he can inside the system and meets the Bechdel test’ doesn’t cut the mustard for some of us, but we don’t hate the guy or his work either.

You guys get Bene Cookies Of Excellence.

ETA: For more on why my feelings about Joss Whedon are what they are, see the convo WP and I have in the comments.  I freely acknowledge that part of my dislike is the fact that I really don’t like Buffyverse, period… xx Bene


8 Responses to “In Which We Are Finally Not Jossed”

  1. Yeah, I’m intrigued by the to-the-death-ness of lots of Whedon fans. Don’t get me wrong. I love the dude. He does awesome stuff. But his awesome stuff isn’t pure, simple, and nor does it only ever mean one thing (I wrote a post on this an age ago, actually…). As in, sure, awesome to see the girl who always gets killed in horror movies wander into the alley and kick some evil undead arse. On the one level, that’s totally feminist. On another, she wins by taking up physical prowess, which is associated with masculinity: she beats down the bad man by becoming badder and manly-er, not through the unexpected strengths of femininity (for e.g.). But at the same time, this girl is appropriating that strength, making it her own with some sass and verve, refusing to allow it to be simply masculine. But then again, she’s a white, middle-class, straight (well, ish, til the comix), conventionally attractive girl. Are these the only ones who can adopt that strength, make it work? The only ones with the flexibility to make it happen?

    See, some people think that each part of this analysis, the back and forth, *cancels out*: so, even if they see what they identify as negative, they think it quantitatively: good image of women – traditional image of women + women being strong = feminist text, for example. But in the end, that’s not how representation works. It does *all* of these things, co-extensively. The good doesn’t rule out the bad, and nor does the bad rule out the good: they work together, contradicting and supplementing and all. If texts only ever did/said one single thing, life would be a lot easier. And a lot less fun. 🙂

  2. Oooh, WP, I must find this post. I agree; the bad and the good don’t outweigh each other at all, and it’s not a zero-sum game. He may be a feminist, I’m not going to deny his own identification, but he’s still a white male American producer/writer/director, and his biases still clearly apply. As do his biases in terms of the same old tropes…

    And he’s also, personally, a little boring artistically. His direction does not make this director swoon.

    Which is why I don’t buy him as great or particularly groundbreaking.

  3. Hmm. I think he *is* groundbreaking. And great 😉 But his groundbreaking-ness is particular, and it’s not necessarily something that matters to everyone. Yes, his depiction of women as other than housewives or daughters was radical at the time, and allowed other women-lead tv shows. Yes, his playing off of the season arc with the individual episode was still relatively new (his way of fully developing a seasonal storyline, that is, rather than individual episodes with occasional short arcs). Yes, I think his ways of playing with language allowed a more sophisticated style of scripting to be possible, and thank fuck for that, because I don’t think that, for example, Deadwood would have been possible without it. And let’s not forget… wasn’t willow and tara’s kiss one of the first? He broke ground. I’ll agree with you about artistic boringness, but there’s too much else also at work for me to deny his groundbreakingness. But then, I guess I see groundbreaking as not so much existing in a radical departure, necessarily, but in the small shifts that let other shifts happen. Yes, vague, sue me 😉

    I’m also not willing to say that BtVS *isn’t* feminist. I don’t think Joss’s feminism is simply about his own identification. I think this is partly because I don’t think authorial intent defines… well, much 😀 Given the context within which his tv show was operating, his depiction of those women, whose vulnerability is what is usually played on, as something other than simply vulnerable, and something more complicated, I think does count. It counts, of course, in the context of other less good things: stuff I’d really want to critique til the cows come home. Whiteness, a particular kind of feminism, a level of overt heteronormativity (which for me is deliciously queered by vampires :-)), and a classism that can be pretty breathtaking. These are all true. And so is the artistic boringness. I guess I want to be able to acknowledge small but significant shifts, though, because I personally think that learning how they happen is important to sustaining change (rather than big revolutionary change, y’know?). Also, to me they are more interesting, more flexible and more responsive than earthquake-style change. But this is me, being opinionated for way too long 😉 On your blog. Again. Sorry bout that!

  4. Yeah, you’re right about the ‘particular kind of feminism’. People are saying better things than I am these days, all the time! I think JW irritates me because he’s so vocal about it and because he’s so insistent, and because there are so many people that are insistent for him.

    As for groundbreaking–yeah in terms of content, no in terms of visuals. I think the credit for our current narrative form of overarching plot arc should be attributed far more to The X-Files than BTVS, with some credit going to Star Trek: DS9’s Dominion War seasons. Both of those proved considerably earlier that you could get a big audience who would stick around even if you constructed this massive plot and even if you threw really wack stuff at them.

    Creative and witty dialogue, I’ll give him a little credit for, but Dawson’s Creek was doing Teens What Talk Smart before then, and Aaron Sorkin’s rapid-fire stuff on Sports Night and The West Wing was at the same time.

  5. Oh look, there’s things that bug me about JW carrying on about his own feminism, esp. when he treats it like a shield against criticism (although those criticisms are often too one-sided for my liking: like ‘you are homophobic coz you killed tara’ is just a bit… well, blunt-instrument-y) but at the same time openly feminist men, particularly in TV, are rare enough that to me it counts that he wears his feminism on his sleeve. Not counting in a ‘don’t critique him’ kind of way, tho, which people seem to think is what’s required, but in a ‘yes, actually, it’s not insane to claim oneself to be feminist, male and working in TV’ kinda way)

    X-Files, you’re right, did do the story arc thing to a large extent, too. But BtVS tended to have each ep contribute to the story arc, whilst X-Files had a whole lot of self-contained eps within and not contributing to the arc, if my memory serves. But yes, it’s true, BtVS wasn’t the first shovel in that patch of ground. It had at least been raked over before.

    Creative and witty dialogue, though… well, Dawson’s came after BtVS (98, if wikipedia is troo), and The West Wing was *much* later. I think there’s some groundbreaking there. And when I say language, I don’t just mean the rapid-fire dialogue stuff or the Teens What Talk Smart (let’s anacronym that, it’s totally awesome!), although that counts. But the playing around with language itself: nominalising verbs and verbalising nouns, phrases like the ‘such-and-such-ness of her’, and so on, and the use of ‘nonsense’ words as made meaningful within a context; that all seems newish to me. And also that moment when Willow says something to Xander like ‘You’re a, you’re a—well, I can’t think of anything bad enough right now, but I will—and that’s what you are!’ [grins]. I like dialogue that is inarticulate too.

    But yeah, visuals not v. interesting, that’s for sure. I thought the sets for Firefly did something interesting, but that’s not the same as photography etc, which remained v. conservative throughout. What’d you think of Firefly around this stuff?

  6. West Wing came on in ’99, Sports Night in early ’98, BtVS in fall of ’97. I dunno, I’m just bullheaded when it comes to this because I think the wit now works somewhat against JW in terms of his comic book stuff. Actually, I’m FULL DISCLOSURE not a BtVS and Angel fan. At all. In fact, I find it pretty dull, but maybe that’s just when I tried to watch it. This is probably why I am so disgruntled with Whedon as a whole, because I just don’t understand.

    Firefly is far more enjoyable to me, but that’s probably because I’m a SF geek über alles, and gravitate towards that genre over the whole massive vampire/demon/Hellmouth mythos. (Which is also probably why I don’t give a shit about Supernatural, for that matter.) I’m also a Trek geek, which means the space western is my cuppa.

    That said, I think Whedon does, as both Naamen and Jennifer at THL point out, have this disturbing tendency to have, in Frank Miller fashion, his strongest female characters be irredeemably broken, and Firefly proves this all too well. Admittedly, fuckedupness makes for better television, but the straight man for Whedon is just that, always a straight man. River is obvious, but Zoe’s got PTSD, Kaylee has a bunch of insecurities, and Inara proves that the universe of FF is still stuck in the old dichotomies of power (see Shindig) despite any attempts towards equilibrium. It frustrates me.

  7. but Zoe’s got PTSD

    Huh. Do you think so? If anything, I’d offer the opposite critique. I wouldn’t say that Mal has PTSD, but he’s totally traumatized by the war. Zoe went through everything Mal went through, but she’s fine. And helping Mal deal with his trauma is a huge part of what Zoe does. She’s just traumatized enough to understand Mal and take care of him and translate him to everyone else, but not traumatized enough that her own emotional state is worth exploring. I think that you could argue that rather than the broken woman problematic archetype, Zoe represents the strong black woman problematic archetype.

  8. Whirlygirl–nice ta see ya!

    I think she does as much as Mal does; maybe not diagnosable PTSD, but definitely a lot of scars. I just think it’s sort of hidden by that problematic archetype you mention, actually, and by the fact that she covers for Mal so often that it’s not even funny (another part of said archetype).

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