robot love is queer

Heather, East Coast, queerball, fangirl. movies, music and pop culture. social issues and anti-isms.

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joss whedon is the tim wise of sci-fi etc

(some folk asked for a rebloggable one)

anonymous asked: Why don’t you like Joss Whedon? I’m not bullying, I’m just genuinely curious!

No prob, anon! I don’t really know where to start answering this ask, plus I think others have gotten into this far better, but anyway: I have enjoyed a lot of Joss Whedon’s work. Buffy’s a formative influence, Firefly was gone too soon, etc. I wouldn’t be able to say this much about him if I didn’t have the boxsets. But in general, I think he’s a seriously overrated writer with a lot of feminist and queer ally cred that he doesn’t  deserve. On the surface he is good at these things in that he does the bare minimum (while I realize that most genre writers can’t even manage THAT much, I still consider it the bare minimum). He includes ~strong female characters~, feminist characters, queer characters in his work. Great, I’m in. But then he proceeds to do really gross things to them. He undermines them, tears them down, places them into incredibly misogynist and abusive frameworks and then frames their heroism as clawing their way up out of that (if it doesn’t kill them) without adding anything new to the discussion. Then he proceeds to collect praise for confronting issues when he’s not really confronting them so much as using them as cheap narrative devices.

And maybe this is just his schtick as a writer—maybe he thinks the only way to effectively create drama is to emotionally manipulate viewers by battering characters with angst. But it leads to some troubling consequences when most of his leads are women but all he can think to do to them is rape, traumatize, brutalize, disempower or mindwipe them, but seems to be able to avoid these situations with his male characters. (who are by-and-large just victimizers he bends over backwards to make sympathetic—Mal being the most notable exception.)

All this is made worse by the fact he has a tendency to tell the same story and dredge up the same characters over and over again over the years, which means he does this a lot.

A few examples wrt his ~feminism~:

— I can’t think of an instance where Buffy entered into a sexual relationship and wasn’t punished for it with unbelievable suffering, and not only that, if you are a dude there’s like a 67% chance that sex with Buffy will turn you into a monster or make you a pathetic shell of what you once were. Meanwhile Faith exercises a lot of sexual agency and is shamed for it by the “good” female characters at every turn.
— at least THREE destructive pregnancy arcs of doom on Angel.
— Dollhouse was a show all about women being raped, brutalized, disempowered and mindwiped. (a show that the Sarah Connor Chronicles was cancelled for to my everlasting rage.)
— Cordelia Chase. That’s it, that’s the bullet point. (and Fred. And Anya.)
— River Tam is basically all of Joss’s favorite fetishes in one package: She’s thin, white, classically beautiful. She’s physically very powerful in a very graceful, feminine-coded way. But emotionally she’s damaged, unstable, dangerous to herself and others, yet at the same time she’s malleable and easy to control if the right man has the right trigger or says the right word. She’s strong and deadly and simultaneously childlike and utterly dependent on a capable, put-upon man (Simon, or a Watcher, or a Handler). She has whiffs of Buffy and Faith and all the dolls in one package. Hell, Dollhouse is pretty much River Tam: The Show.

And then there’s the queer stuff:
— he set up magic/witchcraft as this elaborate metaphor for Willow’s sexuality, mostly as a way to avoid directly discussing said sexuality which, whatever, that happens a lot, but…then Willow becomes consumed by her ~magic, loses complete control and becomes evil. So.
— Tara. Because stories about lesbians are tragedies.
— I’m STILL not over what he did to Marvel’s Runaways when he took the helm for a measly five-issue arc. He took Xavin, a non-binary character who was in a relationship with Karolina, and made a point of having them “decide” whether they wanted to be a boy or a girl even though previously established characterization had shown that this was NOT important to Xavin or even to their partner. So Joss basically took a canonically non-binary character and made them cis because I guess it was more comfortable for him to write cis lesbians.

Last but not least race, in which Joss isn’t even trying to PRETEND he gives a shit:

— Not one Asian on Firefly yet errbody walking around speaking in Mandarin
— No brown people in Sunnydale which is in Southern California
— Appropriation of Asian culture in Dollhouse as well as Firefly
— Zoe Washburne being AMAZING but also subservient as fuck
— That First Slayer business was profoundly gross to me before I even knew how to articulate it
— Kendra
— Not to mention how Spike cut his teeth murdering various Slayers of color (Nikki motherfucking Wood among others), and Buffy being constantly referred to as better than all the previous slayers.

All this is barely scratching the surface, and I’m not even touching Avengers or Dr. Horrible because I haven’t seen them and likely never will. Here is some good reading on Whedon and -isms because really each of his shows could fill multiple posts and because others HAVE gotten into it far better.

It’s not that I think Joss is the devil incarnate or that there’s nothing good about anything he’s done — but he has amassed a whole body of thoughtless, shallow work, keeping it as white, thin, able-bodied, cisgendered, and surface-level as possible. Yet HE’S the one fans point to as an example of progressive speculative fiction. He’s like the Tim Wise of sci-fi.

  1. thesaltedslug reblogged this from squintyoureyes and added:
    I am a fan of Joss Whedon. As a fan of Joss Whedon, it is important for me to acknowledge what is problematic in his...
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    I am actually super curious about any criticisms of The Avengers! Please direct some to me, because I really want to...
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    As much as it pains me to admit, Joss is problematic in the extreme. If you’re a fan, the entire post is worth reading,...
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