Joss Whedon created – Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Serenity and the upcoming Dollhouse. Now I have issues with a lot the shows listed, I’m also a huge fan. My problem isn’t entirely with the shows but also in the way a lot of of fans perceive Joss. He gets a lot of cachet from certain segments of fandom – about how he loves strong women, how he describes himself as a feminist, his population of diverse women.
Yeah I kind of scoff at all of that. First of all I will never understand why men who choose to treat women decently get a fucking medal, that should just be par for the course. I know it’s not and we as a society need to work on that but handing out cookies to these men and not allowing them to be critiqued or not critiquing them just allows them to get away with a lot of bullshit – that without the cachet of being a “feminist man” or “pro-feminist man” they would be torn to shreds for.
While I love Buffy & Firefly. (Angel I’m kinda *meh* on) the first thing that I notice is that Joss likes a certain type of woman to be strong: they have to be skinny and white and ever so traditionally beautiful. Not really that feminist to me. I’ve had a lifetime of reading comics where skinny women become superheroes all the time. Buffy was little different from them to me. I liked her sarcasm, her determination but didn’t truly see her or the show as ground breaking…wait rephrase perhaps it was ground breaking for the medium of television specifically. But it seemed to me that everytime there was a feminist moment of fabulousness it was always within this very narrow view of women so that no ground was actually gained in my eyes. If it was anything it was the feminism he ascribed to was this prevalent “girl-power” pseudo-feminism. Yes, it was great to see girls and women being strong but you know what I would have loved? If we could have seen women of different colors, sizes, abilities, classes being just as strong without fucking up and killing someone innocent (Faith) or dying (Kendra).
And so often the shows fell into stereotypes and tropes:
The destruction of Angel’s life through Cordelia’s rampant sexuality and yes we find out she was possessed and it wasn’t really her but that whole excuse was way muddled and not thought out.
I would have loved for Gunn (the only recurring POC in his first two shows) to just be able to be smart without a mystical intervention.
The dead lesbian – Tara
The breakdown of women without a male partner or when the male partner leaves – Buffy, Anya, Willow and on and on – in a way where we rarely if ever saw the reverse with Xander and Giles.
There’s a way in which Joss likes to consistently pair physical strength in girls with emotional weakness or fucked-up-ness, almost as if they have to exist side by side and that’s what pissed me off more than anything.
And yes we can’t say that Joss had a hand in all of those, he was the creator but he did not write every episode but as the creator he sets the tone, the pace and the message of the show. None of the show writers are going to write a character completely out of the character that Joss has set. It’s a trickle down effect.
Also I think most of us can agree while Joss might have an inkling of feminism he’s really bad at race…really really bad. Yes, in Firefly we have a mixed crew – which I love – but there’s a way in which River and Inara never have their heritage brought up and the complete absence of Asian folks in this Asian inspired show could be a whole post in and of itself. Just plopping down some folks of color is not good race politics you have to explore it at least a little – and I know he only had 12 episodes. Also the gender politics in Firefly/Serenity weren’t the best. In fact cracked.com listed Hollywood’s 5 Saddest Attempts at Feminism– River’s at #3.
I want to talk about these things, I want to talk about his consistently really bad race politics in all three of his shows. I want to talk about the co-opting of feminism by the mainstream into this whole “girl power” movement where there’s not real critique of power structures and the similarity of this “girl power” movement to the Republican ideology of “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” without any discussion of the continuing hierarchies and how difficult that can make it. I want to talk about all of that and how that’s filtered into Joss’ work but all too often I’m completely shut down by calls of “He’s a feminist!” as if that gives him a free ride to do whatever else he wants.
I own: all 7 season of Buffy, Firefly, Serenity & the first two seasons of Angel so it’s safe to term me a fan but I know that Joss has issues that crop up as do all creators. Shoot I know my own work probably has issues but I would hope that no one would give me a pass, that folks would tell me imy issues so I could be aware of it and either acknowledge it as a problem that had to exist in the work or apologize and try and do better next time. When we don’t allow for these critiques and questions to be voiced then we’re doing a disservice not only to the work but to the creator as well.
There might be posts later that focus on these shows and specifically their race politics when I get the time because:
Buffy – So. California town with little-to-no People of Color?
Angel – Only representation of POC is the trope of ghetto-gang-hustler?
Firefly/Serenity – The already mentioned absence of Asian folks coupled with the complete appropriation of their culture.