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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Joss Whedon: Kiss the Ring

In which I shit on everyone's waifu again.

I've been a long-time viewer of Joss Whedon's television shows. Being a life-long nerd, it's sort of expected that I'd have faithfully followed at least one of them, and I'll be upfront and tell you that I came in kind of late on Buffy, starting with (the atrocious in retrospect) season six and then catching up on the previous episodes as well as Angel, on reruns. I probably pirated the first copies of Firefly. I even watched Dollhouse. When I heard he was directing Avengers, I was excited, and I wasn't let down when I saw it.

But something's always struck me as odd about Joss Whedon's work. Everyone who's anyone when it comes to voicing girl-power, smash-the-patriarchy sentiments seems to worship his work and hang on every baffling word the man tweets. And I just don't get it.

Someone once asked Joss “Why do you write strong female characters?” His response was the utterly glib “Because you keep asking me that question.” But that's the thing, he doesn't write strong female characters. He writes Strong Female Characters. As in, that's their one defining trait: they're strong. I mean, sure, every now and then you get a character like Cordelia, who had serious character growth... after she was moved off the mothership and onto the spinoff, with writing being handled primarily not by Joss, but mostly it's just “spindly kung-fu waif”:  Buffy, River Tam, Echo, and now Black Widow.

Look at the contrast between Widow in Iron Man 2 and Winter Soldier vs Avengers. She beats up some dudes and then runs away from Hulk. She gets exactly one good scene in Avengers, when she fools Loki. In Winter Soldier, she moves the story forward almost single-handedly. In Iron Man 2, she goes from "coquettish secretary suspiciously proficient in martial arts" to "complete and total badass" in a fight scene that she has yet to surpass in the MCU.

I just don't get why Joss Whedon is so revered by the feminist crowd that even Anita Sarkeesian won't criticize him, despite literally putting a woman in a refrigerator.

Pictured: Literal Woman In Refrigerator
Whedon treats his female characters like shit. And not in the good way where bad stuff happens to them and they struggle to overcome it, he's just got a blatant disrespect for them. There's so much that's “problematic” in his work, from the year-long date-rape scene between Buffy and Spike that was season six to the aforementioned fridging of River Tam, to the sexual imagery used in the Widow interrogation scene at the beginning of Avengers to the entire concept of Dollhouse. One could, if one were of a mind for critical theory, claim that Joss's library of work is dripping with misogyny. 

Then there's his actions and words outside of his work. Joss Whedon once spoke at an Equality Now event about how he hated the word “Feminism.” When The Mary Sue were 'fanning themselves' over Chris Pratt in the Jurassic World clip, Joss replied that he was too busy bemoaning how it was “70s era sexist.” Goony beard-man mansplains to women how they're wrong about feminism. And they love him for it.

Now don't get me wrong, when it comes to character and dialogue, he's pretty damn good. And his shows have consistently had great action scenes. I'm glad they gave him the Avengers films, because in sequential storytelling, the Avengers films are the series finale episodes that are just witty banter and big fight scenes. The really interesting stories like "Cap and Widow on the run" and "Tony suffering PTSD" take place in the connecting episodes, but give Joss the big slap-bang fight scenes and let him ad-lib with RDJ for 2 hours... and forgive him for panning the camera over Scarlett Johannesburg's T&A like Michael Bay hopped up on goofballs.

This is also why Guardians of the Galaxy was in every way a better movie than Avengers, despite it having no real right to be. Gauntlet thrown, fanboys. Come at me.

So here's to you, Joss. A tip of the fedora to someone who I have no idea banks so much goodwill amongst the progressive gender-focused crowd when you have no real right to it.  

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