So Joss Whedon is no longer the nerd feminist icon that everyone thinks he is. It really should have been obvious in retrospect. I liked Firefly, but after watching the two Avengers movies and looking at that Wonder Woman script of his, something about his female characters seemed “off”. Like they were untouchable in some super uncanny way. The op-ed his ex-wife wrote was chilling because Whedon really believed in all of his justifications. It makes you wonder if anybody’s really fit to not be corrupted by that Hollywood producer dynamic. I think I would be, but that’s easy for me to say with my nobody status. Seriously though, Just the idea of being surrounded by “beautiful, needy, aggressive women” gives me a headache. Christ, just go home and get some therapy.
Anyway, back to the uncanniness. The character of Black Widow, for example, was fun to watch, but she wasn’t believable. Her personality seemed to change for whatever the director had in mind for her. It wasn’t like her character was an actress, or anything, she just kept saying those lines, with conviction, for whatever the plot demanded of her. She was a badass for her intro scene, a lost little girl for her scenes with Loki, and the girl next door for when she was trying to woo the Hulk. There was nothing consistent about it, nothing that indicated she had a personality when she was out of the way of the male gaze. Now, contrast that with Captain America, he’s got his “I can do this all day” line, and his notebook full of references to look up. It’s got a kind of melody you can follow that’s pleasing. That’s a kind of paradox, isn’t it? You want characters to have different aspects to themselves, but you need the threads of sameness to pull them together and make them believable.
What really sucks is that this is now a pattern. Joss Whedon joins the likes of people like Woody Allen or Jian Ghomeshi who branded themselves as progressive and were just all kinds of disgusting. What secrets lie the hidden in the jorts of Kevin Smith? Do either Hank or John Green have something disturbing to tell us? Patrick Stewart already made an appearance in the Emoji movie, so hopefully his dark secret is out there already.
These think pieces always end in how we shouldn’t put our cultural heroes on a pedestal, but like it or not, men in fandom were cribbing from Joss Whedon’s notebook. We looked to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, and we thought hm, these strange womenfolk who are cosplaying at our conventions and being uncomfortable within our comic shops, this is how they like to be portrayed, this is how they want us to think of them. He became our hero because his shows were fun to watch and we could share them with a wider range of people. Now we know that he set a terrible example for feminist men, we have to find a new path once again.
Here’s the good news. Mr. Whedon got his reputation because feminist voices were and still are rare in Hollywood. His position needs to be the default and not the exception, otherwise this will just keep happening. If you saw Kai Cole’s blog post and you felt sick to your stomach, lost, or just ashamed of your gender, you owe it to yourself to listen to actual feminist voices and start voicing your own interpretations. I recommend the upcoming zine by Women Write about Comics as a good place to start. We don’t need to have a Joss Whedon level of talent to muddy the waters and make strong female characters less revolutionary. If we can’t add to the conversation, then we can at least drown out people like him.