Joss Whedon, shoddy writing trends, and the furniture move of doom

Man, titles are so difficult to come up with. Anyway, this is sort of a compendium post on various things, because I just don’t feel like writing a bunch of separate posts. Deal with it.

First off, I no longer sleep on the floor. I finally broke down and ordered a cheap twin bed from from Walmart. I had it delivered site-to-store, thinking, “Hey, I’ll have no problem fitting the box into my tiny Japanese compact car.” The gods rubbed their hands together with glee and said to each other “Boy is this gonna be good!” Anyway, after driving around with it in my car for two days my friend and I managed to pry it out, and only cracked my rear-view mirror a little. You know that thing about breaking mirrors being bad luck? Oh, totally a superstition, so the fact that yesterday was the Day From Hell had nothing to do with that, nothing I tell you.

I’m not going to talk about yesterday.

Anyway, I got the bed de-boxed and put together and had to move some stuff around and removed the long table I had my desktop on so now it’s on my tiny typing cart until I can get a small proper desk and that’s all I feel like saying about it.

So that’s my exciting life out of the way. What you really want to hear is what I think of Joss Whedon. To give a brief summary: I don’t think much of him, and don’t get why he’s considered all that by most scifi fans. I’ll tell you the truth: I tried to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and made it through a few episodes. Unfortunately this show came out when I had come down from my goth high (or climbed up from my goth low–however you want to think of it), and my lukewarm interest, or rather acceptance, of vampires as characters had just about disappeared from my mental processes. Basically, the show contained everything I had no interest in: high school shenanigans, vampires, teenage love (and teen/vampire love; I was squicked out by the idea of centuries-old beings falling for teenage girls long before Stephenie Meyers had even thought of putting her fingers on a keyboard), and standard Christian-influenced horror themes (Sunnydale being on a “hellmouth” — I just don’t believe in Hell as a concept, sorry). So all the show could offer me was some decent acting and a few amusing quips, and that didn’t seem to me to be enough to make me sit my ass down and watch every week.

Other than that, I don’t have much to say about the show. I’m sure it’s full of Whedon’s fauxmenism–such as the lesbian affair of Willow and some other woman which of course ended up Doomed because god forbid a non-heteronormative pairing end up happy. And yes, I’m still on the feminism kick and always will be. But I haven’t watched enough of Buffy to say anything substantial about it. Anyway, I kept hearing about how wonderful Joss Whedon was and how formative and influential–so much so that there is now a term, “Jossed,” for when a beloved character is killed off in a series seemingly out of nowhere. The definition has been expanded to mean when a show takes any turn that had not been anticipated by viewers, but I believe Whedon’s specialty was the “anyone can die” version. Well, almost anyone; main characters still seem immune: Buffy isn’t dead yet (except in that one episode where one of the characters ends up in an alternate universe where the vampires run everything, which was my favorite of the few episodes I saw–sexy evil Willow was sexy), and the character of Mal made it to the end of Firefly fully intact.

Okay, let’s talk about Firefly. I tried to like it. I really did. I rented the episodes from Netflix back when I had an account, and watched a few. And… I didn’t like it. For one thing, it’s a Western In Space. Westerns are one of my least favorite movie genres. I won’t go into why I don’t like Westerns here; it would take another long blog post. But the fact that Firefly was a Western In Space wasn’t my major objection; I’ve actually enjoyed works of science fiction that drew heavily on the Western motif. It was other things.

One of the things was a basic world-building failure. In this posited future, the system the show takes place in is supposedly a joint Chinese-Western (mostly American) effort, and the culture is supposed to be sort of half Chinese. You’ll mostly look in vain for that half–note to the white overseers that rule Hollywood: just putting a smattering of Asian actors in the background and some badly-pronounced “Chinese” swear words in the mouths of non-Asian actors does not make for any kind of “Chinese” anything. No major characters were Asian, none of the culture was Asian in any way. The culture of the ‘Verse was American through and through.

I will give Whedon a tiny pass on this because most of it may have had to do with budget problems. I gather this show was hard to get financed or something (and Fox famously treated it like shit, showing the episodes out of sequence and canning it as soon as they could despite its apparently popularity). I can see the Hollywood execs now, complaining that Whedon’s concepts were too expensive, but look, we already have all these old Western sets you can use, can’t you just make it another Western In Space? But only a tiny pass, because someone with real morals would have just withdrawn his show from consideration until he got what he wanted. It wasn’t like he was some nobody by this time. So I get the feeling that he really wanted a Western In Space and had come up with the Chinese stuff as some sort of “exotic” window dressing and actually being spared all but a smattering of that was better than what we’d have gotten. (Just imagine if the many sinister villains in the show had also been Asian. Just think of the many opportunities for stock Oriental evil criminal mastermind stereotypes we could have enjoyed. Ugh. Note: this is based on the episodes I watched. I haven’t watched all of them so maybe I missed an evil brothel madam squinting at Inara and hissing at her, or a Fu Manchuish crime lord with three inch fingernails.)

The other thing that gave me pause was the show’s use of a subset of the Western genre where the plot is driven by the aftereffects of the American Civil War. In the original subgenre sometimes the hero was a former “Johnny Reb” who had fought for the Confederacy and had moved out West to rebuild his life after suffering defeat. This type of movie usually walked a delicate line of having sympathy for the hero while still not praising the aims of the South, which was to retain a way of life that included slavery. The movies usually did this by having the hero either be an “I fought for the love of Dixie” type and not putting him in any situation where he would encounter, say, a former slave, or more rarely, it had him confront the issue head on and learn a lesson. Often there would be a villain who was (or still is, in the movie) a Union soldier who gives our Johnny Reb a hard time. Or else, the post-Civil War Western featured a former Union soldier who had moved West to forget the horrors of war or just because, and he’d have to deal with villainous former Confederate soldiers who had gone bandito. (On a side note, Andre Norton wrote a couple of short historicals featuring the sympathetic Confederate soldier who moved out West and who ended up confronting both types of villains: the bigoted Union soldier and the gone-bandit Confederate major.)

Firefly‘s version of this war was between the Alliance, the Union equivalent, and the “Independents,” who different from the Confederacy only not really. Well, the Independents are obviously not into slavery (the Alliance is much more controlling and domineering than the Union was and many of their activities, such as torturing genius children into becoming supersoldiers, could be a kind of slavery, wherein people are treated like objects and cattle for the use of their masters). Basically, this is a “cleaned up” version of the War of Northern Aggression where the North really were the baddies and the South really were the beleaguered folk who just wanted to be left alone. I’ve got more than a few problems with that. There’s a tendency among Americans, not just those in the South, to romanticize our Civil War and especially the South. The South has all that pretty stuff and acres of green plantations with those gorgeous Greek Revival homes and those stylish uniforms while the North was all gloomy cities and grim factories and the Union soldiers wore drab grey uniforms with those ugly little caps.

But look. It’s all bullshit. One of the oh-so-romantic “states’ rights” all the fans of the South are always jawing about was the right to sell other human beings as if they were cows. If something is wrong it’s wrong, no matter how you dress it up, and the massive amount of “blood and treasure” it took to get slavery to stop is the fault of the South, who valued their precious “way of life” more than they valued human beings’ right to be free. Deal with it.

So there’s that. But my main objection to the series is not any of the above. I could have endured those annoyances if the characters had had any redeeming value beyond being vehicles for Whedon to show off his famous quips. But for the most part most of the characters were too unpleasant, and needlessly so. No, they weren’t “complex.” They were just dicks to each other, mostly for no good reason. Look, it’s one thing for characters in a hard world to be somewhat cagey and initially mistrusting of one another. It’s another thing for Mal, the captain of the ship, to pretend that another character who has just been shot has died, just to upset the doctor who operated on her. I find Mal especially problematic: he often acted in ways that weren’t just indicative of a troubled, “demon-haunted” veteran of the losing side of a war, but were simply childish and uncalled for. For example, his continued treatment of Inara, who is a Companion, which in the show’s setting is a high-class position, as basically a whore.

Okay, I haven’t even touched on the misogyny and the rest of the racefail in the show because I’m not really qualified, I missed a lot of it on my own viewing and only the essays of other people made me see it. But this was in-your-face and could not be explained away. Mal obviously wanted Inara for his very own, only he didn’t, and in the way of 21st century males was quite the petulant teenage boy about it. You know, they didn’t used to do it that way. On Gunsmoke, the long-running tv Western which even I watched (for one thing, no cable–either you watched what was on or you didn’t watch tv), Marshal Matt Dillon was good friends with Miss Kitty Russell. Miss Kitty owned a saloon, which is mid-century American tv speak for “brothel,” more or less. Anyway, in the staid, stuffy old days of the USA women who owned shady if vital businesses like saloons were looked at somewhat askance, so while on the one hand Miss Kitty was a businesswoman, on the other hand, well she wasn’t married with kids and properly at home cooking and cleaning now was she? My point is, Marshall Dillon always, always treated Miss Kitty with respect. He treated all women with respect. Of course, that respect was based in a society where women were second-class citizens, but back then there was a price for letting men run things and that price was to be considered a good man you had to be polite to women. If you became known as someone who treated woman badly, or were heard calling a woman “whore” in the street (even if she was a whore–yes, men were supposed to be polite even to “bad” women), you would get a reputation as a cad, a jerk, someone who could not be counted on, certainly someone you wouldn’t let your female relatives around. Oh sure, men still stuck together but they policed themselves better. It was a narrow, repressive society, but they did some things better. (Of course, I am talking about men of a certain class. But the class Mal is in is equivalent to that of Marshal Dillon.)

So he treats Inara openly like shit because she has sex with other men for money, even though in this future society Companion is supposedly an acceptable and even high class career for women. I’m sorry, his unrequited lust for Inara doesn’t excuse this, and I don’t understand why she has anything to do with him. In the Jossverse, women are attracted to rough men. (Buffy had affairs with two vampires, Spike and Angel. What does that tell you?)

I could go on, but I’m tired of Firefly. Let’s talk about The Avengers. I haven’t seen it, nor have I seen the previous movie featuring Loki and Thor (it was called Thor, though if you go by the fansites it should have been called Loki.) The first movie was directed by Kenneth Branagh and is supposed to be rather good. As we all know Branagh is Anglo-Irish. The second movie is directed by Joss Whedon, who is American. This will be important.

There has been talk on the internet about a certain scene in Avengers where Loki, played by the personable-looking actor Tom Hiddleston, is imprisoned behind some sort of plexiglass wall and is arguing with a character called the Black Widow. I don’t know what it’s all about, but I guess he’s upset about being imprisoned so he apparently calls her a “mewling quim.” “Quim” is an antique, little-used word for a certain ladypart. A more common term is “cunt.” The British don’t seem to think “cunt” is all that bad of a swear word (or so I’ve read), but in the USA it’s considered a disgusting insult. I’ll leave aside the fact that ladypart words seem to be considered more insulting to use than manpart words (though words like “cock” and “dick” used to be quite impermissable–then again I’m old enough to have been reprimanded for using the word “darn”). Let’s just say Whedon apparently had this burning need to have his movie villain call a woman a cunt, but didn’t think he could pass that under the radar, so he dredged “quim” up from the dictionary. Well, it didn’t work, and the feminist internet is up in arms about it.

I’ll just say this: I don’t recall reading anything about the Branagh film having the characters treat women like this, villains or no. At the very least, any such crudities as the above would have been mentioned. But Branagh is British, and apparently has no need to tweak his audience by throwing in vulgarities where none are needed. Not so my fellow American, who seemed to feel that Loki, an evil god, was just not evil enough, he had to be a misogynist asshole as well.  Loki’s character as played by Hiddleston has been the object of the fannish lust of many, so I can’t help feeling this fact made Whedon feel threatened in his tiny American manparts and this is his effort in the cause of turning women off of other men. Also Hiddleston is British and… well I don’t know. It just seems unnecessary to me, another example of Joss Whedon’s brand of overkill and why he makes me so tired.


14 thoughts on “Joss Whedon, shoddy writing trends, and the furniture move of doom

  1. I have to say I dsagree, I like Joss ad his sifi but thanks for sharing your thoughts always good to get a new/other perspective

    • Okay, thanks and all that, but why do you like his stuff? It’s not just enough to say “I disagree.”

      I mean, I can see that on the surface his oeuvre is fun and playful, and a lot of people like that wisecracking-in-the-midst-of-drama thing. (I’m not entirely against that myself.) I just find that a little Joss goes a long way, and he really doesn’t appeal to me for the reasons I have written about in this post. It’s not enough, for me, to have your characters be joking around and occasionally show quirky moments if their situations are cliched or you have your characters do or say something that is out of what we are told is the way the character “really” is. It goes back to that thing about how the author doesn’t matter: you can overcome this somewhat in live-action entertainment, because the actors are real people, but when we’re told Mal is a hard-edged but compassionate individual who is haunted by his past yet has overcome it, but he acts like a dumb male baby who has never known hardship, it just pushes me out of enjoying your show.

      For example, you have a doctor on your ship when you didn’t before and he’s become part of your crew. Sure, his initial actions were questionable but they were all in the service of protecting his sister. Do you keep treating him like shit? Remember, this is man is a doctor, and his sister, though crazy, is a super genius. Only the fact that Simon Tam seemed to have a rock-hard basic morality kept him from poisoning everyone on the ship and then with the help of his sister taking it over. I would not keep treating such a character as if at any moment he might turn me into the Alliance–especially since it was the Alliance that drove his beloved sister insane. But we have to have melodrama, so we get the tiresome dance of mistrust. It bored me.

  2. okay I supose I like him because I like that he is alittle bit wacky, I don’t tend to look to deep at his chracters as they are all flawed, but I do like his ideas … i love Doll house and believe that(like firefly) had he been given more tme he would have done more, I enjoy his dialouges and the musical Buffy series was so muh fun. I didn’t like wilow but loved spike even if he was a macho … but so human and full of faults. I suppose I like it when people can surprse me and he does at times with twists … not as wacky and David Lynch but sill at ties unpredictable … but then like Terry Prachett and Colin Bateman and Tarantino too

    • Hmm. I’ve never seen Dollhouse–I’m afraid the entire premise of the show creeped me out. I actually liked Willow, at least in the episodes I saw. Spike did have his moments, though I am wary of giving too much love to a character that FFS is supposed to be a baddie. I used to like David Lynch a lot but he has this suffering-bad/good-woman thing going on that I don’t know is just because he does cracked noir and it’s a noir trope or it’s just him. Possibly both. Everyone evokes Pratchett but the only thing I’ve read of his (well, half his) was Good Omens that he wrote with Neil Gaiman, and while I was amused by it I never got the urge to read it again. I’ve never heard of Colin Bateman and I don’t have any interest in Tarantino–his fannish preoccupations aren’t mine.

  3. I’m not a Joss Whendon fanboi, although I did line parts of early Buffy and most of Firelly. The abuse of Simon didn’t bother me much, although you are right about it being out of character The taunting of the companiion, also is odd in a supposedly oriental culture. The Whedon misogyny that really bugged me was in the last episode when the bounty hunter Jubal Early, a large black man, threatens to sexually assault Kaylee, really bothered me. In every other episode,even the most mild taunting of the ‘innocent’ Kaylee was kamically repaid with major trouble, usually enforced by Mal himself, such as him sending Jayne to his room for even just embarrasing her.

    The thing that I found odd about the thing wiht Buffy and Spike. I didn’t hate the hellmouth as much as you because it is reasonalbly clear it is a figure of speach – the ‘Hell’ is just an alternate dimension full of vampires and big mosters rather than a moral Christian Hell.

    Ok, but Whedon’s own mythology is that Vamps are just plain evil. He mocks the vamp loving Goth crowd. Angel is an exception because of the gypsy curse that gave him a soul back, which all other vamps lack. When Angel gets it stripped away, he becomes a total creep.

    So where does Spike fit into this? Even before he hooks up with Buffy, he is doting on his lady vampire. it is alien to his own mythos.

  4. […] the Union soldiers wore drab grey uniforms with those ugly little caps.

    Not quite.

    It was the Confederate soldiers that wore grey.

    • Whoops, my bad, I based this on bad memories of my father’s old books. I looked it up and actually both armies seemed to have elements of blue, and it was the Confederate infantry that wore the grey. The Confederate officers seemed to wear those broad brimmed fancy hats though.

  5. Oh, and apparently this quote, from the movie The Avengers is real:

    Thor: Have a care how you speak. Loki is beyond reason, but he is of Asgard. And he is my brother.
    Natasha Romanoff: He killed eighty people in two days.
    Thor: He’s adopted.

    I’m adopted. Fuck you, Joss Whedon.

    • The only thing I can think of about the swearing (other than it reminds me of Family Guy getting “Cleveland Steamer” past the censors in the same way) is that apparently it’s chic now to try to skirt the lines of ratings–I read a couple of articles a while back that said filmmakers will do stuff like make sure they put one “fuck” in a PG-13 movie, because they can without that tipping it into an R. Seems puerile, but whatever.

      • It is puerile. And I can’t be “whatever” about it any more. It’s just wrong. It degrades the character, it degrades the art. And there’s no need for it.

  6. I was agreeing with you. I guess the “whatever” was meant to represent my attitude towards this stuff.

    • Oh I figured that, but for me I’ve moved past “whatever” and have arrived at “smash it with a hammer.”

    • And argh, forgot I meant to say something about the “shoddy writing trends” in my title, which I don’t think I went into very much in this post after all, so I guess it will have to be a new post.

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