How I’m feeling about Joss Whedon

It’s a risky business, holding people up on pedestals when you’ve never even met them. We all have our heroes; it rarely seems to pay to learn too much. Have you ever had that feeling when you admire someone in public life; idolise them in some way and they let you down? It’s a deep kind of disappointment that makes you challenge the ideals you’ve built up.

I always thought of Joss Whedon as someone who looked out for women’s rights and as someone who wanted to be an advocate for the characterisation of women on TV. I don’t know what evidence I was basing this on; what grounds I had for this assumption. Maybe I just paid too much attention to the art. I saw the empowerment of Buffy as a sign that the person who created her was committed to that kind of idea. It turns out that, if you believe the words of various women who worked on the show, that I was mistaken.

I heard last year or the year before (time seems to have stretched out in this pandemic so I can’t tell how long ago things happened) about his infidelity and was prepared to ignore that. I suppose lots of people out there cheat, right? I don’t agree with it but it doesn’t have any bearing on the art. The TV and film business, like any other workplace, is probably full of people who aren’t very nice. What can you do?

For a moment, even Charisma Carpenter’s allegations I was prepared to take with a pinch of salt. He was mean to her. He was probably angry about her getting pregnant and getting a tattoo as it did have a bearing on the production schedule and other people’s jobs, I suppose, if I was to be incredibly generous. Then I started to think. No, it’s not right, is it?

I work in a business that’s 90% female and if one of my staff came to me and said she was pregnant, I wouldn’t ask her if she was going to ‘keep it’. I can’t even imagine a scenario where it would feel ok for me to ask that. I can’t imagine a scenario where I would be able to say that without feeling like a real creep. I would expect to be subject to a complaint and a disciplinary for it. Maybe it’s because I work in such a female dominated profession that I feel that way. I don’t think so. I think I was just raised the right way and I know what respect is. The tattoo thing, maybe I can see his point of view. Maybe she should have at least asked first in her position. The pregnancy? No.

So, seeing all this, it’s becoming more clear to me that this man I held in such high esteem is not really worth it. Since then, other people have started chiming in – Eliza Dushku, Amber Benson, Clare Kramer, Sarah Michelle Gellar and, although I haven’t seen his comments, apparently James Marsters.

Too many to make me think that this was all just a misunderstanding. What has left me really angry, though, is Michelle Trachtenberg’s comment about the cast having a rule about her not being left alone in a room with him. She was 15 years old when she was in Buffy. What the hell is that all about? It’s bringing up a question for me that I’ve already struggled with. When does it get to the point where I can no longer enjoy the stuff that this person made. Can we separate the person from the art?

I used to love Kevin Spacey. I thought he was a great actor, a friend of the theatre, etc. etc. Then we all found out about him and I just can’t bring myself to watch some of my favourite films any more. I haven’t watched LA Confidential or The Usual Suspects or even Se7en for years. I just can’t quite bring myself to do it. Why not? I haven’t made a conscious decision to stop watching films with Kevin Spacey. I just feel like I don’t want to. I feel personally let down by this person even though I have none of the facts; only what I read in the news. It feels the same with Joss Whedon now. How am I going to enjoy Buffy or Firefly again, knowing that this kind of thing was going on in the background?

Am I just a whining liberal who can’t grasp real life problems so I fixate over this entertainment nonsense? Maybe. Do I pick and choose the things to get outraged about? Definitely. I mean, I have to face up to the fact that most of my clothes were probably made in sweat shops by people who’ve been horribly exploited for my benefit. I still shop in big supermarkets despite the fact that they choke the life out of small businesses. There’s that. I’m sure I’m no beacon for morality. Are any of us? Isaac Newton was a thoroughly unpleasant person with a massive ego and a hot temper by all accounts but no-one discounts his work because of it. Let he without sin, etc. Maybe I should concentrate on the fact that the shows and films I’m talking about involved hundreds of people; cast and crew who put everything into them, some of them in spite of the fact they were working for an egomaniac. Jane Espenson, Rebecca Kirshner and Marti Noxon did a hell of a lot of writing on that show and that should be worth remembering. A lot of those great bits of dialogue we love came from them. It should also be remembered that all their hard work may now be tarnished by one selfish individual. Sarah Michelle Gellar put it really well in her statement.

I think that’s a really good way to put it.

This all feels like a bit of a ramble and I’m not entirely sure what I’m trying to say. I just feel so disappointed. When I wrote The Ardenna Crossing, I wanted to make sure that I had a bunch of girls in it who were more than just scenery. I made two of my main three characters girls in the same way Whedon did with the whole Buffy/Xander/Willow thing. That was conscious on my part. I didn’t make my protagonist female because I didn’t think I could write a girl as well as I’d write a boy. One thing I could do is make sure that he needed those girls in order to survive. I wanted to make sure that they were at least his equal and that they did things he couldn’t. To take my inspiration from someone and then find out they may well be what people say they are is a pill I’m finding it really hard to swallow. I was looking forward to doing a rewatch of Buffy and Angel and guest appearing on a YouTube channel retrospective about it over the next few months, but that probably won’t happen now.

It’s awful that it has taken so long for these allegations to surface and that the people concerned did not feel confident enough in the industry they work in to bring them up at the time. Imagine holding on to all that because you are too scared to speak out and you think your career will be ruined. I think a lot of workplaces in the world are still a lot more progressive than Hollywood and I’m sure glad that I work in one of them, where treating people equally is just something that you do. you don’t even think about it. There are rules to make sure you do it, but it feels like they’re only written down for the occasional person who might come in and not get it. Then again, I’m a man. I could be deluded by my own position. Maybe I don’t see things for how they really are? I really hope I do.

Thanks for reading,

Richard

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