March 2021 - About Him
I've been meaning to write about this subject for a couple weeks now, and I've found it tremendously difficult, for a number of reasons. Please bear with me as I do my best, because despite how little my opinion on the subject matters in the grand scheme of things... because of how close to home it is, and how it impacts me, I think I need to get it out.
It's time to address Joss Whedon.
Around thirteen years ago, a close friend, a friend with whom I shared an incredible number of interests and whom I trusted implicitly, told me that after around three years of knowing each other, it was time that she introduced me to Whedon's work. She was a devoted and proud Whedonite, who counted attending one of the first screenings of the Serenity movie as one of her fondest moments. Her enthusiasm transferred to me in short order; over the next couple months, I marathoned Buffy, Angel, Firefly and Serenity, I streamed the premieres of each episode of Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog within hours of their uploading, and I watched each episode of Dollhouse live. In Whedon, I had found someone whose work spoke to me... a kindred spirit, I thought. A talented creator who knew what it was like to be the underdog, a man who suffered greatly and undeservedly but kept on getting back up whenever he was knocked down. A champion for the weirdos, the misfits, and the downtrodden. An outspoken feminist who made his girls and women just as badass as the men, if not more so. An innovator for LGBT+ representation, using his platform to give us one of the first lesbian couples on a network series, at a time when that was almost never done.
He became one of my idols, a huge influence on me. Discovering his work had the same kind of impact as discovering Miyazaki, or Madoka Magica... a watershed moment. He was my hero.
Over the years, I followed each step of his career. I mourned when Dollhouse was undeservedly canceled, and I cheered when it was announced that he would write and direct The Avengers. 2012 was Whedon's year... the third highest-grossing film of all time, the new cultural touchstone that everyone saw, had my idol's name on it. And just to top it off, he released two other films that year (well, one for which he shares the credit with Drew Goddard, though Goddard is often overshadowed), both of which also got rave reviews. And he was coming back to television to launch Agents of SHIELD, the first Marvel Studios TV series! And he was already signed on to write and direct Avengers 2! After so many years of being stepped on, it finally seemed to be his time to shine.
Three years later, when Age of Ultron released, it was clear that his relationship with Marvel fell apart over time. Ultron was like a tug of war between Whedon and the studio, and once his obligations were complete, he broke ties with them. I was saddened, but no worries, I thought. He'll bounce back. He always does.
Then in 2017, that article came out. The one where his now-ex-wife, Kai Cole, called him "a piece of shit" and said "he's not the person you think he is". The allegations were damning: infidelity and emotional abuse and manipulation, which had lasted for almost their entire marriage. Worse was his response, essentially gaslighting the poor woman just as he had been all that time, refusing to admit his fault in it.
It gutted me. It broke my heart and hurt me in ways I couldn't describe.
I didn't want to believe it. I had faith in Whedon, in the image he had cultivated. My idol, my hero, the champion of the underdog, the outspoken voice for feminism, just couldn't be the same person that Cole wrote about. That would go against everything I thought he stood for. Much as I tried to remain in denial, though, he had already been tainted in my eyes. Others tried to tell me that the signs had been there all along, and I'm ashamed to admit that I willfully ignored them. For those who made the attempts, there are no words sufficient enough to apologize.
Over the past four years, I've watched with growing sadness as Whedon's career has more-or-less disintegrated. There was the J*stice L*ague fiasco, which I won't go into because Z*** S*****'s rabid fandom has a tendency to pounce down the throats of anyone who dares question him. There were the allegations of racist and unprofessional behavior on the set of the reshoots. There was Whedon being booted off of his new HBO show, The Nevers, before it's even started airing.
And then came January. Charisma Carpenter, Buffy and Angel's Cordelia Chase, who had worked with him from the beginning of the series that launched him to stardom, finally came forward and bared her soul. She wrote a tremendously brave public statement in which she revealed that Whedon had been emotionally abusive and toxic to her, to the point that she was hospitalized and ultimately fired. In the days afterward, many former Whedon cast members spoke up in support of her, confirmed that she was telling the truth, and shared similar stories.
Now it appears that it's over. The ugly details are out in the open, and Whedon's reputation is almost assuredly damaged beyond repair. Hopefully, his many victims will now get the therapy and support that they need, and can move on with their lives...
So in that spirit, I need to move on with mine.
The man was my idol, someone I admired on both a personal and professional level. His work was and is a tremendous influence on my own. He wrote some of my favorite lines and scenes in all of fiction. For a long, long time, I was proud to call myself a Whedonite... but no more.
While I still enjoy his body of work, from now on I do so in spite of his involvement, not because of it. I cannot hold any amount of respect for an emotional abuser, not after being abused myself for so long. I cannot hold any amount of respect for a man who has been exposed as a particularly awful hypocrite, who spent two decades speaking empty words about the importance of respecting women and positioning himself as an ally. I cannot hold any respect for a man who betrayed nearly every principle he ever espoused to have.
This entry pains me to write. As I said, I've been trying to get it out for many weeks now, ever since I read Charisma Carpenter's statement... It's difficult to overstate how much part of me wants to just ignore everything about it, shut myself off from it completely.
But I couldn't live with myself if I didn't stand by my principles. That would make me little better than he is.
I won't lie: I was a Whedonite for over a decade. Being his fan defined me, and for a while, I would defend him against almost any criticism. He was my hero. His work moved me, it influenced me, it brought out new things in me. But being seduced by his image was my failing. I want to acknowledge that failing here and now, and in doing so prove that I can do what Joss Whedon apparently can't: recognize my own faults and try to be a better person.
I used to think Whedon was unique, a creative voice unlike any other. Now I see that the person he actually is is all too common... there are too many abusers and hypocrites like him. That's why I think it's more important than ever to not be like him. To treat other people with kindness and respect, to humbly admit our flaws and try to learn from them.
Maybe something happened to him to make him this way, or maybe he was like this all along. I don't know, but now I don't much care to know. This entry represents a clean break for me. I hope I've clearly laid out my story, and why I needed to write it. In the grand scheme of things, my words may not matter much, but... some of my favorite stories are the ones about the small voices, the downtrodden, the ignored, and the oppressed. In those stories, the outcasts rise against the powerful, with no regard for fame or glory. They speak up not for personal gain, but because it's the right thing to do. The irony here, of course, is that the one who was once considered an outcast and an underdog is now on the opposite end of the scale, the powerful and corrupt figure who has deservedly been laid low.
Funny how things like that turn out. See, his work has some worthwhile stuff still.