Whedonites Anonymous


Hi, my name is Shana, and I'm a former Whedonite. 

Don't get me wrong, I still love Buffy and Angel, his runs on The Runaways and Astonishing X-men comics, and I do still love Firefly. It's just not quite like it uused to be. Fandoms have changed. I have changed. I went to Dragon*Con once almost ten years ago and my true "fandom community" moment was waiting outside the Firefly themed dance party. When we had to wait, the entire line of 100+ Browncoats sat and sang the theme song. Of course, it was a few too many times and woefully off-key but that was the joy of it. That's still the joy of being a Whedonite. The Whedonverse is vast and has various sundry geek-uttantes that have reached various levels of notoriety. Even not so famous actors can still be featured in videos, like Whedon's newly produced political ad against Orange-Zombie-Hitler, and draw squeals from those loyal Whedonites who know all appearances of all Whedonverse actors anywhere. 
What made me stop loving Whedon?
I started to expect more. Now that he's moved onto working on Marvel movies and finding the happiest medium for large superhero-loving audiences, Whedon's older work has remained popular. Hubs of fandom like Tumblr show the ongoing love Browncoats hold for Firefly. As time goes by, the fandom becomes more blind in its loyalty and while much of its audience is aging into questioning certain Whedon-tropes there's enough room for the subtle MRAs to find affirmation in older texts. What do I mean? To really talk about that, I have to start identifying the Whedon-tropes that have left me questioning him.
1. The Not-my-Father/Not-your-Daughter Relationship
Whether it's the lack of variety in her (all-cis-het-white-male) guardians that Buffy has between her movie, television, and comics series; or the questionably appropriate relationship between Simon and River on Firefly, Whedon's "strong young female" characters are almost always reliant upon an older male "father" figure to achieve their goals. They're there in "Dollhouse," sometimes in the body of a woman. While it's clear that Whedon wants to empower his women, it's generally to make them more complicated objects of the male gaze. Reminiscent of Lolita and Dd/lg BDSM relationships, the list of problems that make this relationship dynamic problematic are as long as the reasons why people enjoy watching it. And most likely the same list.
2. Say What Now?
Part of what Whedon's writing style assumes is that you're along for the ride. It's not to say that this is always a bad thing but it rarely holds up to more rigorous criticism. It makes in-jokes with its fans and relies heavily on references to current pop culture, which has the devisive effect of splitting the audience base. If you don't like one thing Whedon dooes, it's not likely you'll like his other work. His style is as familiar and imitated as more stylized and critically praised filmmakers like Wes Anderson or Tarantino. Whedon, who is a third generation Hollywood writer, feels like a Hollywood writer. Maybe that will be an essay of its own someday. Either way, Whedon's style hasn't been forced to grow. He's tackled several mediums of entertainment and been successful on a huge scale. However, I'd argue that he's still writing at about the same level about the same stuff, with the same kind of general point of view.At the end of the day, if he isn't still learning and growing then I'm really not interested in hearing more of what he has to say.
3. Always a Browncoat, Never a Reaver
As the MRAs and other aggressively anti- groups tend to pervert all that is good, it's easy to find Firefly fans that don't seem to like it for the "right reasons." We'll all disagree on what those reason are to some degree but, if you're ready to be critical, there is not way to look at a show from this distance without a "Make America(n Television) Great Again," detachment from intersectionality. I still love Firefly for what it meant to me when I was first watching it with my mom.   Those fans who still wear Browncoat gear almost begin to feel like they're wearing some skins from the past. The fonts are outdated and the tenor behind the loyalty is often tinged with aggression for the time when Mal was considered an apex of manliness. Browncoats are becoming MRAs and trolls and, like all sub-genre of geeks, becoming the very Reaver assholes we flee to fandom to escape. 
There's something to be said for fandom that interferes with the enjoyment of a text. Fandoms now have followers that give them reputations among the larger mixed fandom communities for treating each other badly. They seem to guard their fan properties with such zeal that people come to form opinions about texts that are negative for the sake of wanting to distance yourself from that "type" of person.
I'm not blaming Whedon for how politics trickle down into geek communities but the Whedon fan communities no longer felt as welcoming as they had that night at Dragon Con. 
I love Firefly. I love it without much defense or consideration and that's why it was never meant to be something that I defended in a podcast. That's why it probably never should have been a podcast I did with someone who was not an already dyed in the wool Browncoat. I'm looking forward to starting again with Jessica and look forward to hearing her point of view on all things Whedon. Most of all, I'm looking forward to discussing the emotional nostalgia and sentiment that I associate so strongly with these characters. I may have outgrown them but I can still appreciate what they have meant to me over the years.
Don't worry about Daniel, he's got a dozen other podcasts to worry about. 
I may not love Whedon enough to defend him against his detractors but I look forward to chatting with someone else whose coat is still a little brown after all these years.


Aylwin 1 year, 12 months ago

Fandoms now have followers that give them reputations among the larger mixed fandom communities for treating each other badly. They seem to guard their fan properties with such zeal that people come to form opinions about texts that are negative for the sake of wanting to distance yourself from that "type" of person.

That's certainly true, but I don't think it's new, though I dare say some specifics have changed. I mean, that was pretty much my experience of online Firefly fans back when it was originally on (or at least shortly after it was cancelled), and contributed substantially to the fact that I've never actually watched it. Up there with The Matrix among things I was prejudiced against from the outset because oh deary me the fans.

Also, if only on the level of cheapshots, it's altogether too easy to think ill of a group of belligerently zealous devotees who call themselves Brown[garment]s...

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phuzz 1 year, 12 months ago

Don't let the fans put you off something, watch it yourself and then decide. After all, you don't have to interact with them even if it turns out that you do like the thing.

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Aylwin 1 year, 12 months ago

Oh indeed; I'm not pretending to any kind of rationality here. And in this instance, I do know at least one lovely Firefly fan. I'm mostly speaking historically - there was a time when it was something I might well have sought out, had I not been put off. At this stage I just don't particularly feel the urge.

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Kiki Basco 1 year, 12 months ago

This is a really nice, even-handed criticism of Whedon that doesn't make any of the usual pitfalls. What I mean is that rather than just write a "Cinema Sins"-style list of lines that are "problematic" or whatever in Joss's ouevre and pass that off as criticism, you're actually arguing that there are recurring long-term issues in his scripts. Which is really awesome because there are a lot of criticisms of Joss that don't amount to much more than bullet points.

Which is to say that I mean no offense when I say that 33% of your argument is totally off the mark.

"Whedon's "strong young female" characters are almost always reliant upon an older male "father" figure to achieve their goals. [...] While it's clear that Whedon wants to empower his women, it's generally to make them more complicated objects of the male gaze."
Excepting Simon and River (which is more of a big bro/lil sis relationship imo), I think the opposite is true: the "father" figures are ostensibly pillars/columns/pick-your-own-phallic-symbols of support for the leading ladies, but in reality they're obstacles to the women's growth and are treated as such. Buffy routinely (and accurately) dismisses the Watcher's Council as a bunch of old men who are basically using her as a weapon in the fight against evil. This is the tension in the Buffy/Giles dynamic; their love for one another is genuine, but their relationship is always sullied by Giles being part of an organization dedicated to dehumanizing young women (ie, patriarchy). Over the course of seven seasons, their dynamic changes from general/soldier (entirely hierarchical) to father/daughter (platonic but still rooted in gendered hierarchy) to trusted friends (entirely platonic, no hierarchy). I think that's really moving and very much feminist.

Supporting this is the dynamic between Faith and the Mayor, which never advances beyond an intensely patriarchal father-daughter relationship, leading to both of their deaths. I'd also argue that certain aspects of Dollhouse's second season are intensely unpopular because a large part of the show's fanbase want to imagine that Boyd and Adelle are Echo's loving parents, and the show screams otherwise pulls the rug out on anyone who wants the characters to form an ersatz family as Whedon characters are wont to do.

In any case, this is a lovely little post. Buffy was hugely important to me in navigating high school and I still think that for all his flaws, Joss Whedon is kind of a genius. But there is this gross macho fanbase that surrounds some of his work and while it's tempting to say that they're just missing the point I really am interested in how shows that aim towards feminist ideals end up attracting a subset of fans who are actively hateful towards said feminist ideals.

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halcoromosone 1 year, 12 months ago

Ah, thanks Kiki - I came down to the comments to say a version of this.

Also, going off what you said about Boyd and Adele, Dollhouse was absolutely a conscious effort on Whedon's part to grow and challenge himself, taking many of his 'standard' writing tropes and twisting them into something new/ugly. Whether that was successful is a different matter, but there's definitely no mistaking that show for his others.

The fandom stuff sounds awful by the way - glad I've never been a big enough part of those communities to come across it.

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Aylwin 1 year, 12 months ago

Also in "because I'm a bad person" news, this instilled in me a prurient curiosity to listen to that one Oi! Spaceman Firefly podcast. Consequently I am now goggling at the concept of "a parody of Space: Above and Beyond".

How could you parody Space: Above and Beyond?! How would that even be possible?

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John G. Wood 1 year, 12 months ago

I'm probably not quite what you'd call a Joss Whedon fan - I watched a couple of episodes of Buffy and thought it was well-made, well-written, and not really for me, and I don't make an effort to watch every show he's done (I've not tried Dollhouse, for instance).

However, I adore Firefly. I'd certainly call myself a Firefly fan, even though I've never been to a convention or sought out the company of other people who love it (in person or on the net). That's just not how I relate to it. So while I'm sorry to hear Browncoats include a range of idiots, it doesn't really affect me directly. I'll go on loving the show, flaws and all, in my little bubble of space, just as the show is limited to a little bubble of time.

(Incidentally, I originally came to Firefly because just about everyone I knew on a discussion board for the Traveller roleplaying game recommended it, including military types, doctors, teachers, scientists, and writers, from all across the English-speaking world and Europe. I'd never seen such agreement there before, where there was generally a USA/Commonwealth split or a divide along political attitude lines.)

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Kiki Basco 1 year, 11 months ago

To be fair, Traveler is basically the closest thing there is to Firefly: The Game. (Which is impressive given that there are like five official Firefly tabletop games.)

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John G. Wood 1 year, 11 months ago

Oh, indeed - but I don't think you could find any Traveller adventure that had such a level of agreement. Adding the Merchant and Scout books to the earlier Mercenary really opened it up to people with a variety of interests (including myself - I get nothing out of roleplaying gun battles, whereas I'm quite happy to set myself up as a struggling entrepreneur or explorer and fiddle about with other numbers).

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ViolentBeetle 1 year, 11 months ago

Serious question: If you ever walk outside in winter and slip on icy patch, would you think MRAs did it to you?

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Kiki Basco 1 year, 11 months ago

This seems like the opposite of a serious question.

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phuzz 1 year, 11 months ago

Depends, is there an MRA hiding round the corner with an empty bucket of LN2?

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Kit Power 1 year, 11 months ago

"Serious Question"

Note to self - MRA apologists always lie. :)

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John Seavey 1 year, 11 months ago

Hi! Just wanted to say that you inspired me to write this blog post at my own blog, here:


It's not a disagreement with you, more a sort of long-winded and discursive agreement that I didn't think was appropriate to post as a comment. But I wanted to thank you for this (literally) thought-provoking post!

(Seriously, thanks so much. I had no idea what I was going to write about today.)

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