ActivismFeminismPop Culture

Why the world is angry at Joss Whedon (or a few marvel fans at least)

I like Joss Whedon’s work, before anyone starts to get angry with me, but like anything it has its flaws. I hate to break it to you, but people aren’t perfect and this whole putting people on a pedestal thing isn’t good. For you or the person on it, have you ever seen a pedestal? They’re badly constructed and when they come down, it hurts. So this is where I’ll begin.

Joss Whedon has been part of the making of many great shows and films, but they aren’t perfect. i know he’s everyone’s favourite ‘male feminist’, but that’s just it, to me he isn’t. Firefly was awesome, it was interesting, engaging and the characters were just fantastic. Yet it wasn’t perfect, there’s a myriad of racial and sexist issues with the narrative and so it goes. The same can be said of Buffy, a wonderful ground breaking show deserving of praise and merit, but like anything else it can be criticised. Criticism is a part of making art, it’s a part of life and it’s definitely a part of feminism. No one reaches a point where they are ‘THE ULTIMATE FEMINIST’, impervious to all criticism with every word out of their mouth dipped in pure, perfect social honey. It doesn’t happen like that. Things change, the world changes and so do your views in order to catch up with a movement that is constantly evolving. You can’t stand still and expect to still be a good ally, which is where Whedon has failed in my eyes.

So let’s get to the actual news, Joss Whedon has left twitter due to suspected back lash about the writing of Black Widow in the recent Avengers Age of Ultron movie. There has been talk that he received death threats, but I’ve found no evidence of this, if you have links then please provide them. Like any decent human being I think death threats are a disgusting thing to send to someone, don’t do it. What I write today is about the disparities in reaction between women receiving abuse online and men, especially celebrities, alongside a nice portion of why criticism is important and why people are even mad about Age of Ultron.

Caution spoilers below.

I was going to write a post about Age of Ultron as a suspension of disbelief, but since I’m doing this now here’s a brief overview of what I was going to say. Age of Ultron was fun, funny and entertaining, three things that are guaranteed to make an enjoyable film. The action scenes were beautifully shot and choreographed whilst the plot, as in pretty much every super hero movie ever, was a little off the rails. The ‘evil plan’ climax was especially ridiculous and will garner a good laugh for anyone with a bit of scientific knowledge. Yet it was lacking in character depth and development, most notably Black Widow who was shunted off into a romantic side plot with little agency of her own or indeed consistent character traits. I’m a pretty big fan of marvel movies and comics both, so this was a huge disappointment for me personally. There wasn’t much feminist about this film. Even other female characters were left woefully extrinsic to the plot and were framed as victims not heroes. So whilst it was a fun watch, it left me lacking in my usual fan fervour and disappointed once again by the treatment of women in comics.

So what does Joss Whedon have to do with any of this? Well he directed the movie and was a key player in the writing of the script, pretty much all the credit of the film’s good bits and bad bits will go to him (regardless of how many other people were involved, I am aware of that, I’m just talking media coverage here). So he’s faced a lot of back lash about the writing of Natasha in this movie from a lot of fans, mostly female ones, back lash that has included anger and criticism of his writing. I would say this anger is well placed, especially with a figure like Joss who stands for a lot of shows with strong female leads (however repetitive they may seem). He’s a fan favourite and here’s where that pedestal becomes a problem, because he’s been torn off it/fell off it/insert metaphor here.

So he deleted his twitter account last night. Guess who’s to blame? Yeah you guessed it, those abusive feminists! The most abuse I found consisted of comments like ‘sexist pig’ and ‘fuckboy’ which whilst not nice, I’m sure aren’t the worst things that have been sent to Joss. Indeed if there is evidence of truly abusive messages then I condemn such behaviour, it’s not cool and it’s not feminist. However, the response from fans has been predictable and ironic, there has been a call to arms to ‘stand with joss’ causing a riveting debate about toxic online environments.

[insert cricket noises]

Yeah you heard that right, being called a ‘sexist pig’ is the height of abuse and life ruining phrases. We all know how seriously sexism is taken, honestly it’s appalling that he be blighted with such words. Sarcasm aside, it’s interesting how seriously his leaving is being taken as indicative of toxic online environments. When women suffer through threats of violence, sexual and otherwise every single day, an issue which is discussed, every single day. Yet there is a lack of action, of outrage, of condemnation for such appalling abuse lobbied at women both famous and not. The stark comparison of reaction for one man who has been (rightfully I would argue) criticised angrily for his work (and as such has removed himself from the source of criticism) to the very real violence directed at women every day, should be surprising. But it’s not.

I’ll end this article with that, sorry if you wanted an angrier rant about Whedon, but like I said pedestals just aren’t worth the pain. He’s a guy who messed up, got criticised for it and has now gone to lick his wounds in his no doubt lovely home. He’s probably not going to learn from this and that’s what makes art suffer. It happens all the time. What’s more important is we’re all talking about Whedon, but it’s the people who suffer real violence through social media that matter most (Whedon included if indeed violence was threatened).

Twitter can be toxic, so can tumblr and so can facebook the list goes on…

What matters now isn’t that we cry a river about a man who can’t live up to the pedestal we put him on, but that we use this as a spring board to talk about the real perpetuation of oppression through social media. It’s important we use it to incite change, not just more disappointment and acceptance of an uncaring world and imperfect creators.

Furthering that, as a women deeply embedded in nerd culture I’d like one damn movie where a female character gets given the agency, development and goddamn plotline she deserves.

Thanks for reading.

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Floatingmanatee also known as Alice, is a certified Zoologist living in Britain and has an unhealthy love of weird creatures. She's bisexual, a lover of books, TV, film and anything else that tells a story. Generally she's either angry or sad or both about the state of the world, but watching youtube videos of cute animals makes her feel better.

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  1. May 6, 2015 at 3:00 pm —

    I’m new to the site but I found your article fair and interesting.
    I would have to agree that Joss has chickened out by dropping twitter but it doesn’t seem that surprising.
    His last couple of interviews, even written ones, made him seem tired. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt that there was a lot of compromising that occurred.
    Since none of the female characters were even included in any of the merchandising put out for the movie, although, Black Widow was fairly prominent in the merchandising for the first one. Old white men want their money. And Joss’ take on feminism is fairly passe these days.

  2. May 6, 2015 at 7:12 pm —

    Glad to hear that 🙂
    I’d agree, I do like Joss Whedon’s work and I’m fairly sure there’s been a lot of compromising going on with that movie, as much as I love a good superhero movie it was a little all over the place (more so than usual). I do think a reason for why the back lash has been so large is because of Joss’ reputation as a writer of strong women so fans were expecting more, but like you said people love their money.

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