Random Ramblings

The Mandatory Nerd Post About Joss Whedon

To be honest, this started out as a review of Cabin in the Woods, but the Coalition of Nerd Internet Reviewers informed me that my membership was endangered by the fact that I haven’t explained my opinion of Joss Whedon, so let’s run with that instead.

Actually, though, Cabin in the Woods does represent my overall opinion of Joss Whedon.  I thought the premise was clever and the execution okay, although the dialogue was sometimes a bit too “faux-natural” for my tastes.  As for it being a deconstruction of horror, I thought it was clever, but not quite the revelation some critics thought it was.  Still, it was way preferable to Funny Games, and I don’t mean to say that to damn Cabin in the Woods (just to make the always vital point that Funny Games is horrible.)

So generally I think Joss has really interesting ideas and is clearly a very good writer, but his status as a sci-fi/fantasy messiah has always baffled me.  Maybe the issue is that I didn’t follow Buffy the Vampire Slayer when it first aired;  not so much because of the show itself, but that it came out at a time when I was watching very little television.  Now, watching the older episodes on Netflix, I can see why it made Whedon’s career.  It’s a well-crafted show, even when it comes to what fans agree are its “lesser seasons,” and its presentation of a strong female protagonist still comes across as simple but daring.

It’s probably when it comes to gender politics that I most split off with Whedon’s fan base.  Depending on who or what you read, Whedon may be presented as either the sole voice calling out for realistic and assertive female protagonists in all of genre fiction, from superheroes to sci-fi, or a raging misogynist in feminist clothing.  Not to be deliberately contrarian, but I find both camps a little silly and more than a little guilty of cherry-picking evidence. Granted I never watched a single scene from Dollhouse, which is always Evidence A from the latter faction, but I usually find that when Dollhouse comes up it’s always about what made the individual viewer uncomfortable without any consideration of the show’s contexts or what points Whedon might have been trying to make.  Of course, you can still consider those things and find the message misguided or flawed, but you have to at least take them into consideration.  Just because a reader or viewer has a visceral reaction to something doesn’t automatically make that reaction valid, but I’m deliberately trying to delay writing what might be my most controversial statement ever.  Here it goes.

*deep breath*

I really, really don’t like Firefly.

While you nerds tie the nooses, let me admit that my feelings about the show do come from a couple of irrational sources.  First, when I’m indifferent to something like say peach ice cream, it always annoys me when people are always rambling on about “Damn, I don’t get why anyone can not like peach ice cream,” and that makes me want to vomit whenever I taste peach ice cream again.  Second, I was really into Farscape, which I thought got unfairly maligned in some circles just because it was the “sci-fi show with Muppets.”  It just annoyed me – and I admit that this was a really ridiculous reaction – that Firefly was getting more fan attention than Farscape, even though admittedly fans of Farscape got much more of what they wanted than fans of Firefly, despite both shows getting screwed over by management in their own ways.  But I’ll get back to Farscape vs. Firefly in a minute.

Now having said that I think at least a couple of my biases against the show are absurd, I do have other reasons.  First and foremost, I really don’t get why the show is treated like groundbreaking sci-fi.  Okay, I get it, there are no truly original ideas and all that, but “sci-fi as Western” has been around since at least Star Trek, and with Firefly it just looks like all Whedon really did was strip down the allegory to make it even more obvious.  It’s almost like Joss Whedon himself is appearing on screen, screaming, “Look, this is post-Civil War America…but in space!”  And I know that a show can be pretty blatant with its influences and still be daring, but I just thought Firefly never strayed far enough from its roots to genuinely be all that interesting.  Where it does break from its Western/sci-fi influences, you get things like a storyline about people experimented on by an authoritarian government, which at best are just old sci-fi staples and at worst seem oddly out of place in the type of show Whedon seemed to want to do.  This is maybe nerd blasphemy, but Farscape, despite also drawing heavily from the well of past sci-fi shows, just always struck me as the vastly more interesting, daring, and experimental series.

God, it felt good, getting that out of my system!

So, what I think about Firefly is what I generally think about Whedon.  He’s very good, but I find the praises (and the curses) heaped on his name somewhat perplexing.  In fact, to me he’s still mostly the guy that had a pretty good run on Astonishing X-Men.

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One thought on “The Mandatory Nerd Post About Joss Whedon

  1. Which is perfectly valid, because that was a pretty good run of Astonishing X-Men…until things crashed and burned at the end. Wound up IN SPACE if I remember correctly. It’s been years. But as someone who watched every single second of Dollhouse I can tell you the cherrypickers are full of shit. They and their issues missed a fascinating exploration of identity, society, and the technology that helps define both. The kinda thing most shows don’t have time for, or dismiss after the odd Body Swap episode.

    On the other hand, as a Cowboy Bebop fan, my relationship to Firefly’s been complicated from the beginning. I love it more than you (having no connection to Farscape or reason to ship it) but recognize the show died searching for itself, like most things cancelled in their first seasons. Hell, Whedon’s First Seasons are almost always his worst, with the exception of Dollhouse…which had its own Fox-related issues, obviously.

    So while I loved the crew of Serenity and their interplay (so much someone else had to point out how much they resembled the hated meatbags from Alien: Resurrection) I never experienced the transcendental joygasms others report to me. Here I think it helps to remember how little the average network TV viewer knows (or cares to know) about the breath of sci-fi. They’ve seen Star Wars, and maybe caught Wrath of Kahn on TV once, but they’d never watch “annie-may” and would run screaming from a JPRG even if you spoiled the awesome Second Act Plot Twist for them. Hell, these days, even some Trekkies need the phrase “Wagon Train to the stars!” carefully explained to them. For a great chunk of the population, Firefly really was their introduction to a Space Western, as well as their introduction to Whedon. The overlap between Buffy fans and Browncoats is not as wide as you might think. After all – to put what’s probably too fine a point on it – Mal’s a dude.

    On the other-other hand, you have the people who grew up reading Edgar Rice Burroughs Barsoom series and cherished that bit in Heinlein’s “Time Enough for Love” where Lazarus Long goes to the Planet of the Old West. People who waited their whole lives for a space western TV show – where people have to worry about things like fuel, money, guilt-free sex, and all the other boring crap your average mouth-breather finds “relatable.” If anything, I should fall into that camp but I’ve never felt comfortable counting myself among them. I owe half my wardrobe and most of my bad habits to Spike Spiegel, and the Bebop will always be my Space Cowboy vessel of choice.

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