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Why I Couldn’t Care Less About Joss Whedon: Confession of a Whedonaught

Thursday 3rd May 2012 by Molly Mahan

By this time, every Marvel fanboy and girl and self-proclaimed Whedonite is either hanging out in line waiting for the moment to watch the first “fade in” of The Avengers flick they have been waiting for since prepubescence (or since it was first hinted at in Iron Man back in 2008) or just about to step out of the theatre (time zones!). Since I am neither of those things, I am writing this article. I’ve been a DC girl for well over a decade, and I have never been a  Whedonite. That’s right: I am a woman who is into geek things (who even writes about the female perspective on a geek themed website) and I could not give two shits about Joss Whedon, the man who is all too often praised for his “strong female characters” and “excellent dialogue” and his ability to “revolutionize genre”, and countless other lauds that I cannot quite wrap my head around.

Before I get started, I want to make two things clear: first, I don’t hate Joss Whedon or his workI can’t hate someone I don’t know, and his portfolio of work is okay, even marginally enjoyable at times. But it’s not great, and its hardly revolutionary. My problem surrounding the man, for the most part, rises from his fans. Which brings me to the second: when I say “Whedonite”, I don’t mean someone who generically likes Joss Whedon’s work. I mean someone who treats you like a subhuman because you don’t like Buffy.  Someone who believes that anything his name is attached to is immediately turned to gold, like he’s some branding alchemist (people like  you, perhaps, if you’re reading this and already getting riled up). It’s amazing. And if someone dare to say anything about his projects besides that it was or will be the greatest of its genre, then you are labeled a “hater” by such a person. At least that has been my personal experience since the first one reared its head, and it has especially been my  experience ever since I saw Cabin in the Woods last week (more on that later).

Joss Whedon, King of the Geeks? Sorry, I worship at a different nerd shrine.

Typically, seconds after his latest project is announced, my Twitter, Facebook, and e-mail light up with squeals of delight for something nobody knows anything about aside from the fact that one Joss Whedon is attached. It happened with Dollhouse, Cabin in the Woods, whichever Shakespeare movie he’s doing (because we need another adaptation of the Bard’s work), and, of course, The Avengers. Granted, The Avengers was masturbation material long before he was attached; nevertheless it was nerd Carnivale when his name was first thrown out there. “Joss won’t let us down~!” “O Joss, great and merciful, thou art Lord over Nerdom and earth! Thou can do no wrong! Blessed are we to be living in a generation that is filled with your mastercrafts!” Blah, blah, blah.

Give me a break. It’s a super hyped action movie that will, in all likelihood and probability, add nothing or take away anything from the canon it pertains to (except maybe kill a hero or other character that has no franchise awaiting him or her, but has some kind of fanbase–I’ll give you one guess who that might be). Loki’s in it, presumably as the main villain, and he’s already been announced as attached to Thor 2, so at best the big bad is going to elude the world’s mightiest heroes. Which is fine, but does not meet my standards of “revolutionary.” I’m not saying it won’t be fun: it has Robert Downey, Jr., in it after all, and he’s the essence of fun, in my ever-so humble opinion (spoiler alert: this whole article is just, like, my opinion, man).

Am I going to watch it? Of course I am. Tomorrow. I have work tomorrow, and a midnight showing for a film I’m barely invested in doesn’t sound appetizing. I’ll reserve that ticket for Expendables 2 or Dark Knight Rises.

But back to me not caring about Joss Whedon. For the record: I have seen everything he has cranked out since Buffy the Vampire Slayer, except for Dollhouse. The only reason I haven’t seen Dollhouse is because I’m not a Whedonite, duh, and no one has convincingly tried to get me to watch it. As far as I know, it’ll be the first thing by him that I thoroughly enjoyed. Additionally, I haven’t read his comics because, again, not a Whedonite, nor am I an active Marvel reader. If I’ve read a Marvel comic in the last five years, it’s because someone lent it to me. So I’m not going to actively seek out some Astonishing X-Men trades to appease my friends or show how pious I am to their geek god.

Buffy, like most of his work, is okay. Pretty generic and mediocre, if we’re honest with ourselves. It’s essentially another story about a girl who is in love with a vampire. Like all of those stories, she knows better (hell, she on a mission to kill them); nevertheless there’s always one whom she’ll excuse his undeadliness for and bang. Be it he has a soul or looks like Billy Idol. Either way, it’s an unhealthy, co-dependent relationship that is not becoming of a ‘strong’ female lead. The best parts of that show are the minor characters, and they all too often got annoying. I rather read an Anita Blake Vampire Hunter novel. The sex is was better.

I’m so totally turned on right now. You have my number, right?

But it’s not only his female leads who are into unhealthy relationships or making “excuses” for that one person who goes against everything they believe in. Mal Reynolds is the exact same in Firefly when it comes to Inara (who I find unbearable), only he’s man enough to not have sex with her. Regrettably, this makes every scene they share boring and predictable. “You’re a whore!” “You’re a pig!” “Let’s not have sex even though I totally want to bang you!” “That’s fine, I’m banging this guy anyway.”

Now there was a show that could have been something. And no, not in the “oh, why was it canceled after only it’s first season?!” way. I mean in a Space Cowboys way. I’m a huge fan of both genres, and really expected it to be awesome. Instead, I completely understood why Fox canceled it: because its ratings, like the show, were mediocre. You can say it was before it’s time or you could say it was poorly executed. Classic Joss!

Now, before you tell me he’s “too clever” for me or some other tripe, I’m going to tell you something: he’s not. He has good ideas, I agree. I enjoy the premise of everything he cranks out. But the method in which it’s cranked? No thank you.

Last week, I saw his latest “masterpiece”: Cabin in the Woods. I’ll admit, I was against seeing it at first. Not because of my feelings (or lack thereof) towards Whedon (I’m always hoping he’ll show me he can do more than be competent), but because I hate horror. Finally, enough people were like, “You gotta see it, zomg~! It’s like Buffy season 4” (or 5? It all blends together). So, I saw it. Guess what? It’s not a horror movie. It’s not even a satire on horror flicks–it’s an homage. And, again, like all of Whedon’s work, it has a really cool premise. It goes back to mythology and brings it to the modern day. It was a concept I was ready to get behind, but then the 2nd and 3rd acts happened and I didn’t care about anything anymore. The characters were boring, despite moderately amusing dialogue, and the twists and “revolutions” on the genre (whichever genre you could claim it was trying to be) failed to take. All the interesting stuff happened in the first five minutes. Seriously. The rest was just cute.

Especially the bits with Chris Hemsworth in it. He’s so dreamy!

This is the first movie in a long time that I had to make sure I was right about my expectations. “It was advertised as a horror film, right?” I asked a friend of mine. “It was,” he began, “but like all Joss Whedon things it never is what you expect it to be.” Now unless he means I expected it to be “good” after all the hype, then he’s right. It wasn’t what I expected; but, if I’m wrong to expect a movie to be what it’s billed as (i.e., a horror flick) then I have no idea what advertising and trailers are supposed to be about. You got me, marketers. I’m gullible. I believe all your precious lies!

So, here I go again, ready to sink into another Whedon trap. The east coast should be releasing now, while Pac-Time is about to head in, and I’m going to wage in 24hrs when I spend my money and take the time to watch it, I’ll feel much the same way as I did six day ago: a moderately clever and interesting first act that fails to get off the ground, so by the climax I’m ready to leave.

But I hope I’m wrong. Why? Because I prefer to like things than dislike them, and for once in my life I’d like to be as enthralled by something as my Whedonite friends are. It’s really frustrating to watch something because it’s been hyped up so much, and then be like, “It was okay”, which all your friends in turn take to mean you hated it.

Hey guys: hating is different from thinking something’s okay, but by the time you’re through with your little tirade on how I didn’t “get it” or can’t “appreciate” it for whatever made up reason you’ve come up with, then you better believe I hate it now.

So, Whedonites this tirade’s for you. Enjoy your mediocre storyteller. I’m not trying to take his work away from you. You can have it. All of it.

Remember folks: It’s okay to like things, just don’t be a dick about it. Otherwise, eventually push will come to shove and this happens. We’ll fight back. Now, excuse me, I need to be reminded how magical friendship can be.

Buffy-shy and, well, Spike. And a bunny. Stand back, Anya.

  • James

    Im really not a Whedonaught but this is a very angry article.

    Really the first 5 minutes was the best, you mean a bit of exposition and packing up to go on vacation was the most thrilling.

    This article is almost insulting, even if your not a “Whedonaught,” to the point where you just sound like a disgruntled employee.

    “Remember folks: It’s okay to like things, just don’t be a dick about it,” same goes the other way round, its okay to ‘hate’ things, just dont be a dick about it.

  • Molly Mahan

    Hi James,
    Thank you for reading the article! For the record, the term for a Whedon fanatic is “Whedonite”. I came up with the term “Whedonaught” for the title as a pun, for someone who is naught (not) for Whedon. It’s a pretty harsh term, I agree, but I was going for clever, not sentiment.

    Yes, I know what the first five minutes of a film are. And yes, I stand by that statement.

    As to your response: This article has very little to do with Joss Whedon. Several times I declare that I do not hate his work–it’s even bolded at the beginning of the article to try and sway people from that idea–or the man himself. This article is about his fandom and how their hatred for me for saying something like, “I enjoyed it, but not exactly ground breaking” is essentially nerd heresy. This article is to show them that (1) he’s not a god and (2) they are being complete dicks.

    I realize I’m being an asshole in this article, and I address that in the line you quote. “It’s okay to like things, just don’t be a dick about it. Otherwise, eventually push will come to shove and this happens.” This being a response to everyone who has treated me as subhuman in the past for not bowing at his altar.

  • Nicole

    I can respect your opinions about Joss Whedon, but I do disagree with your critique of Buffy as “essentially another story about a girl who is in love with a vampire.” That would be true if Buffy were released today, but the show aired before this Date-A-Vampire fad, and the show is about much more than that aspect. Yes, she dates a couple vampires, but that was a sub-plot in a larger story. Also, I would not call Buffy’s relationships “an unhealthy, co-dependent relationship that is not becoming of a ‘strong’ female lead.” (Ok, maybe Spike, but in that was at a very difficult time in her life.) But I would say that Buffy’s relationship with Angel is as healthy as that sort of relationship can be. He had a soul, so it’s not like she was just banging a straight-up killer, and when shit hit the fan in season two, Buffy had a hard time with it (and let’s face it, who wouldn’t?), but in the end, she did what she had to do and as became her habit, saved the world. I can respect that you don’t like Buffy, but I don’t think it’s fair to compare it to the shows that have come out after Buffy ended.

  • Molly, you ruined my life.

  • Chris

    You must have come across some horrible people. I like to think of myself as a “Whedonite” and while I do admire his work and honestly believe it to be better than most of the other TV shows out there, I never try and force it down anyone’s throat or treat them as “sub human” for watching bland procedurals and reality singing competitions instead.

    And honestly, you just described what can be said of ANY fandom. Whether it’s Harry Potter, Twilight, Supernatural, Glee, or whatever. There are always bad apples who are obsessed and think their leader can do no wrong.

    I am always critical of Whedon’s work, especially in the last two seasons of Buffy, and the fourth season of Angel. Not a fan at all of those. As far as Dollhouse, that show had major flaws and that show was just OK for me. Same with Cabin in the Woods. I see what you mean in that some people will defend them with their lives just because they have a Whedon name attached to them. Whether this is right or not, all I’m saying is ANY fandom will do this, and some are even worse.

    From what I’ve seen about the rest of the Buffy fandom, they do tend to be more intelligent and respectful than other fandoms out there. So, sorry if you had bad luck with them. Anyway, off to watch Avengers! 😀

  • TL

    Oh, man, have you just opened a can of Internetz. Good luck!

  • Molly Mahan

    Thank you, Chris. And yes, I am acquainted with some horrible people! I acknowledge that this fervor is prevalent in some respect in every fandom (geeks are very passionate people), and such negativity–whether I am personally affected or not–makes me sad. I think everyone should be able to like, dislike, etc., as it pleases them, so long as it doesn’t hurt someone to like it. Obsession can be a dangerous thing if you forget that other people can, in fact, like and dislike that thing you value and love and still be a half-decent person. This sentiment is often named as a reason that I typically avoid the term geek when talking about myself. I am still passionate and like “off beat”/geeky things, but I’m not going to attack someone simply because they don’t enjoy something as much as I do.

    I’ll be catching The Avengers later today, as well. 🙂 I hope we both enjoy it!

  • Molly Mahan

    Hi Nicole,

    Thank you for your response! While it did air prior to the Date-a-Vampire fad (is that a term? It is now! Thank you for it), it still is very much in the same category from what I recall of Buffy and have read/seen of the other stuff. I wouldn’t say it’s on the dismal level of Twilight, but it’s VERY similar to Anita Blake (she also kills vampires and actively saves her part of the world) and what I’ve seen of True Blood (Sookie/Bill/Eric is very much in the vein of Buffy/Angel/Spike). And I like those things okay, but I don’t think any of them are as great as some people think. The difference between the two, I guess, is I don’t interact with a lot of Truebies or Anita Blake fans and so I don’t get screamed at so much for saying, “I could take it or leave it,” but I do interact with Whedonites on a regular basis and some times they can be quite visceral. This is my response to them after 10 years of holding it in.

    To be honest, I preferred the Buffy/Riley relationship most and wish it could have worked out. The fact that she is unable to catch him before the helicopter (?) leaves, is totally bogus.

    Also, her relationship with Spike was just horrific. So her major hang up was that he doesn’t have a soul. Okay. He’s doing everything the right way (HER way) because he wants to, not because of some guilt complex that he only has due to some masterful curse. Heaven (or hell?) forbid!

    As far as the Angel/Angelus relationship, I don’t really remember much about it other than he didn’t die and he was supposed to, and that Angel apparently loved her, while Angelus was evil incarnate and incapable (does that mean Angel could ever really love? Apparently Spike could while lacking one). Of course, I’m moderately grateful they didn’t kill him, because I actually enjoyed the Angel show more than any of his other work (before Cordelia’s baby thing happened). But I have received a lot of flack for thinking that was worth watching by Whedonites, so I just don’t know what to say.

    If the show had explored more about the soul vs. no soul business rather than angsting over “You have no soul, I could never love you!” I’d actually love to watch it. Like I said, Whedon has great ideas, but the execution leaves me wanting or the issues I care about are never fully addressed.

    I’m glad you like his work, and I’m pleased you can respect my opinion, as I do yours. 🙂

  • I can appreciate the opinion, but I have to agree with the previous comments and say there’s a good bit of venom in this piece. I understand that some Whedon fans can be overwhelming and down right rude in their passion, but so can “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” fans. By generalizing all Whedon fans and attacking them by simply telling them they’re wrong, I feel you may have become the monster you seek to destroy. You better become a Sith Lord. That’s my advice.

  • Molly Mahan

    Hi Bryant,

    Thank you for reading the article and giving your response! As I admitted earlier, this is prevalent in many (if not all, but I’d hate to make another generalization!) fandoms and it’s wrong in those as well. This could have easily been about Star Wars or Star Trek fans, but neither is particularly relevant at the moment, and I’ve never been attacked by Trekkies/Trekkers or Star Wars fans in the way I have been by Whedonites.

    Also, please note that I defined the kind of person I meant when I said “Whedonite”: “when I say “Whedonite” […] I mean someone who treats you like a subhuman because you don’t like Buffy.” Not someone who just generally enjoys and/or is a fan of Joss Whedon’s work.

    Finally, I’m not a Sith Lord (and why you would encourage someone to become one is beyond me), but I proudly represent House Slytherin (though not I’m a Harry Potter fan either, really …).

  • xan

    Who is this chic? I luv it, she nailed it, u nailed it. Molly Mahan you hit the nail on the head w/ this one, and your descriptive build up of this whedon film in that in the end you’ll be ready to leave, is right on hair-whip to teh face.

  • Molly Mahan

    Wow, that .gif really brings out ScarJo’s bounciness. I have to say, I really did enjoy that opening scene with Black Widow, definitely my favorite scene. Thank you for the kind words, Xan!

  • Molly Mahan

    You wrought it upon yourself, London!

  • Wow. That animated gif shows begs the question… “that was the best take of that bit!?!” It looked like a bad sell during the film (which I enjoyed)!

  • xan

    Oh boy sensing/hoping for a new suckerpunch review avenging jw’s debauchery this time. jus remember how you didn’t want to see this , u been Loki’d cause , is essentially the same plot. Loki’s -Sentinel Prime, cosmic cube’s the pillars, and the Earth’s invaded by space whales to become enslaved. All too familiar minus, tracking steady-cam crack shot on supermodel in the beginning, marvel theavengers missed out on.^^

  • Amy

    I think part of the reason (and this is NOT an excuse by any means for any vitrol you have encountered because of it) that Whedon fans are so enthusiastic to the point of PUSHY about other people trying and liking their show is that they are used to being surrounded by people who turn their noses up at them. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve said “I’m a big Buffy fan” and people sneer or laugh or compare it to Twilight. (Yes, Buffy may have had the vampire romance thing, but the show was about SO much more than that, and comparing the two in the way you did – even to say that Buffy was better – is missing quite a lot.)

    So for those of us who see the magic in Joss’s works get defensive to outsiders, but may get even MORE defensive to those who have seen it and just don’t get it, because our instincts tell us that your voices are feeding fuel to the fire of those who sneer at us.

    Like I said, this isn’t an excuse for anyone acting poorly. But it may explain it a little.

  • Molly Mahan

    I suppose since I’m not a fan of his work, I wouldn’t really experience being mocked for it. I typically try pretty hard not to belittle someone for liking something no matter what it may be. “It’s okay to like things” is sort of my de facto motto around the ‘Scape, and the reason I wrote this article wasn’t so much to belittle the work of Whedon or his fans (though I was pretty miffed when I wrote it, so there is negativity, obviously) as to tell fanatics to “calm a llama down.”

    Nerds and geeks get crapped on enough as is, we needn’t shit on each other for having separate opinions of a creator’s work. And I have definitely seen that people who are often bullied are either the nicest people, because they know how it feels and it sucks, or the cruelest because they know how to do it from being on the receiving end so often.

    I realize that for some people his stories are what they need, and there are many things I appreciate Whedon for (original branding, mostly), but his execution has always left me wanting, and so I just never got into any of it. I didn’t compare Buffy to Twilight so much as Anita Blake Vampire Hunter, which I enjoyed. You might like it as well, though it stops being good after book 8.

  • marfia

    Thank you for writing this. I thought there was something wrong with me.

  • Molly Mahan

    You’re never alone. 🙂

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  • Jason Huck

    I think Joss’s fans can be overbearing at times and I get why some people would react negatively to them and by extension his work. It happens often. That being said, even if a piece of work is revoluationary, it might not be seen as such by many people. The term is subjective as are all works of art. Its nice to at least agree his stuff doesn’t always stink, however wonderful and groundbreaking Buffy really was. Oh, and being a strong character doesn’t mean you can’t have flaws. If you don’t, I’m not going to be able to take you seriously at all.

  • Molly Mahan

    Hey Jason, I agree with you: Characters should have flaws. My problem is that Whedon’s all seem to have the same flaw. They’re snarky (which to me means that their creator has trouble being sincere) and abusive in their relationships. One or two is fine, interesting maybe, but all? Bleh.

  • Jason

    I agree with you Molly and thank you for your thoughtful, and quick, reply 🙂

  • Molly Mahan

    Thank you for taking the time to post your thoughts! I always love feedback. 🙂

  • Thank you!

  • Simone Toots

    Oh cool, sometimes I feel like the only TV geek on the internet who finds Joss’s terrible banter really grating. Good to know I’m not the only one.

  • You’re never alone here, Simone. Never.

  • Ursus_Indomitus

    Whedon is a smarmy, self aggrandizing asshole with delusions of sainthood.