About this Joss Whedon thing

This site, Doux Reviews, is here because of Joss Whedon. I felt compelled to start reviewing television shows because of my obsession with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a show that Whedon created. Right now, the internet is buzzing with reaction to a letter written by Whedon's ex-wife stating that he cheated on her during their marriage, causing her tremendous stress, and that because of this, Whedon isn't a feminist. (No link from me. It's everywhere. Feel free to Google.)

Like practically half the world, I'm a child of divorce. My parents broke up when I was ten. It was ugly. And yes, my father cheated. He cheated a lot. And he did much worse than cheat, and if my paternal half-siblings are reading this, I'm sorry, but he did. He's also been dead for a long time, and his name isn't anywhere here on Doux Reviews or on my personal blog, and it never will be.

I don't like cheaters. When I was with someone, I was faithful. I think that if you promise fidelity and you're compelled to cheat, then you should break up. But (and I have a point here), when my parents broke up, my mother did *not* try to make my father lose his job. She did not badmouth him to his friends, and even more importantly, she did not badmouth him to his children, including me. She did not air our dirty laundry in public. And all that is basically what Joss Whedon's ex just did. I feel bad for her, but honestly, I feel worse for him. He didn't do what Roman Polanski did. He didn't even do what Woody Allen did. He cheated. He's not a saint, and I never expected him to be a saint.

I'm posting this because Joss Whedon's shows and movies are a big part of this site, and I wanted to provide a space for us all to discuss this. Feel free to post a comment, agree or disagree or just weigh in.
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Billie Doux reviewed all of Buffy and Angel, so she knows the plural of apocalypse.

18 comments:

An Honest Fangirl said...

When I read the letter, one of my first thoughts was actually to wonder what your reaction was, Billie.

I have some really mixed feelings about this. Obviously, we are only getting Kai Cole's side of the story here. There is going to be bias. There is probably going to be some inaccuracies due to that bias. And I'll admit to my own bias that I tend to always believe the victim, which is how I view Cole at the moment.

I never expected Whedon to be a saint. No one is. I've had some issues with his writing in the past, and don't necessarily view him as an all powerful feminist figure. But some of the quotes that Cole referenced were a little disturbing to me. Specifically the one about how he was suddenly a powerful producer, surrounded by aggressive, needy young women, and that it felt like he was inflicted with some kind of ancient Greek curse.

I don't know who he had affairs with, or the context in which they occurred. But that quote makes it sound like he took advantage of women who were below him in terms of power and importance in the television world, which to be always brings up the question of consent. Could these women really say no if they felt like doing so may cost them their jobs?

As you said, Billie, Whedon didn't do what some other famous, powerful Hollywood icons did. And this isn't going to stop me from watching and loving some of his work like Buffy, Firefly, or Dr. Horrible. But... I don't know. If anything, this is going to make me stop giving him a kind of "free pass" when it comes to his work. Some aspects of his writing have bothered me before, but I ignored it since it was Whedon. He was a feminist. Of course he would treat his female characters with respect. I'm not going to ignore that gut feeling anymore.

Lamounier said...

The war on Whedon goes back to a couple of years ago...

Ever since Age of Ultron came out, Joss has been a punch bag for many feminists. There are far, far worse guys in the pop culture world to bash, but I think those feminists picked him because he is a self-proclaimed feminist. My guess is that they want to teach a specific lesson about people who take lead in the movement but (1) are not women and (2a) don't follow every rule of the book or (2b) violate several rules of the book.

When Age of Ultron was released, the critiques were the following:

1) Black Widow is reduced to the beauty that calms the beast;
2) Black Widow doesn't have much agency of her own, she even needs to be rescued at one point; and
3) Black Widow says she is a monster because she was sterilized.

Critiques 1 and 2 are very good, actually. Knowing Joss wrote the script, I was surprised by Natasha's characterization in the movie. But about critique number 3, when I watched the movie, I totally thought Natasha was saying she was a monster because they turned her into an assassin, not because they sterilized her. I never rewatched the movie nor searched for the shooting script online, so I don't know what interpretation is the best. Whedon himself cleared up this topic later, saying it was a reference to becoming a killer, not to the loss of motherhood. In any case, that was the first time there was an uproar against him, which led him to leave Twitter for a while.

Now it's happening all over again.

To be honest, it's harder to defend Joss now, assuming what Kai Cole said is true, especially the part that Fangirl highlighted. It's not about the cheating itself, it's about his perception of the young women that worked for him. If that is true, then yeah, he is a man that preaches feminism and doesn't follow.

Cole implies that Joss' cheating and continued lying are acts of either sexism or misogyny. As in, he took away her ability to make an informed choice about her life, therefore somehow he violated her. I thought about this a lot. A lot. I'm still reflecting about it, to be honest. Considering that this could have happened on a same-sex relationship, for example, I'm not sure how it's a matter of gender and how it could be tied to sexism. Then again, having two lives is something that men do much more frequently, so maybe it's a matter of gender. Again, I'm still reflecting on this.

Does all this mess ruin Buffy for me? Not in the slightest. I learned a lot of feminist values through Buffy, but the show speaks to me on a personal level way deeper than any progressive message it entails. The contribution of Buffy to feminism on TV might be questioned, but its value as a story about the pains of growing up and its legacy as one of the best TV dramas stand strong. It's Joss' child, but it's also much more than that.

I'm sad about the end of Whedonesque. I went there nearly everyday not because of Whedon, but because it was the go-to place for news and content on Whedon alums, which mirrored my TV choices quite nicely. I tried Bones and Ringer because they starred Buffyverse alums. My entry way into How I Met Your Mother was Alyson Hannigan. I watched Husbands, a web series, because it was penned by Jane Espenson. And so on... Some of those I learned about on Whedonesque and now it's gone. Bummer.

This is all very sad. I don't know what Cole hoped to accomplish, but I wish her the best, I hope she can move on and close her wounds. And I wish people wouldn't harass Joss on Twitter, but I know this wish won't come true. So I also hope Joss is able to recover. If he indeed acted the way Cole described, I hope he becomes a better person from all of this and an even better writer.

sunbunny said...

I’ve been thinking a lot about this since the whole thing happened. I was actually considering emailing you and Josie to see if one of us wanted to address it, especially with the closing of Whedonesque. Here's what I have figured out: I don't like that Kai Cole released this statement, it does kind of feel like a takedown, but I can't ignore what she said. I've defended Joss against so much online and there's been that stuff that I can't explain away like whatever the hell happened with Charisma on Angel and that awful leaked Wonder Woman script which I wanted so badly to believe was fake.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer was such an important influence on me during the roughest part of my life. It helped me through a lot and it hurt to think that the man that gave me Buffy could be so horrible. I didn't want to believe a word Kai was saying. Then i started thinking about how i would feel if the situation was different, if the ex-wife belonged to someone i inherently mistrusted. I would give the benefit of doubt to the victim. Absolutely. I remember what happened with Amber Heard and Johnny Depp and how upset I was that one of my favorite actors was an abuser. I didn't question Amber's version of events and got mad at those who did. So i’ve decided to stand with Kai Cole on this one. I will always love and appreciate Joss’s work; I like to think I'm mature enough to separate an artist from his work but I can no longer defend the man.

Brian Matson said...

I agree the needy thing and myth references look bad. But it seems he's finally in full disclosure mode here, and he also says aggressive, implying not only consent but pursuit and initiation, at least in some cases. People grow up fast these days, and rich celeb royalty are actively tempted as a matter of course. Also, there's so much evidence Whedon is attracted to brains and strength as well as beauty, I simply can't see him being satisfied with the company of the immature, inexperienced or un-worldly. Unless it's one nighters, he'd be bored otherwise, and since he alludes to some strictly emotional affairs, it sounds like the physical ones were both.

I'm not excusing him at all, the long term betrayal is horrible and against my deepest values. I'm disappointed and somewhat disillusioned with my hero, and would be more so if I hadn't grappled with deep character failings in my favorite artists many times over. Not to mention a strong skeptic of marriage / lifelong monogamy in general. Cheating is NOT the answer, it's the worst case scenario, but he's partly right in suggestion it's pretty normal. Especially in show biz, for women as well as men.

I think it's wise to note that art expresses the best sides of artists, but is also informed by their worst, often to its benefit. That's not to justify anything, but remember art, and Joss' no less than anyone's, is at it's deepest a celebration also of our brokenness and the poignant beauty, even in tragedy, in the universality of human frailties and flaws. If we can love Spike, Angel, dark Willow, mid-period Faith, Ripper, Fred, etc, surely we eventually find the forgiveness to love Joss too. Especially if he is on a redemptive path. And since even by Kai's telling he confessed much of this voluntarily after the fact when it could have largely went unconfirmed, it seems he is serious about finally taking responsibility.

Humbly submitted for what it's worth.

Brian Matson said...

Oops I said Fred, I meant the blonde guy from the nerd triumvirate *nemeseses.*. Can't remember name.

migmit said...

Who cares?

He does write good stories. Well, not always (I never liked Ultron), but a lot of them are great (like Avengers, for example). That's the only thing that matters. He could be a cheater, a thief, a murderer — but that's his business, his victims business, authorities business. Not random moviegoers business. Yes, if his personal faults get into his writings — sure, we care; but not about his faults per se.

In one of my areas of interest, one of the best books, the one that I was lucky to start with, was written by a guy who, as I later found out, is an anti-semite. Did it make me like the book less? Certainly not. Would I shake his hand if I meet him in person? Neither; but the chance of that happening is virtually non-existent, so, why care?

The author and the person are two very different things. They do influence each other, sure, but they are different entities. And the "person" is not that important.

Troy said...

"I feel bad for her, but honestly, I feel worse for him."

Billie, I love your site but this comment really didn't sit well with me. His wife had every right to step forward and share her story. It seems that people are trying to act like it was the "wrong" thing to do in telling the truth. After reading and reflecting, I don't believe her intent was to write a hit piece or a solacious attempt to air "dirty laundry" as your article *seems* to suggest.

It's been interesting to read all of the replies. I've been wary of Joss as a "feminist icon" since hearing and reading about what happened to Charisma on Angel. I very much appreciate him for creating the world of Buffy and Angel, but he also had many other individuals who contributed to that universe (Espenson, Greenwalt, etc).

I hope his wife is able to achieve peace of mind after this and that their children are loved and not used as tools of a messy divorce.

Remco said...

I understand that he betrayed Kai, and I would not want to be in a relationship with him. But it doesn't negate his body of work, which was overwhelmingly a positive force for the cause of feminism. It's not a perfect record, but I never expected Joss to be a perfect feminist. We all stumble.

Juliette said...

I've always seen Whedon's feminism in the same way as Aaron Sorkin's. Both I think are well intentioned and genuinely believe in equality, I believe both admire women. At the same time, both sometimes allow ingrained sexism into their work, I believe entirely unintentionally, because it comes from ways of thinking that it's not always easy to question until they're pointed out - e.g. Sorkin patronisingly admiring female characters in West Wing 1.5, 'The Crackpots and These Women', or Whedon's writing of Black Widow in Ultron.

I don't think cheating on someone makes anyone not a feminist - it makes them someone I wouldn't want to be in a relationship with, but I don't think it cancels out the idea that men and women should be equal. The specific quote that Fangirl pointed out is more problematic because of the power relationship, but there we get into the nebulous area of judging personal relationships we don't know anything about. I don't know what really happened and never will. I don't disbelieve either Whedon or Cole on that one. I'll continue to enjoy Whedon's work anyway - I work in Ancient History, so I'm used to reading works by people with ideas I would never share!

Anonymous said...

Hi Billy,

I am glad you posted this for us to comment since I’d much rather do that here, considering most people seem to have a good understanding of Whedon’s career progression, and many are invested in it. I must admit that I would not normally read nor comment about this topic, as other people’s divorces are none of my business. However, I read this news yesterday and was so impressed by the reactions that I am now sure how solid my position. I actually asked my wife for her opinion on this so I could get another perspective, but it’s possible that I am even more confused now.

Kai Cole’s article - and reactions to it - bring up the following two questions to mind:

1) If Josh Whedon becomes less of a feminist due to having had an affair, does that mean a lesbian who cheats on her partner is not a feminist anymore? I ask because the logic seems to be that he can’t be a feminist because he betrayed a woman, which obviously caused hurt.
I can’t help feeling that both things are not connected, nor does his cheating reduce the quality of shows such as Buffy and Firefly, his achievement on Avengers, nor the effect they’ve had on people. His female characters have always been strong, but it could be argued that they have also been sexualized, or at the very least fallen into typical Hollywood molds of beauty. On the other hand it could be argued that there is no reason why these characters could not be physically attractive, nor use their sensuality in any way they see fit.

2) In the reactions to this news a lot of guilt is being placed on Whedon alone, first as a betrayer of his wedding vows, and second as someone who has taken advantage of opportunities presented to him by numerous woman around him. What surprises me about this is that the woman in both cases are automatically victimized and seem devoid of choice and responsibility. As far as I can tell there are no claims of domestic violence, rape or coercion for sexual favors being attributed to Whedon, which would indicate everyone involved had a choice. The young women the article alludes to do not come off as victims in this, but rather people who made a connection with Whedon at some point, be it for emotional reasons or to advanced their careers. Cole places herself as the victim, very understandably, but seems to ignore the fact that she was an active part of that relationship and held an equal degree of power in the marriage. What she chose to do with that power is on her. Whedon betrayed her, and it makes him a bad husband, but it doesn’t make him a bad person, nor annuls the right to believe in sexual equality. She was betrayed, but it doesn’t automatically make her a victim or a good person either. I don’t know Whedon or Cole, or what kind of marriage they had. But I know their marriage was a part of their lives, not their whole persons.

Like I said, my wife and I have different perspectives in regards to just how much of a feminist Whedon can claim to be after this, and I am still wondering if there is something I am missing in my take. If anyone feels like I am missing something please comment. I just ask that the comment is as considerate as possible of all elements and people involved.

Billie Doux said...

I'd like to thank everyone for their comments. They all made me think. It's a complicated situation, far from black and white.

Mikael said...

(I'm not a native English speaker, so I'm sorry in advance if somewhere in here, some sentences take weird turns... Writing a nuanced text in a second language can be a bit tricky, but I feel quite strongly about this topic, so I had to try...)

Let me start by stating very clearly that I think that what Whedon did is wrong. But I'm going to try and put things in a different light, and I'm afraid that will come across as minimizing it. So to be clear: cheating is wrong, it's a breach of trust. For the partner being cheated on, this can be a traumatic experience. So that is not what I'm trying to deny here. What does bother me, is the idea that someone who cheats is automatically a Very Bad Person. Like many people have been saying here: it is a very black and white situation indeed.

For starters, if you look up infidelity statistics, you find that in over 1/3 marriages, one or both partners admit to cheating. That's a lot of men and women. Again, not to minimize it, but apparently, cheating is something a lot of us humans do. If we are going to categorise all those people as being 'evil', only based on this one aspect of their lives, I'm afraid we are going to have to disregard a lot of people who have otherwise dedicated their lives to making this world a better place.

Secondly, and like others said, talking about someones private life based on as little information as we have here is a tricky area, but... I have read Cole's letter, and in it, you can read that Whedon wasn't caught, he came clean. That does not make what he did better, that is not what I'm trying to say. But that does tell me that he was struggling with the situation himself. Even through how Cole describes how things went, I get the feeling that Whedon was having a hard time with the deceit, that he was feeling guilty, and that he could not go on living his double life any longer. So he came clean. Like I said, this must have been traumatising for Cole, and this does not excuse the things Joss did. But it does show that Whedon has a moral compass.

So to me, this revelation does not really change what I feel about Joss Whedon. All it means is that he is a flawed human being. As such, he really hurt another person, and that is horrible. But I think everyone has flaws, and can get in an ugly situation where they are the bad guy. Isn't that part of what the Buffy-stories are about? How even heroes are just people, who sometimes do bad things?

I'm a gay man. I have been in a very loving relationship for thirteen years now. The reason I tell you this, is because the process of coming out makes you re-evaluate what you were thaught about love, sex and relationships. The 'default' way of looking at it is very rigid: a 'normal' couple is heterosexual and monogamous. Over the course of my life, I have seen and experienced that there is actually a lot of fluidity there. I think it's a lot more common amongst same-sex couples to define what your relationship is as a couple. You can decide that being a monogamous couple is what you want, you could also, as a couple, come to a different conclusion. This is something completely different than cheating, of course. Again: if you cheat, you break the trust of the person who depends on you the most, and that is painful and traumatic. But the rigid way society looks at love and relationships is part of what leads some people to have double lives, and it is also part of the reason why being cheated on is so shocking and traumatising. I believe quite a lot of people would be happier, if we were all a little more relaxed on the topic of sex. I know this is a controversial point of view, but it is what I believe...

In short: sex is a very complicated matter. Human beings are flawed, and make mistakes, especially when it comes to complicated matters. Heroes are human beings.
And so: I have no difficulties saying that Joss Whedon, as a flawed human being, is still one of my heroes.

Brian Matson said...

I take issue with aspects of Kai Cole's statement. She certainly has the right to speak out about his personal beytrayal, but she seems to be exploiting the issue of his femininism to get the biggest platform possible in attacking his character in the broadest terms possible, with the biggest audience, for what may not be the noblest of reasons - especially when you consider the children and family at large.

I might feel differently if she gave real examples of sexist behavior outside the infidelity. She's incredibly vague while saying his public persona is all a lie, he is "anything but a feminist," implying genuine misogyny. That's a very serious accusation she doesn't back up, which looks like a gross conflation. And frankly any extremely public rant about personal matters by an ex- , man or woman, should be taken with a grain of salt.

Although there has been re-evaluation of his work for some time, his many female collaborators sing his praises many times over. The only accusation I've seen regards a vague situation with Charisma Carpenter's pregnancy and Cordelia being written off Angel. It sounds like Joss got a bit grumpy about the situation- not cool but human for a super busy person juggling complications running 2 or 3 shows, and even Carpenter admits they were already struggling with what purpose Cordelia could continue on the show. In the end she said she understood and harbored no hard feelings. Sounds grey-area, but even if it was male privilege, imperfect feminist doesn't mean "anything but."

As a leftist I can't bear false equivalencies so I'd never suggest her choice to go so public, even with a vague character assassination lacking evidence, was worse than his abuse of their relationship, manipulating and using her for 15 years. God Lord that's horrendous.

But I think it's a mistake to take everything at face value. One red flag to me is the idea that anyone in this day and age, much less someone who has written over and over about the dark complexities and messiness of sexuality and relationships, would tell her he felt no lust for other women, especially gorgeous actresses in close, emotionally loaded working relationships. I find it equally hard to believe someone as obviously intelligent and talented as Cole wouldn't laugh in the face of any man claiming that. Of that's as distorted as it sounds to me, who knows how she might be, even unintentionally, overstating her case? And here's the thing: I wouldn't judge her for that, or even a little intentional exaggeration. She was treated horribly, that's very human, inevitable almost. I've rarely had a long term relationship ending, good people on both sides, that wasn't tangled as heck in some way.

Last thought about the much discussed personal life vs public / artistic values thing. I'd never agree "All's fair in love and war," but it does make people do things that betray their deep guiding values in most areas in life. As the Facebook status goes, it's definitely complicated!

Paulina said...

My issue isn't the cheating -- it's the coverup. It's that he lied to her for 15 years, taking control away from her, so that he could have it all: to be able to have affairs with various women while still having his wife supporting him in ways she wouldn't have done if she'd known. And with her having been denied that control for so long, I am very uncomfortable with suggestions that she should now have kept quiet, or that she really should have known. The push to not make waves and not air one's personal issues in public always favours the status quo, those already with more power. She gets to have a voice.

I enjoyed watching Buffy, and I expect I still will. But I don't feel comfortable thinking that him creating something that I (and many others) found empowering somehow means ignoring his disempowering of someone close to him. I don't want to let my enjoyment of his work get my brain to make excuses for him. And I won't trust that he's empowering women as a goal rather than looking to empower himself through being the one to tell the stories he does. A lot of allies stop short of giving up any power themselves, and still talk instead of listen.

I find it makes sense to get away from trying to label an individual, and instead consider their actions, like how if someone says something racist it can be called out as such without saying that the person is inherently racist. Some of Joss's actions appear feminist, while some do not. Even his feminist work still centers himself as creator, in control, which limits empowerment. For the future, let's see.

I also think it's a bad idea to throw away allies because they're not perfect. That's a good way to find you're standing alone. I just try take the good that I can, strive for better, keep my eyes open, listen to what people have to say, re-evaluate.

TJ said...

I compare infidelity to drugs. It's a nasty habit but it doesn't mean that you are an evil person. If Whedon was doing heavy drugs, smoked 3 packs a day, or were an hopeless alcoholic, we would acknowledge the fact that he has a drug problem, nothing more.

But if he was vicious and mean, beating his wife, threatening her etc etc. Now that's a completely different thing. What I understand, that is not the case here, so, the whole thing is such an non-issue.

Anonymous said...

I was dismayed to see trolls attacking all of Joss' tweets with replies like: "How's your wife?"

It's a private matter from my point of view. No illegal behavior is even alleged to have taken place. A lot of marriages end in bitter divorce. It must be twice as hard when the crash and burn is public for the world to see.

Anonymous said...

The fact that Whedon had multiple affairs within the context of gross power inequality does not necessarily mean that he is not a feminist, but it does prove that he does not live up to what he believes (if he is in fact a feminist). We are all fallible.

In the other hand, if the quoted excuses are correctly attributed to him then he has lost all personal credibility. We all make mistakes, but blaming the women he had affairs with just doesn't cut it.

Lisa K. said...

Through the lens of extreme feminism, every negative act against a female person looks like misogyny... even if it's just asshole behaviour separate from gender.
There is no question that as a husband, and maybe to a limited extent as a person, Joss Whedon is an asshole. Cheating is an asshole move. Lying is an asshole move. But neither of those things take away from any feminist beliefs he may have.
Not all negative things that happen to women happen because they are women. Not all violence against women is "violence against women." Imagine a man poisons his female supervisor in order to get a promotion. Did he do it because she's a woman? Nope. In this simple (and yeah, violent) example, her gender and his gender have nothing to do with it.
I am in no way minimizing the horrible things that happen to women all over the world every minute of the day. From the current Weinstein fiascos, to domestic violence, to legislated inequality. But if every time something bad happens to a woman we claim misogyny we aren't helping the cause. It's crying wolf and waters down how seriously people take true abuses. And even more importantly, I think it costs women personal power. If everything negative in your life is seen as the result of external and unstoppable bias and hatred, how are you to ever have agency over your own life?
Taken too far, no one is a feminist because at some point, male or female, everyone has done bad things to women. Whedon can be an asshole and a feminist. He can sometimes treat women badly as people (or as a wife) and not be doing it because he hates women.