Scribbler’s Saga #43 – We All Need Forgiveness for Our Feet of Clay

Posted: August 22, 2017 in Uncategorized

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

Joss Whedon’s former marriage blew up again with the ex-wife’s essay calling him out as a fake feminist in a recent essay. I have no knowledge of the events preceding the hand grenade toss (posting). I did not and do not run in the director’s social circles and if I know anyone who could put me in a room with him for a meeting, they aren’t saying and won’t say until well after the mess dies down. Why? As is common, certain elements of the blogosphere/Facebook-land immediately blew up in what seems like fake outrage that if taken to its illogical extreme will affect the average audience member’s ability to derive pleasure from Joss Whedon’s past, present or future work. It just won’t do to support a serial philanderer who claims to be a feminist, but who it is now revealed emotionally beat the shit out of his wife for twenty years or so! 

Again, I don’t know what happened. I read Ms. Cole’s essay. But, it is still just one side of the story. I have no way to parse out how much of the seemingly nasty behavior she speaks about in generalities was the objective truth, the truth that feels true to the person living it, or things made up to win an argument. And as someone never invited to either half of this now fractured social circle with no direct observation to work from and zero desire to read any tell-all books on the subject, I don’t have to parse anything. In my corner of the Multiverse, Joss Whedon’s work simply is. However, I have come to believe in the legal tradition of two separate witnesses telling the same story before I accept it as truth. It guards against bias of all kinds.

This means given the many rumors circulating about which actors came away from one of Mr. Whedon’s various projects hating him versus the many actors that will stand by him to this day that there are more shoes to drop. Rumor and ongoing discussion asserts that Sarah Michelle Gellar came away from TV Buffy (it took me years after the fact to watch the TV show due to how stupid the movie was) with an intensely felt antipathy, such that she had three or four chances to reprise her role on Angel and supposedly said some variation of “Fuck off!”

The obvious question here: was Sarah Michelle Gellar (a very young woman at the time who was either not legal or 18 playing 16) one the “needy and aggressive actresses” making Mr. Whedon’s fidelity a sometime thing? To my knowledge, Ms. Gellar has not said that part in any of her statements. Neither have any of the other possible female suspects, the majority of whom still find nice things to say about Mr. Whedon in public. And it’s still not my job to parse out whether these unnamed women A) still care about a former partner, B) needed to shut up to preserve a career, C) weren’t involved in the behavior under discussion, or D) simply don’t want the past blowing up the present.

But this essay isn’t really about what happened; it’s about what the blogosphere and Blue Facebook thinks happened in order to drive the need to feel superior by announcing in their posts and comments that they would never do such things and fuck that cheating bastard who lied to us about his feminism! So far the comments in my personal version of Blue Facebook (that my Facebook feed should be slightly more Purple is the subject of a another essay for a different time) have split fairly evenly between “private behavior for which we have heard only one side and that I find it silly that we’re now dragging all of his previous work before the ideological purity court to see if Buffy is really a feminist show” and “fuck his fake feminism!”

First off, Mr. Whedon caused much of this himself by claiming a feminist mantle in a variety of public speeches and statements in the first place. The easy copout reason says of course, he’s a Dude trying to buy into a movement for ladies to stick up for themselves after centuries of Male Oppression, possibly his chosen strategy to get laid. We name this a copout because feminists are usually grateful when a guy tries to walk back his guilt about the times he has rested his thoughts and actions in the Way Things Have Always Been and wants to march. Perhaps this hypothetical man has a sister that had to deal with a handsy boss at the office and because of the close family relationship he is able to see that not all women lie to get ahead at work? But, there is no feminist subgroup, except for the very worst, that wouldn’t accept a male ally to help get through the next six weeks of marches and actions.

However, the real reason Mr. Whedon just shouldn’t have talked this big about feminism roots in the very nature of the word. Feminism has become one of many Isms, belief systems that in my practical definition require acceptance of an ideal that is total and absolute in order for you to claim the word. Nazism expects a purity of thought that a world without Jews and other non-whites is always better than the world that tolerates such inferior scum. Fascism (to extent that Nazism doesn’t already cover the description) assumes that you must believe that republics with democratic aspirations are founded on false principles because people suck, especially the brown ones, and must be controlled by force.

Similarly, even generally more benign belief systems like Christianity or Moderate Islam have a few points where if you can’t recite them with conviction you will be told “these are core to what we are and, except for welcoming you to the holiday pageant, we have to question why you’re here.” For Christians, it’s the Nicean Creed. For Muslims it’s the ability to recite – “There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet.” – several times in Arabic with a straight face.

So feminism has a natural tendency to trend towards an ideal platform where women always get the support they need getting through life in a world that hasn’t always been nice. The expectation is that every case of a man who talks big about supporting women while cheating on his wife will be denounced. He is a bad lying man who must never get our entertainment dollars ever again.

Mister Whedon failed to leave himself an out by saying “I generally support much of what women who identify with feminism say they need from the rest of society, but my beliefs, like I suspect many men like me, are too shifting and contradictory on the surface for me to ever use that word to describe myself.” And now he’ll get a Facebook keelhauling for a short while until Blue Facebook finds something else about which to express outrage. We hate people who use direct statements when they lie.

The really curious part of this kerfuffle is the part where all of the previous shows are now called to the dock in the Blue Facebook version of the Old Bailey. Is TV Buffy feminist? – seems to be the question before the social media grand jury. Is a show that features an automatically dismissed female character (former cheerleader, teenager, blonde, not terribly good at school, physically petite etc.) standing up for all of humanity against the vampires and demons that go bump in the night a feminist character? Or is she just a product of fake feminism that has been coopted by evil men to provide TV eye candy to feed a curious male fantasy about the scantily clad, hot she-warrior?

Does Joss Whedon get some credit because he drew some interesting other women for the Buffy-verse shows? Does Willow, the lesbian, witch, best friend who is good at school do enough to counteract Buffy’s flaws that jump off the screen?

Does the fact that Slayer mythology is centered around one slayer at a time who is controlled by a committee of men trying to save the world without letting the special woman gain too much power count as anti-feminism in sheep’s clothing? Does the fact that Buffy performs the magic at the end of the show to free up all the potential slayers count as a feminist statement in opposition to the question above? In a related note, how do we parse out Wonder Woman, a franchise Mr. Whedon almost got to direct? Feminist heroine because she’s Wonder Woman, the special woman that leaves the world better than she found it? Or anti-feminist because she does all of the above looking like a supermodel wearing a patriotic one-piece bathing suit and shaves her pits?

Does Mr. Whedon’s subsequent show Dollhouse represent a gross male bondage fantasy about locking a woman up, erasing her mind and then programming her with what she needs for the next episode something that just shouldn’t be allowed? Or is it the story of Echo the special woman who agreed to that life and then over the course of the incomplete and truncated show transcends beyond the confines of that poor existence disguised as life? One brand of feminism harkens to the first question and the other doesn’t care about the anti-feminist setup as long as she wins in the end. And it takes more wisdom than Solomon to cut this particular baby other than to punt to Brian’s best theological statement in Life of Brian – “You are all individuals! You have to work it out for yourselves!”

The many contradictions in Mr. Whedon’s work mirror those in my work and that of everyone else I read. I don’t claim to be a feminist or even an ally, a word that in the nasty Realpolitik of our world is intended to be a temporary thing. I do sometimes create female protagonists doing the best I can with what I knew at the time that I typed, edited and re-typed those words. If that female character becomes a touchstone that helps a woman who hasn’t pissed me off get through her day, great, God love you. If the alt-right tries to do her dirty with the Pepe the Frog treatment, I’m going to sue, but only because I have my own animus towards Nazis and that particular aggression just won’t stand…Man!

So where does the forgiveness presented in the title come in? Pretty much, it’s a prerequisite for the enjoyment of any art, entertainment and conversation in our shared headspace. I have to be able to forgive that the art that pissed me off come from a human being with fears, expectations and biases that are hard to see in ourselves. Thought and communication are all about the shifting except in this case, not the monolithic list of pure statements that define the words we use to describe our social groups. The except in this case tends to create furious anger when in the same room with the doctrinaire who must adhere to the straight and narrow to get through the day.

Not forgiving Mr. Whedon for his presumed infidelities, by giving each show its fair due and refraining from caring about whether the mind behind the show is fully living up to his stated ideals, is a poor way to live. I suddenly have to turn off his show (of which only a few really spoke to me. I’m not a blind raving Whedon fan) because the work isn’t appropriately feminist, anti-racist or whatever enough. This represents a lot of wasted energy. While I don’t want to parse out the truth about Mr. Whedon being a douche to his wife, I do prefer choosing which of his shows I like.

To do that requires that I forgive the man for his failings…even if it is sometimes rooted in the cruel truth that people who cheat on their wives and lie about it while loudly claiming the mantle of an ideology that doesn’t tolerate imperfections among its adherents are quite frankly good for business. For instance, should I ever be hired to write a soap opera, which requires many different flavors of human pathology presented as engaging characters, I now get to mine Mr. Whedon’s revealed personal life for my own benefit. Luckily, I don’t really like soap operas so any forgiveness gets to be unconditional in this case.

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