Can You Still Watch?
The bully and the brilliant - Joss Whedon
Before social media was the juggernaut that it is now and before ‘influencer’ became a career. Before the term, ‘celebrity' could be adopted by a person who had appeared as themselves on a middling reality show and gained a following of thousands or even millions and, as such, felt the need to feed their notoriety, a career in the public eye would only be derailed by a salacious story in print media.
Rightly or wrongly, the famous and notorious were somewhat protected by the ability of the few, in comparison to today, people who were privy to and could reveal any dirty secrets about them.
Older readers will remember the AIDS epidemic of the eighties, a disease that quickly became associated with homosexuality. Unlike today, in the eighties, being homosexual, or any perceived ‘other’ sexuality, was the easiest way to end a career in the media.
Today, a career in the public eye is a precarious thing. With anyone with access to a computer able to comment, judge and, or vilify, a persons conduct or pronouncements. Comedians have found their careers floundering due to misconstrued jokes, actors attacked for their political leanings, politicians memed for their babblings.
There is a dark and rabid element to social media that, like gladiatorial arenas of the past, is fuelled by the punishment of the few. As much as I feel there are people whose opinions are abhorrent, life dictates that one cannot police another person's thoughts.
Maybe they should not be airing those thoughts but a person's opinion is just that; an opinion. A person, famous or not, should not be fired because they have an opinion or point of view that is, in the minds of some, unacceptable.
Words are powerful and undoubtedly can and do affect people and their perceptions but they are not absolute. If you disagree with a person's point of view it does not automatically make you right or wrong. Nor does that opinion affect your life, not if you are an everyday, non-famous person.
For a famous person, in this day and age, and especially in these times of lockdowns, opinions and the voicing of them need to be considered. That being said, the veiled anonymity that voicing a concern through social media can give has allowed some to fight in a way and fashion that was never available to them before.
The likes of the 'Me Too' movement could not have happened without social media and its ability to rapidly spread to the mainstream. The fact that the ‘Me Too’ phrase was coined when Twitter was in its infancy, only to be part of such a powerful movement more than a decade later, shows the growth of social media.
Words are powerful. I say this as a person who writes and has written a lot and as a person who appreciates good writing. I specifically like television writing and have been influenced greatly by it.
Some of my favourite shows, by writer-creators, have been two Aaron Sorkin shows, The West Wing and The Newsroom, Winnie Holzman’s My So Called Life, Amy Sherman-Palladino’s Gilmore Girls and Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly.
Of the above, Whedon’s shows have been the ones to leave the biggest impression on me. Firefly is probably the best single-season drama ever written and besides the underwhelming Dollhouse and Angel, a show that I strangely could not get into, I have always been a huge fan of his works.
Unfortunately, it seems that Whedon is not the most likeable of people. This is not a new phenomenon where it is related to a director/creator. Hitchcock famously treated his actors like cattle, Kubrick was known to be particularly brutal to Shelly Duvall on the shoot of The Shining.
In recent times, James Cameron and David Fincher are both known to be exacting directors who care little for their actors' feelings. The aforementioned are all film directors. Given the nature of filmmaking, anyone working with any of them would know, to some degree, how long they would be suffering with them. Television is different. A successful show, as Buffy was, can run for years. Buffy ran for seven seasons.
In these times of modern, omnipresent media, information on your favourite anything is a few clicks away. As the saying goes, bad news travels fast. Whedon’s reputation of not being the greatest person the be around had been whispering around the wonderful world of the web for some time.
After a hasty and unexplained exit from the MCU - Marvel Cinematic Universe -, Whedon was snapped up by the DCEU - DC Extended Universe. The DCEU was trying to play catch up on the MCU, their efforts at a connected cinematic universe sporadic and ill-thought-out, with Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy an unreachable beacon of brilliance disrupting the entire process.
Zack Snyder had been thought of as there perfect person to bring all of the elements of the DCEU together. Snyder, a brilliant visual director, brought a dark, not at all fun look to the DCEU. Tasked with creating a showpiece with the hastily put together Justice League film, Snyder was forced to leave the production before its completion due to a family tragedy.
Whedon was drafted in to complete the film. The film was released in 2017. In 2020, Ray Fisher, who played the character Cyborg in the film, accused Whedon of gross, abusive and unprofessional behaviour. He also called out several other executives at Warner Brothers.
A month after Fisher’s accusation, stunt coordinator Jeff Pruitt and Buffy stunt double, Sophie Crawford, voiced concerns over Whedon’s out of control ego. The trickle continued with Justice League co-star, Jason Momoa, backing Fisher.
With an ongoing investigation into Fisher’s grievances going on, Whedon, who had planned to return to show running with a new show, The Nevers, on HBO, ‘stepped down’ from the project, HBO going forward with the production without him. Fisher, for his part, believes that it is the pressure of the ongoing investigation that had forced him out.
Beginning with Charisma Carpenter, who played Cordelia in Buffy, issued a lengthy statement in support of Fisher and detailing her mistreatment by Whedon whilst working on Buffy some twenty years before.
Her statement was supported by Amber Benson, Tara on the show and, most damagingly, a statement from the show's star, Sarah Michelle Gellar, distancing herself from Whedon.
Fisher is the only prominent male actor to have levelled any accusation of inappropriate behaviour at Whedon, all of the other actors have been female. Tellingly, of the many actors and film people Whedon has worked with, few have come to his defence.
His fans, of which I was one, have, as ever popped up with accusations of disgruntled actors or smear campaigns. Of course, there is an expected degree of disgruntlement, especially if some feel it has impacted their careers.
However, Fisher, who has been called out by some for not specifying what was done, was very clear in his statement. It was not about his treatment. He said the working environment was ‘toxic’, affecting all involved.
Undoubtedly this was something he had discussed with others on set but, like any working environment, most are too afraid to be seen as rocking the boat from a position of relative weakness. As I said earlier, the most telling thing is the lack of support for Whedon.
Whedon’s work is another thing; a separate thing. He has, indisputably, created some seminal work. To throw the work out with the man seems extreme for me.
When Gina Rodriguez decided to promote the Latina experience and plight at the expense of black people, As a black person, I could not continue watching her show, Jane the Virgin.
A brilliantly written show with compelling characters and performances from the entire cast, Rodriguez thoughtless act, not once but twice, of sidelining the black experience sat badly with me and I just could not enjoy her show anymore. With her being front and centre, one is always reminded of her inappropriate comments.
With Whedon’s shows, the fact that he is not in them, not seen, makes a difference. Though Whedon created Buffy, there were twenty-plus other writers on the series and just as many directors. There were a multitude of creative individuals, besides the actors involved, who contributed to the brilliance of the show. It is the same with the brilliant Firefly series.
Whereas Jane the Virgin no doubt had many creative individuals involved, it will always be associated with Gina Rodriguez and her face comes to mind when you think of the show, that is not the case for Buffy.
When you think of Buffy, you think of Sarah Michelle Gellar or vampires. That is not to say one should not watch Jane the Virgin, that is something I find personally difficult, but it is still an excellent show.
The so-called ‘cancel culture’ on social media is something that is getting occasionally out of hand and can, at times, seem petty. In the case of Whedon and the multiple accusations of bullying and harassment, this is a case where social media has worked for the good.
Whedon’s shows are a legacy of brilliance, but writing about the best human qualities whilst displaying the worst of them will never be okay.