Why Did Joss Whedon Just Get Bullied Off Twitter?
I just got shouted in my office by someone who feels this article contained unmarked spoilers. So: Spoiler Warning for Age of Ultron.
It has to be said, for all the anti-cyberbullying rhetoric we see on Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook it doesn’t take much for a lynch mob to form over something as little as a misinterpreted slight. In the past 24 hours Joss Whedon announced his departure from social media platform Twitter, followed by the deletion of his account, allegedly after a barrage of abuse from people who accuse him of being sexist, racist and many other -ists.
After two decades of being lauded as a progressive feminist television and film showrunner, some people’s reading of his newest film Age of Ultron has turned the masses against him. Some pundits, including The Mary Sue, have gone to lengths to rewrite their interpretation of his previous works in order to suit their new agenda, citing such occurrences as Buffy “falls apart not only when Angel leaves her, but when Parker (yeah, you don’t remember him, either) doesn’t want to pursue more than a one-night stand with her, too” as some kind of proof that Buffy was a “weak” character. I’m not sure if we were watching the same show, but I remember Buffy’s problem with Parker not being his rejection of her but the feeling that she’d been mislead and guilt at being left feeling gullible. As to Angel? Of course she’s fell apart after that because she’s NOT A ROBOT. I don’t think this puts her on a lower level than the male characters…I remember the tough, brooding Spike shedding more tears over his relationships than Buffy ever did.
Some of these rewrites of Whedon’s previous works aren’t as eloquent, such as a change.org petition to cancel Whedon’s new Marvel show based on “Firefly was racist as fuck”.
Obviously I’m on Team Whedon here, I’ve been a long term fan and try not to jump on any bandwagon without applying some critical thought. I also feel that being a fan doesn’t mean I an obliged to agree with everything someone you admire says. Whedon’s recent comments about sexism in Jurassic World has been jumped on by his accusers, claiming this proves his hypocrisy. I didn’t see any sexism in it myself. There were some tired, worn out clichés but nothing offensive, and it was only a snapshot of these characters.
What I have seen is a writer/director/showrunner who has successfully injected previously unseen character development and storytelling into genre television. A large chunk of the target audience for The Avengers will be to young to remember this, but BTVS was something of a game changer, and part of this was the representation of female characters.
A number of the current crop of accusers appear to be falling into two broad categories. Those who feel that a character needs to be more than physically and emotionally strong to be a ‘strong female character’ and those who believe that some of the characters are strong and independent enough to be considered a ‘strong female character’.
As to the first angle, the aforementioned Mary Sue article lists the following reasons for Buffy being a weak character: she gets upset when a relationship ends, she feels like she was in the wrong when her boyfriend leaves, she takes advice from a male character, inheriting magical powers created by men and teenagers can be self centred and driven by sexual desire.
Some people call that sexist, I always thought of it as writing characters who act like human beings, characters who have more layers to them than being ‘strong females’. I don’t know where it is written that a strong female 17 years old can’t be upset when an important, life changing relationship ends.
The latter argument, the ‘women aren’t strong enough’ argument, comes out in this open letter: “You got Linda Cardellini — Lindsay goddamn Weir! — in your movie, and you made her a housewife. As Hawkeye’s secret spouse (he’s kept his family in some sort of superhero protection program, apparently), she is literally pregnant and in the kitchen for most of her screen time. Sure, she dispenses some womanly words of wisdom and lets the Avengers crash in their Pottery Barn-tastic farmhouse, but seriously? That is some reductive gender shit right there.”
Is there something wrong with this? Sure, she’s not an especially well developed character but few supporting cast characters are get more development than that. Linda Cardellini’s character (and why the emphasis on this casting? Does it make a difference?) gets very little screen time, and has a specific role to play in getting the main characters from point A to point B. It is for this reason stereotypes were created. We can keep the story moving without bringing everything to a grinding halt while each character who wanders onto the screen gets a full development arc. Age of Ultron already has a billion characters, some of the supporting cast needs to be a stereotype to create quick and easy to understand meaning – in this case, despite his role on the team Hawkeye is, at heart, a family man with simple needs.
Would it be good to have more time on these characters? Give them some more complex character traits that aren’t perceived as ‘sexist’? Yes, absolutely. But this isn’t what Age of Ultron was about.
Now before you jump into the comments, yes, there was one sub-plot in Age of Ultron that is a more, for lack of a better word, valid complaint. Black Widow. There seems to be three concerns related to character in Age of Ultron and we’d like to address each one.
Black Widow Doesn’t Get Enough Character Development
And that’s why it’s not called The Black Widow Movie, it’s not about her. She shares equal billing with half a dozen other principal characters and almost twice that number of new or supporting characters. We got some insight into her background and her relationship with Banner added some perspective, but what were you expecting? Hopefully the popularity of the character will she her stepping into her own film or – even better – a Netflix series.
Black Widow Equates Being Sterile to Being a ‘Monster’
No, she doesn’t. Go back and watch the scene again.
In this scene she describes the process of being raised and trained to be a cold, efficient killer. Black Widow equates being turned into an assassin with being a ‘monster’. As part of her training she was made sterile through surgery, and this would prevent a potential family from distracting her from her duty. But it’s the duty itself which makes her a monster, not the childless part of it.
If you want to claim this scene is sexist, you’re grasping at something that isn’t there.
Black Widow Gets Kidnapped and Must be Rescued by Her Love Interest
Yeah. This seemed odd to me. Less for the gender politics some have made of this (although that is not an unfair assessment) but for how much it went against the characters we’d grown familiar with. Black Widow getting kidnapped was unexpected, but it shows what a real threat Ultron is. But why is Banner running the rescue mission? He’s the worst possible choice, and it’s a clumsy way to progress the romantic sub-plot.
Banner is an awkward, untrained field agent who is a liability when buying a take-away coffee, let along when infiltrating an enemy stronghold. If Banner is capable of stealthing his way in and busting Widow out of the cell, then she is more than capable of getting out herself. I was expecting Banner to get there, make a big show of what he’s done, only to find Widow has already gotten out of her restraints and cell and taken out every guard in the place. THAT would have sent the same message while staying true to the characters.
I don’t think this is sexism, but I think it was a mis-step that leaves itself open to accusations of sexism. It’s not unreasonable to expect people to take that reading from it.
I have seen some comments following accusations of sexism with questions as to why one of the men didn’t get kidnapped. Didn’t Hawkeye get kidnapped in the first film? And rescued by Black Widow?
To sum all that up…
I think the accusations of Joss Whedon being sexist are generally unfounded.
The kidnapping sub-plot in Age of Ultron was a poor addition to the story, and some have taken that to be sexist. I’m not going to argue with that, I can see it. Lack of gender equality in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is pretty noticeable, especially as we’ve had 11 male driven films in the franchise to date. I wouldn’t put that on Whedon’s shoulders though, his job was to create an ensemble piece, not carry the feminism banner into battle. Let’s direct our dissatisfaction with this at Disney, Marvel and Kevin Feige since they’re the ones calling the shots on this matter. Let’s get some damn Black Widow merchandise on the shelves.
Time to bring this back to the headline question. Did Joss Whedon get bullied off Twitter?
Yes, absolutely. This is a case of bullying. Whether you feel that he is sexist or not, he has become the victim of online harassment. You can go through the messages sent to him following the release of Age of Ultron and there is some downright nasty stuff being sent to him. Abuse, swearing, threats…does anyone think this will solve the problem of sexism? Does anyone think they’re being clever? All that has happened is one form of perceived injustice is being replaced with another. It’s little wonder Whedon took down his account, who would want that level of bile piling up on them?
What has made this especially surprising is how quickly people have flipped on Whedon. It seems that this new perception of him as sexist, racist and whatever else is being thrown at him has happened almost overnight, that he’s become the victim of the latest bandwagon of lynchers who seem to stand on the sidelines of pop culture waiting for a new target. In this and many cases the target tends to be someone who have done very little to deserve it – such as making a film that wasn’t quite progressive enough for some people’s tastes.
Is sexism and gender representation a problem in pop culture? Yes. Should we be addressing it? Absolutely. Is Age of Ultron part of the problem?
Should Joss Whedon be subjected to abuse for this? No. There’s no reason anyone should. Write a letter of complaint. Write an article and post it. Record a podcast. If you have a valid argument to make, then use your grey matter and put it on the page. Sending someone a stream of abuse and patting yourself on the back for fighting the good fight isn’t going to change the world.
Reblogged this on blacklightmafia.
I’m definitely in the Joss Whedon Camp, and do not agree with this re-writing of his history to make him look bad. But then I’m not a twenty year old, over zealous White girl. Some women, ,having newly discovered feminism, or simply over enthusiastic about it, seek to re-write everything to suit their new worldview.
Are his ideas about feminism outmoded? I think so, but there’s no reason to re-write his entire career to make him seem as if he was a villain at the time. When he said he was a feminist ally and stated his credentials for being one, I believed him. I still do. Does he need to stay up to date on new feminist theories? Yes.
I don’t even disagree with this new version of call-out feminism. I am a Black feminist. I just don’t get het up about the same things that seems to disrupt White feminists lives. Most of the things they get upset about, I dont even see, because as a Black woman, I’m working on wholely different standards. Not dismissing their concerns but a lot of his loudest critics are very young and new to the subject matter and are just highly enthusiastic about expressing it.
I wont even pretend to give them advice about what to do. This is just an observation.
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I considered this as well. Whedon was at the forefront of a trend towards stronger female characters, but that forefront was 15 years ago?
It’s not like radical feminism is limited to white girls.
Joss Whedon did not get ‘bullied’ off of twitter, and this is definitely not a new thing. People have been criticizing his work for years. Every time someone dares confront him about it, he blocks them and goes on a massive defensive. Not to mention that he has repeatedly show disregard for the MCU’s cannon. (The TV shows bringing back Phil and all of Daredevil.) Basically it is as if his vision is the only right vision.
I also don’t think you can compare Black Widow being kidnaped to Hawkeye being kidnaped. Hawkeye is one male superhero out of many. If you had more than one established female super hero in your film, maybe you could show some emotional diversity. what we have hear though, is one established superhero, who has stated that “love is for children,” completely ignore 4 films worth of character development in order to chase after a badly written love story. Fan’s probably loved a Hawkeye/Black Widow story which has been hinted at for years, but Joss shut that down. (Another instance of him completely ignoring cannon.)
What we have here, is someone who is labeled as a feminist shutting down people who have legitimate complaints. When people fail to bow down to his genius, he storms off in an indigent rage.
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What ‘hinted at’ Black Widow/Hawkeye love story? Just because a man and woman share a scene together doesn’t mean a love story has been hinted at. Part of the problem described above is fans reading their own agendas into a text regardless of relevance, and this is another example of it.
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In this podcast, Joss talks about Marvel wanting a relationship between Hawkeye and Widow, so I’m not just being some shippy fangirl.
Banner is not a character that Widow would have gotten with in the comics. She has a history of being with guys like Daredevil and Winter Solider. You mean to tell me that in the time between Avengers 1 and 2, BW goes from being petrified of the hulk to singing him lullabies. Really the only person shown having a deep friendship with Banner is Stark.
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Yeah. I saw more chemistry between Bruce and Tony than I did between Bruce and Natasha. It is true ,in the comics, that she’s romantically associated with Winter Soldier, and Hawkeye, which is where I got the idea that she was romantically involved with Hawkeye. Not just from the movie.
That she might have changed her mind about love being for children is possible but you can’t just make up stuff between cannon stories, that no one has or will ever see and then call it cannon, which is kind of what happened in this movie. That relationship between Bruce and Natasha came out of nowhere and it was kind of squicky in that I felt she was emotionally manipulative to him at times. I was under the impression at first that she was giving him hypnotic suggestions before I realized, that eeewww! they’re trying to be in a relationship.
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So Marvel had, at one time, planned to use it.
Where is it ‘hinted at’?
first off, you can’t deny how intimate their relationship is in Avengers. Second is the arrow necklace she wears throughout Winter Solider.
Arguing semantics does not erase my entire point. Whedon has repeatedly ignored other writers canon. He talks shit about Bringing Phil back from the dead, and Daredevil not being a part of the MCU.
Also, he stated that he was not threatened by feminist into leaving twitter. He’s staging and Achilles level hissy fit.
Not the reading I got from that scene. I took it as two professionals who trust each other and have a shared history.
Angie and lkeke35 –
Let’s say that all of your points were valid regarding Joss Whedon’s take on the Avengers and Black Widow. Personally, I disagree with parts of them, and I will get to that in a second, but first, let’s address the real point.
Yes, Whedon was bullied off of Twitter. He was subjected to a lot of unnecessarily harsh attacks and personal threats. People saying they were going to fight him. Calling him every nasty word they could think of. What happened to Whedon is the textbook definition of cyber-bullying. Absolutely nothing warrants that, in my opinion. I’m not saying that everyone has to agree with everything that everyone else on the Internet says or does—obviously—but bullying is not the answer. There are two legitimate options for intelligent, educated people: engage with constructive criticism (either directly or indirectly) or ignore.
You have both addressed several points about Whedon not being faithful to canon (not “cannon” which is a weapon). I have been reading comic books for just shy of 30 years and can say that “canon” is a myth. Every author tells his own story. Most of the time they consider the *entirely fictional* history of these *entirely fictional* characters, but if that history doesn’t mesh well with the story they want to tell, then so be it. They either completely ignore the history with no explanation or ret-con a new history in place of the old. So Whedon did some of the same. Why should he be the only one who is being held to some completely non-existent standard of “canon”?
Why doesn’t the same devotion to canon decry Black Widow’s appearance in the movies at all? She doesn’t join the Avengers in the comics until 1973! (They were created in 1964.) Vision, Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver all joined before Black Widow did. (Ironically, all four were originally villains.) In the comics, Hawkeye is married to Mockingbird, who is “Bobbi” on Agents of SHIELD. Obviously, the MCU is not faithful to the comics—“canon” in the MCU is whatever shows up in the MCU. The comics have little, if any, bearing.
As far as chemistry between Black Widow and Hawkeye vs. Banner. You probably did see some chemistry there—but it was the chemistry (as revealed in Ultron) of two very close friends. Widow knew Hawkeye’s wife and kids (as opposed to the rest of the Avengers who weren’t even aware of their existence). I saw the relationship between Widow and Banner as something quite different. Widow had been trained as an assassin and spy since early childhood, murdered countless people over the years. She wanted to get away from it all. She was tired. She saw in Banner/Hulk someone who wanted the same thing, to get away, to be left alone. Real bonds develop out of these shared emotions in the real world, so why not in the fictional one? To me, a relationship between Widow and Banner does make sense.
For some reason, I can’t reply to your comment below so I’m going to do it here. You seem to be determined to turn this into a shipping thing. This isn’t about who fucks who.
What this is about is one writer who refuses to listen to anyone who criticizes his work.
While normally, I would say that writers are not required to listen to the masses, Joss Whedon, has built his entire career off of the back of strong female characters. He choses to ignore the same people who have loved his work and wishes to see it evolve. If it was any other writer, people would let it go, but you don’t get to go around calling yourself a feminist hero because you don’t sleep in class
Now what we are left with is a sob story about a man being chased off the internet because of ‘scary feminazis” Again, I state that Whedon himself has come out and said that he was not threatened into leaving twitter by bra burning witches. http://www.buzzfeed.com/adambvary/joss-whedon-on-leaving-twitter#.ssx4oEkZb
I have been a fan of Joss Whedons work for years, but they have been filled with low key racist tropes and some very sexist ideas that mostly get deconstructed but are still uncomfortable. I am not saying that he needs to be run off the internet but seen as how non-white queer feminists deal with this every day I can’t find it in my heart to bleed for him. Feminist frequency has gotten nothing but threats for years and is still active on Twitter and other places so I don’t know why Joss leaving is the thing that insights all of this
I don’t think Whedon’s recent experience is the only occurrence being reported. We’ve discussed other cases in the past. What happened (and still happens) to Feminist Frequency is revolting, her perseverance shows an amazing strength I wouldn’t be able to muster.
I call bullshit on his anti-JURASSIC World comment for sure. It’s ok for him to make a prima nocta joke (joke obviously) in Ultron but then blast somebody else’s “stilted female character”. Please.
Yeah, I saw his comments before watching the JW clip. Wasn’t seeing it.
Reblogged this on GeekyyThings and commented:
After reading many articles about the reason for Joss Whedon leaving twitter, I enjoyed the indepth thought put into this article about cyberbullying and addressing an opinion on the thoughts of Black Widow in ‘Age of Ultron’. **Beware: SPOILERS**
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