Hello there, my name is Nicholas Martin, but I go by Nico. I’m a professional writing and publishing student at UW-Whitewater. This blog will focus on the analytical and social aspects of feminism in the works of Joss Whedon. The arguments will be derived from my previous papers as well as a paper by an expert in the field.
It is my argument that while Joss Whedon is a successful analytic feminist, he fails as a social feminist. The common use of juxtaposition to create his arguments requires that stereotypes and gender tropes be broadcast to millions – and this relies heavily on the audience understanding the juxtaposition. For most, this goes over their heads and leaves them only noticing the trope/stereotype. This method of Joss Whedon only serves to contain these tropes and perpetuate them.
Excerpt from my close reading:
“This significance is reinforced mere seconds later in the sequence as Buffy approaches the classroom in which Cordelia and her friends are gathered. The classroom is brightly lit, much like the outside scenes, and quite colorful. Buffy gazes longingly into the room through the window. This gaze from the outside in the dark into a well-lit room represents Buffy’s hope for a return to a “normal” or traditional feminine role. She wishes to abandon the hunt and her undesired masculine role and operate only within her feminine expectations.”
Failed Social Feminism counterpoint: Longing for traditional gender roles (and the misery of leaving them)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is probably the least offending to social feminist sensibilities out of all of Joss Whedon’s works. The creation of a pop culture icon that is a strong female is incredibly powerful as it relates to social feminism goals. Yet, to achieve this Whedon had to put typical and entrenched gender roles on display to the masses. Buffy herself longs for these roles – as discussed in the excerpt.
Excerpt from my close reading:
“This opening scene is all about Whedon defining the stereotype of a male gaze culture. The character Matt has rented Echo who has an ego version implanted in her that he would find most pleasing. This implantation is representative of the male gaze: she is only as important as how he defines her. She is shapeless and transformative until Matt requests her (and in later episodes, others request her.) Echo’s only power is her passivity. Whedon uses several items of misé-en-scene to display this stereotype. The most crucial of these items is the costume choice for Echo. During the dancing portion of the scene, Echo wears an extremely white, shiny, and short dress. This costume choice represents Whedon’s stereotypical vision of the feminine. It is not until later in the scene when the viewer understands Echo was being rented that it becomes clear Echo is being controlled. This motif of Echo being controlled by the client is a motif throughout Dollhouse.”
Failed Social Feminism Counterpoint: Promoting a rape culture/Objectification
Of all Joss Whedon’s works, Dollhouse is the most offending to social feminist goals. As discussed in the excerpt and “Hot Chicks with Superpowers,” Joss Whedon shows rape after rape to create the juxtaposition to analyze feminism, rape culture, and objectification. While this is understandable from an analytic feminist perspective, how it affects the real people who watch this show is socially harmful. The viewers who don’t understand or care to look deeper into a show will only see the “44 minutes of rape” and the objectification of Echo and other actives.
Excerpt from my close reading:
“Another crucial element that Whedon uses to make this argument is the costuming of the main character. This element goes hand in hand with the camera angle/movement to help reinforce the “male gaze” that it may be turned on its head. When the camera is positioned outside the window in the tree, the audience is gazing in and sees Dana in her underwear. She goes about her routine as if nothing is wrong. She goes through the entire scene in this fashion, even when there is an actual male in the room with her – who is finally the one to indicate to her that she has no pants on. Curt, the man in the room, is functioning as the male gaze of the audience. He obviously notices that she is in her underwear but does not comment or protest and instead intrudes on her privacy until very late in the scene. Whedon is positioning himself again in a way that he can point out the anti-feminist sentiments that reside in typical horror genre films.”
Failed Social Feminism Counterpoint: Objectification of Women
Much like in Dollhouse, Whedon uses the objectification of the main character Dana to breakdown feminism and stereotypes analytically. While feminism isn’t the most broad criticism that Whedon is trying to make with The Cabin in the Woods it is used in a similar fashion. He uses the obvious objectification as a critique of the horror film. This use is harmful to social feminist goals and ideals. It is seemingly objectification for objectification’s sake – something the horror film industry does all the time. While trying to mock the trope, Whedon instead perpetuates it.
Excerpt from “Hot Chicks with Superpowers” by Lauren Schultz:
” Some viewers may overlook the graphic imagery and consider how Dollhouse’s complicated narrative examines complex social issues, but others may be unable to get beyond the images. As one viewer notes, “This is the problem with literary theory: Someone shows you 44 min-utes of rape and you start talking about the deeper commentary on patriarchal values entrenched in mass media culture, and somehow overlook the fact that millions of people are sitting in their living rooms watching 44 minutes of rape” (Lewis 2009). Because viewers could watch Dollhouse in much the same way some would watch soft-core pornography, the show’s visual style must be interrogated, and both fans and scholars should acknowledge the potentially damaging nature of its explicit images.”
This excerpt, while countered in her own article, explains exactly how Joss Whedon fails as a social feminist. Despite his ability to excel at dissecting feminism to its roots through the analysis of tropes and stereotypes, his constant use of juxtaposing tropes requires that he show gratuitous amounts of images that are harmful to social feminism causes. Whedon himself would probably claim that he is an analytical feminism first and foremost. He work revolves around “the words” and he is less concerned about how his shows affect the “people on the ground.”