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Whedonistas: Female Reflections on Joss Whedon

on Wed, 04/06/2011 - 00:00

Whedonistas A Celebration of the Worlds of Joss Whedon by the Women Who Love Them
Joss Whedon was a relatively unknown commodity when Buffy the Vampire Slayer premiered on The WB on March 10, 1997. Many expected the series about a female high school student who hunted the supernatural to be short lived, and the same even held true for the upstart network on which it aired. Not only did Buffy last for seven seasons, however, but it raised the profile of The WB in the process. Whedon, meanwhile, evolved into a respected wordsmith and creator of relatable dramas that made audiences laugh and cry in much same way as everyday life.

Joss Whedon went on to craft other memorable television shows, including Buffy spin-off Angel, the short lived sci-fi western Firefly and the identity dissertation known as Dollhouse, as well as the musical web series Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Each entry only added to the reputation of the master craftsman, earning more fans and accolades along the way.

In this Age of the Internet, meanwhile, Whedon’s fanbase has been able to not only interact but form a genuine community that has likewise sustained and inspired its members. While there have been numerous books written on his creations, the collection of essays released under the title Whedonistas! A Celebration of the Worlds of Joss Whedon by the Women Who Love Them (Mad Norwegian Press, 2011) features stories from a small handful of Whedon’s female fans that relate how his narratives have touched their lives in uplifting and even magical ways.

“Quite simply, it’s personal,” editors Lynn M. Thomas and Deborah Stanish write in the introduction to Whedonistas. “Each of us had our lives personally affected by our enthusiasm for these shows. And we aren’t alone. That deep personal connection with the shows, their fandoms and each other is what makes us Whedonistas.” The list of contributors includes an air traffic controller, comic book writer, graphic artist and an ordained minister—all of whom have been affected in some manner by the works of Joss Whedon.

“Through it all, Buffy was my favorite show,” Jenn Reese explains in her essay “Something to Sing About,” and hers is just one example of the ways Joss Whedon has touched people’s lives. “It was one of the only real constants in a life full of new jobs, new relationships and an evolving sense of self. If our lives have soundtracks, then Buffy was mine. When I made life-changing decisions or accepted new challenges, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was in the background, singing about courage and heroes, about failure and loss and the power of friends.”

While the trials and tribulations of the characters that Joss Whedon created reflected the actual ups-and-downs of many of the contributors to Whedonistas, it was more than the episodes alone that helped these fans through their own difficult and confusing times. The online fandoms that arose around Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly are both large and diverse, and the interaction with similar fans offered a sense of community that had previously been missing from their lives.

In her essay “The Browncoat Connection,” for instance, Dae S. Low writes about a period in her life where she felt like she was simply going through the motions. Off sick from work one day, she discovered Buffy the Vampire Slayer and immediately immersed herself in the works of Joss Whedon. Especially drawn to Firefly, she slowly became involved with the local Browncoats—as fans of the series are called—and not only made lasting friendships within the group but met her future husband as well.

In “My European Vacation,” meanwhile, Kelly Hale reflects upon her own difficult times. A struggling novelist, Hale turned to writing fan fiction involving the characters of Buffy and not only found a sense of freedom but a community in which she too forged lasting friendships. When her life later started to unravel, for instance, it was the Buffy community that offered her the support and encouragement she needed to survive.

“Even then, I always knew the crap wouldn’t last,” she writes. “It was just about finding a way to weather and get through it. I got through it with Buffy and Angel and Firefly. And all the wonderful people who loved it with me.”

While Buffy and Firefly arguably have the largest contingent of Joss Whedon fans, essays exploring Whedon’s other creations can also be found within the pages of Whedonistas. Sigrid Ellis, for example, reflects on her life through the numerous characters of Dollhouse. “At different points in my life I have wanted to be, or wanted to date, most of the characters of Dollhouse,” she admits. “They embody the fantasies of power I have held throughout my life.”

Priscilla Spencer, on the other hand, was a late arrival to both Buffy and Firefly, having discovered Joss Whedon after those shows had already ended. Her first “as it happened” Whedon experience was thus the musical web series Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, which premiered online during the summer of 2008. Spencer’s excitement and enthusiasm at being there from the start are detailed in “Brand New Day: The Evolution of the Doctor Horrible Fandom,” as well as her frustration with the character of Penny. Whedon is famous for writing strong female characters with substance, something Spencer believed was lacking in regards to Penny. Being a firm believer in Joss Whedon, however, forced her to eventually re-evaluate the character.

“She’s the only genuinely good character in the series, I realized,” Priscilla Spencer writes. “She is defined by her selflessness, wanting to change the world not for herself, but for others. Sure, she’s meek and soft-spoken, but it’s dangerously hypocritical for those of us who identify as feminists to cheer creators for giving us kick-ass women, and then criticize them when they give us women whose value rests elsewhere on the emotional spectrum. Penny has less self-confidence, and her strength isn’t as immediately apparent, but shouldn’t characters like her be just as valid?”

Many of the other writers in Whedonistas found connections with characters that embodied their choice of careers. Laurel Brown, for instance, is a senior engineer at a major aerospace defense firm and pays homage to the engineer of Serenity in “Smart Is Sexy: An Appreciation of Firefly’s Kaylee.” Jody Wurl, meanwhile, is a librarian and thus drawn to Rupert Giles from Buffy. As a member of the Young Adult Library Association, she uses her position to introduce a new generation to Joss Whedon, believing that there is value in his creations that extends beyond the time period in which the shows aired.

“Stories have the power to educate and to inspire,” Wurl explains. “It’s easy to put yourself in the shoes of a sympathetic character, and echoes of that experience follow you in your daily life. By putting myself in River’s shoes, I can acknowledge that as damaging as life can be, it also teaches me the skills to survive. And more importantly, I carry the example of her heroism forward. If River can overcome psychotic breaks with reality to defeat an evil corporation driving an empire, I can stand up against injustice in my world with the tools available to me.”

Joss Whedon has touched the lives of millions of fans through his creation of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and Dollhouse. While males are equally drawn to his works, the essays contained within Whedonistas! A Celebration of the Worlds of Joss Whedon by the Women Who Love Them suggests that females have a deep-rooted connection with Whedon that may indeed be stronger nonetheless. Part of that association has to do with his feministic tendencies, part of it with his strong female characters and yet another part has to do with his relatable style of storytelling.

That’s the beauty of Joss Whedon’s diverse universe—there is something in it for everyone.

“We’re all for heroines who kick ass and take names,” editors Lynn M. Thomas and Deborah Stanish write in the introduction to Whedonistas. “We’re also pretty fond of female engineers who can appreciate beauty in all its forms, deadly assassin teens, lady vampires who are off their rocker and computer nerds turned witches. And let’s not forget the menfolk—broody vampires with souls and badass vampires without them. The Evil League of Evil, space captains with tight pants and large... hearts, and so many other examples of character that we would never see anywhere other than the Whedonverse.”

Spoken like true Whedonistas.

Anthony Letizia

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