We live in a day and age where truth is valued more than any other commodity. The truths we hear about peoples’ lived experiences should make us question our views and where we stand on subjects. For me, this has been happening with some of the shows and media that I grew up loving and am now questioning what was really being said in those shows.
A dear friend posted an article recently from the Mary Sue website regarding the recent allegations made against Joss Whedon by Charisma Carpenter. For those too young to know who this is, Charisma Carpenter portrayed the character Cordelia Chase on both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, both of which were produced by Joss Whedon. In a recent Twitter post, Carpenter openly discussed the often brutal treatment she received at the hands of Whedon during her time on both shows.
I grew up watching Angel, Buffy, Doctor Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog, and Dollhouse (which is the show discussed in the Mary Sue link above). I used to tout my fandom of Whedon’s work, stating he was one of the better storytellers when it came to female characters. But then the stories started appearing regarding his actual behavior. First it was the allegations made by his ex-wife, Kai Cole, in an article she wrote for The Cut. Then Ray Fisher spoke out over the summer of 2020 regarding his experiences on Justice League. Now Charisma Carpenter and many of her female cast mates are speaking out about the abuses they went through while working for Whedon.
To any male or male-identifying fans out there of Joss Whedon’s work, the question you have to ask yourself is this: What does it say about you that you’ve enjoyed his work? Can you separate the work from his behavior? It’s a struggle fans of any genre of entertainment have to grapple with and it’s not always an easy distinction to make. Looking back at the show Dollhouse, which I watched and enjoyed when it was streaming on Netflix several years ago, I didn’t analyze the messages that Whedon was putting in the show: the casual sexual violence against the female and male characters (mostly the female characters), the fact that the lead character Echo (played by Eliza Duskhu) had to be “set free” by a male character, or the problems with the nature of consent in the show that were never fully addressed more than with a cursory wave of the storytelling hand by Whedon and the writing staff.
Entertainment is a consumption item. It always has been. And the creators behind that entertainment are often putting their own demons and angels into the work (whether they admit to it or not). For me, I find that I’m not able to separate most of Whedon’s work from his behavior now. And that’s a good thing. I believe the stories told by the people mentioned above. And when you look at shows like Dollhouse or Black Widow’s story arc in Avengers: Age of Ultron or the treatment of Inara on Firefly (specifically the constant verbal abuse leveled at her by Nathan Fillion’s character Malcolm Reynolds), you begin to see that Whedon’s behavior was always in his writing and storytelling.
We just weren’t paying attention.
And that’s on us as consumers and fans. These are discussions we need to have, with other members of our particular fandoms but more importantly with ourselves. Being a fan of Whedon’s work doesn’t make you a bad person. Being a fan and ignoring the lived experiences of the actors and writers who helped create that entertainment does make you a terrible human being.