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Coping With Grief and Joss
Blog Post by Jeremy Grayson (Jeremy G.)
[Television] Posted on January 14, 2014 / Last Updated on January 15, 2014
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Note: The following article contains spoilers for the majority of Joss Whedon's shows!

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Who is Joss Whedon?

To many, he is the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, one of great pioneers in recent television drama. To others, he is the mastermind behind Firefly, the criminally cancelled cult classic that still leaves fans pining. To others still, he is the director of The Avengers, one of Hollywood's all-time biggest blockbusters and the major climatic point of a film franchise that has spanned half a decade.

But beyond all that… who is Joss Whedon? Who is this man who has enraptured us in his works – who has made us think, has made us laugh, has made us cry?

In interviews, Joss is elusive. His responses to straightforward questions about his writings are laconic in their delivery, which only adds to the intrigue. Joss loves his fans, and he loves to love his fans, and he will often joke around with his fans while always assured that they're in on the joke. He doesn't talk down to those who respect and admire him. In fact, with his sharp wit and dry delivery, he appears a very simple, pleasant man. He makes use of self-deprecating humor, yet he does not directly insult his works. At a glance, Joss looks like he is the kind of man who pities himself and his writing, and given how successful his work actually is, we – the folks who revel in and enjoy it – love him all the more.

Perhaps there is something manipulative about the way Joss acts around his fans, offering sorrowful self-criticisms in hopeful exchange for more love. But here we must take into account one rather crucial facet of his influence:

People hate him.

Remember when Joss shot Tara? Or impaled Wash? Or slowly murdered Fred? And how about all those crash-and-burn romances which pepper each one of his shows? Joss has incited the anger of fans more than any other television producer, due to the numerous and terrible ways he has torn their emotions apart. He enjoys dangling beautiful and tempting objects before our eyes, before pulling back with a "Gotcha!", shattering our hopes and dreams, and turning the floor around us into a puddle of tears.

If Joss took these actions with complete seriousness in the eyes of his fans, he would likely have been crucified long ago. But Joss is not a serious man. He has survived many a contentious situation by showing his humorous side. (A classic example: When Buffy outed Willow and Tara as a lesbian couple, Joss responded to the ensuing controversy by going online and writing, "I realize that this has shocked a lot of people, and I've made a mistake by trying to shove this lifestyle – which is embraced by, maybe, at most, 10 percent of Americans – down people's throats. So I'm going to take it back, and from now on, Willow will no longer be a Jew.")

While some may question the effectiveness of Joss' tactics, he's proved remarkably versatile compared to many other showrunners. Lost producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse made the mistake of treating their fans and their own perception of the show with total seriousness, and it led to a wave of Internet anger and disappointment when that show finally ended. Chris Carter, creator of The X-Files, was also subjected to much criticism for the majority of that show's run, and much of that can be attributed to the way he defended the show's flaws with complete conviction.

Joss doesn't do that. He takes pride in a method that by all accounts seems like it should fail, but doesn't. He wraps us around his little finger, before twisting that finger and sending us spiraling into a stomach-churning void of pain, cruelty and emptiness.

And he keeps us coming back for more.

This is the most trying aspect of Joss Whedon. He has created some of the most likable and endearing characters to ever grace the small screen. Buffy, Willow, Spike, Angel, Wesley, Mal, River, Echo… the list goes on and on. Yet he takes every opportunity to put these characters through the wringer, showing them suffering more often than not.

Clearly, Joss is either a man of great courage or great foolishness. And given the quality of his writing, I think it's safe to rule out the second option.

Joss has written many marvelous works. And as long as he keeps on writing, it's a pretty safe bet that we'll keep on watching.

Who is Joss Whedon?

He is one awesome guy.

Comments (3)
All Comments | Link1 | MikeJer | CREATOR/WRITERJan 14, 2014 @ 6:49pm
Lovely tribute to Whedon here, Jeremy.

One thing about Whedon I'm not entirely sure on is where he's headed next. He's tied up in everything Marvel until 2015, which kind of saddens me. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed The Avengers as much as the next person, but I'm kind of looking forward to seeing him dig his teeth into original stories again. Plus, the superhero overload is getting nauseating.

As for all the deaths, at some point I wonder if Whedon will become too predictable. I know some people already feel this way, but he still seems to catch me off guard. I'm curious if Whedon could ever do a show where no one dies and at least some people are happy for an extended time. Will he subvert himself at some point? Oh, the mystery!
All Comments | Link2 | Iguana-on-a-stickJan 15, 2014 @ 3:25am
Interesting piece. I didn't know that stuff about how Joss reacted to the Tara/Willow thing.

I have to say, though, that this article tries to answer a question I've never bothered asking. Because my question would be: "Do we even -need- to know who Joss Whedon is, outside of the context of his work?"

I think the answer is "no." I don't need to know how authors regard their work. If they're too convinced of their own rightness they'll annoy me, which in turn might detract from how I'll enjoy their work... and I don't want that. I want to enjoy the work on its own merits. Or criticise it based on the same.

The same goes for most things regarding the author's personal life or their views and convictions, etc, etc. Some of those things will show in their work in one way or another, and I'll engage with that, but no more. Of course, in practice I don't always manage to do so, nor is this a principle I deem inviolate or anything. I'm honestly not completely sure about this stuff.

Still, Mike's points also stand. Just the fact that we know a number of Whedon's works means we start to see patterns which in turn makes him more predictable. Fiction never stands in a vacuum. But writers can re-invent themselves too, so like Mike I'd be very interested to see Whedon try his hand at original stories again.

In the end though, I'd say I have no clue whether Joss Whedon is a great guy or not. I wouldn't even say I am a fan of the man. I am a fan of some of his work, but I don't know Joss-the-Man. And I'm pretty much okay with that.
All Comments | Link3 | Jeremy G. | WRITERJan 15, 2014 @ 6:39pm
Thanks, guys!

Mike: I've always been a big comic book nerd, but I agree that Joss has lately been overdosing on superheroes. I think this is more a creative structure issue than anything else, since he's now part of a multi-billion dollar franchise rather than his earlier, far quieter works. Too many cooks, as the saying goes.

Iguana: Maybe it's because I'm something of an aspiring writer myself, but I do think the way the work is reflected on the author is an integral part of the writing process. If a writer is able to project a likable self-image, his fandom tends to be more inherently supportive, and they may give him more leeway in regards to storytelling. Consequently, he can get away with a lot more in his writing.

It's the Circle of Life, in a sense.
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