they are angels

Buffy still means something to me, and it’s okay if you feel that way, too.

I need to add my two cents to the Joss Whedon discourse I see floating around. If you’re not aware, I’m referring to the essay his ex-wife, Kai Cole, submitted to The Wrap, detailing his track record of infidelity, as well as other recent bad press, such as the leaked excerpts from his unused Wonder Woman script, which included dialogue and characterization that many found to be problematic beyond understanding. 

I, personally, found the script to be problematic, too. I’m hesitant to jump on the condemnation bandwagon on the issue of infidelity, because I think our culture fosters white, male empowerment and encourages dishonesty and shame when it comes to sexual expression, and the issue is far too big to be tackled in a blog post. I’m not excusing his alleged actions, by any means. Dishonesty and infidelity and abuse of power are terrible, and people deserve to be judged for them. I understand why so many people are rushing to condemn this man who branded himself a feminist and then revealed himself to be deeply flawed in so many ways.

I’m not writing to criticize anyone for thinking that way, but I am extending a hand to anyone else who feels conflicted while considering this information.

I was ten years old when Buffy the Vampire Slayer first aired. I didn’t even know the name of the man who created it, back then, and probably didn’t for at least a couple of seasons. If intimate details were available online about the showrunners and the cast at that time, I didn’t know to look for them. I didn’t read press releases about it. I didn’t spend hours sifting through blog posts dissecting every episode, critiquing every character arc and line of dialogue, if such blog posts even existed. I watched it, in the absence of all the noise and conflicting opinions that accompany the viewing experience today. And the show affected me deeply.

Buffy was the first fictional character I really saw as a hero. I understood that she was brave and selfless, despite being portrayed as terrified, and grief-stricken, and often deeply flawed herself. And she was a woman, who could beat the life out of pretty much anyone she met, if she so chose. She was powerful, all on her own, and she took that power seriously.

I’m not saying the show wasn’t flawed. It was. Deeply, at times. (Hopefully you’re starting to pick up on the trend here.) But it spoke to me. It taught me things. It stuck with me for years - the pain of it; the bittersweet victories; the early lgbtq+ representation; the images of Buffy killing the person she loved most in the world to save everyone else, or digging her way out of her own grave with her bare hands because her friends couldn’t face the notion of living without her. These ideas took hold in my heart before I cared about who created the show, or what that person might be like. And because of that, I’ve come to this conclusion.

Media can be both problematic and valuable.

Given what I’ve learned about Joss Whedon since I was an impressionable ten-year-old, I do believe it’s my responsibility to bring a more critical eye to the content he’s created. Shows I once loved might look and feel different to me, now, and they should. And I know I should be hesitant to endorse future creative projects by Joss Whedon, and to think more critically about his casting choices, his character arcs, and his dialogue, if I encounter media he creates in the future.

But I don’t believe it’s my responsibility to condemn every piece of content he’s ever created, just because he’s proven himself to be flawed as a human being. I can love Buffy, and what the show once meant to me, and still be critical of it. I can enjoy the ideas and the characters from Angel, and Firefly, and Dollhouse, and understand that they might be as flawed as their creator.

Media can be both problematic and valuable.

So if you’re like me - trying to reconcile your love and appreciation of this content with what you’ve learned about this man - please know that you’re not alone. You’re not bad because you were once inspired by these works. You’re not evil if you still find comfort and enjoyment in spending time with these characters. You don’t have to erase your connection to them in order to believe in equality, or to support feminism, or to encourage fairness and integrity in media. Joss Whedon didn’t turn out to be the hero we wanted him to be, and it’s okay to be disappointed in him, and critical of him. If you’ve followed his content, you’ve probably spent plenty of time being critical of his charactrs, too. Buffy certainly wasn’t a perfect hero. Neither was Willow, or Angel, or Wesley, or Mal. And their villain counterparts were equally multifaceted - Spike, and Faith, and DeWitt - flawed, seemingly beyond redemption, until they revealed themselves to be perfectly, disturbingly, human. 

Problematic characters are at the heart of good media. They force us to think critically, to adjust our views and expectations of ourselves, and of each other. And characters with this depth are often created by people who understand what it means to be flawed and conflicted - to be the hero sometimes, and to sometimes be the villain.

And this story isn’t a new one. “White Man Working in a Flawed System Possessing Immense Power Abuses It” - this should not be a surprising headline, anymore. I can’t possibly know all of the intimate details of his abuses, or his marriage, or his affairs, and neither can you, but yes, we should be critical. If you feel like your personal solution is to blacklist Joss Whedon and every piece of media he’s ever created, you’re entitled to do so.

But it’s not okay for you to tell me I have to do the same. I can condemn infidelity and misogyny and abuse of power, and still love the characters this man created. 

I can condemn the man, and still love the hero Buffy was to me.

confession (with absolutely no offense meant to any writers): anytime i come across dean using “angel” as a term of endearment for cas, i just immediately hear cas deadpan using “human” as one in response and then kind of giggle to myself