June 8, 2015 An Ode to Joss Whedon
Guest blogger, Madeleine Gavaler
It feels creepy to say this about a middle aged man I’ve never met, but Joss Whedon has profoundly changed my life, from providing my role models in the darkest days of middle school to shaping my choice in picking the college where I will be spending the next four years of my life. In preparation for leaving for Wesleyan, I’ve been cleaning out various corners of my bedroom. Of all the toys I’ve accumulated over the past eighteen years, I kept three things: crudely made action figures of Spike, Tara, and Willow.
I first watched Buffy with my family when I was about thirteen and have continued to binge watch it every couple of months since. Without my emotional prejudice I would still think the show is the best ever made, but it is so much more to me than a well-written, intricately plotted masterpiece. Buffy is the first thing I can remember watching with strong and imperfect female characters who were lovable and flawed and who I could always look up to. Watching little blonde Buffy kick ass and defy stereotypes and Willow transform into a more confident and capable version of herself was what got me through my middle school years. On “blonde joke Fridays” I would imagine Buffy Summers kicking my algebra teacher Mr. Almanza in the face, and when my lunch table referred to me as “the ghost” and wouldn’t let me speak, I remembered how ghost Willow saved the day in the Halloween episode.
In this world devoid of Black Widow movies and pay equity, I would like to think that my obsession with Whedonverse characters speaks not only to my geeky antisocial tendencies but to the problems in representation. Buffy Summers is both feminine and a badass.
Tara and Willow are an adorable couple, but they made such an impression on me because they had the first lesbian kiss I can remember seeing.
Angel’s Fred Burkle is undoubtedly an objectively wonderful character, but she is so important to me because she went from being a damsel in distress to running her science laboratory.
Firefly’s Kay Lee is a sweet mechanic with a healthy attitude about sex.
All of these fictional women are so important to me because they’re not just characters in shows I watch, they’re examples of identities that are okay to have. I know this is so cheesy, but the characters Joss wrote validated and still validate my goals and myself.
I spend a fair amount of time on the feminist side of the internet, a place where Joss is not always loved. I think a lot of the criticism about his portrayal of rape and racism and certainly darling Natasha Romanoff’s characterization is valid, and yet I am still full of admiration for this rich white guy. I have my own complaints about his treatment of characters and I’m not blind to his problematic moments, but I will always respect his portrayal of strong female characters.
I no longer need Buffy to beat up my bullies, but I find just as much comfort in Joss’s characters as I enter season four of my life. Whether it is loss of a loved one, starting a new part of your life, heartbreak, or vampire attack, Joss has written a weirdly applicable and comforting story about it. I’ll never understand why season four of Angel happened or why on earth Bruce and Natasha, but I will always be in awe of how one person could create my favorite horror movie, Shakespeare adaptation, musical, and short lived sci-fi Western. I couldn’t be more excited to attend his alma mater, and I hope it’s nothing like UC-Sunnydale and I don’t have a demon roommate.