Ever since “discovering” Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the mid-90’s (in season two, before it was cool to like it), I’ve had an admiration for Joss Whedon. He’s a creative guy who wrote and directed some of the most memorable episodes of television of that era.
He’s since gone on to shepherd some of the best-loved loved TV shows and movies of the last two decades. Much of his output has been about female empowerment and creating strong roles for women, up to and including Whedon seeming to earn the label of a feminist.
All of that seems to be crashing around Whedon with his ex-wife, Kai Cole, publishing an op-ed piece that says Whedon is “hypocrite” and that he had multiple affairs during the course of their marriage.
Reading Cole’s piece and then seeing Whedon’s response (it feels like a non-denial denial in addition to closing down a website devoted to his fandom), I can’t help but feel like Whedon has become Gene Roddenberry for a new generation. For those of you who don’t live and breathe Star Trek, I’ll try to keep this short.
Roddenberry created Star Trek and founded his view of humanity’s future on some wonderful ideals. As Ken Wray, co-host of the superlative Mission Log, recently put it, Roddenberry’s vision was that not only do we make it to the future, but we get past many of the issues that face our society today. Or as Trek put it, Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combination.
And while Roddenberry had a great vision for the future, he was still a human being with weaknesses. One was that Roddenberry had a weakness when it came to women. The guy put his then-mistress, later-wife Majel Barret into the pilot and then crafted a recurring role for her on the original series as Nurse Chapel.
And it feels like Whedon has almost followed a similar path. The letter by his ex-wife says that Whedon had multiple affairs over the course of their marriage and
Despite understanding, on some level, that what he was doing was wrong, he never conceded the hypocrisy of being out in the world preaching feminist ideals, while at the same time, taking away my right to make choices for my life and my body based on the truth. He deceived me for 15 years, so he could have everything he wanted. I believed, everyone believed, that he was one of the good guys, committed to fighting for women’s rights, committed to our marriage, and to the women he worked with. But I now see how he used his relationship with me as a shield, both during and after our marriage, so no one would question his relationships with other women or scrutinize his writing as anything other than feminist.
And while I’m disappointed that both Whedon and Roddenberry didn’t live up the ideals or the image they portrayed themselves to be in pop culture, this doesn’t mean I’m not going to let Shortcake view their creative output (when appropriate for her. I don’t think she’ll get a lot out of Buffy right now!)
Both men created women who are smart, funny, empowered and aren’t defined by their relationship to men. As the father of a little girl, I’m grateful to them for creating pop culture heroines that my daughter can look up to and emulate.
I also think it could be a valuable tool to teach her about the difference between the public and private persona that people can have.
I still respect the output of both men. And I understand the public persona they created, even if they were flawed and failed to live up the lofty expectations they and their fans created for them.