Whither Joss Whedon?

On Sunday, producer and architect Kai Cole published an op-ed piece at The Wrap about her ex-husband, Joss Whedon, claiming that he had spent most of their fifteen year marriage being unfaithful and gaslighting her. As word spread about the article, its contents were not only shocking, but bitterly disappointing to his legion of fans, a group that includes myself. On Monday, the Joss Whedon fansite, Whedonesque made the decision to cease operation as an ongoing website after fifteen years of reporting on and discussion of news related to Whedon and his various projects. Whedon himself had even visited and posted to the site over the years. Amidst all the outcry and anguish, there has been a vocal minority who has questioned whether this should detract from Whedon being a feminist or even if it is really all of that big of a deal.

For those saying that Joss Whedon cheating on his wife is nobody’s business but theirs, or that hey, that’s Hollywood and this doesn’t mean he’s not a feminist still, this article by The Sunday Morning Herald columnist Clementine Ford is worth your time to read and highlights why this is indeed a pretty big deal. I find it a big deal for personal and professional reasons, as well as from the perspective of being an admirer of his. I think he owes it to a lot of people, most especially his now-ex wife, to address this. Yeah, he’s ultimately just a working stiff like all the rest of us, but he took up a banner and positioned himself as a warrior for an extremely important cause that he failed to follow.Turns out, he really wasn’t the feminist that he emphatically claimed to be. And, if this is all true, he turned out to be a pretty terrible human being. Yes, terrible human being. To subject another to years of humiliation and emotional abuse while at the same time doing everything you can to convince them that it is all in their head is one the most inhuman things you can do to another person, short of physically torturing or murdering them.

What is also hugely disappointing is thinking that there must have been friends and colleagues of both Cole and Whedon who knew this was going on, yet said nothing to Cole or took Whedon aside and pointed out that what he was doing was wrong. As Whedon is wont to work with a lot of the same people both behind and in front of the camera, these friends and colleagues would include a number of other people whose work I enjoy and I professionally admire. That’s pretty troublesome as well, that they would say nothing. Then again, perhaps he was very good at hiding it, but, at the very least, the folks he was having affairs with would surely know he was married and that the infidelity was in serious contrast to his supposed feminist beliefs. Much like an political scandal, I think in this case it is also important to know who knew what and when. I’m not saying I plan to boycott everything that Whedon is involved with going forward, but I’m certainly not interested in supporting anything wholly of his creation and I would seriously consider not paying for or viewing any productions and/or creations by anyone who helped him keep this a secret.

For the record, I don’t doubt Cole’s claims, especially since she cites a letter that Whedon wrote her confessing to everything. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I went through something similar to what Cole went through, except in a non-celebrity manner and over a much smaller time scale. I absolutely know how demoralizing it can be and how it can make you question your sanity.So, yes, I absolutely believe her and applaud her for finally talking about it. I’m sure it was hugely cathartic for her and has helped her come to terms with it and, perhaps, take another step towards moving on. I can’t imagine what kind of backlash she has surely faced, because people like to defend their heroes, even in the face of evidence that they don’t deserve the pedestal they’ve been placed on. So yes, my views of this are most assuredly skewed and I’m absolutely giving this more weight and time than it probably deserves. However, I feel that it is worth separating the man from the myth and from the cause of feminism, because he can be damaged and broken without doing the same thing to what he supposedly stood for. The message remains the same even if the messenger needs to change.

“Change, My Dear…”

In 1978, the local PBS station in Providence, Rhode Island started airing Doctor Who. I don’t remember exactly when I started watching, nor what the first episode I saw was, but to say it was a life-altering experience would not be too much of an exaggeration. Tom Baker was playing the Time Lord at this point and I am very sure that the show instantly became my favorite. This was in the days before VCRs became affordable, but that didn’t deter me from recording the episodes. I would prop up my cassette tape recorder against the TV speaker and record the audio. It took a little experimentation to get the audio levels on the recorder and TV just right, but pretty quickly I was able to listen to the episodes at night in bed. I designated a MEGO S.W.A.T. action figure as the Doctor and had my Mom knit a scarf for him and cannibalized the other figures for appropriate looking clothes and accouterments. I even made a cardboard TARDIS for him. I read about the Doctor’s previous incarnations in various magazines, but never really understood what regeneration really meant until Tom Baker did the unthinkable and left the role. It was difficult to wrap my little kid brain around and I don’t think I coped with it very well, until I finally got to see Peter Davison’s first series. Around that time I was living in North Carolina and the PBS station there started airing the surviving episodes of the first three Doctors. The whole concept of different incarnations and regeneration finally clicked in and made me more of a fan of the show. The Doctor regenerating, while still somewhat sad, was no longer a thing to be scared of, but exciting. Change was good and natural and a doorway to more possibilities. Fans of the show are always talking about their favorite Doctor or their Doctor, which is generally the one who was around when they first started watching. For me, I’ve always been a fan of the character, the incarnations not really being different or distinct, just other facets of the Doctor. I felt that the Doctor, to quote the Brigadier, was “Splendid chaps, all of him.”

The Doctor has always been a positive role model to me, as much as a fictional character can be. He is naturally curious about the universe, never judges anyone based on their looks, always does the right things, champions the little people and, above all, abhors violence. This is a character and show that represents imagination unleashed and that good can always defeat evil.It is constantly changing and evolving, finding new planets and times to visit and new stories to tell. For someone going through the awkward and painful metamorphosis of child to teenager to young adult, it was a good lesson in not being afraid of change, but embracing it. All these things and more are what this show and the the character of the Doctor mean to me. And now, in 2017, we face the prospect of the Doctor changing once again. Will all the different personalities the Doctor has morphed into over the years, this one will be the most radically different as it denotes a more pronounced physical change as well. For the first time ever, the Doctor will regenerate into a female.

Given everything I’ve said about the show so far, and how strongly I identify with it, you may be wondering how much the Doctor changing genders affects my opinion of the series and my outlook on the character. The short answer is…not one bit. Yes, this is the most radical change in the character ever, but it is also the most exciting. But here’s the thing, the Doctor has never been defined by being a man or, more specifically, by not being a woman. I don’t see the character herself changing. The Doctor will still be the compassionate champion of the repressed that she’s always been. Saying that one will view the character differently because she’s physically changed seems rather silly, as we’ve seen the Doctor physically change at least twelve times over the last fifty or so years. She’s still the Doctor, Time’s Champion and the Last of the Time Lords (although, with Gallifrey back, that last one isn’t really true anymore). Anything else is just down to an affectation of acting. I don’t consider the Doctor any less heroic now than when she was portrayed by Tom Baker or Patrick Troughton or Matt Smith. The Doctor is the Doctor as far as I’m concerned and I can’t wait to see what new adventures Jodie Whittaker gets into in the years ahead. The Internet tells me that there are many who vehemently disagree with me. That’s fine and maybe those folks should be OK with skipping the show for a few seasons. After all, Jodie will eventually leave the role and who knows who the Doctor will become then. Or the time after that. The point is, if you have a very defined idea of how the Doctor should be and what kind of stories Doctor Who should tell, and neither of those are how it is right now, just wait and it will all change again at some point. In the meantime, I will paraphrase the quote above and say “Splendid chaps, all of her.”