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.