Historically, people always try to dictate the lives of other people. Whether it be the creed they profess, the clothes they should wear, who they should live with and how they should conduct themselves in public.
We are social beings through and through, who need the approval of others to feel validated in ourselves, yet we are also selfish creatures who struggle to see past the universe inside our heads. Granted, it really is a universe inside our brains, and that can be overwhelming. But I digress.
We find a way to live and love that works for us and we think everyone should live and love the same way because can’t they see how good and right this is? Around this we have built religions, laws and nations, and more crucially, unspoken social rules and standards that a respectable member of a given community should live up to. That is the silent killer. From time immemorial, we have been criticizing, ostracizing and even imprisoning, condemning people to death and wars if others (people, communities, nations) don’t follow.
We seem incapable of tolerating the other’s way of life, and much less to recognize there may be some flaw in ours. Au contraire, when there is hint that our beliefs, way of life, likes and dislikes may have a crack, we jump even more on the defensive and offensive.
Everything is flawed! Why can’t we realize that and live striving to be better ourselves while still perfection can never be reached? Can’t we have tolerance? Can’t we understand each other, live and let live?
Because I want to live, and enjoy Buffy the Vampire Slayer and other Whedonverse stuff, aware of its flaws but still enjoying it, in peace!
I think I got ahead of myself. Let’s take it from the top.
Who’s The Most Woke
Being politically woke is a big, important thing for today’s youth. We live in crucial, perhaps historical times, globally. If we want a change, it is up to us to make it happen (look, I still consider myself young, okay). That doesn’t only apply to presidential elections, but all sorts of fields. And one that has been getting a lot of attention is media.
To clarify, this is not politicizing media. Media has always been political; it’s just that now we recognize it.There is also a hyper focus on the political aspect of media.
There is a demand for more diversity, fair and respectful and positive representation across the board—I’m talking women, POC, LGBTQ+, ethnicities! That is fantastic. And it has made creators and companies strive to create it for their audience. I want to add a small caveat here to say that I really don’t care if they are doing it because they truly believe it or because they are responding to market demand, as long as they’re doing it well. If we waited for everyone to be tolerant out of the goodness of their own individual hearts we’d still have the Inquisition going on full steam.
Parallel to this, there is also a campaign to spot and clean out the bad, the thoughtless, the problematic. Be it tropes, people or whole shows, it must go out. We know this can be good, as is the case with the weeding out of sexual harassment and abuse in Hollywood (though it seems it might not stick). But we can agree I think, that it can go too far.
The problem is that in today’s climate—and particularly on social media—spotting something to call out gets you points. It’s almost like that episode of Black Mirror with Bryce Dallas Howard. There are a lot of people playing this game of Who’s The MOST Woke.
As an example, a key part of this was the emergence of the Problematic Fave, which started with a Tumblr Blog that exposed bad behavior of acclaimed celebrities. This has become a mantra in the woke corner of the Internet. You get points from discovering the problematic aspects of something or someone.
Here’s the thing though.
Everything is Problematic
In every single show, in every single company, in every single person, you’ll find a problematic moment, aspect, past. I am problematic, you are. We have all done something un-woke in our lives!
There has been talk, since Louis C.K.’s return to the stand-up world, that there has to be space for redemption. And yes, I agree. Though first you have to lose the rape jokes, ffs. The firing of James Gunn from the Marvel Cinematic Universe is another example. You might have whatever opinion on his firing and whether he should be rehired, but there is one argument that came out in the midst of the controversy that stuck with me. If you look far enough into anyone’s past, you will find something condemning.
It made me think of my own Tumblr past. CRINGE. And I’m sure everyone, if they think long enough, can find something that will make them cringe, and that they wish no one ever would find out. And if they say no, they’re lying. Unless they’re, I don’t know, five years old.
The problem is that, for most people who participate in this (because there are those who couldn’t care less), the line of thinking tends to be absolutist. This is problematic = bad = we don’t like it anymore. And if you like it, you’re officially against us. Because of course the absolutist way of thinking extends to the opposite side as well. If you’re not one of the woke ones, you’re one of the ones who think the woke thing is all some liberal conspiracy to end the things you like.
You’re Ruining It!
There is the other side, the one that whines and complains that the liberals are ruining the things they love. No example is more palpable than the Star Wars fandom, which has harassed actors out of social media and even raised money to remake The Last Jedi literally because it’s too woke for them.
I’ll always remember a conversation I had with a friend who was defending Klaus and Caroline ship from The Vampire Diaries. If you don’t know it, it’s basically a two-thousand year-old vampire harassing a seventeen-year-old, at one point attacking her and refusing to give her a cure only he possessed until she told him something nice. I found the dynamic interesting and do not have a problem with its representation on screen. But of course I hated the idea of them ending up together in a romantic, sugar-coated way and hated some of the scenes where his obsession with her was portrayed as a pure, innocent love.
My friend argued that the entire sequence where he nearly killed her and held back the cure until the last second, was romantic. I argued that it most definitely was not. “But he never really meant to kill her,” was his final argument and decided that I was one of those bitter people who nitpicked too much. I said, “It’s not a nitpick, you can like it but at least admit it’s effed up!” He didn’t.
This same guy told me once that asking for minimum quality from Game of Thrones was being too demanding. Most of my real-life friends are in fact incredibly annoyed by me and my opinions about that show, and complain, after they pick a fight with me over it, that I’m a party-pooper who doesn’t let them enjoy the show.
The problem is an inability by us (because I will not exclude myself in this) to recognize a deep flaw in something and still go on enjoying it. I still struggle with some things I really like when someone points out what’s wrong with them. Like the X-Men franchise. I love it, and I know it has a lot of problematic aspects (apart from adaptation issues) but it is still hard for me to hear someone roast it. I get that defensive impulse.
Speaking of my cringey past, I was also one of the ones who would attack any person who praised Twilight because can’t you see it’s so problematic, it will ruin young girls, it’s the scum of the eaaaaarth! I read them all so I could pull receipts, guys. Double. Cringe.
None of us are immune.
It doesn’t take much to figure out we must learn how to see flaws and still enjoy things given the fact that everything is problematic in some way. We’d have to watch paint dry to find something devoid of un-wokeness. And even then, fumes.
What Does Whedon Have to Do With It?
I’ve spoken about the dichotomy of the Internet Discourse in a way that makes it sound like an even divide. It is not. It is muddled and confusing. And amid that overlapping, unclear sea of opinions, there are those of us who live (or think we live) in the middle ground. Who think we’ve passed to another plain of existence and can now observe, think critically, and analyze.
I thought this was me.
Then recently I started to re-watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Excited about it, I thought about doing a retrospective on it here. But as I got to thinking about the possible article, a thought popped into my head. Joss Whedon.
Like Tobey McGuire’s Spiderman when he thought he’d gotten his powers back, I fell hard on the pavement, on my face. All my excitement died. Not just for my article, but for watching the show. I didn’t think “Oh my God what will people say about my article?”. No. What happened was I chastised myself for enjoying Buffy when it is problematic and it hasn’t aged as well as everyone thought.
As you know, Joss Whedon has been the object of criticism for his brand of “feminism,” particularly since Avengers: Age of Ultron and the decisions made in that movie regarding Black Widow, and especially since his version of a Wonder Woman script came into light (it’s really bad). After two solid decades of enchantment with the feminist champion who brought us Buffy, Joss Whedon became the fake feminist who pays lip service to the cause but confuses it with femme ladies who know martial arts. So much so that the news he’d gotten a deal to develop new shows mostly earned a collective groan.
There have been retrospective analyses of Buffy that have found it is a deeply flawed show, from Xander Harris’s entire person to what happened to Tara to the Spike and Buffy attempted-rape-to-redemption story line. Though not quite as hard as Friends, Buffy the Vampire Slayer has fallen from grace in some circles.
I agree with some of the criticism of Buffy. I do like Xander a lot less now, I have never gotten over Tara, and I never liked Spike. But I do still love Buffy and love the dialogue, and Whedon’s general brand of humor. And most importantly, I really thought I was immune to the adverse effects of the Problematic Fave discourse in a way.
I’m not. And I’m infinitely annoyed with myself and the whole situation.
Hindsight Can Be A Double-Edged Sword
When I lived in the UK, people kept referring to and recommending Fawlty Towers, a staple in British TV comedy that seems to be almost universally loved.
I watched all of two episodes and gave it up. The thing I couldn’t stand? Jokes at the expense of a Spanish employee, an immigrant who can’t speak English. Jokes that nowadays would not just be problematic, but unacceptable. For me, it was a bit too personal, so I bowed out and apologized to my most excited friend, who’d been begging me to watch it.
My not liking it does not take away the fond childhood memories he has that make the show remain in his heart as one of the best, his favorite. Just as no one’s critique of the Harry Potter books can rip it from my heart of hearts, not even my own.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer was revolutionary when it came out. It was the show that made other people scramble to get their own lady name-taker, butt-kicker. Even if today its brand of feminism, and its attempts at diverse representation, seem retrograde, that absolutely does not take the show’s merit away, because it paved the way for today’s progressive shows. And most of these progressive shows will seem retrograde come 2023.
Only a select few things and people still seem progressive with the passage of time, because that is just the nature of things. Not everyone can be Sor Juana*.
Looking back at things and holding them to today’s standards without contextualizing is not just unnecessarily disheartening, it is also counterproductive. Because it keeps us from looking forward. But given the amount of nostalgia bait in today’s box office and streaming options, that seems unlikely to go away.
In Conclusion, We’re Doomed
Sadly, I don’t have much to say about what we should and could do about the situation on society or even on a fandom-wide scale. I have been having some big, catastrophically philosophical thoughts lately. My spiel at the beginning may sound a bit too dramatic for the topic at hand, but it is what I believe to be at the core of the issue. And the reason, sadly, that I think it will never change, no matter how many colors and shapes it takes. It is simply in human nature. There will always be someone telling us what we like is not right and here is what we should like.
Oh wait, no, that’s changed. And so on…
I guess the lesson to take away from this, for me, is that it’s up to me to be conscientious but also decide what I can still enjoy. And as I have proved to myself with Harry Potter, it is quite possible to recognize a thing’s flaws, and even have your own problems with it, and still be able to wholeheartedly enjoy what you love about it.
If you do have any particular ideas or thoughts that are not as pessimistic, please leave it in the comments! In the meantime, writing this has been mostly therapeutic for me. Now I can go back to watching Buffy. Perhaps I’ll even write about it.
*What do you mean you’ve never heard about the 17th Century Mexican nun who wrote feminist poetry? You should check her out. You’re welcome.