Everyone’s Life Sucks

June 30th, 2006 by | Tags: , , , , ,

Over at Girls Read Comics Too, Karen Healy takes Joss Whedon to task for the current Hellfire Club arc in Astonishing X-Men:

    What is it with Whedon and strong women? Not Whedon and strong “girls”, or at least his version thereof – they all get happy endings, even when they are, in fact, unacknowledged sexual abusers*. But what happens to his women?

I’ve heard this argument, or a variant thereof, a lot when it comes to Whedon. It seems that some of his more vocal fans believe that his stated feminism should manifest itself differently than it does.

I can see their point, really. Whedon shows tend to slam their characters with high-impact trauma. Something like Willow’s mindwipe of Tara does go well beyond the pale.

The problem is that you can’t really accuse Whedon of having unacknowledged issues or what-have-you, because “Buffy” and “Angel” were both horror shows. Healy lists the number of female characters in the “Buffyverse” who’ve encountered serious problems, disfigurement, death, or sexual abuse of some kind, but here’s the thing: an equivalent list of the male characters looks almost as bad.

Angel: Signed away his one chance at redemption in the final episode of “Angel.” Is now doomed to a lifetime of pain, suffering, conflict, and war in the service of a nebulous and manipulative ideal. So miserable and broody that it’s a running joke. Shot, impaled, beaten, filled with arrows, set on fire, turned into a demon, turned into a puppet, sent to hell, spent a summer locked in an underwater coffin…

Xander: Was a big old loser for most of the show. Ditched his girlfriend at the altar and spent the rest of the show paying for the decision. Lost an eye. Couldn’t make up his mind whether he was the moral center of the show or not. Directly responsible for Sweet’s summoning in “Once More With Feeling,” and as such, responsible for all the combustees. Got the shit kicked out of him almost every time he was in a fight. Slashed with Spike by every fangirl with a keyboard, for no apparent reason.

Giles: Lost and directionless from season four onward. Unable to maintain adult relationships. Had to play D&D with Andrew. Sort of wordlessly sad. Beaten over the head an average of three times a season. All childhood friends except Ethan Rayne killed, and it’s Giles’s fault. Got laid three times in seven years.

Spike: Burned to a crisp, came back as a ghost, eventually reincarnated, became a second Vampire with a Soul ™. Filled with arrows, beaten like a harp seal by Buffy on at least six different occasions, spent half of season two in a wheelchair, pathetic moron in season four, had a chip in his head, beaten like a snare drum by Puppet Angel, thrown off a building, pummeled by Glory…

Oz: Lycanthroped, so he wound up having to sit naked in a cage three nights a month. Tranquilized a lot. The whole thing with Violet. Went through a long and arduous journey for the sake of a girl who had become a lesbian (although, yeah, Willow would probably be more accurately described as bisexual) by the time he got back. Ate a zombie.
Riley: Big fucking wanker. Ripped out a chip attached to his spine with his bare hands. Unrequited love for Buffy. Horrible withdrawal from Initiative drugs.

Graham: Murdered, turned into a cyborg, killed again.

Forest: Killed.

Warren: Flayed alive.

Jonathan: So pathetic throughout most of the show that it was a running joke; sometimes interpreted as “Buffy’s” writers making fun of their own fandom. Was a loser even as one of the villains of the season. Got ker-owned by Buffy. Eventually backstabbed and bled like a suckling pig to empower the First.

Andrew: Even more pathetic than Jonathan. Should’ve died in the final episode; inexplicably didn’t. The First’s arsepuppet.

Wesley: Lost every girl he ever had, violently or otherwise. Gutstabbed and murdered in the final episode of “Angel.” Got shot and wound up in a wheelchair at one point. Stammery English comic relief wanker in season one. Like all “Angel” characters, betrayed his own principles in season five; unlike all other “Angel” characters, died for it.

Gunn: Systematically left or betrayed everything he stood for (his gang, Fred, himself…), albeit usually in the service of what he thought to be a greater good. Unwittingly paved the way for Fred’s murder, and knew it. Seemed to die at the end of season five, but has popped up alive, albeit missing an eye, in post-series comics like Old Friends.

Lorne: Suffered more than anyone else in the transition to Wolfram & Hart. Decapitated at one point, but got better. Had to listen to everyone in the cast sing.

Connor: Ew. Just ew.
The point isn’t that women don’t suffer in “Buffy,” and my point isn’t to minimize the very real issues raised by certain plot points and arcs in the show; season six, in general, is enough to make anyone think there’s something very, very wrong with “Buffy’s” writers.

I’m simply saying that “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” were horror shows, and nobody gets out of a horror show intact.

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3 comments to “Everyone’s Life Sucks”

  1. Hi!

    I don’t believe I argued that Whedon has unacknowledged issues, nor that everyone who isn’t a strong adult woman has happy and sunshiney endings in AtS and BtVS and Whedon is therefore a big ol’ misogynist. He’s a feminist, that’s awesome, and I love both shows and Astonishing X-men.

    As it appears from this excellent essay, we pretty much agree that there are disturbing issues raised.

    But. I didn’t list “women who’ve encountered serious problems, disfigurement, death, or sexual abuse of some kind”. I listed women who had *died* (while also encountering other trauma). Every woman on that list, with the exception of Emma Frost, is dead.

    While the men you list above certainly have shitty lives, most of them do, in fact, live. Spike and Angel, like Buffy, even die and come back to life (a process known among WiR fans as “defrosting”) and a process that is not granted to Whedon’s strong women.

    My point wasn’t “Joss Whedon sucks”. It was “This is interesting. Let’s ponder that. PS) Please don’t kill Emma.”

  2. Hi! I’m David, and I’m the one who pointed Thomas to your essay because he’s the one that’s strong in Whedon-fu around here. (I’ve only ever been able to get into Buffy, the rest of it kind of whooshes past me.)

    Thanks for dropping in and offering up a good counterpoint, and a dead Emma makes a David who’s done with Astonishing X-Men.

    Your GRC blog is a pretty good read. Mind if I throw a link up on the sidebar?

  3. I don’t mind at all! Thanks.