On Friday, Robert Moore introduced a PopMatters Spotlight on Joss Whedon. Moore’s essay critically reviews Whedon’s body of work, and then asks, “Why do his shows resonate so strongly with his viewers?” Moore suggests that Whedon’s films and TV shows (and, presumably, comics) work because he likes what his audiences like, and, most importantly, does what he can within limits imposed by networks and producers, to deliver on those tastes and preferences. He also argues that Whedon’s work attracts loyal fans because he respects their intelligence, and that he demonstrates an authentic interest in and respect for women, a rare quality in Hollywood and in mainstream comics.
My favorite passage is from that last section of the essay. Like Moore’s motivation for writing these paragraphs, I have personal, as well as political, reasons for appreciating Whedon’s interest in making strong, complicated female characters central in his work.
I have a twelve year-old daughter who is currently trying to watch Buffy and Angel as fast she can, and who has already devoured Firefly. I think that Moore perfectly captures why Whedon’s work has been significant in helping to change how American pop culture is gendered.
Why is this important? Why particularly is it crucial that there be these vital, strong, heroic women?
Here I must turn personal. As a single-father raising a young girl, I quickly appreciated how desperately my daughter wanted to see heroic girls and women in movies and on TV. Watching Peter Pan, she unexpectedly viewed Wendy as the hero of the story. Many classic films were rejected when we visited the video store, my daughter asking instead for movies “with girl heroes.” This was immediately before Buffy, and after The Wizard of Oz, The Journey of Natty Gann, and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind we were faced with slim pickings.
All this changed with Buffy. Instead of a handful of movies or television series with strong girls and women, there are a host. It is possible that shows like Fascape, Roswell, Dark Angel, Alias, Veronica Mars, Battlestar Galactica, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and Fringe would have appeared anyway, but the fact is that it was only after Buffy that such shows hit the networks in any quantity.
I learned firsthand just how important it is for young girls—or even older girls—need to feel that it is OK to be strong. It is just as important for men to grasp and understand that it is a great thing for women to be every bit as strong and heroic as we popularly assume that men can be.
My daughter wanted “girl heroes” that she could identify with and whose exploits she could enjoy. Unfortunately, she had few. Today, post-Buffy, there are many. Anyone who has helped change the cultural landscape to that degree deserves considerably more than a Spotlight.
The first regular entry in the series, Laura Berger’s, “Joss Whedon 101” piece on the Buffy movie, also appeared on Friday. I am looking forward to the rest of the Spotlight, which you can track from its homepage.