Friday, April 10, 2015

#FIF: Joss Whedon

Well, today I’d actually intended to write a post about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but I realized I needed some time to put that one together—turns out my feelings about BtVS can’t be fully explained with only a day’s notice. So I’m going to watch a few of my favorite episodes in the coming week, think about it a bit, and probably get that post up next Friday.

But, for today, I’m going to talk about the man behind Buffy—and Angel, and Dr. Horrible, and Firefly, and Serenity, and Cabin in the Woods, and The Avengers films—Joss Whedon.

If you know me, you know I’m a HUGE Joss Whedon fan. Like, enormous. And if you don’t know me, that might as well be one of the first things you find out about me. I’m all about the Whedonesque.

And, for me, it boils down to the fact that Joss Whedon is the type of writer I want to be. He has so many qualities that I want to hone for myself, and he has told story after story that have elicited ALL THE EMOTIONS from me. I could go on and on about why I think Whedon is amazing (musicals!) and his stories are the best thing since the wheel, but I’m going to focus on three or four things just to make this post manageable. So, without further ado, let me tell you about why I’m so freaking obsessed with Joss Whedon.

He’s a Shakespeare for our time.

Joss Whedon is known for his dialog. It’s quirky, quippy, fast-paced and intelligent, but also a bit more down-to-earth than many other dialog methods. He walks that line between “trying too hard to sound exactly like real conversation and sounding ridiculous” and “trying to hard to imitate dialog and sounding stilted” perfectly. Watch anything Joss is involved with and you’ll see (or rather hear) his brilliance with words. Nowhere is this more apparent than in The Avengers, where Whedon’s dialog meets Robert Downey Jr.’s acting, and real magic happens.

He’s also known for making up his own words and linguistic tics. Buffyspeak is totally a thing, a word coined to describe the style of speech within the Buffyverse, steeped in pop-culture idioms and obscure pronoun references, that demonstrates in a wonderful way the quirkiness of teenage/young adult language. And in the Firefly ‘Verse, Joss created a hybrid of English and Chinese that managed to sound wonderfully science-fictiony, westerny, and yet be understandable and relatable all at once.

Joss Whedon is also a master of humor, as stated in his biography by Amy Pascale:

Fox’s Jorge Saralegui compares Joss to a composer in the way that he can balance darkness with humor. ‘That’s really almost kind of like music, it’s a rhythm thing in your head,’ he says. ‘Most writers don’t have that. They’re more like a songwriter that knows how to put together a song: verse, verse, chorus, bridge, whatever. but they don’t hear everything in the way where one thing balances the other—counterpoint, in effect. I think you either hear it or you don’t. Joss is excellent at it.’ - (Joss Whedon: The Biography 186)

A large portion of that humor stems from his dialog. I’ve been saying it for years: Joss Whedon is a modern-day Shakespeare*, chiefly because of his dialog (although I could write an entire series of posts on the Shakespeare-Whedon comparison alone). If he’s remembered for one thing, it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s his way with words.

He writes emotional, iconic stories.

From the grand metaphor of “high school as a horror movie” that permeated the early seasons of Buffy (and the smaller, more poignant metaphors that I’ll get to in my later post on BtVS) to his delightful twist on the horror genre with Cabin in the Woods, Joss Whedon’s ability to connect with his audience through emotion is always clear and powerful. He makes the myth accessible. “You can’t write from a political agenda,” Whedon says,

and make stories that are in any way emotional or iconic. You have to write it from a place that’s a little dark, that has to do with passion and lust and things you don’t want to talk about. (Joss Whedon: The Biography 31)

Reading/watching Joss’s work, it becomes clear that he really isn’t afraid to go into the dark, to talk about uncomfortable, strange, awkward, horrible things in his stories.

He has an ability to combine all sorts of storytelling qualities into one wonderful package. His stories can be dark and horrifying, but also laced with humor, with compelling characters that grow and change, and carefully planned plots that twist and turn in all the right ways. I know I’m kind of just fanboying out about him right now, but all this stuff is totes the way it is, or at least it is for me. He’s my kind of storyteller.

Joss writes about loss. (Ha ha.)

You may have seen this floating around the interwebz:

It’s funny, but true. Joss Whedon is known for his tendency to kill off characters, whether  in great sweeping heroic sacrifices or tragically sudden and completely-out-of-the-blue death scenes. That’s kind of a trendy thing, these days, as the graphic above suggests, but Joss’s death scenes are worth so much more than shock value.

…Tara’s death—and the deaths of Joyce Summers, Doyle, and quite a few other ill-fated characters over the course of Joss’s writing career—are not merely narrative necessities. They all speak to Joss’s need to ground his tales in truth and human experience….Joss designs each death in the Whedonverse to make viewers feel the despair and ache of loss—because he spent so much time creating an emotional connection that brought them joy and love in the first place. When Joss kills a character, it hurts because it is designed to hurt. (Joss Whedon: The Biography 195)

Some of the most glorious, wonderful deaths I’ve seen in fiction—as well as some of the most horrible and tragic—have taken place in the Whedonverse, but each and every one of them has meaning, and not only to the story. The loss Whedon portrays in his stories has meaning to me, too, and that is a really incredible thing.

He’s a feminist.

So am I, in case you haven’t noticed, so this one has particular meaning to me—namely that it is ok, and actually totally cool, to be a man and a feminist and write proverbial “strong female characters.” It seems that characteristic came chiefly from Joss’s mother, but was supported by just about every woman he’s associated with through life. And, looking at his work, you could take just about any female character and see depth, strength, and quality. (Although some come to mind specifically: Willow, Joyce, Anya, Glory, Faith, Kitty Pryde, Zoe, River, Echo, Black Widow, and—of course—Buffy.)

By the way, if you haven’t seen the following speech, you really should. I’ve posted it on my blog before, and for good reason: it pretty much embodies why I’m trying to write strong, real women characters in my fiction, too.

So, I don’t know, that’s kind of my spiel on Joss Whedon. Like I said, I could go on and on about how freaking awesome he is, but I’ll spare you; I’ve done enough fanboying.**

I’ll fade out with a reading suggestion: one of my favorite Joss Whedon stories is actually a comic, and not of the Buffy/Angel or Firefly continuation (although those are awesome). He did a run on the Astonishing X-Men series some years back, and it’s one of my favorite things. Period. Whedon tells a great story, even with characters who aren’t his own (as has been made abundantly clear with his work on the Avengers sequence). So, if you like comics—or even if you don’t—you should totally check out Whedon’s work there.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go watch some Buffy, and I think you’ll hear more about that from me next week!

* Which is only one of many reasons why his recent rendition of Much Ado About Nothing is so absolutely fantastic.

** Although I will say, if you ever really want to get on my good side, and Joss Whedon happens to owe you a favor, the best thing in the world you could do is get me some kind of headshot photo of Joss Whedon, signed with something overly motivational, like “Believe in  your dreams, Chris! Love, Joss.” Yeah. That would be the best gift I could ever receive.

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