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Anlyses/Articles sur BTVS/ATS
~ Out of this World ~
Nombre de messages : 58934
Age : 29
Date d'inscription : 07/01/2009
|Sujet: Anlyses/Articles sur BTVS/ATS Jeu 31 Mar - 12:37|| |
Vous trouverez ici toutes les analyses, articles ou metas en rapport avec BTVS/ATS de manière générale.
~ Out of this World ~
Nombre de messages : 58934
Age : 29
Date d'inscription : 07/01/2009
|Sujet: Re: Anlyses/Articles sur BTVS/ATS Jeu 31 Mar - 12:39|| |
Une nouveauté : http://fandomania.com/the-family-we-make-chosen-families-of-whedon-and-sorkin/
- Citation :
The Family We Make: Chosen Families of Whedon and Sorkin
Once upon a time, in a pub not too far away, I asked a friend of mine a question. I asked him to try to decide who would win in a war of words between Aaron Sorkin and Joss Whedon. When I was asking the question, I knew full well that it’d be a question that I’d have a very hard time answering myself even though I thankfully I didn’t have to. Answering your own questions in a public place isn’t a good idea and would most likely lead to a visit from men in white coats who are driving a van with a padded interior.
But that’s not to say that I haven’t been thinking about how I’d answer the question, mainly due to the fact that I have a lot of free time during bus journeys, and my mind tends to wander. When I thought about it, the only way that I could try to come up with an answer was to try to think about what the differences are between the two writers — what separates them and how those differences would make them stronger or weaker than the other. But I couldn’t help but coming back around to what unites them, what they share, what makes them great, what makes us keep coming back to the works that they have done. And above all else, what they do best is that the write families. Neither seems to have a great interest in writing traditional families, because that’s not where they find their inspiration. In the worlds and dimensions and workplaces of Whedon and Sorkin, family are the people who you spend your time with, who you see every day, who have your back, who will help you through the bad times as well as the good, who will inspire you. And most of all, they’re the people in your life who seem to have the most natural dialogue and give the best speeches.
(Warning: Spoilers for Sorkin’s and Whedon’s shows follow!)
Sorkin’s predilection towards this sort of unconventional family is evident in his television shows if not so much his movies (though sometimes it’s hard to rip The American President apart from The West Wing, not that that’s in any way a bad thing). Sports Night, The West Wing, and Studio 60 are all about families that are built in the workplace. Whedon’s leanings towards the unconventional family are most evident in Buffy, Angel, and Firefly. Especially Firefly.
Firefly is probably the Whedon show that has the most in common with Sorkin’s shows. The family on Firefly is a family that has for the most part agreed to work together. Some got on the ship for different reasons but they all ended up in the same place. Firefly is arguably Whedon’s biggest success despite the fact that it wasn’t a success at all and more than any other work that Whedon has done, it was a show that gave the characters a single place to call home where they could all interact through the course of the series. In Angel, the location of the “home” changed each season just as the show changed each season and through the run of Buffy the apocalypse-y nature of Sunnydale meant that the Scoobies had a lot of different homes too. Though for some reason, the homes in Buffy always seemed to house a lot of books.
Now, I can’t read minds or see in to alternate dimensions, so I can’t tell what might have happened if the geniuses at FOX hadn’t killed Firefly, bit I think that it’s a safe bet that in a show that was named Firefly, the constant main set for the characters of the show was probably going to be the Firefly Class ship (though if Whedon is in any way a fan of Red Dwarf, that theory could very easily be dismissed).
From the moment Sorkin started writing TV shows, he knew that giving his families a place to call home would be an important part of making the family dynamic of the show believable. And he seemed to realise early that naming the show after the place that brought the family together would provide a constancy through the run of the show.
Sorkin’s first show showed us the family that was already established in the place of work that existed in Sports Night simply by introducing a new member in to it. It’s not exactly a revolutionary piece of writing, but it served its purpose and served it well. Josh Malina’s Jeremy Goodwin stood apart from most of his colleagues for a good portion of the run of the show. It wasn’t until the father figure in the show, played amazingly by Robert Guillame, sent him out in to the world to prove himself that Goodwin realised that he had found himself in a family and, at the same time, Sorkin told us that without reservation or doubt that being smart was not a hinderance. Speaking through Robert Guillame’s Isaac Jaffe, Sorkin told us that “if you’re dumb, surround yourself with smart people. If you’re smart, surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you.”
Families are supposed to accept you for who you are without any questions or reservations. Jeremy found that acceptance with Sports Night, and one theme that runs through most everything that Whedon does is acceptance. For Buffy, acceptance came first from the Xander and Willow, as well as, very briefly, Cordelia. Xander and Willow were already closer than brother and sister even if Xander was blind to how Willow really felt about him, which was pretty bad considering that he still had 20/20 vision back then. Though she was one of a very few Whedon characters that actually had a biological family member on the show, Buffy initially lacked the guidance of a father figure. As time went on, though, Rupert Giles became more of a father to Buffy than her own father ever was. Giles didn’t approve of Buffy at first and it’s fair to say that Buffy wasn’t crazy about him at first either. But they developed a relationship born out of respect. Whether it’s in the library of Sunnydale High School or in the office of the President of The United States, love comes from respect and respect is born from acceptance.
Whedon’s worlds are much more rag-tag than Sorkin’s are. Sorkin’s worlds are packed full of differing viewpoints and, to a certain extent, differing ideologies. But anyone who has found themselves there is there because they deserve to be. In Studio 60, Danny Tripp tells Harriet Hayes that god had no hand in the success that Danny has found. Danny worked hard to get where he is, and whatever it is that he has in his life is there because he has done the work and has gotten what he deserves for it. This work ethic, if not that particular belief, is true of all the Sorkin characters. Whedon’s method for putting a family together is slightly different. It’s put together more by chance than by choice, and each and every time the members of the family are totally different. Be they witch and werewolf, Angel and demon, or preacher and Companion, Whedon’s families are full of starkly different members. But here’s the thing, if you’re in a group or a club or a family where everybody’s different, then nobody’s different. It all comes back to acceptance.
Both Whedon and Sorkin seem to realise that one of the best things about family is that we’re always stronger when we have support than we are when we’re on our own. Both writers have always struck me as being very positive in their outlook on life. Whether or not that comes from their religious beliefs or lack of beliefs is a conversation for another day. But as good as they are at giving us hope (and I believe that Whedon and Sorkin are both supremely hopeful and optimistic individuals), they both know how to bring tragedy to the lives of their characters. Sometimes the tragedy is seeing your vampire boyfriend getting sucked into a hell dimension after you’ve stabbed him in the chest with a sword. Sometimes the tragedy is finding out that a lifelong friend has been hit by a drunk driver on the day that she’s just bought a new car. Whatever way you dress it up, tragedy is… tragic, and despite how any of the characters feel about it, it’s almost impossible to get through tragedy on your own.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that the biggest tragedy in the works of either writer was the death of Tara in Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Apart from the fact that it was, in typical Whedon fashion, a totally unexpected turn of events, it was made all the worse by the fact that Tara had only just “officially” been made part of the Buffy family. After a showdown with her biological family (which included Amy Adams, one of the very few crossover actors in the Whedon/Sorkin-verses), Tara chose to stay with the Scoobies, her chosen family, and they chose to have her as part of their family. But the real sign that Tara was fully accepted as part of the makeshift family was that Amber Benson was included in the opening credits of the show. She was included in the opening credits… for one episode. And she was included just so as to hammer home the fact that she was at last part of the group, that she was important, that she was loved as family. Losing a colleague is bad, losing a friend is worse, losing family transcends all of that. If you let it, it can destroy you.
That’s how Willow became the Big Bad of Season Six of Buffy. She lost someone who she herself made family. None of the Scoobies ever hated Tara, but it took Willow’s love for her to become family. And after Tara was taken from Willow through a senseless death (aren’t they all?), it turned out that the only thing that could bring Willow back from the brink of ultimate destruction was family. And in this case, it was Xander. Xander was the first person who ever accepted Willow and loved her (like a sister) for who she was. It was this love that ultimately stopped Evil-Willow from destroying the world. Willow could destroy the world, but she couldn’t destroy her adopted brother. Though if she was truly thinking rationally, she’d realise that destroying the world would almost definitely mean destroying Xander too.
Biological family members are few and far between in the works of both writers. The Bartlett brood are the biggest representation of a traditional family seen in any of Sorkin’s works, though more than once he’s built fantastic episodes on the very simple notion of writing a letter to a family member who is close in spirit but separated by geography. Joss Whedon only seems to allow flesh and blood family for teenage girls with super powers — Simon and River in Firefly and Buffy, Joyce, and Dawn in BTVS are the only times we get longterm exposure to actual family. Though Dawn’s inclusion as “actual” family could be a subject of debate, and both Willow and Amy are shown very briefly to have very controlling mothers. It’s necessary though to have some form of traditional family in the mix, because they’re important for purposes of comparison. You need them there to show that acquired-family is as important as the family that you’re born in to. You need them there to show that wherever you are or whatever you face, your family are the people who make you feel safe. Much more than blood or genetics, that’s what family is.
If you stack up Studio 60, Sports Night, The West Wing, Firefly, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and Angel, you’ll find that you have close to twenty-three years worth of television. That’s twenty-three years of laughter and heartbreak, beginnings and endings, familiar scenes and surprises, in jokes and outtakes. You’ll find close to twenty-three years worth of family building and, most of all, you’ll find close to twenty-three years of the most natural and naturalistic dialogue that is to be heard anywhere on television. Part of what makes the Whedon and Sorkin families seem so convincing and so appealing is how they communicate with each other and the language that they use.
Like most everybody else in the world, I have found people in my life that have become like family to me and the reason that they are like family is because of how we communicate with each other. Often before we get to judge the people in our lives by their deeds, we have to assess them by their words and the language that they use. And certainly for my own part, I take an interest in people who make an effort to use language well. In this age when we have countless numbers of ways to communicate with each other, we seem to have mastered the art of saying as little as possible.
In television, this knack of saying as little as possible seems to have become a zen-thing and schedules are more-and-more packed with “unscripted” or “alternative” programming. This is basically a classier way of describing reality TV which appeals to the worst in us instead of trying to inspire the best in us. I dread the day when “alternative” is the word that is used to describe the shows that people like Sorkin and Whedon make.
What both writers realised and what they try to show us is that language is a beautiful, uplifting force. Language gives us strength, it lifts us up and it makes us strong. Anyone who’s heard Mal or Jed Bartlett make a speech or stand on principle doesn’t need me to tell them that.
Whedon’s brand of dialogue is perhaps more natural than Sorkin’s is. Whedon has the knack of hearing how people of all ages talk to each other, absorbing it and putting it on a page. Even if it can get exponentially suffix-y.
Sorkin’s brand is fired at you like a machine gun. By the time you’ve recovered from the barrage of words, you realise that you’ve just been hit in the brain pan by something educational and inspirational, but never preachy.
When my friend did give me an answer to the question that I asked him, he ultimately decided that he thought Joss Whedon would win the war of words, mainly because he thought that Whedon could write a Sorkin show more easily than Sorkin could write a Whedon show. And to be honest, on that particular point I agree with him. But in the war of words between the two, there are no losers. If we were to put the two writers to war, they’d very quickly realise how pointless that war would be and call a truce on a very public stage somewhere. And if we were lucky enough to be witness to it, we’d see that instead of fighting, they’d talk and laugh and throw around ideas like feathers in a pillow fight. And more than that, they’d make family out of us all.
~ Out of this World ~
Nombre de messages : 58934
Age : 29
Date d'inscription : 07/01/2009
|Sujet: Re: Anlyses/Articles sur BTVS/ATS Mar 5 Avr - 0:01|| |
- Citation :
Zombies, Reavers, Butchers, and Actuals in Joss Whedon's Work
By Gerry Canavan
For all the standard horror movie monsters Joss Whedon took up in Buffy and Angel—vampires, of course, but also ghosts, demons, werewolves, witches, Frankenstein’s monster, the Devil, mummies, haunted puppets, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the “bad boyfriend,” and so on—you’d think there would have been more zombies. In twelve years of television across both series zombies appear in only a handful of episodes. They attack almost as an afterthought at Buffy’s drama-laden homecoming party early in Buffy Season Three; they completely ruin Xander’s evening in “The Zeppo” later that same season; they patrol a Los Angeles neighborhood in “The Thin Dead Line” in Angel Season Two; they stalk the halls of Wolfram & Hart in “Habeas Corpses” (4.8) in Angel Season Four. A single zombie comes back from the dead to work things out with the girlfriend who poisoned him in a subplot in “Provider” in Angel Season Three; Adam uses science to reanimate dead bodies to make his lab assistants near the end of Buffy Season Four; zombies guard a fail-safe device in the basement of Wolfram & Hart in “You’re Welcome” in Angel Season Five.
That’s about it—and most of these don’t even really count as zombies at all. Many can talk, and most exhibit a capacity for complex reasoning and decision-making that is totally antithetical to the zombie myth. Not a one of these so-called zombies seems especially interested in devouring our heroes’ delicious flesh. Of the aforementioned episodes only “Dead Man’s Party” and “Habeas Corpses” really come close to evoking the wonderfully claustrophobic adrenaline rush of the shambling, groaning zombie horde that has become so popular in American horror since George Romero’s genre-establishing Night of the Living Dead series: a small group of people, desperately hiding within a confined, fortified space, with nowhere to run and no hope for survival when the zombies finally penetrate their defenses.
In interviews Whedon frequently cites Romero as a major influence on his work. In one he describes his early ambition to become a “a brilliant, independent filmmaker who then went on to make giant, major box office summer movies” as “Spielberg by way of George Romero”; in another he credits Romero with writing strong, complex female characters long before either James Cameron or Whedon himself came around. In a video interview with fear.net Whedon describes Romero as “a huge influence,” adding that Romero “is the only really ambitiously political filmmaker in that genre—and the Night of the Living Dead trilogy is just an incredible example of what can be done with gut-wrenching terror.”
Why then are there so few (and such poor) zombies in the early Whedon canon? We might speculate that filming a properly immense zombie horde would have risked busting the budget for the series, an ever-present concern for supernatural and science fiction series on television, especially on UPN and the WB. A properly ravenous horde, too, might have made Broadcast Standards and Practices rather nervous; American television’s very first zombie-themed series, AMC’s gory hit The Walking Dead, only made it to cable last year. When cost and potential censorship are not a factor, Mutant Enemy turns to zombies almost immediately; Whedon wrote a zombie horde attack on the Slayer castle in the first arc of the Buffy Season 8 comic, “The Long Way Home,” and zombies have been a common fixture in Buffy video games as well.
But let me suggest there’s something more at work. First, despite his admiration for Romero, Whedon seems to exhibit a strong preference for the original Haitian zombi—a nightmarish transfiguration of slavery into a curse that continues even after death—over George Romero’s mindless, ravenous consumer of flesh. The American horror zombie is a corpse without a mind, wandering aimlessly in search of food and governed by pure instinct; the zombi, in contrast, is only sometimes a revivified corpse, and is more commonly a traumatized but still living person whose will has been replaced with the will of the zombie master and whose body has been put to work. Whedon fairly frequently makes his characters pedants on this point; in “Some Assembly Required” Giles scolds Xander when he suggests that zombies might feed on the living, and Wesley does the same thing to Gunn in Angel’s “Provider” (3.12), dismissing flesh-eating as a myth (though Wesley’s zombies still “mangle, mutilate, and occasionally wear human flesh”). Anya says it again in Buffy Season Six’s “Bargaining, Part I,” when Xander speculates that their resurrection spell might have accidentally turned Buffy into a zombie who will attempt to eat their brains: “Zombies don’t eat brains, anyway, unless instructed to by their zombie masters. Lotta of people get that wrong.” (Alas, Romero!)
Remembering Whedon’s oft-stated political ambitions for the Buffy franchise, a second reason why zombies receive so little attention emerges. “The first thing I ever thought of when I thought of Buffy: The Movie,” he explains on the DVD commentary track for the first episode of Buffy, “Welcome to the Hellmouth,” “was the little blonde girl who goes into a dark alley and gets killed in every horror movie. The idea of Buffy was to subvert that idea, that image, and create someone who was a hero where she had always been a victim.” As he says this he’s talking, interestingly enough, over the very first scene of the series, which features not Buffy but Darla, playing the part of a misleadingly naïve high school girl who lures an unsuspecting boy into a deserted classroom before unexpectedly revealing herself as a vampire and going for his throat. The scene subverts and reverses the horror movie cliché; the sketchy football player turns out to be the victim, while the blond ingénue turns out to be a killer.
That scene—like countless later scenes featuring such lovable and charismatic vampires as Angel, Spike, Drusilla, Dracula, The Master, Harmony, Mister Trick, and Holden—just wouldn’t work if a dead-eyed, lurching Darla were groaning incoherently, covered in pus and blood, her skin falling off. This is the difference between vampires and zombies: despite superficial similarities in appetite, bad skin, and ghastly undeath, vampires are characters, they are agents, they are (despite everything else) people. The popularity of the vampire as a figure for both transgressive heterosexual lust and queer sexuality—both on Buffy and in popular successors like True Blood—could never be located in the zombie, as the zombie is never a possible point of identification or romance but is always hopelessly, permanently, intractably Other. The Hollywood zombie popularized by Romero is not a person but a force of nature: it can’t be reasoned with, it certainly can’t seduce us, and it cannot ever be redeemed. It doesn’t want anything but to gnaw on your bones.
Of course, most vampires in the Buffyverse never get the sort of elaborate backstory of Angel, Spike, or Darla; most are actually so much like zombies that to include both might have seemed frankly redundant. The random monster-of-the-minute vampires who jump out snarling in dark alleyways are zombielike in their hunger, apparently slaves to their impulses and just as fundamentally disposable as any individual zombie in a horde. Giles lays out this proposition early in the series when he insists that “A vampire isn’t a person at all. It may have the movements, the memories, even the personality of the person it took over, but it’s still a demon at the core. There is no halfway” (“Angel”). But Whedon can’t seem to stick to this edict over the course of the series; where in the beginning all vampires must be killed, with Angel as the sole exception only because of the infamous Gypsy curse that re-ensouled him, by the end of the series Spike is able to choose to seek out the return of his soul out a desire to be a better man, and even as vapid a vampire as Harmony is, by the end of Angel, able to voluntarily give up human blood altogether without much difficulty at all. Central to Whedon’s vision of postmodern horror is a layering of complication and contradiction in his characters that presents itself, especially as the series goes on, as a kind of mania for addition: Buffy is a ditzy cheerleader who is also a Slayer; Angel is a vampire with a soul and a soul-loophole; Willow is a nerd who becomes a witch and becomes a junkie and then gets better; Spike is a nebbish poet who becomes a vampire and falls in love and gets chipped by the government but remains fundamentally evil until he eventually goes off to win back his soul, and that’s not even counting the post-hypnotic suggestions implanted in his mind by the First Evil or the time he briefly becomes a ghost after sacrificing himself to save the world…
Vampires and the other creatures Joss favors in Buffy and Angel are about all addition; they’re humans, plus a little something more. But zombies are typically about subtraction, about the expression of a fundamental, irrecoverable lack. As Marina Warner notes in her essay “Our Zombies, Our Selves,” the difference between vampires and zombies originates in the problem of will: “Unlike phantoms, who have a soul but no body, zombies and vampires are all body—but unlike the vampire who has will and desire and an appetite for life (literally), a zombie is a body which has been hollowed out, emptied of selfhood” (Phantasmagoria 357). Warner’s definition points at the common thematic thread linking the Romero-style consumer-zombie with the original Haitian producer-zombie: both are stories of “soul-theft” (357), the evacuation of individual will in favor of either mindless herd instinct or whims of the enslaving zombie master. This soul-theft manifests itself in myriad ways; most relevant to the Buffyverse zombie is the fact that unlike vampires (who as Warner notes sometimes even dictate their own autobiographies, as in Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire), the zombie cannot speak at all, replicating the tongue-mutilating punishment sometimes inflicted on slaves (358). (Perhaps this is still another reason Whedon shied away from vampires in Buffy; zombies offer little opportunity for his famous Buffyspeak.)
Whedon and the Mutant Enemy writing stable ruin nearly every one of their early attempts at zombie stories by refusing to let this fundamental lack remain unfilled. They can’t let zombies just stay zombies. In the Marti Noxon-penned “Dead Man’s Party,” for instance, which condenses the typical zombie home invasion plot to about twenty minutes, the instinct driving the zombies is not the desire for food but to reacquire a mask Joyce has foolishly hung in the Summers’ home. When one of the zombies is able to acquire this object, the mask turns the character into a kind of zombie god—which among other things grants it that power zombies never have, the power of speech. “I live, you die,” the zombie god asserts, just before things devolve into the usual fistfight.
Similar problems abound in most of the other Buffyverse zombie episodes I’ve mentioned. None of them really scratches the zombie itch, in part because none of them are really about zombies at all; they’re just about dead people who come back to life. To tackle the zombie, Whedon has to move from horror to the realm of science fiction, a place where the contemporary zombie of 28 Days Later, I Am Legend, and The Walking Dead is a little more at home. In distinction from the original Romero zombie—which is generally a universal condition, cause unknown, affecting every dead body on the planet whether they’ve been bit by a zombie or not—the contemporary zombie is generally a biological contagion, very commonly a disease that has escaped from a government laboratory. The new, science fictional zombie reflects Vivian Sobchack’s observation in Screening Space: The American Science Fiction Film that “the horror film is primarily concerned with the individual in conflict with society or with some extension of himself, the science fiction film with society and its institutions in conflict with each other or with some alien other” (30); the old-style horror zombie reflected (as in Romero’s Dawn of the Dead) a monstrous emptiness at the core of everyday American life, while the new zombie is something that’s been done to us, something foreign that’s invaded from outside. (Sobchack puts this in terms of the sort of chaos created by the monster; the horror monster generates “moral chaos,” while the science fictional monster generates “social chaos.”) This difference in scale is certainly reflected in Whedon’s shift from horror to science fiction; Tracy Little’s four-word summary of basically every Buffy plot—”high school is hell” (“High School is Hell: Metaphor Made Literal in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and and Philosophy: Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale, p. 282-293)—reminds us just how local that show remained over the course of its seven seasons, almost never leaving its tiny California suburb. Firefly and Dollhouse, in contrast, take place at the margins of worlds are so vast we only ever see the tiniest sliver of what’s really going on.
If in horror zombies are scary, in science fiction they become utterly apocalyptic. And both Firefly and Dollhouse turn out somewhat unexpectedly to be centered on this aspect of the zombie; on these narratives the zombie becomes a limit for society, its final destination. In creating this bleak vision of a zombie future Joss, true to form, finds a way to transform the zombie lack into a new type of excess—performing a clever kind of subtraction by addition that allows him to make the zombie function as something more than just a hole where a character used to be.
Zombies in Space: 'Firefly' / 'Serenity'
WatchText:AAAIn Firefly—Whedon’s gone-much-too-soon “space Western” from 2002-2003—Romero-style zombies appear as rampaging space maniacs called Reavers. In the television series we never actually see a Reaver; they appear only in the form of rumors, whispers, and threats, and occasionally in the form of a distant spaceship on the viewscreen. But we can be certain that they’re zombies. Described both as “men gone savage on the edge of space” and “men too long removed from civilization,” Reavers will “rape us to death, eat our flesh, and sew our skins into their clothing; and if we’re very very lucky they’ll do it in that order,” as Zoë memorably warns Simon in the show’s original pilot. The mere mention of Reavers brings panic to everyone on board, causing Inara to bring out what appears to be a suicide kit and causing even resident tough-guy Jayne to abandon any hint of machismo. Human beings transformed into monsters, Reavers are now simply outside the family of the human altogether: “Reavers ain’t men. Or they forgot how to be. Now they’re just nothing. They got out to the edge of the galaxy, to that place of nothing, and that’s what they became” (“Bushwhacked” 1.3). They likewise exist beyond life and death. The crew’s first close-up vision of a Reaver vessel directly suggests a kind of undead status; they figure out it is a Reaver ship because it is operating suicidally without radioactive core containment.
Over the course of the television series neither the audience nor the crew ever actually sees a real Reaver; the closest we some is the survivor of the Reaver attack in “Bushwhacked,” who has been so traumatized by what he has witnessed that he begins to associate, transforming into a Reaver himself. This is the first way Whedon makes the zombie’s lack into an excess; it becomes trauma:
They made him watch. He probably tried to turn away—they wouldn’t let him. You call him a “survivor?” He’s not. A man comes up against that kind of will, only way to deal with it, I suspect… is to become it. He’s following the only course that’s left to him. First he’ll try to make himself look like one… cut on himself, desecrate his own flesh…then he’ll start acting like one.
Sure enough, this is exactly what happens: he tattoos himself, splits his own tongue down the middle (giving himself the zombie’s muteness), and soon after begins to run violently amuck.
We only finally see Reavers in Serenity (2005), which begins when a bank heist the crew is engaged in is unexpectedly interrupted by a Reaver attack on the planet. The animalistic sound effects that accompany Reavers in the film—as well as the quick-cut flashes that represent River’s psychic flashes of the violence in their minds—have been borrowed directly from zombie cinema, most directly the various “fast zombie” films that came in the wake of 28 Days Later. The Reavers’ actions, as much as the cinematography, suggest the extent to which they have been modeled on zombies; when they capture a man during the crew’s escape, they begin to eat him, and when Mal takes pity on the man and shoots him through the skull, the Reavers immediately drop the corpse. River understands why: “They want us alive when they eat us.”
For much of the film the early Reaver attack seems to be an entirely gratuitous action sequence for a film that is otherwise about the attempts of the crew of Serenity to evade an uncannily serene government agent, known only as The Operative, dedicated to retrieving the fugitive River. But near the end of the film the central importance of the Reavers reemerges with newfound clarity; the “campfire stories” about men driven mad by the blackness of space turn out to have just been just fairy tales, obscuring the more disturbing truth that Reavers are actually the accidental byproduct of deliberate Alliance governmental experiments with behavior-modifying drugs intended to pacify the population. The Reavers aren’t killers at all; they’re victims too. Recalling the concept of “blowback” coined by the Central Intelligence Agency euphemistically to denote the inevitable unintended consequences that result from its efforts, the Alliance state has become a monster itself in a doomed effort to perfect the human. Like colonial powers and imperial militaries right here on the Earth-That-Was, the Alliance outlives its usefulness to become itself the greatest impediment to its self-proclaimed mission of civilizing the Outer Planets and bringing light to darkness. This is the peril that political theorist Achille Mbembe has called “the mutual ‘zombification’ of both the dominant and the apparently dominated”; in the structures of domination that arise in of the colonial system and survive into the postcolonial era, both parties are ultimately sapped of their vitality.
In her essay for the Jane Espenson-edited anthology Finding Serenity, Mercedes Lackey argues that this is why the ’Verse, despite its futuristic trappings, feels so real to us:
- Citation :
- “…the rules by which this dystopia operates are familiar. The Alliance uses a lot of the same psychological weapons on its own people that all the major governments of the world used back when I was growing up and are still using today. Demonization of the enemy, even the construction of enemies that don’t exist, create the fear of nebulous threats and the willingness to sacrifice freedoms for security. (p. 63-64)
Taking up where Romero’s politicization of the zombie left off, Whedon again transforms the zombie’s lack into an excess—not of any individual person but of the very notion of Homeland Security, its unacknowledged dark side and its secret truth. Reavers terrorize the Alliance at the edge of civilized space—but it was the Alliance that put them there.
But this critique of state power is still not Whedon’s final turn of the screw. Where Whedon ultimately takes the zombie mythos is in the discovery that the only way to defeat zombies—whether ravenous Reavers or zombie governmental institutions that now exist only to perpetuate themselves and their own power—is not to be more alive than they are, but to be more dead. This strategy of judo-like reversal mimics the logic of the original Haitian zombi myth, where the flipside of the zombi’s enslavement is his capacity to defy the limits of both death and pain. Alongside the legend of the enslaved zombi, then, we have from controversial anthropologist Wade Davis a description of the related legend of the Bizango, a zombified outcast who functions not as a ghoul but as a protective spirit for the community, as well as the importance David Cohen and C.L.R James have placed on voodoo rituals as a means of communication, military coordination, and morale-building during the 1791 Haitian revolution. In their recent “Zombie Manifesto” Sarah Juliet Lauro and Karen Embry point to this history to suggest that the zombie, in its position at the boundary between subject and object, rebel and slave, life and death, is still the best metaphor we have for what it means to resist power.
In accordance with this political prehistory of the zombie, the last hour of Serenity is one long, continuous reprisal of that ubiquitous scene in zombie cinema in which a live human must attempt to pass for a dead one in order to escape an otherwise hopeless situation—only our characters aren’t exactly pretending. First Mal orders his crew to retrofit Serenity as a Reaver vessel, complete with a leaking containment core and corpses lashed to its exterior, so they might pass safely through Reaver space. By the time they arrive at the site of the final confrontation with the Alliance, most of the crew has by now accepted that this is a suicide mission and that they are all already dead: “Do you really think any of us are gonna get through this?” In the midst of all this hopelessness, with much of the crew seriously injured or already killed, River is finally able to access consciously her super solider training and dives headlong into a battle with a group of Reavers that has also made landfall on the planet, singlehandedly killing them all. The shot that lingers on River after this battle is over makes it clear: animal-like, uncannily unfeeling, and completely covered in blood, River has essentially become a Reaver herself.
The same happens to Mal. In his fistfight with the Operative at Mr. Universe’s mainframe, the Operative is winning as always—until the Operative punches Mal in the back and appears to disable him. (The Operative is using his own super solider training here: the targeted punch, like the “touch of death” from a kung-fu film, is intended to temporarily paralyze one’s opponent by overwhelming their muscles’ ability to move.) The Operative takes a moment to gloat: “You should know there’s no shame in this. You’ve done remarkable things. But you’re fighting a war you’ve already lost.” He turns his back—allowing Mal to strike. He’d had that particular nerve cluster removed as a result of an injury he’d received during the war. Already metaphorically dead—his nerve cluster literally so—and with nothing left to lose, Mal is just enough of a zombie to finally win the fight.
Zombies in Cyberspace: 'Dollhouse'
In Dollhouse Whedon takes this twist on the zombie myth still further, focusing more directly on the original myth of an immortalized slave that stands behind Romero’s ghouls to explore the unexpected agency to be found even in positions of extreme powerlessness. Dollhouse depicts a world in which (mostly female) human bodies might be fully stripped of their autonomy and be made zombis, subject entirely to the whims of the computer programmers who can now write and rewrite the human brain as well as any hard drive. “Dolls” are programmed with new personalities in order to fulfill various one-off jobs that are almost always involve satisfying the sexual fantasies of the extremely rich and powerful. The Dolls themselves are nominally volunteers, having signed a contract (if, in some cases, under duress) in exchange for a large cash payout at the end of their tenure and (often) a promise that some aspect of their personal psychology will be reprogrammed to make them happier people afterwards—but real questions linger about the extent to which you decide to can sign away the very power to make decisions.
In an episode that features in-universe news reporting on “urban legends” about the Dollhouse, “Man on the Street” (1.6), one woman, dressed as a Wal-Mart employee, suggests she would be quite happy to work as a Doll even without this payment: “So being a Doll, you do whatever, and you don’t gotta remember nothing, or study, or pay rent, and you just party with rich people all the time. Where’s the dotted line?” This woman’s eagerness reinforces the wisdom of another interviewee, an African-American woman who angrily denounces the very idea that workers in the Dollhouse are “volunteers”: “There’s only one reason why a person would volunteer to be a slave: if they is one already. Volunteers. You must be out of your fucking mind.”
When the newscaster interviews a college professor, perhaps a teacher of biology or cognitive science, he takes a much more aggressively nightmarish view of the possibility of the Dollhouse:
Forget morality. Imagine it’s true. Imagine this technology being used. Now imagine it being used on you. Everything you believe, gone. Everyone you love, strangers. Maybe enemies. Every part of you that makes you more than a walking cluster of neurons dissolved at someone else’s whim. If that technology exists, it’ll be used. It’ll be abused. It’ll be global. And we will be over as a species. We will cease to matter. I don’t know. Maybe we should.
Consent, in this light, becomes merely a formality; the Dollhouse will get us all in the end. The immediate suggestion of the episode, however, is that this professor is importantly and chillingly wrong: the technology already exists in the real world in the form of the narcotizing spectacle of the entertainment industry, especially television itself. The next and final interviewee in “Man on the Street,” who appears immediately following a commercial break, drives this point home: “You think it’s not happening? You think they’re not controlling you? Don’t worry about it. Just sit back and wait for them to tell you what to buy.” The question is not, from this perspective, whether you might somehow be turned into a Doll, unknowingly operating according the whims of corporate interests that own both your labor power and your free time; the question is whether it’s happened already, without your even noticing, without anyone even bothering to complain.
As the series goes on Whedon pushes these questions of consent and control to one side to focus instead on a more traditional sci-fi complication. The imprinting technology turns out in the end to be fundamentally and fatally flawed; in its efforts to produce perfect slaves—to produce a zombie lack that can be filled with the sexual pliability the Dollhouse sells—the Dollhouse technology produces instead more excess in the form of a entirely new type of consciousness, one that (like the folkloric Haitian zombi) is capable of resisting and subverting the imprinting technology and repurposing it towards its own ends. Over time, the amnesiac Dolls begin to remember. And through this power of memory the Dolls slowly gain control over their unique situation; the characters portrayed by the show’s starring cast become increasingly autonomous actors, ultimately becoming protectors of both each other and the society of large. Their hybrid status—no longer their original unitary selves, but each containing a new multiplicity—gives these characters an entirely new sort of human agency. This is especially true in the case of Eliza Dushku’s Echo and Alan Tudyk’s Alpha, both of whom slowly patch together new composite personalities that are the sum of all the imprints who have been uploaded into their minds. Alpha, whose original personality already contained strongly violent tendencies, is driven mad by multiple personality disorder, becoming a brilliant but murderous sociopath in his quest for revenge against the Dollhouse (in fairness he eventually gets better). Echo is more successfully able to organize all her Dolls inside a new, multitudinous personality and, driven by an urgent empathy, seeks to awaken and liberate the other Dolls and bring down the Dollhouse that enslaves them.
In much the same way as his original vision for Buffy, in Dollhouse Whedon creates an unexpected heroine out of a character who would traditionally be figured as a passive victim in need of rescuing. Despite the clichés of the genre and the hopelessness of her situation, Echo rescues herself. And in the process the very formlessness of the Doll state, its malleable plasticity, becomes her greatest strength; the living death of the zombi, in essence, gives her a twenty-first century superpower: the ability to reprogram herself however she likes.
In “Epitaph One,” the episode originally intended to serve as a possible series finale before the show was unexpectedly renewed, we see our first glimpse of the unexpected way this story ends. The episode skips ahead ten years to a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles; the ruined city is in flames. What has happened is never made precisely clear—but Los Angeles is now divided between “actuals” (unmodified humans), “dumbshows” (pacified wanderers in the base Doll state), and “butchers” (berserk killers suggestive of nothing so much as Romero’s ghouls or Firefly’s Reavers). Finally, our two species of zombies get to meet—and the results are not pretty. As the episode proceeds we discover that the Dollhouse technology has somehow gotten loose, broadcasting “signals” of varying kinds across all communications media that transform actuals into either dumbshows or butchers. Civilization has been destroyed in an ongoing orgy of universal zombification—TV finally and forever turning all our brains to mush.
In Season Two’s series-concluding follow-up, “Epitaph Two”—continuing the plot thread begun in “Epitaph One”—we discover the 2019 versions of the series’ regular cast are still alive, hidden from the apocalypse in an agricultural enclave in the deserts of Arizona. In a sense they’re partially responsible for what has happened to the world; not only did Topher and Adelle selfishly abet the Rossum Corporation’s drive for better and better technologies of control, but the rebelling Dolls’ victories over Rossum ironically introduced the unstable power vacuum that made the global Dollpocalypse possible in the first place. Echo and the others are still fighting the remnants of Rossum as well as periodic hordes of butchers, but things are not going well; this is not a war which can be won.
Finally Topher announces that he has come up with a miraculous plan to “bring back the world”; bouncing blanket signals off the atmosphere, he believes he can simultaneously return every imprinted person to their original, actual state. It gives nothing away to tell you the plan is ultimately successful; this is, in the end, television, and happy endings are always the order of the day. At the end of “Epitaph Two” confused dumbshows and former butchers begin to wake up out of their fog into a completely transformed world. We see nothing of what they’re thinking, or of what sort of world they might actually construct from the ruins of ours. The focus instead is on our Doll heroes, most of whom have chosen to remain inside the Dollhouse for a year until the de-imprinting signal fades and it’s safe for them to reemerge. Completely unexpectedly—and, given that the show began with the Dollhouse as an obvious metaphor for human trafficking and the sex industry, somewhat disturbingly—most of our Doll heroes decide they don’t want to be restored to their original, actual selves. They’ve become something new, something powerful, something posthuman; in becoming Dolls, they’ve gained much more than they’ve lost, and they don’t want to go back.
~ Out of this World ~
Nombre de messages : 58934
Age : 29
Date d'inscription : 07/01/2009
|Sujet: Re: Anlyses/Articles sur BTVS/ATS Mer 6 Avr - 12:52|| |
Nouvel essai : http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/139167-tvs-grim-reaper-why-joss-whedon-continually-kills-the-characters-we-/P1
- Citation :
TV's Grim Reaper: Why Joss Whedon Continually Kills the Characters We Love
By Kristin M. Barton
In the world of primetime television and major motion pictures, killing off characters within the principle cast of a lucrative franchise has become impractical, especially when it is the popularity of those characters that drives ratings and box office revenues. But for writer and director Joss Whedon, who’s developed properties such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly/Serenity, and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog, killing off members of his central cast has almost become standard operating procedure. As fans, we are not shocked when Whedon quietly introduces us to new characters only to have us form an emotional attachment that is ultimately shattered when their lives are seemingly thrown away in an act of casual violence. When the continued success and profitability of a franchise depends on viewers establishing connections with the characters they see, killing off those characters can prove to have costly and terminal consequences.
But in the world of TV and film, Whedon has gone against conventional thinking and killed off numerous beloved characters, and with great success. The secret, perhaps, is in how he uses those deaths to promote the gritty reality his characters face and to help motivate characters and push the stories forward. While television has provided us with some memorable character deaths along the years (Detective Bobby Simone on NYPD Blue and Colonel Blake on M*A*S*H), these deaths usually only served short-term purposes for the story, and in some cases act as the catalyst for a single emotional episode. But rarely do these events have any real long-term ramifications for the series or the other characters. Even contract negations and creative differences with actors can lead to the premature demise of popular characters (such as when Denise Crosby was unhappy with how her character Tasha Yar was utilized on Star Trek: The Next Generation). Seldom are characters killed off in their prime or at the height of popularity, especially when that is in contrast to what most viewers would expect or want to have happen.
With an unprecedented and unparalleled storytelling style, Whedon has become somewhat notorious for the seemingly indiscriminate killing of his leading characters without the usual pomp and circumstance that surrounds that kind of major event. Anya in the Buffy finale, Paul Ballard in the Dollhouse finale, Wash in Serenity. All of them killed in an instant without warning and without the grandeur normally relegated to major characters. Although each is killed in an impersonal and seemingly random way (sliced in half, stray bullet, and wooden missile, respectively), their passings serve to remind us that death is an inevitable part of life. While we would like to believe that the good guys will always walk away and live to fight another day, Whedon reminds us that casualties occur on both sides in a war. Perhaps Whedon articulated this sentiment best in an interview for Serenity: The Official Visual Companion when he noted regarding Wash’s death, “Dramatically, the more I worked on [the screenplay], the more it became clear that in order to make people feel that this was real, a certain shocking thing is going to have to happen” (p. 37). To think the protagonists will always come out victorious and unscathed would be unrealistic, and notwithstanding the fantastical worlds in which these stories take place, Whedon has strived to ensure that the societal and emotional situations faced by his characters are as true to life as possible. And while these examples all derive from events where the deceased were participants in active hostilities, innocent bystanders are not immune from Whedon’s lethal plot twists either.
Despite the death and violence that permeate every other aspect of their lives, Buffy and her friends are unprepared for the impact it has when they must confront it on a more personal, non vampire-slaying-related level. Highlighting the power and overwhelming nature of losing a loved one, the Season Five episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer titled “The Body” (5.16) shows what happens when Buffy arrives home to find her mother dead on the couch from a brain aneurysm. This episode departs from the traditional storytelling done in the series and largely excludes any reference or mention of the occult world in which Buffy operates. Whedon spends the entire episode examining the impact death can have, and carries that impact forward through the remainder of the series as Buffy realizes that she is no longer a child and quickly evolves into a mother-figure for Dawn.
The primary difference here between Whedon’s shows and other television is that death in these cases has occurred in an instant, and is not some long or drawn out event to capitalize on the emotional investment made by the audience. There is no heroic last stand where the heroes remain stalwart against the oncoming hordes of evil to save their companions. These deaths, like so many in real life, happen in an instant. Almost so quick that we don’t realize what has actually happen.
In no episode of television can this be better observed than in the Buffy Season 6 episode “Seeing Red.” While confronting Buffy at her house, aspirant super-villain Warren blindly fires a gun in Buffy’s direction as he scrambles to escape the gathering Scoobies in the backyard. Unknown to those below, an errant bullet has strayed through a second-floor window and hit Tara in the chest, who manages to say only, “Your shirt…” after seeing the blood spatter appear on Willow in front of her. With those as her finals words, a principle character in the Buffyverse has passed.
No death scene.
Senseless violence perpetrated against a bystander.
The result of this sequence of events is to produce a reaction in Willow that, under normal circumstances, would be entirely out of character and quite possibly rip viewers out of the reality created by the show because of the drastic change in demeanor. But because of Whedon’s slow progression towards reuniting the couple over the course of many episodes and the sudden shock of Tara’s death, Willow’s unimaginable rampage and impending destruction of the world resonate as believable for that character.
Similar to Willow’s rage, Malcolm Reynolds sets in motion a sequence of events that can easily be perceived as suicidal, brought about by the death of a crew member. In the film Serenity, Mal finds Shepherd Book slowly dying after an Alliance attack wipes out the settlement where he has been living. In response, Mal goes through what can best be described as a moment of bloodlust, looking to get revenge on those who have cost him and his crew so much. While certainly not a coward, Mal was shown throughout the television series as making practical, measured decisions that, while certainly dangerous, ultimately afforded him the ability to keep his crew together and his ship in the air. Once again, Whedon uses a primary character’s death to motivate another to act irrationally, sending Mal on a mission to traverse Reaver space. Certainly a desperate action, but one that Mal sees as the only option left given the circumstances.
Resurrection became a second chance at life filled with new pain...
Despite the senseless and heart-deaths faced by so many characters in Whedon’s worlds, it can also be argued that the torment brought about by death continues even for those who manage to return from the dead. In worlds populated with vampires, demons, and demigods, nothing is beyond the realm of possibility. For a few characters, resurrection became a second chance at life filled with new pain and torments only Whedon would ascribe to his beloved characters.
At the beginning of Season Five of Buffy, Buffy learns that the person she thinks is her sister Dawn is actually a magical key. In the season finale she learns that only her blood (and thereby death) can prevent the oncoming apocalypse. In a classic moment of heroic sacrifice, Buffy leaps to her death and saves the world once again, leaving her friends behind to mourn and carry on without her. Not long into Season Six her friends have discovered a way to bring her back and, within a few episodes, Buffy has returned to Sunnydale and the land of the living. But rather than allow Buffy, her friends, and the audience to enjoy this moment of triumph and exalt in what can easily be described as a miracle, Whedon instead chooses to incorporate the consequences of her death (and rebirth) into her new life.
What we quickly learn (and the Scoobies learn in the musical episode, “Once More with Feeling” 6.7), is that in bringing Buffy back from the dead they had inadvertently ripped her out of a peaceful and serene existence where her problems and worries didn’t exist: Heaven. In doing this, Whedon has taken his perception of death as the final transition and carried it forward through to the next evolution. Buffy has been inherently changed by her experience, and Whedon doesn’t give the audience an opportunity to revel in her return before reminding them that death affects everything, and nothing is the same afterwards. Her life, her actions, and her interactions with her friends are changed as a result of her reappearance and thus moves the story forward in a direction that would have seemed out of character for Buffy prior to the events surrounding her death and return to life.
Like Buffy, Spike’s return to life in the Angel episode “Conviction” (5.1) turns his noble sacrifice at the end of Buffy (“Chosen” 7.22) into a return to the life he’d chosen to give up. Choosing to sacrifice himself so Buffy and others might live, Spike’s rebirth in the Wolfram & Hart offices in Los Angeles brings with it consequences no one could have foreseen. While certainly the character of Spike had evolved significantly since obtaining a soul at the end of Season Six the change in Spike prompted by his return from the amulet (where he was, for all intents and purposes, dead) brought about more change that would result in pain and emotional distress for the vampire. Upon getting a soul, Spike dealt with issues that could be seen as selfish and centered largely on himself; his feelings for Buffy, whether people liked him, sacrificing himself to save Buffy (would he have done the same for Xander? Probably not). But upon his rebirth from the amulet, Spike begins making choices that are about others, looking at the bigger picture and considering the welfare of others he may not know or even care about.
Spending the first seven episodes of his return incorporeal, Spike realizes that he is quickly fading away from the living world and is being drawn into Hell. After regaining his physical form, Spike’s behavior and attitude appear to change, even more so than the change that took place after his re-souling in the last season on Buffy. Spike becomes close with Fred, taking on the role of her big brother and protector. When Fred is killed, it becomes clear that Spike has evolved into a much more complete person that his near-decent into Hell helped prompt. The downside for Spike, at least from one perspective, is that in his new life filled with moral choices and putting others before himself, Spike is faced with heartache and emotional pain that he’d possibly never experienced before.
However, for all the hardship that death brings to the characters of Joss Whedon’s worlds, it also serves as the impetus to push characters towards being more than they thought they could. Without Doyle’s death in the first season of Angel, Cordelia could have very easily become a stagnant character who continued through life as she had in high school. But through Doyle’s death and his imparting his gift to her, she became a better person (and a more complete character) as a result.
In the series finale of Angel, Wesley’s death brings about a turn in Illyria, where for the first time we see her act out of compassion and caring for someone else. In asking Wes, “Would you like me to lie to you now?” and shifting her form to appear as Fred, she shows that she has moved beyond the self-centered being who took over Fred’s body and has come to appreciate more fully the importance of having others in her life she cares about and that care about her.
As he half-heartedly points his death ray at the cowering denizens of the bank, we’re given insight into just how profoundly Penny’s death has affected Billy/Dr. Horrible in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog. It becomes clear (though not explicitly stated) that what he thought he’d wanted out of life is now a distant second to what he might have had. As he enters the Evil League of Evil’s boardroom and meekly stares into the camera to eke out his final line, we can appreciate how unprepared he was for the consequences of the life he’s chosen and how completely the reality of his situation and Penny’s death has affected him.
In the past, Whedon has suggested that no characters are ever truly safe on his shows; that unless your name is in the title, you’re fair game for an early demise. Maybe this is what makes Whedon such an exciting writer: his unpredictability. Most people would consider characters like Fred, Wash, and Tara indispensable fan favorites, sure to cause uprising and revolt should anything happen to them. But using their deaths to advance the story, Whedon provides justification for changing the essence of his characters and progressing storylines to places that they could not have otherwise gone.
~ Out of this World ~
Nombre de messages : 58934
Age : 29
Date d'inscription : 07/01/2009
|Sujet: Re: Anlyses/Articles sur BTVS/ATS Mer 13 Avr - 12:58|| |
- Citation :
The Power of Fandom in the Whedonverse
By Jack Milson
Joss Whedon, critically acclaimed television auteur and creator of the hit television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997), is not only a master of storytelling, but he is also an excellent catalyst to investigate the internal workings and politics of the television and film industry. Within the film and television industry there are a number of key struggles and relationships involving power. The internal politics of the industry warrants much discussion and analysis in its own right. Issues of production, financing, distribution, and marketing could have easily been the basis for articles and discussions. Whedon’s career and body of work provide a constant for us to look at during a period where the industry moves into an arena completely changed by the arrival of new media like the Internet. The Internet has changed the way people live and work and, without doubt, this includes the internal politics of the film and television industry. The changing face of the industry has also brought to the forefront the value of creators such as Whedon, the auteur’s role within the television industry, and, arguably most importantly, the audience, the latter being the fans who watch and support the shows that ultimately give the creators their power.
Although the creators and the mass media companies/networks both fall under the same umbrella of production within the industry, they do not always share the same values and interests. One such power struggle is the commercial and creative control over a property, including issues of auteurism. In television, it’s widely accepted that the director isn’t necessarily the auteur; the role of auteur is instead embodied by producer(s), executive producer(s), or show runners. The producers or show runners are the ones who have to make the day-to-day decisions, both large and small, It’s these decisions that ultimately lead to the power struggles between creator and media companies.
My aim here is to examine how these relationships have changed. The issues that have arisen include how the audiences’ relationship with the creator has altered; how the audiences’ relationship with the media companies has evolved because of new media, and how that has affected the relationship between media companies and creators.
In 1992 the motion picture Buffy the Vampire Slayer was released in cinemas across the US, directed by Fran Rubel Kuzui and written by an up-and-coming, yet relatively unknown television writer, Joss Whedon. Whedon would go on to create a number of critically acclaimed works including the television series based on the Buffy movie, and the Internet sensation Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. It would be Dr. Horrible that would earn Whedon a Vanguard Award from the Producers Guild of America. The award saw Whedon join the ranks of previous winners James Cameron and George Lucas as he was recognized for his achievements in new media and technology. The original Buffy film and Dr. Horrible don’t mark the totality of Whedon’s work, nor do they mark the beginning or end of his career. What they do show, is how a creator’s control has changed.
Instead of a strict comparison between the two products, the changes will be examined chronologically. Using Whedon’s work and career as a catalyst to understand how the varying relationships within the television industry operate, and how the changing context led to the creation of Dr. Horrible.
While serving as a staff writer on Roseanne and Parenthood, Whedon wrote the script for the original Buffy. Having tried and failed to sell his script to any of the major studios, it was finally picked up by Fran Kubel and Kaz Kuzui (she directed; both produced). Here, it seems, Whedon ceased to have creative control over the film, with rumors that he eventually left the set and never returned when he saw how his script was being interpreted. Whedon openly acknowledges that the film was not what he had in mind and makes a sharp distinction between the script and the film. As a writer selling a script, Whedon had surrendered his creative control to the Kuzuis, something he would actively rectify when given his second chance with Buffy on television. Although having no involvement with the show, the Kuzuis would continue to receive royalties from Buffy and the merchandise surrounding the property. The political economy of the film and television industry means they would continue to reap the rewards. These rights would later be exercised in May 2009 when the Kuzuis announced their intention to relaunch the franchise without the involvement of Whedon. This news was met with a substantially negative response.
Buffy wasn’t the only time Whedon felt a script of his had been misunderstood and wrongly interpreted. In 1997 Alien Resurrection was released, with Whedon having written the screenplay. Critically and financially Resurrection wasn’t a failure, yet Whedon was still unhappy with the treatment of his script. It was this disappointment that led Whedon to proclaim, “The next person who ruins one of my scripts is going to be me.” Whedon wanted more control. The Buffy film would be one of Whedon’s most disappointing ventures, though it would also ultimately offer him the opportunity to have creative control over his work.
On March 10, 1997, Buffy the Vampire Slayer debuted on the WB network. Gail Berman of Sandollar Production saw the potential in the premise of the film and approached Whedon about adapting it for television. As showrunner he would have principal responsibility if the show failed. Academics have labeled Whedon a hyphenate; this term is used not only to encompass Whedon’s role as creator and writer but also that of executive producer. His responsibilities would also include hiring writers and directors and casting actors, while also interacting with network and studio.
Buffy would go on to be a critical success, among a host of honors making Time’s list of “The 100 Best TV Shows of All-Time.” The quality of the show was widely acknowledged as was Whedon’s role. For the most part Whedon had a healthy relationship with the WB. In the fifth season of Buffy, however, Whedon was to witness his first real difficulty in terms of the political economy of the television industry. Although Buffy aired on the WB, it was produced and distributed by the studio Twentieth-Century Fox. Buffy and Whedon would be in the middle of a multi-entity disagreement over finances that would put the future of the show in jeopardy. Fox produced Buffy at a cost of $2 million per episode; the episode would then be sold to the WB at a cost of $1 million per episode. Fox would produce the show at an initial loss, with the balance recovered through reruns and merchandising. It would be this arrangement that would later fuel the disagreement between network and studio.
With the WB’s five-year contract for Buffy coming to a close, Twentieth-Century Fox was expecting a large increase in the amount that it received from the WB in the new contract. Jamie Kellner CEO of the WB, however, took a hard line stance in the negotiations, refusing to pay Twentieth-Century Fox the $1.8 million an episode it demanded and played down the importance of the show to the network. These negotiations would ultimately lead to what is arguably one of the biggest coups ever seen in the television industry, as Buffy would switch to one of the WB’s biggest rivals, UPN.
The dispute was settled when UPN signed a two-year deal for Buffy with Twentieth-Century Fox. The Chicago Tribune reported that the deal would be worth “$2.3 million per episode the first year and $2.35 million the second.” What this brings to the forefront is the value of audience. UPN had a predominately young male audience and hoped to expand its audience and re-brand its image by capturing Buffy, which was known for having a strong female demographic. It was hoped this move would ultimately improve UPN’s overall performance. What Buffy also had was an established fanbase, one that was vocal, active, devoted, and enthusiastic.
Although there would be some individuals who self-identified as Buffy fans, this would ignore those who self-identified as fans of Whedon in general rather than any of his works in particular. This would be supported by the existence and prominence of fan sites such as www.whedonesque.com. The site is run by fans, although Whedon and other writers have been known to post and visit the site. The site offers a direct interaction between fans and creator. Although it would seem naive to use a single website as an example of the mass, it is noteworthy that the site was listed in by Entertainment Weekly as one of the 100 greatest websites.
Although I set out to discuss how the relationships involving creator, mass media, and audience have changed, I will look at audience instead under the classification of fandom. Some would claim that “fandom” and the “general audience” are not representative of each other. Even though it would be wrong to assume that every member of an audience is a fan, it can be argued that the lines between the two types of audience are becoming blurred; the mainstream market or viewer is increasingly resembling that of fandom.
Before the 1990s, only a minority of an audience could be considered fans
Before the 1990s, it could be argued that only a minority of an audience could be considered fans, with an even smaller amount being considered a fan in terms of participation and engagement. The definition of the word fan simply means, however, “an ardent devotee; an enthusiast.” I do agree with a number of academics who in retrospect of the early studies in fandom note that rarely do fans merely love a show, watch it religiously, and talk about it, but engage in no other fan practices or activities. It is fan participation and consumption that make fan communities and fandom so interesting. Fans can now communicate with other fans who are located thousands of miles away and chat about the newest episode of the show. The “Internet Fan” is a very different animal, compared to both the casual audience and a casual “ordinary” fan. What is relevant to this study is how a fan operates within the community, specifically how a fan participates.
Like most fandom surrounding television shows/films/books or other texts with narrative structure, fandom surrounding the works of Whedon has spawned a large number of news sites, fan sites, fan fiction, fan art, fan video, and fan film. These examples of fan participation exist in a gray area between legal and illegal with regard to copyright and intellectual property laws. Twentieth Century Fox, the copyright owner of Buffy, would be wary of any productions involving the series that could damage the intellectual property, or any profits made from the exploitation and use of their property and characters. Whedon, however, has a different stance: “I love it. I absolutely love it. I wish I had grown up in the era of fan fiction,” only stipulating that such productions be true to his characters. Fan-made texts are not a phenomenon original to the age of new media; fan texts existed prior to the rise of the Internet. New technologies have, however, made it easier to create, post, and find these texts. From being circulated among a small group of fans or posted in a fanzine or screened at conventions, fan texts now have an almost unlimited audience. The creation of fan texts opens up a wealth of tricky questions, including those touching on morality and legality. It would be PR suicide for studios or networks to ban outright the use of copyrighted text or to take action against that which was already created; although the legal owners would protect their property their actions would inevitably antagonizing the fanbase. By alienating the fans, they would also be alienating the audience the industry depends upon to purchase merchandise based upon the original text. Here the importance of keeping fans happy can best be seen; the most active audience is also the most enthusiastic.
A more interesting facet of fan participation is its evolution and mobilization into social movements, of which the fan community surrounding Whedon’s work is a superb example, with well-organized campaigns to save both Firefly (2002) and Angel (1999). The Firefly campaign had substantial influence on the future of the franchise and fandom’s involvement with the Writers Guild of America Strike (2007-2008) (itself in part a strike demanding that writers receive acceptable remuneration for work posted online), and a number of charitable ventures. The mobilization of fan communities alters the triangular relationship in profound ways.
In order to understand the reason for the intense fan participation with Firefly, it is important to take a look at the political economy and problems surrounding the show and its cancellation. Whedon’s first show on a major network, Firefly debuted in the fall of 2002 on Fox, to be cancelled after only 11 of its 14 produced episodes had been broadcast.
Whedon’s relationship with the network was not smooth from the start. Fox asked Joss to reshoot scenes of the two-hour pilot because it wanted more action and humor. Whedon eventually made a standard one-hour pilot to launch the series. As well as asking for a new pilot the network also asked for a number of creative changes. It is here we can see again the struggles between an auteur and network for creative control. Whedon spoke contentedly at the time of the changes that Fox demanded: “Your initial vision is always there but you have to make it work within the context of what you are doing, and within a budget.” It is, however, widely accepted throughout the fan community that Fox’s creative interference was one of the factors that led to the shows cancellation.
A second factor was Fox choosing not to air the episodes in their intended order. This reordering led to plot holes and an incoherent narrative flow that some would argue alienated viewers, even those who had tuned in every week. Fox’s broadcasting of the show clashed with Whedon’s narrative and the way he intended fans to experience the series.
A third factor leading to cancellation involved the actual content of the show. Comparing it to other programming in the fall of 2002, TV Guide commented: “Bucking the timidity of a TV season lacking in originality, Fox’s funky Firefly may be guilty of overcompensating. You don’t get more offbeat that this.” In a media industry already operating in the vein of “narrowcasting,” the appeal and audience surrounding Firefly was almost too narrow. Whedon had captured an audience that was small albeit enthusiastic, but for Fox this was not good enough.
Whedon’s experience on Firefly would be one of the reasons he would begin looking for another medium in which to express himself. The film industry (up until this point) had failed him as a platform of expression, and Whedon’s television productions had failed to capture a broad mainstream audience. Firefly and later Dollhouse (2009) would have only limited runs. Through new media Whedon would in two different ways express himself creatively. He would later go on to utilize a different medium with the release of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, but first he would take another crack at Firefly thanks to the film industry. In 2005 Serenity was released, a major motion picture sequel to Firefly produced by Universal Pictures. But how exactly did this happen?
Taken from within the show’s narrative universe, “Browncoats” was a nickname for the “Independents” (among whom were two of the show’s main characters, Mal Reynolds and his second in command Zoë) who resisted rule by the Alliance. Many fans of the show began to identify themselves as Browncoats. Some Browncoats would argue they are much more than just fans and identify themselves as fan activists. Fan activism is not a new phenomenon; during the 1960s Trekker’s protested the cancellation of Star Trek, and there have been more recent campaigns, such as that to try to save Jericho.
When Firefly was cancelled in December 2002, the full potential of fandom was realized. Fans of the show transcended existence as a participatory audience and moved into the realm of a social movement. This is not the only example of fandom surrounding Whedon emerging as a social movement, as will be shown in looking at the Writers Strike.
Social movements are not a phenomenon created in the age of the Internet. A more accurate term would be e-mobilization: a social movement in which members of a common interest group use the Internet to organize and recruit others to campaign for a cause.
Browncoats engaged in a number of strategies to campaign for the renewal or continuation of Firefly. There was, for instance, a campaign to raise money to put ad in the television and film trade magazine Variety. Its purpose was to market the show, something Fox was doing wrongly, if at all. This effort by fans is especially interesting in terms of the political economy of the Internet in which the fans often bypass the media industry and work directly with the creator and his production company. In this case the Browncoats were in direct contact with Joss Whedon and his production company Mutant Enemy. The campaigns were not enough and Firefly was cancelled. The fandom, however, refused to accept the cancellation but instead challenged it. They began their campaigning once again. Mobilizing on forums and message boards, the Browncoats began campaigning with hope that another network would pick the show up, much like the UPN picked up Buffy. Instead of an ad the Browncoats’ aim was to show that an audience existed for the show by sending postcards to UPN. They wanted more than just a petition; their actions could be more accurately described as guerrilla marketing. Their campaign towards UPN also failed, so they redirected their letters to Universal Pictures.
The Browncoats campaign had led to the DVD release of Firefly, which later became number one on the DVD presale chart on Amazon.com and was, along with Family Guy, the first failed TV series to become a popular hit thanks to DVD. The marketing finally caught the eye of producer Mary Parent of Universal Studios. As Joss Whedon notes in the fan documentary Done the Impossible (2006), the fans were marketing a film that had not even been made yet. The marketing and DVD sales numbers, Mary Parent admits, were part of the reason she wanted to be involved with the movie; fan efforts had shown the studio that the property could make money. On September 30, 2005, Serenity was released. The fans had got their film. Parent, although influential in release of the film, acknowledges that Serenity is “a movie by the fans.”
The Browncoats, much like Whedon, are hyphenate producers
The Browncoats, much like Whedon, are hyphenate producers, are in fact a hyphenate audience. Just as Whedon is a writer-producer, the Browncoats are audience-marketers or audience-producers. Although they were not the actual marketing team or producers, they had effectively engaged in the sphere of production. Their influence in the relighting of the project cannot be denied; neither can their efforts to publicize and market the film. “[They had] done the impossible, and that makes [them] mighty.” Just as the “Independents” attempted to fend off the Alliance in the show, the fans stood their ground against the political economy of the media industry, in particular, the Fox television network. They succeeded, and the “might” of fandom became ever more visible. In terms of fan activism and social movements surrounding the birth of Serenity, there was no conflict with the media companies; Universal was happy with the free marketing the fans offered, and the fans and Whedon were happy they got their movie. What is extremely interesting is what would have happened if the three factors had not aligned and ideologically?
On November 5, 2007, the television and film industry came to a standstill as the Writers Guild of America strike began. The strike was to last for 100 days and would cost Los Angeles an estimated $2.1 billion dollars. The strike also cost the striking writers an estimated $285 million in wages. This begs the question: what meant so much to these writers that they were willing to put their financial stability on the line? And more importantly, what did the strikes have to do with new media and the triangular relationship involving the media industry, the creators (including writers), and the audience (or fandom)?
First, one should look at who was involved. The parties on strike were the trade unions for television, film, and radio writers, represented by the Writers Guild of America East (WGAE) and Writers Guild of America West (WGAW), who were striking against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The two parties, the WGA (both East and West) and AMPTP, were gridlocked in renegotiating the renewal of the MBA, Minimum Basic Agreement. The parties had differing opinions on a number of matters, but it was the issue of residual payments over the distribution of texts through DVDs and new media that was the cornerstone of the disagreement. This is a clear example of the economic conflict between the media industry (AMPTP) and the creators (WGA). Despite being the author of the scripts, the writers take only a small percentage of the profit a series makes from distribution through new media and DVDs. Although it would be easy to discuss DVDs and new media separately, they are governed by the same agreement. So because of the relevance to this essay, it is appropriate to look at the strike itself and the mobilization surrounding it, as well as the reasons for the strike, looking specifically at the issues surrounding new media.
Before looking more closely at the reasons for such a strike it must be pointed out and acknowledged that although neither Whedon nor his fans created the strike, they both were actors within the strike. Their actions are a perfect example of the triangular relationship between the media, creator, and audience.
Since the dawn of the VCR, a television show (or film) is not limited exclusively to its original broadcast. The birth of home videos had created a new market through which to profit by selling a text. This led to a debate about what the writers/creators who had created the script for the original broadcast should be paid for additional sales in the home entertainment market. A minuscule 0.3%-0.36% residual payment was agreed to, due to the untested nature of market. The intent was to renegotiate the agreement when the industry had a more informed understanding of what was at the time a new market. This level was maintained with the advent of DVDs, and the industry was intending to maintain this with a 0.3% residual payment for new media as well. Although the intent was to revisit the level of payment, it never was, with the result that the striking writers were asking for a residual payment of 0.6%-0.72%. Residual payments were of profound importance to writers, who often spend considerable time between jobs. The residual payments offered a level of financial support.
Creators were asking for 2.5% of the receipts received when a text is rewatched not just on the Internet, but via other forms of delivery systems such as mobile phones, iPods, and other handheld devices. But as mentioned before, the AMPTP had only offered the 0.3% that had been established for the video and DVD market. Under the current contract the writers were entitled to 1.5% for texts for which the audience had to pay, with 2.0% being paid for post-1984 work and 2.5% paid for pre-1984 scripts for texts that were available for free. The media companies were not willing to offer any residual payment for texts that were being offered for free, because they argued no profit was being made. The writers argued a profit was in fact being made from advertisements either present on the website or preceding the streaming of a show. This is similar to the financial structure of the television industry, where advertisements constitute a high percentage of the networks’ profit. The clearest example being the advertisement space sold during the Super Bowl. A 30-second spot in 2010 cost between $2.5-$2.8 million. The climate of broadcasting was changing and this had brought the industry to a standstill.
The Writers Strike was just like any other strike; as in any other industry, the writers put down their pencils ceased writing, and took to the picket line. With all WGA members on strike, only unregistered writers and those writing for sports and reality television were at work, which shut down many shows. New episodes of television shows began to dry up and many went temporarily off the air. The strikes were disgruntling audiences, especially fans, whose favorite shows were threatened. As seen with the Browncoats, fans are not a passive community.
Many fans of Joss Whedon’s shows, although identifying themselves as fans of his work, also identify themselves as “Whedon” fans. What this shows is the understanding the audience has about the creation of the shows of which they are fans, and the role of creators/writers within that. This understanding is a result of the rise of the Internet, which made possible a more direct relationship between creator and audience; the creator is no longer just a name on the credits or a special guest at a convention. Creators nowadays are often as involved in the fandom community as the fans themselves. This partly explains why fan organizations such as “Fans4Writers” were formed in support of the writers during the strikes.
Fans4Writers was a group of fans of TV shows, movies, actors, directors, producers, and anyone involved in the team effort of crafting media. Fans4Writers, although not directly related to Whedon and his fandom, is a movement in support of all writers and for all fandoms. What is interesting in terms of Whedon’s fandom, however, is that the Fans4Writers campaign was set up by the people behind www.whedonesque.com, a number of Browncoats and people who had run the “Can’t Stop Serenity” events and various Whedon-related charity events.
Fans4Writers could have used new media and forms of e-governance such as petitioning in order to show their support. E-mobilization has, however, been criticized for its lack of effectiveness and authenticity. Even those inside the Browncoats’ campaign realized that to be noticed, the online fandom community needed to be more than an online presence; they needed to engage in grassroots activities. The Fans4Writers campaign was a perfect example of media convergence, between new and old media, online and offline. Not only taking to the picket lines themselves, but through a number of other campaigns, utilizing the Internet as a means to “capitalize on [the] potential for recruitment, fund-raising, organizational flexibility and efficiency.”
Fans4Writers split their efforts into three categories: educating, protesting, and morale boosting. Education means simply that, educating those who were unaware of the inner workings and rationale for the strike, protesting to both networks and advertisers. Fans4Writers most publicized activities fall under the classification of morale boosting. Food4Thought used donations to keep morale high on the picket lines by providing food drops.
On February 12, 2008, 92.5% of the WGA voted to end the strike after a three-year deal was agreed. Although exact figures of the negotiated deal are not widely known, Michael Winship of WGA East describes the deal as “We’re receiving a percentage of the distributor’s gross…which is very real money, as opposed to what people refer to as creative or Hollywood accounting.” Although some would consider this new and what seems improved deal as the successful outcome of strike, it was not its only success. On July 15, 2008, Joss Whedon and his production company Mutant Enemy released the web series Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. It was a critical and commercial success, winning “Best Internet Phenomenon Award” at the 2009 People’s Choice Awards and “Outstanding Special Class—Short-Format Live-Action Entertainment Programs” at the 2009 Primetime Emmy Awards. What did the venture mean for the television industry, the Internet, and social media, and what would it mean for the future?
Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog
Dr. Horrible was a three-part series released at first for free on Hulu.com and later on iTunes at a price of $1.99 per episode and $3.99 for a “season pass”. Dr. Horrible was for a time the number one video on iTunes, and its initial release saw distribution service Hulu’s site crash along with Whedonesque.com. Beth Negus Veveiros on the market industry blog, Chief Marketer, poses that marketers launching a campaign could learn a lot from the mantra “WWJWD. What Would Joss Whedon Do.” Besides using media establishments such as iTunes and Hulu, Dr. Horrible was an independent venture with no involvement from any mass media networks. Filmed in six days, the production cost $200,000 with many of the cast and crew working for free, to be reimbursed when the project became profitable. Whedon had struck deals with both the WGA and the Screen Actors Guild (SGA), and both the writers and actors were positioned as profit participants, with Whedon serving as studio.
As Whedon points out, the success of this production model was in direct opposition to the model the AMPTP was taking. He explains, “After I make back my production costs and everything’s paid out, when we’re into pure profit, which at this point we are, I win. So—and this was the whole thing during the strike —why try to offer us nothing, when all we’re asking for is a percentage? You can’t say that 99 percent is ever a ad number.” The model of production had created a buzz of interest within the industry. Web-based products were grabbing the interest of the industry, with Dr. Horrible making an estimated $2.4 million within a year, the project was being cited as proof of the potential of such distribution.
Arguably one of the reasons Dr. Horrible was such a breakthrough success because of Whedon himself. Although other web-based products have been successful as we will discuss in the concluding section, none were as high profile as Dr. Horrible. Lisa Rosen poses the question whether the success can be repeated by others, or if the success of Dr. Horrible can be put down to Whedon’s fan base, his critical support, and his recognition as writer and creator.
A creator’s relationship with the media can be limited, however we have seen through new media that creators have been offered almost total freedom, Dr. Horrible being a clear example. Dr. Horrible can be seen as a new industry model and form of broadcasting, one posing the question where does the industry go from here.
As we have seen that since the deregulation of the media, the mass audience has fragmented. The 1970s saw the three major U.S networks taking 90% of prime-time viewership; by 2002 it had fallen to 40%. Cable television offered much more variety and diversity; by 2002 cable had 60% of prime-time viewers. Television production now existed in an age of demographics and narrowcasting, the creation and marketing of shows had to attract a much more specific, niche audience. I would also argue that audience appeal and fans of genres and the understanding of audience is equal to the understanding of demographics. The existence of the Sci Fi (later SyFy) Channel, aimed at fans of science fiction stands next to the BET network aimed at the demographic of African-Americans.
With the rise of a participatory and enthusiastic fan community, the power now lies in balance and flux between industry and audience. Dr. Horrible and Firefly/Serenity are prime examples of off kilter works succeeding in an environment flooded with reality television, mainly because of the devotion of their audience, however small. The rise of the hyphenate producer, the rise of the Internet and the transition of fan communities into the virtual world, has brought creator and his audience closer together. The Browncoat and Writers Strike showed us that fans were in direct contact with the creators, just as we can see the creators participating online too, including posts on Whedonesque.com. The Internet has created a vast range of ways for an audience to participate with and experience television.
The Internet has moved the fan communities from the margins of the television industry into the center. Having grown in power the industry was now taking notice; consumer power had become a discussion point at industry conferences in recent years. The rise of fandom and audiences on the Internet has allowed a creator more creative freedom. Niche television is able to survive because the power of a participatory audience is clear for all to see. Universal Pictures green lighting Serenity is a perfect example of the studio understanding the value of the audience. One could argue that social media have altered the way in which fandom operates, from an audience to a community. It is therefore interesting to point out in the TVAddict’s 5 Things that Transformed Television this Decade, at number three listed along with the likes of Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook is Whedonesque.com, a site we have referred to numerous times throughout this work.
Whedonesque.com, though not the source of all Whedon-related web activity and participation, is, however dominant within the community, having been involved with a number of campaigns and efforts of fan participation. Those involved with Whedonesque.com are prime examples of what I describes as hyphenate audience. The creation of fan texts and fandom’s participation in the marketing and production of texts means the lines are becoming blurred between amateur and professional. Academics have struggled to provide an accurate name to describe this type of audience, some choosing “prosumer,” others “inspirational consumers” or “influences.”
Dr. Horrible showed that a production, marketing, and distribution model can survive outside of the networks and the media industry. The problem, however, lies in the reason for its success, which is arguably Whedon himself. Many put the success down to Whedon’s ardent fan base, arguing that although web-based, On Demand, direct-to-DVD products are viable outside of the industry, Whedon is only one of a very small number who could succeed because of his niche yet loyal audience. The likelihood of successful web-based product without a big name creator of actor is yet to be fully realized. Other online successes of The Guild and Sanctuary, have all have the anchorage of known stars, Felicia Day (Buffy, Dr. Horrible, and Dollhouse) and Amanda Tapping (Stargate SG-1) respectively. One could argue that without a pre-existing fan base, be it of the star or creator, a web-based product could easily be lost within the plurality of the Internet, and fail to capture an audience.
Although not the basis for this essay the use of the Internet to market a text has been touched upon. Most shows currently airing have a least a minimal advertising presence of online. One would assume shows that have limited appeal would have a greater presence online in order to create and maintain an audience. This, however, is not always the case, and some would argue the lack of advertising and marketing on Web 2.0 and social networking could have an effect on the success of shows. Dr. Horrible was able to be a success partly due to fan marketing just like Serenity, so the marketing of niche products cannot be undermined. Fox’s lack of advertising for Whedon’s most recent television venture Dollhouse was arguably one of the leading factors that led to the shows cancellation. While Fox had accounts on social networking/media sites for all their shows, efforts to advertise and promote Dollhouse paled in comparison to the efforts to promote Glee and House. Now that the importance of the audience has been understood, especially that of demographics and fandom, the mass media must now improve their efforts in order to capture these audiences.
The success of web-based products could lead some to believe that eventually the Internet would replace television as a means of broadcasting; however, it would in fact seem that web-based products are in fact reinforcing television as a broadcasting model, the Internet purely acting as a gateway. Web shows, Quarterlife and The Sanctuary made transition from the web to television, because of the success of these ventures, Hollywood is getting behind this projects, increasing their budget and increasing quality. Recent reports suggest that the sequel to Dr. Horrible may not be web-based, but instead may debut on television or film.
In conclusion we can see that the closing gap between viewer and television and television and the Internet, the environment is changing. Re-configuration being a good term, as television as we can see is not being replaced but is more accurately having to reassess the way it interacts with its audience and the creators. The industry must respect the power and influence of the audience; now that audience is much more fragmented, viewers are becoming used to having television on their terms. As we have seen through fan mobilization: upset them, and they will respond. In terms of our triangular relationship, creators have gained even more creative freedom, partly because of fan support and secondly they have alternative outlets if the industry does not satisfy their creative needs, through the new models offered by new media. What is clear is the potential for both the fandom and creator to employ their power to satisfy their own needs, and if the industry is to maintain its presence, it must be willing to allow both these actors to participate, while utilizing new media themselves to strengthen their own position.
~ Out of this World ~
Nombre de messages : 58934
Age : 29
Date d'inscription : 07/01/2009
|Sujet: Re: Anlyses/Articles sur BTVS/ATS Mer 13 Avr - 13:07|| |
Un article sur le problème grandissant des morts dans les séries, Joss est BIEN EVIDEMMENT repris dans l'article
- Citation :
- Joss Whedon constantly suffered at the hands of television executives. Despite the success of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, it was a long time coming, and was never far from being chopped. Its budget put it in constant danger, and the show eventually had to jump ship, moving from The WB network to the United Paramount Network in 2001. And just as it did hit a particular success and find itself in a safe zone and achieving syndication, Whedon struggled, as its spin-off, Angel, faced the constant fear of cancellation.
The writers had to adapt, ending each season open-ended enough for the characters to return, whilst finishing as much of the story as they could, so that, when the inevitable did eventually happen, the end was satisfying.
Subsequently, a majority of the season finales ended with a death or near-death. Whedon wanted to tell the full story of the characters and, with Angel in particular, his end could only really end with his death. So, characters were killed, nearly killed or ‘suffered a fate worse than death’ (a saying quickly becoming a favourite standard in sci-fi) and so forth.
By the time it was realised that the show would return, the first few episodes of the following season of Angel had to set things back up, undo things that were done and then move forward with the storytelling.
The show was finally cancelled at the end of the fifth season, but even then there was the chance of it being picked up by another network, after much campaigning by fans. So, the final episode concerned itself with slaughtering a large majority of the main characters, and leaving the few surviving ones running into a one-sided war, heavily hinting that they were all going to die just a few minutes after the screen faded to black. But it was clear that, if it did return, everyone would be brought back. The deaths were ready to be undone. They had to be.
~ Out of this World ~
Nombre de messages : 58934
Age : 29
Date d'inscription : 07/01/2009
|Sujet: Re: Anlyses/Articles sur BTVS/ATS Mar 18 Déc - 19:05|| |
Un nouvel essai sur le travail de Joss et le libre arbitre :
- Citation :
Free Will in a Deterministic Whedonverse
By Thomas Flamson
Take my love, take my land
Take me where I cannot stand
I don’t care, I’m still free
You can’t take the sky from me
—Theme from Firefly
The works of Joss Whedon have addressed a number of the timeless questions raised by art and literature. Are women truly “the weaker sex”? Do past evil acts make one irredeemably evil? Can there be any realm more cruel and capricious than that of Fox Network Programming? (For those new to Whedon’s career, the answer to all of those questions is “no.”)
Another fundamental question that has been addressed by Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly is that of freedom. Or rather, two distinct but related questions: Can we ever be said to be truly free? and, Do people need to be free? in regard to the latter question, the answer has been an emphatic and unwavering yes. But in regard to the former, the answer has been much more equivocal. Despite the seeming contradiction of this state of affairs—how can freedom be worth fighting for if it may not even be available?—we will see that there is, in fact, no necessary contradiction.
The Feeling of Free Will
An inescapable conclusion of human life is that, for much of the time, we are the authors of our own destiny. Every day people experience freely choosing what to do next-whether to cross the street, eat dessert, or buy a house. Some choices may feel less free than others-ask anyone in the midst of quitting smoking-but the experience of willing our actions, even those we may later regret, is a hallmark of human life. And yet, the advances of science have continuously demonstrated that ours is a material world, and most everything in it follows deterministic laws of predictable outcomes, including our own behavior. To many, the claim that our behavior is determined by prior causal forces in just the same manner as the movement of planets or the behavior of insects is an alarming, if not frightening, prospect. To counter this, it is commonly suggested that humans are in possession of a special, acausal, and indeterministic force, known as free will, which exempts us from the seeming nihilism of a deterministic universe. For the religiously inclined, this is commonly cast as the human soul, given by our creator in distinction to all the beasts of the field. For those of a more atheistic bent, who still wish to see human existence as possessing some unique quality that makes us special kinds of volitional agents, the apparently indeterministic quantum processes underlying subatomic particles are seen as a possible means of getting free will back into the admittedly physical brain and body. Both of these positions are commonly supported with recourse to the apparently empirical argument that we must have free will, as we experience freely choosing our behavior all of the time.1 However, recent psychological research has shown this feeling to be largely an illusion: the moment we think we make a decision, it has in fact already been made.
In a series of ground-breaking experiments, Benjamin Libet and colleagues demonstrated that this cornerstone of human existence is, in fact, illusory: people only consciously experience choosing to do something after the neurological processes of doing so have already begun. Participants were asked to make the proverbial minimal conscious effort—lifting a finger—while monitoring a fast-moving clock, and to report the time at which they chose to do so. These participants were also outfitted with electrodes on their scalps and fingers, to objectively measure the brain and muscle activity. They found that the participants reported choosing to move their finger 500 milliseconds after the relevant brain activity began increasing. While half of a second2 may not seem like very much time, this does show that the conscious decision is not the real source of action, but rather a report of a choice that has already been made. This means that our conscious experience of free will is not, in fact, as free as it appears.
It has also been shown that people cannot tell when their decisions are made for them, if they are not conscious of the external source of their decisions. In experiments by Ammon and Gandevia, participants were again asked to choose when to lift a finger, and also to choose which hand to use. By targeting either the right or the left side of the brain with magnetic stimulation, the researchers were able to induce the participants to choose their non-dominant hand eighty percent of the time, whereas unmanipulated participants chose their dominant hand sixty percent of the time. Despite this manipulation, the participants all reported having consciously chosen which hand to use. Similar results had been obtained previously in Delgado’s slightly less controlled and more invasive experiments with a brain surgery patient, electrically stimulating portions of the exposed motor cortex during surgery to produce movement that, behaviorally, appeared normal (unlike the jerky movements produced by electrically stimulating muscles). When asked why he had made these movements, the patient reported consciously willing to do so, claiming he was trying to look under the bed or discover the source of a noise.
Beyond demonstrating the disconnect between the conscious experience of freely willing an action and the actual neurological activity underlying it, psychologists have also demonstrated that participants can be led to experience consciously willing an action that they are not, in fact, impacting at all. Matute found that participants asked to determine the level of contingency between an aversive noise and their typing numbers on a keyboard reported high levels of control over the outcome, despite the fact that the termination of the noise was entirely determined by the activities of another participant. Because they had no other source to which they could attribute control, they leapt to the conclusion that they must be the ones determining the outcome.
Further, research has shown that participants will report some volitional control for events with which they know for a fact they had nothing to do. Wegner, Sparrow, and Winerman had participants sit in front of a mirror while wearing a robe, with a research assistant placing his or her hands through the arms of the robe. A series of tape-recorded instructions (e.g., clap your hands, wave them back and forth) directed the assistant’s movements. Afterward, participants were asked to rate how much they felt they had consciously controlled the activity. When the participants themselves did not hear the instructions, they provided very low responses (roughly one and a half on a seven-point scale). When they did hear the instructions, however, they reported mid-level responses (about three on the scale). While not claiming full authorship of the activity, it is remarkable that awareness of what the ensuing action was to be doubled the sense of volitional control for activities that every subject knew perfectly well they were not controlling. This suggests that our feeling of free will derives in part from the presence of cues to authorship, such as prior knowledge of the ensuing action and visual evidence that the action is being performed by our bodies. In this experiment, the participants who heard the recorded instructions and saw what looked like their own hands making the movements apparently received sufficient cues to experience partial authorship, despite being consciously aware that this was not the case.
Beyond the immediate illusion of freely choosing a given action, the entire industry of modern social science is largely predicated on the possibility of finding the underlying causal processes that lead people to make the choices they do, be they individual life history factors, cultural or social pressures, or genetic determinants. Most of the arguments in psychology, sociology, anthropology, and behavioral genetics today are not about whether external factors predictably determine behavior, but about which factors are the most important. It is the very nature of scientific investigations to posit that a given effect has some prior cause, which can be discovered through systematic elimination of candidate causes (Popper). In the case of human behavior, these causes may range from genetic predispositions or brain trauma to traumatic childhoods or an oppressively patriarchal culture, but they are nearly always “external,” in the sense of being outside of the agent’s control at the time the choice was made.
The Problem with Prophecies
In essence, then, it seems to be the case that humans are rather easily led to believe they have freely made choices which were actually the inevitable effects of prior causes. This is also true of the humans (and close facsimiles thereof) in the works of Joss Whedon. While the immediate evidence for illusory will described in these experiments is rarely seen, the deterministic nature of apparently free choices is commonly illustrated through the metaphor of prophecies. Indeed, it is nearly a truism of the Whedonverse that the attempt to avoid the consequences of a prophecy is precisely what causes its fulfillment. In season one of Buffy, Buffy attempted to circumvent a prophecy that the Master (an old and powerful vampire) would escape and kill her. Although she had resigned herself to dying, she hoped to prevent the Master’s escape by confronting him directly in his prison in the subterranean ruins of a church (“Prophecy Girl,” 1-12). It soon turned out, however, that killing3 Buffy was the very thing that provided the Master with sufficient power to free himself; had she never gone to the Master’s lair, he would not have been able to escape.
Similarly, in Angel, the Nyazian Scrolls prophesized the “Tro-Clon,” a confluence of events that spread across several seasons, and foretold either the “purification” or the “ruination” of humanity, or possibly both (“Offspring,” 3-7). Confronted with this prophecy, various characters attempted to prevent its outcome, and each attempt was essential to its actual fulfillment. First (in the chronology of the world, not that of the television episodes), the time-traveling demon Sahjhan learned that the Nyazian Scrolls foretold that the “one sired by the vampire with a soul” would be the one to kill him (“Forgiving,” 3-17). In order to prevent this outcome, he froze Daniel Holtz, Angelus’s nineteenth-century nemesis, and released him in the twenty-first century, where he manipulated him into attempting to kill Angel and Darla before Angel’s son Connor could be born (“Quickening,” 3-8). As Holtz did not do so, Sahjhan also changed the prophecy to warn that “the father will kill the son” (“Forgiving,” 3-17), which in turn led Wesley to assist Holtz in kidnapping the infant Connor, whom Holtz then took to Quor-Toth, a hell dimension where time passed more quickly than in the normal world (“Sleep Tight,” 3-16). Connor returned a few weeks later, having passed seventeen years in a hell dimension acquiring the skills necessary to eventually kill Sahjhan (“A New World,” 3-20).
But that was not all. Another aspect of the Tro-Clon was that Connor had to father the “Power That Was” Jasmine with Angel’s love interest Cordelia (“Apocalypse Nowish,” 4-7), and the subsequent events (discussed in greater detail below) led to such despair that Angel did have to kill him, in a way-he slit Connor’s throat in order to complete a spell performed by the evil law firm Wolfram & Hart that rewrote reality and placed Connor in a normal family, with memories of a normal childhood (“Home,” 4-22). In the following season, Connor did return, now unknown to all but Angel, and did in fact kill Sahjhan in combat (“Origin,” 5-18).
Again, the actions of each of the agents in this convoluted story, each attempting to avoid a prophesied outcome, led to that very outcome. Had Sahjhan not meddled with the original prophecy, or preserved Holtz to set loose upon Angel when Darla was pregnant, it is possible Wesley never would have helped Holtz kidnap Connor in order to avoid Angel’s killing of him. Had that not occurred, Connor might not have acquired the skills needed to defeat Sahjhan, nor would he have lost the normal childhood that led to the despondency that, in turn, led to Angel’s having to “kill” him in order to give him a new life. We see that, in the world of Angel and Buffy, it is not merely the case that decisions which were thought to be free had actually been predetermined, but that the predestination was only possible because of attempts to escape it. While these prophecies are always taken at face value, dictating in advance what events will transpire, they actually serve as triggers, leading the characters they speak of to pursue a predictable line of action, in turn creating the conditions that will actually fulfill the prophecy.
The essence of determinism is this predictability. Decisions are not made ex nihilo, but are the predictable outcomes of a mechanistic process, a long, traceable line of causes and effects. In the case of complicated agents like human beings, that is a very complex process, combining the personality or temperament of the actor, the past events he or she has encountered, and the immediate circumstances surrounding the moment of decision, but it remains strictly predictable, and anyone with access to enough information can calculate what will happen when person X encounters situation Y at time Z. In the mystical world of Buffy and Angel, gods and demons do have access to this information, and frequently employ it to determine the actions of our heroes. But we also see this determinism in the decidedly less mystical world of Firefly. While there is no prophecy detailing the future of Malcolm Reynolds, the captain of the smugglers’ ship Serenity, other characters are frequently shown to be able to manipulate his actions by presenting him with information they know will lead to his doing what they desire. In “The Message” (1-12), for example, Mal and first mate Zoe’s old war buddy Tracey manipulated them into assisting in his plan to escape the corrupt Alliance officer he was cheating out of the artificial organs he was hired to transport inside his body.4 Tracey took a drug to feign death and had himself mailed to the Serenity crew along with a recorded message asking them to get his body safely back to his home planet, quoting the beginning of a meaningful maxim from their days in the war: “When you can’t run anymore, you crawl, and when you can’t crawl, you find someone to carry you.” Tracey was relying on their sense of obligation to comrades-in-arms to get him out of a problem he created for himself, and when things later went south, the reanimated Tracey told Mal that he picked him and Zoe because they were sentimental “saps,” and therefore predictable.
Mal, in turn, avoided the worst outcomes of these “predestinations” by himself predicting what other people would do. He rightly predicted that local crime boss Patience would attempt to kill him while buying scavenged Alliance goods from him, and feigned trust while sending out his tracker and muscle Jayne to neutralize Patience’s snipers (“Serenity”). In “Trash,” he again predicted a double-cross, in this case expecting Saffron—a con woman by whom he had already been tricked once before—to attempt to steal the Lassiter, a valuable antique laser gun she had conspired with Mal to steal from its rightful owner. He sent another crew member, Inara, to await Saffron at the drop point and retrieve the Lassiter after Saffron’s inevitable betrayal. Finally, in Serenity (the film, not the episode), Mal recognizes that Inara is being forced to call him into a trap by the fact that they do not fight during their conversation, which would have been the normally predictable course. Prepared for the Alliance to know his location, he removes the signaling beacon they would use to track and destroy his ship, throwing it to the Alliance operative just as that threat is made.
The ability of Mal and others to counter these predictions in Firefly, as opposed to the oedipal fulfillment of prophecies in Buffy and Angel, derives from the difference in their sources. Because the prophecies come from deities, with nigh-infinite access to information, they are able to foresee the countermeasures the characters will attempt, and incorporate them into the plan. When it is other humans making predictions, with our significantly more limited access to relevant information, every contingency is not planned for, and the characters are better able to grapple with the deterministic forces that confront them. To put it more provocatively, in the worlds of Joss Whedon, the greatest threats to freedom are the gods.
The Compatibility of Free Will and Determinism
This brings us to the core of the free will and determinism dilemma. The characters in Whedon’s worlds are not free in the strict sense of being completely undetermined. In fact, they are eminently determined, making choices that can be predicted in advance with knowledge of their personality and the surrounding circumstances when they make that choice. However, this determinism cuts both ways, and means that the characters are also capable of predicting their opponents’ behavior, and this capacity presents new information which changes those circumstances. In each of the cases where Mal avoided the trap set for him by an opponent who predicted his deterministic behavior, he did not in fact change that behavior; he merely added additional behaviors, making predictions in response to the fact of his opponent’s predictions. Of course, his opponents may have predicted that prediction, and adopted their own countermeasures, leading to an infinite regress of second-guessing. At some point, however, this would become too cognitively taxing for any human being to engage in, and someone would eventually fail to predict the still causally determined choice of the other.
The set of all relevant prior conditions, and of all relevant present information, is too large for the future results to be calculated with certainty. And if our futures cannot be calculated in advance, then we are “free” in the very important sense of being able to behave in an unexpected manner. This is why the claim that our behavior is determined, in the sense of being the result of prior conditions interacting with present ones, need not lead to the nihilistic conclusion that we are slaves of predestination. In essence, we do not have the kind of free will we like to think we do—that the decision to act begins spontaneously when we hear ourselves thinking it, and has no prior cause that makes it predictable. But we do have the kind of freedom we like to attribute to other people—a fundamental responsibility for one’s decisions.
This is because there is a distinction between the fact of free will, and the feeling of free will. We have an illusory experience of free will that makes us think we are not “meat puppets,” our strings being pulled by a long line of materialistic, predictable, and therefore determined processes. This is, in an important sense, false, as what determinism really means is simply that there is a traceable chain of causes and effects underlying our behavior, and we do not simply do things out of the blue. To say that the conscious experience of free will is an illusion is not to say that we do not have free will, but merely that it does not work the way we feel like it does. The fact of free will is distinct from the feeling-and we are the ones making our decisions, even if they do not happen the way we feel like they do.
For while the experience of making choices through one’s own free will may itself be illusory, it remains the case that, most of the time, we are the source of our behavior. Surely, it is the outcome of a number of forces, both internal and external, that have coalesced into our individual life histories, opinions, beliefs, and desires, but these remain ours; there is not another agent making those choices for us. Most of the time, the meat inside the puppet is the thing pulling the strings.
Using the Illusion
The illusory experience of consciously willed choices serves as a kind of cognitive shorthand, saving the conscious representational machinery the trouble of experiencing much of the “math” of decision-making, and instead presenting us with the “sum,” the end-result decision that has motivated our actions, or lack thereof. It appears that this experience of being free to make one’s own choices is not merely a cognitive simplification, but may be an important aspect of psychological health, suggesting that the normal functioning of human minds depends on that illusion. Glass, Singer, and Friedman demonstrated that merely believing one has control over the environment may enhance performance in stressful environments. Two groups of subjects were asked to complete a series of complex cognitive tasks while being subjected to random, loud bursts of noise. One group was given a button, which they were told could be used to stop the noises at any time, although the experimenter would prefer it if they did not. The other group was given no such option. Although no one in the button condition ever actually used it to stop the distracting noise, they showed a significantly higher performance on the tasks than their peers in the no-button condition, showing greater tolerance for frustration (in attempting to solve insolu ble puzzles), and missing two-thirds fewer errors in a proofreading task. Further, they reported the noise to be less aversive, and expressed greater feelings of control than those in the no-button condition. Similarly, Taylor, Lichtman, and Wood have found that a belief in greater personal control than the facts technically suggest may improve responses to threatening information. Among breast cancer patients, believing one (or one’s physician) could exert some control over the cancer was strongly associated with overall positive adjustment.
Further, the will to exert control over one’s circumstances also seems to motivate greater achievement. In a series of experiments, Burger demonstrated that a strong “desire for control” (such as preferring to make one’s own decisions, avoiding the loss of control, and taking on positions of leadership) is tied to a number of factors essential in achieving success. For example, despite showing no significant difference in performance in an anagram task, participants high in desire for control asked to be given more difficult subsequent tasks than those reporting a low desire. They also expressed greater estimations of their ability to complete simple but cognitively taxing tasks, such as connecting randomized numbers sequentially, yet made more accurate estimations of how successful they would be. In a timed proofreading task, high desire for control participants made a greater effort than lows, when the task was made more complicated by adding additional requirements (to note the number of appearances of the word “the” and of proper nouns). In all of these studies, it is worth noting that the desire for control was not related to a greater ability to perform the tasks, but rather a greater motivation to achieve.
These studies5 all point to the conclusion that the factual accuracy of one’s conscious experience of freely willing action and controlling one’s destiny is not the only criterion for evaluating the utility of that experience. It seems that, in many kinds of situations, we may benefit from overestimating the extent to which we can consciously control the events that happen to us, and the desire to maintain that overestimation may be essential in driving the human race to produce the actual accomplishments we have. Even if we are not as free as we like to think we are, there may well be a very good reason for thinking so. As Gunn said after being told about the external manipulation of everyone’s choices to bring about the Tro-Clon:
GUNN: The final score can’t be rigged. I don’t care how many players you grease; that final shot always comes up a question mark. But here’s the thing: you never know when you take it. Could be when you’re duking it out with the legion of doom, or when you’re just crossing the street deciding where to have brunch. So you just treat it all like it was up to you-the world in the balance, ’cuz you never know when it is. (Angel, “Inside Out,” 4-17)
Fighting for Freedom
It is not determinism that is the enemy of free will, but rather the coercive manipulation of determinism by other agents. By using some form of coercion—either a direct physical threat or a forceful modification of an agent’s internal state—a coercive agent can remove another’s free will by reducing the set of beliefs and desires available to the coerced agent to those which will deterministically produce the desired behavior. The latter form (commonly known as “brainwashing”) has been a recurring topic in Whedon’s work, arising most literally in cases such as the device implanted in the vampire Spike by the Initiative, a secret military organization, which prevented him from attacking humans, or in the Alliance’s manipulation of River’s brain to create a conditioned psychic warrior in Firefly. But much broader (and slightly less literal) brainwashing in order to produce social order has figured prominently in the works of Whedon, and is unequivocally cast as the wrong path.
Firefly, centering around the efforts of a group of distinct individuals all looking to escape the omnipresent arm of the galactic state known as the Alliance, helmed by two veterans of the losing side in the war to avoid governance by that Alliance, really could not be more about freedom if Whedon had flashed the words “Freedom is Neato!” on the screen every tenth frame. The incorrectness of removing freedom for the sake of order was a frequent theme in nearly every episode of the series, but becomes most pronounced in the film that followed its too-brief run, Serenity.
Rather than show the authoritarians-in the form of the Alliance itself or of the petty despots it lets run the outer planets-to be bumbling, selfish, or downright cruel, as in the series, in the film the motivations of the Alliance are cast more complexly as well-intentioned attempts to force the world to be a better place, which inevitably makes it incredibly worse.
For it turns out that the Reavers, a group of horrendously violent men who have lost all trace of humanity and whose attacks on ships and on the outer planets are so violent and devastating as to make them literally unbelievable to the civilized society of the Alliance’s core planets, are actually the remnants of Miranda, a test-planet for the Alliance’s social engineering. There, the Alliance mixed a chemical known as “the Pax” into the ventilation systems, intending for it to reduce aggression and make the planet free of violence and strife. That is, they attempted to circumvent people’s free will by directly attacking the neurological substrates of conflict. The result was truly better than they hoped-people not only stopped fighting with each other, but stopped fighting for life itself. Ninety-nine and nine-tenths percent of the populace simply gave up, lying down and slowly starving to death, without any drive to accomplish even the basic requirements of life. And, as with most psycho-pharmaceuticals, a small portion of the subjects had an (even more) adverse reaction to their treatment, which hyperactivated their anger centers and turned them into the Reavers.
As Whedon himself says, the “film is really about the right to be wrong” (Whedon, Serenity). While the intentions of the Alliance to bring about better living through involuntary chemistry were aimed at doing good, their failure to account for the importance of free will not only massacred an entire planet, but unleashed a much more dangerous force upon the galaxy than the occasional bar brawl or robbery they were attempting to suppress. With Serenity, Whedon is not trying to say that those or other crimes are themselves good things, but that individuals need to be able to choose for themselves whether to engage in them.
The narrative arc of season four of Angel is Whedon’s most direct treatment of the value of free will, threatened by the aforementioned Jasmine. Perhaps not coincidentally, he also considers it the best season (Whedon, “Season Four Overview”). One of the Powers That Be (deity-like beings who maintain a generally hands-off approach to the human realm), she decided to incarnate herself on Earth and bring about world peace by robbing everyone of their free will and uniting them in unconditional devotion to her. Although she initially enslaved Angel and his friends, as well, they broke free of her spell by coming into contact with her blood, and set about finding a way to end her domination of Earth. This season directly addressed the value of free will by casting the question in the most challenging terms—is free will more valuable than a world free of strife and suffering? The bliss experienced by Jasmine’s followers contrasted sharply with the pain experienced by the members of Angel Investigations as they contemplated the loss of that happiness and, more importantly, of the confidence that everything would work out for the best because Jasmine said so (“Sacrifice,” 4-20). After Angel managed to break Jasmine’s spell, Los Angeles erupted into violence, as everyone lashed out in fear and confusion, having lost their sense of peace and happiness. They confronted each other, Jasmine berating Angel for having ended world peace by ending her control, directly addressing the season’s moral—and the conclusion of this essay—in the following exchange:
JASMINE: I offered paradise; you chose this.
ANGEL: Because I could. Because that’s what you took away from us: choice.
JASMINE: And look what free will has gotten you.
ANGEL: Hey, I didn’t say we’re smart. I said it’s our right. It’s what makes us human. (“Peace Out,” 4-21)
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