06 May, 2015
I Have To Go To The Quiet Place
For those of you that frequent here – and I thank you – the bulk of this blog are my “Top 5s” where I rant on an Actor or Actress; my picks of their “Top 5 Films.” I’m currently in the middle of the latest – Tyrone Power – and my dear Diana remarked yesterday that it was Ty’s birthday. Which made me think that’s when I posted the first of his Top 5 – Jesse James – a year ago, on what would have been his 100th birthday. Which of course means it’s been a year and I still haven’t finished his (I’m currently writing up the third of his five, The Black Swan). It’s a little embarrassing, not having finished five relatively short blogs in a year, so – invigorated! – I popped open my laptop, poured a cup of coffee and dove in --
-- to this piece on Joss Whedon.
(It’ll make sense in a little bit.)
By now you may have heard that Joss’ Avengers: Age Of Ultron has been released and there’s feminist backlash against (mostly) his use of Black Widow [Scarlett Johansson]; that Joss' take was – and, remember, this is from a proud, vocal feminist – misogynistic. (I know.) This week he decided to delete his Twitter account and it prompted speculation it was due to the militant feminists attacking him (an actual tweet-quote was that his head should be “curbstomped”). But Joss calls it “horseshit.”
First, let’s get back to my writing. Or rather Joss’. Or rather that I said my not writing about Tyrone Power prompted me to write this and that it would make sense in a little bit. Well, I want to begin talking about said horseshit by first pointing out that – if you only read this far please take this away with you – Joss is going to be writing again.
Savor that: Joss is going to be writing again.
So if we have to deal with this Twitter Thing at all, well, at least we have a good end, right at the beginning.
Okay, here we go.
“It’s horseshit,” Joss told BuzzFeed News by phone on Tuesday. “Believe me, I have been attacked by militant feminists since I got on Twitter. That’s something I’m used to. Every breed of feminism is attacking every other breed, and every subsection of liberalism is always busy attacking another subsection of liberalism, because god forbid they should all band together and actually fight for the cause. I saw a lot of people say, ‘Well, the social justice warriors destroyed one of their own!’ It’s like, 'Nope. That didn’t happen.' I saw someone tweet it’s because Feminist Frequency pissed on Avengers 2, which for all I know they may have. But literally the second person to write me to ask if I was okay when I dropped out was [Feminist Frequency founder] Anita [Sarkeesian].”
Because what did happen, he said, is that he chose to embrace his long-standing desire post-Ultron to “reclaim his personal life and creative spark.” And that meant saying goodbye to Twitter. “I just thought, ‘Wait a minute, if I’m going to start writing again, I have to go to the quiet place,” he said. “And [Twitter] is the least quiet place I’ve ever been in my life. It’s like taking The Bar Exam at Coachella. It’s like, um, 'I really need to concentrate on this, guys! Can you all just … I have to … it’s super important for my Law!'”
BuzzFeed senior reporter Adam B. Vary notes, “While Whedon is adamant that feminist criticisms were not the catalyst for his decision, it is clear that some of the distracting uproar that was crowding his notifications and squeezing his creativity came from at least a nominally feminist point of view.” Joss again: “I’ve said before, when you declare yourself politically, you destroy yourself artistically. Because suddenly that’s the litmus test for everything you do; for example, in my case, Feminism. If you don’t live up to the litmus test of Feminism in this one instance, then you’re a Misogynist. It circles directly back upon you.”
It’s tough not to note the "Jurassic World instance" when Joss tweeted he was frustrated a clip from the upcoming film was “70s era sexist;" something he later regretted, telling Variety it was “bad form.” At the same time, he was clearly frustrated by the negative reaction he received. He says, “There was a point during the whole Jurassic World thing where someone wrote the phrase ‘championing women marginalizes them,’ and I was like, ‘Okay, we’re done. The snake hath et its tail!’ There’s no way to find any coherence when everything has to be parsed and decried.” Mr. Vary continues, “As far as Whedon is concerned, however, anyone blaming feminists for driving him away from social media is not only wrong, but missing the point about the relationship between internet trolls and feminists on Twitter.” Joss again: “For someone like Anita Sarkeesian to stay on Twitter and fight back the trolls is a huge statement. It’s a statement of strength and empowerment and perseverance, and it’s to be lauded. For somebody like me to argue with a bunch of people who wanted Clint [Jeremy Renner] and Natasha [Johannson] to get together [in Ultron], not so much. For someone like me even to argue about feminism, it’s not a huge win. Because ultimately I’m just a rich, straight, white guy. You don’t change people’s minds through a tweet. You change it through your actions. The action of Anita being there and going through that and getting through that, that says a lot.”
So while some of the hate directed at Joss did take the form of death threats, he said he never saw anything on Twitter that escalated to the level of what Feminists like Sarkeesian have had to face just about every day. “Nothing that made me go, ‘Wait, they’re calling from my house.' It was like, ‘Okay, these guys don’t understand about hyperbole.’”
To which those of us with a brain replied, “Duh.”
But let’s take it a step further – past Feminism (‘cause no one’s knocking that ideal) – to the extreme passion of comic book fans. And this was familiar ground for Joss well before Twitter, when he first wrote for Marvel Comics and got some advice from veteran comic writer Brian Michael Bendis. "He said, ‘You’re going to meet a new kind of person.' He had a letter somebody had written that just said, ‘In panel one, page 17, Daredevil would never say that, die die why can’t you just die?’ I haven’t dealt with a lot of that, because my fans have always been sweet, erudite, interesting, compassionate people. I don’t know any Buffy trolls. So the steady stream of just, ‘You suck, you suck, you suck’” – another verbatim Tweet to him – “I don’t really need to visit You Suck Land anymore.”
And it wasn’t just the constant hate on Twitter that Joss was eager to shut off. “So many people have said wonderful things. But how much approbation do I need before I become creepy? I so appreciate when people took the time to say something nice. But for my own self, at some point, you’re just a Compliment Leech. That’s not going to help your writing any more than people slamming you.”
From Mr. Vary again: “Ultimately, Whedon said he took stock of everything positive Twitter was providing for him (access to stories he found interesting, people he admired, and jokes he found funny), and everything bad it was throwing at him (the troll-y hate and surfeit of praise), and realized that the problem actually wasn’t Twitter at all.” And Joss again: “The real issue is me. Twitter is an addictive little thing, and if it’s there, I gotta check it. When you keep doing something after it stops giving you pleasure, that’s kind of rock bottom for an addict. I just had a little moment of clarity where I’m like, ‘You know what? If I want to get stuff done, I need to not constantly hit this thing for a news item or a joke or some praise, and then be suddenly sad when there’s hate and then hate and then hate.’” When asked if he would ever consider going back to Twitter, he resolved, "I think the articles that I found, I can find elsewhere. I’ll miss some jokes. Maybe I’ll have to go out to a club to see jokes! I think that’s already an improvement in my life. I need to go out, do the research, turn the page, see the thing, hear the music, live like a person. I’m not great at that. So, oddly enough, because I always feel like I’m the old man who doesn’t get the tech, right now I’m the man who thinks he could do better without it.”
First, again, I’m praising him because he wants to get back to the quiet place and write; and that’s a beautiful sound to us all. But there were two reasons I felt I needed to share all this. One, because it came from the horse’s mouth; it wasn’t the news further speculating what happened but reporting Joss’ own words. (Remember when the news reported instead of speculated? But I digress.) And, two, I thought it was important to share this little nugget; replayed again here:
Anyone blaming Feminists for driving Joss away from social media is not only wrong, but missing the point about the relationship between internet trolls and Feminists on Twitter. For someone like [Feminist Frequency founder] Anita Sarkeesian to stay on Twitter and fight back the trolls is a huge statement. It’s a statement of strength and empowerment and perseverance, and it’s to be lauded. The action of Anita being there and going through that and getting through that, that says a lot.
And, yeah, maybe I should have opened with that, but this writer wanted you to know Joss was writing again, and so be it. After all, he wrote a critically-acclaimed huge money-maker and -- wait for it, this is a movie we're talking about -- had his life threatened for it. How did he react? By shrugging it off without shrugging off people like Ms. Sarkeesian who remain in the trenches fighting the good fight.
And that is to be applauded.
I’ll leave you with snippets from James Gunn (Writer-Director, Guardians Of The Galaxy). (Though I’ll first share this little bit: When Mr. Gunn turned in his script of Guardians to Marvel Head Kevin Feige, Feige shared it with Joss – Joss has been entrenched at Marvel from Cap 1 through Avengers 2, but that’s for another write-up – and Joss’ only comment was, “Make it even more ‘Jamie.’” Indeed, quite the compliment. Anyway …) Mr. Gunn’s snippets:
"Imagine being Joss Whedon who has committed his life to fandom and to creating the best characters he can, characters he loves, and has spent two years of his life working on a movie, and then has to wake up to this shit on Twitter.
“My plea to all of you is that we all try to be a little kinder, on the Internet and elsewhere. And, honestly, that includes being kind to the people who are tweeting this nonsense.
“Anger is a way to deal with feeling insecure, sad, hurt, vulnerable, powerless, fearful, confused. Those feelings, for many of us, are a lot more difficult to deal with and acknowledge than anger. Anger makes us feel right. And powerful. But it also exacerbates whatever the underlying, more uncomfortable feeling is.
“So it’s easy to be outraged by these tweets. But whatever these angry tweeters are in need of, I don’t think it’s more anger thrown back at them. I actually think that’s what they’re seeking. But what they need is something different. Compassion, maybe? A kind request for boundaries? I don’t know. Maybe you guys have some ideas.
“I know there are real issues at play here. But, again, I don’t think the way to affect change is through rage. That is just going to increase whatever divide you’re experiencing in the first place. The majority of us on all sides of an issue think we’re doing the right thing and are doing the best we can. If we assume that of each other, it makes life a lot easier.”
Yeah, maybe we can all be a little more ‘Jamie.’
For this writer, I’ll pour another cup of coffee and get back to Tyrone Power (who I doubt ever threatened to curbstomp anyone).
After all, I've been at him a year.