Sunday, January 25, 2009

Whedon Wobbles But He Don't Fall Down

As a practically religious Joss Whedon fan, I am inherently excited for his new show Dollhouse and will unquestionably watch every episode that gets on the air. However my Obama-like reverence of Whedon has begun showing some cracks (the largest of which is Dr. Horrible) and my doubts continue to slowly grow as I read interviews and see media from the massive promotional campaign that now comes part and parcel with any Whedonverse creation. Here is a quote from his latest interview with Heeb magazine:

“Since Buffy [2003], we’ve taken a giant eight-year leap back into the stone age,” says Whedon. “In the 1930s everything was Rosalind Russell and Katherine Hepburn, who were very interesting to watch. These women were replaced [in films] by a dim-witted blonde with very little to offer,” he says as the conversation turns to Marilyn Monroe, whose face, ironically, is depicted on a mural just outside his office. “Television, then, became the place where women could be interesting and funny.”

It is a testament to the inevitable and unchecked growth of Whedon's ego, starting to come through in his interviews and project decisions, that he frames film and television culture by the bookends of his own Buffy. While I may happen to do the same thing, I am not the creator, nor do I agree that we have fallen so far in the characterization of women in Hollywood. It seems to me the ubiquitous actress' complaint involves the lack of roles for women over 40, in the same interview in which they extol the virtues of life and children in their middle ages. They've 'lived and learned' and now bring a maturity to their Oscar-nominated roles that they didn't have as blonde ingenues.

Yet with Whedon's new Dollhouse, certainly rife with plots and characters who might have 'a lot to offer', the premise of the series being admittedly a kind of showcase for the unseen talents of Eliza Dushku is troubling (and seems to be making her arrogant as well) . Joss is so good at what he does by now, having sharpened his own formula and style until it's a nub of a pencil, he believes he can have an actress and a title and just fill in the blanks. With a fairly unoriginal basis, my worry is that in writing Dushku's character Joss will use all the skills he
is deservedly known for to prove to the ignorant American and religious nuts that a woman can be strong, interesting, and marketable. In doing so he may lose sight of the actual humanity that has made Buffy such an enduring figure, writing a show full of actual dolls running around being victimized and mind-controlled.

Buffy got her ass-kicked plenty, and wallowed in doubt or defeat almost as often, but I never saw her as a victim. She wasn't chosen to restore women to their rightful place of respect, but to kill vampires and demons; in short, to grow up, which everyone must do, fictional or real, victim or hero.

Dollhouse premieres February 13th on Fox. Tune in, but do the whole lower-expectation thing.

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