Sunday, October 28, 2012

A bit of a rant about Joss Whedon's fans vis-a-vis his Romney parody video

Okay, I admit it, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is pretty cool – uneven, but some of the episodes are among the best in television (Hush, Once More, with Feeling stand out, IMO) and I liked Angel even better overall (Smile Time is among the funniest things ever put on television, and I'm counting the Thanksgiving episode of WKRP in Cincinnati and the Futurama's Roswell That Ends Well). But sometime around Firefly, well, it was clear there was a cult of personality going on. I don't particularly like Firefly and when people ask me why, I go, “The sexism.” Then, with near 100% reliability, Firefly fans say, “There's no sexism! Kaylee! River!” And I go, “Mal publicly and frequently sexually humiliates Inari by calling her a whore . . . and this causes her to fall in love with him. That's sexism. That isn't near the line. It's so far over the line that it can't see the line from orbit.” While this (with almost 100% reliability) gets them to concede the point, it seems to do little to dent their uncritical praise for Whedon's work. And I won't even get into Dollhouse and the whole prostitute-assassin-rape thing. Or even how embarrassingly stupid The Avengers is (though it most certainly is very stupid). I'm not saying Whedon is a talentless hack, I'm just saying he doesn't walk on water and I think much of his career is currently being sustained by the goodwill generated by Buffy that has transformed into a cult of personality. I'm sure that if almost anyone else had written a movie as bad as the Avengers, someone would have noticed.

Right here is a convenient place to show both Whedon's strengths and weaknesses as a writer. I'm not considering his acting, which is wooden, because that's not my point (and isn't the problem with the piece, anyway). The problem is that this joke is about a minute too long. Whedon spends about a minute belaboring the ways in which Romney's policies will bring about a zombie apocalypse. Except for Romney's unrestrained embrace of corporations, it was unnecessary and didn't build comedic tension but drained it due to the transparency of the humor. He essentially repeated things that are known about Romney, that are repeated by Obama's campaign ad nauseum. 

The basic premise is good. The zombie apocalypse bit is quite funny. But at two and a quarter minutes? Man, a joke has to be as good as The Aristocrats to be that long.  (I'm sure there are many versions of it on YouTube, if I recall, Bob Saget's is particularly good, but his, Gottfried's and Silverman's are all worth listening watching – or just watch all of Penn and Teller's The Aristocrats, great flick).

Because of it's unnecessary length, furthermore, it fails as political satire. For political satire to work, it's gotta hurt. With a premise as absurd as a zombie apocalypse, you've got to strike fast or you'll lose the audience you're trying to satirize. A Romney supporter, watching this video, will be taken aback by the zombie apocalypse thing and right then, right there, in that moment of shock, is when you've got to hurt them. Whedon should have employed his best weapon, the corporate line, immediately. Otherwise, you're allowing them to recover and go, “This is just a guy repeating the same ol' Democratic line.”  Which he is.  By the time he gets to Romney's worship of corporations, they've fully recovered. He went for a grind instead of a finish and lost on points.

This is the basic pattern of much of Whedon's work – it has moments of sharp wit but it's in between all this other stuff which is not so good. Which isn't a problem for Whedon, in the sense that no writer lands the knock-out punch every swing. Even brilliant writers, like Mark Twain, have good and bad days. Whedon did give us Buffy, he did give us Angel, he certainly owes no one anything, artistically speaking. I'm just annoyed that people praise his works while seeming to willfully ignore his flaws.

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