Booth's basic premise is that Tara's death in Season Six of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a prime example of the evil/dead lesbian cliche. Apparently there's a long, shameful history of this in hollywood. Gay characters are generally introduced as weak, insane, and victims (or some combination of the three). In older works, the message was that homosexuality is bad and will lead to your destruction, while in some newer films, it's more a matter of token gay characters being introduced and then killed off because their sexuality (in the eyes of the authors) stops them from becoming major characters with wide appeal. Culminating their affections with physical sex tends to lead to the death of one or both partners. Booth cites a huge list of films which feature (or even center on) this plot device. I won't reproduce it here - read it for yourself - and suffice it to say that I am basically convinced. Booth goes on to say that Whedon's decision to kill off Tara was hurtful and unnecessary, bad for the show and for people who idealized it, and reveals secret and/or unconscious bigotry or a tendency to fall prey to the allure of the ratings stunt.
Booth also condemns my favorite scene in Buffy - the Yellow Crayon Speech - as just a man saving the world from the "crazy lesbian." That I can't forgive. The Yellow Crayon Speech will live on in my heart as a perfect literary moment. I don't cry at television shows often, but the Yellow Crayon Speech made me seriously moist.
In every other way, however, Booth is pretty much right.
I don't think Joss Whedon is a bigot, but as I've said before (and will say again) I do think he's kind of lazy. A lot of his world building is pretty suspect, from Buffy's schizophrenic attitude about what it means to have a soul to the inconsistent motifs of Firefly and Serenity. Sometimes this laziness manifests in ways that are racially charged, like how the supposedly chinese-dominated future of Firefly lacked asian main characters for no good reason or how nonwhite Actives in Dollhouse are vanishingly rare and never more than secondary characters. Or, for that matter, how Buffy's Sunnydale, supposedly a Southern California town, contained few blacks and no latinos. And at least once, as in Buffy, this laziness manifested in a abrupt descent into a deplorable homophobic cliche.
The Abigail is strident about this, and over the years I've come to agree: when you write for adolescents, you have a responsibility to help them grow. I'm not going to talk about how to help them grow. Someone who writes Christian young adult novels about the evils of sex and spiritual experimentation has as much a responsibility as someone who writes sex-positive pagan propaganda; the difference is only one of content and point of view. The only sin that I'm willing to condemn here is laziness. Kids are all our responsibility, and cash cows, rating stunts, and unwitting anything has no place in fiction created for their consumption. Sell your ideas and let adolescents decide who to follow, but don't abuse your audience.
I won't go to far in decrying Whedon's laziness, however, because when push comes to shove I still like his work. After this post is done, after all, I'm going to take a nap - because I'm a teacher and therefore the first to be infected with whatever terrible disease is sweeping through Oakland this flu-and-cold season - and then watch the latest episode of Dollhouse. I sometimes just wish the man would pay a little more attention.
Anyway, read the Booth article. It's long, but you won't regret it.
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- Bitch session: what laziness have you noted in Whedon's world-building, character-developing, and word-writing?
- Bitch at session: where have you seen Whedon be absolutely brilliant? Let me know (and be sure to tell me I'm a bad person for forgetting it)!
- The Yellow Crayon Speech really was perfect, wasn't it? How depraved do you have to be to criticize it in the slightest?
- Remember, I'm still taking suggestions about which of my two competing ideas to pursue this NaNoWriMo. Check my last post to read (highly imperfect) synopses and comment with your opinions.