Interview with the Vampire

New York Magazine releases the Whedon Cut

Joss Whedon is back in the public eye again. The director, producer, writer and celebrity showrunner is the subject of a lengthy piece that was recently published in New York Magazine. The profile doesn’t do him any favors.

“The Undoing of Joss Whedon,” by Lila Shapiro, is first and foremost a clinic in profile writing, epitomizing what it means to let a subject hang themselves with their words. Journalism schools should teach this piece for how well Shapiro knows when to use prose instead of quotes, and vice versa, and for how well-sourced and how well-reported it is.

Joss Whedon
New York Magazine’s profile of Joss Whedon (Nymag.com)

But most people are not journalists and didn’t read the Whedon profile to bask in its structure or marvel at its reporting. They wanted to hear what he had to say for himself and see if anyone else came forward with any claims about him. Maybe read an apology for the myriad of infedelity, workplace harassment and toxicity claims levied against him within the last few years.

Whedon doesn’t outright apologize for anything, but there are plenty more allegations and damning details here that do nothing to help his image. Speaking for the first time publicly about his feud with Justice League actor Ray Fisher, who called Whedon’s on-set behavior “gross, abusive, unprofessional, and completely unacceptable,” Whedon called Fisher “a bad actor in both senses.” Weirdly enough, a lot of people spent a lot of time criticizing the article’s publication date of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, thinking that Whedon said the quotes he said about Fisher intentionally on MLK Day, proving Twitter is not a space to go to for media literacy.

Other people on the Justice League set told New York Magazine that Whedon’s time in the director’s chair was extremely fraught. At one point he told the cast he had never worked with “a ruder group of people.”

Shapiro reaches back all the way to Whedon’s Buffy days, where cast and crew members recall the then-31-year-old showrunner engaging in affairs with young cast members, yelling at staff writers and at one point, physically hurting a costume designer (an incident that Whedon denies).

When he worked on Firefly, a staff writer says that Whedon—whose father and grandfather were TV writers — publicly humiliated a staff writer who wrote n a script that wasn’t up to his standards. “I yelled, and sometimes you had to yell,” he said about his early showrunning days.

Whedon’s rationalizations for a lot of his past decisions are pathetic. Those allegations of infidelity on the Buffy set? He “feel[s] fucking terrible about them” because they “mess[ed] up the power dynamic,” but said he felt he “had” to sleep with all of those beautiful young women, fearing that he would “always regret it” if he didn’t act on his impulses. Later depictions of his relationships after his divorce are also equally pathetic, with one former girlfriend alleging he set her up on a friend date — with his other girlfriend. Another woman says Whedon paid her $2,500 for a weekend where she watched him write on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. They then dated on and off for about a year in secret before Whedon broke it off after sleeping with her for the first time.

“He admired strong women like his mother, yet he’d discovered he was capable of hurting them, ‘usually by sleeping with them and ghosting or whatever,” Shapiro writes. “He would later tell his biographer this duality gave him ‘an advantage’ over the girls in his college class on feminism when it came to discussing relations between the sexes. ‘I have seen the enemy,’ he said, ‘and he’s in my brain!’”

Shapiro notes that Whedon compares himself to Buffy Summers in that he wanted to be important but nobody took him seriously at first. The Buffy characters Whedon sounds most like here though, are Xander and Spike, the former an insecure teen who was constantly jealous of any man who had Buffy’s eye and the latter a manipulative vampire.

Once New York published the piece, it started trending on Twitter, and most people who shared the profile were coming for Whedon’s head. Fisher, in particular, tweeted a lot about the article and wondered why Whedon agreed to do the interview in the first place.

“Joss Whedon had nearly two years to get his story straight. He’s likely spent tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars on PR, crisis management, and coaching. And his response to the allegations is: ‘They all misunderstood and/or are out to get me—also my mom is sexy’ ???”

All of the allegations in this piece are damnable stuff, but they’re not technically illegal, which places Whedon in that murky space we’ve seen a lot of powerful men occupy lately. He’s not “canceled”; The Nevers on HBO still bears Whedon’s name, despite his removal from the show in 2020. The popularity of Buffy, The Avengers and Firefly will ensure that he will probably never be “canceled.” He remarried. The profile makes it sound like his personal life is improving. He says he’s in rehab for sex and love addiction. (Shapiro makes no note of any personal reparations or apologies Whedon has made to those he has hurt.) Much like the vampires he wrote about, Joss Whedon’s impact won’t die any time soon.

After years of mockery, nerd culture has been on top for about a decade. Buffy is still popular. The biggest entertainment company in the world owns Star Wars and Spider-Man: No Way Home was the highest-grossing American movie of 2021. Fans can, like Sarah Michelle Gellar, take pride in Buffy Summers but not Joss Whedon. At some point this has got to be a wakeup call for people who think their chosen pop culture interests or their self-proclaimed “nerd” status shields them from taking responsibility for the power they hold or makes them better people.

But the biggest effect from all of this has been a continued reckoning among Whedon’s fans as they realize that  a fellow nerd, who they worshipped like a god in public, made the thing they loved while wielding his power terribly in private.

Whedon long positioned himself as a nerd’s nerd who was the ultimate feminist, making TV shows and movies that centered strong, independent women in a sector of pop culture that often looked down on women. But what happens when that nice guy avatar of feminism collapses? How do you separate the art from the artist? Can you?

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Jake Harris

Jake Harris is a Texas-based journalist whose writing about pop culture and entertainment has appeared in the Austin American-Statesman, the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the Nashville Scene and more. You can find more of his writings at jakeharrisbog.com or through his pop culture newsletter, Jacob's Letter.

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