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The Philosophy of Joss Whedon

The Philosophy of Joss Whedon

Dean A. Kowalski
S. Evan Kreider
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    The Philosophy of Joss Whedon
    Book Description:

    Every generation produces a counterculture icon. Joss Whedon, creator of the long-running television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is famed for his subversive wit, rich characters, and extraordinary plotlines. His renown has only grown with subsequent creations, including Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse, and the innovative online series Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. Through premises as unusual as a supernatural detective agency run by a vampire and a Western set in outer space, Whedon weaves stories about characters forced to make commonplace moral decisions under the most bizarre of circumstances.

    The Philosophy of Joss Whedon examines Whedon's plots and characterizations to reveal their philosophical takes on the limits of personal freedom, sexual morality, radical evil, and Daoism.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-3420-8
    Subjects: Philosophy, Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-x)
    Tim Minear

    Recently an interviewer asked me if I was aware I was being “studied in universities.” One imagines oneself in a petri dish. She was, of course, referring to work in which I had been involved over the years. Specifically, what is known as “The Whedonverse”—the universe comprising the creations of Joss Whedon.

    The matter and energy that make up this ’verse include movies, comic books, television series, and now web series. In the case ofFirefly, literally a ’verse within the ’verse. In the case of theBuffymusical andDr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, music. Songs. Three-minute dramatic units...

  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)
    Dean A. Kowalski and S. Evan Kreider

    Creature of the night? Look elsewhere for your meal. Demon goddess? There will be no apocalypse today. Fascist galactic government or soulless mind-controlling corporation? No willing subjects dwell within. This book is not for any of you. This book is for those who seek the salvation of the world, the truth of the signal, and the freedom of humanity; it is for Scoobies, Champions, Browncoats, and Echo-inspired former Dolls only.

    Now that we have your attention, recall Joss Whedon’s recent comment aboutDollhouse: “We’re trying to create something that’s more than the sum of its parts. And not just in...

  5. Part 1. “You Can’t Take the Sky from Me”:: Freedom and Its Limits

    • Firefly and Freedom
      (pp. 9-23)
      David Baggett

      Written by Joss Whedon and performed by Sonny Rhodes, the theme song ofFireflyalerts readers to the central role of freedom in this short-lived but brilliant series. The sky represents a place of freedom; aft er the war is lost and the land is taken, the sky remains as the refuge of freedom. The freedom that the sky represents is primarily a social sort of freedom: liberation from the controlling hand of the Alliance. The result of losing the Unification war was that some, like Mal (Nathan Fillion), along with Zoe (Gina Torres), his trusted partner in the war,...

    • “Just Get Us a Little Further”: Liberty and the Frontier in Firefly and Serenity
      (pp. 24-38)
      Amy H. Sturgis

      In July 2007, I had the pleasure of lecturing to a select international group of outstanding graduate students in the arts at a summer seminar sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies and held on the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles. The seminar was titled “Cinematic and Literary Traditions of Liberty.” Much to my delight, my first presentation directly followed an appearance by Tim Minear, the executive producer of and a writer forFirefly. Minear spoke about his career, most notably his work onFirefly, before showing and providing commentary on one of the episodes he wrote...

    • The State of Nature and Social Contracts on Spaceship Serenity
      (pp. 39-54)
      Joseph J. Foy

      In theFireflyepisode “War Stories,” Shepherd Book (Ron Glass) makes the wry observation that “a government is a body of people, usually, notably ungoverned.” A critique of the unchecked power of the state and a cynical take on the potential for abuses, Book’s comment reflects a strain of anti-elitism and anti-institutionalism that can be traced throughout the Whedonverse. Whether providing a critique of covert government and military operations like that of the Initiative inBuffy the Vampire Slayer, or of the corporate and legal clout of Wolfram and Hart and its clientele inAngel, Joss Whedon consistently pits the...

    • Dollhouse and Consensual Slavery
      (pp. 55-68)
      S. Evan Kreider

      Dollhouseis arguably one of Joss Whedon’s most philosophically complex shows, covering topics from the metaphysics of personal identity to the politics of social control. What stands out as one (if notthe) central moral issue of the show is the idea of consensual slavery. The “dolls,” or “actives,” appear to have agreed to their place in the Dollhouse, at least initially. As the show progresses, the legitimacy of this agreement, this contract, is called into question. However, Joss expertly avoids creating a simple polemic; as a master of polyphony rivaling Dostoevsky, Joss presents a wide variety of views on...

  6. Part 2. “Live as Though the World Were as It Should Be”:: Ethics and Virtue

    • Plato, Aristotle, and Joss on Being Horrible
      (pp. 71-87)
      Dean A. Kowalski

      Gyges, the Lydian shepherd, appears nowhere in the Whedonverse. He is a literary artifact of the famed, ancient Greek philosopher Plato. With prose worthy of Joss Whedon’s pen, Plato tells us how Gyges finds a gold ring: “One day there was a great storm and the ground where his flock was feeding was rent by an earthquake. Astonished by the sight, he went down into the chasm and saw . . . a brazen horse, hollow, with windows in its sides. Peering in, he saw a dead body. . . . It was naked save for a gold ring.”¹ Fearing...

    • Aristotle, Kant, Spike, and Jayne: Ethics and Character in the Whedonverse
      (pp. 88-102)
      Jason D. Grinnell

      Imagine you visit a doctor, and the doctor tells you she needs to perform a serious procedure on you. Nervous, you ask her if she is a good doctor. She replies, “Well, I’ve never been fired or sued for malpractice.” I suspect such an answer wouldn’t reassure many of us. When you asked the question, you were asking not only about the doctor’s skill, but also about her attention to detail, her conscientiousness, and her integrity. You were asking if she seeks to be the best doctor she can be. In effect, you were asking about hercharacter. Her answer,...

    • Companions, Dolls, and Whores: Joss Whedon on Sex and Prostitution
      (pp. 103-116)
      Tait Szabo

      The fantasy worlds of Joss Whedon serve as a lens through which we may view our own conventions about sex and sexual morality, especially by looking at the way Whedon presents prostitution. InFireflyandSerenity, Inara Serra (Morena Baccarin) makes a living as a “Companion.” Companionship in the world ofFirefly/Serenitydiffers from prostitution as we know it. Inara’s work represents what prostitution could look like if it were transformed into a respectable profession, and it shows us that this transformation is at least conceptually possible. Inara helps to expose the fact that much of our own sexual morality...

    • Fashioning Feminism: Whedon, Women, and Wardrobe
      (pp. 117-132)
      Patricia Brace

      A common contention among scholars is that the Western ideal of beauty has acted as a social guard for the patriarchal culture—keeping women in their places through a series of constraining concepts of body shape, cosmetics, and clothing.¹ To seek the societal idea of beauty is to conform to the limits men want to place upon women. However, Camille Paglia, a self-proclaimed “equity feminist,” argues that women can seek equality without giving up beauty.² Joss Whedon agrees, or so I argue here. That Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) has a silly name and is blond and beautiful doesn’t mean...

    • Heroes and Villains: Morality, the Will to Power, and the Overman in the Work of Joss Whedon
      (pp. 133-148)
      Gary Heba and Robin Murphy

      Whether looking atBuffy, Angel, Firefly, Serenity, Dollhouse, or evenDr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, all of Joss Whedon’s projects can be viewed as treatises on the struggle between good and evil that occurs on both supernatural (including technologically created supernature as inFireflyandDollhouse) and natural planes of existence. What makes Whedon’s work interesting philosophically is his interest in exploring the dimensions of power relationships—natural, supernatural, and sexual—and the morality of those who wield that power in a way that inextricably binds power to morality. The Whedonverse is populated by characters pursuing and/or possessing superhuman, even godlike...

  7. Part 3. “I’m All of Them, but None of Them Is Me”:: The Human Condition

    • Seeking Authenticity in the Whedonverse
      (pp. 151-167)
      Joseph J. Foy and Dean A. Kowalski

      Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) has her choice of any university in the United States—and five in Europe, including Oxford—although she is unsure about going to school in a foreign country. For Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendon), everything in life is foreign territory. Jack Kerouac will be his next teacher; the open road will be his school. Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) has the opportunity and inclination to attend Northwestern University in Illinois, but must weigh this against her responsibilities in California as the Slayer-on-the-Hellmouth, to say nothing of her committed relationship with Angel (David Boreanaz). TheBuffy the Vampire...

    • “Look What Free Will Has Gotten You”: Isolation, Individuality, and Choice in Angel
      (pp. 168-181)
      Susanne E. Foster and James B. South

      The “Jasmine arc” comprises six episodes at the end of season four ofAngel.¹ These episodes detail, through a series of seemingly improbable events, the birth, rise, and death of a being called Jasmine (Gina Torres), a godlike creature brought into the world by Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) and Angel’s son, Connor (Vincent Kartheiser). Once born, Jasmine exerts a near magical force over humans, causing them to worship her and follow her commands. In this enthralled state, her followers experience peace within themselves and with others. But as Angel (David Boreanaz) and his team realize, as one by one they are...

    • Aiming to Misbehave at the Boundary between the Human and the Machine: The Queer Steampunk Ecology of Joss Whedon’s Firefly and Serenity
      (pp. 182-193)
      Lisa Hager

      Joss Whedon’s television seriesFireflyand the subsequent feature filmSerenity(2005), based on the show, are well known among scholars and viewers alike for their mixing of genres.¹ Set in a future when humanity has colonized many worlds,Fireflytells the stories ofSerenity’s nine-person crew as they attempt to make a life for themselves through various petty crimes and smuggling on the outer reaches of space, known as the Border planets.Fireflytakes place as the known universe is recovering from a civil war in which the underdog, Border-planet-oriented Independents, known as “Browncoats,” fought and were defeated by...

    • Shepherd Book, Malcolm Reynolds, and the Dao of Firefly
      (pp. 194-207)
      Roger P. Ebertz

      What is the good life? Reflective human beings have been asking variations of this question for millennia. Many associate the question with philosophy, remembering Socrates’ remark that the unexamined life is not worth living. Others turn to religion for a vision of the good life. Some turn to ethics looking for rules for good living. In this essay, I explore the borderlands between philosophy, religion, and ethics, where the question of the good life is discussed, with a particular view to Joss Whedon’s television seriesFireflyand the sequel film,Serenity.¹ Like many films and television series,Firefly/Serenitynot only...

  8. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 208-210)
  9. Appendix: A History of the Whedonverse
    (pp. 211-222)
  10. List of Contributors
    (pp. 223-226)
  11. Index
    (pp. 227-234)