Joss Whedon: The Fandom King

image courtesy of: themarysue.com

image courtesy of: themarysue.com

As soon as I hear the word “fandom,” I think Joss Whedon. Creator of cult favorites like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Firefly,” “Angel,” “Dollplay” and “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”; writer of “Serenity”, “Atlantis: The Lost Empire”, “Toy Story” and “The Avengers”; winner of 14 film and television awards with another 24 nominations. It would be an understatement to call him a kingpin in [“nerd”] fandom culture. (He even has his own “Calm Down. Love, Joss Whedon” tumblr). But what is it about Joss Whedon’s creations and persona that keeps him at the top of the food chain? I think it’s all about his personality/accessibility, relatable (read: “weird”) characters, and bias towards science fiction genres. 

While discussing “The Avengers” with Wired Magazine, Whedon is quoted as saying,

“I guess the thing that I want to say about fandom is that it’s the closest thing to religion there is that isn’t actually religion. The love of something and what it’s trying to accomplish or mean are usually very separate.”

I believe this is a major part of the argument in Katherine Larsen and Lynn Zubernis’ “Fangasm.” While fans (particularly women, as mentioned the reading) can be labeled as “crazy” or “stalker-ish,” there’s a deep level commitment to a show, character, production, or publication that goes beyond what the creator intended. Whedon’s inherent understanding of this–and the need to care about something more than is rational–is part of his immense success as both a producer and consumer. He is fan, and so he gets fans. Most recently, his adaptation of “Much Ado About Nothing” (which was shot on a minimal budget from Whedon’s own home) was received with mass anticipation and praise due to its “accessibility.” Whedon’s understanding of the value of being accessible led to the film being picked up by thousands of independent theaters across the country and ultimately gained widespread recognition by BBC, The New York Times (a full five stars), and The Boston Globe.

Whedon is also known for working with the same cast on a regular basis, and has thus built up a powerful and hyper-faithful fan base. [Internet smokeshow] Eliza Dushku, Nathan Filion, Gina Torres, and Alexis Denisof have all appeared in at least two of Whedon’s various productions. A recent addition is LGBTQ favorite Neil Patrick Harris, and others include “Smallville”‘s James Marsters and “Chuck”‘s Adam Baldwin. These characters are all exceptionally complex, similarly to the brothers in “Supernatural,” and are all residents or villains in supernatural realms spanning from Sunnydale to outer space. They’re relatable because they’re all quirky outsiders of their own kind (often literally so, since “human” tends to be a minority species in Whedon-associated projects). Fan-fic writers have produced thousands of online fan essays featuring crossover relationships and conflicts (check out this video of an “Avengers” and “Firefly” supercut), ultimately widening Joss Whedon’s (forgive me for this) “brand” fanbase and making him a household name among the science fiction genre. Which leads me to my next point…

Whedon’s development of the science fiction genre led to the popularization of the fan-favorite, albeit short-lived, space western “Firefly.” There’s series merchandise (which is particularly interesting since there were only 14 episodes), internet communities (see Sam’s post on tumblr as a type of fandom), fanfiction, and even annual conventions. Even before “Firefly”, however, he was constantly focused on the “not from this world” aspect of television and creation, and his sense of imagination is matched primarily by those who have studied and worshipped his work. BuffyWorld–a popular fansite for all-things-Buffy–is created and maintained by exclusively fans who have, like “Supernatural” fans, created a safe space for science-fiction fanatics who know their characters inside and out.

PS: The quote on page 123 about “The Searchers” made me feel very, very “in on it.” Thanks, Hollywood Genres!

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