01 February 2012

Ever More Lame.

Most people who talk about Joss Whedon talk about him with love, even reverence. Mention Buffy the Vampire Slayer in most rooms, and someone will begin to praise the show's complex female characters, its witty play with genre conventions, and its progressive depiction of LGBT desire and romance. When you explain that you were talking about the 1992 feature film called Buffy the Vampire Slayer, that praise turns to awkward disavowal.

Fair enough: even good artists produce bad works, and my favorite TV shows have more than their share of embarrassing episodes. However, the things I disliked about the Buffy movie are the same things I dislike about the show: the characters' names, calculated to trip the irony detectors of nine-year-olds; dialogue as mannered as Raymond Chandler's, but dedicated to sneering and pop-culture references; and the self-conscious recycling of the moldiest genre tropes, as if simply drawing attention to them were a writer's highest (and sometimes only) duty.

WHEDON: Look, this [vampire/apewolfman/superhero] is wearing a lampshade! I'm done here!

Some of my dislike depends on my taste in intertextual humor. (I like, for example, David Lynch's homages to cultural trash.) And Whedon is not entirely to blame for his style: Buffy the Vampire Slayer is part of the 1990s slacker shitegeist, where looking as if you were trying to do something grown-up had become uncool. (Consider some of the icons of US culture in the 1990s: Nirvana, college dropouts becoming Internet-boom millionaires, and "Generation X.")

Anyway, my real problem with Whedon is the example he sets. He's one of those artists who succeeds largely by flattering his audience: he throws out an easy cultural reference, and people who sometimes watched television as children or who listened in high-school English catch that reference and feel smarter. Like Spielberg, he's adept enough at cheap methods that he makes his audience love his work, and love themselves.

Is this a lampshade or a witch-hat? I can't tell anymore.

However, Whedon's admirers are not always adept at his methods, and the results...

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