If Shakespeare were alive today, where do you think he’d be working? I suspect he’d be in Hollywood; it seems the man did love an audience. The essays in the PopMatters Spotlight on Whedon give voice to some of the most invested members of the audience of Joss Whedon and company — an audience that continues to grow. Currently Nikki Stafford is running the Great Buffy Rewatch — a year-long rewatching of the 144-episode series, designed for the pleasure of longtime viewers — but also arranged to entice new viewers. New viewers keep coming to Firefly/Serenity and Dr. Horrible, and Angel, and (don’t take the modifier the wrong way) even Dollhouse. Those who enjoy spending part of their mental and emotional lives with Whedon and company include scholar-fans and fan-scholars. There are blogs and essays across the Internet; and scholarly books are being published on the Whedonverses at a faster rate than any other single television subject. With its latest online issue, the Slayage journal — devoted to all creations of Whedon and his associates, and published by the Whedon Studies Association, an educational non-profit — entered its tenth year. Conventions still gather, and there continue to be academic conferences, including the biennial Slayage conferences: the fifth (and yes, everyone is invited) will be held July 12-15, 2012, in Vancouver, Canada, at the University of British Columbia.
There might be something to this Whedon fellow.
The PopMatters Spotlight itself clearly indicates that intense, thoughtful interest in the work of Whedon and his associates continues. The essays here constitute a couple of books’ worth of material, and are written by a marvelous variety of authors on an equally marvelous variety of subjects. Robert Moore’s pieces help us to see the big picture of television, and Whedon and company’s place in it. Tanya R. Cochran’s well-informed, thoughtful interviews of Tim Minear and Harry Groener help us to understand the labor behind the scenes. And there are all sorts of specific delights, such as the sharp textual reading of Buffy slipped into Raz Greenberg’s discussion of Alien Resurrection; Jessica Ford’s focus on Willow’s sexuality; Kyle Garret’s sensitive assessment of the rhythms and peaks of Xander’s journey; Ian Mathers’ connection of Dollhouse to Philip K. Dick; and of course I could go on.
As I read, I kept thinking of those prompts we get from Amazon.com and Netflix: “If you like this, you might enjoy…” If you like Laura Berger and Keri Ferencz’s essay on “Restless,” you might enjoy Matthew Pateman’s chapters on it in The Aesthetics of Culture in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If you like Nick Bridwell’s piece on Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, you might enjoy one of Stacey Abbott’s several pieces on him, including her work in Reading Angel. If you like Chris Colgan’s Firefly essay “The Death of Utopia,” you might enjoy Sharon Sutherland and Sarah Swan’s “Dystopia” essay in the Investigating Firefly and Serenity collection. If you like Kevin M. Brettauer’s discussion of Penny in Dr. Horrible, you might like Alyson Buckman’s essay on Dr. Horrible in Slayage. (Has anyone, by the way, talked about Billy Buddy and Melville’s Billy Budd?). If you like Cynthea Masson’s and Glenn Brown’s essays about choice and consequences, you might like Dale Koontz’s Faith and Choice in the Works of Joss Whedon, or Mike Richardson and Doug Rabb’s The Existential Joss Whedon. If you like Ryan Jawetz’s essay on identity and memory in Dollhouse, you might like the Jane Espenson edited collection of essays on Dollhouse, or the Slayage special double issue of essays on Dollhouse. And I could, again, go on.
Much more to the point, Whedon and company will go on. As we wait for The Avengers, it is an exciting time for those who enjoy immersing themselves in the creations of Whedon and company. And I do use that “and company” with full intention. As Tim Minear said, Whedon is known for “wanting the people who worked for him and with him to succeed,” and television series (and films, and webisodes) do have many parents. One of the pleasures as we proceed is expanding the discussion: talking more about the music; the art direction; the acting, for heaven’s sake. And always, always, the writing — by Tim Minear, Jane Espenson, and all the other creators. Consider how much mental energy Joss Whedon has given rise to on both sides of the screen. If you are reading this, you are part of that creativity of thought. Let’s thank Joss Whedon, and keep thinking.
— Rhonda V. Wilcox
P.S. Thanks to Robert Moore and PopMatters, too, for putting the Spotlight on Whedon.