Film

The Dystopian Future in Joss Whedon's Work

Erin Casey

In contrast to the utopian vision of the future found in sci-fi series like Star Trek, Joss Whedon's creations show a different vision of the future. And it isn't pretty.

The future is bleak.

That's what Joss Whedon thinks, anyway. Whenever his works show the future, and several of them do (namely Dollhouse, Fray, Firefly/Serenity, and Angel), it is always dystopic. Dystopian futures are not by any means an uncommon theme in science fiction, but usually the futures shown in fiction fall into two categories: post-apocalyptic wastelands or paradises. Joss Whedon often goes for the middle of the road, which is the more probable future. In the cases of Fray and Firefly/Serenity, overall human carelessness has led humanity to the future they now inhabit, and in Dollhouse and Angel, corrupt corporations have worked that change.

The future is something everyone thinks about. Joss Whedon just asks viewers and readers to think about it on a bigger scale than most people do. If people keep polluting the planet, we will have no choice but to desert to the planet, as in the world of Firefly and Serenity. If we let corporations do our thinking, humanity could be made something unrecognizable and fearsome, as in Dollhouse.

Whedon aims to make people think, rather than just to take in a show numbly as an escape or entertainment. Of all the themes Joss Whedon presents in his work, and there are many, the contemplation of a future worse off than the present is perhaps the most important for our race, and the scariest. Each of Joss Whedon's works portraying the future shows the future in a different way, but each shows us something we probably don't want to see.

The TV series Dollhouse portrays perhaps the most desperate future. A morally bankrupt corporation, Rossum, has created the technology to wipe completely a person’s memories and personality and then “imprint” them with new memories and traits. Rossum then takes this technology and uses cell phone calls and other signals to transmit it over the whole world. Only a few people have survived as themselves. The rest have either been “imprinted” with another personality or they are blank or they have become violent, mindless zombie-like creatures called butchers. The whole world is in ruin.

The few people left as themselves have to fight against Rossum and the “butchers” to keep their own personalities. All technology is dangerous as it can send out a signal that could wipe their minds of all their memories and personality traits. Since the signal was meant to go worldwide, it is wireless, and thus anyone can harness it and transfer their own consciousness to another body when they like. Nothing and no one is safe.

Rossum went from a company that was on shaky moral ground to destroying humanity. One corporation was all it took to bring down mankind. I think Joss Whedon sees this potential in our world. Why else would the symbol at the end of the opening credits (the five pod beds in a circle) resemble the logo of a company everyone in this country knows?

The comic book Fray doesn’t show any signs of a corporate takeover, but the world is definitely in bad shape. Pollution has allowed a lot of damage. The first page of the comic shows a red sky and a fizzling, darkened sun. Readers are very quickly introduced to the new human race: a mixture of people who bear the human form we are used to, and people called “radies,” who, from either their own exposure to the sun’s radiation or their parents’ have any number of deformities. Some people do not bear any resemblance to what we would call human.

Everything has gone downhill, from the environment to poverty. The government does not seem to be taking care of anyone who has been affected by the radiation, and many of them live in slums. Some of the technology has improved, but it doesn’t seem to be doing anybody much good.

Firefly and Serenity are further into the future than Dollhouse and possibly Fray (since Fray is set on earth while Firefly speaks of “Earth That Was”). Captain Malcolm Reynolds and the crew of his spaceship live in another dystopian—and for us here and now, not unlikely—future. The Earth has been destroyed by human negligence (this is never stated implicitly in either Firefly or Serenity, but Whedon writes it in an afterword for the first compilation of Serenity comics) and people have had to spread to the skies...

Dear reader:

Joss Whedon’s importance in contemporary pop culture can hardly be overstated, but there has never been a book providing a comprehensive survey and analysis of his career as a whole -- until now. Published to coincide with Whedon’s blockbuster movie The Avengers, Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion by PopMatters (May 2012) covers every aspect of his work, through insightful essays and in-depth interviews with key figures in the ‘Whedonverse’. This article, along with previously unpublished material, can be read in its entirety in this book.

Place your order for Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion by PopMatters, published with Titan Books, here.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

'We're Not Here to Entertain' Is Not Here to Break the Cycle of Punk's Failures

Even as it irritates me, Kevin Mattson's We're Not Here to Entertain is worth reading because it has so much direct relevance to American punks operating today.

Film

Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.

Music

3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".

Books

'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.

Music

Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor
Film

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.

Music

Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.

Music

Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.

Music

Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.

Music

Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.

Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.