The Power of Fandom in the Whedonverse

Jack Milson
Buffy fan art found on

While viewers watch television and film for entertainment, it's easy to forget that these media are industries. In this essay the changing relationships between creators, studios, distributors, and an increasingly active fandom are examined.

Joss Whedon, critically acclaimed television auteur and creator of the hit television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997), is not only a master of storytelling, but he is also an excellent catalyst to investigate the internal workings and politics of the television and film industry. Within the film and television industry there are a number of key struggles and relationships involving power. The internal politics of the industry warrants much discussion and analysis in its own right. Issues of production, financing, distribution, and marketing could have easily been the basis for articles and discussions.

Whedon’s career and body of work provide a constant for us to look at during a period where the industry moves into an arena completely changed by the arrival of new media like the Internet. The Internet has changed the way people live and work and, without doubt, this includes the internal politics of the film and television industry. The changing face of the industry has also brought to the forefront the value of creators such as Whedon, the auteur’s role within the television industry, and, arguably most importantly, the audience, the latter being the fans who watch and support the shows that ultimately give the creators their power.

Although the creators and the mass media companies/networks both fall under the same umbrella of production within the industry, they do not always share the same values and interests. One such power struggle is the commercial and creative control over a property, including issues of auteurism. In television, it's widely accepted that the director isn't necessarily the auteur; the role of auteur is instead embodied by producer(s), executive producer(s), or show runners. The producers or show runners are the ones who have to make the day-to-day decisions, both large and small, It's these decisions that ultimately lead to the power struggles between creator and media companies.

My aim here is to examine how these relationships have changed. The issues that have arisen include how the audiences’ relationship with the creator has altered; how the audiences’ relationship with the media companies has evolved because of new media, and how that has affected the relationship between media companies and creators.

In 1992 the motion picture Buffy the Vampire Slayer was released in cinemas across the US, directed by Fran Rubel Kuzui and written by an up-and-coming, yet relatively unknown television writer, Joss Whedon. Whedon would go on to create a number of critically acclaimed works including the television series based on the Buffy movie, and the Internet sensation Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. It would be Dr. Horrible that would earn Whedon a Vanguard Award from the Producers Guild of America. The award saw Whedon join the ranks of previous winners James Cameron and George Lucas as he was recognized for his achievements in new media and technology. The original Buffy film and Dr. Horrible don't mark the totality of Whedon’s work, nor do they mark the beginning or end of his career. What they do show, is how a creator’s control has changed.

Instead of a strict comparison between the two products, the changes will be examined chronologically. Using Whedon’s work and career as a catalyst to understand how the varying relationships within the television industry operate, and how the changing context led to the creation of Dr. Horrible.

While serving as a staff writer on Roseanne and Parenthood, Whedon wrote the script for the original Buffy. Having tried and failed to sell his script to any of the major studios, it was finally picked up by Fran Kubel and Kaz Kuzui (she directed; both produced). Here, it seems, Whedon ceased to have creative control over the film, with rumors that he eventually left the set and never returned when he saw how his script was being interpreted. Whedon openly acknowledges that the film was not what he had in mind and makes a sharp distinction between the script and the film. As a writer selling a script, Whedon had surrendered his creative control to the Kuzuis, something he would actively rectify when given his second chance with Buffy on television. Although having no involvement with the show, the Kuzuis would continue to receive royalties from Buffy and the merchandise surrounding the property. The political economy of the film and television industry means they would continue to reap the rewards. These rights would later be exercised in May 2009 when the Kuzuis announced their intention to relaunch the franchise without the involvement of Whedon. This news was met with a substantially negative response...

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.

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.