Neurotic Owl

flying through clouds of uncertainty on wings of existential dread

On ‘Buffy’, fandom, and abuse.

Buckle up, I have some THINGS to SAY. TW: abuse.

Y’all should know by know that I have been a huge fan of Buffy, Firefly, and more projects led by the same writer for a substantial fraction of my life. Much like with Harry Potter, I will not let the bad actions of that person take the fandom from me; Buffy in particular has a huge diverse loving fandom and fuck letting some man ruin it for us. But clearly there is a reckoning to be reckoned.

If you’re not caught up, there are now allegations of abuse and inappropriate conduct against Whedon from Ray Fisher, Charisma Carpenter, Michelle Trachtenberg, Amber Benson, and James Marsters. If you haven’t heard about the Marsters one look it up – the headline refers to it as an ‘awkward incident’, which is a pretty bullshit description of backing someone against a wall and screaming ‘You’re DEAD’ repeatedly in their face. I’m guessing the author can’t conceive of that as abusive when it’s two men and the one doing the screaming is a sort of schlubby writer against a much fitter guy? But fuck that, you don’t have to be physically imposing to be a threat. SMG, Tony Head, and Eliza Dushku have spoken up in support; there may be others I haven’t heard about and more on that later anyhow.

I think I’m in the position of a lot of old-school fans. I had heard a few rumours but little or nothing specific. I tend to do a lot of talking and reading about the content of the shows I love and very little research into the people involved; I honestly couldn’t tell you the marital status or even the sexual orientation of most of the stars I like in things. Sooooo when the wildly shitty Cordelia arc and the end of her time on the show happened I heard rumours she was fired for being pregnant, and I thought it sucked, but I also work in the arts where getting pregnant while on a contract can be a big issue in a way I’m not sure other industries can get away with, so I didn’t like it but it didn’t jump out as too different from other stories.

When Kai Cole’s open letter came out I heard about but didn’t think to read it myself, since I thought I’d been told what it was about – his cheating on her for 15 years while pretending to be a good man and husband, I didn’t like it, I lost a lot of respect for him, but by not reading the letter myself I missed the extremely important point that his affairs were ON THE SET, with employees. I still don’t know who he slept with; the varying ages and experience levels of the cast make some possibilities significantly more heinous than others, but literally any of them represent a massive abuse of power. If I’d read that letter sooner I’d have been a lot angrier. Cheating is gross, but I tend to think of it as not my business if I’m not one of the people involved. Taking sexual advantage of subordinates is a different level of wrong.

I later heard vague rumours that maybe he had dated someone in the Buffy cast, but no one seemed to know much about it or who so it was hard to pin down in my head.

So that’s sort of where I was till a couple of days ago – no longer idolizing him, seeing a lot of cracks in storylines and properties I had formerly found excuses for, but still generally excited to see the next thing he might do. Now I hope he never works again, though I doubt that will happen.

So back to who has and hasn’t spoken up. I don’t think anyone owes us a public statement, and we don’t know what they may be saying to each other in private. I’m very grateful to and impressed by Eliza, Tony, and Sarah speaking in support, but I’m not mad at those who haven’t. We don’ know who else he hurt. We don’t know who else he threatened. The existing statements should be more than enough to end him, and no one should have to drag their trauma out into the light if they’re not ready.

Tony said that he never knew, and I fully believe him. I believe that none of the cast who weren’t targets themselves knew. One thing that makes abusers really successful at what they do is being able to HIDE IT. They attract victims and keep them, and keep from being exposed, because they can be charming, funny, warm when they want to. They make sure their victims are too scared and ashamed to speak out.

I think it’s worth considering, before you get mad at someone who wasn’t a victim for not speaking up, that discovering everything you thought you knew about someone was a lie is its own kind of trauma. The overwhelming guilt I’ve felt upon finding out that someone’s partner was abusive and I didn’t know – even considered them a friend – is huge, and I have a past of my own with parental abuse and a habit of yelling about it to anyone who would listen. The hurt and betrayal is real, and they don’t owe the world a statement while they’re trying to rewrite what they thought they knew about 7 or more years of their life. It is completely possible, even likely, that the set felt like a warm family environment for some people, and a hideous torture chamber for others, and no one realized what was going on.

The person who knew everything, of course, is the abuser. Keep the rage focused on him; that’s where it belongs. Get loud when you hear he has a new project. Make studios ashamed to work with him.

3 comments on “On ‘Buffy’, fandom, and abuse.

  1. Creatively Sustainable
    February 16, 2021

    You’re so right. We should focus our anger on the abuser and not be upset with other cast memebers for not giving their point of view. It is a good reminder that manipulation and abuse are rarely overt for all to see.

  2. Sara
    March 19, 2021

    I’m in the same boat. I felt…I don’t know if “betrayed” is the right word to use, but that’s the closest emotion I can use to describe what I was feeling with both HP and to be honest, a lot of Wheldon’s work; not just Buffy. For a while, I just felt sad when I thought about these stories that I’ve loved so much, and felt so bummed because they were the places I have always gone to for comfort. It has been really difficult to reconcile enjoying and appreciating someone’s writing as emotionally intelligent, and then learning that they are not living by the standards they express in their writing. I think now I’m at a place now where I am okay with allowing myself to appreciate the work I have always enjoyed, but with a more critical eye than I previously used.

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