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September 29 2008

Do Dollhouse's production delays spell disaster? TV Guide's Matt Roush discusses Dollhouse's recent production shut-down and the show's "unattractive" title.

I realize why this article was posted but I am honestly getting tired of worrying about a show that I haven't seen yet. I shall compare it to this...
I was a huge fan of all of Alan Balls work but when True Blood came out and was iffy (by my opinion) I was not heart broken. I have other shows I enjoy.)also through watching further the cliffhangers at the end of each episode have convinced me to continue to at least DVR the show, thanks Mr.Ball)
Joss rocks and he will pull through. I feel if Joss hadn't been away from TV for so long Dr.Horrible wouldn't have happened so have faith and chill everyone.
On the other hand I am excited greatly about Dollhouse and don't find the name to be a problem at all.
Anyone else? Thoughts on the name maybe just for some constructive topics with out us fans in meltdown mode before any melting has occurred.

Also who is making that Whedon Threat Color code thing... someone get on that...
Is it time for the Dollhouse panic thread already? It's only 5am. Get back to me at a civilized hour.

(That said, blaming the cancellation of Firefly on the title was pretty funny.)
PANIC ! This article has reached my personal "no smoke without fire" tipping point ! Enough people are now worried that there simply must be something to worry about ! Ahem ;).

The questioner clearly has a bit of an axe to grind about the names, which, to me, seems pretty trivial. Not only is it basically judging a book by its cover it's also, as Roush says, fairly hard to work out ahead of time what's going to be a quirky name that's different enough to intrigue and what's going to completely turn people off. And my own feeling is, if you're not even willing to find out the premise of a show purely because you don't like the title then you're probably not the sort of inquisitive, "active viewer" that's going to get the most from Joss' stuff.

I think there may be a case to the implied idea that Joss doesn't really make mainstream shows though. Not because he should but more from our perspective i.e. we shouldn't really be that surprised when his shows don't appeal to the sort of large audiences that big networks are looking for.
My only concern is about plot density / complexity.

Joss's shows with quick public appeal (Buffy, Dr. Horrible, Toy Story) had a combination of Joss's typical wit AND a traditional linear plot. In contrast, some of the later scripts Joss wrote for Buffy & Angel -- as well as the S8 comics (which I do like) -- have a more complex structure of parallel lines that are confusing at first and come together in the end. So I'm wondering whether the studio's feedback has been that an "average viewer" wouldn't get excited immediately by the first few episodes because of their density. Asking the viewers to "Trust me... you'll enjoy how it all comes together in the end" is risky -- what if the viewers don't make it to the end?

Re: Title. I think it's perfect. Like "Alias" and "X-Files" it's simple, related to the core concept, and a teaser to find out more.
Honestly, I am tired of reading about this show before it's even started. And I'm supposed to be a fan.
Yep, i'm not burned out but i'll be happier when we have the actual show to discuss rather than all the bollocks surrounding it. And I have to say, though i'll be crushed in one way, there's a perverse part of me that'd be sort of amused if it turns out, after all this talk, to be, y'know, not very good ;).
I understand, and may even agree, with the concern many people have over the name. To this day I know many people who still refuse to watch Buffy because of the title. The fact that it's the very essence of what the show was about, a great warrior fighting evil who just happened to be a sixteen year old blond cheerleader called Buffy, is lost on them. Name of show sounds silly = Show will be silly and that's that.

However these things are far from certain, Battlestar Gallictica had all the baggage of the cheesy original series but managed to get that critical mass of viewers that saw it was something new and better.

If Dollhouse is good and if it can get a decent audience then the name will become accepted. It's just that the name by itself won't draw people in at first.
I agree with Caroline. A similar thing happened to me with Serenity. I had read so much stuff about it, some of it rather over the top, that by the time I got to actually see the film I was heartily sick of it. I suspect it is a part of the reason why I do not particularly like that film.

I have deliberately avoided reading too much about ‘Dollhouse’ – in truth, the premise, etc, does not make it something I am desperately looking forward to seeing – but because I visit Whedonesque it is hard to avoid it. We live in an age when everything is dissected in microscopic detail before it even happens, but I think we would all have been a lot happier if we had not known about the production shutdown. I am not convinced it is something that we (and others) needed to know.

Too much too soon might kill the show for those undecided whether or not to get onboard – and that will kill the show.


If Dollhouse is good and if it can get a decent audience then the name will become accepted.


It does not even need to be any good. It just needs a big enough audience (presumably within the right demographic – something that seems to be an obsession for American networks, etc. I admit to being completely at a loss to understand how American television works.)
It's just that the name by itself won't draw people in at first.

Yeah but what would, "Free Sex !" ? ;)

Most titles could be about more or less anything and, for the most part, they don't make me curious about a show by themselves, that's what promos are for.

... but I think we would all have been a lot happier if we had not known about the production shutdown. I am not convinced it is something that we (and others) needed to know.

Probably true BUT we would have found out, these days it's pretty much inevitable. At least the way it was done they tried to head the panic off at the pass (with dubious success it has to be said but that's not really Fox/Joss' fault).

[ edited by Saje on 2008-09-29 12:44 ]
Well, I find some truth in this article. Like it or not. People that love random viewing, talking and working while watching TV, will likely never get any of joss work. And unfortunately they are no minority. Taking my wife as an example (who, although highly educated, doesn't like to invest to much energy into watching tv) as a role model, I claim that joss will never be able to deliver something to her liking. His work is fun, because of the subtle plot shifts and his fine work with evolving human emotions. Even worse, I guess if he would adapt his works to this group of viewers (I guess he is pro on his profession, he could adapt), I doubt that I would still like it. And yes, the buffy title was the main reason I didn't gave buffy a shoot, while it was running. Though I haven't made up my mind about the title dollhouse. Beeing somewhere between exotic dancers and barbi might work out.
It is sad that the author of the article seems to think Joss is arrogant (the "joss is his own biggest fan" remark) when he tries not to water down his shows to fit every mainstreen viewer. I wouldent call that arrogance, I'd call it integrity.
Probably true BUT we would have found out, these days it's pretty much inevitable. At least the way it was done they tried to head the panic off at the pass (with dubious success it has to be said but that's not really Fox/Joss' fault).


I agree. We would have found out eventually. I fully appreciate the reason why the information was offered to us up front, but that is my point. It is the problem or reality of the present day. We didn't really need to know this at this time - and presumably most of us don't really know how the business works, anyway. There are a lot of shows I watch (or have watched) and enjoy very much, but I know next to nothing about what goes on behind the scenes - and knowing would add nothing to my enjoyment of them.

I'm just an old fart who still finds some of this stuff a bit strange.
Quickly:
1. Joss comes across as his own biggest fan in interviews just to make people laugh. Very high invisible ;-) rate.
2. He loves the average viewer so much that he refuses to make the average show. He'd rather have smaller numbers love it than larger numbers like it, but his storytelling story welcomes larger numbers to love it. Fight scenes, special effects, broad comedy, very pretty persons -- these do not chase people away.
3. While the name Firefly told you little, the name Dollhouse tells you lots. Hefner-like? That's one approach to life it's poised to explore, and not the most unpopular.
I'm on the cusp I think alien lanes. Interested in the mechanics but also aware that I might be better off not knowing all of it. As others have said, exactly the same thing happened with 'Angel' for instance but ignorance was bliss for me (I didn't find out until after the series ended).

On the other hand, after 'Firefly' I started taking more of an interest in which shows are on the verge of being (or have been) cancelled in the US just so I know not to get too enamoured of them.

(I guess he is pro on his profession, he could adapt), I doubt that I would still like it.

I sometimes wonder about that. I like a few shows that're "just" shallow fun (quotes because there's nothing wrong with shallow fun IMO - like anything else you can't thrive on an exclusive diet of it but variety's the spice of life and all that ;) and I do wonder if Joss ever wrote e.g. an episode of 'NCIS', would it be, like, the Best Damn Episode of 'NCIS' Ever or would his stuff not work without the subtexts and so on woven through ?

You have to assume his cracking dialogue would still be cracking dialogue, even if it wasn't full of all the little hooks into previous (or future) events that's common in Buffy/Angel/Firefly.

And yes, the buffy title was the main reason I didn't gave buffy a shoot, while it was running.

That's interesting Snugels. Can I ask 1) were you a general SF&F fan before Buffy (because sci-fi is full of unusual titles so maybe I was sort of innoculated against title prejudice) ? and 2) did you literally not find out anything about the show just on the basis of the title or did you read the premise and think "That's not for me" ? I ask because the premise might not have done it for me either, the first I saw of Buffy was the promo for it on BBC2 where, despite "apparently being based on that slightly crappy film from a few years back", it looked funny and quirkily cool. And SMG wasn't exactly hard on the eyes either ;).
I always thought Ibsen's "A Doll's House" sounded like a Hefner production. Glad to see somebody else agrees.

(English really needs a sarcasm mark.)

Points: Joss Whedon sounds like the biggest fan of his writers, actors and directors. He never sounds to me like his own biggest fan, and he's certainly clear when he feels he made a creative mistake. And: Does the average viewer deserve respect? Keep in mind that if you're on Whedonesque, you aren't the average viewer. You're much more involved, even if you just showed up to laugh at Whedon freaks. That isn't something most tv encourages. "Respecting the average viewer" usually means dumbing the show down. "The Starlost," anyone? Screw the average viewer. Most humans will never get Joss. Because most humans are idiots.

Too early. Coffee might be good.
One of Joss's commentaries included a quote to the effect of, "I'd rather make a show that 100 people HAVE to see than a show that 1,000 people WANT to see."

That's noble, and it's what I love about his shows. But... in a commercial industry you do need to attract enough viewers to get advertisers to sponsor the show. That's the risk. If the advertisers bail then your nobility is futile because you've deprived yourself of the opportunity to create new material.

See Sondheim's "Putting it Together": "The art of making art, is putting it together." This song talks about the need to make your work accessible enough to attract investors.

[ edited by SteveP on 2008-09-29 13:32 ]
Yeah but if the material you're "buying" the opportunity to create doesn't interest you then what's the point SteveP ? It's a fine line to tread and a difficult balancing act, as you'd expect when art and commerce meet.

That said, from the premise I think 'Dollhouse' is about his most mainstream show to date, maybe this is Joss going as far to the other side of the line as he's happy with ?
The problem with the famous Joss Whedon remark is that the more it is repeated the more self-defeating it becomes, and the more elitist it sounds. It's fodder for the detractors who point to Whedon's supposed arrogance.

He is not alone in wanting to make television shows or films of high quality. I imagine most people involved in making these shows want to produce the best that they can, whatever others might think of the quality of their work. I am sure Joss Whedon and everyone involved in the making of ‘Dollhouse’ is hoping the show picks up a big audience and becomes a hit.
Perhaps the extra publicity from all the second guessing and alarm mongering in the media may actually have a beneficial publicity effect...maybe some folks will check it out to see what the fuss is about, get hooked, and stick around for a bit, to add to the numbers?

Who knows? It's kind of like all the punditizing in politics...everyone has an expert opinion and tells us what to think about stuff that hasn't happened yet. (eg. "Setting the bar low" for a candidate in a debate, so that if said candidate doesn't totally implode, it will seem a victory, and be declared one.) Our expectations are toyed with so much that we have a hard time experiencing anything directly.
The "Joss is his own biggest fan" really pissed me off. I think what Roush (who is usually more insightful) is seeing (and misinterpreted) is that Joss falls in love with the characters he creates, a sure sign of a creative mind.

As for the title, a little trepidation there. But people will watch something with a name like Lipstick Jungle, so maybe it will draw in some who are expecting fluff to pass the time, and grab them in a way they hadn't anticipated.
As for the long ago mentioned fact that Joss is referencing Ibsen in the title .... well granted, your "average" TV fan is not going to get that, and those of us who do get it, are most likely fans of joss's work already.
On the other hand, who would have believed that a show as quirky, smart and subtle as Life (with a title that could mean anything and isn't likely to grab the My Name is Earl fans) would be beginning it's second season, tonight.

So I have hope for Dollhouse. And hope that Joss will eventually end up with a series on HBO or Showtime, where his kind of work really belongs.
He is not alone in wanting to make television shows or films of high quality. I imagine most people involved in making these shows want to produce the best that they can ...

I don't see that particular comment as elitist (though it could be read that way).

To me it's not talking about quality so much as about our relationship to his stuff, seems like he's saying he wants people to feel strongly about his shows i.e. that emotional hits are maybe the most important part of his writing. And I think that's borne out by a) how many there are and how strongly many of us feel them and b) his sometimes slightly "fast and loose" approach to continuity and plot details (i.e. the non-emotional bits).

Other ME peeps have (roughly) said often that Joss would always ask them "What's X's [usually Buffy's] emotional journey in this episode/act/scene, where are the moments ?" and when you connect with people on an emotional level they're bound to become more attached to your work. But it takes time to build that connection (and arguably a type of viewer willing to invest emotionally in a TV show), so you'll probably snag fewer people.

It is sad that the author of the article seems to think Joss is arrogant (the "joss is his own biggest fan" remark) ...

That wasn't Matt Roush (the closest this has to an article author), that was whoever sent the letter in.
I don't know if I'll love, like, dislike, or hate the show, but I do know that I can't hate a show for its title. Although there are certain reality series which I have avoided for just for their titles.

Anyways, stop picking on a show which isn't even on right now.
I've never got the "I love myself" vibe from any of Joss's commentaries. There are many, many "I love my writers/actors/crew" comments though. Joss is very quick to give credit to others and take the blame for (rare) mistakes himself.
Maybe being British I see any "I'm so great" comments as self depreciating humour, as I'm sure they are meant to be.
Oh to think we'll have entries like this for the next three and a half months.
Can we not and just say we did ?
This may seem cryptic but time forces a short response...

Dollhouse will absolutely go a full season, no question about it. Read "The Long Tail" by Chris Anderson (which I'm only 100 pgs into; maybe the wheels fall off my understanding later) to understand the network knows as long as Dollhouse is even half good, it'll have a large "long tail" - just like Firefly - and they'll make money. But with Joss they also have a toss at classic "hit" economics that has driven them for the last 50 years.

...cryptic. And boring to read. Summation: Dollhouse won't be canceled.
Summation: Dollhouse won't be canceled.


Fox aren't going to keep a show on the air if the ratings are poor.
I don't see that particular comment as elitist (though it could be read that way).


I was not intending to suggest that the remark was elitist, just that its usage can have the unfortuante side-effect of suggesting elitism or arrogance - as if Joss Whedon is the only person working in television (or film) who is trying to create high quality work.

I am trying to see how perceptions might become distorted - not everyone is intimately familiar with his way of communicating and his sense of humour. Plus, of course, it seems to be a rule now to always search for the negative.
aimstomisbehave's comment (and nobody get me wrong here -- I'm playing the ball, not the man) is a sterling example of what I would argue is the single biggest problem with our fandom. We, and I include myself in that statement, have got to stop sounding like this. Not all of us do, and most of us don't for a significant portion of the time, but I think it's become associated with us. I often wonder if Buffy would have grown into a cult phenomenon if we Whedonistas (whe Whedonistas?) had been around during those crucial first couple of seasons to deride those who "didn't get it."

It's a sad conclusion I've come to, but...well, let's call it a theory, that is mine and that belongs to me. (It formerly belonged to Anne Elk, Mrs, but I bashed her over her Cleese-shaped head and stole it.) Most people watch television for disposable entertainment. They may have shows they prefer, but it's a loose preference...their current favorite is the perenially popular show "Whatever's On." So they don't have to worry too much about a show they like going off the air, because it'll be replaced in the fall by another show that they probably won't mind. We don't watch TV like that. For us, even humdrum episodes are events requiring gatherings, hiatuses (hiati?) are signals to go out and buy 50 of some obscure item to send in and show your passion, and cancellation means never having to say you're sorry about hiring a PI to get the private home number of the head of some network so you and your friends can mount a campaign of annoying crank calls. That's...not...how most people do it...

Let's transplant this to another context. Suppose your work-friend (we'll call him Dudley Manlove) doesn't go to lunch with most of the office drones every day, but instead frequents a little bistro called Jose Gianlucci's Fine Spicy ItaliMexican CajuVegiMerican Buffet, Bar & Grill. So one day you decide to ask him why he doesn't come out with the rest of you.

YOU: Hey, Dudley, come to Mike's Diner today. Why do you always go to Gianlucci's?
DUDLEY: Because all you of Earth are idiots!
YOU: Umm, I don't think we're idiots exactly...
DUDLEY: How can any race be so stupid?
YOU: Okay. Never mind. Sorry I asked. We're gonna go now.
DUDLEY: You see? You see? Your stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!

And then when Gianlucci's closes for lack of business, Dudley and those like him blame the unwashed masses. ("It's dead! Murdered! And somebody's responsible!") In sum, I wonder if we shouldn't just back off a bit and let the people of America come to their own conclusions. (And while I've been drafting this manifesto, I see that alien lanes has left a comment that I heartily endorse. The more we talk about the "rather x people love a show than 10x people like it," the more we separate ourselves from the people who could grow our audience, and the more upset we get when our darlings die. Let's try something different.)
Well, I find some truth in this article. Like it or not. People that love random viewing, talking and working while watching TV, will likely never get any of joss work. And unfortunately they are no minority. Taking my wife as an example (who, although highly educated, doesn't like to invest to much energy into watching tv) as a role model, I claim that joss will never be able to deliver something to her liking.
Snugels | September 29, 12:49 CET

Had to comment on this. My sister and a close cousin fall into this category and it just drives me insane. They are both smart and insightful and if they didn't have the attention span of a blueberry scone and could overcome a basic prejudice against genre, I feel certain that both would love Joss's work. But the ability to invest time, attention and emotion into something that unfolds and evolves and has glorious subtext, just isn't there.
Although they both adored Six Feet Under and Carnivale,and .... most frustrating of all, my sister the "I just don't like SciFi" person, liked both Firefly and Serenity (which her ex husband practically tied her down to get her to watch). But if I mention Buffy, I still get the eye rolling. So go figure.

So my other close cousin (a fellow Joss fan) and I, get together and watch the things she can't watch at home because of who she lives with (the first-mentioned cousin). Battlestar Galactia and Torchwood, even Terminator:TSCC is impossible for her to watch at at home and hope to not be interrupted with conversation and pointed questions about why she's watching such junk, (because it's "SciFi"). We also do the occasional DVD marathon of one of Joss's shows, when we can find time.

I would seriously like to tie up and gag my sister and #1 cousin and subject them to so much Buffy that they would fall in love with the rich, complex characters and the witty dialog and the beautifully layered ambiguity of it all.
Kinda like Clockwork Orange, only good instead of evil (and minus the awful eye thingies) :)
Well, frustration vented. ;-)
Can we not and just say we did ?


Only if we if we sign up to the principle of "Other people don't have to like what we like".
I think it's very unlikely for it to be canceled during it's first season, though. The way FOX is pushing it, they are going to keep it around for the full season, unless it's ratings are absolutely awful.

That said, I'm quite confident that the show will last well beyond that. The premise is his most accessible yet, the title isn't off-putting, and the show (based on the leaked "pilot" script) is just as intriguing and involving as any of his others.
As usual, Roush is spot-on. Thank G'd for Ausiello and him as the voices of intelligence and reason in a vast wasteland of both unnecessary panic and inflated adulation where this show- and Joss, much as I like him and his work- are concerned.
The premise is his most accessible yet


For me it's the opposite. I think the premise is somewhat complicated and going to be a very hard sell but Fox will do their best to push it. I read a blog entry elsewhere which challenged people to sum up Dollhouse in two short sentences and there wasn't many people who could.
Joss achilles' heel is naming stuff. In my opinion his names are strange and off-putting.

The Buffy one is obvious. Angel, on at the same time as Touched by an Angel, sounded like a very different kind of show than what it was.
Firefly didn't remotely sound like a Sci fi show, it sounded like a folksy, woodsy, outdoorsy kind of show.
Serenity sounded like an adult diaper commercial, or a movie about Alcoholics Anonymous. Seriously, when the staff at Universal Studios was trying to help me find out when that special event before the movie was, we just got info about adult diapers on the computer.
Dollhouse sounds either Hefneresque as others have said, or like a spin off of America's Next Top Model.

He'd be better off with more generic names.
Buffy could have just been "The Vampire Slayer"
Dollhouse could be "The House"
Angel could have been "Vampire" or "Los Angeles Vampire" or something generic that would be less misleading. It's not that the titles don't give you information, they give you the wrong information.

JOss' shows are brilliant, but I accept that he could name things better. What would be the harm?
I thought Tuesday was Dollhouse Panic Day.
I think Joss did a fabulous job in naming "Buffy" and "Angel". Wouldn't want the shows called anything else myself.


Word Aimstomisbehave!
I was not intending to suggest that the remark was elitist, just that its usage can have the unfortuante side-effect of suggesting elitism or arrogance ...

Yeah I get that alien lanes, your comment afterwards

"It's fodder for the detractors who point to Whedon's supposed arrogance. "

made it clear you didn't count yourself among that number (i'm assuming being on here means you're not a detractor ;). Sorry if it seemed like I was implying you were.

(could probably have missed off that sentence, it was just a preamble into why I don't think it should be read as elitist by the world at large)

In sum, I wonder if we shouldn't just back off a bit and let the people of America come to their own conclusions.

Well we don't have much choice there surely (we foreign Johnys especially ;) ? If a mainstream audience don't like it it'll get cancelled and there's not much we can do about that.

Re: the masses are idiots, well, that's clearly not gonna win any friends though it'll most definitely influence people. I think it stems from a natural reaction you see a fair bit in our fandom in that we love Whedon works so much that they must just be objectively better and so if you don't like them there's something wrong with you. It's basically a form of "argument from incredulity", like, "It's so good, how can you not like it ? What's up with you ?". And a lot of folk aren't happy with the idea that like/dislike is just a matter of opinion, they're happier with external vindication of their shows, some authority to tell them "It's OK that you like this show that a lot of people don't".

Only if we if we sign up to the principle of "Other people don't have to like what we like".

Well that'll never take off ;).
I'm going to have to disagree with you, Xane. I think it's evident that Joss puts a lot of thought into his names, and that all of them fit their respective shows very well. I admit that none of them really grab your interest, but honestly, what title does? The titles of Joss's shows do a great job of capturing the tone of the series they represent.

In response to Simon: You are right that the premise of Dollhouse isn't entirely simple, all I meant was that it has strong mainstream appeal. If someone were to hear about a show where "people enlist the services of a secretive company to fulfill needs/fantasies through the use of programmable humans", without getting to specific with details, they would likely be pretty interested. The basic premise of Dollhouse seems likely to appeal to viewers in the same way Alias, Lost and Heroes did, although maybe not to such a high degree as those.

I don't know, that's just what I think. Maybe I'm just trying to be optimistic.
Maybe the panic meter wouldn't be tripped if different titles were chosen for the articles posted too.

I haven't read most of the comments yet. (Allergy eyes.) But I have to say that I appreciate Matt Rousch more and more each day.

ETA: I think the name fits perfectly with the idea of the show.

[ edited by NYPinTA on 2008-09-29 15:45 ]
Bottom line: Joss is less likely to sell-out than any other writer-producer, and even if we only get the 13-22 episodes of Dollhouse, like with Firefly, they'll be pretty awesome.

That said, I really want a good 100 episodes+ of a show that I can predict I'll really like.
The beauty of Joss works starts with the name, the title of each project, which by themselves are already very complex.

Buffy, the Vampire Slayer is a 6-8 part statement, that sums up everything about the show, and the mish-mesh of styles that it is. A generic title would just seem pointless.

The same complexity can also be found in the one-worded titles, like Firefly (a certain scene from "Bushwacked", it's quite evocative into the matter), and Angel, as title and duality, comes even from the BtVS episode titled as such.

And I believe the same applies to Dollhouse.

The sad part is the average viewer don't get it, why watch Dollhouse, when a show like Ghost Whisperer or CSI or Law & Order or ER is so much easier to get.
"I'm going to have to disagree with you, Xane. I think it's evident that Joss puts a lot of thought into his names, and that all of them fit their respective shows very well. I admit that none of them really grab your interest, but honestly, what title does? The titles of Joss's shows do a great job of capturing the tone of the series they represent."

But see it isn't about capturing the tone of the series. I absolutely agree that they do that. It's about getting people to watch.
Think of Alias, Heroes, Lost. Those three titles tell you nothing really about the series, set no kind of tone, don't really mean anything. But they don't give anyone the wrong idea either. What if Heroes was called Human Evolution, or Lost was called Island Mysteries. They tell you more about the shows, but they also can be misinterpreted by the general audience.
Buffy is a brilliant, brilliant show. I recently got five twenty-year-old guys totally sucked in and addicted. They are getting together to watch several episodes a night and are up to Season Four. The name put them off.
Xane, I understand what you mean, but I think the only title that could give someone the "wrong" idea, is Firefly.

Numfar PTB did a much better job than me of explaining why Joss's titles are great.
Bottom line: Joss is less likely to sell-out than any other writer-produce...


I am not attempting to start an argument, or even play devils’ advocate, or whatever, but why?

Are we saying that the likes of Bryan Fuller, Aaron Sorkin, Barbara Black, Glen Gordon Caron, Marti Noxon, or whoever we each happen to have an individual interest in, are a bunch of sell-outs, or just waiting for the chance to sell-out in pursuit of success?

I cannot buy that. I honestly believe Joss Whedon is fully aware of the reality of the business he is in – and quite capable of dealing as the need arises.
I think the basic premise of Dollhouse is fairly straightforward and accessible: it's about an organization that wipes clean and reprograms the identities of people ("dolls") and hires them out to other people. That's not too complicated for the average viewer to understand.

As for the title, I think it strikes a pretty good balance of evocative and descriptive. Sure there are more descriptive titles out there ("Boston Legal" or "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" or "Desperate Housewives" spring to mind), but there are a lot of opaque ones, or ones that don't really tell you anything about the show ("House" or "Lost" or "Fringe"). "Dollhouse" seems like a nice compromise.
Controversy! Yay!

I see your point, BAFler. It's just that the word "elitist" gets tossed around a lot, and I think of being elite as a good thing. Smart shows, shows that are actually hard to watch, don't do well. Joss's stuff isn't even the best example of this ("The Wire" probably is). It isn't just tv, it's everything; Gene Wolfe has never won a Hugo; how many people knew about the Velvet Underground when they were still around? I could go on.

I can't speak for the rest of the fandom (duh), so I'd be horrified if a non-fan took my comments as representative. Most Joss Whedon fans are nicer and smarter than me. But it sure looks to me like Joss's stuff hasn't done well ratings-wise because most television viewers don't get it, don't want to take the time, want simpler stories and characters and answers. Which does sound arrogant. But I think it's true.

And I do love me some argument from incredulity. Which, I'd point out, has a grand history. Blood-spattered, yes, but grand. The problem is that very few people will engage on why they don't like something. And I do think that there's a place for "you're just wrong" (dare I say "Because it's WRONG"?). Fandom probably isn't that place. But I do have a sneaking, probably irrational conviction that there are objective aesthetic standards by which all art should be considered. No, I can't back that up. Nonetheless. Grand history, remember?
I think there is a certain degree of Schaudenfreude involved in the negative comments we have seen. Joss has a great deal of cultural cred, and for all that has also had shows fail, notab;ley firefly. So I think some people, as is so common in our culture, look to see someone up high get brought down. Imean, whedonesque gets lots of call-outs, for example, and this is a way for others to cast doubt on Joss and on his supporters. But then a comment such as shey's that well granted, your "average" TV fan is not going to get that, and those of us who do get it, are most likely fans of joss's work already. can also be seen as a kind of arrogance on our part- hey, we get it, but hey, you don't, does not help either. I think it is a given that each director, creator, producer is sincerely trying to do the best they can, and put on a quality show that makes money and is successful; that they sometimes do not is an indication that (1) they are human, (2) people's tastes change, (3) the zeitgeist changes, or (4) they just did not develop the right show this time.

(PS. I bought the first Velvet Underground record just 2 weeks after it was first released- and that was way back in the 1960's... and I still have the LP today).

[ edited by Dana5140 on 2008-09-29 16:28 ]
Saje, I agree with your assessment re: the masses are idiots, but I think there's an added element making us "worse" than other fandoms. Just taking the parts of fandom I know and in no way using actual statistics ;), I think our fandom has a fairly high degree of well-educated, intelligent people who may be used to being misunderstood and "knowing better" than others. What's more, I think quite a few of us are either used to critiquing works of fiction, professionally or as a hobby, or we get educated in the art of critique in some shape or form when we enter the fandom. (I know being a whedon fan and being in contact with other whedon fans has greatly helped me in writing movie reviews later on. Many of the techniques on what makes up good fiction, and certainly a much bigger understanding of what makes fiction "tick", so to speak, come from this fandom).

I've never been very active in other fandoms and have just navigated the fringes of a few others from time to time, but on the whole, critical and in-depth analasys of Joss' works (and a few others) seem an integral part of this fandom. Of course, we also have the character studies, personal likes/dislikes (including various 'shipper groups), and story speculation that are a major part of every fandom, but in my personal experience the accent is laid slightly differently here than it is elsewhere. (This - by the way - might not go for all fandoms. Sometimes I wonder if there are fandoms out there similar to ours in make up and "vibe". The closest one I've ever found was the - generally slightly younger - 'His Dark Materials' fandom and I suspect a similar build-up and attitude in current BSG fandom, for instance, though I've never experienced that fandom from the inside, as I'm just a casual watcher of that show)

Most of us like Joss' works for a number of personal elements, just like any other fan of anything, but apart from what attracts us in the first place, most of us also feel that his shows are "objectively" good, as far as it is possible to make such an assessment. Maybe we - as a group, not singling out any individual - are more "elitist" because of that. But that doesn't mean we're wrong.

I'm also part of a "general" music fandom that listens to obscure, melancholy, mostly male, singer/songwriters. As a group I'm pretty sure we're elitist. We're big old music snobs, just like us whedon fans might just be television snobs. But there's nothing fundamentally wrong with being elitist or a snob. It just means that what we really like in that particular fandom, we also think is really good (and that - as a fandom - we're more critical about the object(s) of our affection than usual). This, of course, is just a random coincidence. There are shows I love that I don't think are particularly good in the same way I think Buffy/Angel/Firefly are (hello there, Stargate ;)) or shows I think are good, but I don't particularly love (hey Farscape, nice of you to pop up in this discussion ;)).

So, getting back to our Whedon fandom: I think the fact that other people might not like Buffy, Angel or Firefly, is no problem to most of us (some people like some elements in their shows, others like different things), although we - as a group - do tend to have evangelical-like tendencies in trying to get people who have pre-judged the show to give it a fair try. But the fact that other people feel our favorite shows are examples of bad television, is what gets us riled up and is usually cause for a debate in any part of this fandom.

So is that bad? Nah, not necessarily, and it's something I'd like to add to the observations BAFfler made upthread. There's nothing wrong with a bit of elitism when it comes to art, or given the example given in BAFfler's post, food. There is with being an ass about it, like fictional 'DUDLEY' there, which I think is an unrepresentative example of the way Whedon fans operate (some exceptions to the rule, of course, exist) even when I ignore the completely different set of circumstances - like the social group coherence that's at work in a group of co-workers that is not present in the 'television audience' at large and the fact that watching a "good" television show is not mutually exclusive with also watching some enjoyable fluff with - let's say - one's friends or coworkers ;). Again there's nothing wrong with being slightly "elitist" as a fandom or even with sounding slightly elitist. Seperating between quality television and fluff, or recognising and liking good food, are all fine. Opinions on what seperates good and bad may differ and they'd be cause for a nice discussion, but thinking about fiction in more ways than just WYSIWYG is not a bad thing. And when you really like some of that fiction which you feel is very good, there's bound to be an element or air of elitism in the fandom. Again, all fine with me. On the other hand: I, myself, am not a food-snob, although I certainly like to cook, but my tastes in food are nothing if not mainstream. And there's nothing wrong with that either. And if someone told me that I was eating the wrong foods and would probably enjoy a meal prepared with more thought and care for ingrediënts, I'd probably give it a try to see if I liked it, but I would still also enjoy my regular diet.

So in closing: liking and recognising quality is not something to be ashamed of. Any resulting 'we're better than others' attitude, though, is and while there'll always be small elements of that in any fandom, I don't think it is representative for "us" as a whole. There is I think a defensiveness in our fandom - which may be what BAFfler was pointing towards in his post (which, although that may not be clear from what I wrote above, I largely agree with) - which stems from the fact that the mainstream media do not give our favorite shows the credit we think it deserves (just take a look at our frustration over Emmy snubs) and which leads to an overreaction on the subject because - unlike, for instance, the music fandom I'm a part of - we actually do want the relatively 'obscure' shows we love to get mainstream recognition and respect. In that sense, we're not elitist at all, but it may be the root of the problem. In fact, I'd imagine a more accurate 'DUDLEY' - again ignoring the parts where the analogy doesn't work - would probably answer summing up the things that make his restaurant superiour to that of his co-workers and then try to convince them to go with him, maybe only once at first, and give this different lunch environment a fair chance.

ETA: heh, parts of aimstomisbehave and Dana5140's comments have made this longer and less efficient post slightly redundant now ;)

[ edited by GVH on 2008-09-29 16:46 ]
I just can't get anxious/emotionally invested in the Dollhouse threads until November 5th, right now I already have enough to keep me up at night!

However I just want to put in my two cents: I agree, in general, that most people don't pay much attention to TV and prefer light undemanding shows. BUT in the last couple of years we've seen 24, Lost, and Heroes come through as big hits in spite of demanding that the viewer not only pay attention but also not miss any episodes. I think the current landscape of TV shows is one where Dollhouse will fit right in, and the smart, funny and sexy writing should be involving to viewers.
If I were looking in from the outside (which, I must admit, I sometimes I think I am), I could interrupt, wrongly I would hope, some of the comments here to be suggesting that Joss Whedon’s fanbase is intellectually superior to all others. I do not think high standards of education is something reserved for Joss Whedon fans – and, in fact, I could not personally claim to be either well educated or especially intelligent, although maybe that explains why I query the suggestion.

The “Whedon fanbase” is judged by other similar fanbases, not by television viewers in general, who have no idea such things exist, and even less interest. It seems to me to be a competition of the likeminded.
There's nothing wrong with a bit of elitism when it comes to art, or given the example given in BAFfler's post, food. There is with being an ass about it ...

I think there's a difference between enjoying quality on one hand and elitism or snobbery on the other. Snobbery is when you're condescending to people that like what you perceive to be a lower quality product. It is, by definition, "being an ass about it" (and at its worst it often involves pre-judging something on the basis that the "superior intellect" somehow already knows it's going to be rubbish, often because a lot of people like it).

I've covered my issues with the "objective metric" before but suffice it to say, proponents usually struggle to provide one when asked, often saying "I know it when I see it". Well, a better description of subjective opinion i'd struggle to come up with ;).

Above all what bothers me about it is, it amounts to telling people they're wrong (even if only by implication) because they enjoy or are even moved by something that's supposedly of inferior quality. Well, who are any of us to say that ? A genuine response to a work of art is a genuine response, it's not somehow less true or resonant for that individual because the prose isn't stylish (in our opinion) or because the use of light is naive (in our opinion) or because the show doesn't have interwoven subtexts (in our ... you get the idea ;).
Ah, the should've-named-the-show theories that would have brought in more viewers. Here's some "could have beens":

Buffy the Vampire Slayer --> Sulky Sexy Slayer Chick
Angel --> Hot Vampire P.I.
Firefly --> Watch This!

As for Dollhouse, how 'bout this title:

"Reprogrammable Fantasy Hotties"

That ought to reel in the unwashed masses and kick up the ratings! Of course after watching the show folks will notice it has brains... and some viewers will be lost when they find they need to pay attention, and think(!). But do the math: 'Big Initial Flood of the Curious' minus 'have to think factor' equals 'still a lot of people'.

It... could... work!
11thHour makes me laugh.
My login isn't working to get into the Whedon Panic Update Server, so I think I'm one color level behind. Can someone email me the latest patch? Thanks.
As a member of the unwashed masses, I object. We are as capable of thinking as anyone else.
Just wanted to chime in about the naming...

I absolutely love the names Joss gives to his shows. It would be a small tragedy if Buffy wasn't named Buffy. The only naming decision I was unsure about was Serenity, in that it didn't make the Firefly-connection readily apparent, but I suppose that was the point (wanting to get people into the cinema who hadn't seen Firefly).

I applaud Joss' resolve to do what he wants to do. He has shown he's prepared to make sacrifices for the sake of commercialism, but he's also shown that he'll only go so far with that. In the short term not compromising your creative vision will be tough, might mean your show gets cancelled, but in the long term it'll also mean your show gets remembered.

As for the "sum up Dollhouse in two sentences" competition, how about:

Dollhouse: a story about a woman without an identity. Join her as she discovers it, whilst her masters try to take it away.


(let the sci-fi get explained after they've started watching)
Here's a difference between Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Dollhouse:

With Buffy, it was about growing up. It was told via the means of vampires, and demons and such - but that wasn't the point of the show.

Dollhouse is about identity and society, and how we're all expected to be something we're not, and what happens when we fail to do that. The premise is the story.

I won't speculate on how difficult a sell that's gonna be, 'cause I haven't seen much publicity material yet (I doubt they have much) (although I have seen a short FOX TV spot they've done for it).

Fact is, nobody really knows how the public will take to it until the Nielsen's come in. I believe Joss dislikes the knee jerk world we live in, but the reality is that if it starts very poorly, it won't stick. Most TV shows don't. If FOX launch it right - and they can do, see also last years TERMINATOR launch - it'll be fine for a while, by which point it becomes Joss Whedon and co-workers responsibility, not FOX's.

There's no reason for us, as fans, to care about any of this. It's all outside of our control. But we shall. Because we're fans.
Saje, certainly by that definition of 'snob' or 'elitist' (i.e.: "being an ass about it"), I would agree that it would be wrong to be one. But what, then, would you call people who - like I do - think that the television they love (like Buffy/Angel/Firefly) are - in fact - in the highest category, quality wise, or who feel the music they like is 'better' than a lot of mainstream music, or who prefer quality food with fresh ingredients to your avarage fare, etcetera. In my mind, these people would be 'elitist' (and I'd jokingly call them or myself 'snobs'), but they would not necessarily be an ass about it and judge what other people like. Unless these other people love Charmed, then they're more than justified in their mockery ;).

Anyway: I'd agree that there is no objective metric to objectifying fiction, but (like I've also said before when this particular subject came up :)) there is, I feel, an as-objective-as-possible approach to an inherently subjective subject and there are objective things one can say about fiction. In general, I'd say television is better if it is more layered, if it has more complex characters who have more complex motivations for the actions they take, if it is emotionally real, if substories resonate with the main story around a single theme, if it is original or uses clichés in interesting ways, if the acting is above cut, and if it has intelligent dialogue (and I could probably think of a few more).

Obviously, there's no a priori reason why these things would be 'better' than - let's say an 'WYSIWYG'-plot, stilted dialogue or charicatural characters. In fact, there may be instances where clichéd charicatures work better than everything else, so when judging parts, we should also always look at a whole. But I'm quite sure that we are able to state that, let's say, Shakespeare, Hemmingway or Dickens write better fiction than your avarage pulp novelist, even if you prefer the latter because of personal preferences.

So, what constitutes the quality of fiction? There is certainly no defining checklist we can run through, even though there are things that are 'generally', by concensus, considered as elements of good fiction (like the things I've mentioned above). All we can do is look at the whole and make a subjective judgement call, so all these assumptions and conclusions are open to debate and in the end, cultural impact and timeless appeal make certain things cultural 'canon' which places their worth as art almost beyond debate (like Shakespeare is today), but even that is not objective.

But I'd say we don't have to strive to be completely objective, as it's an unatainable goal in art appreciation. We can, like I said, strive towards as-objective-as-possible. I know objective/subjective is a dichotomy in theory, but there's also a continuous sliding scale there, I think, which is what makes this a difficult subject. So in the end, we're basing the whole thing on subjective concensus and assumptions, but the end result is something that does have worth and tells us something about the more-or-less objective quality of the work of fiction.

If I were looking in from the outside (which, I must admit, I sometimes I think I am), I could interrupt, wrongly I would hope, some of the comments here to be suggesting that Joss Whedon’s fanbase is intellectually superior to all others. I do not think high standards of education is something reserved for Joss Whedon fans – and, in fact, I could not personally claim to be either well educated or especially intelligent, although maybe that explains why I query the suggestion.


Well, alien lanes, I do have the feeling that we have more intelligent/well-educated people here. But then again, point-in-fact, you also come across as better-educated and more intelligent than avarage just by the way you write, but if you're not as you say, I might be wrong on all counts ;). Again, I don't know if this is different in other fandoms, but that is the sense I get from this one, possibly explaining why we - as a group - may have a tendency to analyse our fiction more than is usual. But this is based on a whole lot of assumptions on my part and not much in the way of actual facts or statistics and I'm kind of regretting I mentioned it right now, because it's impossible for me to back it up with anything else than "that's the impression I get", so... Can. Open. Worms, all over.
Let's have realistic expectations about the marketing for Dollhouse. TSCC got the media it did and the launch it did partly because Fox didn't have 24 to spend money on. This year I am guessing that a substantial amount of Fox's marketing budget will be spent on re-launching that HUGE property for Fox that will have been off the air for nearly two years.
Saje, certainly by that definition of 'snob' or 'elitist' (i.e.: "being an ass about it"), I would agree that it would be wrong to be one.

Well, that definition is the definition:
snob (snŏb) Pronunciation Key
n.

1. One who tends to patronize, rebuff, or ignore people regarded as social inferiors and imitate, admire, or seek association with people regarded as social superiors.
2. One who affects an offensive air of self-satisfied superiority in matters of taste or intellect.

so I guess that's just what a snob is GVH - albeit, as with all definitions, only by consensus (elitist is less loaded, i'll admit - sometimes I do want people to be in an elite, it's not always a bad thing). They seem exclusive basically, they seem to be saying "I know with certainty and you don't" and since i've never known anyone that wasn't wrong about something (very often the people that seem most certain too ;) I find that fairly hard to accept.

But what, then, would you call people who - like I do - think that the television they love (like Buffy/Angel/Firefly) are - in fact - in the highest category.

I wouldn't call them anything, i'd just ask them to prove it ;).

In general, I'd say television is better if it is more layered, if it has more complex characters who have more complex motivations for the actions they take, if it is emotionally real, if substories resonate with the main story around a single theme, if it is original or uses clichés in interesting ways, if the acting is above cut, and if it has intelligent dialogue (and I could probably think of a few more).

I personally agree in general. But that totally depends on what you want from TV. Many, maybe even most, people just want something to relax in front of after a hard day at work. They want to "veg out". For them your description of a show wouldn't be "better", it'd be less effective for their purposes. You're effectively saying to them "You're not using it right, here let me tell you what TV is really for".
Just my thoughts on the "quality of fiction" argument above... I've always viewed art, in whatever medium (TV/literature/music) can be judged in two independent ways.

Either you enjoy it, or you don't -- that's very much a personal matter, depending on your taste and your own experiences.

Either it's good or it's not -- that is an absolute. Just how good or bad something is, is of course arguable, as are its relative merits when compared to other works. But I think it's pretty clear if something's good or not.

I suppose I'm just reiterating the subjectivity vs. objectivity argument here, but that's just how I see things anyway. Hence I can very much enjoy things I know aren't particularly good, and I can also dislike things I know are absolutely wonderful technically or artistically. They're just separate issues, and this is where the so-called "elitism" comes in. I think that elitists, or a superior audience, are people who can recognise that whether or not they personally enjoy something is a separate matter to whether or not something's good, whereas a common audience includes people who would label something as bad just because they don't like it themselves.
GVH, I don’t doubt for one moment or intend to dispute that the people posting at Whedonesque, or Joss Whedon fans in general, are intelligent and/or well educated. Quite clearly, they are. I just don’t think it is something peculiar to his fanbase – or that it is necessary to be possessed of a sort of intellectual superiority as a pre-requisite to be able to enjoy and appreciate his work.

I also don’t think it is absolutely necessary to be able to dissect his work or want to do that to be able to enjoy it. As I see it, his work can be appreciated in that microscopic detail, but can also simply be enjoyed as high quality entertainment.
Fact is, nobody really knows how the public will take to it until the Nielsen's come in.


Won't ratings be down across the board cause of the digital switchover?
I think there's some confusion between elite (high-quality) with elitist (snob).

And I completely agree with this:
his work can be appreciated in that microscopic detail, but can also simply be enjoyed as high quality entertainment

That's the great thing about Joss. All the fun of guilty pleasure without any of the guilt.

Of course, it sounds like Saje is saying we don't have to feel guilty about any of our TV viewing pleasures. But I'm not sure I'm well-adjusted enough for that. :)
Or maybe, Saje they are just saying, "Sure, it's good background noise, but if you'll just pay a little more attention for a moment or two to get started, tv can offer a whole lot more. You can really lose yourself in something special. Don't miss out on (Buffy, Angel, whatever)."
Simon - yep. The switchover, BitTorrent (which took 1 million downloads for Heroes in 24 hours, which is a record which skipped everybody by) (Heroes also posted record low Nielsen numbers), legal download services, the continued proliferation of cable and the writers strike effect will dent numbers across the board.
oops

[ edited by catherine on 2008-09-29 19:31 ]
I don't think I have the energy or the smarts to get into a discussion re. the objective value of art, but if I accept the distinction MattK makes above (and I'm inclined to), I would say Buffy, for example, falls into the first category rather than the second. It's my favorite show ever, I love it passionately, and it does certain things supremely well: mainly wonderful and deeply lovable characters, wit / humor, and the emotional hook. But then there is the often-sloppy plotting and the sometimes maudlin, painful cheesiness. While I love it far more than, say, The Sopranos, I don't think it's as flawlessly, brilliantly crafted in every respect as that show. I'd say The Sopranos is A Better Show, I just don't love it as much.

And having said that, I really don't think Joss's shows are for everybody. I've recommended them to friends who share my tastes, but there are people I would never encourage to watch them, (ie. my parents) because I know that while they might find it occasionally amusing, they'd mostly think it lame and wouldn't be into the characters or the story-lines, and that's fine. Taste is just taste. Some people just want to veg in front of something mindless. Some people would find Buffy trite and shallow. I think it's almost certainly a mistake to think we're a particularly clever bunch just because we like Joss Whedon.

Or, also, "what Saje said." Cuz nobody's done that today yet, have they?

To me, Dollhouse sounds like Joss's first real potential mainstream hit, but we'll see, won't we?
Many, maybe even most, people just want something to relax in front of after a hard day at work. They want to "veg out". For them your description of a show wouldn't be "better", it'd be less effective for their purposes. You're effectively saying to them "You're not using it right, here let me tell you what TV is really for".


No, what I'm saying is what is a better show, artistically. That this is not the same as "a show everyone should want to watch", is pretty much a given, since people's goals for watching television differ wildly, as you justly state Saje :). Certainly I myself - like I mentioned upthread - don't like every good show and like more than a few shows I would not necessarily think of as "objectively" good. Like MattK says, enjoyment and quality are not the same thing. And while it's difficult to define quality in measurable, objective terms, we can certainly try to do it as objectively as possible and in practice, that quite often works. The really good and really bad works of fiction often have almost completely favorable or unfavorable reviews. Everything in between is usually more difficult, but some form of concensus mostly does end up evolving.

alien lanes: I'm not saying that it's not possible to enjoy Joss' work without dissecting it. In fact, that's what most of us do in the first place: simply enjoy television. The analysis, for the most part, comes afterwards. I also wasn't saying that everyone in the fandom even wants to dissect it, but I do think that our fandom has a bigger number of people interested in doing that than usual, it defines "us" more than other fandoms. But this may be a conclusion I draw because in the last few years I've mostly frequented whedonesque, and we're probably not representative of this fandom as a whole and I also have only very limited experience in other fandoms, so my conclusion is open to massive debate :).
I want pictures, trailers and photoshoots, not this crap. Talk about serious stuff. (I am not talking about Whedonesque, of course.)
Simon, the switch to all digital TV happens in the middle of February. We should have at least 4 weeks of Dollhouse before that happens. I'm not sure the demo that Fox wants will be impacted much by the drop.
Okay, I love this French progressive rock band Magma. I have listened to them for close to 40 years, have read everything there is to read about them, interviewed the leader back in 1988 and published an article about them, and know pretty much all there is to know about them. I love the complexity of the music ie, http://www.dailymotion.com/related/x1icu8_magma-kohntarkosz_music/video/x2bxah_magma-kohntarkosz-final_music?from=rss), the fact the leader, Christian Vander, writes in a language he made up, is an astonishing drummer, etc. This band is great, and I can find people on message boards who agree with me, like on progressiveears.com. But I know there is no one here on whedonesque who knows about them at all, no one who, if they did, really likes them, etc. I can talk intelligently about the band, their creation of a new genre of music called Zeuhl, etc. But here is the thing. They are great. But so what? I can try to argue I am more knowledgable than you are about them, as if that somehow gives them greater credence. So what if Buffy is great? What does that mean, really? Who defines what is great? Mattk said
Either it's good or it's not -- that is an absolute. Just how good or bad something is, is of course arguable, as are its relative merits when compared to other works. But I think it's pretty clear if something's good or not.
And I wonder, how do we know that it is good or not? I know people who think Buffy is terrible, including a couple of my kids. What absolute exists that we are using here to judge "goodness?" I know most of you would not find Magma "good." Not a band that sings in a mde up language, with heavy rhythm and percussion, and long compositions that combine Stravinsky with Coltrane and Mahavishnu, mutated into an otherworldly cacophany. So where is this absolute that exists outside "relative merits." Which seems contradictory...

[ edited by Dana5140 on 2008-09-29 20:06 ]
Are we doing this yet again? People, please calm down and allow it to happen first. Please.
But I know there is no one here on whedonesque who knows about them at all, no one who, if they did, really likes them, etc.

Why do you assume that?
I'm not sure the demo that Fox wants will be impacted much by the drop.


The switchover interests me and I'm trying to find out more about how the networks/advertisers are going to cope. Especially in this economic climate.
It's funny because when I listen to Joss' DVD commentaries, I always think he's too hard on himself. His remarks about shooting the party badly in the first episode of Angel, how Spikes transformation never really worked in OMWF, and when he mentions that it was season four of Buffy when they went off track (think that was the season wrap-up and not a commentary) all come to mind. I always felt that Joss was his biggest critic. He might ham it up in a few interviews, but it's always obvious (at least to me) that that's what he's doing.

As for Dollhouse, all this "is it going to be canceled. Is it going to be over peoples heads? Is Fox going to frak with it? Could it have a better name?" Is really starting to fatigue me.

As a someone who has come late to the Whedonverse (Dr. Horrible was the first new thing I saw, and I loved it,) I just want to see the damn show, and then make up my mind. This is really starting to remind me of a dog chasing its tail, or a snake eating itself. Three months in not that long to wait!

Yes, I know the Internet runs off rumors and speculation, but come on!

[ edited by EvilElecBlanket on 2008-09-29 20:20 ]
I'm trying to remember what it was like with Firefly. I think the fans at the time were far more concerned with Buffy and Angel than taking notice of Joss' new show that was on the horizon. To be honest I think he was less of a draw for fans back then. Which does beg the question "when did the "Joss" fandom come into play?" I think it began in earnest after Firefly got cancelled but that's just my own personal opinion.
It is a great mystery, but 60% of all homes have cable and shouldn't be affected.

Here are some findings from a recent Nielsen report:


Some highlights of our findings, as of April 30, 2008, include:
• 9.4% of U.S. households are Completely Unready for
the DTV Transition.
• 12.6% of U.S. households are Partially Unready for
the DTV Transition.
• Daily tuning within a Completely Unready household is 6.9
hours on average. This represents fewer tuning hours than
that of a Completely Ready household, which is 8.7 hours
on average.
• Viewing to Unready Sets currently accounts for 7.5%
of all television usage during the total day.
• Viewing to Unready Sets currently accounts for 8.1% of all
television usage during primetime.
I get ya, EvilElecBlanket but I think some people like chasing their tails or eating themse... no, never mind. Those among us who aren't into it don't need to read the thread, right? Though I guess part of the charm of these threads is the chorus of CALM DOWNs mingling with the EEEKs. Oh Whedonesque!
Saje: "Above all what bothers me about it is, it amounts to telling people they're wrong (even if only by implication) because they enjoy or are even moved by something that's supposedly of inferior quality. Well, who are any of us to say that ? A genuine response to a work of art is a genuine response, it's not somehow less true or resonant for that individual because the prose isn't stylish (in our opinion) or because the use of light is naive (in our opinion) or because the show doesn't have interwoven subtexts (in our ... you get the idea ;)."

Saje, a) I do agree with this and b) you sound just like this guy:

"Listen, junior. And learn. Want to know what the theater is? A flea circus. Also opera. Also rodeos, carnivals, ballets, Indian tribal dances, Punch and Judy, a one-man band - all theater. Wherever there's magic and make-believe and an audience - there's theater. Donald Duck, Ibsen, and the Lone Ranger. Sarah Bernhardt and Poodles Hanneford, Lunt and Fontanne, Betty Grable, Rex the Wild Horse, Eleanora Duse - they're all theater. You don't understand them, you don't like them all - why should you? The theater's for everybody - you included, but not exclusively - so don't approve or disapprove. It may not be your theater, but it's theater for somebody, somewhere..." - BILL SAMPSON, All About Eve, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1952

And moi? I just can't get my knickers all in a twist about this show 'til it airs - that's all. I am all agog - greatly - about seeing it, but all the rest just leaves me unmoved.

However, I do look forward to getting my knickers in a twist about it after it airs - and that's a promise.

(Saje, don't you have a lil' birthday or something right 'bout now?)
You know, I've got to stand by my opinion about this naming thing. I think it's crucial. Buffy is a brilliant show which with a better name might have been a huge hit, with emmys, and numerous spin-offs that actually happened, and a big screen movie.

Gossi describes:
"Dollhouse is about identity and society, and how we're all expected to be something we're not, and what happens when we fail to do that. The premise is the story."
So how about a name like "Identity!"
Says something, but not too much.
Except I suppose people might make a lot of jokes about "Identitties" Hmmmm. Have to rethink that one. ;)
I'm trying to remember what it was like with Firefly. I think the fans at the time were far more concerned with Buffy and Angel than taking notice of Joss' new show that was on the horizon. To be honest I think he was less of a draw for fans back then. Which does beg the question "when did the "Joss" fandom come into play?" I think it began in earnest after Firefly got cancelled but that's just my own personal opinion.


Simon ~ I seem to recall that a significant percentage of Buffy fans actively resented Firefly in the beginning. For those Joss fans who kept up with all the various behind-the-scenes goings on (i.e. most Joss fans), they were aware that Joss became much less "hands on" with Buffy as he ramped up Firefly. Many fans who were unhappy with the plot arcs of Buffy S6 blamed it on Firefly.

Not saying that all fans felt that way (and perhaps I sympathize a bit), but it was happening and may have had an impact on Firefly not getting the full support of Joss fans. Kind of like jealous siblings when dad starts paying more attention to the new kid.

People also theorized that had Firefly begun the next year (after Buffy ended), then Joss fans would have been more open to embracing Firefly.
(Saje, don't you have a lil' birthday or something right 'bout now?)

Uncanny QG - tomorrow in fact, good memory ;).

And yeah, that "All About Eve" quote pretty much sums it up. Come one, come all ;).

No, what I'm saying is what is a better show, artistically.

Yes, but what does "artistically better" mean GVH ? As Dana5140 says, what scale are we measuring the worth of art on ? To claim something's better artistically supposes that you have the precise definition of art (ETA: and that there's only one valid definition, applying to everyone) and that the more closely something conforms, the more artistically successful it is. But what is this benchmark that art (and by extension good art even moreso) must conform to ? Who decides and on what basis ? Show me the working ;).

(but the rest of your post about - as I read it - approaching what you seem to be agreeing are subjective opinions with as much rigour as they'll bear, I basically agree with. All opinions are subjectively valid but they're not all of equal worth to other people. A well justified opinion is clearly, to me, more worthwhile than "Because I just do" would be - even if only to understand more precisely why you disagree with it)

Or maybe, Saje they are just saying, "Sure, it's good background noise, but if you'll just pay a little more attention for a moment or two to get started, tv can offer a whole lot more. You can really lose yourself in something special. Don't miss out on (Buffy, Angel, whatever)."

Fair enough toast but the snobbery comes in when the "veg outs" turn around and say "No thanks, that's not what I want to get out of TV" (maybe they read Chekhov for that sort of thing) and "we" still think they're measurably, objectively wrong (or somehow lesser) to think that.

[ edited by Saje on 2008-09-29 20:56 ]
Dana1540
And I wonder, how do we know that it is good or not? I know people who think Buffy is terrible, including a couple of my kids. What absolute exists that we are using here to judge "goodness?" I know most of you would not find Magma "good." Not a band that sings in a mde up language, with heavy rhythm and percussion, and long compositions that combine Stravinsky with Coltrane and Mahavishnu, mutated into an otherworldly cacophany. So where is this absolute that exists outside "relative merits." Which seems contradictory...


What I was trying to say is that there are things (films, books, whatever) that are definitely good, and ones that are definitely bad. There's a spectrum of quality, with some around the middle, where it's difficult to say either way. But likewise, there are some things (be it Mozart, the Mona Lisa, or whatever) that are undeniably good. How good they are is open to debate -- is Bach better than Mozart? Are they even comparable? But I'd take it as a fact that Mozart is, indeed, "good". Now, whether or not you like Mozart -- I take that to be a completely independent question.

That's the only point I was trying to make, so I hope that clarifies things.

ETA: I suppose I'm just not comfortable with the sort of postmodernist viewpoint that nothing has an intrinsic value. Art, in whatever form, isn't something you can score out of a 100, but that doesn't mean that all opinions are created equally -- some are right, some are wrong (imo*).

*the irony isn't lost on me

[ edited by MattK on 2008-09-29 21:11 ]
I have friends with whom I can discuss Joss Whedon's work. I also have friends who don't like anything he does. I still call them friends. I even have progeny whom I like to think of as extremely intelligent. One likes JW, one doesn't. I love them both. To get to the point: I applaud those fans who understand that what one reads and views is often a matter of taste and not intelligence, and that we are all members of the unwashed masses as far as programmers are concerned. Passions can be interpreted as prejudice and prejudices of fans can turn others off if they seem narrowminded. As exposure is important to gain viewers, I hope that this program is given the exposure it deserves. It's a sure thing that other deserving shows haven't been so lucky.
I think Joss fandom as it currently exists - rabidly talking about production shutdowns, trailers etc - started after Firefly went off the air, and was largely fueled by the build up to Serenity.

I'm looking forward to Dollhouse airing.
I'm trying to remember what it was like with Firefly. I think the fans at the time were far more concerned with Buffy and Angel than taking notice of Joss' new show that was on the horizon. To be honest I think he was less of a draw for fans back then.


I think at the time, they weren't necessarily less diehard now but they were more *Buffy/Angel* fans than *Joss* fans. I agree with 11thHour, during that period, B/A fans were more worried about Joss spreading himself too thin by running 3 shows at the same time.

Also for some of us 'newer' TV fans who became bigger fans of TV shows because of Joss, we hadn't experienced the cancellations of our favorite TV shows as much so there wasn't as much panic and fear about it. I know 'cancellation' didn't even cross my mind when I watched the first couple of episodes of Firefly. Only did the rumblings of a cancellation during the subsequent episodes did I then start to worry. As bad as Firefly's cancellation was, what made me into a bitter, paranoid fan were all the following cancellations of other good Fox shows like Wonderfalls, The Inside, Drive, etc. So I would think my paranoia doesn't necessarily come from being a Whedon fan but just a genre-watching TV fan.
Same here. I actually went online (after a Sci-fi UK weekend marathon) to find out when the second series of 'Firefly' was airing. That was a fun afternoon, I can tell you ;).

(my first really painful experience in that regard was probably 'Farscape' though - before that TV shows had just gone and not come back)

... is Bach better than Mozart? Are they even comparable? But I'd take it as a fact that Mozart is, indeed, "good". Now, whether or not you like Mozart -- I take that to be a completely independent question.

If you have a spectrum then where you draw the line marked "good" is surely arbitrary though, it'll vary for different people. To me MattK your point is the same as "Most people agree that Mozart's music is good". Well, to be blunt, so what ? That's just a lot of subjective opinions that happen to agree with each other, there's still no absolute benchmark the music is being judged against (and if majority opinion is to hold sway then clearly Joss' stuff is crap).

Say there was a book over which opinion was exactly evenly split (I know but gimme some leeway, it's a thought experiment ;). Does that mean that that book actually isn't good or bad, but something in between ? Or does it just mean that 50% of readers think it's good and 50% don't ?

ETA:

ETA: I suppose I'm just not comfortable with the sort of postmodernist viewpoint that nothing has an intrinsic value.

I'm most certainly NOT claiming nothing has intrinsic value, i'm claiming art doesn't. Things that are objective, that can be checked and measured are as they are - it doesn't matter what we think about it, gravity's there for instance. But anyway, what's so special about being intrinsic ? In human affairs it's not the be all end all (there's nothing intrinsic about most laws, they're still a pretty good idea IMO).

[ edited by Saje on 2008-09-29 21:31 ]
my first really painful experience in that regard was probably 'Farscape' though - before that TV shows had just gone and not come back


I can do one better; Good Vs. Evil. Aired for maybe half a season and was promptly dumped by Sci-Fi. As a result, I ended up not watching the first season of Invisible Man in protest (why, exactly, I can't fathom now). Sci-Fi was probably the single force that made me paranoid in regards to getting attached to a TV show.

You know, it's probably just me, but sometimes when I hear about the fandom before Firefly was cancelled, I almost feel like apologizing. Initially, I know I leaned towards the manically obsessive type of fan (I'm better now, really ;).

Regarding Dollhouse, I have noticed that when I see a headline pop up, I'm more inclined to ignore it these days. I am excited and all, but in order to maintain that excitement, I think I have to keep myself from reading ever single post about production and the like. I think I'm of the opinion that if Dollhouse is meant to strike it big, it'll happen. My world will not crumble around me if it doesn't. And whereas once I would've called that high treason, I think it's okay for me (and all of us) to be able to take a step back and relax. And besides, like embers said, I'm not gonna sweat anything until after November 5th (well, that and the various due dates for all my essays this semester ;).
I think MattK is probably right, though of course it's hell to "prove" it and I am certainly not up for the task. If we want to take Mozart as an example, then the fact that a huge number of people are moved by his music is part of what we take as evidence for his being objectively "good" but, as Saje pointed out (happy day-before-your-birthday, BTW!), a bunch of subjective opinions don't simply add up to an objective truth.

But I think we can ask certain questions about a work: Is it easy to produce what he produced? (no) Does it require an incredible level of technical skill? (yes) Is it original? (yes) Is the result widely regarded as beautiful? (yes) Is it technically / emotionally / intellectually complex and multi-faceted? (yes) Has it stood the test of time? (yes)... these just a few off the top of my head, but there are criteria beyond "a lot of people like it" by which we judge artistic merit.

It seems a little too easy to say "well, everything's subjective," when surely we need a way to distinguish between Moby Dick and Harry Potter. I liked Harry Potter better, but that's different from saying that it is better. I think it's an important difference, no? To be able to recognize artistic quality regardless of personal taste? Of course determining artistic merit is different from being able to say that gravity exists, but just because it's less clear-cut (one can't establish an "absolute" answer) doesn't mean it's meaningless.
First, I wish to bid 11thHour a welcome.

Second, the rules have change. Don't you see it?
I see what you mean Saje, we'll just have to disagree here. I do agree with you though that there isn't an absolute benchmark against which art can be compared, I just don't think it needs one. If I'd only ever heard one piece of music in my life, do I really need to hear another to make a judgement on whether or not it's good? I'm not sure. That's my thought experiment contribution to the conversation anyway. :)

I do agree with you in a way, that even if we do accept Mozart most definitely is in the "good" category (and those with contrary opinions are simply wrong), we are still limited within the scope of human experiences, or rather, human physiology (our brains find aesthetic value in certain things, perhaps not for any logical reason).

And I don't think your book thought experiment is actually that far fetched, I'm sure if you looked at a book by either of the USA presidential candidates you'd probably find a pretty even split in opinions.

ETA: And Happy Un-Birthday!
ETA2: And it turns out catherine said what I was trying to say far more elegantly, so I'll just defer to her post instead of arguing further. :)

[ edited by MattK on 2008-09-29 21:58 ]
I am not a radical relativist who believes there are no fixed truths and everything is in the eye of the beholder, though of course I am a major reader response person. But to call Mozart good implies that we have a definition of "good," and that somehow Mozart meets it. And Matt, I don't think there are things that are "definitely good" or bad, as if everyone agrees that they are. There are people who love Pulp Fiction- or Tokyo Story- and those who don't. Some find it good; others bad. That there is a consensus that these are both great films does not make them great films, unless we can agree on what makes a great film. That is harder than you might think. On progressiveears, which I noted above, people cannot even agree on what progressive music is! So, while Mozart is considered great and important, there are people to whom his music is meaningless. In this sense, I cannot see a fixed sense of good or bad applied to art; I think, personally, that Damian Hurst is a bad artist, but hey, he just sold $200 million worth of art.
This does nothing to deter my enthusiasm for Dollhouse. It surprises me that there are Joss fans who are turned off by all of this (largely pointless) speculation and doomsaying; I think the end product will speak for itself, as it always has. This, all of this, has nothing to do with the actual show itself or whether or not it will be good. I'm just as tired of this crap as you all are, but it will in no way affect my opinion of the show itself.

Would I like it to be a big mainstream hit? Certainly. Do I need it to be? Not at all. I've come to accept that, as with many things I like, the works of Joss Whedon will not work for everyone. They require attention and concentration, which, to be honest and to get out of this whole elitist/snob angle, is simply not what many people are willing to give to art, and I can't blame them for it. This world that we live in kind of sucks, and if, after a day of doing battle with the day-to-day humdrums, you want to kick back and watch some 'Til Death (or read some Dan Brown, or listen to some Kid Rock, etc.) before you go to bed, more power to you. That's not what I want, though, and I'll take it wherever I can get it.

Is it my own subjective opinion that the works I've mentioned above are bad? Yes. Do I wish that they would stop making those things and that people would give it up for quality instead? Hell yes. But my own definition of "quality" is not the same as others.

As for whether or not we can determine whether or not something is absolutely "good" or "bad," I don't think we can. I do not like A Clockwork Orange at all (the film, that is, haven't read the book), and even though many consider it high art, I still think it's bad. A waste of both time and thoughts. On the other hand, Citizen Kane is a great film, one of my favorites, and while I can't argue with the fact that it is a better technical achievement than Serenity, Serenity moves me more. I think it's the better overall piece of work simply because I like it better, even if it isn't revolutionary like Citizen Kane. So while I want to say that there is no objectivity in art, that's not exactly true either. It's more like a complicated middle ground.

To discuss the actual letter that started all of this, it is ridiculous to say that Joss is arrogant. Maybe you think his shows are arrogant and pretentious (which I wholly disagree with, but again, subjective), but he as a person comes across as very far from being an egotist. (Okay, the "I'll give them what they need instead of what they want" comment probably crosses the line. But everybody says something self-aggrandizing at some point, especially artists. John Lennon, "We're bigger than Jesus," anyone?)

But what baffles me the most is that someone who is obviously familiar with Joss and his work would expect Dollhouse to be exploitative. I've even seen comments here that say the show sounds "icky" and that the premise totally turns them off, as if Joss would make a show about willing sex slaves. To me, it sounds disturbing and complex, with potential layers of social commentary. It kind of boggles my mind that some fans would expect otherwise.

On another note, Xane, I'd rather have it called Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is a brilliant title once you realize exactly what it means, than something generic like Vampires or The Slayer. Naming a show is important, and I'm glad Joss doesn't think of it as a marketing manuever. (At least he's not calling Dollhouse something like Incredible House of Dolls with False Personae, Mirroring and Parallelling Our Society As We Live It Today.)

Oh, and Firefly was indeed my first brush with TV-related pain. I had been a Joss fan for about a year before it aired, but when it started, I was still working through Buffy in repeats (and, eek, wouldn't finish Angel until shortly beefore Serenity's release), and as such wasn't involved as actively in that aspect of the fandom as I am now. But all I know is that I saw Joss' name attached and sat myself down in front of that screen. I loved it with all my might, and still think it might've surpassed Buffy had it been given the chance. When it was canceled...that was a dark day in Unpluggedland. If Dollhouse is canceled, provided it's as excellent as I'm hoping it is, I can't imagine my reaction would be much different.

[ edited by UnpluggedCrazy on 2008-09-29 22:01 ]
If you're talking about the skull, I think it was $100 million, and no one knows if he actually did manage to sell it, but that's kind of tangential to the thread. Just thought you might be interested to know.

Edit: My bad, I just checked wikipedia. Sorry for showing off my ignorance here. :)

[ edited by MattK on 2008-09-29 22:05 ]
I keep meaning to ... get on with stuff, and I keep coming back here ;).

I'm interested in this assumption that Buffy or Joss's other shows are shows that are "more than" escapism and that we're casting people who aren't into them as people who want to chill because they've had a hard day. I find Buffy to be pure escapism, exactly what I want to watch when I've had a hard day and need to chill. While I think it has a lot to offer, I don't think it's particularly intellectually challenging. I mean, you can think about it and analyze it if you want to, but the show certainly never required that. It was snappy, fast-paced, hilarious, soap-opera-ish fun (in a rip-your-heart-out kind of way:)). Most of the people I know who didn't like it thought it was just kind of dumb, if occasionally funny. They couldn't relate to these teen characters, they weren't interested in the monsters of the week, it was unsubtle, whatever. I love Joss Whedon's stuff to bits, but I don't think it's "too highbrow" for the people who aren't into it.
I have to say that the title of Buffy the Vampire Slayer keeps many people from watching the show from my experience. Yes, it does sum up the show effectively for those who have watched it and understand, but to the casual television viewer (and even the not so casual viewer) it brings to mind some other shall we say "low brow" shows for lack of a better term.

When I heard about Buffy The Vampire Slayer, I thought the show was going to be campy/cheesy with the main thing going for it being a hot chick wearing skimpy outfits jumping around during fight scenes. I think maybe the fact that I remembered seeing the trailers for the original movie from years before didn't help. And despite many friends with similar tastes to my own trying to convince me to give it a try, I refused for years. And then one day I caught the tail end of "Once More, With Feeling" while flipping channels and realized that there was something to the show afterall.

I don't think I'm biased against a show like Buffy or that I don't get it. I've been a fan of genre all my life. Almost everything I truly love is genre. Perhaps prior to Buffy there hadn't been anything to lead me to believe that a show with a name like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" wouldn't suck. Perhaps I'd give shows with such names a chance now. Nevertheless, I have to say that I wouldn't have been drawn to "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" if I hadn't known that Joss was involved either.

So I'd still say that the name has an effect. I know people that would most likely love the show that still won't give it a chance, even after loving some of Joss' other work such as Firefly (I think that would be all it would have taken to convince me though, so these people are more stubborn than I ever was :).
I have to say that the title of Buffy the Vampire Slayer keeps many people from watching the show from my experience.

In my experience people are willing to try it but tune in, see a lot of dramatic scenes where teenagers or 20-somethings are fighting the end of the world and having growing pains, and then don't tune in again. Or so my friends who don't like the show tell me. They either like action/adventure and say it's too dramatic, or they like dramedy situational stuff and get bored by all the fight scenes and monsters.
Simon said:
"when did the "Joss" fandom come into play?" I think it began in earnest after Firefly got cancelled but that's just my own personal opinion.

I guess it had to be around then because too much earlier before that there was just Buffy or Buffy and Angel running alongside eachother for a couple years before Firefly came along. So fans of Joss were usually considered just fans of the Buffyverse (although yeah, I know there were a decent amount of folks who only watched one or the other). Unless you counted Joss' film credits or you were a huge fan of Joss' time on Roseanne, his episodes specifically or something.

While I've had no trouble finding Buffy/Joss fans at nearly every online community I've hung out at, almost every workplace I've ever had a job at, I didn't see Joss' name popping up quite so frequently until he started writing Astonishing X-Men in 2004. I think that (him becoming a major name in comics), combined with the couple years of Firefly evangelizing/anticipation of Serenity, plus maybe to a slightly lesser degree Angel having its final season, Buffy being completed, and whatever other reason you can think of...lead to him becoming more of a household name (relatively...it's not like he's as well-known as Steven Spielberg or James Cameron).
I know people that would most likely love the show that still won't give it a chance, even after loving some of Joss' other work such as Firefly ...

That I really don't get. So they know Joss' work but still won't even give it a chance solely because of the title ? *boggled*

For me the title 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' was entirely justified by one scene (I know it's all ironic and so on but that's a meta justification). When the Wise Old Woman gives Buffy the scythe and asks her her name then laughs and says something like "No, really ..." and Buffy just shrugs ? Job done. Took seven years to get there right enough but I had faith ;).

(one can't establish an "absolute" answer)

But that's the same as saying "everything's subjective" surely (with the caveat that we're talking about art, not actually "everything" ;) ? The "objective metric" folks are saying there is an absolute answer, one that just is correct, like gravity exists or 1+1 = 2 (except now it seems that most of them actually aren't ;).

But I think we can ask certain questions about a work: Is it easy to produce what he produced? (no) Does it require an incredible level of technical skill? (yes) Is it original? (yes) Is the result widely regarded as beautiful? (yes) Is it technically / emotionally / intellectually complex and multi-faceted?

OK, what if it was easy for him ? Does that make it less good ? Way to penalise the genius ;). Re: widely regarded, as I say, doesn't hold much water with me. Re: technically/emotionally/intellectually complex, again, arbitrary judgements that vary for the individual (what's complex for one might be trivially straight-forward to another). Take 'House', some people see it as a formulaic medical mystery show, some people see it as emotionally complex character based drama. I just don't agree that it either is or it isn't - to me if one person doesn't see it and another person does then both opinions are absolutely true for them (don't get me wrong, I may well present my reasons for thinking it's one or the other, maybe in the hopes that the other person might see it in a new light and give it another chance BUT certainly not in the expectation that they'll go "Ah, now I see, jeez, how wrong was I ?" ;).

If I'd only ever heard one piece of music in my life, do I really need to hear another to make a judgement on whether or not it's good? I'm not sure.

Heh, i'm not sure either, of that i'm certain ;). Ironically, in this example i'd actually say you would (have to have heard other music) according to your own criteria but not according to mine. From my perspective you'd know if it was good because it'd touch you, from your perspective (or rather, the perspective that there's some list of criteria, as catherine outlines, that make art "good") you'd need to know what made music complex, what made it technically difficult etc. (which seems nigh impossible without knowing about music in general).

(and thanks all for the un-wishes ;)
I think there are some folks who can suspend disbelief for science fiction, but cannot suspend disbelief for fantasy and vice versa. That is why some Firefly fans can not enjoy Buffy/Angel and why some Buffy/Angel fans can't get into Firefly. To each their own.

The only place that I can't suspend disbelief is in mind numbing boring CSI and L&O type procedurals.
*sits with TamaraC* *eats strange British food in a pub*
Dana said:
"I am not a radical relativist who believes there are no fixed truths and everything is in the eye of the beholder, though of course I am a major reader response person. But to call Mozart good implies that we have a definition of "good," and that somehow Mozart meets it. And Matt, I don't think there are things that are "definitely good" or bad, as if everyone agrees that they are."

Well, I think a couple of important things to remember are that one, the truth of a situation does not depend on the agreement or disagreement of the people, and two, relativism cannot be an absolute or it's premise is destroyed.

"But what baffles me the most is that someone who is obviously familiar with Joss and his work would expect Dollhouse to be exploitative. I've even seen comments here that say the show sounds "icky" and that the premise totally turns them off, as if Joss would make a show about willing sex slaves. To me, it sounds disturbing and complex, with potential layers of social commentary. It kind of boggles my mind that some fans would expect otherwise"

Maybe that paragraph is where some who view the fandom or Joss as being egoist or arrogant? I know some who take that paragraph as saying "how could you possibly think this won't be good?" And I'm not so sure that criticism doesn't hold weight, I mean part of the problem with sci-fi in general is the arrogance of some of it's participants. How many times have you heard fans of Battlestar Galactica or Firefly or Buffy or even Star Trek that claim that the reason more people don't like the show or don't watch is because they don't get it or aren't good enough to get it?

Hell, how much is the debate over seasons 6 and 7 in Buffy, and to an extent how Joss views those seasons, informed by the very point I am making here?
Dude, do you have "relativism" in your Google alerts or something ? ;)
Jerry you said: Well, I think a couple of important things to remember are that one, the truth of a situation does not depend on the agreement or disagreement of the people, and two, relativism cannot be an absolute or it's premise is destroyed. Well, (1) I was referring to the practice of radical relativism, which is an extreme form of postmodernism, not just to relativism itself. And (2) Yes, OJ either did or did not kill his wife, no matter what the jury found. But the problem is that in this case there are facts about the case, which maybe we do not know, but they are there nonetheless. But when judging art, what are "the facts?"
I don't think it's about people being "wrong" or "better", or a work of art being intrinsically good or inferior per se. But it is a question of wanting to share an experience which is rich and complex and rewarding, and offers more than people may suspect. I think this impulse is a good one, even though it may seem uppity on the surface.

You are just looking for some way to convey this, and to remain open for similar eye-opening art, should you be lucky enough to encounter it. And then sometimes a person can get a little excited, because you are convinced the experience has value, and you hope people won't blow it off and miss it?

There is nothing wrong with relaxing with something undemanding, but I do think if people only do that, they are missing something important and fabulous about being alive. See what a sap I sound? I would probably feel a lot less of a dufus if I said, "What a bunch of airheads, who needs them?" Which may be why folks tend to get impatient, and say that sort of thing.

[ edited by toast on 2008-09-29 23:06 ]
jerryst3161, I didn't mean to come across as arrogant or saying that the show will without a doubt be good. That remains to be seen. I hope it's good, and it looks and sounds like it will be good, but I wasn't even trying to address that issue at all. I was just commenting on how some people feel it looks exploitative or gross, while I think it seems almost impossible for Joss to even try to make something like that, given his history and well-documented beliefs.
OK, what if it was easy for him ? Does that make it less good ? Way to penalise the genius ;).


Ha ha. YES. It's only "good" if you sweat blood making it!

But surely there is something between total subjectivity and absolute truth? The "complicated middle ground" UnpluggedCrazy was talking about? OK, technical skill (for example) is not a FACT like gravity, we have to decide what technical skill is, and in that sense you could call it subjective, but we've all experienced that gap between liking something and recognizing how "good" something is whether it is to our tastes or not. So how do we describe that difference? What does it mean? Is it really meaningless to say that Dostoevsky is a better writer than Dan Brown (regardless of who we prefer to read)? Doesn't that just sweep away a whole set of interesting questions about art and why it matters and what makes "good" art? Perhaps it comes down to definitions, as these things so often do, and perhaps we're just "missing" a word that would clarify it all.

Of course I don't think we can tidily divide all books and television shows and movies and music into "good" and "not good" categories according to an "objective" set of criteria, but I do think that in some cases we can absolutely say "This is a great work" (Othello?) and "This isn't a great work" (Girls Gone Wild?) and have it mean something.
Don't those definitions of great art have something to do with how much influence the art has had on the culture (or on the field or genre of art) over time? It's harder to make those kinds of judgments about recent work. And even then, we might think it's "important" without finding it "great."
" Dude, do you have "relativism" in your Google alerts or something ? ;) "

LOL, well yeah, but I never know if the alert is actually true or not...

"Yes, OJ either did or did not kill his wife, no matter what the jury found. But the problem is that in this case there are facts about the case, which maybe we do not know, but they are there nonetheless. But when judging art, what are "the facts?""

Which is skepticism, not relativism.

Here is the real question though, you asked what the facts are when you judge art, but to me, that doesn't sound like an ontological problem (a problem with reality or truth or what exists), it sounds more like an epistemological problem (a problem of knowledge, a problem of what we know or don't). So how does a knowledge problem have anything to do with a relativistic problem?

"I didn't mean to come across as arrogant or saying that the show will without a doubt be good. That remains to be seen. I hope it's good, and it looks and sounds like it will be good, but I wasn't even trying to address that issue at all. I was just commenting on how some people feel it looks exploitative or gross, while I think it seems almost impossible for Joss to even try to make something like that, given his history and well-documented beliefs."

Well, I didn't think you were being arrogant, I thought it was a reasoned argument, but my point was only that your argument took on the characteristics of arguments that are abundant in the sci-fi community and that maybe that's why some view arrogance where they should not. It was more a theory thrown at the wall than anything else, not necessarily a declaration of arrogance or fact on my part.
Don't those definitions of great art have something to do with how much influence the art has had on the culture (or on the field or genre of art) over time? It's harder to make those kinds of judgments about recent work. And even then, we might think it's "important" without finding it "great."

That might be one criteria, and "important" is definitely easier to define than "great." Anybody read lots of Aristotle and want to help me out?

If in the middle of a Buffy episode, at a tense emotional moment, Buffy turned to the camera and said "don't forget to vote for Barack Obama in November," it would be a "bad" episode. The tone and suspension of disbelief would be destroyed and the episode would surely not be fulfilling the "goals" of the genre. Not just "people wouldn't like it" but it would be failing as a dramatic episode of television. Um, according to Aristotle. ;)
Ha ha. YES. It's only "good" if you sweat blood making it!

But surely there is something between total subjectivity and absolute truth? The "complicated middle ground" UnpluggedCrazy was talking about?


Gotta suffer for your art ;). You're right I think catherine (and UpC ;), there is something between, it probably is down to definitions and it's largely the way we do it now IMO. The way out of it (in the absence of a demonstration of an actual objective metric) could be just to define, by consensus, certain properties as "good" when it comes to art (I realise that's pretty much what you did BTW, my point wasn't necessarily that those are bad criteria, more that, as good as they may be, they're still subjective/arbitrary). In fact, you could even say that in a sense what most people agree is e.g. beauty actually is beauty since I suspect something like beauty can't exist outside of people (we may even have a natural, intrinsic "sense of beauty" in which case you could include "is beautiful" as a criterion. 'Elegance' is a word sometimes used of computer programs for instance, you can probably list the properties that make code elegant - conciseness is a big part of it usually - but to someone that understands what they're looking at, you also just sort of "know").

With writing there're basic technical guidelines that people either explicitly (by being taught) or implicitly (by reading a lot) are aware of. We can decide between us that books that don't follow these are technically inferior (bearing in mind that that's possibly just a cultural artefact, not necessarily some intrinsic property of language). 'The Da Vinci' code breaks a slew of those basic guidelines BTW (personally from the tiny bit of it i've read, I think Dan Brown's a horrible writer). Doesn't mean people are somehow wrong to enjoy the book though, that's something we can't decide between us IMO.

I think this impulse is a good one, even though it may seem uppity on the surface.

Just to be clear toast, i've absolutely no problem with people recommending shows they like to friends (or even strangers if they're not scary about it ;) and I also don't have a problem with people saying "And here's what I think it's saying subtextually, I reckon there's really more to this than you might think", I agree that's a good impulse.

I do have a problem with deciding that the people that aren't interested must be dumber than you or that people that don't like what you like are just wrong because what you like is intrinsically, objectively better.
The Da Vinci' code breaks a slew of those basic guidelines BTW (personally from the tiny bit of it i've read, I think Dan Brown's a horrible writer). Doesn't mean people are somehow wrong to enjoy the book though, that's something we can't decide between us IMO.


Agreed and agreed. And... happy-actually-your-birthday-now!
Second, the rules have change. Don't you see it?


You can be very cryptic sometimes, Madhatter :) ! What rules?
The ones that changed of course ;).

(and it actually is too, ta BTW. Now i'm actually going to bed so i'm not actually totally useless tomorrow ;)
First of all: happy-now-actual birthday, Saje.

What's more, this is another interesting discussion. For once, I'm not in the 'what Saje says'-camp (although, as this thread progresses, we're agreeing more and more), but rather catherine (who obviously also has a secret, not-so-hidden love for threads with interesting discussion :)) and Mattk are my semi-official spokepersons here (untill one of us says something the rest wildly disagrees with of course ;)).

Anyway:

Doesn't mean people are somehow wrong to enjoy the book though, that's something we can't decide between us IMO.


Agreed, Saje. We can't decide what people should and shouldn't enjoy. That's completely, 100% subjective. I myself absolutely love bad sports movies. You know the type: band of people get together and form an unlikely friendship bond by using sport to get closer together. In the end they battle the Antagonistic Team Of Choice and either they literally win, or they are the moral victors. Some of those are really, really bad. But I tend to still like them, because they hit close to one of my favorite themes in fiction: the group dynamics in friendships and the replacement families people tend to construct. This theme is often not even the main point or is handled clichéd, but it still draws me in. In fact, it's also one of the themes that completely draws me to Joss' work (and to things like 'The West Wing', 'Friends' or recently 'How I Met Your Mother' or a comic like 'Runaways' or even, on a slightly smaller scale, 'Y: The Last Man'). This draw is completely and utterly subjective, formed by my own experiences in life, etcetera. But after that, in some less subjective way, we can say which of these things are good fiction and which aren't. I'd even go a step further and say that - according to the standards I and a few other reviewers I know set - Buffy and Angel are high quality television, comparable with shows like 'The Sopranos' or the record Emmy-award winning 'The West Wing'. Many of the same elements that make those shows so good, are also what make Buffy/Angel and Firefly so good.

I'd agree that there's no way to define those elements completely and utterly objectively and it could very well be that these are culturally defined. That what is considered good in America already differs slightly from what is considered good in Europe, even though we're very closely allied cultures and both versions of 'good' would presumable differ wildly from what is considered good in, say, India or Sudan. I know I, for instance, am pretty British in my movie and television tastes (apart from a show like 'Doctor Who', for instance, which I only sparingly think is actually very good (usually with the Moffat episodes) and mostly only watch as light - albeit very enjoyable - fluff, but which British reviewers seem to think is Very Good Television). I often agree much more with reviews I read in British publications, than with those I read in American publications or Dutch magazines (though I notice I'm being influenced more by my own culture as I grow older). And I - and most of my fellow Dutch - are probably more 'American' in their cultural tastes as - let's say - our French almost-neighboors.

I also think there's a big subjective part to the conclusions we draw, based on circumstance. I know that liking a movie certainly isn't completely independant from thinking it's good. There's good things I don't like, sure, but liking it does help in the initial judgement and thinking a movie or television show really good. And 'liking' a movie is very subjective, down even to meaningless things like 'was the crowd at the movie theatre annoying' or 'was I in the mood for this type of movie'. I know it's something I struggle with when I write a review: how to 'remove' my state of mind when I was watching something from the equation and reach a higher region of objectivity. The answer, unfortunately, is I can't completely remove it. I know for a fact that there's movies and television shows I liked better and - more importantly - felt were better after a rewatch, simply because I was in a different place when watching them.

I know I might seem like I'm 'hurting my cause' by noting these things, but my point is: yes, art appreciation is inherently subjective and it can never not be. Which is where I agree with Saje. But I then also think our objectification of the appreciation of art and fiction, our efforts to define some sort of overreaching list of properties to measure their worth and the answers these things give us are important. In fact, I'd go one step further: because of the inherent subjective nature, we don't need to be objective, only as-objective-as-possible to cast the widest net possible and reach a large concensus on the type of elements that are argued to be good and bad, within any given predefined cultural constraints.

Still, when writing a review, I sometimes feel like a painter picking out just those elements that support the feeling I want the review to convey, instead of being fair and balanced like a scientist or any other completely objective person would, but that's not a truly bad thing. The key to fiction being good or bad is somewhere in the analysis and argumentation. And while the exact terms and definitions may elude us, I'm sure there's something there that transcends pure subjectivity. Maybe that something differs from culture to culture (or maybe even from subculture to subculture), but it certainly has larger validity and higher objectivity than "just an opinion". This, in my opinion*, means we actually can semi-objectively conclude things like 'Mozart is good' even if we don't have any truly objective elements or absolute benchmark by which to judge works of art.

* as with MattK, the irony here is not lost on me either :)

ETR some typos

[ edited by GVH on 2008-09-30 01:10 ]
Joss' shows have not been complex. They aren't deep. They don't require special intellectual gifts to enjoy. They just don't.

Crafting such excellence does require special intellectual gifts. The act of creation does, too. The act of enjoying the art? Not so much.

Understanding how the art was created certainly takes some gifts. But "getting it" doesn't.

Niche. We're in a niche. Joss' niche, to be exact. Some won't enjoy the niche and there's nothing wrong with them, they don't lack anything, it just doesn't do it for them; maybe it's a title; a theme; a genre; whatever.

I have a lot more to say but, really, I went out to get something from my car and, surprise, it was stolen. That's...special. But, yeah, the point I came to make has been said (maybe not made, but said): Joss' work doesn't take a special kind of brilliance to enjoy and suggesting otherwise I think is to not respect Joss' talent.

May the road rise to greet you.
Dana, that band you described sounds incredible. That is all
Well, to be fair RhaegarTargaryen, I don't think anyone in this thread is actually saying that enjoyment of Joss' shows requires a special kind of brilliance. The closest anyone came to that (unless I'm forgetting some comments, in which case feel free to correct me) was me when I suggested we may have an above avaragely intelligent and well-educated fanbase. This in no way implied you have to belong to that group, to be able to enjoy Joss' work.

If my assessment of the make-up of our fandom is by chance correct (of which I myself am not even sure, like I mentioned upthread) all it would mean in short, is that the people attracted to this particular fandom are relatively smart. But that isn't exclusive to us, per se and in no way implies anything. It doesn't mean a lot of intelligent people (maybe even the majority) might not like Buffy/Angel/Firefly or that less intelligent people are, a priori, unable to enjoy Joss' work. It'd be quite silly to suggest so, in my humble opinion. So I - and as far as I can tell others - have not suggested it.

In fact, my percieved notion of our make-up, may just be a skewed image because of the type of people who chose to post about a television show on the internet and the types of locations I frequent (like whedonesque) where intelligent discourse and discussions like these, are encouraged.

As for your assessment that Joss' shows have not been complex or deep, I respectfully disagree. I could go off on a tangent and explain why, but our very own Dana already did that much more eloquently than I would be able to do here, in a blog post linked on the main page today.
That's not exactly what I meant, Saje. I really think that some art is more worthy of our attention, because it offers more than other less interesting art, whether we like it or don't like it...there is more payback, in terms of complexity, challenge, intensity, or whatever, when we choose to spend our time on it.

Doesn't mean we are smarter, or more virtuous than others if we prefer art with more to offer. But it does mean that consistently avoiding the most rewarding stuff can result in seriously missing out on a major aspect of, you know, living. I just think it is a value judgment, but it doesn't imply anything about the other person, except that they are unlucky if they miss out.

[ edited by toast on 2008-09-30 03:22 ]
Aw, pshaw, here I am at night, just after watching Terminator (pretty good tonight) and Heroes (feh!), and got two nice posts in a row. Let Down, I'll PM you on Magma; GVH, I tend to agree with you that Joss' shows are more complex than the average show- not exclusively, but in general, I believe that a lot more thought goes into an average Joss show compared to general entertainment. Now, I may not agree with writing decisions Joss makes, but that he plots things out well in advance is indisputable, and that the linkages he makes between now and later are perhaps as good as any show ever has- one reason I love In Treatment is for the same reason- little throw-away scenes in early eps come back to later to have immense power, and I will mention just one without saying why. In the first episode of Sophie (Which is Week 1 Ep 3), she comments about some books on Paul's shelves. It's funny, and vulgar (Sophie's comment about the books is "They're your f***ingbooks, bud")and only many weeks later does that scene have real resonance. This is Jossian plotting, to do that. Most shows have no sense of memory- police procedurals go on as if no one has learned anything; no continuity in character development. But you can enjoy Buffy as nothing more than a sometimes funny, sometimes tragic show, or you can "read" it like we do here and dive deep and drill down (how many metaphors can I come up with here) to enjoy it. Both are okay.
we don't need to be objective, only as-objective-as-possible to cast the widest net possible and reach a large concensus on the type of elements that are argued to be good and bad, within any given predefined cultural constraints.

I think that's what I've been thinking but have been unable to say. We don't have a precise scale to "measure the worth of art on," but we do have some vague criteria that we've agreed upon as a culture (definitions, not truths) that "good" is more like the criteria catherine mentioned above or like Dana's description of the band and not so much like "is relaxing after a hard day at work" or "gives me a hard on." Those things may be great, but they don't fit any of our usual definitions of "good art" so that it makes perfect sense when someone says, "That's a dumb show, but I like it" or "That show is really well done, but I can't get into it." Since the definitions aren't objective, you can choose to reject them (Girls Gone Wild is better than Othello!), but you're choosing some pretty non-standard definitions if you do that.

Sorry about the car, RT. What an awful thing.

And happy birthday in the morning Saje!

[ edited by jcs on 2008-09-30 03:35 ]
All I can say is, without dipping into the 100+ comments thus far, is that the various statements in that question raised my hackles. Oh sure, blame it on Joss. I'm so weary of the criticism. My intuition about the success of a television show is that it's equal parts talented writer/creator, luck, timing, and the backing of a studio that believes in you (and that you will make it money and make it good ratings). Sometimes the stars align and sometimes they don't. I'm tired of blame. And especially when it is put where it doesn't belong.
This show should be on Cable. That's where most of the creative people can be creative now anyways. Fox will just hamstring this show like they did Firefly.
Oh! That utterly sucks about your car, RhaegarTargaryen!

GVH I think several people were suggesting that people who don't like Joss's shows just haven't given them a chance (or they would surely appreciate them) or that they are the types who just want to watch easy "veg out" TV, and I guess that's what RhaegarTargaryen was responding to. Maybe?

As for the shows being "complex," I'll agree that they have real emotional depth, and you can't beat 'em for character development and relationships and "arcs," but in a sense I agree that they fall into the "light entertainment" category. I think they are ... oh gods am I going to say this? ... "intellectually" slight and unsubtle. That sounds SO LAME. And it's not a "criticism" at all, I don't watch TV for an intellectual challenge (in fact, I try to avoid intellectual challenges wherever I can!), I watch TV for entertainment and a kind of catharsis, and as far as I'm concerned there's no-one out there who will more reliably offer these things exactly as I like them than Joss Whedon.
To be fair, GVH, I agree - my scan of the posts doesn't produce someone saying "enjoying Joss' shows requires brilliance." However, there were items mentioned that tripped a trigger (probably because I skimmed 100 posts - my fault). Items such as "average viewer" and "plot density" and "most humans will never get Joss" and offshooting from BAFfler's post way back (meaning topic touched on), and "will likely never get Joss' work", and offshooting from one of saje's posts (meaning topic touched on), and "the television viewers don't get it" and then, not yet half way down, is your first post - which I did not take to be an argument for necessary brilliance for Joss enjoyment.

Given these I felt it important to state that brilliance wasn't necessary for enjoying Joss' work. I don't feel this is a straw man, maybe his cousin, but not The Straw Man himself.

As for the blog link of Dr. Dana's...so cool. And has an extra bit of bling to it as I'm a chiropractor as well. I stick by my opinion, however, that Joss' shows aren't deep or complex. In comparison to other shows...then I say absolutely. In creation, again, I say absolutely. In sitting there and soaking up what has been masterfully created...not as difficult as, say, trying to get a firm handle on philosophy (eg, logic) or understanding the nuances of the nervous system, etc.

Perspective is in order. I'm a huge fan of the Matrix. Was the Matrix deep and complex? Yes and no. Maybe. Sort of. When that had come out I was part of a monster thread delving into the complexities found within. But the movie itself, I don't think it was complex. It was masterfully created and acted as door through which people could step into a world of complexity and the brilliance of the movie is it made this delving easier.

But what show doesn't have complexity if we force the door open? Ultimately we're dealing with motive and psychology and sociology and neurology and every bit of philosophy and every show has it, though the door may not be easy to locate nor be inviting of such inquiry.

Joss' shows probably have two wonderful aspects (for consideration at this point; obviously there are many more than two for everything else): 1) they attract an inquisitive, intelligent crowd willing to discuss, and 2) Joss' "doors" are easy to find and open... Pausing a moment to let uncouth humor evaporate.

As a writer wannabe I've ripped apart every episode of Firefly. I've outlined each by their emotional beats, by their active beats, by intro and exit of scenes, by character growth across the series. I've written biographies and studied each character trying to find who they are, what they are, their motives, etc, etc, etc. What I'm left with is a very deep appreciation of Joss' (and the other writers') brilliance. The...tightness of the show is beyond reproach. Totally phenomenal. And it's exactly the way it ought to be...for all shows. Joss is doing what he should. Maybe other shows aren't putting in the effort they should. But does this depth of creation "deep" or merely "complete"? No matter how I dice the ham, the creation is brilliance, no denying.

...it's like a very complicated jigsaw puzzle being put together. It's hard putting these puzzles together. But once they're together, the picture is complete, does it really take anything special to admire it? And how "deep" and "complex" is it once it's complete?

There's only one reason a man can ramble as long as this...he isn't quite sure exactly how he feels about what he's saying, so he's trying to zoom in on it. Thanks for allowing me to exercise this process. Closer...but not fully realized as yet.

Ultimately we're probably admiring the same thing for the same qualities and describing it differently. And if my puzzle-putting-together-ability is any indication, it's my description that is flawed.

I bid thee adieu.
11th Hour, I don't know if something called "Reprogrammable" would be a hit or not -- a lot of people hate programming things even once :)

Xane, I don't think Fox wants to call anything "The House" while they are still running "House" (you know, the Hugh Laurie show) :)

Simon, not sure the digital switchover will make that big a difference, as I believe a large percentage of the TV-watching public is hooked up to some sort of cable at this point (if you live in a big city, especially an apartment, it's usually impossible to get a viewable signal otherwise). I see TamaraC provided specific statistics (try saying that three times fast); I don't know how the whole thing affects advertiser demographics. I do know the government is offering $40 vouchers toward a digital conversion box for people who are currently analog-antenna-only.

The who empirically good/bad discussion: it seems to me that good and bad are terms that only exist in the context of criteria, and yours may not be the same as mine, mine may not be the same as the next person's. Now, this doesn't mean we shouldn't act according to our personal ideas about "good" -- for example, when we vote, my idea about what's good for the country may be someone else's idea of "bad" -- but with art and storytelling, we all apply different judging systems. There are TV series I've found unwatchable, but I have friends who love them. There are movies I've seen many, many times that some of my friends can't stand. I'm right by my lights; they are right by theirs.

And, without all the freakout, isn't it possible that the "problem" is not Fox but rather that it's just taking a bit longer to craft the scripts than expected? Production can't do anything without scripts. Perhaps Mr. Whedon doesn't want to shoot scripts that need more work, and Fox is giving him the time to get it right? Until I see purple prose proclaiming "Panic!", I personally plan to proceed placidly. :)
Oh, Saje, happy actual birthday. This thread is some kind of weird combination of people picking apart viewer response and quality criteria...and wishing you happy birthday.
Heh, ta UnpluggedCrazy (and all other well wishers ;). Nipped in quickly because I was about to go out but it's absolutely pissing it down outside, reckon i'll let it blow itself out a bit ;).

I really think that some art is more worthy of our attention, because it offers more than other less interesting art, whether we like it or don't like it...there is more payback, in terms of complexity, challenge, intensity, or whatever, when we choose to spend our time on it.

Doesn't mean we are smarter, or more virtuous than others if we prefer art with more to offer.


Well surely if we don't like it it's less interesting to us toast ? And I appreciate your intent but I have to say, it's very difficult not to read a value judgment into a statement like e.g. "I prefer art that's more complex, subtle and challenging but I don't mind if you don't". Not only does it presuppose that the stater knows what makes art complex, subtle and challenging in the first place (which is kind of the root of the discussion I think), it's also surely saying "You prefer art that's simpler, more obvious and unchallenging. And that's fine, i'm happy for you, live and let live" (even if you're saying it nicely, how can that not be patronising ?).

There's still an element of "You're doing it wrong, let me show you how to really benefit from television" as if the way everyone benefits from television is the same (or at least, should be the same, if they'd just listen to we who know).

But I then also think our objectification of the appreciation of art and fiction, our efforts to define some sort of overreaching list of properties to measure their worth and the answers these things give us are important. In fact, I'd go one step further: because of the inherent subjective nature, we don't need to be objective, only as-objective-as-possible to cast the widest net possible and reach a large concensus on the type of elements that are argued to be good and bad, within any given predefined cultural constraints.

I basically agree with this GVH. And I think for many of us understanding with some precision just why we like a piece of art is important. But like a lot of human efforts, the gain is in the journey not the destination i.e. we can strive to more strictly define what makes good art BUT we're still not describing actual properties of the world, just of how we feel about it (and why). And that's subjective (even when we're talking about how the majority feels).

And it seems to me that objective/subjective (as I think you note upthread) is either/or. It's like being pregnant in that sense ;) - you are or you aren't, a measure can't be "a bit" objective and be thought of as truly objective because that means it's also "a bit" subjective.

(and sorry about your motor BTW RhaegarTargaryen, not good when that happens)
Terminator (pretty good tonight)

Just pretty good? I thought it was brilliant. And since the subject is Dollhouse, that what the network is allowing them to do with the character of Cameron bodes well on creative freedom.
rhaeger: You're a chiropractor? Whoa! Hey, email me off line, would you: dana.lawrence@palmer.edu. If you could, use the subject line: Whedonesque so it passes my spam filters.

Let Down- do the same and I'll send you some information on Magma.

saje- happy birthday, bloke!

As I consider my onw journey, what I find is that I am drawn to certain things. I am drawn to the complex as well as the marginalized. I enjoy things that require some work. Buffy is something that can be studied and can be read in ways that exmpand viewing pleasure. Magma is not a band for the faint-hearted- Christian Vander writes 40 and 50 minute compositions based heavily around rhythm and reptition, rather than melody, but with superhuman vocal lines and complex basslines. I read people like Derrida for fun. I enjoy modern classical music. Nothing I like is what the mainstream likes and I often have a hard time finding anyone at all to talk about it- which is why a board like this is so valuable.

[ edited by Dana5140 on 2008-09-30 13:10 ]
I read people like Derrida for fun.

Now that's just plain weird ;).
I happen to love the titles of Joss's shows (which has nothing to do with wherther or not said titles tend to pull in a wide range of viewers, just a personal opinion). The first time I heard "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", I laughed out loud and thought that anyone with the audacity to come up with that title, was probably an exceptionally witty person.

Likewise Angel, intriguing because it could be hinting at so many different things (unlike say, Touched By an Angel, which pretty much gave it all up in the title).

I also found the name Firefly intriguing, before even learning that it was Joss's show (late comer to the fandom here). It tweaked my curiosity because it could have meant anything, and I loved the visual imagery it invoked. (By the time I learned that the movie would be named Serenity, I already knew it was a spin-off, but I think I would have again been intrigued, even if I hadn't known, for the same reason).

As for the other ongoing discussion, I believe that there has to be some quantification of good and bad art, otherwise all definitions become meaningless and language itself breaks down.
For instance, Van Gough and Mozart are great art, I would say irrefutably. However, if neither is your cuppa tea, that doesn't say anything negative about you. I personally worship Van Gough but find Mozart to be (for the most part) a crashing bore. But that doesn't mean that I don't recognize his music as great art. I will not say "It has too many notes" ;) because that is a judgment, an absolutist statement.
On the other hand, acknowledging that it is, by all existing standards of art in the Western world (another can of worms) "great art", even though I personally don't enjoy it, is as close to a reasonably objective statement as you can come, and leave any meaning attached to language.
Saying that I acknowledge Mozart's music as great art but that I don't personally enjoy it, leaves open the door to the wide world of allowing for personal, subjective taste, within the framework of a consensus opinion so broad and long standing that it becomes obvious that there is some objective authenticity at work. It leaves a place at the table for personal taste, while acknowledging the fact that there are some absolutes.

I can also say with a high degree of certitude that Jackie Collins novels are not "great art". Which takes nothing away from those who enjoy them as escapist pulp or whatever. I really don't think that anyone who reads and enjoys them would go so far as to classify them as great art. But there is nothing wrong with enjoying them, it doesn't make you an inferior person or indicate a lesser degree of intelligence, just a different criteria for what one finds entertaining.

I think my point is that there is at least a broad definition of what is .... and isn't ... "great art" and that acknowledging these broad definitions doesn't make a person a snob. Looking down on those who don't have a taste for art that falls within these cultural consensus definitions, or looking down on those who enjoy entertainment that doesn't by any rational definition of the phrase, fall into the category of "great art' .... that is where snobbery comes into play.

I've categorized myself as a "movie and TV snob", but in doing so, I'm playing fast and loose with the definition of the word. And if you can't on occasion play fast and loose with the English language on a site dedicated to the works of Joss, then ....well, duuh. ;-)
Happy Birthday Saje, a day late, but sincere. (And now, every year at this time, people will be wondering if they should be panicking over something, but won't remember what ...)

[ edited by Shapenew on 2008-09-30 16:42 ]
Shey- your long post reminds me of a scene from the movie "To Sir, With Love." In it, Sidney Poitier is trying to get some toughs to read, and they simply will not even attempt to read the classics he gives them. So he gives them a pulp, which immediately gets their interest and they begin, finally, to read. It was not great art, they did not care that others had decided these classics were great art, and so they simply enjoyed the pulps...
Oh it is a value judgment, birthday boy. Never said it wasn't. It doesn't mean the other guy is inferior or bad. Does mean he's missing something which could do a lot more for him, if there was some way to get him to give it a try without putting him off by nagging him to death.

Who knows what amazing experiences that vegging-only tv viewer may be having away from his tv set? Maybe she's being brilliant and amazing all day and has no energy left for anything but background noise when she gets home. That's where I'd be ridiculous to make any judgment - about the person. About whom I know nothing at all. But I don't think it's incorrect or snobbish to say some art/entertainment offers more than other art/entertainment.

Happy birthday.
Shapenew, given Saje's location, you're not a day late. So yay ;).

Also: RhaegarTargaryen, I think where we differ is indeed in definitions. What you're describing is that it's not hard to enjoy Joss' works. I agree with that. I also think there's more than enough complexity hidden away just beneath the surface, which was placed there consciously by the creator for us to discover, to make it part of the complete experience and not just be something some people might bring to the table as some sort of "extra". There's also complex and, most importantly, realistic development of the characters, their group dynamic and all kinds of other lines and this development resonates with what is happening plotwise. There's story elements - both in the arc and within a single episode - that share or, sometimes, contrast themes and therefore expand upon each other and enrich what we're watching 'on the surface'. I think you'd probably basically agree with that, yes?

Where I then think we differ is that not all television is layered like that. A show like the current 'Battlestar Galactica'? Yes, very much so, which is what makes it one of the best shows on television today. A show like 'Smallville' or 'Stargate'? Not so much. Doesn't mean I don't enjoy those shows (yes, even Smallville ;)), but they don't bring much depth to the table. They're largely WYSIWYG. That doesn't mean you can't, as a viewer, then bring something extra to the table and infuse more depth afterwards in discussion, but it wasn't there in the first place. Anything you bring is something that wouldn't exist without you, the viewer, and has nothing to directly support it in the material. We have these types of discussions here as well, on the black, by the way. Look no further than the discussion we're having right now, for an example :).

Saje: I'm glad we're more-or-less agreeing again. The universe is making sense once more ;). As far as objective/subjective goes: yes, it's a dichotomy. Anything not 100% objective is subjective and vice-versa. But then again, there's also a sliding scale there. We can strive towards objectivity, even while not quite reaching it, and the result we get is certainly different - in value - from a result we'd get if we were not trying to be as objective-as-possible. It's that difference which causes 'good' and 'bad' fiction to not be a one-on-one translation from 'I enjoyed this' or 'I didn't enjoy it'.

Shey, I completely agree on the "definition of snob" thing. I regularly call myself a movie, television and music snob (what I'm not is a book snob, I read much more pulp than I do literature ;)), but what I'm then saying is not the same thing as the definition Saje mentioned upthread. We do this all the time. In fact, it's one of those cases where we take a word with bad connotations and adopt is as a name without those connotations (there's a word in Dutch to describe that particular process, but an equivalent in english escapes me).

And toast very much agreed on the 'person is missing out' versus 'jugdement of person', distinction. It's that distinction that separates a real snob from us "fun-snobs" ;).
N George who doesn't have a account to post here, asked me to share a link from Metro Magazine from a few weeks ago, which dwells on this subject, mostly discussing Fringe, but mentioning Dollhouse struggles in the end. The article is over here.
Whedon has already shifted the show’s pilot to episode two and rewrote the premiere; these failures of nerve are being excused as business as usual, but to viewers whose patience is diminishing as their viewing options are increasing, this might mean the fall season is setting itself up for a big, sloppy wet face-plant.

Huh? How can these things have any effect on the patience of viewers?
Hey, Saje - hope you're out still celebrating.

Happy Birthday, Saje one - thought you mebbe could use this right about now. I hope it works for all six of you, or however many of you there really are. This Eternal Life Coupon is 1) non-transferable and 2) works whether or not you believe in it. Just don't tempt the Fates...

We need to ensure that you - all of youse - stick around.
I was confused by that statement as well, jcs. What I think the writer is saying, is that viewers will not watch the shows of the fall season, because they have many other options and don't have 'the patience' for these shows to find their feet. Why delays now (i.e.: stuff being fixed before the show even starts airing) would cause that, completely escapes me.

Another possible explanation could be that they don't have 'the patience' to stick around and watch shows that because of messy run-ups are bound to be cancelled. In that case, I'd find the use of the word 'patience' here, a bit off, but it'd make more sense. I wouldn't agree with it, but it'd at least be a more coherent point.
I think what the writer is suggesting is that in an age in which we are increasingly encouraged to want everything instantly potential viewers are likely to become bored and lose interest before the show even premieres, or will have found something else to watch instead.

He seems, on the face of it, to have taken a dislike to Joss Whedon, for reasons that are not explained in what he writes, and he is venting his spleen. When he writes, “but to viewers whose patience is diminishing,” he is probably referring to his own thoughts on the matter and should really write, “but to this viewer, whose patience is diminishing…”

Too much information is not always a good thing, and I do stick by my earlier observation that we don’t really need to know about each and every obstacle that has to be surmounted during the making of the show.

The vast majority of Joss Whedon’s fanbase will be chomping at the bit for the opportunity to see this show. Those who are undecided, but take an active interest in behind the scenes stuff, might lose interest or get the wrong impression – thinking it is a troubled production, somehow signalling a “bad” product. There is little that can be done to stop that because the nature of the Internet promotes rumour and gossip, which then spreads like wildfire.

Ultimately, though, I doubt there is much need to worry. I don’t see any reason why the show will not stand as much chance as any other new show of succeeding – and personally I cannot accept for one moment the possibility that it might be somehow too complicated for people to understand.

I honestly think televison audiences are a lot smater than they are being given credit for - or maybe, to quote Xander, what we lack in smarts we make up in lack of smarts.

Edited to correct typo hell.

[ edited by alien lanes on 2008-10-01 01:55 ]
Things may get so bad economically that commercial-paid television might benefit from the slow-down in subscription TV. But commercials will have to go down, too. We might have to enjoy many hours of male-enhancement and kitchen gadgets to get what me want to see. Or deal with a much more rigorous clamp-down on downloads. Just a dark thought, one of many.
Or maybe all of the dolls can have Barbie and/or Mattel logos and copyright stamped on their necks. Perpetual product placement!

Ooh! TIE-IN!

For the low, low price of 46 minutes of commercials an hour, you can watch Dollhouse! Go buy the Dollhouse Malibu Dollhouse Playset, Now with Additional Societal Subtext!
"Increase Your Consciousness Instantly !

- 10 for the price of 5, limited offer, act now !"

Huh? How can these things have any effect on the patience of viewers?

Clearly, because of script rewrites etc. Joss isn't spending this time developing time-travel which would bring January closer. How are we meant to wait until then, eh ? And yet I see him doing nothing to bend space-time in any way (or very little anyway, the tiny warpage caused by his presence is barely even trying if you ask me).

I hope it works for all six of you, or however many of you there really are. This Eternal Life Coupon is 1) non-transferable and 2) works whether or not you believe in it. Just don't tempt the Fates...

Hee, cheers QuoterGal. I've shared it out amongst all my instances so sadly i'm only entitled to stick around for eternity divided by six now, bummer ;-).

(and thanks everyone else for the well-wishes - you were, indeed, spot-on Shapenew, cos of the Atlantic ;)

I regularly call myself a movie, television and music snob (what I'm not is a book snob, I read much more pulp than I do literature ;)), but what I'm then saying is not the same thing as the definition Saje mentioned upthread.

Heh, fair enough GVH ;). 'Snob' as you use it basically means 'picky' as far as I can tell and, indeed, there's nothing wrong with that (course, because of the dictionary definition, it still carries the connotation that you prefer a "higher standard" of TV show, so we're still back to the whole situation where you know what that means and other mere mortals that disagree presumably don't but I think we've already been round the houses with that line of discussion ;).

And yeah, cosmic balance restored, phew ;).

But I don't think it's incorrect or snobbish to say some art/entertainment offers more than other art/entertainment.

Nor do I toast for yourself. Here's what I don't mind: "I love this show, I think it's really clever and emotionally resonant and complex and if you gave it a chance you might like it too". Here's what ahm agin ;) "I love this show because it is really clever and emotionally resonant and complex and if you try it you might like it [and if you don't it must be because you can't or won't appreciate clever, emotionally resonant and complex stories]". Now, even if you don't say that last bit, it's most definitely implied whenever you claim that you know for a fact that this is a superior show. You might not mean that - you seem, frankly, like a very nice person so I doubt very much that you do - but if you're claiming the show is "objectively better" then it's like saying "1+1=2", anyone that disagrees doesn't just have another opinion, they're wrong.

Put it this way, I guarantee that all of us on here will consider to be good (not just enjoyable) that which others don't i.e. everyone differs about at least some shows in that regard. And if we differ then given the idea of an absolute scale, some of us are wrong about certain shows, some are wrong about others but we are ALL wrong about some show. So how do you ever know for sure which category the show you're recommending falls into ? How can you ever be sure you're right (and that's what "actually, quantifiably better" means, it means you can tell which shows are better, every single time, for everyone) ?

Voicing an opinion is fine, justifying it articulately is even better. Telling people that your opinion is a fact isn't (IMO ;). Just to be clear though, that doesn't mean "everything's relative" or "every opinion is equally valid" or "there's no such thing as facts" - some things aren't matters of opinion, don't depend on cultural mores or subjective judgement and on those things we can claim certainty (or as much as we have about anything at least). And some opinions aren't internally consistent or contradict known facts (so they're not as valid).
WSStm. Also, Happy Birthday, mate!
Cheers mate ;).
Voicing an opinion is fine, justifying it articulately is even better. Telling people that your opinion is a fact isn't (IMO ;).


I needed to post one last time to say I agree very strongly with this. It is a real bugbear of mine when I am told in no uncertain terms that something I like is “rubbish” and categorically not worthy of anyone liking it, etc – invariably without a good reason being given for it. It seems to happen far too often – and it makes me bloody angry. There is nothing wrong with differing opinions, but there is a fine line to tread when criticising someone else’s right to like (or not like) something.

Oh, and because I failed miserably to do it before, happy belated birthday, Saje.
Seems to me that it is not at all the same thing at all to say one show has a lot to offer- and saying what that is- character development, incredible camera work, whatever- as it is to say that someone else is foolish for enjoying a show that bores me, or that I just don't get..or connect with, for whatever reason.

If I am not interested in their favorite show, they can tell me what I'm missing about it, or that it's relaxing or whatever...fine. Could be I'll find something I was missing.

I really think that it is important (hence my beating of the proverbial dead horse) that every piece of art is not equal and its value does not just depend on whether someone off-handedly finds it pleasing. Doesn't mean that I am, or any other person can just say what is best...though like everyone else, I value some people's opinions over others, based on where they have led me in the past.

We should be able to talk about what makes something terrific, or insightful, or eye-opening- defend our opinions-without just saying everyone's opinion is equal. Opinions are equal to the point that they make sense and are supported by logic and experience. And that doesn't rule out the value of relaxing with unchallenging entertainment at all.

That's something pretty much everyone does in one way or another, and the fact that these areas can run into one another doesn't make them the same. I like plenty of stuff other people think is stupid or in poor taste, and hope they will listen when I explain why I do.

[ edited by toast on 2008-10-01 16:19 ]
Relatedly, Televisionary is spreading rumors that production is stopping this week on Fox's Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles starring Summer Glau. And of a possible cancellation - something to do with Prison Break.

I really like this show, and will be sorry if it is dropped. And I hope there are enough episodes in the can so I can eventually find out exactly what is going on with Cameron (and whether we can trust her/it.)
Oh arse, if true that's bad news IMO, I thought they'd at least get the first 13.

We should be able to talk about what makes something terrific, or insightful, or eye-opening- defend our opinions-without just saying everyone's opinion is equal.

Well, I did explicitly say "that doesn't mean "everything's relative" or "every opinion is equally valid"" toast ;).

I really think that it is important (hence my beating of the proverbial dead horse) that every piece of art is not equal ... Doesn't mean that I am, or any other person can just say what is best...

The thing is, it seems to me like it kinda does. As I say, because that's a pretty unpalatable thing to say to people, most nice folks don't want to accept that's what it means but if you're claiming that there's a real, definable scale for the judgement of art, one that's intrinsic to the art (i.e. isn't at all dependent on the person appreciating it) then you really are saying "what is best" (in the sense of quality, rather than enjoyment). Any absolute scale has a top and a bottom (or at least has a "nearer the top" and a "nearer the bottom") - that just comes with being an absolute scale.

As I say, I agree wholeheartedly that "every piece of art is not equal" because we're all different, sometimes in tiny ways, sometimes in huge ones and because art is (to me) partly about what the viewer/reader/etc. brings with them then it all varies (I think it's also true to say BTW that we're all the same, sometimes in tiny ways, sometimes in huge ones, which is why we often agree). And by the criteria that we've decided (by consensus) to mean, for instance, "good technique", we can judge any work of art. "By consensus" is the key there though - we can make a piece of art good or bad by consensus but we can't make the Moon a balloon by consensus, no matter how many of us might think it's true (I suspect that may be a fairly small number ;).

We on here can't even agree between us if Joss' work is "complex" or not (one of the criteria that most people have used when talking about "superior art") and we're all fans of his art. Why ? Because what's complex and what isn't is subjective, it depends on the person doing the deciding.

(one way I can think of that a consensus could be at the very least a rough analogue to objective truth would be if the properties that lead to a consensus agreement are fixed in us by e.g. our biology, then I reckon you could claim that they're objective cos they'd be properties of the world - the bit of it that happens to be inside of us ;). So it'd be very interesting to hear if there's been any research across cultures to determine if there're universal criteria for art appreciation. If so it wouldn't rule out arbitrary cultural determinants but it'd make 'em less likely I reckon)
Aaargh. I must not be very good at explaining this, because that is not what I mean, Saje. I am not at all concerned with an absolute finding of goodness or a consensus on what is best.

Some works of art/entertainment have a lot to offer to most anyone who knows their language, or can learn it. And it is entirely possible to say what they have to offer. I think it is preferable that we do that, instead of stopping too soon with, "Well, I just like it, and you don't, so you like your thing, and I'll like mine."

I would miss way too much that way. I'd have missed Buffy, for example, if I hadn't listened to my smart daughter, who explained why I should check it out.
Well, it could be that i'm also not very good at understanding it because I pretty much agree with that ;).

OK, let me use a concrete example. At the end of 'The Gift' Buffy makes her beautiful sacrifice and no right thinking eye is dry ;). Now, some fans (let's say - purely for the sake of argument - you're one of them toast) feel like that sacrifice was, in part, also an expression of the Slayer death wish that Spike talked about in (I wanna say 'Fool for Love' ?) a previous episode (bodyswerve, bet no-one noticed ;). Since that's an extra motivation for the character I think you could say that interpretation is more complex. Which means those that don't think that haven't grasped all the complexities, right ?

No, not to me. It just means they don't agree. You can tell them until you're blue in the face "But look, it's right there" but if it isn't there for them then in a very real sense (IMO) it isn't there (for them). And in an equally real sense, it is there for you.

But if you're actually saying "If you - nicely - point out to people why you enjoy a piece of art, even why you think it's complex and rewarding on multiple layers then that's a good thing" then I totally agree, it is.
No problem there. But there is probably actually a reason why they think my interpretation is off the mark. Maybe they think that, say, it would detract from, or conflict with the sacrificial imagery- or whatever. Or maybe it ruins it for them to look at it that way for some other reason. They should tell me so, instead of just saying they don't buy it. We'll both profit from the exchange.

I do realize that a person can keep on talking about something when there's nothing left to say. (Heh.) But it's worse to stop too soon, isn't it...just write a disagreement off as an unassailable difference in taste almost at once?
Heh, I don't even wanna know how many words i've posted in this thread but suffice it to say, I don't think stopping too soon is something I have an issue with ;).

And I totally agree, a good discussion is better than just "It's not my thing" - it's nice to find like-minded people that share your outlook BUT I think you clearly learn more from a well thought out disagreement (and who knows, you might see their point or they might see yours and presto ! more grist to the Whedon mill ;).

But I still stand by the idea that if they don't see it, it's not always because they're not seeing something that's there, it's often because they're not seeing something that's there for you.
And to add a little more fuel to the fire (even though this thread has fallen off the main page), I think I agree both with Saje and with toast here. What I think makes them both correct (and I'm going out on a ledge here, thinking out new terrain, so bear with me) is that not everything about art appreciation is - in fact - subjective. In practice, for instance, I'd say that complexity isn't subjective and the disagreement here lies with the definition of the term (as always :)).

Everyone can base their argument on actual facts, point at the text and be correct. Like in the example given here: the 'extra layer', the sacrifice, is something that is supported by the text of the show in the first place and adds complexity. Now, this is not persé correct, mind. It might be a coïncindence instead of real complexity and someone might have convincing arguments the other way, also based on the text. Now I'm not saying any of us is superior to anyone else in finding these textual "facts". Compare it to studying history: the "true" history is out there and its (one of) the job(s) of historians to fully describe it. Now you might argue, that there's no "truth" in art, that everything is in the eye of the beholder, but I wouldn't necessarily hold to that. A lot of stuff in Joss' shows for instance, is put there consciously. Yes, the end results or "one correct interpretation" might not be there (because Joss has very often stated things along the lines of 'bring your own subtext' or has left things intentionally vague so people could bring to it whatever they wanted), but in those cases there's still a fact there: a consciously added layer (kept vague) to increase complexity.

Now what we build with these factual blocks is subjective. So, there's added complexity, but maybe you don't enjoy the complexity or - a little higher on the as-objective-as-possible scale - you feel the added complexity on this subject or a less clear storyline somewhere, deminishes some other area of the art you're appreciating. So the end result, the jugdement as 'good' or 'bad', is again completely subjective (but with a little effort might be as-objective-as-possible).

But this does not negate the fact that the argument between two people on these subjects is not completely equal. There are cases where one person can be right and another person can be wrong. Not in the end conclusion, because of the inherent subjectivity, but very much so in the way these conclusions are reached. Like everyone is agreeing: not all these opinions are equal, and they depend on the underlying reasoning and arguments.

Now which attributes we consider to be good or bad or anything else, depends on the person in question, cultural biases etcetera, but there is at least some "art [that] is not equal and [whose] value does not just depend on whether someone off-handedly finds it pleasing. Doesn't mean that I am, or any other person can just say what is best", to quote toast and that there is no "real, definable scale for the judgement of art, one that's intrinsic to the art" to quote Saje, but that there are intrinsic properties on which we might judge art, but that the judgement is inherently subjective.

[ edited by GVH on 2008-10-01 22:09 ]
I guess that as far as objectivity is concerned, for the sake of communication, I am willing to make some assumptions- like there is no way to be sure that you and I both see the same thing when we see the color red. What I see is there for me, and maybe not for you, but I don't find it helpful to start that far back when discussing a painting with you.

The red bit is there, and repeated in another place- and there's not much point in arguing about that. We can differ, though, on whether the repetition is effective in the composition, or cleverly refers to some similar work of the artist, or whether it's pretty or incredibly original, or whatever.

Ultimately these discussions may end up with whether we have a personal affinity for a certain kind of thing- but this stuff in the middle is not entirely subjective- and looking at it, and talking about it may actually, at times, change our attraction to it, or indifference, or repulsion. Which is maybe what GVH means?

I think this is real, valuable stuff to do- though you can't do it with everything, all the time. And I do place a value ("good") on doing this sometimes, and a value ("sadly limited experience") on never doing it at all.

I feel myself becoming more pompous with every passing moment, but I actually mean this...with considerable feeling!

[ edited by toast on 2008-10-01 23:12 ]
It seems like you're talking more about discussing why we like (or dislike) something toast but that's not really what I mean (or have meant ;) about calling some people's tastes limited - i'm not talking about how they talk about it or how they justify their tastes (though the better they do it the more I personally will consider their opinion), i'm talking about what their tastes are in the first place.

And the point about red is entirely apropos IMO - someone might see a shade of red and associate it with something else, to them "X is clearly referencing one of Rembrandt's self-portraits" for instance. Someone else sees a different shade of red and so for them the association doesn't exist. Neither is right cos both are (you might say, "Well, what shade did X - the artist - see when they painted it ?" but that's the whole authorial intent debate and though we've skirted it we've - mercifully ;) - avoided it so far, let's try for a perfect record ;). Too fundamental a distinction to start talking from maybe but it illustrates the subjectivity point quite nicely.

... but that there are intrinsic properties on which we might judge art, but that the judgement is inherently subjective.

Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense though i'm not 100% on the intrinsic properties GVH, do you mean intrinsic in the sense that they're "built-in" to the particular piece of art like e.g. the actual text of a dialogue (and not intrinsic to art in general) ?

Cos I agree with that, i've always seen the text as different to the interpretation of the text (that's partly why the distinction between canon and non-canon is important to me - there isn't really any point in interpreting a non-canonical work in the wider context of the Buffyverse because it's not from the Buffyverse, it should just be enjoyed - hopefully ;) - on its own merits) and I also agree that it follows that you could therefore have an opinion based on e.g. mis-hearing a line of dialogue which would then just be wrong. In the case of two arguments that are both factually correct, I don't think you can have one that's right and one that's wrong BUT I certainly reckon you can have one that's more convincing than the other, even if that's a judgement we all make for ourselves.

The issue I still have with "complexity" is, the word itself implies you've passed some milestone from "simplistic" to "complex" and I really think that cut-off point's subjective. And underlying it is the idea that more complexity is A Good Thing (I don't just mean more enjoyable, I mean actually artistically more accomplished). Well, why is that necessarily so ? Stephen King has said he sometimes uses shorter, simpler words in passages where he wants to generate pace and excite the reader (because we can read them faster), so a lot of his most exciting passages are verbally less complex. But he's still doing it "artfully" if you like, so why is that necessarily less artistically accomplished than a beautifully turned, complex, dense phrase from a (supposedly) more literary author ?

The complexity thing makes me think of Hemingway for his prose in general but also specifically for that article linked here a while back about 6 word stories. A lot of the authors came up with very clever stuff, recursive sentences and artfully truncated phrases (Joss' was quite off-kilter in a funny/cool way IIRC) but I still actually remember the words of Hemingway's

"For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn."

just because it's so simple and yet so full IMO. Now granted, there's "borrowed complexity" there but the art itself is surely almost as simple as it can be (but no simpler ;).
Whew, I think we're finally nearing the "agree fully" point, Saje. So yes to your question: I mean intrinsic as in built-in to that particular piece of art, not art in general. And I agree wholeheartedly on why the distinction between canon and non-canon is so important.

As for complexity, I was using it as an example of something that is pretty much factual. Your example illustrates this perfectly: we can see where things are more or less complex (like in the language used in the Stephen King novel), but the judgement of what that means for the appreciation of the art, depends on context.

For instance, I'd agree that these short 6-word stories are not complex in themselves, but represent a great piece of storytelling. I.e.: I'd certainly call the Hemingway example 'good'. In this case, it's the simplicity and implied complexity, which makes this piece of art beautifull and emotionally involving. So again, it all depends on context. On the whole, for a television series, I'd say complexity is a good thing. I.e.: complexity (or "richness") in themes or complexity in the sense that fiction - or art in general - is layered is almost always a good thing.

Now, sometimes simplicity or elegance can also be a good thing and we have an apparent contradiction. I could imagine a piece of music which is very complex and which then - from the initial cacophony - dissolves into a very elegant, single theme. This piece of music might then be called beautifull because of that contrast or resulting elegance. Although, in another sense, this contrast might add complexity and layers to the music, when using a certain set of definitions for the term. So, in the end, I'd say that a lot of disagreements end up in a definitions game of the words used to describe factual things in the "text". The judgement based on those facts is then subjective, but may be as-objective-as-possible and based on a wide cultural concensus on what constitutes 'good' art, giving that judgement more value than an also-subjective judgement that's based solely on enjoyment.

ETR: typos

[ edited by GVH on 2008-10-02 00:00 ]
I'm not seeing a whole lot of actual disagreement here. It's mostly a matter of where we place the most emphasis, I guess. The at least partial subjectivity of aesthetic judgment is important insofar as it reminds us not to be rude, or think ourselves somehow superior, but it's less helpful in the realm of expanding our own understanding and experience.

And it could lead to overlooking stuff that might be amazing. Because the other side of being rude because you think you know best, is assuming that "I know what I like" and never trying anything new or challenging if it's not what we liked before.

Some folks think that apparent contradictions- like simple/complex, co-existing somehow, are what make for powerful art. Maybe so.

[ edited by toast on 2008-10-02 01:54 ]
I've been off-line for a couple of days but just wanted to say how much I've enjoyed this thread.
GHV, I totally understand what you're saying about complexity.
Disclaimer here: You know the famous "series of questions" used by James Lipton on Bravo's Actor's Studio interviews? My answer to "what is your favorite word" would be "complexity". I genuinely believe that an appreciation for complexity in art is a sign of a more highly evolved sensibility, than a lack of appreciation for complexity. I think there's been a lot of dancing around this concept on this thread, because it isn't considered "politically correct". But I'm fully prepared to be called every kind of elitist, and stand by that statement. Which has nothing to do with my individual taste, as I've illustrated by using two great artists as my example, one I adore and one I don't care for at all. (In my previous comment, Van Gough and Mozart).

I'll repeat that earlier example: There is IMO no objective criteria by which Van Gogh or Mozart can not be considered great art. And one of the reasons for that is one of the defining factors in all great art, and that is that they are both complex and multi-layered, and the deeper you delve into their works, the more complex meaning you find.
You cannot, by any stretch of objective reality, say the same about the novels of Jackie Collins. This is what I meant when I said that there has to be some basic criteria for language that defines great art vs. that which is indisputably not great art.

Although, the "not great art" is enjoyed by a lot of people, myself included. (Not Jackie Collins, but a lot of entertainment in different media which is not great art but simply entertaining.)
And using that criteria, I believe that all art/entertainment, in whatever media, does indeed have intrinsic value. Whether or not I, or any other individual, likes it personally, whether it can be defined with pretty much 100% certitude as "great art" (Mozart, Van Gough) or "not great art" (Jackie Collins), it has intrinsic value because it is entertaining to someone. It brings enjoyment to someone, somewhere.

But if you want to play with language, as we here so love to do, I would propose that if there is one criteria for what constitutes "great art", that criteria would be complexity. Not as opposed to simplicity, which can be a synonym for elegance and therefore, complex in it's own right. But as opposed to simplistic (think of a really bad sitcom or reality show), which is a very different thing, appeals to the lowest common denominator of taste, and is simply not as highly evolved on the "art" scale as Mozart or Van Gough (or Shakespeare), by any stretch of language or perception.

My two cents (or 700 billion dollars, adjusted for inflation). ;-)
Art or skill, I wonder which it takes to appeal to the largest audience? Is the largest audience by default the "lowest common denominator"? What to say of those who are able to reach, and presumably speak to, the masses more effectively than another artist? Pulp romance versus Shakespeare...

Complexity might equal that which more thoroughly stresses a system (nervous system; thinking system). If Shakespeare cannot be understood nor enjoyed then it fails as a stressor for that system.

The brain is an organ that needs stimulation for health. Proper stimulation improves function; decreased stimulation harms the system. What is the proper stimulation, though?

May as well ask what's the proper weight for stimulating a muscle. The answer is it depends on the muscle and its history.

What is the proper art to stimulate a brain? The answer is it depends on the brain and its history.

Stimulation is the key to life and art that stimulates us is the best art for us.

Complexity is a journey. Complexity scales with the system undergoing the stress (mechanical or perception or whatever).

What is good art? That which stimulates us. What is better art? That which does a better job of stimulating us. And if it fails to stimulate then it isn't good art.

If a piece of art has been demonstrated to cause stimulation, and if that stimulation is occurring in people that seek out stimulation through that medium, then their opinion of good art seems to carry more weight and this is likely justifiable. These people produce a legitimate, objective source for judging what is good stimulation. Not what is "better" stimulation but rather what is "good" stimulation. In this way I can appreciate art that fails to stimulate me much; though I don't need informed opinion to make a valuation of the art as to its goodness, it does help. I can also appreciate how a piece of art probably causes stimulation in others, and empathize with the magnitude of the stimulation, even though it may fail to stimulate me much at all. Thus I can proclaim a piece of art "good" even if I don't like it.

Of course my valuation may be in error; I cannot experience another person's stimulation, only my own.
This is irrelevant to the discussion, but in Shakespeare's defense (!), he definitely appealed to the "masses" in his day. There was something for everyone in most of his plays. If they're considered "difficult" now it's only because, centuries later, the language is sort of unfamiliar, which seems like a different matter.

I genuinely believe that an appreciation for complexity in art is a sign of a more highly evolved sensibility, than a lack of appreciation for complexity. I think there's been a lot of dancing around this concept on this thread, because it isn't considered "politically correct".

Not sure that I'd agree there's been dancing (oh, if only! :)), I think it's just a "complex" (heh) subject and people have different takes on it. I'm pretty sure nobody here is just trying to be PC. When I read your statement above, it's not that I disagree, but it seems like a slightly over-simplified (double heh) way of looking at it, and I think the fancy foot-work comes in when we try to pin down exactly what we mean using words that we aren't sure are on our side (ie. what do we mean when we say "complex" or "good." Sometimes just talking about these things feels like walking into a trap).

But I do agree, basically. And Van Gogh is my favorite painter too. Although you can see why the poor man went crazy and cut his ear off - if the world looked to me like a frenetic, vibrating, too-bright madhouse, I don't think my sanity would hold up either.
Running out the door but just wanted to say exactly Re: Shakespeare catherine - that's a pretty good example of culture changing and along with it the way a work of art is viewed. He was very popular in his day so clearly even then people saw him as talented BUT his work was very much aimed at and enjoyed by the masses. So we who enjoy his stuff today have the artistic sensibility of an Elizabethan peasant - haven't we done well, pats on the back all round I reckon ;).
Though not aimed exclusively at "the masses" of course - so we could also pat ourselves on the backs and say we have the artistic sensibility of the Elizabethan elite (and Elizabeth herself?). Hooray, more pats! What seems most remarkable about Shakespeare to me is the incredible balancing act that he pulled off so flawlessly in play after play: a depth or... OK fine... "complexity" that means we never seem to get tired of analyzing the stuff, some of the best poetry ever produced in the English language according to a great many, riveting stories, sharp-edged wit and pure silliness and slapstick humor, a diverse cast of characters so that almost anyone in the audience can find someone to relate to, and all this while making sure that the play was politically and artistically pleasing to the Queen (and then King). Not bad!

Of course my valuation may be in error; I cannot experience another person's stimulation, only my own.

I think you should make this your e-mail sign-off RhaegarTargaryen! :)

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