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October 15 2012

Cracked article with two Whedonverse references. The page talks about stereotypes in TV and movies, referencing Willow and Tara about homosexuality and one of Echo's assignments regarding the disabled.

Did they actually identify someone as Lavender Brown in the first five movies? I'm curious because they never actually said her name in the sixth movie.

Interesting point about the disabilities, though overall, the article seems a bit nebulous.
This is a pretty poorly researched piece. I could refute the application of the "dead lesbian" trope to Tara at length but Drew Greenberg's already done it extremely well. In short, Tara's death inverts the trope.
Nice link, Sunfire. I hadn't seen that before.

Also, the guy says And when I found out they wanted to hire me, I got goose bumps the size of actual geese. And nearly as noisy . . .and he was surprised to get hired on BtVS?
Sadly, I cannot seem to find the link to Robert Black's article son the cliche as applied to Willow and Tara; it seems the links are broken. But his application flies in the face of what Drew Greenberg says. There is, however, Alissa Wilts article:

I realize that I am extracting a section without context, but this is a telling section: "Buffy’s writers had no personal queer experiences to inform their writing decisions; their heterosexual experience failed to recognize the history of lesbian representation and made it possible for them to accidentally duplicate the historical images of lesbians that dominate our film, television and literary culture. This heterosexual writer bias equates the lesbian experience with
that of the show’s straight white characters, and assumes that it’s fine to do bad things to the lesbians as long as the straight people suffer too. The problem with that argument is that Buffy’s straight characters do not suffer in the same way. At the close of season six, if you were a queer character on Buffy, your chances of being either dead or evil were 100% - death for Larry and Tara, and evil for Andrew and Willow."


I though the rest of the article was fairly canny in exploding out tropes that are so embedded they are often not seen.
If nothing else, this article - and the one Dana references - certainly prove the truth of one old trope: "People pretty much read into anything exactly what they want/expect to see"...
Rowan- you're a reader response guy! Who knew?

Re: ED's performance in Dollhouse, I am reminded of the horseshoe effect. Horseshoes on stone don't sound like coconuts being banged together, but that's the sound Hollywood (and radio before it) has used to simulate horseshoes, and as a result whenever directors tried to have the actual sound put in, test audiences remarked it sounded "wrong." So apparently we are stuck with it, a prisoner of our expectations.

For the other issue... it would appear that cliches and tropes are in the eye of the beholder?

(I do think it goes without saying that the writers could have handled it much better. Adding Amber Benson to the credits on "Seeing Red" was a particularly bad idea.)
Great link Dana, thanks!

I was really intrigued by the Lavender Brown casting. I know that when the books first came out, a lot of people read Hermione as black and were surprised at the illustrations/casting of her. Meanwhile I could almost swear that Lavender is described as blonde, but now I'm curious if I didn't just picture her as such because of the "dumb blonde" stereotype.
At the close of season six, if you were a queer character on Buffy, your chances of being either dead or evil were 100% - death for Larry and Tara, and evil for Andrew and Willow."

Is there a single major character on Buffy or Angel who has not had a stint being "evil"? To hold Andrew up as an "evil" gay character is arguable on both the "evil" and the "gay" fronts. And if you go with "gay" then he's, quite clearly, every bit as much one of the "good guys" as anyone else in the extended Scoobyverse. The same is true of Willow. To suggest that her dalliance with the dark side is somehow impugning gays is just ridiculous. It's as if one were to argue that Riley's dalliance with the dark side was impugning Iowans ("OMG, 100% of the Iowans on BtVS went vamp-whoring; it's clearly because none of the writers have first-hand Iowan experience!!").

There is absolutely no part of Tara's death that fits the "killing the gay character" trope and the simple proof of that is that not a single similar case is ever brought forward. The "kill the gay" trope was about two things: either you wanted to have your straight character tempted by a gay seducer, but then you killed the seducer to "rescue" the straight character (most of the lesbian exploitation novels of the early/mid C20th are along this road and it's broadly the pattern you find in, for example, the movie version of Fried Green Tomatoes) or you kill the gay character as a way of "excusing" their gayness: you make the story into a tragic one about the character's illness/death and then you don't have to confront readers/viewers with actual gay characters being gay and happy about it (you could broadly fit a film like Philadelphia into that pattern).

None of this applies, at all, to the situation of Tara. There you had a gay couple who were happily out and proud and whose relationship was entirely accepted by their entire social set. You had a death which was entirely unrelated to the characters' sexuality and you had the bereaved partner continuing to be gay and not to have had her sexuality challenged in any way.

This Cracked piece makes the argument in the stupidest and least-informed way imaginable, btw, which is unusual for them; they've been doing pretty good work in this vein of lighthearted cultural analysis lately. To suggest that Tara's death shows that the writers of BtVS needed to kill a character and looked around and automatically chose the gay character is just profoundly silly. Tara was available when they killed Joyce. Larry was available when they killed Jenny Callendar. Willow was available when Anya was killed etc. etc. Tara was killed because, for story purposes, it was the only tragic event powerful enough to account for Willow choosing to destroy the world, and they wanted to tell a story where the climactic "Big Bad" was one of the Scoobies. Tara was killed because it was assumed that A) we cared deeply about her and B) we would sympathize with Willow's blind rage in response to the death. Her being gay was entirely irrelevant.
Yoink, I think you should read The Celluloid Closet. And btw, at the end of S6, Willow had gone evil, as had Andrew; Larry and Tara were dead. That they tried to salvage it in S7 changes nothing. And please remember there was a lot of discussion between Joss and Marti Noxon about whether to keep Willow gay; they ultimately decided to do so was necessary, but the fact they even had the discussion is telling. It is not the "killing the gay character" trope; it was the "evil-dead lesbian trope," not the same thing.
It is not the "killing the gay character" trope; it was the "evil-dead lesbian trope," not the same thing

So name one other example, prior to BtVS of a gay character who had been gay for multiple seasons of a TV show, whose death was unrelated to the fact of their being gay, where the fact of them being gay was known to their entire coterie and fully accepted by that coterie and where the "survivor" character continued to be gay after the death. I mean, if this is a "trope" there have to be multiple previous examples, right? All I'm asking is that you name one.

at the end of S6, Willow had gone evil

Actually, at the end of S6, Willow had ceased to be "evil." And, again, Willow is merely one of a long list of "good" Whedonverse characters who have done very bad things as a result of particular circumstances. The notion that this is to be taken as some kind of comment on her sexuality is simply arbitrary: Angel tried to destroy the world too--is that a comment on heterosexuality? What about Xander summoning Sweet, was that a comment on the inherent untrustworthiness of straights?

In fact, the logic of the story is entirely in the opposite direction. It's because the audience is fully persuaded that the Tara-Willow relationship is a real relationship, every bit as authentic and compelling as any of the straight relationships the show has examined, that we understand why Willow is so distraught that she is acting in the way she does AND that we are willing to forgive her for acting as she does. If the point of any of this was somehow to impugn either gay characters or gay relationships then the story logic would simply fail. If the point was to suggest that gay people are naturally "evil" then you wouldn't need an extraordinary event like Tara's death to push Willow to the "dark side." Just being gay would be sufficient to account for an inherent tendency to do "evil" acts.

you should read The Celluloid Closet

The Celluloid Closet describes the trope of gay death/suicide in exactly the terms I outlined above. At the time that The Celluloid Closet was written it would have been unimaginable that there could be a TV series, ostensibly aimed at teens, in which a major character would come out as gay, everyone would accept that character's sexuality, and the character would continue to be gay even after the loss of a beloved partner. Nothing about the BtVS scenario fits the pattern of people being "punished" for their gayness that Russo describes in The Celluloid Closet. For example, talking of Midnight Cowboy Russo writes:
...if Ratso Rizzo had not died on the bus to Florida, he and Joe would have lived happily ever after--and who would stand for that?

As you can see, he's talking about death being used as a way of shutting down the disturbing possibility of an ongoing gay relationship: we're allowed to flirt with the idea of alternative sexualities, but they're not allowed to become normative. Now, nothing--at all--in that scenario matches what happens in BtVS. Tara's death doesn't shut down Willow's gayness: she continues to be out and proud. More to the point, though, even before Tara died, the fact of their relationship as a loving, mutually satisfying one that is in every way equivalent to any of the straight relationships in the series had been firmly established.

Had Tara been killed in S4 then we'd be firmly in the realm of the "kill the gay character" trope: in fact, the classic form would be to have Willow interested in "exploring" the possibility of a relationship with Tara, tempted to "walk on the wild side," but then have Tara killed in a tragic incident that safely closes that possibility off (perhaps Tara gets killed by Oz, say?). That would be the kind of denouement that Russo would expect, for example. But once you've had Willow and Tara together and happy for an entire season none of that even vaguely or theoretically applies. We've moved entirely out of the realm of the trope.

No, sorry, definitely not a reader-response guy. People can read anything into anything, but that doesn't mean that what they read is actually there.
It also does not mean it is not, Rowan.

Yoink, let's go back to the issue I noted above- that Joss and Marti Noxon had discussions about whether or not Willow would remain gay. Think about that. Given that she was saved by the love of a good man, this would have poured oil on the fire. They finally decided to keep her gay- and did so in order to not create additional problems given the outcry that occurred.

And here is a link to the number of occasions where this did occur on TV:
that Joss and Marti Noxon had discussions about whether or not Willow would remain gay. Think about that. Given that she was saved by the love of a good man, this would have poured oil on the fire. They finally decided to keep her gay- and did so in order to not create additional problems given the outcry that occurred.

I don't really think this is valid evidence. Writers examine many, many possibilities when writing a story. I'd certainly hate for my work to be judged based on the ideas I discarded while in the writing process.

And on a side note, I would be absolutely flabbergasted if Joss believed that the absolute best choice dramatically and for the character was to make Willow straight again, and only didn't do it "given the outcry." I'm not saying that had zero influence on his thinking, because of course it had some influence, but I suspect it has less to do with the decision than narrative and character concerns.
Maybe quotegergal can find the original article in which this issue was brought up, because I don't want to cite it incorrectly, but my recollection was that the main reason they did not go that route was so as to not further upset people who were already badly upset.
I'm not sure why Willow being saved by Xander has anything at all to do with this discussion. He's a man, sure, but by season 6, the relationship there is purely brother/sister. Yes Willow used to have a crush on him, and they kissed twice in high school, but none of that has anything to do with what Xander was talking about in the yellow crayon speech or with what pulled Willow back from the edge.

He was not some kind of 'competition' for Willow's dead lover. He was Willow's oldest friend, desperately trying to get her to remember that she wasn't alone in the world. That there were still lots of people who loved her (as family, not as replacements for Tara). This is not a scene which has anything whatsoever to do with sexuality.

And it's also not a scene that could have been done with any other character. Which girl was supposed to pull Willow back? Buffy, who as the slayer had to spend most of her energy fighting to save the world rather than relating to her friend? Dawn, a 'teenager' who technically wasn't even two years old and who spent the entire season trying to make everyone take her more seriously? Or Anya, a demon whose history with Willow was at least half conflict and almost entirely centered on Xander?

And if anyone is seriously going to argue that nothing that happened in season 7 is trustworthy material for this kind of discussion because it was all just the writers backpedaling from the outrage, then I would have to say that Andrew was not evil at all. At his worst in s6, he was a highly deluded puppet, who hung around someone who was clearly evil (Warren), and didn't have that one little extra bit of sense that enabled him to question his 'friend' which allows us to give Jonathan a free pass. Andrew's truly evil moment didn't come until he willingly stabbed his best friend in the gut, in season 7.
Dana, I never said that it does mean that what a person reads is not ever there. What I'm saying is that perceptions are just that: perceptions. I understand that there's absolutely no way you'll ever admit to that, but there it is: if an author says the sky was blue, you can read into it that he really means he was brokenhearted and depressed when he wrote it all you want, but the fact remains that he probably just meant the sky was blue.

People who insist on reading everything as a deliberate diss are "offense kleptomaniacs" - they'll take any offense that isn't nailed down. If authors make their characters "safe" just because of their sexual orientation, or their ethnicity, or their religion, people would be whining about that, too. There's no way for a writer to win. They need to just write their stories the way they see fit, and let people who don't like it find something else that panders to their requirements.
Well, yeah, that's obvious, Rowan. But that's also easy- just because Joss did not mean to do something (i.e. invoke the evil-dead lesbain cliche) does not mean it cannot be read that way or that it was not invoked. I get that Joss was interested in telling a story, and that was his primary goal. What happened filled the need of the story he wanted to tell. But that does not mean it did not do certain things, like upset a whole lot of people that I believe that Joss did not mean to upset. It does not mean that we cannot apply this cliche to the story.

See, Joss just tells stories. We give them meaning. I read lack of consent into both Dollhouse and the cosmic fracking of Buffy S8- did Joss mean to put it there? And if he says that he did not mean for what happened to be read that way, does it make it wrong that I, and others, could read it that way? Politicians say things all the time that say one thing, but might mean another or be read as meaning another. Writers are no different. So, if it means that this is my perception, well, of course it is. And it is not Joss's. But that does not make my perception wrong, right? I might not agree with what Joss meant, but I have that right, as a reader. This is not about whether or not I agree with Joss that Faith's last name is Lehane- it is about interpreting a scene, in a world where Joss always told us to bring your own subtext.
Okay, I know I'm going to regret this, but... ("Oh, I'm goin' to the special hell...")

Willow went evil because the writers wanted that level of drama, and Tara was a necessary casualty of that decision.

When Angel went bad in S2, that's what ramped the show up to true glory (small-g glory, I hasten to add). Joyce's death probably had a deeper impact, and in a lot of ways all of Season 6 is fallout from her passing, but there's nothing you can do about Joyce suddenly being dead, whereas one of the Scoobies going bad and needing to be stopped but not killed -- well, that tension was at the core of one of their best storylines. So it's not too surprising that they went back to that well, although not exactly new. But who could go evil?

It had to be one of the core four, for the same reason none of the core four could die in "Chosen" -- they were the ones we cared about the most. Losing one of them meant that the show was a tragedy, no matter what else happened.

But it couldn't be Buffy -- that would essentially end the show's whole reason for existence.

It couldn't be Giles -- that would also send a message alien to the show, that our parents were evil and wisdom was doomed to go bad.

It couldn't be Xander -- he's our stand-in, the everyman, no special powers. Turn him evil and the show essentially says that the audience is evil, or loses the audience in general. (Xander has some pretty wicked deeds, but that's part of the point: there's evil in all of us.)

So: Willow. Who had been growing in power all along, and we all know what they say about power.

But Willow would never go evil with Tara there to talk her down.

Tara's death was sealed, in narrative terms, as soon as the showrunners decided that one of our heroes was going to go bad. And they decided to do that because... well, because we the audience love the pain, don't we?

(As to the "should Will stay gay?" discussions... are we sure that they weren't "We attack the Mayor with hummus" brainstorming talks? Not trying to discount them, I just don't know about them.)
Some in the audience do not love the pain, METAI. Oh, I enjoy this conversation but am off to a conference for the next 3 days- American Society for Bioethics and Humanities in Wash, DC. Not sure if I can log in, drat.
And if he says that he did not mean for what happened to be read that way, does it make it wrong that I, and others, could read it that way?

Yes. Or, at least, your interpretation is incorrect. The idea that any interpretation of someone else's words is just as valid as any other is ridiculous. Again, if I say "the sky is blue", I mean, "the sky is blue", not "dammit, I hate this world".

This is not about whether or not I agree with Joss that Faith's last name is Lehane- it is about interpreting a scene, in a world where Joss always told us to bring your own subtext.

Yeah, and I'm pretty sure that those scenes were deliberately written to offer that level of ambiguity. Sometimes a story is just a story. And, in fact, some "readers" do disagree with Joss as to Faith's last name - is their opinion just as valid as his on that, too??
True enough, Dana, but it's clear that Joss has usally been playing to those in the audience who do love it. His favorite scene he ever wrote is "I thought you were a pro," after all...
ManEnoughToAdmitIt: IT was sort of a question fo would Willow ever consider being ain a 'ship with a man agin, and they've decided no.

Yoinks: One problem with Joss is that, regardle4ss of his politics, personal feelings, or intentions, he has a tendency to (silly of me to use a sports metaphor since I know so little about them) what i call into stereotypical cliches." It plays out in his work, regardless of his intent, Kendra for example.

Rowan Hawthorn Dana5140: I feel that as a reader or viewer, I have a right to take what I wish from a fictional work or an essay. Don't know whwhere thta leaves me.
DCA: You can take whatever you wish from someone else's work, but my point is that just because you want to take xxxxxx from it doesn't mean the author actually put it in there.

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