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March 09 2006

Fighting for the custody of characters. Who knows best? The fans or the creator?

This is a more and more common thing. When I complained in a column at TheOneRing.net about the abuse of Gollum outside his sphere at the MTV awards, I got all kinds of emails basically saying that because Lord of the Rings is "out there" and Tolkien is dead, that fans and filmmakers can do as they please with his creation. It's a bit disturbing.
Good lord, can't this argument just go away already?

*sigh* I'm one of the fans pissed off about the death of [blank] in Serenity, for reasons many and varied... and reasons thoroughly covered in countless other posts here and elsewhere. Suffice to say authorial custody of fictional characters is not as cut-and-dried as some would like to think.

If we were talking about a novel, or a single, standalone film, that would be one thing. But television, most particularly genre television has always lived and died by the shared custody of it's characters and creations with it's audience. It's part of the package deal. When a creator chooses to tell a genre/sci-fi story in the give-and-take medium of television they really have no right to be surprised when the fans try to take possession of the work. It's the nature of the beast, and one that many creators look to take advantage of. It's really disingenuous to benefit from the unique relationship between genre creators and genre fans and then complain about that very relationship.

(And now, let the counterpoint arguments commence...)

[ edited by Haunt on 2006-03-09 21:44 ]
I can't even begin to count the number of times we would finish watching an episode of Buffy or Angel and shout at the television, "I HATE YOU JOSS WHEDON!" because the emotional turns were so upsetting or intense. of course, that is a big part of the pleasure of those shows - knowing that Joss was not going to pander and not play it safe.

But the general question is an interesting one. I seem to recall Stargate getting into trouble when they wrote off a popular character, and the fan outcry was so immense that they wound up bringing him back - maybe not as a direct result, but clearly you can't just relentlessly alienate your fans and still have a popular TV show. I think pop culture at that level is in part a conversation, especially in a world where the writers of these shows actively monitor forums and blogs to see what people think.

[ edited by Caroline on 2006-03-09 22:15 . Please capitalise your sentences.]
i think pop culture at that level is in part a conversation, especially in a world where the writers of these shows actively monitor forums and blogs to see what people think.

Precisely. In the modern world, where creators not only accept the online fan communities, but often join AND nurture them, it's not really realistic for them to want the "good" without also preparing for the "bad"...

(Which in no way implies I agree with the stereotypical definition of which is "good" and which is "bad" by the way)
Fans do not know best, they do not. When entertainment tries to cater to fans it always turns out badly- very badly.

There is a reason I don't read fanfiction.

I don't always like every turn in a story or every character, but it's hard to find a writer(s) who writes exactly to your taste. I think it's a little lame when people boycott overall good entertainment because they don't like one turn in a story. I usually only ditch things if it gets really bad and there seems to be no hope of a recovery.

This reminds me of when someone working at Borders told me he ditched Angel in season 5 because he was "Pro Cordy and Anti Spike".... I was just thinking; yes, but it's still Angel! It's still good entertainment overall.
Of course a show runner should expect response and outcry. If he isn't getting a response, he is indeed screwed. But fans should expect to dictate what happens to the story only by the number of fans who watch, not by demanding specific story features. Shows cannot be run by committee of creator/fandom. Only the viewing/marketing is aided by fandom.
Fans being upset with the death/mistreatment of a favorite character does not necessarily equal "fans know best". There are shades of grey, degrees of severity.

Just sayin's all.

My disappointment with the death of so-and-so has nothing to do with thinking I'm a better writer than Joss, or even thinking he "owes" me anything (though there's a whole other argument waiting to happen right there). I was disappointed and angry that the relationship Joss had made such a bid deal about and received so much critical praise for (namely Wash and Zoe) ultimately wound up being treated EXACTLY the same way all other romantic relationships are treated in the Jossverse... and therefor never deserved all the hype and critical praise in the first place.

In the end, my disappointment focuses on the fact that after all these years it's clear, on the subject of ongoing, fulfilling romantic relationship stories, Joss is something of a one trick pony. And THAT is not good storytelling.

Now every genre fandom has it's vocal extremists. It's somewhat annoying that the Joss fans (in particular us Browncoats) get so much negative press for being so rabid, when the Star Wars fans, the Trekkies/Trekkers, the Farscape fans, the Stargate fans, hell even the Charmed and Smallville fans... they ALL exhibit just as many rabid tendencies as we do.

Saying you have no interest in seeing a film because you know that your favorite character dies is one thing. Starting some kind of backlash "movement" among fan communities or going out of your way to sabotage a film/series/creator because you dislike or disagree with it... that's something else entirely.

And just to be clear, I don't fall into either of those above categories. I was upset with Joss' decision, but did not boycott him or his works.

I have, however, spent the months since first voicing my frustration defending my Browncoat pedigree against those extremist fans I was talking about for having dared say that Serenity was less than one hundred and fifty percent perfect, or worse for daring to say that Joss may have made a mistake with that one particular choice.

Go figure.
As Tim Minear said recently, factions in fandom are more dangerous than faction in Iraq.

Ultimately, it's the story of the show runner (in TV).

Here's a tip: if you do not like the writing or a direction a show is taking, stop watching. I saw people on Buffy boards coming online after every episode for years saying "Well, that was shit. Whedon has no idea what he is doing !!one!1!".

The people running the show are the show. It's as simple as that.


In the end, my disappointment focuses on the fact that after all these years it's clear, on the subject of ongoing, fulfilling romantic relationship stories, Joss is something of a one trick pony. And THAT is not good storytelling.


Point 1 - Alan asked to be killed off. Point 2 - motion picture, not a series.

[ edited by gossi on 2006-03-09 22:07 ]
I railed for fifteen solid minutes at least on the drive home from Serenity about Joss's "Anya syndrome." I hated the killing of Wash. But it's a fine line between preserving a character or relationship and portraying at least a little bit of realism--i.e. in a battle like that somebody's goin' down. Granted, the nature of movies would have ensured that we all would have accepted it if the crew had all come out alive, but still, the realism certainly served the story.

And despite the loss, I will still run right out to see Joss's next movie or queue up his next TV show in the Tivo. But I would certainly have the right not to. And if I didn't, and enough felt as I did, Joss would de facto have to change the way he does business in order to sell his product. Nature of the beast. Fans screaming about it one way or the other make very little difference unless they stop watching in droves--and that's how it should be, imho.
Of course culture is a shared space, between creator and audience.

(It's why I hate that Lucas won't let me buy the versions of Star Wars which so captivated me when I was seven years old, for example. I don't believe he shuld somehow be barred from messing with them, but he's robbing me of my own cultural backstory by barring me from having access to my childhood.)

But the creator needs to be free to do what he or she wants. If a particular segment of the audience doesn't like it, then they can construct whatever mental devices they need to survive it -- there are people out there who can only enjoy Serenity by excluding it from their personal canon and considering it a different entity altogether.

But whatever particular personal choices an individual member of an audience (or a segment of an audience) makes regarding a given creation, their portion of the shared space ends where the creator's decisions begin.

To return to the example I mention above, it's entirely within a given Browncoat's rights to ditch Serenity from his or her personal canon (or for a group of Browncoats to do so from their communnity canon), but that doesn't change that Serenity remains official canon.

(Fans, of course, are also entirely free to boycott things if it makes them feel better. But creators are not under some sort of slavish obligation to serve up stories based upon, say, poll numbers, boycotts, or website campaigns to try to change a film and thereby inherently spoil the film for those who haven't seen it yet.)

[ edited by theonetruebix on 2006-03-09 22:11 ]
Haha, indeed, gossi. I'm a major Metallica fan, and have been listening to how they suck for years -- often from the same people standing next to me at the concert they've just shelled out $70 or so to see.
I agree with anwyn above: Show runners, producers, writers can and should expect outcry, especially when they make controversial decisions. But I'd be so disappointed if that actually make them change the story they were trying to tell. TV or movies by committee? No thanks. Often what the majority want isn't best. Or, even if it is, or they think it is, it isn't their story to tell.
Doing it differently in fan fiction? Great. Seems like that's one of the reasons fan fiction exists. But to me the author, not the fans, will always have custody and ultimate control over the characters, and I wouldn't want it any differently.
And typically, for every fan who is furious over the death of Tara/Cordy/Wash, there's another who thinks it made for a better story, devastating as it may have been. Or who will come ot feel that way over time.
A show where everyone lives happily ever after, no one ever gets hurt or suffers, the bad guys are easily distingushable by their black hats and goatee beards and are always defeated? Gee, THAT'LL be exciting...

Wash getting killed was like Maximus dying in Gladiator or Harry Lime in Third Man, take it away and the movie would have been nowhere near as good. We had to go into that final act on the edge of our seats believing that any one, or everyone, could die.
I was disappointed and angry that the relationship Joss had made such a bid deal about and received so much critical praise for (namely Wash and Zoe) ultimately wound up being treated EXACTLY the same way all other romantic relationships are treated in the Jossverse... and therefor never deserved all the hype and critical praise in the first place.

In the end, my disappointment focuses on the fact that after all these years it's clear, on the subject of ongoing, fulfilling romantic relationship stories, Joss is something of a one trick pony. And THAT is not good storytelling.


This is kind of missing the point. If you're saying that Joss is retelling the same story by having one half of a romantic pairing die, then you're boiling things down to the most simplistic level. For a start, since nearly every single character in Buffy, Angel and Firefly had some sort of romantic relationship with another character from the same show, you're basically saying that Joss couldn't kill any of them off.

For example, look at Buffy S6 in which the lead cast is comprised of Buffy, Spike, Anya, Willow, Xander, Tara and Dawn. Of those 7, 6 are paired off in 'romantic' relationships. If he kills off anyone besides Dawn then he's going to be ending one relationship or another.

Besides, the Firefly example hardly holds seeing as the film is in the unique position of being a sort of 'fast-forward' of the TV show.
Put it this way: I very, very closely monitored the US "I've Seen Serenity" forum after Serenity first had US screenings (because I knew it'd be chaos, and I was that sites moderator) -- and a saw a load of people who swore they would never go and see the movie again.

The following US preview, nearly all those people were not only still posting, they'd been to see it again.
I wouldn't have minded so much if he'd stuck to [blank], it's when [blank] died I was initially annoyed (amusingly at the preview screening I watched, everyone went absolutely silent in shock except for one lone, slightly eccentric, fan who said 'Oh Shit!' out loud for the entire cinema to hear). But after a while I realised it had to be done for Joss' stated reasons (i.e. to get us to believe they all might die) and when Kaylee gets darted I really thought 'Bloody hell, the sequel talk's been a red herring, he's actually going to kill them all'.

That said, I agree that this is fine for a stand-alone film but when the film is, for example, part of a saga that has entered popular culture and is one of the more cherished childhood memories of a whole generation I think the creator has some responsibility to the people who made him a multi-billionaire not to make arbitrary retrospective changes.

Or in other words 'Han shoots first, you bastard !' ;).

When Lucas made the notorious changes I remember him basically saying 'They're my films, I can do what I like' and I thought at the time, 'Yes but they're not are they, they're our films too'. We bought the lunch-boxes and duvet covers and action figures that gave him the money to make these changes and as things currently stand, in 10 years the version of Star Wars I saw at the cinema in 1978 won't exist.

I guess, if it's a genuinely creative choice, done for character development or emotional resonance then I have no problem with it (it is, after all, up to us whether or not to accept the creator's vision). But I am against retrospective changes full stop unless the audience is also given the choice to continue watching the original versions.

On a somewhat related note, one thing that really pisses me off is the way some people lobby to have shows taken off because they're offended by them. If you don't like what you're watching turn over the channel. Jeez, these days you don't even have to get up to do it, it's so easy to ignore offensive TV, why appoint yourself moral guardians to an entire nation ? /rant over ;).

Haunt, I think you raise a valid point about the one trick pony but I genuinely don't see it that way myself. To me, Wash (let's stop [blank]ing around ;) died because he was perhaps the only member of the crew who was almost wholly innocent. He'd never been in a war, never been directly involved in the crimes, was clearly anti-violence (where possible) and just a happy, easy going kind of guy. His death seemed all the more unjust and shocking because of that and really brought home the price of freedom idea. I think only Kaylee's death would have been more shocking and only Joss can answer why he didn't kill her off.

BTW, gossi, I hadn't heard that Alan asked to be killed off. Is that on one of the extras or an interview or something ?
I'm not so sure I can't see where these fans are coming from. Creators do have a right to their characters, but so do the fans, after all. We're the ones who receive the stories. We decide which ones are popular, and which are short-lived. We're the ones who say "Tell us more stories like that one," or "Give us more of that character," or "Maybe we've had quite enough gritty crime dramas, thank you very much." (At least I hope we'll say that soon.) Without an audience, creators would tell their tales to empty air.

Shakespeare and Dickens and Poe and Twain had magic pens, no doubt...thousands like them, maybe a touch less deft at prose or characterization, faded into history. But it took a fan to hear "To be or not to be," or read "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times," and feel moved. The telltale heart may have beat in Poe's head first, Tom Sawyer may have initially whitewashed his fence in the mind of Samuel Clemens, but it's happened hundreds of millions of times since then. These characters belong as much to their readers as to their creators, because each person has given them life.

Anyone who's ever read Stephen King's "On Writing" will know what I mean when I mention his telepathy experiment. He asks you to imagine a rabbit sitting in a cage with the number 8 on its back, and then points out that no matter how many people read the book and think of thatimage, no two images will be exactly alike. We'll all imagine different rabbits, different cages, et cetera. As Orson Scott Card always has said, the teller and the listener create their tales together.

Neither the text nor the image is the story. Those are just our means of access. It's the connection between author/director and audience that forms the real story, and there's no such thing as a one-way connection. My total conception of, say, who Buffy Summers is probably differs from yours, and I'm sure it differs from that of Joss or SMG. But that's because I've filled in the blanks, and thus Buffy is a little bit mine. I didn't give her the body she wears or the words she speaks, but my contribution, in its own small way, is just as valuable.

And here's where I have to part company with Joss. How does he know what we "need"? In the main, I'm sure he's talking about his philosophy of dramatic stories...that sometimes good people die and bad people get ahead, but that there will be victories and joys as well...that if nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do...that our lot in life is to shoulder our burdens and keep flyin' as best we can...and so forth. As far as the general principle goes, I agree. He gives us good, cathartic stories, which is what we need.

But like most things in life, that doesn't always translate well to the practical world. How about all the gays and lesbians who face persecutions in their daily lives, and who had particular ties to Willow and Tara as examples of people like them--people who were valued, needed, counted on? Whose relationship, most importantly, was celebrated instead of being swept under the rug? Anyody remember the backlash against Joss and Steve DeKnight when the Buffy creative team gave the viewers what they "needed" by way of Tara catching a stray bullet? Not so easy, is it?

When you create a story that people "need to see," as Joss has always said he was trying to do, don't be surprised when they assume a bit of ownership in the story, second-guess you on some things, and get angry at some of your decisions. They're far more invested than the average sitcom viewer, and you wanted that. They're the ones who gave you, the storyteller, the belief your tale needed to survive. The downside is that you risk ruining your tale in their eyes if things deviate too far from what they want. That's the exchange, though, if you want to craft a story that really affects people. As Illyria said, so much power here...and you quibble at its price.
Every time this comes up, I think of Annie Wilkes wielding the sledgehammer to Paul Sheldon's ankles. How DARE he kill off Misery Chastain?

Creativity? Not exactly a democratic process, I think. And let me tell you, the first time I saw Serenity, I jumped and gasped out loud at the scene we're all hinting about, and then don't even really remember what happened after that, because my tears blurred the screen and my gut hurt too much. Hell, I STILL can't watch a Buffy ep with Tara in it without feeling a very real pang of grief. (And as a gay woman, I was devastated to lose such a beloved character, especially one that was so-not stereotypically a Hollywood lesbian caricature.)

Would I ever demand Joss rewrite/rescind what he has created? Never.
This is kind of missing the point. If you're saying that Joss is retelling the same story by having one half of a romantic pairing die, then you're boiling things down to the most simplistic level. For a start, since nearly every single character in Buffy, Angel and Firefly had some sort of romantic relationship with another character from the same show, you're basically saying that Joss couldn't kill any of them off.

Actually I don't think I'm missing the point at all. Despite what seems to be the prevailing opinion on this subject, it's possible to be disappointed or dissatisfied with a storyline or creative decision WITHOUT being a "bad fan". I've seen Serenity several times in the theater, own the DVD which I've watched many, many times, and continue to pimp it and all of Joss' works (but especially Angel ;-) ) to anyone who'll listen.

My comment wasn't that Joss always kills one half (at least) of any and every romantic pairing in his shows, 'cause clearly that's not true. Death would be far, far too simple. When I first mentioned my frustration with the choice of Wash as the sacrificial lamb used to "up the stakes", I received literally HUNDREDS of responses from people telling me that that is just the way Joss is, reminding me that Joss ALWAYS does that sort of thing and thus I have no right to a) be surprised, or b) complain. I should have expected that Joss would kill Wash 'cause that's his modus operandi.

And THAT is my point. If it is common knowledge, accepted (and in fact lauded) by all, that Joss will always kill (or torture, or maim, or otherwise punish) any and all characters that stand a chance at a real happy romantic relationship, well then how many years can you watch that and still find it interesting? After it happens not just once or twice, but every single last time in every single show or story that Joss tells, it ceases to be interesting or dramatic and instead becomes boring, predictable and frustrating.

I'm not saying Joss can never kill or harm any of his characters involved in a romance with another character. But he has most definitely brought a very, very sharp focus on that particular form of dramatic storytelling, which means he should be held up to a higher standard. He needs to find a new, more interesting way of telling that story or he runs the risk of becoming what I have already labelled him (on this subject at least)... a one trick pony.

For example: Does anyone here have even the barest shadow of a doubt that, should Mal and Inara actually "get together" at some point in the future, something horrible will happen? If not, well then how can you become invested in that storyline? Isn't it just a given, not interesting? Or are you only interested in what exact FORM that horror will take?

What about Simon and Kaylee? As soon as they were officially "together", is there anyone here that didn't immediately think, "Oh you poor bastards, now you're doomed!"

Well when that sort of thing happens time after time after time without even one single exception... that's boring.

And now, to respond to insinuations already floating around here and to hopefully cut off future ones, I'll stress again that I love Joss Whedon. I love all of his shows, I love Serenity, and continue to spend an inordinate (unhealthy?) amount of time and money in the pursuit of my obsession with him and his works. I neither believe I'm a better storyteller than him, nor expect him to ever take any of my criticism to heart... or even recognize that I HAVE a criticism for that matter. I'm not trying to create or endorse any "art by commitee" political movements or anything.

But fans have always "mouthed off" like this. Joss didn't create this level of fan obsession. Genre fiction has always had this level of geeky, fanboy attention, and it always will. Whether it's right or wrong is completely irrelevant, because it's never going to change.

ETA: In response to your entire post above BAFfler, I have to say I think I love you. :)

And Saje, Alan commented in an interview for the film companion book that he once joked with Joss that his character would make a great "pity kill", or something to that effect. Hardly the same thing as outright ASKING to be killed off.

[ edited by Haunt on 2006-03-09 22:47 ]

[ edited by Haunt on 2006-03-09 22:49 ]
Wow. Wouldn't now be a good time for Joss to pop in? I'd love to hear his thoughts...
I just want to say that I hope that Joss will continue writing the way he does and that is great with me. It brings me (dare I say, us) to the edges of the human experience with all of its incalculable joy and unbelievable pain. And experiencing that through art somehow allows me to see it more readily/acceptingly out in my day to day world. It helps me be stronger.
I'm not so sure I can't see where these fans are coming from. Creators do have a right to their characters, but so do the fans, after all.

I'm not so sure I agree with this. Yes, obviously art needs an audience in order to resonate (or to be commercially viable). But with those examples you gave – Shakespeare and Poe and Dickens were hardly changing their works based on the feedback they received from fans. Rather, readers recognized their (already complete) work as genius. Dickens work, in fact, was very TV-esque since it was serialized. And I would imagine many readers got highly attached to the characters they followed every installment. But I would have been horrified if those readers demanded he make Dora survive, or treated Oliver differently – and even more horrified had he agreed.

I think we often feel a sense of ownership with characters and worlds in which we're highly invested. That's why we care so much. But that's different to me from actually having that ownership. The stories are, ultimately, the writers' to tell. Otherwise we get into art by test screening or committee, which never ends well...
it's possible to be disappointed or dissatisfied with a storyline or creative decision WITHOUT being a "bad fan".

Of course it is! It's called taste. And opinion. The world would be a boring place without it. It's why some fans may love Serenity as is, and others be incredibly disappointed, because of Wash's death. Neither one is a "better" fan than the other. Why people can tell me until they're blue in the face that Hemingway is the greatest American novelist, but I still won't necessarily like him.
I happen to find many many faults with Buffy Season 7, and Willow's arc in Season 6, and quite a number of stand-alone episodes, even though I'm about as die-hard a Buffy fan as you can get. But would I ever expect Joss to change the show because of my opinion? of course not.

(edited to say... I'm not trying to imply that you would expect Joss to change Serenity, haunt – just speaking generally in response to a few extreme fans who do seem to feel that way)

[ edited by acp on 2006-03-09 22:59 ]
Haunt, I understand what you're saying, but I think you're forgetting that relationship disruption is the single most common device used in series. Happy couples do not make compelling TV. Duncan the dud in Veronica Mars--gone. Mac and Harm in JAG--not put together until the series finale. Same with dozens of other couples. The neverending and ultimately snoring Ross/Rachel issues--but they certainly were hot at the beginning when it was "will they or won't they? now you see them, now you don't!" Daphne and Niles. If anything, this would make a handy argument for killing somebody other than Wash in Serenity--i.e. this is a movie, not a series any more (sob), so there's no stake in disrupting Wash and Zoe's relationship--and I almost guarantee you that had Firefly continued, Wash wouldn't have been killed, but the bickering over issues like her loyalty to Mal and her desire for a child would have gone on, to be joined by other disruptions and possibly a breakup (people do get divorced over whether or not to have children in reality, as well). But as far as killing Wash instead of somebody else, I too have heard the rumor that Alan wanted out to pursue other acting avenues. Who knows for sure. But under my reasoning that it's realistic to kill one of them and that because it was a movie it had not much to do with whether or not the character was in a relationship, it might as well be Wash as somebody else.
I realize I'm taking the entirely wrong tact here, and probably opening up an entirely new can of worms... but I have to ponder.

Are there any fans out there that unwaveringly support Joss' right to tell any story he likes, in any way he likes, that have ever found themselves on the other side of this equation? Any Doctor Who fans that have felt violated by recasting choices? Any Star Wars fans that felt cheated by the storytelling decisions Lucas made in the prequel trilogy? Fans of Highlander that either hated the sequel films or raged when the television series killed off Tessa and Ritchie?

I'm sure everyone has felt some form of ownership over some story that they hold sacred, for whatever reasons.

What if Joss' story with Buffy had been to actually MAKE her as wrong as I always thought she was? What if she really had been replaced by Faith in Season Seven? If that was the story the way Joss had ultimately chosen to tell it, is there no one here that would have felt cheated? Would it matter to you that it was JOSS' story to tell, not yours?

What if Joss decides that "his story to tell" with Firefly will eventually turn out to be that Mal has been working with the Alliance all along in an effort to wrangle all those hard-to-find rebellious sorts like Book and Wash and Zoe, etc.? It's utterly ridiculous, I know. But it IS Joss' story, so theoretically he could choose to tell it any way he wants to. With no regard for what us lowly fans want.

It's very noble to say that, should any such unlikely scenarios ever play out, you'd be perfectly fine and well-adjusted enough to just shrug it off and stop watching, or ignore it and pretend it didn't happen. But is there nothing Joss (or any other genre writer for that matter) could do in what we all agree are THEIR stories that would just piss you off beyond the telling?

I suppose not. *shrug*
Lots of good points from various angles...it is certain that an author or film maker who never lets his work be seen has not created art, because art must be appreciated by us non artists (and other artists, too, of course.)

Somebody mentioned Shakespeare. I saw a 1981 production of Othello in DC with James Earl Jones and Christopher Plummer...I'd read Othello a half a dozen times by then, and you only have to read it once to know that Desdemona will not be standing (nor Othello, too, of course) by play's end, but as she pleaded with him, I was softly muttering, please, God, please, don't do it, she's not untrue, don't kill her.

My girlfriend thought I was nuts, but what happened there was that I was viewing great artists (the actors) portraying stupendous art. Had the director re-written the play to have everything turn out hunky dory, there's not a lot of art there to be savored.

I guess the thing to ask one's self is, does this ring true? Is it gratuitious, or is it a totally plausible development? The two main deaths in Serenity ring true to me. In fact, it could be argued that more should have died in the climactic battle scene. When I saw the preview last May, I sure thought that would be the case.

I re-watched The Body yesterday with an old friend whom I have finally gotten interested in Buffy (and, consequently, her brothers, sister, brother-in-law...ah, I love the multiplier effect). She was, as you'd expect, astounded at the depiction of death, grief, anger, and numb bewilderment. During the super-quick fantasy segment when Buffy imagines everything comes out fine, and then the quick return to the ghastly, pallid Joyce, I quickly whispered, "He's the meanest writer ever." She nodded.

Hey, fighting vampires, demons, lawyers (fine line if you ask me), and reavers is pretty much fraught with peril. If people don't die, other than the guy on the away team you never saw before, the story gets a little stale. That Joyce's particular death was an utterly natural one, a death Buffy would have always been powerless to stop, made it even more poignant and almost unbearably sad.

Joss's deft handling of having characters you care about die (and there are so many of them over the years!) is a large part of why the shows continue to compel, even after having re-watched many, many times (that was probably my 15th viewing of The Body, and, yeah, the waterworks were still in action.)
Ugh, I just lost what I wrote...

Anyways, I strongly believe that anyone hating Joss for killing Wash and Book need to kiss my ass--is that clear enough?

Okay, bitch moment over...sort of. Shit happens and people die--in both reality and fiction. It's just something you need to get over, plus it almost always makes the story better. Do I cry when characters die? Yes. Do I hate Joss for doing it? Of course not, I'm just glad I got to meet them at all--so why is everyone complaining? Why would the viewers have the right? If you want fluff, ABC Family shows Full House and 7th Heaven reruns every day. Check it out, would ya?

On another note, while I don't hate Joss, I have been known to say "Joss, you son of a bitch!" to my tv on many occasions out of admiration when he A) slips something by me or B) produces an hour of damn good television (which he does...A LOT).

And Haunt, "Any Star Wars fans that felt cheated by the storytelling decisions Lucas made in the prequel trilogy?" I think this covers many more people that you know -- I'm raising both of my hands in the air.

Also, I'll admit, I'm the die-hard Joss fan who believes he can do no wrong because I believe in his visions so strongly. By the 7th season of Buffy there was some spec about the "Normal Again" alternate reality being actual reality and that Buffy was just crazy. I was so distressed by this speculation because it would have been so wrong for the show, it would have made it seem that a girl COULDN'T save the world, couldn't be strong and could only be a hero in her head if she was insane. However, Joss assured us in an interview that he would never do that for the exact reason I felt. If I am at any time skewed in the head and not understanding why someone died or why a certain event takes place, I'll go back, rewatch, think about and then everything falls into place. So yeah, I'm a Joss-can-do-no-wrong girl and until the day comes where I think he did, I always will be (I don't plan on this ever happening). Call it nievity, call it blind faith, but that's just the way I am.

[ edited by MySerenity on 2006-03-09 23:19 ]
acp, right on. I don't think Joss was "benefiting from a genre relationship and then complaining about it" (paraphrased); clearly he participates in the relationship. I just think he was saying he's not going to listen so much to the fans that he's writing his show based on polls, because then it's not his show any more. Granted, I also think he doesn't necessarily know what we "need" to see, but that's when, again, we register our opinion by changing the channel.
To be absolutely clear, since you've mentioned the "bad fan" angle Haunt, I do not in any way think those people who don't agree with the story are bad fans. At all.

Those people who didn't like Tara dying? Cool. That's why she died.

Those Tara fans who told Joss "not to go near any open windows" online - not so cool.

Ultimately, when I invest in a show, I trust the creators of the show as I watch. If it looks like they don't know what they are doing, I stop watching (see also: Lost). Do I always agree with everything JW does? Not so much. I think the Buffy episode "Family" has some qualities that make it a mess in places, and Tim Minear can never apologise enough for "That Old Gang Of Mine". Do I still think overall both BTVS and Angel are the most interesting and entertaining TV I've ever seen? Yes.
haunt, I think I answered your question in my comment above. yes, there are tons of decisions of Joss's I disagree with. With 12 1/2 seasons and a movie, it would be surprising if there weren't. Buffy Season 7 is a major letdown in quality, in my book. I bought it for Chosen, Storyteller, and to make my Buffy collection complete. I certainly wasn't thrilled with Buffy's turn toward speechifying, and in Season 6, I hated the Willow/drug addiction-as-magic arc. I would rather pretend that Beer Bad didn't exist (minus a few redeeming scenes, like Parker/Willow...)
I could go on...
But do I still support Joss's right to tell the story the way he wants? Absolutely and unequivocally. I guess I just don't presume I have a right to tell him how his story should go. I do have the right to express my disappointment. If Buffy had continued to descend in quality, I had the right to just stop watching. But at the end of the day, I want him to stick to his vision and his story, even if it's not the one I would have told.
When I want control, I write myself. But in these scenarios, I see myself as the audience. not as someone who should be giving creative input.
It's very noble to say that, should any such unlikely scenarios ever play out, you'd be perfectly fine and well-adjusted enough to just shrug it off and stop watching, or ignore it and pretend it didn't happen. But is there nothing Joss (or any other genre writer for that matter) could do in what we all agree are THEIR stories that would just piss you off beyond the telling?

I suppose not. *shrug*


You raise interesting points, Haunt, but you don't need to load the dice by implying that those of us who will accept pretty much anything from Joss's pen are somehow more "noble" or "well-adjusted" than others.

I reserve the right to complain, carp at, get angry with, and cry about the use and misuse of characters in BtVS and Firefly - but I would never translate that response into a demand that Joss do something the way I wanted it done. Sure, I could conceive of ways he could screw up the 'verse that I've accepted - but I trust that he won't, on the evidence of the work he's done thus far. Fans can respond, but they aren't responsible for the 'verse, as others said above. Art - or, at least, this kind of art, - isn't a democratic process. An artist is not a politician. It's his or her own vision. I think it has to be.

I also don't agree with the concept of a "bad fan," the same way I don't agree with the concept of a "true fan." Fans is fans is fans.
BafFler, that's very nicely put. I agree that once a piece of art is made public it becomes, to some extent, a collaboration which is why i'm against retroactive meddling. But art surely resonates most when we have something in common with the artist and we can't know what that is if the artist has nothing definite to say, no concrete agenda when they create.

I think anyone trying to communicate has a certain responsibility for what they might be putting in someone else's head since although it's a voluntary collaboration it's asymmetrical, in that the artist definitely has more power once we elect to let them in.

However, as i've said elsewhere, simply making a story to convey some message is a bad idea. Keeping Tara alive because it's more socially progressive to do so would be very bad storytelling and in the long term, if adopted as general 'policy' by creators, possibly bad for the social acceptance of lesbianism (I don't want to get into affirmative action, suffice to say I think it's not without its problems even though it's probably a necessary 'evil').

Haunt, Bad Fan ! Bad ! I see you're in the US. I bet you're one of those that thinks you should still have due process and freedom of the press even during a 'war'. And you call yourself a patriot ? How dare you ? ;-).

I'm sure some fans respond to your criticism that way but I think most here would agree that's slightly extreme. Re: your point, I would agree with you but in fact, if you read between the lines slightly, i'm not sure Joss' penchant for tragic romances is quite that complete. Angel died, true, but then came back. Tara was apparently due to come back in the 'Buffy's Wish' episode but couldn't for scheduling reasons. There've been hints that even Wash may come back in some way if there are ever any sequels. Also, I don't think the Wash/Zoe romance was lauded because it was different to a typical Whedon romance but because it was different to the majority of TV/film romances which are 1 dimensional and there largely as plot devices (a notable recent exception for me would be The Constant Gardener which was a successful thriller and love story in the same film).

I absolutely agree that everyone has felt ownership of a character to some extent or another and I also agree that if Joss went mental and had everyone actually be ubervamps or incarnations of the First or something then the series would be essentially unwatchable. But surely that is one of the differences between good and bad TV, how well the creators walk the line of giving us what we need and giving us what we want (and even Joss strikes a balance - could anyone really see him killing off one of the core scoobs in Chosen ?).

I'm currently rewatching Angel and i'm just getting to the early Fred episodes. I'd forgotten how incredibly cute (in both senses) and sweet Fred was and it's a constantly bitter sweet experience when I see her since I know that she'll be dead in 2 seasons. But even knowing that she dies I still watch and I still share in her triumphs and disasters. As viewers, that's our choice to make not, ultimately, what happens to our favourite chaarcters or plot-lines.
Despite what seems to be the prevailing opinion on this subject, it's possible to be disappointed or dissatisfied with a storyline or creative decision WITHOUT being a "bad fan".


I didn't imply otherwise. I was both disappointed and dissatisfied with many of the creative decisions on Buffy and Angel.

I received literally HUNDREDS of responses from people telling me that that is just the way Joss is, reminding me that Joss ALWAYS does that sort of thing and thus I have no right to a) be surprised, or b) complain. I should have expected that Joss would kill Wash 'cause that's his modus operandi.


People say that's his modus operandi, but I don't agree. Willow/Tara lasted a long time before they fell upon bad times. I can't remember how long Wash and Zoe were supposed to have been married, but it's not as though they'd finally come upon happiness only to have it snatched away such as in the Buffy/Angel and Wesley/Fred examples. There has been plenty of variety in the way these deaths have been handled, and to say that they all follow one pattern is to over-simplify. And yes, of course they were wrong to suggest that you shouldn't complain!

Incidentally, were you surprised when Wash died? I was totally shocked. So really, even if you choose to believe it was just the latest in a long sequence of similar events, if you were surprised by it then how can you claim it was predictable and/or boring? (Obviously this doesn't apply if you said 'I bet Wash dies' before the film)


After it happens not just once or twice, but every single last time in every single show or story that Joss tells, it ceases to be interesting or dramatic and instead becomes boring, predictable and frustrating.


Really, how many times has it actually happened? Plenty of pairings have broken up, but isn't that what happens right across the board in dramatic TV? And think about the sheer number of hours of TV that Buffy/Angel/Firefly totals. We're talking about 4 or 5 instances of something spread over many years of storytelling and hundreds of episodes.

Besides, there is at least one exception - Buffy ends with Willow and Kennedy still together. Not everyone's favourite pair I'll admit but you can't ignore it.
If Joss wasn't someone who would go straight for what makes you bleed and laugh and scream and cry, most of us wouldn't be here.

And he had said in interviews that this was more or less the arc of the second season. For those who believe that Wash would have lived had the show continued... which Whedon shows did you watch?

After watching the preview we went back to the friends' house we were staying at and stayed up until 2 am talking about it. We were hurt, stunned, amazed. Days and weeks and months later we were still talking about it.
After seeing the last Star Wars movie, I think we talked about the effects and the lame dialogue until we got to the car, and then we were more interested in where to get dinner.

Any writer, any creator that can make me feel the way Joss does is to be treasured. He doesn't write it to be beloved. He writes it because he has to. It really, really shows.
Haunt--it comes down to to a matter of trust. Of course I was upset, disappointed, etc. at George Lucas for what he did in the prequel trilogy and in the "special editions." Result? I now have lost respect for him as a storyteller, will no longer rush right out to see anything he does, try very hard to forget the prequels ever existed, and no longer trust him enough to be invested. He crossed the line.

The difference with Joss, for me personally, is that so far he hasn't crossed that line. I hated his killing of Wash, but I still trust him to tell compelling stories and, if theoretically Firefly came back and went on to the ridiculous conclusion you suggest, I would be angry and upset at this turn of events with characters I have loved--and I would also stop watching, lose trust, and try to pretend that the show ended at Serenity. So far he hasn't crossed that line with me. This is a personal choice; nobody can make it for anybody else. I loved Friends. Love love loved it. Loved Ross and Rachel, wanted to marry Chandler, etc. etc. I completely stopped watching Friends after the whole Emily and then Vegas debacles when the show just, imho, degenerated into silliness. Those show runners lost my trust. Same with The West Wing when Sorkin left. The new show runners lost my trust when the show became ER in the White House. So yes, to answer your question, it does happen--I'm adjusted enough to either shake off stuff I don't like and continue watching in trust, or I'm adjusted enough to say, "I don't trust you any more, I'm out of here, goodbye." You sound like you might be wavering as to how much to trust Joss from now on, and that's your choice. But nothing they do is ever enough justification to say "Change THIS because I have as much ownership in these characters as you do!" That's just silly.

(edited to say, gossi wrote his short snappy post on trust while I was ginning up this one ... damn my longwindedness and yay gossi.)

[ edited by Anwyn on 2006-03-09 23:34 ]
In case I wasn't clear, I also am NOT making "bad fan" judgements or pronouncements. I was referring to the maniac backlash fringe, like gossi mentioned, certainly not to anyone posting here right now.
Rogue Slayer, I think Joss already answered this post back when we were debating whether or not Buffy committed suicide when she dies in the Gift. I felt that she was depressed enough to take this as a very welcome way out. Many agreed with me. Many did not, Joss among them and he came on to say so. She did it as a hero in a heroic moment untainted by a death wish.
If I disagree with her creator, then I, as a fan, am coming up against the one who surely knew best.
So if I continue to disagree, I am rewriting that act as surely as if I wrote the fanfic about it.
That's my right, but it doesn't mean either that Joss isn't right to claim that he knows better than I do.

However, the easy out of "changing the channel" is not an option for many who love his work despite disagreeing with his choices. I don't agree with Haunt on much but this, but I do think it is too much to ask a fan to stop watching if thry don't agree with all of his choices.
And for the record, I have yet to disagree with any of his choices. I may not like them but I believe that he and his writers are the only ones with the right to make those decisions.
I have no idea why fans feel they have some sort of ownership of the characters and stories created by somebody else. Joss's work is HIS, not ours. He does what he does with his characters for good reasons. People may not like that he kills of a favorite character, or breaks apart a happy couple, or turns someone gay, but they're HIS stories. They are a result of HIS work. If he tried to do as every fan wants him to, he would never write another word again, because there is no way to please everyone 100% of the time.

Do I love that Joss killed off Wash and Book? No and yes. No, because I didn't want them to die any more than anyone else did. Yes, because I understand the reasons for killing them off and I agree he did the right thing for the story.

There are decisions that writers make that I think absolutely suck, and I don't see their purpose, such as Rick Berman and Brannon Braga but much as I'd like to, I'm not going to threaten or harass the writers, or even pretend I can tell them what to do. I just stop watching anything they have to produce in the future, and focus my attention elsewhere.

I've always felt that if you don't like the way a writer tells his or her stories, and you think you know better than they do, you should try writing your own ORIGINAL stories with your own original characters and prove that you can do better. It's all too easy to hold others up to higher standards than you can meet yourself.

[ edited by Nebula1400 on 2006-03-10 00:22 ]
Whilst we're on the subject of Serenity, I've just found out this months DVD Monthly magazine (UK) has a Serenity DVD on it with new 'B' footage. I can't find anything online about it yet to link here.

Two additionals: Lioness, regarding changing the channel: I'm not saying do that always. I didn't agree with bits of Buffy. I didn't turn over, because I found it highly entertaining - it was a great, great show. If it was just shit, I'd have turned over.

The other one: I also fall into the camp of 'Buffy commited suicide'. Which, as those of us online on New Years Eve know, is wrong: Joss told us this at the time. That said, I still know what I believe. Am I bad fan? Not so much, I hope.

[ edited by gossi on 2006-03-09 23:49 ]
I vividly remember sitting with my Sister watching " Not Fade Away" and her anguished cries of " Whedon you utter bastard!!" ast the screen froze and faded to black. But I also remember us literally crying when we heard of Angel's cancellation and, two years on we're still active members of the fandom.

Sure there were things I didn't like about the shows but at the end of the day it wasn't my story and it wasn't mine to tell.Had it been left to many fans Buffy and Angel would have lived happily ever after and the show would probably have finished after three seasons , AtS would never have happened and Spike would still be unredeemed and soulless.

I'm glad we have Joss! For everything else there's fanfic.
Discussions like this, which get to the meat of things while remaining civil and on point are why I love this place. Thanks all for some fascinating and thought provoking words. Love it :)
Ditto with zeitgeist. I also like this place as zeitgeist sends me the best DVDs. He's my Whedon pusher, yo.

I think it's very good when show runners keep an eye online - example, Minear - but I think it's not so good when they react on fan desires. It's a tough one to call where the line is. One extreme example is Lucas: did somebody not say to him 'Hey, you know Jar Jar? I think you've been smokin' too much crack'?

[ edited by gossi on 2006-03-09 23:56 ]


Thanks for that rather massive spoiler. I think it's fair to assume Buffy/Angel/FF spoilers are fair game on here, but did you really need to post that?

[ edited by Grounded on 2006-03-10 01:17 ]

[ edited by Grounded on 2006-03-10 01:20 ]
Creativity? Not exactly a democratic process, I think.


Indeed. Storyteller and audience do share a connection -- a visceral, emotional connection. They are not best friends or lovers who promise never to hurt one another. Story is born of conflict and pain, not sunshine and rainbows. Of course a writer should be prepared for the fact that his or her choices will upset some people. That's a visceral response. That's the goal. And an audience needs to accept the fact that they don't get a vote. They're just along for the ride, and by sitting in front of a screen or picking up a book, they've made an unspoken agreement to trust said writer's choices, to trust that s/he is telling the story the way s/he needs it to be told. That doesn't mean that it will always be executed well (though in Joss's case I think it always is). It also doesn't mean that we have to love it, but we'll sure take it with us, and I think that's far more important.
And he had said in interviews that this was more or less the arc of the second season. For those who believe that Wash would have lived had the show continued... which Whedon shows did you watch?

Thank you, Chris Bridges. Have you met Grounded? The defense rests. ;)

But seriously folks... this is one of those (seemingly endless) divisive issues in the Whedon fan community that I really, REALLY wish just wouldn't be so divisive. I hasten to say that this is far and away the least divided (re: cliquish, polarized, argumentative, unreasonable) fan sites around, so mad props to all of you (us?). But the fact remains that all the attention articles like this have been getting since the premiere of Serenity, at least in some fan circles, smacks of the "well adjusted" Whedon fans poking sticks at us "not-QUITE-so-well adjusted" Whedon fans, making efforts to prove how our disappointment with certain Joss choices is irrational and childish.

Even at the Slayage Conference of '04, a place theoretically populated with highly educated, mature, responsible adult fans, all of whom are presumably among the "well adjusted" contingent, I encounted much arguing and division. In fact that was one place (of many) where my sensitivity to the "good fan/bad fan" debate came into being. Not everyone there, of course. But there were definitely some cliques going on there. And that kind of Us vs. Them fan mentality irks the crap out of me.

[ edited by Haunt on 2006-03-10 00:06 ]
The points about disagreeing with Joss raise the whole 'death of the author' idea i.e. can a reader/viewer have as valid or even a more valid opinion about a work than the creator ?

It's an interesting question that I first thought about after Ridley Scott pretty definitvely said of Bladerunner 'Deckard was a replicant'. To me the film loses a lot of its power if Deckard isn't human (how can his defiance in the face of death be a triumph of the human spirit if he's not ?). It's complicated by the fact that Harrison Ford says he played him as human and in the PK Dick book he is apparently (I haven't read it, I know, here's my sci-fi fan badge back ;) definitely human. Can I legitimately decide that he 'just is' human despite Scott ?

In short, is it definitely the case that because Joss says it was a sacrifice in The Gift, it actually was ? Note, I don't mean to me or whoever, I mean is it any more true, full stop ? i.e. do these things have an objective truth at all or does what 'really' happens in The Gift or Normal Again depend purely on what most people think happens ? (as an aside is there anyone here who thinks that the really real world of Normal Again is actually Buffy's true reality ? because though i've only seen it a couple of times it always seemed very ambiguous to me)
Saje, I think you raise another interesting point (kind of in a different vain).

Really, all of Joss' creations are about making the audience love the characters - and then knocking them down to see what's inside (and sometimes not so much with the emotional sense). Which is why people love to hate the shows.
Great point, Saje. Thank you for bringing up the Bladerunner issue, because I completely agree with you. I've never really bothered to trace the origin of my "the author isn't necessarily the sole authority on story interpretation" belief, but that Ridley Scott stuff is as good a place as any to start.

I think I believe that there are likely some stories that are so complete and unambiguous as to be open to really only one interpretation. Then there are others (most?) that incorporate at least some level of ambiguity and call upon the audience to bring their own meaning to the text. I'd argue that Joss (despite is apparently vehement assertion that Buffy absolutely did NOT commit suicide) is one of those authors that not only expects his audience to bring meaning, but practically demands it.

All of which is a longwinded way of saying you can put me firmly in the "there were elements of suicide to the end of 'The Gift'" camp.
Thanks for that rather massive spoiler. I think it's fair to assume Buffy/Angel/FF spoilers are fair game on here, but did you really need to post that?

Apologies if that is a spoiler. I'm not sure when spoiler territory ends with cancelled shows that have already been aired several times. I'll go back and black out the spoilery part, but it will still remain in your quote.
I was the one who said I believe Wash would have lived, and I don't retract. :) Firefly isn't Buffy, and though it was useful for the adolescent characters in Buffy to deal with death of loved ones as a growing mechanism, it would have been far more compelling TV to have the adults Wash and Zoe go on having a relationship disrupted by the everyday bickering and issues that plague most couples, and then even more compelling to have them break up but still have to live on the same boat.

I'm not saying that WOULD have happened. Obviously, in light of this argument, I'm not Joss and I don't know. I'm just saying that the deaths of Tara and others do not all resonate equally and that while I believe Joss does have a thing for sudden, brutal, "Joss you son of a bitch" killing of characters, I don't think sudden killing of people in a happy relationship has been enough of a pattern to assume more. Tara/Willow: Happy relationship ended by sudden brutal death of innocent character. Buffy/Angel: tumultuous relationship rendered forever forbidden by that whole pesky "I'll lose my soul" thing. Xander/Anya: rocky, mostly adolescent relationship ending in an uneasy friendship with potential for more later, which only ended in brutal sudden death because it was the series finale and Joss likes to do that. Wash/Zoe: Basically stable relationship ended by sudden, brutal killing of innocent character because it was the movie, not the show, and potentially because Alan wanted out of any future obligation to play Wash, and .... it's just not so simple, imho.

So while I agree with Haunt that Joss has a pattern of sudden deaths of characters to shock us, I disagree that it's for the specific purpose of breaking up happy relationships and I do not believe he would have killed Wash just to break up the relationship. There are far more devastating ways to disrupt relationships in a continuing show ... and Joss that son of a bitch would not hesitate to use them all. :)

(edited to remark that I usually avoid this kind of "what would have happened" like the plague, because it fails to take into account the real-world demands of "this actor needs to leave the show," etc. etc. If Alan wanted out ... voila.)

[ edited by Anwyn on 2006-03-10 00:24 ]

Whilst we're on the subject of Serenity, I've just found out this months DVD Monthly magazine (UK) has a Serenity DVD on it with new 'B' footage. I can't find anything online about it yet to link here.


FYI, it's 7 minutes of additional footage some random UK magazine has been given. I'm going to try and see if I can get it to put online.
It surprises me how much denial of Joss' hatred of happy love lives I'm seeing. I've never said that Joss only deals with happy couples by killing someone. In fact I quickly corrected myself when it became clear that that was how people were interpreting my comments. Joss deals with happy couples in LOTS of different ways.

But really, can we stop denying that Joss goes out of his way to disrupt romantic happiness? It's not only been proven by over 12 seasons of various television series', but it's so common knowledge that Joss himself has frequently joked about it. Joss routinely takes the rather simplistic storytelling truism that happiness equals boring while unhappiness equals drama and turned it into a way of life.

It's rather disturbing how wholeheartedly people embrace the notion that there's absolutely no way humanly possible to portray a happily married couple on television without losing any and all dramatic story potential. Sad really. I wonder if those who just accept that requited love means dramatic boredom have ever actually BEEN married.

I am. Happily married, that is. My life involves a lot of requited love. Neither my wife nor myself are dead (as far as I know). And I can assure you that there is no lack of drama whatsoever.

I will say that I agree with Anwyn that it would have been INFINITELY more interesting and compelling to watch Wash and Zoe continue having a "happy marriage". Perhaps that was the plan but it was just derailed by having to switch storytelling formats to film. I don't know. But regardless, the pattern of not allowing characters to remain "together" (whether married or just romantically involved) continued, and it was disappointing to me.

*shrug*
On the "can the audience/reader have a different interpretation than the creator" question... absolutely! I think the best works of art are always the ones that lend themselves to interpretation. Of course, I was a comparative literature major, so this was pretty much indoctrinated into me through years of analysis and lengthy papers :-). And, as haunt said above, I think Joss is certainly the kind of artist who expects and demands a thinking audience (which, in my mind, means an audience that will bring their own analysis). We may read into subtext, meaning, symbolism, motivation, metaphor where none was intended. That doesn't mean it can't be there, or can't be interpreted in that way.
The suicide/sacrifice thing is a good example. It was great to get Joss's take on it, but that certainly doesn't put an end to the issue as a matter for debate among the audience. We're free to read into Joss's work - or any work of literature, or film, or piece of art – what we want.
To my mind, that's where our role as audience comes in, and where we can have "input," in a sense. As for creating the actual story in which we find meaning? That's the job of the artist.
Welp, I'm not saying it can't be done (portray a happy couple on TV and not lose a primary source of your drama); I'm saying Joss is far and away not the only culprit thereof. :)
The original plan for Wash/Zoe - and I'm taking this direct from a Joss interview - was to have them happy, as he felt it was important to show that on TV.

Then Fox cancelled the show.
You know, some people just forget that Tv and movies are fiction - non reallife. Making us, the viewers, mad and cry and happy all at the same time. And that's good entertainment. Every writer has a simple rule "Torture the fans... let them bleed for more...throw them bites but let them starve...!" People die... that's a thing fiction and reallife have in common. You love a character and it gets killed. Yeah that sucks but still good entertainment. It's not only Joss who kills of beloved characters. Killing of a character always moves the story forward and that's the main thing. What if a death of a character wouldnt make people care? Well, than the writer wouldnt have achieved his goal. I heard a lot of people whinning lately for all kinds of character death. *shrugs* Im getting used to it. If they need someone to blame... fine... Im just tired of all the hate-Joss-for-killing-off-all-our-favorite-characters-post. He's just doing his job... he entertains us.
Oh dear. I didn't mean to bring up the whole Buffy=suicide discussion again. Back to the discussion. I took a university course that looked solely at Hamlet for a solid year. We didn't have Shakespeare to tell us what he was thinking when he wrote it and so the character was fair game. Was he mad? Was he playing mad? Both? Neither? It kept us happily occupied for 5 hours a week. We were invested in the play because there was so much ambiguity written in that great work that we could bring our own biases to the story and find a home for them there. That is art.
That is also what Joss says he is writing and he admits that sometimes what he has created surprises him. So of course we are invited to bring our own opinions to what we are experiencing. But what we should not be allowed to do is bowdlerize what has been written. If we do, it can no longer be considered the work of the original author.
I think the best thing Joss and the writers did with killing Tara was putting her in the title credits. You know, she's a main cast member now! Willow and Tara are back together! Love, happy! We'll ignore the Warren thing as it's all shiny and Buffy will defeat them and OH SHIT WARREN JUST SHOT BUFFY AND FUCK TARA IS DEAD.

I love JW (in a manly, I love his work way). That is all.
haunt, I'm not seeing so much denial of Joss's tendency to not let happy couples be, as defense of it – and people pointing out that it's hardly something unique to Joss. Look at the first sentence of Anna Karenina. Happy families - and couples, and relationships in general - aren't generally very interesting, especially told over long periods of time. That's a pretty universally recognized truth in the world of storytelling, not something that Joss in particular has latched onto.
I love that we've had several long-lasting, happy relationships in his shows: Willow/Tara, Zoe/Wash, Kennedy/Willow (even though I hated Kennedy!), Buffy/Riley, etc. Those all lasted for a season-ish or more. But I'm the first to admit that while happy marriages and relationships certainly can and do last forever (though even the best ones have their rocky patches), they usually (not always) make for rather uninteresting storytelling. Remember how boring Fred/Gunn got?
As a side note, I was just realizing how few "married" couples there are on any of Joss's shows, but I think that's more a reflection of the settings – high school, young adults, etc – than his philosophy. Still, it is interesting than even among the adults (Joyce, Giles, Principal Wood, various lawyers on Angel, etc), there are so few marriages. Not that that has anything to do with this discussion... Sorry for the tangent! :-)
As far as Buffyverse relationships go, I was always surprised that Xander and Anya were together for so long.

Random, sorry.
In my opinion fans have no "right" to a character because we are just reading or watching a story unfold.

The thing to question is rather or not an actor who has been playing the part for years has any "right" to the character. I think they do. Or should.

The only thing that I find at fault with in the Jossverse is what became of Buffy once she lived again in season 6. I lost Buffy those last two seasons. I do think that has something to do with Sarah feeling that her character wasn't Buffy and that was vividly translated to me (although I didn't read how she felt until after the series ended).
I love that Xander/Anya were together for so long. It started late season 3, then they were together for all of 4, all of 5, 3/4 of season 6. Then they became friends again in S7, then friends who had sex, and i like to think that if Anya had lived they would have gotten together and been happy, a lasting happiness. That was all ruined by Joss though, as he's a killer. A murdering bastard, we know that. And there are consequences to breaking the heart of a murdering bastard.
Are there any fans out there that unwaveringly support Joss' right to tell any story he likes, in any way he likes, that have ever found themselves on the other side of this equation?

Yes. Joss is the storyteller. He has the right (and the responsibility) to tell the stories he wants to tell, the stories he feels need to be told. The viewers have the right to embrace his stories, criticize his stories, watch Charmed instead, or just respond to the work however they like.

For traditional scripted TV series, fans and fan reactions should not dictate the stories. If you want a story which you're allowed to participate in, read some hypertext fiction instead of watching TV. Some suggestions:
12 Blue by Michael Joyce
Fingerprints on Digital Glass by M.D. Coverly
Reagan Library by Stuart Moulthrop
All of these are greatly entertaining works which actively the reader in the storytelling process.

<*sarcasm*> I'm still mad at Baz Luhrmann for killing off Satine at the end of Moulin Rouge! She and Christian wer supposed to live happily ever after! Why didn't Baz Luhrmann understand that? I'm not seeing his next movie!
Yes, fans can and should have different interpretations of art, within reason. Why Buffy jumped in The Gift is open to debate, and I personally don't take Joss's comment on that as canonical. What is written and filmed is the canon. But that's just my view.

As for the happy relationship thing. Every relationship, happy or unhappy, ends. People die. People separate. People move on. Another word for the "end of happy relationships" is life. Change. Joss's shows are about "real life." In real life, relationships end. Yes, we can freeze a moment of happiness - both in real life and on BtVS. But in life, where time passes, relationships end.
Just to confuse you further, Moulin Rouge happens to be one of my all-time favorite movies. Go figure...
Yeah, Haunt but there's drama and there's drama. No offence to you and your wife, you could be international spies for all I know (though I think I recall you mentioning the law at some point, so maybe international spies who are also pretty handy with litigation and can kill at thirty paces with a carefully worded contract ;) but the sort of things that are dramas in most relationships are quite soap-ish and would somewhat pale against the other dramas on the ship (like being a psychic superweapon or, possibly, an ex-operative turned priest on the figurative run from his past). I think Wash would have stayed around (as long as Alan did anyway) but a certain amount of unhappiness would probably be necessary for their relationship, I think mainly about kids and the Zoe-big-tough-killer/Wash-not-so-much tension.

I do agree though that long term it's more interesting to see them stay together and I think that would probably have happened.

Was he mad ?

Only North by Northwest, Lioness ;). My point though (not my idea, obviously, it's down to Barthes I think) was not that as acp said we can have different opinions but that the creator's opinion is widely seen as being definitive and whether there was any actual objective truth to that assumption. As you say, we pull Shakespeare apart in numerous different ways without issue but say (and try not to drool ;) we found a set of annotations by old Bill himself explaining exactly what he meant for each character in his plays and by each line. Would that then effectively invalidate the current body of criticism ? Or at least relegate it to insightful speculation that had turned out to be wrong ? Or would Shakespeare's annotations just be one more opinion and not necessarily even as insightful as those that have percolated for 400+ years ?

And yeah, gossi, I love the way he messes with us too. Obviously he could go too far but I think only if an event didn't feel true, like it had just popped out of nowhere. Ironically, death is one of the few things that can just pop out of nowhere but even then if, say, Wash had been killed in a traffic accident on Persephone a) I probably wouldn't believe he was really dead for several episodes and b) once I did believe it I would pretty quickly stop watching because that just isn't playing fair. As Annie Wilkes might say 'That's cheating'. Heroes don't die like we do, they die heroic deaths or they ride into the sunset to live forever more (anyone else think Indiana Jones IV could be a very bad idea ?).
I've always believed the creator should have absolute control. Sometimes I hear about things like creators talking about changing endings if the original ending is leaked, and that bothers me too.

That said, I still love to read fanfiction. I don't read fanfic because I don't like what's going on in canon, but because I want to read more about that universe. To read "what-if..." scenarios. And sometimes because they're just damn hot. I suppose in a way, if canon is the "real world" of the fictional universe, than fanfic is, well, the fiction of the fictional universe. *g* Alternative histories, romances, etc.
Haunt: Thank you, Chris Bridges. Have you met Grounded? The defense rests. ;)

That wasn't so much an argument as it was a re-stating of an opinion. Btw you didn't answer my question - were you shocked when Wash died or did you expect it ahead of time?

Nebula1400: Apologies if that is a spoiler. I'm not sure when spoiler territory ends with cancelled shows that have already been aired several times. I'll go back and black out the spoilery part, but it will still remain in your quote.

Remember this forum isn't exclusive to the US. I don't think Enterprise S4 has even finished airing on UK terrestrial TV.
Also with the Moulin Rouge love.
Grounded: Btw you didn't answer my question - were you shocked when Wash died or did you expect it ahead of time?

I did and I didn't. I did in the sense that, by that point in my Joss fandom I'd come to expect that ALL happy couples would suffer and ultimately go down in flames. And I didn't because of comments (from Joss and many, many others) like what gossi mentioned... Joss had stated that Wash and Zoe were meant to be the "happy couple" because he thought that needed to be seen on television.

So pick whichever answer you like and reply accordingly.
Whenever this debate comes up, and it is the most contentious issue in fandom I'm always reminded of that dialogue between Bart and Comic Book Guy.

Bart: Hey, I know it wasn't great, but what right do you have to complain?
CBG: As a loyal viewer, I feel they owe me.
Bart: What? They're giving you thousands of hours of entertainment for free. What could they possibly owe you? I mean, if anything, you owe them.


Anyhow, don't forget that Joss and Mutant Enemy in the past have listened to what the fans wanted. From what I gather Angel and Spike were originally intended to be minor characters but fans loved them. So they stayed and were given plot arcs.

A creator has to be aware of what will sell to the fans but he does have to be more aware of how it will sell to the general viewing audience. Sometimes I think we focus too much on the goldfish bowl of internet fandom and forget realise that Joss' shows were watched by millions of people who don't post online.
people who don't post online

....? Who are these fantasy people of whom you write??
Grounded, I think it finished last Sunday on Channel 4. I won't add to the spoileriness but if you're a fan I almost guarantee you'll be disappointed by the final episode.

BTW, my understanding is that if a show has aired on US TV it can no longer strictly be spoiled on here (i'm pretty circumspect about 24 threads for example) though that may only apply to Joss' shows (though that seems daft since they've all already aired on US TV *sniff*).

Yeah, Simon, I think that was largely responsible for the disappointment over Serenity's box office. On here and other Whedon forums we follow every mention in any news source, hang on the big man's every word (cos they're normally such juicy, funny ones ;) and generally bathe in all things Whedon. Very easy to forget that in the real world, not everyone is so, err, enthused.
I believe Enterprise is about to finish its run on S4C (which as you will rightly point out isn't terrestrial outside of Wales -- is it considered terrestrial in Wales?), and the S4 DVDs are available for sale (since 31 Oct 05). That said, do always be aware of the potential that you are about to spoil someone for a non-Joss show. Can anyone verify how far it is in its ground-bound runnings?

ETA: "Star Trek Enterprise's fourth season terrestrial premier continues Sundays Channel Four." Interestingly I find the description for the last episode when I search 4's listings but the page their link takes me to doesn't mention it at all :)

ETA again: According to trektv.co.uk -- "Twinned to England's Channel 4, Sianel Pedwar Cymru (S4C) was launched on Monday, 1st November 1982. Unlike the Independent Television Network (ITV), S4C maintains it's own unique identity and broadcasts its own programs during primetime hours.

It normally airs Enterprise episodes a week after Channel Four." Which would make the last episode of S4 air this weekend, I think.
I'm chiming in waaay too late but here are my beliefs:

-- the creator literally is God in his/her universe, and what they say goes. Absolute control is his deal, bitching and whining and possible turning off of the TV is mine. Ex: I loved Veronica Mars in its first season, but the second season is somehow not working for me. I can't even explicate why this is so, it's just -- not. Still love many of the characters, even agree with the direction many of the plotlines have taken, just somehow don't feel compelled to watch it every week. So I make "meh" comments at the TWoP foruma (forae?) and tape eps and watch 'em like that. I'm no longer an active "good" fan of the show, but an indifferent one. And that is probably even worse than a "bad" angry fan.

-- Oh, there have been decisions Joss has made that have made me long for death: Angel returning mystically in S3 (I was never a BAngel fan), the introduction of Dawn and Riley, and oh, Kennedy, and the Potentials!, Willow's drug addiction storyline (literally ruined the character for me, when she was made "good" again w/ so little heartfelt penance -- has anyone else noticed he lobs softballs to the girls while the guys suffer eternal torment for much lesser sins?), Buffy's depression (it's a noble urge to show depression on TV, but there's a reason it's so rarely done -- it's incredibly hard to make it dramatic) -- in fact, most of S5 onward, I was watching the show out of loyalty rather than enjoyment. Had the show ended at "The Gift", I would regret only one thing: the musical. And even though I was such a "bad" fan, I never really felt the urge to either abandon Joss forever as an artist because I knew his creative juices for BtVS were spent, and that it's very rare for any show to last 7 seasons and not see a creative decline. Especially a show that had reached such heights in seasons 2 and 3. So I watched, and tried to keep my bitching to a minimum, and fell in love with Firefly.

For an artist I really favor -- like Joss, or Alan Moore, or Haruki Murakami, or Vladimir Nabokov -- I can overlook their occasional stumbles b/c when they get it right, utterly & undeniably right, they can do things and make me feel things that nobody else can. I mean that with all sincerity.
Well said, dottikin. My disappointment in certain Joss choices doesn't warrant a complete shut off of the 'Verse in it's entirety.
dottikin - Forums, or if you are feeling very Latin, fora :) And, he does tend to let the ladies off the hook more easily, doesn't he? Maybe that won't always be the case... and maybe there will eventually be a Joss show without a superpowered teenage girl- you never know ;)
Certainly, it takes artist and audience to make art meaningful. That does NOT make it a two-way street. I like to think of it as a stream. The artist is at the source and the audience is downstream, and shapes the stream with its perception of it, but downhill is downhill, the art just keeps on flowing. At most there's a kind of echo (splash, in this metaphor) that can influence the artist's future work. It's not a two-way street, it's not a cycle. Even if it's a 50-50 relationship, it's not at all symmetrical.

What this means to me is an audience has every right (duty, even) to bitch and moan about the art (shape the stream), but they shouldn't expect the artist to react. I'm happy to debate issues with people I disagree with (e.g. over Wash's death or Buffy's sacrifice/suicide), but I have no patience for people demanding/expecting Joss or anyone else shape his stories to their wishes.
Simon wrote:
Sometimes I think we focus too much on the goldfish bowl of internet fandom and forget realise that Joss' shows were watched by millions of people who don't post online.

Excellent point. "Serenity" might not have made a lot at the box office, but millions of people saw and enjoyed the film across the world at the cinema and now on DVD. How many of them really object to the killing of Wash? Most of them might have been shocked or sad - but the objection to his death and the call for a boycott of the film and/or Joss Whedon is a minor blip in the fandom, magnified by the internet but of no real consequence to Whedon or his career or the way he tells his stories.
Great art invites differing interpretations precisely because it relies on the chemistry between the viewer (or listener/ reader/etc) and the work itself. Serenity will be a different experience to different people just as Hamlet or Guernica or The Sopranos do not have a single definitive interpretation.

In terms of the "rights" of the viewer, television is quite a singular medium. Due to the time over which a story unfolds, there are manifold opportunities for feedback whilst a programme is still being written and created. It is already the case that the creator of a tv series is likely to have more potential interference than almost any other artist. He (or she) often has to deal with network interference and almost certainly has to deal with viewing figures. Some show-runners have certainly reacted to internet opinion and it is arguable whether or not this has been for the best. Is listening to the opinions of viewers really that different from changing movies in response to test screenings?

Simon, you certainly makes a good point that internet fandom is just a tiny portion of the viewing audience. While it may sometimes be useful for programme makers to see how an audience is reacting to a specific character, it would surely be to the detriment of a programme to try to respond too keenly to internet trends.

I would argue that one of the reasons why HBO shows are very often superior to much of network tv is because the creators of those shows are given more freedom to tell their stories in the way that they wish. Ultimately, if a creator finds it useful to listen to feedback and that works for him then it isn't de facto "wrong" but there should be no onus upon him to do so.
Saje wrote (of Enterprise):
I won't add to the spoileriness but if you're a fan I almost guarantee you'll be disappointed by the final episode.


Or, if you are a fan of The Next Generation, you'll absolutely love it as I did :-)
Just out of curiosity, do we actually have anyone on this site that demands/expects Joss or anyone else to shape his stories to their wishes? I don't think we do, but you never know. If anyone feels that way, let us know how you justify that.

And jam2, I love your stream analogy. Very poetical. :)
There is no show without fans to watch it and to become invested in it. When Joss says "... he's there to be in service to the story that needs to be told."... I need to give them what they need, not what they want. They need to have their hearts broken," I think he is so wrong it beggars description. Joss cannot possibly know what anyone needs; he can only know what HE needs and what HE thinks the story needs, and he is not, in my opinion, being honest in that statement. And I sincerely agree that he has come to rely upon the death of characters as a standard tactic- I was not surprised by anything in Serenity. He has used death in nearly everything he has done; I will not list them here for I can't figure out to use the spoiler tags, but suffice to say we are all aware of how many characters have died, even in comic books.

But the gorilla in the room that no one has mentioned is Tara. I cannot agree that her death was what a whole hell of a lot of fans "needed." I don't mean to rake up an issue that will not go away, but I would think there were lessons to be learned in the outcry following Tara's death, but I see little evidence that this is the case. I saw damage control- creating Kennedy as an an ersatz anti-Tara in order to keep Willow gay (and the fact that he and Marti Noxon even had to discuss whether or not to keep Willow gay is an indication of how badly they continued to read the audience), the so-called "get out fo jail card" that many have problems really believing. Intead, I see the same arguments offered here that were trotted out there- I need to do this, the story needs this, you need this. Well, no, I don't. What I am learning is to not invest myself in any character that Joss creates, because he may later take them from me- and I create from them my own story, a point that seems to be lost here as everyone argues for his right to do exactly what he wants. Yes, he can, and he can neglect his audience, and in the end, and I hate to say this, it is all about commerce, about putting a show on the air that makes money and NEEDS to be watched by people in order to survive. TV is a commodity and you do not get to sell your ware if no one buys- so the audience, in their ownership of the characters, make this possible- they are the real engine driving the show. Just because you write does not mean anyone will read. All occurs in the marketplace.
But the gorilla in the room that no one has mentioned is Tara.


That particular gorilla has been mentioned a half dozen or so times in this thread :)
Wow, Dana5140... it's so rare that I get anyone agreeing with even a portion of my controversial Whedon opinions that I don't even know how to respond.

Without question the most annoying, irritating, stab-myself-in-the-eyes upsetting thing that Joss Whedon ever, EVER says (and keeps saying over and over again) is that trite little aphorism "I give them what they need, not what they want." Of all my complaints about minor little Whedon quirks, I really think that hearing this nonsense another two, three hundred thousand MORE times is all it will take to push me away from the 'Verse.

*breathing* Anyways, I'm not as on the Tara ranting train as some others. It upset me, but has never been the main focus of my rage. But I DO completely agree with your comment about learning to not invest in any Joss characters because you know they'll just be taken from you eventually. Somehow the assurance that, just as in "real life", fictional characters all die eventually just doesn't really seem to ease the suffering for me.
You'll pardon me for saying so, but I think refusing to become attached to anything for fear it will be taken away is rather sad. Personally, while I breathe, I hope... on the other note, while I'm tired of hearing it, he is not wrong that giving you (viewers) what you want is rarely the way to go. Historically, you will stop watching if you get what you want.
Dana - I think you didn't actually read the posts, as it's mentioned about 5 times. Tara's death didn't cause a blip in the ratings - in fact, I believe it increased them at the time.

From every angle I think it was a great death.
Personally, while I breathe, I hope...

Aww, how sweet. One more hope for Joss to rip from your chest and throw on the ground at your feet. ;)

(I kid 'cause I love)
Just out of curiosity, do we actually have anyone on this site that demands/expects Joss or anyone else to shape his stories to their wishes? I don't think we do, but you never know. If anyone feels that way, let us know how you justify that.

Yeah, I'm not sure I've seen that here. I saw it some on the old browncoats site and it was the whole purpose of the idiotic assinine savewash.com (see? lost my patience!). That's mostly what I'm reacting to. But Whedonesque is a different crowd, and I'm not sure if I've heard that expressed here.

And jam2, I love your stream analogy. Very poetical. :)

Thanks. I have another one based on electricity, not nearly as poetical. ;-)
On a sidenote, can someone give me a quote about 'discussing whether Willow should remain gay'? Don't recall where that's from.

ETA - Haunt, that was more of a general statement, not a Joss-specific. While I don't expect specific characters to die, I do expect death in the Whedonverse(s) in general. And I do enjoy your posts, even while disagreeing with some of things you say. Although the fact that you used the word rage to describe your feelings on this made me do a "back away and pet the nice doggie 'til you can find a stick" ;) I kid, too!
I believe the creator owns his work and can do whatever the hell he wants to with it. If I disagree with what said creator has done, I'll probably be bitter (especially if it's someone I've trusted) and may stop participating in any kind of media that they create, but I'll never say that they shouldn't have done it because it was my story, and as part of the audience, I should be able to dictate how the story unfolds. I'll probably say it shouldn't have happened because it was detrimental to the product's quality, and bitch a lot about it, but I'm never going to bitch because the creator diverted from what I wanted to happen.

To be a hypocrite, I got pissed at Spider-Man. Aunt May died in The Amazing Spider-Man #400, yet Howard Mackie brought her back when all of the Spidey series relaunched (and thank God they've gone back to the regular numbering now). That completely undoes the certain kind of emotional pain and anguish that was created previously and which factors into how well Peter can operate in his chosen vigilantism "career." Mackie brought the Spider-Man books drastically down in quality, and I honestly felt that his decisions shouldn't have been made and that I personally was betrayed. Mackie also completely undid how May was killed, and built another completely unconvincing storyline to explain his actions. Would anyone have ever brought back Jason Todd (the REAL one) to the Batman books? I know that I'm wrong to think that, as I stated above, and I'm no longer as angry about it, especially now that J. Michael Stracynzki has managed to do some interesting things with May.

So I guess that's what it boils down to. A creator can make a decision that I absolutely hate, but if they can make it work in the long run, I guess it's not so bad. And that's what Joss does. When Fred died, I was so unbelievably pissed, but then we had Illyria, and that added a whole 'nother realm of emotional depth and storytelling possibilities. These kinds of drastic changes in ongoing fiction should not be given a knee-jerk reaction as soon as they happen; let's wait and see what kind of ripples they have in the rest of their individual fictional universes. To say that Joss killing off happy couples is redundant is to give it the aforementioned "knee-jerk reaction"...look at how they affected the series, and how well they eventually worked dramatically. Tara's death brought on Dark Willow, for example, something that remained a prominent character point for Willow until the series ended (and, indeed, until the entire universe ceased to exist...except for, hey, we get canon comics! Yay!).

Another good example is The Sopranos, when

So, yeah, I probably went on a bit too long, but to reiterate my main point:

Judging a character's death or a seemingly wrong-headed creative decision as a single event is unfair to the creator. The decisions need to be taken as a whole, including all of the ramifications and aftershocks that they cause, before they can really be judged as "right" or "wrong." On Smallville, I doubt it'll make a difference in the characters or their decisions, and if it does, it'll most likely only be temporary. It's a good idea on paper--and worked in the comic books, even--but it's a bad decision if that's what's going to come out of it.

And, hey, shout-out to Dhoffryn: Yay, I'm not the only person here who quotes Kill Bill!

P.S.: Wow, I did not mention Wash dying once, and I was planning on that figuring hugely into my discussion. Weird that.
Wait a minute, I thought Tara was the elephant in the room that no-one mentioned ? Was there a memo ?

Haunt, surely you have to speculate to accumulate ? It's bound to take a few years of unmitigated emotional agony before you find a character that you like and survives. No pain no gain ;).

(apropos of bugger all, if it takes 2 seconds to say "I give them what they need, not what they want", in just under 7 days by my reckoning you could be totally 'verse free. Course, Joss' voice would probably have gone before then...)
Life is difficult and unpredictable. Nothing is forever. Nonetheless, most allow themselves to care deeply for many, many people. Why should our relationship to fiction be any different than our relationship to life? I think that would do nothing but dilute the experience.
Oh, and the discussion was going so well - until someone decided that it's all commerce and, apparently, not art. Which doesn't add to reasonable debate at all.

As far as zeitgeist's question about "whether Willow should remain gay", it basically came about like this - the original plan for Season 7 was to have Willow fall in love with a man, suggesting that she was bisexual (AFAIK, not to suggest she was never a lesbian or that Tara was an anomaly).

The outrage over Tara's death (and the ongoing suggestion that she died because she was a lesbian or that it was fulfilling some kind of lesbian cliche) made the creators rethink. Although I don't agree with the suggestion that Tara's death was a bad idea, this rethink was probably advisable - since it's encouraging and complicated enough to have an ongoing lesbian character/relationship on television; making her bisexual might have been a burden season 7 didn't need. (And arguably she was already bisexual, though she chose to id as gay.)

ETA: "I give them what they need, not what they want" doesn't presuppose Joss knows exactly what an audience needs personally - but he knows what they need for the story to work (as opposed to what they want - which might well be anathema to the story he's telling)

[ edited by Keith G on 2006-03-10 03:11 ]
The difference is, in life I want people I love to be happy. In fiction I want the characters I love to be interesting.
Keith G - right, but I want a source, like 'watch the commentary for s7 ep x' or 'read this interview'.

Jon - which sounds like you think happiness is boring :) No need to really answer that one, I know that conflict is the source of all drama/intrigue. What I also know is that happy people aren't uncomplicated or undramatic or uninteresting in my real life.
"You'll pardon me for saying so, but I think refusing to become attached to anything for fear it will be taken away is rather sad." - zeitgeist

I agree with you, my friend. What is it that Zoe says? "I ain't so afraid of losin' somethin' that I won't try havin' it."? (Think I got that quote a bit wrong, but I'm sure you get the gist)

I love that line. And I subscribe to that as a way to live life, as well.
Hear, hear, Willowy :) Speaking as someone who has been reminded at least once too often that what they love can be taken away, it makes me more apt to go after what I want and hold onto it for whatever time I have. Completely apropos of nothing, people often mis-say or mis-type that as "Here, here," -- It is an abbreviation for "Hear, all ye good people, Hear what this brilliant and eloquent speaker has to say!" or so sayeth the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board.

ETA - I think that your quote is correct.
(apropos of bugger all, if it takes 2 seconds to say "I give them what they need, not what they want", in just under 7 days by my reckoning you could be totally 'verse free. Course, Joss' voice would probably have gone before then...)

Um, can I get that in Captain dummy talk? I think you're saying something I wanted to say too, but I'm not sure. That is, "I give them what they need, not what they want" probably shouldn't be taken too literally, it's mostly a pithy way to say something that would take a lot longer to explain.

I think Joss meant what he said, but "what they need" stands in for something broader. To me, it means the road less traveled, the not-happy ending, the non-predictable. Cause if Joss writes "what they want", the audience always knows what's coming, because they created it in their subconscious already. Then it's not good storytelling. I think "what they need" is kind of "what they wouldn't write for themselves", and as I've expressed before I think that's the right way for an artist to create.
Zeitgeist - Life is pain. Anyone who says different is selling something.

Or (if The Princess Bride isn't the source of all wisdom), happiness can indeed be hugely interesting and happy people may very well live lives full of conflict and drama. Nevertheless, within the realms of fiction, a character's happiness is not my prime concern. They can be happy and interesting or unhappy and interesting so long as they're interesting!

[ edited by Jon on 2006-03-10 03:33 ]
Jon - The Princess Bride is the source for much wisdom, although one could argue that that particular bit was just lifted, sort of, from Buddhist tradition (The Four Noble Truths), which tells us that 'Life is suffering,' to which Glen Philips adds 'Tee hee. Ha ha.'. Which isn't to say we won't find love and comfort and escape from our sorrows, but only that the world and human nature are imperfect. Was only saying that as written your post could be read (as could all our posts) to say more than one thing.

[ edited by zeitgeist on 2006-03-10 03:42 ]
Some general responses to things I've read in response to me...and may I say, this has turned out to be an extremely interesting thread:

acp said:

I think we often feel a sense of ownership with characters and worlds in which we're highly invested. That's why we care so much. But that's different to me from actually having that ownership. The stories are, ultimately, the writers' to tell.


I agree with almost everything you said here. The right to tell the stories belongs to the creators, of course. But I still argue for shared ownership of the characters, in a sense. We seem to be talking about different kinds of ownership, though. I do not dispute that Joss, for example, may do with his worlds whatever he pleases...creatively (and legally), they're his. But they're also mine, in a small way.

If I create something and hold it within my own mind, or record it and then keep it hidden so that only I can see it, it is definitely mine. I can change it, alter it, destroy it at whim. But the minute I show it to someone else, it has become part of their own experience, and in that sense is theirs. You argue from the sense of ownership that goes--I can destroy this art before your eyes, if I so choose, because it is mine, I made it and I can do with it what I will. I argue from the sense of ownership of the person watching the destruction--I treasured this, it changed me, it was a part of me, and now you have violated that, in a sense you have violated me.

Haunt said:

In response to your entire post above BAFfler, I have to say I think I love you. :)


Ah, Haunt. I appreciate it, muchly. And I return the love...though in a strictly platonic fashion, you understand.

Saje said, in response to my bit about the betrayed feelings re: Willow and Tara:

However, as i've said elsewhere, simply making a story to convey some message is a bad idea. Keeping Tara alive because it's more socially progressive to do so would be very bad storytelling and in the long term, if adopted as general 'policy' by creators, possibly bad for the social acceptance of lesbianism (I don't want to get into affirmative action, suffice to say I think it's not without its problems even though it's probably a necessary 'evil').


I had strictly been using Tara's death as an example to point up the indefensibility (in my opinion) of any writer saying that s/he gives the public what they "need." However, oddly enough, I agree with what you have to say. For my part, I was shocked by Tara's death, but not really angered. As far as I could see, she'd been treated in exactly the same way as many other love interests on the show, which was equality any way you sliced it. I viewed the outcry and rage against Tara's death with a sense of confusion. It was sad and shocking that she died, but good people get killed needlessly in real life too. And after all, she was just a character--if this was the story Joss wanted to tell, then let him tell it. What's the big deal? Nobody REAL died. How can you really feel betrayed?

Then Wash bit it, and I understood.

And this brings me back to my original post, and my contention that fans do have some ownership of these characters. When we truly identify with a character in some creative form, I think, it's because that particular character almost represents our own personal image. They become more than just an access point to the story, more than a symbol or the letters on a page or some lines being delivered on camera. In our minds, they are us. They are who we would be if we were in that story. And the incredible outcry that rose up from the lesbian community following Tara's death, and the Browncoats (myself among them) gnashing their teeth over Wash, were the people who had just watched their story-selves be brutally dispensed with, shunted aside unheroically, without even the slightest warning. (The fact that Amber Benson was added to the credits for "Seeing Red," in the minds of many, made the offense of killing her unforgivable, and it's not hard to see why--they had just been granted a higher status in the story, or so they thought, and THEN she died.)

We humans constantly categorize things in terms of ourselves--my family, my friends, my job, my possessions, my interests and hobbies. In a real sense, we are asserting ownership when we say those things...and not just over animate objects, but over people. Note that we don't own the people, since they own themselves. We do, however, own the connection, and we expect that we will have some sway, even if we have no actual control, over the way they run their lives. And if they call us their friend or family member, then obviously they feel the same way.

You don't just feel the ownership of characters, as acp said; in some sense, that ownership is true. If you've helped interpret the story, if it's gained a place in your life, to the point where you're not just a watcher but a bona-fide fan, if you're able to point to a particular character and say "He's just like me" (He's MY character), then you do have some stake in the story. An access point, a means of self-identification, whatever psychobabble antybody wants to put on it--what matters is that it is YOURS. The creator may have given you the universe, but you were the one who found a way in. And when the creator destroys that character, s/he is, in a very real sense, taking away YOUR connection that YOU created.

Or perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps, since we truly can't own people, we're wrong to refer to them in the possessive. Perhaps, in a larger and more important sense, that's the only reason that people have railed against all the gods there ever were after deaths, that we tried to possess something that wasn't ours and then belatedly realized that fact only after it was taken from us. Certainly plenty of people have railed against Joss for how he dared to exercise his godlike powers. Certainly, anyone could realistically argue that even while agreeing with everything else I've said here. But I choose to believe, for my part, that Wash was mine, even if only in the sense that I chose him. Even if Joss would dissent, I'm sure that any fan of Tara would agree. And Jenny. And Joyce. And Wesley. And Fred. And Jonathan.

Sidenote: Why DO we so deeply connect to things that have so little practical value? How many millions of people watched in helpless fury as the Taliban destroyed those ancient Buddha statues? (Not quite the same thing, I'll admit, because the Taliban didn't CREATE the statues, but they certainly OWNED them.) It's perfectly possible for a person in a poverty-stricken country to argue, "So what? It's some carved stone. You can always make more. There's plenty of stone in the world...you could make fifty or a hundred more just like it if you wanted. How about worrying about the millions of us who need food instead?" This is a perfectly legitimate argument...why worry about the destruction of something that's simply material when there are more pressing matters at hand? Yet somehow, that sense of connection with its ancient makers, with the ideas that it stands for, meant enough to so many that they were willing to plead for the statues to remain intact. It seems even more ridiculous in the case of something as figmentary as an intangible character in a book or play or movie or TV show. Yet we do it anyway. What an interesting species we are!

Sidenote Deux: Could the incredible number of shock deaths on Buffy have been what finally led to the sturm und drang of the series' later years? Angel seemed to get better with each long-time character it killed, which is probably because the show was so much more about misery and bearing pain than Buffy was to begin with that it seemed more appropriate. But on Buffy, all those characters that we loved dying horrible deaths...the peripheral supports that lent the show some of its warmth and humanity being murdered to affect our main characters...and the fun slowly seeped out of the show. This doesn't necessarily apply to deaths, either; Buffy with Giles and Buffy post-Giles are two entirely different animals, and I do vastly prefer the former. Losing the mother and the father figure so close together, I'm convinced, fatally impacted Buffy's charm. And then Joss refused to go all the way, even when it would have been more dramatic...one of the reasons I have s many problems with Season Seven is that they started off by brutally murdering two very familiar characters, and then wouldn't follow up with any more. I remain convinced that if Giles had just gotten his head sliced off in Sleeper, and Xander had lost more than an eye in Dirty Girls, and perhaps even Willow had crossed the threshold of badness again, the season would have been infintely more dramatic, which in Joss-speak would equate to better. However, he chose to back off the drama and keep his main characters together at the end, because he wanted a happy ending. I thought it wasn't about wants, Joss, but about needs! =) (And now I expect to get flamed for chiding the Master. Disclaimer: Even though I am still a little bitter over Wash, I greatly respect both Joss Whedon and his work.)

My goodness, this was a long post, wasn't it? And me with laundry to do. I have officially rambled enough.
Chiming in once more, to Dana5140:

There is no show without fans to watch it and to become invested in it. When Joss says "... he's there to be in service to the story that needs to be told."... I need to give them what they need, not what they want. They need to have their hearts broken," I think he is so wrong it beggars description. Joss cannot possibly know what anyone needs; he can only know what HE needs and what HE thinks the story needs, and he is not, in my opinion, being honest in that statement.


Hear, hear.
More than once Sandy and I shouted "I hate you Joss!" Do we mean it literally? Nope. We watch the shows over and over again and cry every time. As for Joss being presumptious about knowing what "we need", isn't there an implied "I think" in there. As in:

I give them what (I think) they need.

We're willing to graciously accept the implication of those two little words...especially since it leads to such good story telling.... As for never investing in Joss' characters because you know they are going to die, where's the fun in that? Remember that a lot of Joss' characters got much more interesting after they died (once or twice)...
In reply to Joss not knowing what anyone needs only what he or the story needs... I don't think he ever meant 'I know what these people need', I think its always been about serving the story as he sees it. So to object to what he didn't mean (IMO) comes off as a tad strawman. Of course, I could be wrong and he could've been targeting Dana5140 when he spoke those words. Which time, right? He's said them so many times :) Once for each of us to be sure, no?
Interestingly, as referenced in this other thread, author Susannah Clarke says:
Apparently Joss Whedon starts from emotion. He asks what emotion does the viewer need to feel? and what emotion does the character need to feel? These are very good questions for any writer in writing any fiction. Get that right and your readers/viewers will want to keep reading/watching.


[ edited by jam2 on 2006-03-10 03:52 ]
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Keith- sorry, but this is an issue that has to be considered in any discussion of the choices a writer makes when putting show on TV. I don't make this comment lightly, and I am not suggesting that commerce trumps art in every case. But, to reiterate- there is no show without people to watch it. Period. If you piss off your audience, you lose them, and then you no longer have a show to put on tv. So, as was noted in a post way up, when it became apparent that Spike was becoming very popular, Joss amended his original idea to use him as a one-off character, and instead he made him a regular. Was this pandering? Yes, it was- and no, it was not. But it was a response to fan interest, no matter how you cut it, and that was done because it brought viewers to the show.

And listen, folks, if I missed the Tara comments, forgive me; I'm dealing with some serious back pain and I keep having to shift position, so I was scanning the comments- but that has no real bearing on the point I am making. Nor does the fact that I referred to a gorilla in the room rather than an elephant. :-) Argue my points based on my points. :-)

And I should note that my issue about Tara's death has nothing to do with the evil/dead lesbian cliche, though I believe it was invoked, however inadvertently. I have many reasons why I think it was a deplorable decision- and I am no kitten. And I thank Keith for noting the decision regarding Willow and her gayness and noting the whys of why they kept her gay. I have so much buffy material that I cannot always immediately locate information- I have several banker's boxes worth of reprints, etc. But to have Willow go back to guyville would have been an outrage, imho. And the writers are not that stupid- that would have been pouring salt on some truly raw wounds. I thank Joss for not making that mistake.

And zeitgeist, why is it sad if I decide not to invest in something? I find that Joss has in some ways fallen into repeating himself- he uses death all too regularly, so to me it is not a question of if, only when. I will bet you dollars to donuts that there will be a death of someone in Wonder Woman, and in Goners. Each time Joss does something new, he gets new viewers, people not familiar with his past work, or perhaps with only passing knowledge. And so he can use that tactics time and again, because the newbies will not expect it. But us oldbies, we do. I knew Wash would die, and I wish I could find posts I made elsewhere (I think over on jetwolf's boards) about this- but Wash was the innocent, and that is who bites it all too often in Joss's work- not the warrior, because we expect the warrior to die- so it is the innocent. Wash was that. Book was relegated to the side in the film, and his death was used solely to drive Mal and his thinking. No surprise to me.

Haunt, I have been making these kinds of comments elsewhere. Listen, I truly love Buffy and the work that Joss has done, but I do not think he is perfect or that he cannot err. I respect the fact that he creates teh characters I love- but I am cognizant that in modern lit theory, it takes two to tango. There is a reason Roland Barthes talks about the death of the author. Readers bring to their reading of the text their own beliefs, biases and context, and that makes the story unique to the reader, making the reader in many ways the creator. I cannot countenance statements that say that because Joss is the creator what he does is all that matters and I have to accept it. I don't. And that is not reality. People can turn off their TV, and not watch. I did that to Lost, because I think the writers have no idea where they are going, and I do not wish to invest in the energy and time to follow a story that to me has lost its way. Alias has lost its audience, for similar reasons. Some say Buffy got a boost over Tara's death, and there is some data to suggest that viewership went up for the final 3 ep arc in S6, but then fell of in S7- though there are lots of reasons for that to have happened, though losing Tara appears to me to be one of them.

What I wish is that the folks on buffyology would come here and post- we have had similar arguments there, but in some detail- and I am a clinical researcher, not a person with a doctorate in media studies- but this issue of creator, commerce, commodity, reader/viewer comes up with some regularity.

And I further wish that Joss, who posts here so often, would read this and comment. I truly would be interested in his thoguhts on these weighty issues, hint hint. :-)

Good discussion.
I'm afraid that I must off to bed... feeling very achey and tired. Thank you all for some wonderful posts and many thoughts provoked. Be good to one another (yes, EVEN gossi...). I'll check tommorow for specific reference to the 'keep Willow gay' discussions that I keep hearing took place and whether showing on 4 counts as terrestrial viewing :)

ETA - Dana5140 re: "And zeitgeist, why is it sad if I decide not to invest in something?" (more of a sad if you decide not to invest in ANYTHING rather thana particular something, but that said...) Bluntly: Why live if you've given up on investing in anything? Seems pointless to draw breath if you can't hope for better than the current state of things. If you shamble through day to day never actively involved/invested in work/play/other people, then you may as well not be here. I mean you in the general sense, not in the specific, it should go without saying :) A hands off approach to life is not an approach to life, its an approach to death.
From zeitgeist:

In reply to Joss not knowing what anyone needs only what he or the story needs... I don't think he ever meant 'I know what these people need', I think its always been about serving the story as he sees it. So to object to what he didn't mean (IMO) comes off as a tad strawman.


Straw man? To object to his actual words?

From the article linked at the tip-top of the page:

Whedon says he's there to be in service to the story that needs to be told."... I need to give them what they need, not what they want. They need to have their hearts broken," he told one interviewer. "They need to see change."


He's not talking about the story here, he's talking about the viewers. The story doesn't need to have its heart broken. There's no straw man here...Dana is issuing the more correct interpretation.

And once again, I think that any fan who identifies strongly with a particular character would roundly object to the idea that having that character killed off was what they "needed." (And personally, I think they would be perfectly right to take Joss to task for having the gall to say it.)
What I am learning is to not invest myself in any character that Joss creates, because he may later take them from me-

Wow. I disagree with this on so many levels. As Zeitgeist and a couple others mentioned above... Things can always be taken from us, but to cut ourselves off from the love and joy they bring because of that risk, that possibility that they'll disappear, is to lose one of the many things that give life meaning. And yes, I do realize we're talking about a TV show here, not life :-) But I think the same principle holds true, in life as in art. And for me, knowing that the characters I love are not always safe, always to be counted on, means I take them less for granted and appreciate them more while they are here.

Also, I hear your points about the marketplace. But the fact remains – people haven't stopped watching. In fact, just looking at Joss as an example (although again - he is far from the only writer who disrupts happy couples or puts his characters at risk), our presence here is pretty ample evidence of the fact that his audience hasn't drifted away. Whereas, I'd venture to guess that if he had given us more of what we thought we "wanted" at certain points, kept couples happy, kept Tara and Anya and Jenny and Wesley and Fred alive, kept things safe and with less pain but also less joy and high moments – then he wouldn't have such a loyal following. So, by my reasoning at least, if you want use the marketplace as the justification, his decisions have been pretty wise ones.

But mostly, I just come back to: this is his story we're being privvy to, his story that he's telling. I don't think he owes us any more than to be true and honest to the vision that he has, and the story he thinks needs to be told. So far, I've trusted him enough to hang on through the decisions I thought were poor, but if he ever completely lost his touch, I'd probably just stop following his creations as much and move on to other TV or movies or books. I agree with you when you say that he "only knows what HE needs and what HE thinks the story needs" but I don't see anything wrong with that. This is his story; I'd rather he follow, with integrity, what he believes the story needs, not what I or other fans might think it needs.

On another note... Saje, I actually meant to say, but obviously didn't articulate it well, pretty much what you were getting at: Not just that we're all welcome to have our own opinions on what something means, but that any piece of art is completely open to interpretation from any reader/viewer/audience. Once a "text" is out there, in my mind, that's it; Joss's opinion on what it "means," or what a character's intent was is no more or less meaningful than mine or yours or anyone else's. The same would hold true for Shakespeare, were we to suddenly discover notes on the Bard's intentions. It'd be fascinating, for sure. But it wouldn't negate the myriad other analyses and theories out there. To me, that's part of the beauty of good art: it's ambiguity, and its openness to differing interpretations.

I think that any fan who identifies strongly with a particular character would roundly object to the idea that having that character killed off was what they "needed.

I don't know BAFfler - sometimes what I do look for in art is to "have my heart broken." I don't mean that I sit there and say, "Wow, I really love Tara. Wouldn't it be great to have her die so I could be painfully upset." I mean that experiencing pain is part of experiencing life, and in the context of drama and story it - to me - heightens the overall experience. I'd certainly rather deal with death in a fictional universe than in my own family, and I do look for dramas that heighten the stakes, and my investment in the characters, and the emotional highs and lows. So yes, I do actually want my heart broken every now and again – so I can enjoy the good parts that much more. But maybe I'm just weird and masochistic... :-)

[ edited by acp on 2006-03-10 04:08 ]
Well, i'm glad I inspired you to post that insightful and meaningful comment jam2 which, incidentally, I agree with completely and think summarises exactly what Joss means but i'm embarrassed to admit I was actually just being glib. Haunt posted that if he heard "I give them what they need, not what they want" another 2-300,000 times he'd depart the 'verse and at two seconds a pop it'd take about 6.9 days to say that phrase 300,000 times.

As is so often the case, where others are being poetic, i'm doing arithmetic, sorry ;)

ETA: Ah, copy that acp ;). In some ways it's more interesting if there is a definitive opinion since analyses can then be right or wrong (which appeals to me personally) but in other ways it just doesn't ring true. I think that though art is mediated through its creator, it is to some extent a product of all the inputs that person has had in their life and so, once it's 'in the wild' it sort of belongs to the world (i.e. the source of the inputs) as much as the creator (except legally and financially, obviously ;). I think most creators would accept that ideas that they didn't consciously intend creep into their work and so in that sense there shouldn't be some hierarchy of opinions (except insofar as some are more insightful or better reasoned than others).

[ edited by Saje on 2006-03-10 04:16 ]
BAFfler - I know what was said, but what I think he meant and what you and Dana think he meant is different. I think the 'need to have their hearts broken' is an appeal to what serves the story/drama/etc. I don't view it as a personal attack on the attachment of viewers to specific characters. And as acp says, sometimes I do look to have my heart broken (I mean why else would I still watch Whedone shows, right? *tongue in cheek*) The only thing that makes it a hollow argument to me is that I interpret the words differently than you, much like (meta point) people in this thread interpret the various deaths/situations differently. Really going to bed now, I swear ;)
Maybe this is a pointed way to make my point. After Tara died, so did a lot of my interest in the show. I paid some attention, but not a lot to S7- and I felt that Willow was so badly diminshed, in screen time and in story impact, that she was nearly unrecognizable to me. And this is full well kowing that she would have to deal with Tara's loss- but one 60 second shot of her at Tara's tombstone was hardly enough for me, as a viewer. I needed more- Joss did NOT give me what I needed, he gave me what he wanted me to have. I did not get to grieve, and neither did Willow, and I consider TKIM a very poor way to see Willow grieve, especially when you bring back the person who killed Tara in the first place.

Ziet- of course, I meant invest solely in the story of the show and its characters, not in life in general. I am majorly invested in life in general. :-) But I ain't investing in Joss's work in the future, not like I did with Tara, whom I love. They set out to hurt the audience with her death, and by golly, they sure did- much more than ever could have conceived. It is the story that will not die. And it is not just the kittenboard where this is an issue- there is an active thread on Esence right now about the same issue.

I go back to this- Joss does not know what I need. Hell, half the time I don't know what I need, lol. I understand this is a shorthand for a deeper comment, but at face value it needs explication, because it is so patently untrue. I think if Joss were honest he would simply say, I am going to tell the story the way I think it should be told, and you may or may not like the way I do it. To contextualize it as being for my own good is disingenuous. I'm 52, I have 10 years on Joss and I know better what I need than he ever will. I did not need Tara to die. I would prefer a different means of placing these ideas in context than to lay it at my feet rather than Joss's.
Dana - fair enough and thank you (and all the others!) for a rousing discussion :)
I think there are two parallel discussion tracks here. One is analyzing whether fans have a "right" to emotionally invest in the creation, and to be upset when the creation is altered or destroyed. The second asks whether the recognition of such a right should cause the creator to heed the fans' wishes. I wholeheartedly agree with the first proposition, and roundly reject the second.

I can't possibly respond at length to the eloquence of BAFfler and Dana5140. But some quick thoughts:
Joss uses death too regularly? Would that it were not a regular feature of our life. Joss is not perfect? I don't believe anyone here has argued that he is. Joss's creations are at bottom just about commerce? If that's so, why do you care at all? If they reach you in some way other than as a vehicle for shifting product, then doesn't that make them art? And as for zeitgeist's interpretation of "give them what they need, not what they want" - I think it's the most reasonable interpretation. Joss can hardly claim to know what we each individually need. It can reasonably only mean - what the story needs. To interpret expressions in an over-literal manner is, in some sense, to construct a straw man. But I think that's a secondary point.

Very interesting discussion, even though, frankly, I detest the "death of the author" trope.
I think one reason for our difference of opinion might be that you're taking the "I give you what you need" comment much more literally than I am, Dana5140. Of course Joss doesn't know what you need, or I need, or any particular individual. Especially since we're all going to react in such vastly different ways. I, for instance, thought Tara's death really was important to the story on a lot of different levels, but I'm aware that some fans felt really differently, and that's fair.

I take that "need/want" statement more the way jam2 articulated it above - that it's shorthand for saying he's never going to give us what we think we want, because that would be lame, predictable storytelling without much emotion in it, but that rather he's going to tell the story as he sees it. And that sometimes he does want his audience to experience heartbreak and loss, even if that isn't what they think they want. And for me, that's the way I feel any artist should approach his art, whether it's TV or literature or movies. He (or she) should absolutely be aware of the audience, and the emotion he wants to create, and the characters and story that he feels is important to get out there, but he shouldn't feel that he owes that audience any more than to be true to his vision.
(The fact that Amber Benson was added to the credits for "Seeing Red," in the minds of many, made the offense of killing her unforgivable, and it's not hard to see why--they had just been granted a higher status in the story, or so they thought, and THEN she died.)


BAFfler, if that is indeed true, then it is very sad that any lesbians--or anyone who is different--need a TV show to confirm their status or identity. It's not just a problem with the way society treats them, that's a deeply-rooted problem within themselves. I know that society has shunned and abused those who are different, especially homosexuals, but if anything, I would hope that that would make them stronger.
Dana5140, keep in mind that the "need" Joss aims to fulfill is not yours individually, it's the total audience's, so it can't always be compatible with your own (or mine, or any individual's). That doesn't make it dishonest for him to say he aims give the audience, as a whole, "what they need".

[ edited by jam2 on 2006-03-10 04:31 ]
Really SNT ? It makes sense to me. Must confess i'm not a big fan of modern continental philosophy (without wanting to seem parochial I 'get' the Anglo empirical tradition much more) especially the whole cultural relativism/history as text side of post-modernism but I do think they have a point where there's no correspondance to the real world e.g. in fiction for the reasons I mention in my reply to acp above.

Is it just that it tends to get trotted out a bit too often (sorry ;) or do you have an actual disagreement with the principle ?

(and I don't know why i'm asking questions when it's 2:45 am here and I should really be getting to bed ;).
BAFfler, were I unwed I would take you in a manly fashion! Oh, and you too Dana5140. Thank you guys (and everyone here) for such a great thread. My faith in humanity is restored just the tiniest bit everytime a discussion like this happens and no one starts name-calling or banning people from the board.

And then I hear that abysmal 'My Humps' song, and any hope I have for the survival of the human race is ripped right out of my soul as if my life were a Joss story. ;)

(Off-topic, are either of you going to this year's Slayage Conference? Is ANYONE here going? There's a thread over on the .org about it...)
Wow--what a great thread--it has forced me out of lurkdom with so many good points made. I feel compelled to add my 2’' worth!

I see any writing as art, and so I think it is the artist's responsibility to show their own vision, unfettered (as far as is possible!) by his or her audience. Now, with some art, the creative process happens in isolation and there is one work that is done and presented. However, with writing TV shows, the process goes on for a long time when the creators are successful, and so there is always the possibility of the creation entering the popular culture.

IMHO, at the moment a creation is put out to an audience, it becomes theirs. However, when said creation is a work in progress, if you will, then the creator must keep his/her vision. The audience members can run with the character (eg, fanfic) or simply discuss (heatedly or not), but there still needs to be that element of suspense that keeps the audience interested enough to keep tuning in.

Whatever one feels about characters in the Whedonverse, Joss has always kept his characters close to home, so to speak, and has not bowed overly much to audience appeal. One of the reasons I personally watch or read anything Joss does is that 1) I don't know what he'll come up with, and 2) I can count on the characters being well-developed.

For me, that alone is enough to keep me watching a TV show, as I don't feel many actually accomplish that much. When I can predict what will happen, I get bored, and my remote finger starts to get twitchy. That has never happened for me with Joss' creations, and I include not only his television and film writing, but also his comic books. If I obsess on a character, well, that's what my own fantasy is for! (And yes, that fantasy is alive and well with various plots having to do with Spike. . . !)

That being said, part of my enjoyment of the Buffyverse was that I didn't know what was going to happen! Yes, I loved Spike, but the fact that Joss killed him off then resurrected him in Angel fascinated me. It wasn't the choice I would have made, nor did I see it coming, but that's precisely why I loved that character and Joss' arc for him. The same is true for all of the other characters. I absolutely hated Buffy, but she fascinated me just the same. I couldn't not watch!

For me, that last statement defines exactly why I think Joss is a genius and why I think the creator owns his/her creations. I can take those characters wherever I want to go with them in my own mind, but I would never have come up with Buffy or Spike or Angel or Mal on my own. I needed the creative genius of a Joss Whedon for that. Now that I've been bitten by the bug, I can continue to enjoy them however I want!

Thus ends my treatise on creative genius. Apologies to any and all for any boredom I might have caused! :)
acp- I'm not naive, and in my post just above your I noted that I understand that the comment is a shorthand for a deeper meaning. I get that. But no matter how I try to interpret it, it comes back to everything being laid at my feet, me the viewer. And to me, this is, again, disingenuous. This is all about what Joss wants to write and whether or not we have to accept it. As SNT said, on this we can agree. I do not expect Joss to write the story I want, for I do not necessarily know what I want, but I wish the story to be true to my ideals, mine, not Joss's. This is selfish, yes, but this is also fact.

SNT, when I say "perfect," you understand the hyperbole, correct? This is my shorthand for referring to the idea that the author can do as he wishes and we simply have to accept. Yes, he or she can, and no, we don't. I am not being clear here, sad to say. As for death being a part of life, yes, but so what? That's banal, really. I will tell you that I was truly affected by Tara's death, in ways I do not think Joss Whedon ever expected. As were others. And yes, I understand these are fictional characters, but again, so what? I just lost a mother-in-law, and that hurts, though it was expected- but I am capable of separating reality from fiction. Nonetheless, it hurt, and badly- and before anyway throws a comeback at me that this is simply the mark fo good writing, I will respectfully disagree- as I noted, I basically lost interest in the show after this happened. My character, the one throgh whom I experienced the show, was gone, forever- and the show lost its resonance as a result.

Unplugged- I will disagre with you with some friendly asperity. I think that you are very much wrong. You say "it is very sad that any lesbians--or anyone who is different--need a TV show to confirm their status or identity. It's not just a problem with the way society treats them, that's a deeply-rooted problem within themselves. I know that society has shunned and abused those who are different, especially homosexuals, but if anything, I would hope that that would make them stronger." This is an easy comment to make when you are a straight white male or female, or even black- because you are the "norm" and you are reflected on TV in every show in every way, and you never have to think about how you are being presented. If you are gay, you are not shown on tv- you are Other. The W/T relation was the longest-lasting loving lesbian relation ever shown on TV, and that made it unusual in and of itself. We take our status for granted, but I guarantee that no gay does, and expecially all the more so now that gays have repalced the Soviet Union as a means for advancing the culture war and right wing ascendency. Not to get political, or anything. :-) There are no depictions of loving lesbians on TV- Alex and Marissa was a ratings ploy, which showed you how it should not be done. W/T was groundbreaking. Do you honestly believe there is a "deep rooted problem" when gay women look to a tv show to validate their lives, lives you likely do not know much about? We see our lives validated every day on TV, and we give it no thought whatsoever. It is not so easy to think you are okay when you have right wing evangelicals calling you depraved, and arguing you can change who you are to be part of their "norm" even though you are the way you are supposed to be. This is part of why the loss of Tara was so important, and so hurtful to so many people- and I know I am a bit OT, but I think this is just sort of wrong, which I say in a friendly way, mind you. :-)
OT: As a member of the right-wing ascendancy, ouch.
As a member of the right-wing ascendancy, ouch.

Okay, BAFfler... that was frakin' HIGH-larious. But if it's true, I think our honeymoon might be over. :*(
I basically lost interest in the show after this happened. My character, the one throgh whom I experienced the show, was gone, forever- and the show lost its resonance as a result.

That's fair, and I think is always the risk any creator takes when he makes a decision like that – that he might lose part of his audience. I've certainly lost interest in many TV shows over the years, and stopped watching. I'm still not sure where I get the "disingenuous" charge that you've mentioned a couple times, though. What's disingenuous about saying that he serves the needs of the story rather than what the fans may want or think they want? To his mind, obviously (and to mine too, but there are other cases where I would disagree with the decisions he made), Tara's death did serve the need of the story. Ultimately, since we'll all have different opinions about different characters and different arcs, his is the only vision I want him to be true to – even when I disagree with it. If I disagree too much, I'll find other writers/shows that resonate more.

I second all the accolades for the thread: an articulate, well-reasoned, extremely thoughtful discussion - that's certainly made me think about a number of issues - on a topic that's notorious for causing heated reactions. Kudos all around :-)
The creator (IMHO).
Incidentally, Joss was indeed online and posting tonight (see "Top 6 sci-fi/fantasty films...") - he just (probably wisely!) stayed off this thread :-)
BAFler: If you are going to object to what Joss says, look at the entire quote - "They need to have their hearts broken. They need to see change. They hated Oz, and then they hated that he left. These things are inevitable. If people are freaking out, I'm good. If people are going, "Hmmm...well, that was fine," I'm fucked."

It's not merely about breaking hearts, it's about change. Death is the ultimate change, but he also gives examples of other change - people hated Oz (not for long, but there were Willow/Xander shippers who didn't care for him) and then they hated that he left (and there were people who didn't like Tara when she first appeared).

He's not arrogantly stating he gives people what they need - implying that they don't know what they need, just that often what they want to see happen is the antithesis of good drama or how he sees things playing out.

Dana5140 - while I disagree with your opinion of whether Joss has the right to do with his characters what he likes, you said what I was thinking about Unplugged's post perfectly. Lesbians weren't looking to W/T for validation, but purely to see themselves on screen, just as straight people have always seen themselves reflected in fiction. I understand why you are upset at the loss of Tara, I just don't think the alternative - Joss not doing it purely because the relationship was groundbreaking - is justified.

I do not think Joss' "need/want" comment means he can't be criticised for what he writes or the execution (pardon the pun) of certain story elements - but it's certainly beyond the pale to suggest that he needs to listen to his audience more. Or that simply because he upset you with one decision that's he'll always be wrong.
I am a physical handicapped/gimp/disabled/differently abled/physically challenged/whatever-else-word you wanna use, and I'm not represented on TV either. And when anyone is, it's usually a story of some brave peron beating the odds in a society that doesn't no how to deal with them and everyone learns a life lesson, blah blah blah.

And you know what? I could care less. It's TV. Would I like to see a handicapped person on television being treated as just a normal person going about his or her day in the same way that Willow and Tara were represented? Sure I would, and if that character were to die to further another's arc, or to have to some long-lasting effect on the overall story, I'd be fine with it. No character should be given importance over another just because they're an oppressed/minority/misunderstood group member.

But I'm not going to expect TV to show me that yes, I exist in society. I know I do, and I know the problems I face. Rarely does entertainment seem to force any kind of great, social change in terms of attitudes towards difference, which is the only reason I personally would want to see "different" people on TV. To just get people to understand what they don't. But to rely on TV for that is silly.

The Cosby Show, Roots, Good Times...all groundbreaking shows in one way or another, but there's still racism. Ellen had her sitcom, and the L-Word, and Queer As Folk, even Will and Grace (which, I know, *bad*, but many straight americans were entertained by two gay characters, even my grandmother), but there's still gay-related tragedies and condemnation. People not willing to see past their own prejudices will not be affected by even the best TV. The best you can hope for is them having a personal experience with someone in these groups, that gets them to rethink what they believe. Yet even then, that's just one person.

It's great to have role models and people to look up to, don't get me wrong. Tara and Willow were great, no question, and I was happy to see their relationship play out, and I was happy for the gay women I've met through my Buffy watching, that they had a love story which made them smile a little bigger.

But beyond being sad at Tara's death, they didn't get completely bent out of shape and take personal offense to any lesbian cliches. It was just how the story played out. And as Joss said, if she had been with Oz at the time, he would've gotten dead.

Which segues nicely back into the discussion, which I will now bow out of.

[ edited by pat32082 on 2006-03-10 06:18 ]
From Haunt:

Okay, BAFfler... that was frakin' HIGH-larious. But if it's true, I think our honeymoon might be over. :*(

And now, how we know this will all play out, via quotes from Buffy's "Innocence":

BAFfler: Come on, can't we just kiss and make up?
Haunt: I don't wanna make up. (beat) But I'm okay with the other part.
acp- what is disingenuous is that he keeps putting in the context of "What the audience needs." We have seen him make this comment many times, in many locales, and he keeps using those words. And it is not really what he means, but it is a code for what he is saying, and not everyone can crack the code. So it is disingenuous because he is not really saying what he means. IMHO.

BafFler: I am a member of the left-wing descendency. :-) And proudly so. And so is Joss, so there. :-)

I have never ever criticised the W/T issue on solely lesbian grounds. I think it was a bad decision on "telling the story" grounds. I find that I experienced the show through Willow, until mid-S4, when Tara entered the picture, and I would be hard pressed to tell you why she resonated with me- but she did. Her loss took the wind out of my Buffy sails- I had no one to experience the show through, and even Willow was not who she was in the past- and I did not like Kennedy. I believe that the Dark Willow arc could have been handled without Tara's death- the events played out over the course of just a few days, and all it would have taken was for Willow to just believe Tara was dead- and for the Scoobies to not know as well- and the writers, being good writers, could have done this. Doesn't matter, was not what went down. But, to me, a poor decision.

And Keith, in no way is it "beyond the pale" to suggest a tv writer pay attention to his audience. I am not stupid; I don't hold JOss resposible for all evils in the world, and I don't believe he will always be wrong. But in this case, and in the original reason for the post with regard to Wash, I think he was wrong. That's my prerogative. I have been making this exact point over of Essenceofamber, where a number of folks are still hating Joss and calling him evil. He is not; he is just a writer who made a decision that hurt them and that they cannot forgive- and that is their prerogative. Someone had to decide that all of one season of Dallas was a dream- and it was a stupid decision. Someone had to decide to kill Tara, and it is one I believe was wrong. That's cool.

PS. OT, Saffron (Our Mrs. Reynolds) was on TV tonight and it was a great episode of Without a Trace, and she turned out to be.... gay!

And hi, Joss! Love to hear from you, be bold here now- I'd love for you to let me have it... nicely, though. :-)
On a slightly unrelated note, I would've liked Tara not to have gotten back together with Willow. Because I liked her interacting with Buffy, Dawn, Spike...outside her role as Willow's girlfriend, as she seemed to come into her own.

If the plan had been for her to stay solo, and Joss killed her, I probably would've hated him a while too, because that would've been interesting. But as it was, she was back to being Willow's girlfriend, and had she lived, it would've been treading the same ground over again.

Which is why I guess I didn't get my hate on.
BAFfler: We cling to what is gone. Is there anything in this life but grief?

Haunt: There's love. There's hope...for some. There's hope that you'll find something worthy... that your life will lead you to some joy... that after everything... you can still be surprised.

BAFfler: Is that enough? Is that enough to live on?
Oh dear gods.
I hate to admit it, but I've been topped.
Wow. Anyway. Much words.
If you want to claim ownership to something
buy a house or write one (I know, grammar).
Disbelief.

Maybe we should all get royalties.
For the bits we came up with. Or should have.
And chip in for a urn for Tara.

Simon, you knew this would happen,
and the sun's coming up.
"Rather poetic... in a maudlin sort of way."

Have we really reached the level of poetry? :o
Well, Dana5140, thank you for being friendly about it, though we shall have to continue to agree to disagree. :-D

And thanks, pat32082, for backing me up on this one.

I am not exactly society's "norm" either, despite being white, male, and straight. I am overweight, and have been for a long time, but not because I eat too much, as is commonly associated with obesity, as we all know. When I was five years old, my tonsils swelled up and permanently damaged my metabolism, which resulted in me having irritable bowel syndrome (something treatable only for women, unfortunately) and me not liking to eat very much. Therefore, for all my life, people have been very mean to me, especially making comments about food. Even doctors; one recently suggested I had too much "hand-to-mouth" time...I almost stuck his hand up his ass and through his mouth. And the stereotypical portrayals of obesity in media haven't helped at all either, and while I would like a fair viewpoint of overweight people, I don't need it to survive. I'm above that. I've actually lost about 20-30 pounds recently, though, thanks to some medical officials who actually understood.

I'm not saying that obesity is the same as homosexuality, as it is most definitely not (especially the part where homosexuality is not a problem, and can't go away), but I do know what it's like to be discriminated, laughed at, and "oppressed," for lack of a (much) better word. Society's not fair to anyone who doesn't fit their ideals.

Too bad Nazism didn't die with Hitler.

[ edited by UnpluggedCrazy on 2006-03-10 08:23 ]
In all seriousness, Joss's mistakes could not have been too severe if it arouses a debate this fierce. Ultimately, they are his characters and his responsibility. He has gone out of the way to interact and explain why he did the things he did, but happy endings are usually the swan song of television. There is only so much milage you can get story wise out of characters who have a great bond or attachment and eventually something has to be done to make that story more interesting. With every death or break-up there is a new story to tell, and I think that is what eventually always brings us back.
Dana, I think Joss Whedon does listen to his audience - more than most artists, more than most TV producers. Listening to an online audience discuss his work is almost like a playwright listening to an audience applaud their work - it's tangible feedback that a TV writer was never afforded before.

What you are suggesting is that he doesn't act on what the audience is saying. Or that he hasn't apologised for the fiction he has written. That somehow he has wronged you personally and he cannot be forgiven this. All of which is unfair.

You continue to trot out the "need/want" quote as if that's case closed and it certainly is not. Joss defined what he meant by "need" - which certainly doesn't approach believing he knows what each member of his audience actually needs.

"They need to have their hearts broken." As someone else said in the thread, if we didn't care about these characters, we wouldn't have our hearts broken and we wouldn't be debating Whedon's accountability. But what is Joss under an obligation to supply? A well-written story with interesting characters. Well, perhaps you don't like the way the story went - as you say, that's your prerogative. But Whedon is under no obligation to you or his audience in general to tell the story they *want*.

"They need to see change." I think this point is key - so much of television is about keeping the status quo. Your first post suggested that commerce compromises art; that without an audience Whedon has nothing. Incorrect. Many books are written that aren't read. Many TV series have low viewership. Many films go straight to DVD. Does this make them inherently lesser works? No.

Whedon's television work doesn't toe the line, it always shakes things up. Buffy evolved every single year it was on air. Life changes, most TV dramas stay the same. Joss' work is different. Things change, people die. You might not like the choices he makes, but then you also can't choose who'll die next in real life either. Either you learn to cope or you don't. Either you like the story or you don't. Feeling propriety for a television show doesn't make you as important as the show's creator. Feeling aggrieved doesn't necessarily give you the right to complain about the creator.

You do, of course, have every right to discontinue watching the show or not buy the DVDs. You have every right to pretend seasons 6 and 7 don't exist and write fanfic in an AU where Tara and Willow live happily ever after. But I'm glad that Joss Whedon is writing the story and not you and not anyone else's criticising the author's integrity. He tells the story he thinks needs telling. If you don't like the story, learn to criticise the story.

But, of course, you seem to be one of the few who have cracked Joss' code and his "need/want" quote is a taunt at all those who didn't get their way. I feel sorry for you - for never (again) being able to get attached to the work of one of America's leading screenwriters. It's not that he's infallible, it's just that he has the right to write what he pleases - if you don't want it, don't take it; just don't pretend suggesting that just because you don't *need* it that no one does.
Thank you, Keith G.
I'm actually quite surprised that people feel they have any right to 'own' a character they are invested in on TV, or should have any input in how things go plot-wise.

I was upset by all the various hero deaths in Buffy, Angel and Serenity - of course I was. They are incredibly well-crafted dramas that drew me in and made me care. Is that not the point? I still sigh a bit when watching the early Buffy episodes with Anya in them - I really miss her.
But, at the end of the day, as Nebula1400 said:

I have no idea why fans feel they have some sort of ownership of the characters and stories created by somebody else. Joss's work is HIS, not ours. (and the rest of the post but it is way long to quote)


We are watching Joss's shows presumably because we think he has something to say that we're interested in. How tedious would a permanently happy story be?

It has honestly never really occurred to me that people (apart from the Annie Wilkeses among us) would really feel that the creator of a show or a book or any piece of art didn't have the absolute right to do whatever the hell they want in their 'verse, and if people didn't like it then tough. It may be uncommercial, it may mean that everyone stops watching and the show tanks - but still, it's the writer's prerogative.
*steps into landmine*

Personally, I always interpreted the "I give them what they need, not what they want" quote as Joss saying that as an audience, we want our favourite characters/relationships/etc. to be happy. We want them to be successfull, to flourish.

He believes that we need to see them shaken up. Thrown down and hurt, simply because he believes that the greatest growth comes when you try to pick yourself up. That we needed to see them grow.

Your milage may vary.

*tiptoes out of landmine, leaving 2 cents*
Well, quite NickSeng. If the characters don't change/grow/die it would be very difficult to engage with them.

You'd have ST:The Next Gen where you respect the characters, you may even like the characters but you don't love the characters as you do with a Whedon show. As I think some here have shown, most people would prefer if everyone had a happy ending and things were wrapped up in a nice neat bow. It's more pleasant to think of Willow and Tara being happy together and having grand adventures all over the world. But we all watch Whedon shows for characters that are so real, you're actually physically hurt when they die and for fictional creations to be that real, real events have to happen to them. Death has to be one of the most 'real' events in any life.

For my straightforward happy hero fix I have the (IMO) excellent Stargates or NCIS or Numb3rs or any other of a bunch shows which toe the audience line and, though entertaining, give us pretty much exactly what we want (though in fairness one of Stargates most powerful episodes - Heroes - has a regular cast member die so it even works in 'junk' TV).

BTW, haven't you seen any old war movies ? You'll need more than 2 cents on that landmine. Like a big rock maybe or someone else's foot. Or you could do this thing with a knife in the mechanism ...
I continue to back up Dana, largely because so many people on this thread seem unable to understand her basic point. (Note to Dana: This may be the first time that the right wing has backed up the left wing on anything.) She has said several times now that Tara was, to all intents and purposes, her viewpoint character in the 'verse. Having that character stripped out of the story actually destroyed most of her ability to enjoy it. At the risk of self-indulgence, let me quote myself from an earlier post:

When we truly identify with a character in some creative form, I think, it's because that particular character almost represents our own personal image. They become more than just an access point to the story, more than a symbol or the letters on a page or some lines being delivered on camera. In our minds, they are us. They are who we would be if we were in that story. And the incredible outcry that rose up from the lesbian community following Tara's death, and the Browncoats (myself among them) gnashing their teeth over Wash, were the people who had just watched their story-selves be brutally dispensed with, shunted aside unheroically, without even the slightest warning.


The people who are disagreeing with Dana because she's upset about not getting what she "needed," for whatever reason they may be doing so, are completely missing the point. We're talking about more than a favorite character here. We're talking about a strong identification. Dana had it with Tara, I had it with Wash. I also had it with Wesley quite a bit during Angel, especially as the show developed, so if Wesley was intended to die at the end of Season 5 no matter whather the show was renewed or not, in a weird way I'm happy it ended when it did. Had it gone on to a Season 6, I might have found myself unable to enjoy the story as completely as I did. So I sympathize with Dana being unable to enjoy Season 7. Indeed, I'm not sure I could enjoy any more stories from the Firefly 'verse, either.

What Dana and I have been trying to say is that with certain characters, when you kill them off, you're doing more than shaking the audience up and giving them compelling drama. You are actually eliminating the touchstone that a portion of your audience uses to access the text. You are closing them out of the story. That is not what the story or the audience "needs," which is Dana's entire point.

Now I know that somehow, more people will completely miss my point. But I suppose I'm done responding, because if the majority of you don't get it by now, you probably never will until, or unless, you get shut out of a favorite piece of fiction like we did. For my part, I'm finding it increasingly difficult to be polite; Mehitabel's Annie Wilkes comment in particular almost drew a nasty retort. That probably means it's high time for me to leave Dodge before I say something I'll regret.

Or before I go buy myself a sledgehammer. (Annie Wilkes, you know.)
I'm sorry the comment had that effect, BAffler, it certainly wasn't my intent to offend. I never have identified that strongly with a character in a TV show that I felt betrayed when they are killed off. It had honestly never occurred to me that people who are not Annie Wilkeses would - clearly they do, which was what I meant.

I wonder if it is something you have to experience before you can really 'get' it - I am entirely happy to accept intellectually that people feel like that, but it's not something that I have experienced so it is difficult to really understand how it happens.
Well, I can't speak for anyone else BaFfler but I personally think I understand exactly what Dana is saying. She's saying that some portion of the audience identifies so strongly with a character that they can no longer 'access' the show if that character dies (indeed, may identify so strongly that they actually feel Joss is indirectly attacking them personally when the character dies). Because she really, really didn't 'need' that she perhaps consider Joss to be being arrogant and disingenuous with his 'need/want' talk and since that's based on her personal feelings that's absolutely fine and valid.

What I, among others, am saying is that this is an unfortunate side effect of having characters that are so important to us. What has happened to Dana (and yourself it would seem) has not happened to the majority of the people here (which may be why you guys feel a bit embattled ;) and is, obviously, a shame but it's a personal choice for you guys not to continue watching. It isn't down to Joss to 'pander' (scare quotes because I don't want that to sound loaded) to his audience's wishes, especially if it's 'only' a small sub-set of that audience, it's down to us to choose not to watch.

(can't speak for Joss either but i'd guess that from both a personal and commercial stand-point he'd rather no-one stopped watching his shows because of plot choices he'd made, even though he must've made them knowing full well that some people would be annoyed and maybe even deeply hurt and left feeling betrayed by some of his ideas).

Are there things he could've done to get me to the same point ? Almost definitely (having Wash die in a meaningless road accident was my example above, yes, realistic, but somehow 'cheating' as well). But, for me personally, he hasn't crossed that line (yet ;).
I think we can all accept that, when Joss killed off Tara, he was not giving Dana what she needed.

If you interpret Joss's remark as meaning that he knows what every viewer needs, then it is indeed an arrogant remark, and one which is obviously untrue. Personally, I don't think that's what he meant.
What Dana and I have been trying to say is that with certain characters, when you kill them off, you're doing more than shaking the audience up and giving them compelling drama. You are actually eliminating the touchstone that a portion of your audience uses to access the text.


And that's unfortunate. But, particularly in a Whedon show, there will always be a portion of the audience that identifies with each character. For every person who 'sees' themself as Wash, there's someone who sees themself as Zoe, and another who sees themself as River, and so on. As the saying goes, you can't please everyone.

You are closing them out of the story. That is not what the story or the audience "needs," which is Dana's entire point.


I think that's being a little bit over-dramatic. First of all, aren't you, as the 'closed out' viewer, in the least bit interested to see how your 'death' has affected those left behind? Maybe you're not, in which case were you ever actually interested in the show itself as opposed that one character? Wow, that sounds kind of offensive - it's not intended to be.

Secondly, how can you know that another character won't come along and fill that void for you? I was absolutely gutted when Doyle was killed off on Angel, but lo and behold along comes Wesley, someone that a lot of viewers never expected to care about at all but then turned out to have 'hidden depths' of his own.

Thirdly, I suspect the number of people who feel completely closed out of a story by a character death is in the vast minority. Doesn't make it any easier for the unlucky few, but having a cast of unkillable characters to spare everyone of possible alienation is not what the story needs either.
having a cast of unkillable characters to spare everyone of possible alienation is not what the story needs either

Hear, hear!

(also ditto Saje and tichtich)
Grounded posted while I was typing, sorry if there is some overlap, great minds ( or in my case small mind ) think alike.

BAffler, a different perspective on what you are saying is that different people have different 'entry points', different favorite characters which they enjoy, every change in a show is going to make some people unhappy while maybe other people find something new to enjoy in the show.
Some shows undoubtedly can keep their fans happy by showing us stability and familiar faces but I suspect that many people myself included watch Whedon shows for the 'expect the unexpected' approach, rather than stability. The motto of anything can happen and frequently will is what makes favorite episodes so special from Becoming I/II to Chosen my favorite shows are the 'Oh Nooo, what just happened' shows where interesting things happen, when the creators blindsides us with new character developments and plot twists including deaths.

An argument can be made that the most unexpected thing in a Whedon show would be a romantic couple that survives and lives happily forever after, but IMO the key thing to remember is the constant need to change things around with new fresh angles, there is a reason that the words 'havent we seen this before' is not a positive, If and IMO it does, the majority of a Sci-fi/Fantasy audience wants twists and turns more than stability then stories with happy couples will be few and far in between, logic dictates death and destruction and yes we do enjoy it.

This is also the reason why the creator owns the show and while the fans have the freedom to fill the internet with their opinions they should hope and pray that the creators dont listen, cause listening to the fans will deprive a show of all the juicy stuff, the surprise developments that makes for that special viewing pleasure.

[ edited by jpr on 2006-03-10 15:34 ]
A happy relationship is boring to watch on TV. How many happy relationships do you guys know in reallife? Its normal to fight and thats what the characters do a lot. Okay gotta say that the Lana-Clark storyline over at Smallville totally freaked me out. It bored me to death. It was mostly the i luv u, i luv you too but we cant be together storyline that made me wish they would finally get together and stop this crap. Sorry.

I guess the creator and the writers have the right to do everything they want with their characters. Without them there wouldnt be a show to watch. And if they kill off a character they will have a good reason to do so. Without Taras death Willow would have never turned to the dark side. It's always a hard decision to kill off a beloved character but some times it just has to happen. And I dont think its because Joss doesnt like happy couples. (other people kill off characters too... 24 or NCIS) So why did Joss kill off Wash? Good question... since Im not Joss Im not really able to give the reason. But it moved the story forward. It showed us a different, vulnerable side of Zoe. He could have killed off Mal but lets face it he is kinda the main character. And what if he killed off River? There would have still be mad fans. So yeah Joss is god in this universe.
Good morning to you all and welcome back- I just grabbed a few hours sleep and here I am.

Hi, I'm Dana, and I'm a guy. :-) I know, I know, odd name- and I used to be married to Randee and now am married to Gail and it is tres confusing. But in truth, last time I checked I had all the parts. Big :-)

Anyway, BafFler really has said what I was trying to say better than I was saying it. I lost "access" when Tara was killed, and the show lost resonance. I agree with Keith that Joss listens to his audience, though I am not as sure about how much he hears- but I give him major props for treating us with respect in his postings, which he surely does not need to do. I need to be clear- everyone keeps assuming that what I want is for "my" characters to be happy, to not change. This is not so. What I want is for my characters to be there, in the show. They can be hurt, they can be unhappy, they can undergo change- but I need them in the show. SO it is not about the plot, mehitabel. When you remove Tara, I have no show any more-she was how I watched the show. Yes, there is still an ongoing show, and yes, I could watch; I know all this. But my reason for watching is gone. And Keith be careful -please show me where I ever said that Joss wronged me personally. I would never say that; I have simply said that I believe that he has made mistakes and that he is repeating tactics in his writing. I've never met him, so he can't do anything personally to me at all. Let's not get mildly ad hominem now, okay? :-)

You said "I think this point is key - so much of television is about keeping the status quo. Your first post suggested that commerce compromises art; that without an audience Whedon has nothing. Incorrect. Many books are written that aren't read. " Well, this reminds of Sinead O'Connor. She once said that she did not care if anyone ever bought her music. To which I thoguth, well, then, why record it and sell it? Go sing in the shower or something. JW writes for TV and that carries with it a need to attend the criteria that allow you to put something on TV in the first place. He needs an audience. This is not debatable, I would think. No audience, no show. However you cut it, you need to write eps that an audience will stay to watch. If you fail, you no longer have a show on TV. SO I am not really sure what exact point you are trying to make, since this is so patently obvious. Can you clarify?

Unpluggedcrazy: I'm a doctor and I'd shove my fist up your doctor's ass as well. I understand the sitch. But I'm also Jewish, and I will note that I, and I mean this in a nice way, don't appreciate the statement about Naziism. I think you mean overt discrimination here. :-) Find a different metaphor there. Obesity is played for fun- even Aly is now guilty of this in Date Movie, and I find that kind of funning offensive in the extreme. It says that it is okay to make fun of the obese- and let us not open up that argument again, that the movie is an all purpose offender, making fun of everything so we should all get over it. It ain't the same.

Back on track- Grounded. You say "I think that's being a little bit over-dramatic. First of all, aren't you, as the 'closed out' viewer, in the least bit interested to see how your 'death' has affected those left behind? Maybe you're not, in which case were you ever actually interested in the show itself as opposed that one character? " Here are some answers. No, not that much, about how that death affected the other characters. And of course I was interested in the show, and you know that. Why else would I be arguing? But my entry into the show is gone, and that diminishes it for me. And I am not dramatic, I'm not, I'm not,I'M NOTI'M NOTI'MNOTTTTTTTTT. Just funnin'! :-)

Okay, back to grant writing, which is far less fun than this, let me tell you!
I understand why you are upset at the loss of Tara, I just don't think the alternative - Joss not doing it purely because the relationship was groundbreaking - is justified.


As someone may have said, to do otherwise would not only not serve the story, IMO, but treating her character and this relationship the same as others on the show is the ultimate in equality. Treating it as a sacred cow would've been a disservice. Also, I think having her seem dead and then come back would have been more likely to take the Buffy wind out of more people's sails than they way it did happen. I don't think Joss is being disingenuous (insincere and calculating, faux-naif) when he says this phrase. I'm tempted to borrow a phrase from the princess bride whenever I see that word in this thread. Using shorthand, yes, I agree with that.

And Keith, in no way is it "beyond the pale" to suggest a tv writer pay attention to his audience.


He wasn't suggesting it was beyond the pale for Joss to listen to the audience full-stop. He was suggesting that it was beyond the pale to suggest that Joss pay even more attention and make changes based on the fact that some people have specific connections to specific characters and treat them as inviolable due to that fact.

I continue to back up Dana, largely because so many people on this thread seem unable to understand her basic point.


I, too, understand that Dana is talking about identification with specific characters. Just for the record :) I think I even mentioned it earlier, and also that making an inviolable cast of characters would quickly bore me. Interstingly, I identify with several of the supporting cast (and occasionally Buffy, but nowhere near as often as with the supporting players).

But in truth, last time I checked I had all the parts. Big :-)


I'll try to take that as intended instead of giggling :) Okay, I can't resist -- Dana, stop bragging about your parts!

Dana I guess I have to wonder how you had an 'in' to the show pre-Tara, if you had no 'in' to the show after Tara. That's more than three seasons of no 'in' to the show. The reason Keith and others seems to say that you think you have been wronged personally is your strong language re: how Joss has to listen more to the fans and re: strong character identification. They may have read into that as the others discussing character identification brought it up as something more personal and in relation to people taking it as a personal attack vis a vis Tara.

Hopefully the discussion here provides you some fun break time from the grant writing, Dana :)
Ah, sorry Dana5140, I also made the wrong assumption re: sex. I'm all for diversity but it certainly would be easier if all men were called Bruce and all women Sheila (or if your screen-name was Dana5140-who-has-a-big-clanking-pair-OK) ;-).

I accept all your points and I think you're entitled to your personal choice and don't 'blame' you for finding it impossible to watch the show after the character that gave it life for you was killed but I guess the gist of what we 'other-siders' are saying is that you surely must accept that it is personal to you whether the death of a character is so painful and so critical that you can no longer watch the show. To be blunt, if Joss crafted his storylines around what each of us individually could stand to happen (or thought we could stand to happen) then we'd end up with a very muddled mess indeed.

That said, given how I felt when Wash died in Serenity I can understand completely where you're coming from (I have never felt physical pain over the death of a fictional character before and up until a few years ago, to be honest, I would've probably sneered at the very possibility) though I eventually made peace with why it was done and if i'd probably still rather Wash wasn't gone I also wouldn't change the fact he is (note i'm not pretending any superiority here, i'm just saying that clearly, affected as I was, I wasn't so affected it put me off the 'verse forever, you, by the sounds of things, weren't so lucky with Tara and that's a real shame).

And apart from that, what zeitgeist said (though how 'Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die' bears on this discussion in any way I have no idea ;).
Now I know that somehow, more people will completely miss my point. But I suppose I'm done responding, because if the majority of you don't get it by now, you probably never will until, or unless, you get shut out of a favorite piece of fiction like we did. For my part, I'm finding it increasingly difficult to be polite;

Ummm... Where did the nastiness come from, BAFfler? And here I thought this was really a fascinating discussion, with interesting points raised by all, that was going really well. I hadn't been seeing the (figurative) raised voices or anything that would lead anyone to not want to be polite, but maybe you're seeing different things in the discussion than I am.

Anyhow, as a couple others have said - I don't think the difficulty (for a majority of us, anyhow) is in understanding yours or Dana's point. We're reading what you say, we're understanding it, and we're just choosing to disagree with the larger point - which is also our perogative.
I get that you, through Wash, and Dana, through Tara, were shut out of stories you'd been extremely involved in. I feel badly, and obviously, it wasn't what either of you "needed," as viewers, since it drastically diminished the story for you, or, for some, might make them want to stop watching altogether. That's fine, that's your perogative, it's unfortunate, and I feel bad for you. Does it make me wish Josh had changed either of those deaths? No. Simply because for me, and obviously for a large percentage of his audience, it did enhance the work (I feel word using the word "enhance" about the death of a beloved character, but you know what I mean....). Obviously, I wasn't experiencing the shows "through" Wash or Tara to the extent that either of you were, but I think it's a relatively small minority with any show that is so strongly identified with one particular character that losing that character will ruin the show for them.
So I get where the feelings of betrayal come from; I still don't completely get the charges of "disingenuous" and "dishonest" when Joss talks about his modus operandi for approaching screenwriting. Since we've all established that he's not speaking to individuals here, or what any particular person "needs," but rather in a shorthand to explain the need for change, for heartbreak, for providing emotions none of us may "want" to feel – that's a statement that doesn't bother me and that, instead, I find a very good way of explaining one of the reasons that I watch his shows. And having deaths of characters I'm invested in – as opposed to simply change – has always (speaking strictly for myself) raised the stakes and increased my emotional involvement with the show. It sounds like, for a large majority if his fans, that's the case as well. But obviously it isn't for everybody, and none of us (well, me at least) are trying to convince you that either of you are wrong to feel the way you do about the deaths of Tara or Wash.

Of course I don't believe Joss is perfect, or never errs. There have been quality lapses with all his shows, plot decisions he made that I hated, etc. But the basic intention behind that whole need/want/heartbreak quote is a major reason for why I love his shows and his writing. And so far, he hasn't done anything so bad as to make me want to stop watching.

But honestly, for me this has been a really thought-provoking, interesting, and – so far, at least! – polite discussion. I'm collectively proud of us Whedonesquers for holding it :-)

ETA: Zeitgeist posted while I was writing this and yes - good points, all!

[ edited by acp on 2006-03-10 16:15 ]
And apart from that, what zeitgeist said (though how 'Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die' bears on this discussion in any way I have no idea ;).


Saje - Since you asked, here it is -- 'Hello, Joss. My name is *screen name here*. You killed my character. Prepare to die'. KIDDING :)
That was supposed to be a big smile there, not a comment on my parts! LOL!

And in passing, my step-daughter married into a family that is related to Mandy Patinkin, and they even got to stay at Mandy's New York cottage over the summer. The Patinkens came to the wedding, and there are a lot of Patinkens, many of whom are, believe it or not, farmers or former cattle folk in Illinois. So I always feel a sense of "ownership" whenever Princess Bride is brought up. And my fave: "Mawwiage..."

Zeitgeist- my in to the show was intially through Willow, whom I fell in love with from episode 1. In truth I find her far more compelling than Buffy, who I felt had far less room to change over time, what with being the Slayer and all. So I identified with Willow, felt for Willow, hurt for Willow- when she cried in the bathroom, when Oz cheated on her, etc. When the arc from Hush to NMR was playing out, I became transfixed- could Joss go where it seemed he was going? And he did, and to me it was brilliant. Which is why it hurt so badly when it ended, because it was so ham-handedly handled there in so many ways. LIke I have been trying to say, I don't expect Joss to do whatever it is I want; I just wish for him to be true to me and my needs, since that is the contect he places his comments in- his choice, not mine, of the words, that is. This is the challenge of genre television, that people buy in. Rght now, I find CSI compelling, mainly because of Sarah Sidle. If she were to die, I would have less interest in the show, because I tune in to watch to see what she is doing- knowing that in some eps she may have only a small role, but still I watch her. I used to do this with Tara. Even when the focus was on some other character, I was watching Tara's reactions- and Amber Benson was brilliant for never breaking focus. You have Oz show up in NMR (my fave all time ep), and all I could do was watch Tara to see her reactions- which were heartrending. Remove Olivia Benson from LO:SVU, and it will be a lesser program for me. This is a risk for a writer. I don't expect U2 to make the same record every time, but I do want to hear the U2 sound when they do- I would have little interest in a U2 disco record.

acp, I take you point about joss's shorthand- but I wish he would begin to place this in a different context, because he has made this same argument before- giving people what they need, not want. Let's make it overt, not covert- what it is he intends. If he wishes to focus on emotion, state it. Be clear.

Changing gears, with Wash, I had some problems. Now, I was not invested in him, and his death now plays out, in any future continuation, as something that will affect Zoe. I think that Wash's death was predictable, since he was the innocent- one of two, I might add, since Kaylee is the other. But my feeling is that there was no way in hell Joss would kill Kaylee- he would really lose some of his male browncoats with that decision. And the point has been made that if Mal and Inara ever get together, hell is coming- and we all know that is true, right? Wash was the most disposable character after Book, and Book died as well. Where do we go from here, should there be a mans to proceed. I just felt that Wash dying was too easily predicted, which to me indicates that Joss needs to get out of his rut with regard to using death to drive emotional responses from the audience. I'd like to see some growth- and if there is no death of someone meaningful in Wonder Woman, I will apologize- but do I have any takers on that bet? :-)
Is this a deliberate attempt to use the "need/want" aphorism so many times that I'm finally forced to immolate myself? Have we reached the 2-300,000 more times I mentioned earlier yet? <:-/

Anyways, many other folks have said what I want to say much better than I could ever say it, so I'll spare us all my attempts at intelligent response.

Dana5140: I just felt that Wash dying was too easily predicted, which to me indicates that Joss needs to get out of his rut with regard to using death to drive emotional responses from the audience. I'd like to see some growth- and if there is no death of someone meaningful in Wonder Woman, I will apologize- but do I have any takers on that bet? :-)

Amen, sir. And that's a sucker's bet. No action from me on that one. ;)

[ edited by Haunt on 2006-03-10 17:24 ]

[ edited by Haunt on 2006-03-10 17:24 ]
I dunno, could you webcast the immolation live ?

Otherwise ? Just not worth it (we can't be much above 100 utterings, it'd take ages - well, 6.9 days - to get to 300,000) ;-).
"Ha ha! You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well-known is this: never go in against a WhedonFan when death is on the line! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha -" [stops suddenly, and falls dead, to the right]
barest, I was just waiting for the "All your characters are belong to us" line.

I'd like to see some growth- and if there is no death of someone meaningful in Wonder Woman, I will apologize- but do I have any takers on that bet?

If there's a death of a major character in WW, and it serves the plot, it absolutely should happen. Any notion that Joss will be a better writer if he stops making change happen is slightly incorrect, I'd suggest - the reason his shows work is change.

[ edited by gossi on 2006-03-10 17:41 ]
Ah, but I believe the point some are making (not necessarily me, though I don't truly disagree) is that death is not the only form of change.
I just wish for him to be true to me and my needs, since that is the contect he places his comments in- his choice, not mine, of the words, that is.


Dana, my friend, you admit even in the same post that you know that this is not what he means. Are you just holding him to the literal interpretation to be cruel? You magnificent bastard :) Regardless, great posts.

barest - :) Unless the enemy has studied his Agrippa... which I have.
gossi: Does Death=Change? When a writer becomes predictable, change is needed. We have been arguing that the viewer needs to accept change. Why not then the author? I call this "tactics," and what I mean is the means by which an author advances his or her writing/plot. When you follow certain authors you can predict what they will do- and this is what has happened with Joss. Of course, writing should serve the needs of the story, but reusing tactics is in some ways lazy writing, in my opinion. I would like to see Joss explore other means to advance his character arcs rather than using what to me is a predictable tactic to do it. This is why I believe that I will not have a taker for this bet, because we know that he will have someone die- we know this already. The only question is whom, and under what circumstances. But to me the very best writing cannot be predicted at all. As an exemplar, I suggest reading Andrew Vacchs- who writes with pinpoint precision and whose character strategies are completely unpredictable. Joss has become predictable, and I would like to see him be less so. What is sauce for the goose should also be sauce for the gander- and now I am hungry for sauce and goose and a bagel with cream cheese.
And in the kind of universe he creates for his characters, where they are constantly facing violent people, things, and situations every day, much more than we generally do, the stakes are higher, so of course death is going to be the main catalyst for change.

And when it isn't death, it's someone leaving. Or it's someone turning evil. Or it's a villain mucking up the works. Other catalysts are there, but death is always going to be number one. I'm sure if Joss did a straight up, reality-based drama, he wouldn't fall on that convention, because it wouldn't apply as often.

Buffy, Angel and Firefly don't have political intrigue going for it like Battlestar Galactica does, so shifts in political power as change isn't an alternative to death. They did have birth, though, in the form of Dawn. There was a change.

He does show you different kinds of death, though. Buffy's first death was in the line of duty. Her second was sacrifical/semi-suicidal. Jenny's was murder. Joyce's was natural. Tara's was a tragic accident, which actually made me think of the news stories where you hear about a poor child who lives in a neighborhood dominated by drug trade, and rival dealers get into a beef, start shooting, and one of the bullets strays sadly off-target.

So these things do happen. But because it's someone you've gotten to know, it sucks a little more.

[ edited by pat32082 on 2006-03-10 18:06 ]

[ edited by pat32082 on 2006-03-10 18:10 ]
Doesn't need to be death. Wonder Woman could have a sex change and become Wonderwo Man.

Ironically, Dana5140, I used to really enjoy Vacchs but stopped reading him around 'Down in the Zero' because I thought he was becoming a bit predictable and stale ;). I'd still recommend him to new readers though. If anyone thinks they like hard-boiled detective fiction, get ready for Burke, just about the toughest, meanest, scariest 'good-guy' i've seen in fiction. Vacchs really captures the stifling paranoia required to survive in that world and is well worth reading - in fact thinking about him has tempted me to get some of the newer ones. Are there any major continuity changing books i'd need to read first ?
Wow, fellow posters, you have definitely expanded my mind today!

I already knew that I usually need explanations to understand the finer points of practically everything. Sometimes I need them to understand at all. Sadly I still engage in discussions with energy, only to ( much) later realise I'm kicking in open doors. My brain works a bit like cold syrup. Slow, sticky and slightly annoying to the person trying to get something out of it.

Now relieved that I didn't make a fool of myself by posting earlier, I can honestly say that you all are amazing.
Thank you everyone for this truly "mind expanding" thread/experience.
pat- it's still death, no matter how you cut it; all that differs is the mechanism. Death is only one means of change, and as you noted, there are others. I would argue that in the Buffyverse, it is the others that are often far more difficult to handle- a lot of the deaths did not result in those characters exiting the show. Buffy died twice, Angel was sent to hell, etc. Harmony died and was vamped, etc. I find the relation issue far more compelling and far more the story driver when done right- but I find that death is used too easily and so it loses luster and the ability to shock. Was anyone at all surprised that there was a death on Serenity? Maybe you did not think there would be two, but surely the one did not surprise, only the "who" did.

And saje- hush up when I am making a point! :-) (Anyway, no continuity problems withe Burke save for a bit of facial surgery and one book where he is unmoored from his supporting characters to handle a situation on his own in Oregon). And BTW, Vacchs even every now and again writes books that do not feature Burke, just to keep his creative juices flowing- and he loves comics! And Judy Henske.

gossi: i was not clear in my comment about death=change. I meant to ask, is death the only way to signal change? And the answert is no- so why come to rely on it?
Of course, writing should serve the needs of the story, but reusing tactics is in some ways lazy writing, in my opinion. I would like to see Joss explore other means to advance his character arcs rather than using what to me is a predictable tactic to do it.


First off, I put the same question to Haunt: did you actually go into the cinema to see Serenity expecting Wash to die during the course of the film?

Secondly, the Serenity story was not based around Wash's death. I believe Joss has stated before (possibly in the Visual Companion...someone help me out here) that in initial drafts of the movie Wash didn't die. It was only when he realised that the perceived threat to the crew wasn't there in those final scenes that the death was written in. Thus, Wash's death absolutely serves the needs of the story in this instance, as many people have already stated. The death doesn't really advance the story, it amplifies it. This is particularly important in a movie like Serenity, in which the characters (particularly the supporting cast) are secondary to the plot - which is almost a complete reversal from the series.

I think it also has to be said that Joss has used many other methods of character development throughout all three shows besides character death. It seems to me that you're fixating on a small part of the overall scheme - yes deaths have been used as plot/character driving devices, but it's not like they're the only means of advancement in play.
Well if anything I think this discussion has emphasised once again that there are people who are fans of a character as opposed to those that are fans of a show. Both have valid view points in my opinion.

The Whedonverse fandom would be worse off if we didn't have all these differing stances.
Grounded- yes, in truth I did expect to see Wash die. And I am not making this up- I had a long post on some other board where I analyzed who I thought would die, ruling out River, Mal, Jane and Kaylee for various reasons, ruling in Inara, Book, Wash and Simon- but arguing that I felt that unless Mal and Inara had a significant get together I thought she was safe- this was before learning she had lesser screen time than others. Wash and Book were my likeliest culprits for death, because I though Simon was needed to drive the story of River (and Kaylee) and Inara was needed to drive the story of Mal. But Zoe was kick ass and stands on her own- her scenes with Wash are to show us her more human and tender side. And Book was mysterious, and either you play that up or you shut it down- and Joss chose to shut it down. Wash was the innocent (like Tara- like Motormouth in Fray- like Fred- and on and on...) and I picked him first to go.

Simon- I'd like to think I am a fan of characters and the show- the characters are part of the show, but some I get attached to. But when a fave character leaves, one that you identify with, it is hard to regain loyalty.
But Dana, I never looked at the purpose of death on Joss' shows as shock value. Nor am I looking to be shocked by them. I'm looking to feel emotion, to be moved, and yes, I did feel that every single time. Either because I liked a certain character, or because I felt the emotion through the other characters responses.

Of course I expect Joss to kill characters. That's what he does. But I don't hold it against him because it doesn't shock me anymore. Like I said, I don't want shock. I want him to make me care and then rip my heart out and make me weep. When the deaths stop getting THAT reaction from me, then I'll say he should ease up.
I second pat32082's thoughts above. And I'd add that the other purpose I've always seen for death on Joss's shows is to move other characters forward. Again, I would never say death is the only thing that can drive change - far from it – but especially in these heightened-reality worlds that he's created, it's one of the most powerful forces. Thus, Giles's reaction to Jenny's death, Buffy's reaction to Angel's death, Willow's reaction to Tara's death, etc. For me, no other motivation would have really worked to create dark Willow... having her only think, incorrectly, that Tara was dead would have cheapened the story, and Willow's reaction, and made a mockery of my own reaction (though I would have loved a storyline like the one he wanted to do in Season 7 had Amber agreed to return). I found that death particularly forceful, actually, because of the statement it made about random violence. It wasn't supernatural, or the result of demons, or even intended – it was the kind of tragic shooting death that happens all the time on city streets when innocent bystanders happen to be in the way of guns.

I agree that Joss certainly uses death more than most to cause emotion, but for me it's never been about shock value (unlike, say, the much-touted deaths on other TV shows lately that advertise "Next week, one of these beloved characters will die... duh duh DUH...."). I just have figured that in the violent, unreal worlds he's created, that's one of the risks. And, to give him credit, not many of those dead characters stay dead :-). But at least a few need to, or we'd never take any of the deaths seriously. I don't want a show where the characters are inviolable.

That said, would I have been upset had Joss killed one of the core four at the end of Chosen? Yes. He chose not to, for the same reasons I would have been upset – that it would have undermined the tone and message of the show. On Angel, on the other hand, it fit with the show's spirit and message that none of the characters were safe when it ended, and may well have all died. That's a line he hasn't yet crossed for me, but obviously he did for you with Tara, and I can respect that.

On the criticism of his "need/want" statement, on the other hand (apologies, haunt!), I think you're being a little contradictory, even in the same paragraph. You acknowledge that he isn't talking to you, or to any individual, when he says "I give them what they need," but then you say "I just wish for him to be true to me and my needs." Obviously, as many have stated, that's an impossibility, since he has a diverse audience with many different "needs."
I never claimed they were done for shock value; I am only claiming that they are becomng old hat. See, I have the opposite reaction to you- when the deaths become predictable, then that is when I think he should ease up. :-)

Oops, editing since acp posted while I was responding the previous post. Again, folks, I am not dumb- but I am also not clear. :-) I don't want to base his comments on the "what I need" argument because he cannot know this, and he cannot give everyone who watches what they need. I know this. But I am also mindful that I am the one watching the show and taking from it what I can- me, not you, not all the other millions, if you see what I am saying. So in that sense, I want what I want, for me, because it is me watching. Clear as mud! It is only my experience of the show that is at play when I watch, not yours. Which I don't mean to say that what others want don't matter, or we could never have a meaningful discussion at all. :-) But the two poles of my comments really aren't contradictory, just not said with my normal clarity.

Argh, I wish I had the language to describe this!

[ edited by Dana5140 on 2006-03-10 19:37 ]
Grounded, you already put that question to me and I already answered. I both did and did not expect Wash to die, for exactly the same reasons that Dana cited. First of all (as pat32082 just pointed out above), "Of course I expect Joss to kill characters. That's what he does." Joss not only has demonstrated a penchant (some call it a rut) of killing off characters as a way of making an emotional statement, but it's practically a running joke, one that he himself has personally commented upon numerous times.

So on those merits I fully expected Wash to die. I felt the same as Dana, that Book and Wash were the most likely walking corpses in this particular Joss outing. I also had Simon pegged pretty high (perhaps at the top of the list actually), and while that didn't actually happen THIS time around, I can 100% guarantee you that his head in on the proverbial chopping block now that he's consumated his relationship with Kaylee. That boy is already dead, he just doesn't know it yet. (But sadly, we do.)

However, due to the previously cited statement(s) Joss had made regarding Wash and Zoe staying a happily married couple because that sort of thing needed to be represented on television, I trusted (naively, obviously) that Wash would stay reasonably safe. That put Simon and Book squarely in the crosshairs. And makes me something of a gullible rube in terms of Joss fandom I suppose.

So, Wash's death surprised me ONLY in so much as Joss had previously made statements that lead me to believe that character would last a bit longer. Then again, his comments were that it needed to be represented on television, so I guess I should have seen the writing on the walls as soon as the story shifted out of that medium.

Dana: when the deaths become predictable, then that is when I think he should ease up.

True dat. ;-)
Aaaaand, we're off the front page.

Ta, folks. It's been a great chat while it lasted...
But if they're becoming old-hat, that means you're expecting them, and if you expect them, that's a bad thing because you want to continually be shocked by plot twists.

If being shocked and that somehow all important "unpredictability" was the point, then after Angel turned evil and essentially "died" (which is when I honestly knew that Joss could do anything to his characters and no one was safe, which meant the shock stopped right there), there would have been no point to keep watching, because you know if he did it once he can keep doing it, so the unpredictability is gone.

I wouldn't own the DVDs and watch them over and over again if the only reason for the deaths was that, "Oh my God look what he did!" initial reaction. It's nice the first time, and then it fades. It's the emotion that resurfaces every time, and how the twists serve the overall story that compels me, which is why I continue to re-watch.
Sorry about the Nazi quote, Dana5140. Didn't mean to offend, I just thought it fit the whole "society hates anyone that doesn't fit their ideals" thing.
Dana5140, I would say that even if you predicted Wash's death (which I would find stunning), that didn't make it predictable (I scoff at you, English language!). I heard nothing but surprise and shock (and grief and anger, etc.) from people right after seeing the movie. There were monstrous hoops being jumped through online to not spoil it for people who hadn't seen the movie.

I think much like your personal needs (re: Tara) don't necessarily translate to the audience at large, neither does your predicting Wash's death. The audience did not expect it (see thousands and thousands of online posts).

So if Tara's death left you out in the cold and Wash's death was ineffective for you due to its predictability, I see how that would be a problem and not involve you in those stories. I'm totally on board with you wanting what you want, because it is you watching. But Joss wasn't addressing you personally in the infamous "need/want" statement, so calling him disingenuous for that just ain't right.
UPC: figured that, no worries. I did understand the larger issue, and it is one I agree with.

We are moved to the archive, but I say, keep on discussin'! This issue is one I have discussed elsewhere, and I do obviously have strong opinions about this, but in the context of a show I really love. I still think Buffy is the finest show that has ever been on TV. Like I said, I'm both a doctor and a researcher, and my office has a Dark Willow figurine, along with a Willow and Tara set, a second Willow set, and an Anya figurine. Plus, I keep Buffy clips on my work computer, to play when needed. SO there is respect here, but also dismay, only because I think Joss has fallen into a rut and is capable of more and better. As always, IMHO.

BTW, I also have a Trinity figurine, just in case. I just love strong women in skin tight leather, I guess. And I keep a signed picture of Amber Benson (she's so cute!) on my desk- and best of all, my wife understands all this. :-)
The loveliest plot turns for me are the ones that contribute to the illusion that there is an actual story out there to be told. It's interesting the The Princess Bride has been referred to. It is perfect in that regard. It doesn't matter if the story itself is fantastic (as is a fantasy) if it pulls you in. My least favorite plot turns are those that pull me out to a different level of reality where there are authors and producers that I am aware of. It could be called the MST3K effect: one is aware of what they're watching as a work of auteurs. When viewers can think of the story as a work of people who can change their minds, who may even be aware of those watching, the illusion may be gone. When I think of spoilers and the character and personality of the people telling the story, it turns into something else for me. In these days where the internet connects the viewer and the storyteller, there is really a danger of veiwers being caught between two levels of imagination and reality. When something catastrophic happens in the story there is the possibility of backing up into the presumed 'real' reality and blaming the storyteller. We have a convenient target that can be second guessed. The fact that we are here make things much more difficult for JW to maintain the story as an organic whole. I think that might be part of why the writers hated spoilers. I find, myself, that I can feel manipulated if I'm aware of the authors, whereas I'm a happy camper if I can't see the strings on the puppets. I'm not sure what the moral is. Maybe we shouldn't press too hard to interpret what is going on behind scenes or to influence what might happen. We love contact, but contact changes everything.
I'm still reading!
Pat, your comment about rewatching the DVDs hit home on so many levels. It's one way I try to explain the appeal of the show to friends, at times. I watched the first season of 24 and the current one – and am frequently shocked by the plot twists, deaths, etc, and that suspense is a major reason to keep watching – but I couldn't imagine rewatching an episode. Similarly, though i've watched both Lost and Alias in the past, and think both shows have their occasional moments, would never own the DVDs or rewatch eps. So much there is just about the plot twists, and once you know them, the shows don't have a lot of depth.
I can (and have!) watch Buffy or Angel episodes endlessly, however. Part of that is for the dialogue and humor and to revisit beloved characters. But it's also interesting how the "shocking" moments, like the deaths, still have the power to move me so much, even when i know they're coming. It's a testament to the degree to which I'm emotionally involved with the characters, and a powerful tribute to the shows.

Dana, I think I understand what you're saying – in that even though you know Joss isn't speaking to you when he says he'll give his audience what they need, on some basic level you want him to be since, like all of us, your point of view is how you experience the show. And so you felt particularly betrayed when he did something that affected your enjoyment of the show so profoundly. Is that more or less right, I hope?

I can understand and respect that; I've just never hit that same point yet, despite my occasional disappointment with various characters or arcs or episode execution. And since I know what he's saying with that comment – and in the broad sense in which he's speaking, I really do find it to be both true and an excellent articulation of what all writers should aim for in their storytelling – the comment doesn't bother me.
I agree, cmbackshane. I think I've said this before, but the best and worst day of my Buffy watching life was when I discovered Internet fan communities and a semi-open channel to the PTB.

Those first three seasons when it was just me, myself, the TV, and the stories? Sigh. Those were the days.

ETA: I'm with ya, acp. :-)

[ edited by pat32082 on 2006-03-10 20:21 ]
Well, my personal take on the whole thing is that I don't think that I ever reached the 'betrayal' level. I guess it's because that I never forgot that Joss was telling us a story. As captivated as I was, as heartbroken and gutshot, I never lost sight that it was Joss's ride that I was on.

From the first viewing of BtVS, to the end credits roll of Serenity, I have been Joss's bitch. Happily. Eventually I caught on...I knew what he was going to do to me, and I loved it, baby! ;)

I felt every tear that ran down Willow's face, tried to figure out every puzzle with the Scoobs, experienced and finally accepted every death (even Anya's, though it does pain me to say that. What I really can't get over about that was Xander's flippant attitude afterwards. So wrong.), felt the swoony love and the terrible fears just like all of you who DID feel betrayed.

But I just loved it all. Embraced it and still to this day, can't wait to see what he does to us next!
Grounded, you already put that question to me and I already answered.


Haunt: sorry if I wasn't clear - I was asking Dana the same question, knowing that you'd already answered.

My point (yes I had one...) has been made by someone else: most people didn't see Wash's death coming. I went into the theatre fulling expecting to see someone die (not because it's Joss but because it's an action movie with a big cast), and I think Joss uses that to his advantage with the placement of Book's death in the story. His death created that sense of uncertainty - maybe all the other characters are going to surive this! Yay! Oh no wait Wash has something on his shirt.
Agreed Willowy :-)
That's what I meant up above when I said that I want heartbreak in my shows, as painful as it is.... Unlike in real life, where no one in their right mind would ever ask for more pain, part of what I adore about Joss's shows is the emotional roller coaster they take me on.
Yes, well-put acp. I think you and I have always had similar views on Joss and the 'verse, haven't we?

Indeed, if things like this happened to us every day, we'd be nut jobs in a clock tower somewhere. Fortunately we have these wonderful imaginary roller-coasters that we can experience whenever we want to! :)
"Dana, I think I understand what you're saying – in that even though you know Joss isn't speaking to you when he says he'll give his audience what they need, on some basic level you want him to be since, like all of us, your point of view is how you experience the show. And so you felt particularly betrayed when he did something that affected your enjoyment of the show so profoundly. Is that more or less right, I hope?"

There it is! Exactly, acp, thank you.

Listen, I think The Body is the single finest hour of TV ever shown anywhere, ever. It is, in the realest sense of the word, horrifying- and it reduces me to tears each time I see it- Buffy saying "mommy", telling Giles not to move the body, Dawn breaking down, Willow panicking (and the kiss) and ANya's heart rending words- it gets no better. ANd I began to watch programs like 24 and Alias but I found them silly and they did not engage me. Hell if I know why- so whatever happens in them does not matter to me. But why does it here? Good story telling, of course, and I have never said other, though I am saying I wish Joss would try new things in his writing. But why Tara? Why did she speak to me- and why did she lead me to reading virtually every YA book on lesbian coming out stories that there is? (PS- Paula Boock's "Dare, Truth or Promise" is the best- not just a great kids' book, but a great book, period).

I just don't know.
Let's change course for a bit, shall we? (Actually, many already have, and now I'd just like to join in.) I think the basic ideas we've been discussing so far are more or less covered. It's clear that every fan views these shows in his or her own way, and that's as it should be. Your viewing is no more correct than mine, and vice versa. So, another aphorism that grates on me after it's used too much, we all simply agree to disagree.

Now, Dana has mentioned many times how he felt a personal connection with the character of Tara, and that connection necessarily colored the way he experienced the show. And BAFfler talked about certain characters sometimes representing a viewers own "personal image". In those cases (for those of us lucky [or UNlucky] enough to experience it) the characters move beyond merely identifiable access points to a story and take on a much more personal significance. For BAFfler (bless his heart) it was Wash.

Mine? There have been two, actually. The first was Spike. I spent several years in my own form of viewer purgatory because I identified so powerfully with Spike/William, and truly believed I knew what story going to be told with him, only to watch him be mishandled and misrepresented over and over again. And further, I was engaged in frequent debates with fellow fans that insisted upon viewing him as nothing more than the "evil soulless thing" that Buffy liked to treat him as. I waited for the story that I honestly believed was the only truthful place to go with that character to finally show up onscreen, but sadly it never really happened. The closest we ever came to seeing what I personally (this is all personal, remember) believe should have been Spike's true story playing out was the end of Angel, particularly his "last, perfect day" in the finale 'Not Fade Away'.

I'm not sure I can explain why I identified with Spike so strongly. I've got theories (nothing to do with bunnies, I'm afraid)... but this is'nt really the point. The point is I did, for whatever reason. He was most definitely my personal image reflected on screen, at least for a few years. And there were many, MANY times I considered giving up and walking away because of the abuse I felt the character was receiving from the writers. I felt he was being grossly misused and the powerful and poignant story possibilities he represented squandered or ignored.

Fortunately, somehow, I managed to stay. I enjoyed the last few years of Buffy less than I could have in part because of my dissatisfaction with the writers on that one character. But I managed to stay around, for better or worse. And while I didn't really agree with the decision to have him join the cast of Angel, ultimately it all worked out. Basically.

The other character that served as my own personal "avatar" in the Jossverse was Wesley. And I'm much, much more satisfied with the way that character was ultimately handled. I'm not "happy" that he's dead. I certainly would rather he be alive (and given a slot in a spin-off perhaps). But somehow, even through all the pain and gore and suffering, I never balked at the storytelling on Angel the way I did on Buffy. And from clumsy begining to painful, tragic end I loved every single step that Wesley took, and can't think of anything I'd ask the writers to do differently.

Why is that, do you suppose? Again, I've got theories. But it's interesting that there were things done on one series that I felt were missteps that were done on another series (often by the same writers) that felt right and appropriate.

Anyways, that's probably a change of subject, so feel free to ignore it and go back to the poetry. ;)

[ edited by Haunt on 2006-03-10 21:57 ]
Haunt, it sounds to me like you identify so closely with particular characters that it's inevitable for Joss&Co to write them differently than you would. The way you saw yourself in Spike, it's not possible for Joss to see the Haunt/Spike connection and be true to it, because it's unique and individual. You talk about "Spike's true story", but can be there only one such possibility? There's certainly one that you would envision, but I would probably conjure a different one and Joss yet another.

This kind of goes back to the original art/audience question for me. The audience shapes the art (for itself, not for the artist) by its perception of it, but the artist cannot observe that perception and reflect it back to individual viewers.

So what I mean in answer to your question is, if you expect Joss to paint a character the same way you enivision it, I think only luck will allow that to sometimes coincide, which is why it's a hit and miss effect. I personally don't feel that effect because I kind of let the story tell itself to me. That may be because I'm not such a creative person myself, so I love watching stories told by people more creative than me. In your case, I'm not saying you shouldn't watch those stories too, but maybe you would find a further area of fulfilment in creating your own stories, whether it's Jossverse fanfic or your own characters. I hope I don't sound like I presume to know you (or what you "need/want") I'm just going off the difference in how satisfied I am with the stories as told and how you sometimes aren't.
jam2, I'm a writer (or will be someday), so I do my fair share of creating and storytelling. And nine times out of ten I also allow whatever story I'm watching/reading tell itself to me. The Spike and Wes connections were the exception to the rule. And the struggle I had with the way Spike was being handled didn't manifest as me stamping my feet and holding my breath until Joss finally saw it my way (actually Joss was less involved in most of that stuff than certain other writers who shall remain nameless... and which isn't the point). Even as I was upset and frustrated and disappointed I was also aware that there are more than one interpretation available to most stories, even Spike's. Much of my problem came from where his story seemed to be going originally, not only within the borders of my television screen but in interviews with the writers (including Joss). Many things conspired to lead me to trust my instincts on what his story was meant to be. But it took several detours over the course of his time on Buffy, and those detours usually struck me as poorly conceived, or worse, last minute decisions. It seemed at times that he was shoehorned into other stories needlessly, and the arcs that had been suggested for him either faded or twisted to compensate.

But really the worst of it (at the time) were all the comments consistently made by various Mutant Enemy writers that seemed to contradict not only the things that had been originally suggested about the character, but things that we were so clearly seeing on our screens even AS the writers were giving their unusual interpretations.

But this is all neither here nor there. The point is I disagreed with the writers, and had many "crises of faith" as it were. But I managed to stay aboard, and for the most part I was glad I did. To this day I believe that there were many much more powerful stories that could have been told, and I heartily disagree with a large portion of the ME philosophy that developed during those "dark ages". But I'm still here, and I'm still watching.

(And I never once wrote a letter to the writers to tell them how stupid they were for not writing it MY way, or threatening to send them a horse head if they didn't change things. So in that respect at least I suppose I'm pseudo-well adjusted...)
I've never had a problem with Joss killing characters off. Parting is such sweet sorrow, and all that. I just wish he wouldn't keep bringing them back to life again.

;-)
I am to home now- and may not be able to respond for the next day or so as my youngest son will be visiting and I will be hanging with him- this has been a great discussion and has helped me to clarify my thinking- enjoy the day!
Yeah, great thread all (i've continued to lurk ;). Solidified some of my opinions and questioned others but always in a civil manner.

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