There is a totally delightful interview by Emma Watson of Lin Manuel Miranda, which she did as part of her HeforShe movement. It’s a delight, because they start off both kind of fangirling about each other, but then they connect over their shared passion for art and writing, and they’re both such warm expressive people that you can’t help but be drawn in by their passion and warmth. It is wonderful.
At one point Miranda tells Watson a story about a letter from Hamilton to Lawrence in which he talks about needing to find a wife, and reveals his arrogance and his misogyny, and Watson is disappointed, and they go on to have this exchange:
LMM: Your faves are problematic. They’re ALL problematic!
EW: People are problematic, that’s the difficulty.
It’s a small moment, but there is so much in it.
Here’s the thing. Humans are a mess. The moment you start putting people on pedestals, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Some people are, obviously, more lovely than others. But none of us sprang fully formed, with all our ideas consistent and perfectly intact.
THAT BEING SAID, if someone is consistently abusive, or refuses to examine and reject their abhorrent beliefs, we should hold them accountable for that. But what if said person has created something that you love, something that fundamentally informed who you are and who you grew into? How do you reconcile that?
I do not have this problem with Harry Potter and JK Rowling. I read them when they came out, but I was already almost 20, and the stories that were to be the basis of my being had already seeped into my brain. I did not encounter the HP world at a particularly formative moment, and, though I enjoyed them, they didn’t blow me away or become part of my soul. I can identify vaguely as a Ravenclaw, but it’s not a huge part of my identity in any way. So, while JKR’s TERF ideology is disappointing and shitty, it’s not particularly heartbreaking for me, personally.
But one of the stories that did matter, that did appear in my life just when I needed it, that I did love beyond reason, was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I believed the narrative that Joss Whedon was a feminist and a visionary. I believed he meant the things he said about equality and loving strong women. I believed that Buffy represented his ideologies. I was wrong.
Turns out that Joss, like so many men of his type, talks the talk very effectively, but does not remotely walk the walk. Turns out he only loves strong women if they do what he wants or, I suppose, if he creates them, because then he can make them into who he wants. Real women are more complex than that, and don’t always follow the narrative you have set out for them. Turns out he’s abusive and predatory and, basically, a fairly average, run of the mill geek-creep.
In retrospect, this is not actually that surprising. Xander, who is in many ways Joss’s avatar in Buffy, is DEEPLY problematic. He gets better over the course of the series, and definitely has some wonderful moments, but overwhelmingly he is, honestly, pretty ikky. I, of course, did not notice this as a teenager in the 90s, because the kinds of things he said and did were, in every romcom I saw, in every TV show I watched, in many of the books I read, portrayed as ‘cute’. And I was not yet old and wise enough to fully dissect my own viewpoints.
That being said, Buffy taught me some really important things. It taught me that a girl can be girly and badass – that as a female human in the world, I didn’t have to choose one of those. It taught me that found family is important, that surrounding yourself with people who have your back is vital to surviving in the world. It taught me that heroes can be complicated, broken people who struggle. It taught me that we fight to make the world better, but you never win, the darkness keeps coming and you have to keep fighting it, but the fight is still worth fighting. It taught me, ultimately, that shared power is stronger than keeping it to yourself.
It is definitely one of my formative stories. So what do I do with that, when it turns out that the person behind this thing that means so much to me is a complete asscactus?
I’ve grappled with this for a while. Joss’s abusive, predatory nature is not news to me. When JK went full TERF and people who loved HP were grappling with that, I was like:
I kept meaning to write about it, and then putting it off, and now Joss is back in the news for the same shit and I figured it was time.
Here’s the thing. As a writer, I believe that we only do part of the work. We draw the story out of the ether and get it into words. And then we send it into the world. And once you send it into the world, it isn’t entirely yours any more. It becomes a new thing, a thing of its own that people interact with. And each time someone interacts with it, they turn it into something that means something to them. And it grows and evolves. Much like a child, you may have something to do with the direction it takes, and how it starts out, but the further away from you it gets, the more it becomes something out of your control. And that is good and right.
So I think it is okay if stories that have changed and evolved you, stories that are part of who you are, remain important to you, even after you find out that their creators are problematic. I think it is okay for you to still love the characters and the story and what it means to you.
For me, the line is not to support creators any more if they reveal themselves to be asscactii. That may be as simple as not buying official merch. Get the books second hand. Buy from indie artists. Commission your creative friends. I don’t put money in the pockets of people whose personal ideologies I find abhorrent. I may still love their stories, but they won’t get my support.
JKR no longer controls the HP world, despite her legal teams and her copyright law. That may control what merch is in the world, but it doesn’t control the way the story interacts with your brain and the things about it that matter to you. Joss Whedon may own the rights to Buffy (I genuinely don’t know, but I assume he does), but he doesn’t own the rights to the way the stories resonated with people. That is as much Sarah Michelle Gellar’s, and Jane Espenson’s, and yours.
Finally, we all figure out our own lines – what we will accept, where we stand, what we give up and what we retain. I think it is right and normal to grieve for the narrative of a geeky man who turned out not to be as much of a visionary and ally as we may have thought he was. I think it is right and good to grieve for the woman we thought understood about difference and acceptance, but it turned out she had gross limitations to that. I think it’s normal to grieve when we discover that our faves are problematic.
I will say this. I will always support trans people. I will always support abuse survivors. I will always be proud of people who speak out. And, unfortunately, I will never be surprised when it turns out that people I admire are asscactii. Disappointed, but never surprised.
But there is a version of Buffy in my head that is mine, and Joss can’t have that back. And maybe that will have to be enough.