November 9, 2009

Why is Joss Whedon on My Shirt?

The Leisure King has been on hiatus due to non-leisure commitments, namely, figuring out my future, and will continue to be until all grad school applications are submitted. But I am here to bring you a very personal and special blog post today that I just could not hold back. It was prompted last night when I was asked "Why is Joss Whedon on your shirt?" Since I continually get questions like this by those who cannot understand my dedication to the man and his work, I have decided to briefly outline why Joss Whedon is so special.

Now I'm not going to discuss Joss's high level of integrity and dedication to quality that equals that of Pixar's. I'm not going to discuss his boundless creativity, originality, and media innovation. I'm not going to discuss his fully realized characters, immersive worlds and mythologies, or skills as a good old-fashioned storyteller. I'm not even going to discuss how his talents cross all media, from comic books, to cinema and TV, to music composition. I'm going to discuss the one thing that separates him from all other writers and contributors of pop culture: Joss Whedon knows that life really sucks.

No matter who you are, life is unrelentingly hard and filled with horrible, endless pain, but the moments and memories of happiness you can find in it make it all worth while. This very simple, universal idea is the crux of everything Joss writes and it is what makes his work so meaningful and endearing to his fervent fans. His characters are always in pain, anxious, fed up, scared, uncertain, and worried about the future, but they press on. Just like you and me and every human on this planet. Life never gets easier, it only gets harder and more complex.

For example, let's look at Buffy The Vampire Slayer because it is the most blatant allegory for life. The Hellmouth-topping-town of Sunnydale and the constant stream of demons and evil forces that attack it are the fantasy manifestation of the problems and terrible crap that we must face ourselves every day. It is Buffy's destiny to be the protector. There are no loop holes, no way out, her job for the entirety of life is to destroy demons and keep evil at bay. This is not unlike our own lives in which we have to constantly deal with the shit that life so graciously provides for us and there is no way out and no end. It is our destiny. In the Whedonverse, if someone tries to short cut out of life problems, everything gets much, much worse, and it's the same in real life. In an effort to keep this spoiler free, let's just say look at Willow's story arc for the best example of how terrible things are the result of cheating life. Buffy's greatest desire is to just be a "normal" girl and never have to deal with vampires again, but the vampires never stop coming. In most ways she is very "normal." Angel is constantly tortured by his past, Spike is always in love with women that he hates, Captain Mal is still fighting a war he cannot win, and Dr. Horrible, well, he's just really messed up. Every single Joss Whedon character is constantly battling their demons and their biggest enemy is always themselves, no matter if they are a hero or a villain, complete and total peace, happiness, and contentment is simply not possible in the Whedonverse and in life, despite our constant struggle to attain it.

In addition to the constant barrage of suffering we must face, Joss also knows what the most painful thing of all is, and he exploits it for our entertainment, captivation, and reflection. The most painful thing is the universe is when we are hurt by the ones we love, or when we hurt those who love us. This idea is played out time and time again in the Whedonverse. These are not complicated philosophies I'm discussing here, it's just a simple truth and Joss Whedon expresses this pain more elegantly and humanly than any other writer I've ever experienced. This is why, in my opinion, Season Six of Buffy is the greatest season of television ever created. It's all about pain and love and the best and worst things we face everyday.

Now I don't mean to be such a downer and I'm not just a painfully tortured person, in fact I've had a pretty damn good life compared to a lot of people and I'm very grateful for that, but I still face my demons, I still face the fear and and discontentment that life's problems never stop sending me. I can only imagine how much more Joss's work means to those who have really experienced suffering in their lives. But there is still another aspect to Joss's work that validates the pain, and that is hope and finding the good where ever you can. There are a lot of writers that can tell you how shitty life is (Noah Baumbach comes to mind), but Joss also shows us hope and the merit of pushing on through all the crap, it's what we are made to do. There are still friends, and family, and joy, and laughter, and love, and it's all worth fighting for, even though the pain is around much more often than the good.

I think Joss's incomparable understanding of the human condition is best summarized by lyrics from the musical Buffy episode, "Once More, With Feeling".

"Why is the path unclear,
When we know home is near.
Understand we'll go hand in hand,
But we'll walk alone in fear. (Tell me)
Tell me where do we go from here."

I think that's pretty self explanatory. We are all searching for the ultimate contentment, our "home", our place in the universe, but we don't really know how to get there and we never will. No one knows what the future holds, but we're gonna get through it with the help of our loved ones, unfortunately, the pain is always gonna be there and only you can face yourself.

So that is why Joss Whedon is on my shirt. That is why I truly respect and adore this man's work and can only hope to create something half as good. He expresses the painful reality of life in an earnest, non-condescending, and inspirational way that resonates with me and the millions of other Whedon-loving geeks out there. Joss is definitely one of the good things in this demon-ridden world.

Now I can't force you to be a Whedonite, all I can say is that I've never met someone who disliked his work that actually spent some time discovering it. Keep on fighting the good fight, I sure will. Until next time...

"I will walk through the fire,
because where else can I turn.
I will walk through the fire,
and let it burn."


  1. Joss is the best... shiny post!!!

  2. Great blog!!! I couldn't agree more. Buffy season 6 is by far my favorite simply for the reasons you listed. Nice to know someone out there in this crazy, frakked up world gets it.

  3. Shiny!

    I too love Season 6, one of the most powerful explorations of loss, depression and survival ever made. It's not so light and quippy, and the apocalypse is self-made. Like life. Well said indeed!

  4. Wonderful. Thank you. I just scared my dogs by yelling "a-HA!" when you said Buffy's Season Six was the best. As Joss himself summed up, for that season and all his work, "Life is the Big Bad."

  5. this post alone makes me want to follow your blog :) I'm a lover of ALL things Joss for all the reasons you just summed up. But I think what I love about him most is his ability to find unexpected humor in moments where you wouldn't expect it (impending apocalypse for example!). Cheers fellow Whedonite!

  6. Wow, I just wrote this post to articulate to my Whedon-ignorant friends why Joss means so much to me, I didn't realize it would resonate in this way with the rest of the Whedon-loving community.

    Fizz over at Whedonesque has reminded me about Kitty Pryde's quote at the end of Astonishing X-Men and I would like to add it here as an addendum, because I think it caps off the article quite nicely.

    "Everything is so fragile. There's so much conflict, so much pain... You keep waiting for the dust to settle and then you realize this is it: the dust is your life going on. If happy comes along, that weird, unbearable delight that's actual happy-- I think you have to grab it while you can. You take what you can get. Cause it's here, and then... gone"

  7. You put into words what I feel about Joss Whedon but didn't know how express. Thanks for that :)

  8. season six is the reason why i became a buffy fan.

  9. Wow, nice. I like it. You're even featured on Whedonesque. They tweeted the link as well, which is how I found you. :)
    Glad to know someone else loves Joss just as much as I do!

    He understands us all so well, and I love every second of it. Because,
    "You know, if you look around, life occasionally doesn't suck."

  10. you are speaking my language. i have this shirt and i wear it proudly. whedonites unite!!!

  11. You couldn't be more right! I've also tried to explain to many people why i am so devoted to everything joss whedon related and why i have been for so very long. And as I type this i am printing out this page and saying here read this and all will be explained! :D

  12. For most of his post-life period, Spike was in love with Dru and didn't hate her. The being in love with women he hates only really starts in the 3rd season.

  13. next time someone asks me what the deal is with my shirt (yeah I have that same one) I'm just gonna pull out a copy of this blog then :D

  14. I also have this shirt and am proud to wear it, no matter how crazy my friends and family think I am. Think I'll print this off and carry it with me so I have it ready next time someone asks "Why?"

  15. Thank you for expressing what so many of us have known but were unable to express ourselves. Thank you, thank you. I must share your blog post with the rest of the Whedon-verse.

    Take my love, take my land
    Take me where I cannot stand
    I don't care, I'm still free
    You can't take the sky from me
    Take me out to the black
    Tell them I ain't comin' back
    Burn the land and boil the sea
    You can't take the sky from me
    There's no place I can be
    Since I found Serenity
    But you can't take the sky from me...