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30 August 2010 @ 02:57 am
In less political news ...  
I went to see Joss Whedon at the Sydney Opera House today. I had high hopes for the occasion, but I came away thinking I may not be the right person for his audience.

Firefly was one of my fave cult TV programmes, and I liked Buffy and Angel, too, though I have been too busy for Dollhouse, and Dr Horrible was enjoyable, if not unmissable. So when a friend suggested we go and hear Whedon speak, I was in. After all, I like writers. I like listening to them talk about their processes, and how it can be perfectly normal to take several years to write the one bloody book that should by all sane measures take six months of solid work. They cheer me.

And listening to Whedon was 75% hugely enjoyable. His best line was talking about a conversation he had with another writer -- 'I was round at Stephen Sondheim's house, and we were talking about writing, and I said "My writing will always be about adolescent girls with super powers." and Sondheim nodded, understandingly, and said: "My writing will always be about yearning."

'Because Sondheim is just that much cooler than I am.'

But there was a 25% that made me uncomfortable. And Whedon started it. I went in all supportive and wanting to give the love. But he began by talking about what he wrote, and how it came 'from the dark place. And not the one that women have, not the one that babies come from.' To which I gave a mild giggle at appreciation for a vagina dentata gag well delivered, but after the third riff on the same gag, was more at the fixed smile stage and would have backed away slowly, but I was up in a box, where the stairs are dark and precipitous.

'And all of you are here,' he went on, 'sitting in the dark, on a GORGEOUS afternoon, because you're part of a cult.'

And even though I could see what he meant, I thought: 'Actually, I'm here because my friend wanted someone to come with her, and we thought you might be interesting, and we live in Sydney, where gorgeous afternoons occur on six out of seven days, and perfect weather is the natural order of things.'

But no. 'You're part of a cult, and it's a great cult, the best cult in the world, because you're generous and supportive and you raise money for charity and that's amazing.'

At which point I was simultaneously thinking 'That's generous and inclusive, because you are seeing yourself as a part of the cult, even though it's also true of many other fandoms,' and 'Holy fuck, why are you channeling Tom Cruise?'

That said, I was one of the few people in the audience who had that reaction. On the whole it seemed to be a popular idea, and I feel certain the Church of St Buffy could achieve tax-free status -- at least in California and New South Wales. Certainly its edicts of martial arts practice and regular singalongs would be far less controversial than those of many other religions, and they'd foster a lovely spirit of camaraderie, as well as encourage physical fitness and the sale of Gilbert and Sullivan sheet music.

And then he went on to talk about his own darkness, where the stories came from. And how he had been small and cute as a child, and therefore sidelined and bullied. And again, I could not connect with him, because I am still bloody small and cute as an adult and I will kick the kneecaps of, or at least argue rationally and unemotionally and at length with, anyone who tries to sideline or bully me. But perhaps I had advantages growing up with horses and loads of travel and the occasional war zone, and learned to be more resilient and certainly more able to take control of thick 500kg thoroughbreds, which make muggers comparatively easy.

Then he spoke interestingly about the fact that his literary avatars are almost always women, and I was fascinated, because my main characters are often men, but then he spoke of how he was writing his characters to save him, and to love him, and I frowned. Because I save myself, and love myself, and I have never expected anyone else to do that job for me if I can't manage it myself (which is not to say that there has not been help and love from outside; there has, and that is the source of many relationships and my firm belief in humanity's frequent grace). My characters save each other when they can, and love each other when it's possible, and feel sorrow when it's not. But their job is to tell a story on the page that works for the narrative and for the reader, not to repair some part of my psyche.

By the end of his speech, I was left wondering if I'm actually not as serious a writer as I like to think I am. Or if, instead, I'm just that much less in need of therapy than Joss Whedon is.

It started to make me a little sad, because I had really wanted to like Joss Whedon. Anyone who could come up with Mal Reynolds and Jayne had to be at least partially my type of person. And I suspect that he may actually be, but that this was in no way the sort of forum in which I would discover that.

There were more good lines, though. Wil Anderson, a local comedian, was running the interview part of the event, and managed to keep the giggle ratio up. When Whedon mentioned that he was appalling at keeping with things, and had been very good at art as a twelve-year-old, Anderson said 'I was great at drawing dick and balls, but I couldn't make a career out of it.'

'I don't know,' Whedon said, 'Sounds like a comic to me.'

Wil grinned. 'The adventures of Dick the Superhero, and his sidekicks, Balls!'

Joss leapt in gleefully, his arms out to the side in a passable imitation of testes. 'Here we come!'

'Stop, or I'll shoot!' added Wil.

When the laughter had died down, Wil looked at Joss and said 'that's commitment, growing a beard just for a balls impersonation ...'

One of the audience questioners asked Joss if he had ever wanted to give Amy Acker her own show. Whedon nodded enthusiastically. 'Her own show, her own country ...'

'She can have Australia,' Wil interjected. 'We're short a government at the moment.'

A lad named Henry asked whether, in light of all the vampire related TV shows and *shudder* books that had come out recently, Joss had any regrets. 'Half of my earlier speech,' he quipped. 'But it wasn't me. It was Anne Rice. I read her when I was 15, she was the one who made vampires modern, and romantic. So everything that's around now is all her fault.

'Except for the good ones. They're totally mine.'

The next girl who stood up to talk was named Bella, and she was dignified and understanding when people had a good laugh at this. She wanted to give Joss a hug for getting her through her school years, and they had a virtual one, given she was in the stalls. It was a lovely moment, and one that means I really enjoyed 85% of the afternoon, rather than 75.

And he did have some insightful things to say about writing. He mentioned that not everyone will like your work, and that if you are lucky, then it's the people who you care about that do. Which can sometimes be not the same people as the ones who have money, alas -- especially difficult when your medium is TV or film. One thing Whedon touched on that I was wholly in agreement with was the need to respect characters, especially villains. Giving them reasons, and logical desires and causes for their actions -- because otherwise they're just 'Grrrrrr! I'm really bad! Argh! I'll do you over. Probably. If I can remember why.'

Other notes included that he likes fanfic, even if he considers it's almost entirely porn (as Season 6 Buffy is), that he is a bit boggled by Twilight, and thinks they should all be snogging Dakota Fanning (it's possible I vagued out a little on that point), and that the sole demand we should make of our writers is that they do as good a job as they can, to show respect to their audience.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I think I was not the right person for that audience. It was me, Joss, not you. Better people for that audience have written about it here, and here, and I went and found those because my views on that talk are like my views on avocado: not representative of the majority. And just as I want the avocado farmers of the world to do well, so I wish Joss Whedon well, even if I may never pay to go and hear him talk again.

I am, however, the right person for Firefly's audience. Because a dodgily knitted hat with earmuffs says Brammers. And I'll viciously kick the kneecaps of anyone who says otherwise.

Susanlil_shepherd on August 29th, 2010 05:42 pm (UTC)
It's always a lottery when you hear an admired artist speak. Roger Zelazny bored me silly. I had to be dragged out of one worldcon seminar because I was about to stand up and yell, "You are a bloody idiot and hear's why!" at Gene Wolfe (not that I am a Gene Wolfe fan, but I did have respect for him until that moment.) On the other hand, some people are better when they speak than when they write; I might mention Peter Dickenson.
lokifanlokifan on August 29th, 2010 06:58 pm (UTC)
Eoin Coulfer is a bloody marvel at speaking - I saw him at Haye with my mum because I wanted to and it made her try Artemis Fowl. I did, however, get terribly irritated with the author of a book on the internet and open-source...
Susanlil_shepherd on August 29th, 2010 08:07 pm (UTC)
You really do have to detach the author from the work.

Harlan Ellison appears to be a total douchebag, but he has written some of the most heart-wrenching short stories it has been my privilege to read - and nothing will stop me saying so.
drbunsendrbunsen on August 30th, 2010 12:00 am (UTC)
I'd just like to throw Orson Scott Card in there as another datapoint.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on August 30th, 2010 09:29 am (UTC)
He seems to be quite a scary man, or at least very, very afraid.
Susanlil_shepherd on August 30th, 2010 07:28 pm (UTC)
blamebramptonblamebrampton on August 30th, 2010 09:28 am (UTC)
The famous one with the dancers ... damn flu brain ... but yes, quite!
blamebramptonblamebrampton on August 30th, 2010 09:27 am (UTC)
Ooh, I like his novels! Glad to hear he is lovely in person, he seems quite PLU in prose.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on August 30th, 2010 07:14 am (UTC)
I would have paid to be at a seminar where you did stand up and shout that.

At least Whedon is someone whose work I like, but who I am not personally invested in. If Diana Wynne Jones ever came out as a raging loony, I would be so horribly upset, as she has been a writer I trusted as well as admired.

And I agree with your final point. Bryce Courtenay's novels don't click with me at all -- I think I used up all that part of my readerly enjoyment on Wilbur Smith -- but when he speaks he is captivating, inspiring and apparently wholly genuine.
Susanlil_shepherd on August 30th, 2010 07:30 pm (UTC)
Diana is a lovely person. I've even been at a stair-party with her,at a Mexicon, a long time ago. However, I doubt you will ever meet her, as she is very ill...
lokifan: Angel/Faith: shared glancelokifan on August 29th, 2010 06:57 pm (UTC)
The dark place gags would bother me, too. And yes, I love stories about characters loving each other and trying hard and saving each other if possible but they're not there to love ME. But then I don't know how much that means - ever since I read my first internet reference to identifying with characters I've known my relationship with them is peculiar!

The man totally needs therapy...
blamebramptonblamebrampton on August 30th, 2010 07:41 am (UTC)
To be fair to Whedon, I'm not sure he knew what it meant, either. It can be very hard to articulate personal stances like that without coming out with something that sounds slightly barking.

He's an American, it's highly probable he is in therapy ;-)
Meredythmeredyth_13 on August 30th, 2010 12:26 am (UTC)
Sounds to me more as though he's started playing to his perceived audience (or believing their blogs). I mean, the guy writes fanfic for a living - it's just fanfic that happens to be original and excellent. He's a nerd, with one of the best ways with a character that I've ever seen. He knows how to arc, and how to develop, and he doesn't waste anything. I admire all of that.

But whether he was being honest, or whether he was simply talking to suit what he thought people wanted to hear from him (those in the cult, anyway) it sounds like it crossed over from interesting to TMI. Could be ego, could simply be poor judgement.

I adored Buffy - for all the reasons herein, and also Firefly, which was one of the snappiest pieces of rapid character exposition and engagement I've ever seen. Hated Angel as a spin off, and couldn't be arsed to get engaged with Dollhouse or Dr Horrible (which I actually didn't find very amusing).

I'd like to think that the things he brought to the shows I did like would give us something to talk about - but without the ability to actively engage in the conversation, I doubt I'd pay to go sit and listen to him tell me what he thinks I might want to hear. :D

Also, have you been watching that series called Martin Clune's Horsepower at the moment? I wasn't going to watch it, because I knew it would make me cry, but C decided to put it on, and sure enough, I cried. But I'm also now recording it to keep watching as it goes on. Brilliant - because it's actually presenting some really useful information as well as being beautiful.

I can feel my extremely dead and decayed 'horsey' bits tingling with the potential for regeneration. *sigh*
blamebramptonblamebrampton on August 30th, 2010 07:51 am (UTC)
I think it was something that sits close to ego and poor judgement, but is more in the vein of religious experience. He was on that epiphanic edge, which probably made total sense to everyone who actually self-identifies as part of the cult. And he is right that it's a lovely cult, the audience were entirely delightful and supportive of even the seemingly silliest questions.

You're right that it's the inability to engage in the conversation that makes such things awkward. There were open mikes for questions, and I had wanted to ask him about the differences he found in writing script and prose forms, save that he monologued about how he had been writing prose lately, and how it had been like therapy, so I thought it best we not revisit that point.

I've missed Horsepower, despite entirely wanting to catch it! iView here I come! And my horsey bits have been back for a while, I bought an equestrian bra recently, and now just need to coordinate a day off with no plague (damn you, Mr B! Though you would laugh at my voice croak ;-)
Meredythmeredyth_13 on August 30th, 2010 09:58 am (UTC)
I would laugh at your voice croak, except that I cannot laugh still due to my own. :D

Definitely iView the first part - there was some truly memorable footage in it. I've got the media centre set up to hopefully record it from here on. I'm not sure my hips will ever be up for much riding again, but we'll see. Where do you ride in Sydney? I used to escort tourists around Centennial Park on horseback back in the 80s for one of the stables based on the Showgrounds (and do my dressage and jumping there - I even hunted with them once, somewhere outside of the city, but can't remember where). But I think all the stables were pretty much screwed when they fucked the showgrounds. *growls*
dylansbuzz: Intellectual bad assdylansbuzz on August 30th, 2010 05:10 am (UTC)
I think I might be the only one of my 'friends' who have not immersed myself in Whedon's oeuvre - when Buffy was on, I wasn't interested, and same with Firefly, even though people I knew were smart and who I respected love it. I think I'm a little lowbrow in my tv viewing, to be honest.

I think its a societal misbelief that 'real' writing comes only from the deep dark, the endless pool of pain of humanity, and only those who have somehow suffered, are capable of art. And while I do think its true that sometimes great art is born of suffering -- sometimes it's not. Sometimes it's inspired and informed by true happiness, or contentment. That doesn't diminish the import at all. When people can say that they are truly happy, then I admit to envy, because I never have been and wouldn't know how to be. But at the same time, I'm thrilled that real happiness actually exists and may some day be attainable, even for me.

I ramble. A lot.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on August 30th, 2010 09:22 am (UTC)
I am a terrible Western aficionado, so Firefly was always going to lure me in. But Buffy and Angel were things I watched with girlfriends, but without mad love. (My one real mad love US show was Star Trek TNG, not because it was great, but because it was good and my passion for Patrick Stewart knows no bounds ;-)

And I think that you're right. I've had some very grim times in my life, but while they inform the whole of me, they certainly don't outweigh the joyous moments, or the secure ones. My experience has been that happiness takes quite a bit of time to achieve in life, but that it, and hope, are both every bit as much the right topic for writing as misery. Probably more so, as they remind us of the possibilities of life when we are in our own dark, grim places.

And the rambly are always welcome here!
grey_hunter on August 30th, 2010 06:57 am (UTC)
re: dark place - I don't think it would have bothered me but that's probably because it just sounds like he's pulling his shit out of his ass instead, which is more accidentally funny than disturbing. :/
blamebramptonblamebrampton on August 30th, 2010 09:22 am (UTC)
AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Right, I am taking your brain with me to these things in future and will find them much more entertaining :-)
elanna9: btvs spike giggle (by hils)elanna9 on August 30th, 2010 07:10 am (UTC)
Or if, instead, I'm just that much less in need of therapy than Joss Whedon is.

ROFL. No doubt!

Thank you for the summary! Your recap is fantastic. I went around the bend for Spike / Buffy in the day. We're rewatching BtVS now w/ my 9 year old son ... though I'm not sure Season 6 is entirely appropriate viewing for him (or what we'll do when we get there!) (I'm kind of lukewarm on BtVS in general for many reasons, including Angel. Although I liked Angel on his own show, the whole tortured teenage romance aspect bugged the crap out of me.)

But I am also a Firefly fan and sort of vaguely a fan of Joss for having come up w/ both in the first place ... not to mention the Firefly theme song! :) My husband is a *rabid* fan and haunts Whedonesque daily.

I have never seen Joss speak in person, though have watched a number of the DVD commentaries and videos from Comic Con & other places. I will say I really appreciate his appreciation for his fans (which I think is genuine). And, whatever his motivation, I also think it's cool that he's given popular culture some kick ass female characters.

/late night rambling