Sex, Size, and Stars in the Whedonverse (And a Poll)

Aug 15, 2010 17:30

If you have seen ANY of Joss Whedon's shows, please participate.

The poll is essnetially about the portrayal of sexuality in Joss' shows and to what degree these portrayals come across as gratuitous, unrealistic, or unnecessary.

The material below the cuts is not strictly required, but it might help you understand what the questions are asking for and it does offer some of my own opinions about the topics in question.

So, I was talking with my mom about Buffy and feminism (because that's how cool my mom is) and we kept coming back to the issue of sexual objectification. Eventually, the discussion branched out to some of Joss' other projects as well.

There are lots of sexy people in Joss' stuff. Obviously, some of this is due to the medium in which he works. I'm sure that (to some degree, at least) Hollywood makes you use sexy people. But the questions that keep coming up are essentially: Why is there no Tara: the Vampire Slayer? Why couldn't Miracle Laurie have been the star of Dollhouse instead of an ancillary character? Why are David Boreanaz and James Marsters so damned fine? Why does Buffy have on that padded bra in S1? What's up with all the short skirts and high kicks? Why do we need to see her ass in those skin-tight leather pants? Why does everyone keep getting naked?

For my mom, these are pretty big issues. She is even reluctant to call Buffy a feminist show when all the women are parading their bodies as fanservice to the male viewers. (That's how she sees it.)

Me? Eh. Occasionally something will bug me, but seldom so much that it pulls me out of the story.

What I'm not talking about here: I'm not talking about the characters being openly sexual people. (And while we're on the topic: Good on them.)

What I am talking about here: The issue I'm discussing is the portrayal of sexuality in a way that frequently panders to an objectifying gaze and/or sets unrealistic expectations.

When I've discussed the positive feminism in Joss' works with my (still very cool) mother, her reply is frequently: "I wonder how many feminists care about all those sexy clothes the girls are wearing."

I do see a valid point here, though I hardly think it discredits the positive things.

There are lots of very sexy girls on Joss' shows. (Trust me. I'm a guy. I have a reliable sexy girl radar. They're all over the place.) And not only are they sexy to start with (which, in and of itself, is less of a big deal to me) but they are frequently dressed in ways that put their bodies on show for the audience. I'm reminded of Alpha in 'Briar Rose', talking about "the stone cold foxes in the small clothes and the ample massage facilities." Or Echo in 'Ghost', offering us much gratuitous dancing in the shirt-dress. There are other ways that time could have been filled and, while sexy, it did not advance the plot.

I also think of Cordelia in Pylea, wearing next to nothing. The writers even pointed out that they were doing exactly what the director of her commercial shoot in a previous episode had done. "Show the cleavage and say the line" is portrayed as such a negative thing, but then they turn around and do it to her again, this time without a lesson to be learned. They acknowledge that they've done the same thing, but they still did it with little or no purpose behind it.

To use my own experience, Willow/Tara was a couple that should have been sexy to me by virtue of being two girls making out (and by virtue of being, in my opinion, the two most attractive girls on the show), but their scenes were always executed in a way that never distracted me from the story. Willow/Kennedy scenes, on the other hand, and especially in 'Touched', were much more overtly sexual. I understand that we needed to establish that they'd had sex, but did we really need the slow-motion neck-licking shot? Joss has done several "romantic" scenes that establish the activity without putitng the characters' bodies on display. I think of the sexy spell between Willow and Tara in 'Who Are You?' or Buffy and Spike's encounter in 'Smashed', both of which are heavily sexual scenes with barely an inch of skin shown.

There are also instances of sexuality that, while somewhat gratuitous, can also be seen as something character-driven. A prime example for me is vamp!Willow. Obviously she wears very sexy clothes, but it's an aspect of her character. Whereas, when human!Willow puts on the same outfit, it feels out of place (though in this particular instance, it's plot-driven, which redeems it slightly in my eyes, even if it may not do so for others). It is when things feel out of place that they come into question.

The season 8 comics have also been frequently questioned for their use of female nudity. Cleavage and midriffs abound. I've found myself noticing quite a few sideboob panels and the Twuffel sex, while I don't ship them, was erotic in its own right. (angearia had a fantastic Season 8: Nudity by the Numbers post about the comics. She very conlcusively proved that there is a disparity between female nudity and male nudity. She reached the conlusion that: The question remains, whose gaze is all this female nudity being directed at?)

In the interest of fairness, they do these things to the boys too. (I look, in part, to my mom's opinion on this one, seeing as she has a reliable sexy boy radar. They're all over the place too.) However, the fact that Joss and Co. are equal opportunity objectifiers doesn't win them a whole lot of points. Let's look at some of the boys though. The very first example that springs to my mind is Angel's return from hell; that is undoubtedly the most nudity I've ever seen on a Joss show. (I understand why he was naked; I just don't understand why we needed a shot of his ass.) I'm also reminded of Spike and his hundreds upon hundreds of shirtless scenes, displaying his entirely too skinny and muscular abs to the world. There are also a great many torture or torturesque scenes with quasi-erotic imagery, featuring (among others) Spike, Mal, Wash, Gunn, Wesley, and Angel.

Whedon's shows frequently exude sexuality, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The issue here is that many times the sexual displays are unnecessary to the plot, exisiting for the sake of being sexy. (Like the Angel scene referenced above. I understand why some of the characters are naked and/or sexy; I just don't understand why the show is shot in ways that accentuate it.)

All those things being said, this is a complicated issue, to say the least. Obviously, opinions will differ on this issue. (In my own experience, I find myself divided between "women are more than just sex toys!" and "ooh, look at that...I'll be in my bunk.") Everyone views sexuality in different ways and everyone draws the line in a different place as to which portrayals qualify as gratuitous and/or as objectification, as opposed to those that qualify as necessary elements of the story and/or as not at all bothersome.

Point being: Opinions are sure to vary. To that end, I've created a poll. (I really hope this gets picked up by su_herald or someone popular, otherwise the numbers won't be very exciting. To anyone who happens to be reading this, feel free to pimp it.)

For clarity's sake:

1) When I ask if something "bothers you", I'm asking if you perceive things like unrealistic body images (more on this topic under the third cut, after the poll), gratuitously exposed flesh, and sexuality that seems to come not from the plot or the characters, but exists simply (or mostly) to be sexually appealing to viewers. This also applies to the way things are shot; even when the plot or characters call for a certain degree of sexuality, do the cameras need to draw our gaze to that?

2) I've included a question for each show, and distinctions for men and women. If you've only seen some shows and not others, please answer the questions for the shows you have seen and leave the others blank.

3) Each question is asked on a scale of 1 to 10. 1 meaning that you aren't bothered at all and 10 meaning that you are so bothered that you can't enjoy the show.

And lastly, I'm really not looking to host debates here. I find them exhausting most times, both in participating and in reading them. Discussion of the issues related to this post is fine, but if you're going to make a debate or argument of it, or if you're looking to derail onto further tangents (meaning further than the ones I've already taken it to), please host that on your own journal.

All that being said, let's get to the poll.


I've also got this whole rant about the size issue, but I can't decide where to put it...

And I know there is at least one guy on my Flist who hasn't seen Dollhouse S2 yet, but is planning to. If you wish to remain unspoiled, don't read this part.

On a closely related tangent, there's also a lot to be said for size issues. For Whedon, and for Hollywood in general, heavy women don't seem to get a lot of parts (even ancillary ones). In my humble opinion, Tara is one of the most attractive characters in all of Whedon-dom (second only to Willow). Mellie is also a very gorgeous character. And yet, Tara isn't the lead, Mellie isn't the lead. Not only are they not leads, but Tara and Mellie are treated as disposable characters. The counter-argument is typically: Well, Joss has to kill someone sometimes. I do respect that aspect of Joss' storytelling, but my answer is: Why is it Tara? Why is it Mellie? If Joss really wants to pay respect to certain groups of people, then his representatives for those groups need to be the unkillable characters. Tara could have been a core Scooby. Victor could have fallen for Mellie instead of Sierra.

The writers often shift their token characters to the side once they've met a certain quota of diversification. They become not only ancillary, but disposable. And Joss is likely to dispose of any disposable character available to him. Even if it's only the pretty, skinny people that get to save the world, Joss gets to call it a happy ending. (I look briefly to Veronica Mars as a parallel example. If you want to respect African Americans, you make Wallace Veronica's best friend, not her best friend's boyfriend.) Back to Joss: If you want to respect your heavy characters, you make them essential. Make Tara Buffy's best friend, instead of her best friend's love interest. Make Mellie the doll that gets the love story, or the rising above rape story, or any story. (Seriously, what was Mellie's story? "I'm the neighbor that Paul fancies. Now I'm the doll that Paul likes, but isn't quite in love with because pretty, skinny Echo is over there with a real story. Now I'm the former-doll that Paul's still a little hung up on...oh and I make bad decisions too because pretty, heavy people are never quite as good as pretty, skinny people.) Respecting a group of people calls for more than simply including them. They need full and rich development and they need to stop getting killed. If you kill off your only heavy person, you are disrespecting heavy people.

In my estimation (though I may be forgetting some), Joss has had three moderately heavy characters: Tara, Clem, and Mellie. Two of the three ended their arcs as blood spatter on another character. Only one of the three was ever a credited cast member (just in time to die). The third exists almost solely for comic relief and bails on the gang when the real trouble comes to town. (Thank you, Joss. Maybe one day I can be as heroic as Clem or Mellie, but I'll be sure not to be as cool as Buffy or Echo. I'm glad there are people like you to put me in my place.) I mean, really, if the heavy people are just going to get killed and/or sidelined while the skinny people save the world, you may as well have just left them out.

I do understand why Mellie and Tara weren't leads, owing to the restrictions of the medium. But Hollywood didn't make Joss kill them.

ETA: Links about size. Firstly, here's a vlog I came across and this particular video is focused on "the size zero deabte". Secondly, here's a fabulous article that pocochina linked in the comments. It focuses on some of the body issues in Dollhouse (and society in general).

Here endeth the massively verbose pontification, owing to the fact that I prefer to employ particularly sesquipedalian verbiage.

Once more, for emphasis: I'm really not looking to host debates here. I find them exhausting most times, both in participating and in reading them. Discussion of the issues related to this post is fine, but if you're going to make a debate or argument of it, or if you're looking to derail onto further tangents (meaning further than the ones I've already taken it to), please host that on your own journal.

reviewish stuff, incoherent babble, rant and ramble, buffy stuff, dollhouse

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