The Gamma Boss: Joss Whedon

The Gamma Boss: Joss Whedon

Apparently, the Non-Disparagement Agreement clauses on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s contracts expired this week, because everyone is talking all at once about how toxic Joss Whedon was to work for.

You only have to look at the chubby little goblin and you see Gamma face.  Puffy and pinched with sunken piggy eyes.  The Germans have a word, Backpfeifengesicht, a face in need of a fist. Just looking at a picture of Whedon and any normal man feels his fingers instinctively start to clench.

You have to wonder how he got anywhere in Hollywood.  

Actually no, you don’t have to wonder at all. 

His father and grandfather were both TV writers. Business 101; your relationships mean everything to your success.  Truth be said, I can’t think of any organization where this isn’t the case, but it is especially relevant in Hollywood.  If you don’t know someone, then you are no one. But if you do know someone, the Keep Out sign doesn’t apply to you.

So, Joesph Whedon was born into the business.  Failing upward in Hollywood, was the path of least resistance.  

His thumbnail biographies go on at length about the importance his mother had in his life. She was an actress but became a history teacher at the private Riverdale School in New York City.  This is the school that Joss himself attended.  Given that he was the middle brother in a family of five boys and the prominent mention she always gets, he was likely her favorite.  Doubtless learning to clown early in life to get her attention was his first introduction to the performing arts. And just as doubtless, a former actress would approve heartily at any hint talent in her child and encourage it at length. 

His high school education was at Winchester in England. A fairly decent liberal arts school (at least when he went). His bios claim that it was here that he “observed English boarding-school bullying.”  I had to laugh at the phrasing.  There is zero doubt in mind that he was no observer but a very active participant. On the receiving end.  He says this was important in his character development and I have no doubt it was.

He came back to the US and went to college at Wesleyan, where he got a degree in Women’s Studies. This degree required zero effort on his part and as a major bonus, it allowed him to approach women sideways.

This is one of the key traits of the Gamma Male.  Being unconfrontational by nature, they vastly prefer to sidle up to women as a friend where he can “really admire you as a person.” And then pray a miracle happens and all that respect and admiration gets him laid.  It doesn’t and they usually end up jumping on the drunk girl.

He graduated college with a script titled, Rhonda the Immortal Waitress.  It needed work.

With no other prospects, he fell into the family business of TV work as a writer.  He knew how the business operated. The paychecks (when they come) are big, plus, it is notoriously tolerant of obnoxious behavior and sexual abuse. It is the dream job of every Gamma

His connections got him a gig on Roseanne.  He ground out a few decent enough scripts, and it was here that his talent for comedy made itself apparent.  It was a snarky comedy, but it was there. 

With a whopping four episodes of Rosanne under his belt, he actually got a feature film greenlit.  And I know how he did it.  His family connections got his script put at the top of various in-baskets but what sold it, was a really great title.

Let me assure you, a title is unbelievably important in any writing endeavor, but it is especially important in the movie business. “For Love or Money,” is about the worst title in the history of fiction.  It could apply to any facet of human existence and tells you nothing about it.  There have been five films with this title, and no one remembers what any of them were about. It absolutely sucks.

The greatest title of all time is Legally Blonde.  Why? Because it tells you everything you need to know about the movie in only two words.  Legally blonde, is assonance on, legally blind, and being blind is associated with being clueless.  It indicates to you the film is a comedy about a dumb blonde. And since it’s an American comedy, the dumb blonde will make good in the legal profession somehow.  The poster with Reese Witherspoon in a hot pink business suit with a toy dog in a purse confirms the prejudices the title gave you.  It’s brilliant.

You probably don’t recall the feelings you had when you first heard the words “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”  But try to approach it with a fresh eye and you will see that it is a great title.  Again, it tells you everything you need to know, to include whether or not you want to give it a shot, in only four words.  

The plot itself was reflective of 1990s urban fantasy settings.  Which was still reasonably new at the time.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer starred Eighties-also-ran Kristy Swanson and Luke Perry when he was still having to make a living as the world’s oldest teenager.  If you don’t remember it, there is a reason for that.  Buffy’s first incarnation pulled in a fairly anemic $12 million.

But he did get a script produced.  That got him his next job writing for Pixar on Toy Story.  That movie was very definitely a hit but John Lasseter never hired Joss Whedon again.  For some reason, he didn’t want him connected with kid’s films.  You often wonder about what red flags executives look for. And sometimes you don’t.

Moving on.

His next project was the script for Alien 4.  He complains about it being heavily rewritten, which is true.  He also claims that his version would have been better which I have some doubts about.

Regardless, he had enough cred to pitch a show to the newly formed WB network.  Once again, it was based on the title Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Hey, it worked for him once. If you ever compare the show to the movie, you will realize that almost the only thing these two projects have in common is the name.

This was the first show that Whedon had control of as showrunner.  He got to make the casting choices and it became very clear that the man had some pronounced tastes.  He favored women with boyish bodies and very big, little girl eyes.  

Let me stress that either one by themselves is okay, but the two together always leaves one a little suspicious.

I was never into Buffy but She Who Became the Herald’s Lady was.  Consequently, I frequently got to watch it whether I felt like it or not. It wasn’t terrible as such things go.  I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it either and I could get why some people were into it.  It was a nerd’s show.  There was an affection for all things nerd-like, and the program was also self-aware of this. It unquestionably had the quirky, snarky humor that its title promised.

As Whedon had a degree in feminism, he had no trouble at all sending out the right feminist smoke signals to the proto-SJWs that formed the core of that show’s long-term audience.  The ones that stuck with it long after it started to suck. This was all accomplished through the character of Willow. She was the real draw for the SJWs-to-be.  The shy, brainy girl with the awesome hidden potential. And a secret lesbian, yay!!!

the rest of the show was an unending stream of Alpha resentment. The jocks were constantly bullying everyone, except the vampires of course. So it was really kind of alright when the vamps would eat a jock.

Buffy was running on the old network rules of, once you hit season six, the show goes into syndication and the BIG money rolls in.  The problem was that the WB was a very new network with very limited resources.  So, it was pretty clear that five seasons was going to be it for Buffy.

Before that bar came down, Whedon had his next projects ready to go.  A spin-off of Buffy starring Buffy’s sad vampire boyfriend and… I can’t believe this ever got greenlit… A space western.  

Of the two it’s Firefly, that is the really surprising one.  Sure, you had the various, you-go-grrl empowerment things going on with the women-folk of Serenity but there were quite a bit of traditionally masculine values on display.  How did that happen in a Whedon project?  

The setting was surprisingly libertarian friendly. There had been a rebellion against an oppressive central government, and it had failed. A crew of former rebels, fugitives, and outright outlaws were flying from place to place on tramp freighter trying to keep what little freedom they had left as they eked out a living on the edge of civilization.

I would regard it as Whedon’s best work but damned if I know how much he had to do with it.  It just doesn’t feel like the product of Gamma male’s psyche, which Joss Whedon unquestionably is.  There were elements that clearly belonged to Whedon like River Tam, the boyishly trim, autistic girl with the huge eyes.  But aside from naming Jayne Cobb, Jayne, he just didn’t seem like he could ever have a bead on that character.  

This where the name Tim Minear first starts appearing.

According to rumor, when Whedon would get either bored or disengaged with a project, Tim Minear would be the one to pick up the reins.  And that he was the one that did all the heavy lifting on Firefly.

I suppose this was understandable because Whedon suddenly had three series on his hands when he was probably expecting to only have one.  Buffy had the misfortune to be picked up by another fledgling network, UPN.  

My wife had lost all interest in the series after Willow’s out of the blue “conversion,” so I was spared it’s worst years.  I had briefly taken an interest since I had watched the very last, we promise, this is the end, episode of Buffy on the WB.  The one where she died.  I was curious about how they were going to resurrect her.

And the answer was badly.

Willow cast a spell.  That was pretty much it.  

And it was this laziness that shows just how mediocre of a writer Joss Whedon actually is.  He can come up with a good setting.  He can do a few jokes, (often self-referential), but it didn’t occur to him to do something more with this opportunity.  The Journey to the Underworld is a huge part of the Hero’s Journey.  It’s the place where all the hero’s sins and weaknesses are burned away and when he (she in this case) returns to the mortal world they can bestow gifts on all mankind.  

Buffy chugged along, half-assed and out of ideas until 2003.  Angel followed it into TV oblivion a year later.  Whatever projects Joss was trying to get off the ground before the clock ran out on those two shows, never took flight.

In 2005, he got to jam the multi-season story arc he had “planned” for Firefly into one film, called Serenity. Since he was able to do this pretty easily, I have some misgivings about how extensive this story-arc was in the first place.

I should stress that he’s not a bad writer.  He does have a few gifts.  And he is willing to kill off a beloved character at the right time to give the story a sense of pathos.  But he has never really taken things all the way to eleven.  I think he can be best described as wading armpit-deep into shallow waters.  He goes as far as his talent can take him but his talent provides an unbreakable glass ceiling he can’t get through. 

He had another one-season wonder with Dollhouse, where he rounded up several actors from previous shows that were still willing to work with him.  One of his superior works and once again Tim Minear was deeply involved.

An interesting solo project from this period was Doctor Horrible’s sing-along blog.  A YouTube musical made possible by a writer’s strike.  Alpha resentment and humiliation of the Alpha was at the core of this work, (shocking, I know).  As well as a non-romance with a shy love interest, who again had huge eyes but for once a decent body.  She ended up with the Alpha but was accidentally killed by Doctor Horrible. He was desperately in love with her, even though he never got out of the friend zone.

None of the actresses from his previous projects were apparently willing to work on it.

His career looked to be winding down when suddenly he caught the biggest break of his life.  Disney was in the market for a reasonably talented has-been who knew comic books and would do exactly what he was told to do.  Whedon’s career was off like a rocket. 

Avengers was one of the biggest hits of all time and Joss Whedon got to bask in the glory of it.  He went from failed TV producer to king of the A-List overnight. 

Of course, when you look at it, Avengers was always going to be a monster.  This was a film that the Marvel fanbase had been demanding that Marvel make for years.  It would have been shocking if it wasn’t a hit.  It was during this period that reports of Whedon’s management style became known, which boiled down to caustic and nasty.

He directed Avengers 2 and that was it so far as Marvel was concerned.  They were done with him.  It was a little surprising.

Or maybe it wasn’t.

“I’ve gone off the reservation for a while. It was five years that I was working on either Avengers or S.H.I.E.L.D….That was an enormous gift they gave me; they handed me several hundreds of millions of dollars and said ‘do what you do,’ which is very rare and I was very lucky. At the same time, it’s important for me not just to have my own thing and do something smaller, but also to create a new challenge for myself because I will start to repeat myself.” – Joss Whedon

Interpretation: The Age of Ultron didn’t make as much money as the first Avengers flick and Whedon’s limitations as a director had become all too apparent.

DC Films didn’t care about those limitations at all when they snatched Joss up to reshoot Justice League. Reliably mediocre was A-okay after the dark and dour weirdness of Zach Snyder.  It was all they wanted.

What Ray Fisher wanted, however, was off the movie.  After the Snyder Cut was green-lit by AT&T, he went pretty far off the reservation himself declaring that his experiences with Joss Whedon were the worst and most unprofessional of his entire career.

At first, the view was, Christ! This Ray Fisher guy is one extra special snowflake ain’t he? Who does he think he is?  And I admit I bought into this line myself but this week I began to suspect it was more along the lines of, “Screw Hollywood!  I’m going back to the theater and I don’t care if I do burn every bridge behind me, so long as Joss Whedon is standing on one of them when it falls into fucking the river!”

Fisher’s accusations, was the cork getting popped out of the bottle.

Charisma Carpenter had been making grumbling sounds for years but this week she finally cut loose with a lot of detailed accusations. 

‘Last summer, when Ray Fisher publicly accused Joss of abusive and unprofessional behavior toward the cast and crew during reshoots on the Justice League set in 2017, it gutted me,’ she continued. ‘Joss has a history of being casually cruel. He has created hostile and toxic work environments since his early career. I know because I experienced it first-hand. Repeatedly.’

Whedon has not yet responded to the allegations made by Carpenter. Carpenter claims Whedon would regularly make ‘passive-aggressive’ threats to fire her throughout the filming of the two shows, which she said ‘wreaks havoc on a young actor’s self-esteem.’

The actress further alleged that Whedon would ‘callously’ mock her and call her fat to other members of the cast and crew when she was four months pregnant, despite weighing just 126 lbs, she said.

‘He was mean and biting, disparaging about others openly, and often played favorites, pitting people against one another to compete and vie for his attention and approval,’ Carpenter continued of Whedon.

She claimed in one instance Whedon called her in for a sit-down meeting to ‘interrogate and berate’ her regarding a tattoo she had gotten during filming to help her cope with ‘a volatile work climate that affected me physically.’

Carpenter has previously accused Whedon of writing her character off Angel during its fourth season back in 2003 because he was ‘upset’ she had gotten pregnant. During Season 4, the character of Cordelia turns ‘evil’ and eventually ends up in a coma, never to reawaken. Once eventually informed, Carpenter said Whedon requested a one-on-one meeting with her, in which he allegedly asked her, ‘[Are you] going to keep it?’

‘He proceeded to attack my character, mock my religious beliefs, accuse me of sabotaging the show, and then unceremoniously fired me the following season once I gave birth,’ she claimed.

The lead in Buffy, Sarah M Geller, voiced support for Carpenter in an Instagram post on Wednesday, which read: ‘While I am proud to have my name associated with Buffy Summers, I don’t want to be forever associated with the name Joss Whedon… I stand with all survivors of abuse and am proud of them for speaking out.’

Fellow castmate Amber Benson, who played Tara on Buffy, echoed Carpenter’s sentiments, writing: ‘Buffy was a toxic environment and it starts at the top. @AllCharisma is speaking truth and I support her 100%. There was a lot of damage done during that time and many of us are still processing it twenty plus years later.’ 

“I am brave enough now as a 35 year old woman. Because. This must. Be known,” (Michelle) Trachtenberg wrote on Instagram. “As a teenager. With his not appropriate behavior….very. Not. Appropriate. So now. People know. What Joss. Did. 

“The last. Comment I will make on this. Was. There was a rule. Saying. He’s not allowed in a room alone with Michelle again,” she later updated her caption.

I think he felt free to be more aggressive with Trachtenberg because she was so young.  But I told you about his tastes and what they strongly indicate.

James Marsters, who played Spike, recalled a confrontation he had with Whedon. He allegedly backed Marsters to a wall and told him,”I don’t care how popular you are, kid, you’re dead.” 

A Gamma getting violent with someone is unusual but not unheard of when that victim is absolutely restricted from striking his Gamma tormentor.  I’d run into that in Marine Corps once in a while. Striking a Superior being an exceptionally bad charge.  Mind you, if I caught someone at the same rank as me doing it, I’d invite him to have talk at the tree-line. In fact, I’d be pretty insistent on it and I’d let everyone know that he was a bitch for refusing my polite request.

Whedon as man appears to have inspired no loyalty at all from the people that worked for him.  

Trying to work for a Gamma Boss is an exercise in forced obsequiousness on your part.  

They demand the bended knee constantly because of their paper-thin egos.  The Gamma Boss’ favorite battle cry is, “don’t come to me with a problem unless you’ve got a solution.”  They think this is a brilliant way to foster initiative in their subordinates.  What it really fosters is a situation where everyone lies to the boss.  If you have a problem that you can’t solve but can bury, you bury it and hope for the best.

The Gamma Boss inhabits a happy dream world where he has humiliated his high school bully (that’s you if you’re an Alpha) and everyone always tells him how smart, successful, and cool he is, so that nothing can challenge that state of bliss. He lives in a delusion bubble of his own making. In truth, he is walking around in a minefield of buried problems that have a nasty tendency to go up in a chain reaction once the first one blows.

If the Gamma Boss is lucky, he’s moved on before this happens.

Sadly, Joss Whedon no longer has anyplace to go.

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Comments (20)

  • Elizabeth Reply

    Excellent analysis. Your note about gamma bosses needing obsequious praise rings all the bells. Having listened to all the commentaries on the Buffy dvd, I was always struck by the almost frantic need to give heaping praise to Whedon, even when it wasn’t his officially tagged script. It struck a very nasty note, and I felt it was clear that these so-called professionals were not able to rightfully be proud of their work. It’s also telling to compare his own dvd commentaries with those of other directors. Compare and contrast his commentary for Age of Ultron with Branagh’s commentary on Thor. Branagh so gracious and generous in his praise of others, Whedon so petty and ungracious. And of course this article doesn’t touch upon Whedon’s history of truly nasty tweeting. So really, a very small and nasty man who can go away now, and not be missed.

    February 13, 2021 at 1:47 am
  • Serpico Reply

    ‘His bios claim that it was here that he “observed English boarding-school bullying.” I had to laugh at the phrasing. There is zero doubt in mind that he was no observer but a very active participant. On the receiving end.’
    Don’t know why you were so roundabout with this point. I distinctly recall Whedon giving an interview back in the late Aughts were he was perfectly frank about how he got the shit kicked out of him in secondary school, and went into excessive detail about how one of the foundational inspirations for the character concept of Buffy was a persistent fantasy he had of a pretty cheerleader-type jumping in out of nowhere to beat back his tormentors with Waif Fu and Manic Pixie Dream Girl-him all the way back home and into his bedroom.

    February 13, 2021 at 2:32 am
  • Falter Brawley Reply

    I recently decided to rewatch Angel and watch all of Buffy for the first time last week. I was surprised how much SJW was present even in Buffy S1. Knowing now that Whedon was a women’s studies major it makes sense that it was so incredibly progressive for 1997.

    February 13, 2021 at 2:35 am

    One small typo. River Song is in Dr. Who. River Tam is in Firefly.

    February 13, 2021 at 2:46 am
  • David Reply

    Excellent piece, showcases Joss Whedon to a T.

    February 13, 2021 at 3:49 am
  • Bob Reply

    Mostly in agreement, but for a minor quibble: I thought Buffys resurrection was a brilliant piece of writing. She didn’t go to the underworld, she was ripped out of heaven and her response afterward was well-done.

    It also portrayed Willow as more powerful than God, but whatever.

    As much as it sucked post season 5, there were a couple gems. The mental hospital one for example. Now that would have been the perfect spot to end the series!

    February 13, 2021 at 5:34 am
  • EXALT Reply

    Another characteristic of the gamma writer: “He writes stories that drone on and on about hope while being a depressed atheist in real life”.

    February 13, 2021 at 8:16 am
  • Dane Reply

    Great post, one of your best even.

    February 13, 2021 at 9:01 am
  • Wazdaka Reply

    Joseph doesn’t need anybody’s help to burn bridges, he is quite capable of burning the bridge, and poisoning the river.

    February 13, 2021 at 10:47 am
    • Jean Durtal Reply

      The first tip-off to me of Whedon’s true character was hearing how he spoke about Alien 4: in very negative terms as if his script was some masterpiece that was ruined by talentless clods that had nothing to do with him. If you watch the film now all these years later, his fingerprints are clearly all over it. Same snarky, often-inappropriate humor, same “butt-kicking” female empowerment (of the Whedon variety), same boyish-looking girl with big eyes (Winona Ryder this time). There are a number of other clear similarities to “Firefly” as well. Yes, it was directed by a weird French dude, but I think a lot of the suck can be placed squarely at Whedon’s feet.

      February 13, 2021 at 8:43 pm
    • Kyle Reply

      Why just the bridge? He also dumps white phosphorus on the city that the bridge is connected to and then use napalm to clean up whatever wasn’t burned.

      February 13, 2021 at 10:15 pm
  • Chief_Tuscaloosa Reply

    Also noteworthy is Whedon produced and co-wrote “The Cabin in the Woods”–a film where *all* of the world’s religions are real and capable of fighting the Old Gods except…the one religion that wasn’t even mentioned. Watching that movie the first time was spiritually gross–felt I needed a shower afterwards. Thanks for tearing him a new one in such a thorough and entertaining manner. And thanks to you I now know to keep an eye out for Tim Minear! I KNEW Whedon couldn’t have been responsible for the awesomeness of Firefly.

    February 13, 2021 at 6:38 pm
    • The Dark Herald Reply

      I quite agree about Cabin in the Woods. It left me with a cold, greasy feeling.

      February 13, 2021 at 10:20 pm
      • Kyle Reply

        Is cabin in the woods the same one about a cabin that is a government organization designed to create fear and horror just to appease the elder gods? In that case the movie is a true story movie because that organization is called the news.

        February 13, 2021 at 11:38 pm
      • Bob Reply

        Might a review be in the future?

        February 14, 2021 at 12:44 am
        • Chief_Tuscaloosa Reply

          I second that emotion–after all, it *IS* the season of Whedon bashing!

          February 14, 2021 at 7:25 pm
    • Bob Reply

      Best description I have for Cabin in the Woods: it was brilliant, and I hate it.

      I feel the same way about Parasite and The Last Jedi. I’ve got to acknowledge a film that expressed precisely what the creator wanted to express.

      And yeah: Last Jedi had no “flaws” it did exactly what it was meant to.

      February 14, 2021 at 12:48 am
  • Silent Draco Reply

    The Gamma Boss’ favorite battle cry is, “don’t come to me with a problem unless you’ve got a solution.” Had two of those; one was an acting position never confirmed (hired someone much more able). The other got moved to staff duties – way over there -, after losing four capable employees (incl me) to transfers within a year’s time. Looking back, they were definite Gammas; the second one was able to play Bravo until put under stress.

    Odd thing is that later I had another supervisor, definite Bravo and linear thinker. He and Gamma Boss 2 had the same Gamma supervisor in their formative years, but the lessons never took on this guy.

    February 14, 2021 at 2:13 pm
  • bvdemier Reply

    “There was a rule. Saying. He’s not allowed in a room alone with Michelle again,”

    What always gets me is how they all knew.
    But they kept their mounth shut and now they want to be applauded as heroes.
    You knew and you did nothing, do not expect one single tear of pity from me.

    February 14, 2021 at 2:29 pm
  • Patrick McNally Reply

    Regarding the issue of what does one read from a title, my own perhaps ignorant impression of “Buffy the Vampire-Slayer” was that it was a spoof on “Blade the Vampire-Slayer!” Perhaps people who had not read the old “Tomb of Dracula comics by 1970s Marvel would have a different impression.

    February 16, 2021 at 1:28 am

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