Joss Whedon Backlash: Wading Through The Muck to Find Meaning


If you’ve been on the Internet at all since Avengers: Age of Ultron was released you’ve probably noticed that all is not well in the Marvel fandom. The release of Age of Ultron seemed to cause a massive rift among fans. These tensions reached their boiling point when Director/Writer Joss Whedon deactivated his Twitter account. Not unsurprisingly this led to all kinds of speculation about who is to blame for Whedon’s decision.

I think we can all agree that the sheer number of tweets – whether positive or negative – he got in response to Age of Ultron would be overwhelming for anyone. If I get more than one tweet at the same time I’m like, woah guys, slow your roll. So it’s pretty easy to guess why Whedon might want to take a break from social media, and it’s not like this is even the first time he’s done it. Logically we know that the only person who can tell us why Joss Whedon deleted his Twitter is Joss Whedon himself, but logic often gets left behind when passion is involved.

Lots of people are passionate about The Avengers, Marvel, and Joss Whedon. I know this because I am one of those people, and when those passionate people feel like something they love is being threatened things can get a little messy, which would be okay if everyone loved the same thing in the same way but yeah not so much. As a result, facts tend to get skewered towards the dramatic because that’s how we express our passion.

Look, I am here for anything that gets people talking about the negative side of Online Culture. This is something we NEED to talk about. But in order to fix this wider cultural issue we need to accept that what happened to Joss Whedon is not unique. Receiving abuse via social media happens ALL THE TIME. This is not even a particularly horrific example of cyberbullying. I’m nobody compared to Joss Whedon and I’ve been told to kill myself more than once, and if you look at a celebrity’s mentions on any day you will probably find something that will make you hate the human race.

So yeah, the conversation started by Joss Whedon’s exit from Twitter could be a good thing, but only if we all take a step back, look at the facts and stop playing the blame game.

The first thing you need to know and accept is that feminists did not bully Joss Whedon into deleting his Twitter. This is not a thing that happened. At all. Yes, some self-identified feminists have been critical of Avengers: Age of Ultron and many people don’t agree with those criticisms. But just because you don’t agree with it doesn’t make them any less valid. Whether or not you think it’s acceptable to tweet criticisms directly to a creator or artist is a different question, but MOST of the feminist-informed tweets were based on legitimate criticism. There were some distressing and/or upsetting tweets inside the mix, but that’s more a result of the Internet’s culture of harassment than the response to a specific movie.

A number of people have compiled screenshots of tweets that they see as harassment directed at Whedon. While there are some genuinely terrible tweets, most were just rude hyperbole, and some were even legitimate criticism. This is where most of the confusion seems to be coming from as legitimate criticisms are being grouped in with actual harassment, so people appear to be under the impression that everyone that was upset by Black Widow’s portrayal in Age of Ultron was harassing Joss Whedon on Twitter.

The tweet that has most often been used as evidence for harassment is a collage of tweets posted on John Sargeant’s twitter.

Here’s the thing though, as Jessica Mason points out on Twitter “I…uh, gotta call BS. Most of those tweets are legit criticism of AOU by people who feel rightly put off.” And I gotta agree. While I’m not judging anyone for choosing to remove themselves from an upsetting environment, as far as Twitter hate goes this is pretty mild. For all the talk of death threats, I haven’t actually seen any. That’s not to say they are not there, because I am very much willing to believe there are some, I just don’t think legitimate criticism should be lumped in with genuine abuse.  Twitter harassment is bad, and the general culture around how people talk to celebrities online is all kinds of gross and we should talk about it. But the way people are placing the blame on women that are criticising his work is equally disgusting.

“a vocal group of angry female Twitterers were displeased with Whedon’s treatment of Scarlett Johansson’s character Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow” – Tech Times

“Joss Whedon Quits Twitter After Debut of ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ — Was Harassment Over Black Widow To Blame?” – Inquisitr

“Avengers: Age of Ultron Director Joss Whedon Quits Twitter: Was the Black Widow Backlash Too Much?” – eOnline

“Joss Whedon is off the grid: Avengers director quits Twitter amidst Black Widow backlash” – Digital Spy 

“Joss Whedon Fired? Nope, He Deactivated Twitter Following Feminist Hypocrisy Accusations” – International Business Times

Most of those articles go on to state that they don’t know why Whedon chose to delete his twitter, and that there were probably many other contributing factors. Like the fact that he’s publicly admitted to not enjoying the website. Yet everyone still feels the need to throw in the assumption that it was the feminist fangirls that ultimately drove Joss away, which is kind of offensive to Joss Whedon if you think about it. I mean the man has been vocally critical of the treatment of women in Hollywood, so surely he would appreciate audiences using the same critical eye on his own work?

Do I think that some fangirls have taken their Joss Whedon criticism a little far? Well yeah, but at the same time I understand where they’re coming from. I am from the Joss Whedon generation of fangirls. I grew up with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it was my first fandom and really my first introduction to feminism. I kind of put him on a pedestal as the pinnacle of female representation, and it was – fifteen years ago*. But I’ve grown a lot since then, I expect more now, and Age of Ultron didn’t deliver. The backlash against Joss is more than a response to Black Widow’s characterisation, it’s a response to realising that the crumbs of equality-life we got in the 90s are just not enough to satisfy us now.

Really when you look at it there are three different issues at play here: There’s the understandable, if a little aggressive, fangirl response to an unsatisfactory depiction of a hugely important female character; there’s the wider issue of harassment in online culture; and there’s Joss Whedon’s decision to delete his Twitter. There might be some crossover at times but these three issues are not intrinsically linked. Joss Whedon’s departure from Twitter is not solely a response to harassment and legitimate criticism is not automatically abuse.

I’m not trying to defend anyone that was rude, or aggressive, or abusive towards Joss Whedon on Twitter. That kind of behaviour is never okay and I DO NOT condone it under any circumstances. But blaming feminist fangirls isn’t going to prevent further harassment, it’s just going to cause more people to confuse criticism with hate and that’s not really conducive to healthy discussion.

We should not tolerate harassment and it’s definitely something we NEED to be talking about. But loudly blaming a group of people – especially those that are often the victims of online harassment themselves – for something that is pretty clearly not their fault is really not helping the situation. It stops people from having a legitimate discussion about harassment culture and it could prevent other marginalised groups from voicing criticisms of a culture that REALLY needs to be kept in check.

*Let it be known that I am still a massive Joss Whedon fan and that while I had A LOT of issues with Age of Ultron, I still enjoyed it over all.

Author: Undie Girl

Undie Girl (aka Von) has a BA (Hons) Major in Cultural Studies. The title of her honours thesis was “It’s just gay and porn”: Power, Identity and the Fangirl’s Gaze. She’s currently pursuing a Masters of Media Practice at University of Sydney. Von’s a former contributor The Backlot’s column The Shipping News and a current co-host of The Geekiary’s monthly webcast FEELINGS… with The Geekiary.

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11 thoughts on “Joss Whedon Backlash: Wading Through The Muck to Find Meaning

  1. For those who may be interested in facts re: Natasha. Scarlett was PREGNANT during the filming of AoU and her part had to be adjusted for that fact that. From what I am seeing the whole her being captured was a result of a rewrite to take that into account. Yet the haters seem to overlook that fact. Legit criticism does not include threatening to kick his ass and death threats. .

    Let’s also remember that AoU is NOT written by Joss only, he has to respond to network execs etc as seen here Love how people overlook that too and pile on Whedon. Get a life people, it’s a damn movie.

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  2. I’ve been sort of half-heartedly watch the Joss Whedon backlash building for the last six months or so… And ignoring it, more or less. I don’t think Joss walks on water or is the most perfect male feminist who ever feministed, but I really enjoy most of his work and like the way he depicts female characters for the most part. I’m a fan. I just think tumblr culture (or fandom culture in general, maybe) is going too far in extremes nowadays. Someone does something problematic? And they’ve called themselves a feminist before? THEY ARE PURE EVIL.

    We either glorify or vilify, it seems to me. The truth is always in between. Haven’t seen AOU yet (being almost nine months pregnant is making me not look forward to the long theatre visit), but I’m sure I’ll enjoy it overall.

    But I agree, the “feminists” have not run him from Twitter, at least not from what I can tell. But I imagine the world is a confusing place for him now. He used to be a cult favourite beloved by feminists… Now he’s basically a household name and many of his old fans have lost interest or even become hostile. I wonder if he was happier with the Browncoats and Buffy fans.

  3. I do not find anything wrong with this film nor with his or their treatment of the Black Widow character. I loved Avengers: Age of Ultron from beginning to end.

    Great story and Natasha kicked butt.

  4. I say this as a dyed in the wool Browncoat and continuing Joss fan having recently listened to a podcast where it described how he basically freaked out on a DJ (including the one who opens every Paul McCartney show), was too thick to get a pretty obvious joke made by a person who’s very pro-feminism and a comedian, and then sicked thousands of people on the guy and esculated it by tweeting out an attack and then following up doubling down by calling the guy a mysoginist (and then talking about him to people in Hollywood) I think he may be on the verge of burn out.

    The treatment of Black Widow had it’s quirks but in many ways I see what he was trying to do. Humanize the character and at the same time adjust the script to address her pregnancy in real life. Was it elegantly handled or not? That is debatable, but his intent was not that bad.

    But increasingly he is lashing out and behaving irresponsibly with social media. His slagging the Jurrasic World movie, his sicking fans on other people (SEVERE punching down and he was even in the wrong), there is clearly more going on here. The guy has been working solid for five plus years and I suspect he may simply need a break and the limitation of 150 characters is hobbling his ability to make a point. After listening to the account on The Indoor Kids (by a source I generally trust and I know was a fan of Whedon up until this incident) I have to say it’s disappointing but not entirely shocking. I think Whedon’s behaviour shows he needs to be taken down from the pedestal and treated like anyone els.

    1. Interesting observations and it makes a lot of sense. I’m a huge Whedon fan but his behavior has gotten a lot of eyebrow raising from me. Maybe he needs to take a couple of years off to just relax or work on his own projects away from major studios.

      1. I totally agree, I think after basically doing three films back to back (Much Ado being his “relaxation piece”) which includes near constant press and when he’s not in press he’s in pre or post production or EPing on Marvel’s primary TV show atop of trying to build a relationship with his fairly young children.

        I struggle enough with doing a few contract jobs in my off hours and writting a blog and going to the gym (honestly fell off the blog wagon because of it need to get back on that) what he’s attempting would drive me to drink. Not suggesting he’s been driven to drink just he’s taking on a lot of work. Before Avengers all his material had either been far smaller (like writing on a team of writers for Rosanne) or his own projects with more control and responsibility but a self control and self imposed responsibility.

        I honestly think the guy just needs a vacation and to get off social media for a while because he’s just getting a bit punchy (it also doesn’t help that Baldwin keeps trying to drag him in to his anti-vaxxing and GG threads).

        1. Ha, oh no Baldwin why. Now THAT is someone who needs to get off Twitter, but for very different reasons.

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