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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