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Reading Joss Whedon

edited by Rhonda Wilcox

Publication Year: 2014

In an age when geek chic has come to define mainstream pop culture, few writers and producers inspire more admiration and response than Joss Whedon. From Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Much Ado About Nothing, from Dr. Horrible’s Sing–Along Blog to The Avengers, the works of Whedon have been the focus of increasing academic attention. This collection of articles represents some of the best work covering a wide array of topics that clarify Whedon’s importance, including considerations of narrative and visual techniques, myth construction, symbolism, gender, heroism, and the business side of television. The editors argue that Whedon’s work is of both social and aesthetic significance; that he creates “canonical television.” He is a master of his artistic medium and has managed this success on broadcast networks rather than on cable. From the focus on a single episode to the exploration of an entire season, from the discussion of a particular narrative technique to a recounting of the history of Whedon studies, this collection will both entertain and educate those exploring Whedon scholarship for the first time and those planning to teach a course on his works.

Published by: Syracuse University Press

Series: Television and Popular Culture

Title Page, Other Works in the Series, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-v


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pp. vii-ix

Contents by Topic

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pp. xi-xiii

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pp. xv

The editors wish to acknowledge the work of the stellar contributors to this volume. They are a patient lot: we began work early in 2009, and most of the scholars published herein have been involved with the project from the start....

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Introduction: Much Ado about Whedon


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pp. 1-14

In May 2012, Marvel’s The Avengers, a film written and directed by Joss Whedon, broke box-office records for a US opening weekend, having already succeeded wildly in international markets—and the film’s audience, as of this writing, continues to grow. In 2011, between production and postproduction...

Part One. Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer: An Introduction


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pp. 17-21

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a television series that ran from 1997 until 2003, is the creation that established Joss Whedon’s reputation as an artist. It was preceded by a 1992 film for which Whedon wrote the script—a lesser work over which he did not have creative control....

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From Beneath You, It Foreshadows: Why Buffy’s First Season Matters


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pp. 22-39

The first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer barely exists in the scholarship on the Buffyverse. It has been buried beneath scholarly attention to musicals and dream episodes, theories of love and redemption, and analyses of the series’ politics, philosophy, and metaphysics. Character studies begin...

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Hero’s Journey, Heroine’s Return?: Buffy, Eurydice, and the Orpheus Myth


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pp. 40-52

In Why “Buffy” Matters, Rhonda Wilcox boldly asserts that ““Buffy is art, and art of the highest order” and that “in the world of television, there has probably never been a greater work of language than Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (2005, 1, 30). Although these claims for a comic horror TV...

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“It’s Like Some Primal, Some Animal Force . . .That Used to Be Us”: Animality, Humanity, and Moral Careers in the Buffyverse


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pp. 53-69

Joss Whedon has always distinguished his work through his ability to inject fundamental questions of human existence into the fantasy, science fiction, and horror he creates.1 Such attention to existential questions is, in general, a strength of science fiction and fantasy, but Whedon is producing,...

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“Can I Spend the Night / Alone?”: Segments and Connections in “Conversations with Dead People”


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pp. 70-83

Structure helps me get through the day,” says Joss Whedon (Lavery and Burkhead 2011, 113).1 The Buffy episode “Conversations with Dead People” (7.7) won the 2003 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form, and one of the reasons was surely its sophisticated

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“Hey, Respect the Narrative Flow Much?”: Problematic Storytelling in Buffy the Vampire Slayer


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pp. 84-98

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is replete with scenes that depict characters telling stories to each other, stories embedded within the narrative arc of the series itself.1 Series creator Joss Whedon has said that “stories are sacred” and that he believes in a “religion in narrative”...

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All Those Apocalypses: Disaster Studies and Community in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel


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pp. 99-112

The interdisciplinary field of disaster studies is one aspect of the social sciences that takes the power of mass media very seriously. You will not hear “it’s only entertainment” from disaster researchers. When viewers watch real people on the news or fictional characters in films and on television, they...

Part Two. Angel

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Angel: An Introduction


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pp. 115-118

Angel, a television series spin-off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, ran on the WB Network from 1999 to 2004. Created by Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt, the series comprises 110 episodes over five seasons. As with Buffy, Angel was written and produced collaboratively through Whedon’s...

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“Enough of the Action, Let’s Get Back to Dancing”: Joss Whedon Directs Angel


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pp. 119-133

In the extensive academic and critical writing on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a great deal of attention has been paid to Joss Whedon’s creative vision for the series, with particular focus upon his critically acclaimed episodes “Hush” (4.10), “Restless” (4.22), “The Body” (5.16), and...

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What the Hell?: Angel’s “The Girl in Question”


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pp. 134-146

I would like to formally nominate this episode as [the] Worst Epi[sode] of Angel Ever,” posts Doug on May 6, 2004, to the online forum All Things Philosophical on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel”: The Series.1 On Television without Pity, [O]stentatious writes, “Wow....

Part Three. Firefly and Serenity


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Firefly and Serenity: An Introduction


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pp. 149-152

The television series Firefly ran in the United States on the Fox Network from September 20 to December 20, 2002. Executive produced by Joss Whedon and Tim Minear, the series comprises one season of fourteen episodes, three of which were not aired during the series’ original broadcast...

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Firefly: Of Formats, Franchises, and Fox


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pp. 153-168

In 2003, Joss Whedon was interviewed by Michael Patrick Sullivan. In response to a question about networks, Whedon’s plaintive reply was, “My only hope is that one day, I’ll understand what it is the networks want” (Whedon 2003a). This desire to “understand” came a few months...

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“Wheel Never Stops Turning”: Space and Time in Firefly and Serenity


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pp. 169-184

Joss Whedon’s Firefly (2002) begins with Sergeant Malcolm Reynolds (played by Nathan Fillion) running through a battlefield, dodging bombs and bullets, until he reaches the small cave in which his platoon is quartered (“Serenity” 1.1).1 The beginning of the film...

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Metaphoric Unity and Ending: Sending and Receiving Firefly’s Last “Message”


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pp. 185-197

“The Message” was the last episode of Firefly to be written and filmed, which partly explains why it is one of three unaired episodes: the series had been canceled before it could be broadcast. The unaired episodes are arranged in their originally intended viewing order on the...

Part Four. Dollhouse

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Dollhouse: An Introduction


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pp. 201-204

At a Paley Center “Inside Media” evening devoted to Joss Whedon’s “brilliant but canceled” fourth television series, Dollhouse (Fox, 2009–10), the show’s creator—tongue, characteristically, firmly planted in cheek—wonders out loud about the origins of his diegetic surrogate...

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Reflections in the Pool: Echo, Narcissus, and the Male Gaze in Dollhouse


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pp. 205-220

In 2009 Joss Whedon returned to network television with Dollhouse, a series advertised as a mainstream action-adventure show. This billing was typical Whedon misdirection. Rather than centering squarely on the “eye candy” presented by lithe actors with extremely short hemlines...

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“There Is No Me; I’m Just a Container”: Law and the Loss of Personhood in Dollhouse


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pp. 221-233

Each of Joss Whedon’s four television shows has explored, in some manner, what it means to be human.1 Buffy the Vampire Slayer presented a world in which personhood is part of having a soul: beings with souls fall under the protection of the Slayer, while those beings lacking souls...

Part Five. Beyond the Box

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Joining the Evil League of Evil: The Rhetoric of Posthuman Negotiation in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog


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pp. 237-249

Written by Maurissa Tancharoen, Jed Whedon, Joss Whedon, and Zack Whedon, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog garnered so many hits when Act 1 was released on July 15, 2008, that the online server crashed. After the acquisition of more bandwidth, and the attempted...

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Buffy’s Season 8, Image and Text: Superhero Self-Fashioning


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pp. 250-267

The extension of Buffy the Vampire Slayer into an eighth season in a new medium (comics) allows Joss Whedon and his writing team to explore the promise of the Potentials, who were introduced at the end of the televised series. In television’s Season 7, they were seen as unequivocally...

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Watchers in the Woods: Meta-Horror, Genre Hybridity, and Reality TV Critique in The Cabin in the Woods


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pp. 268-279

The Cabin in the Woods (2012, produced 2010) is perhaps the most deeply cynical work to come from the pen of Joss Whedon. And, taken with Whedon’s most recent television project, Dollhouse (2009–10), the film marks a dark turn in Whedon’s collaborative output that suggests...

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Joss Whedon Throws His Mighty Shield: Marvel’s The Avengers as War Movie


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pp. 280-293

Marvel’s The Avengers (hereinafter The Avengers), written and directed by Joss Whedon, currently holds more all-time box-office records than any other film. Furthermore, The Avengers is ranked the number-one film of all time for domestic opening-weekend receipts, having grossed...

Part Six. Overarching Topics

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Stuffing a Rabbit in It: Character, Narrative, and Time in the Whedonverses


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pp. 297-311

In Twin Peaks (1990–91), Laura Palmer is memorably described as being “filled with secrets” (1.2). In Dollhouse, on the other hand, a character initially sees Echo as “just an empty hat. Till you stuff a rabbit in it” (“The Target” 1.2). Any television character can be seen as an empty...

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Adventures in the Moral Imagination: Memory and Identity in Whedon’s Narrative Ethics


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pp. 312-324

Our principal purpose is to show how what we call Joss Whedon’s narrative ethics uses story rather than rules or principles to justify moral judgments or ethical choices. We see the technology of implanted memory used by the Rossum Corporation in Whedon’s...

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Technology and Magic: Joss Whedon’s Explorations of the Mind


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pp. 325-340

Joss Whedon demonstrates an abiding fascination with the processes of the mind and their modification. Scientific (or magical) alteration of perception, knowledge, and mental state is foundational to the stories of Firefly and Dollhouse and is a fundamental component of several...

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From Old Heresies to Future Paradigms: Joss Whedon on Body and Soul


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pp. 341-355

In the unaired pilot episode of Dollhouse, Boyd Langton has a conversation with Topher Brink about the ethics of repeatedly wiping and programming their “Actives.” Boyd proposes the idea that the Actives or “Dolls” are perhaps still “people” and questions the morality...

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“Hot Chicks with Superpowers”: The Contested Feminism of Joss Whedon


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pp. 356-370

Joss Whedon is often proclaimed a feminist auteur, thanks largely to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a series he created to defy expectations of females in fantasy and horror films. In interviews, he explains he was tired of seeing the blonde who “was cute, had sex, was bouncy and...

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Whedon Studies: A Living History, 1999–2013


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pp. 371-392

It was a spring evening in 2000.1 After a long day of grad school, I plopped down on the sofa next to my apartment mate, Carla, who was already engrossed in her favorite guilty pleasure: Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997– 2003). Demons and vampires flashed across...


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pp. 395-439


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pp. 441-446


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pp. 447-461

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780815652830
E-ISBN-10: 0815652836
Print-ISBN-13: 9780815633648
Print-ISBN-10: 0815633645

Page Count: 464
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Television and Popular Culture