We’ve all been faced with this problem before: what do you do when the creator of a piece of media, music, or art that you love is revealed to be problematic? Kanye West is the poster child of bad takes. JK Rowling is pretty much openly trans-phobic. And now, to the horror of legions of Buffy fans, Joss Whedon is a misogynist.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a much-beloved American teen-drama series about a teenage girl who has been given superhuman strengths and abilities to protect the world from various mystical forces of evil. Along with Sarah Michelle Gellar’s portrayal of a strong female protagonist and the progressive depictions of same-sex relationships, the show’s charm and humor have garnered a large dedicated fan base. Even though BtVS ended in 2003, fans still flock to events and are actively involved in online discussions about the show.
BtVS is widely regarded as a feminist show that seriously takes on the struggles and strength of young women. The protagonist, Buffy Summers, fights vampires and other creatures of the night as an action hero without compromising her femininity. The show’s creator, Joss Whedon, is a self-proclaimed feminist who created Buffy to subvert the horror movie stereotype where “bubblehead blonds wandered into dark alleys and got murdered by some creature.” There’s no doubt that Buffy has inspired hundreds of women to believe in their strength and to value their power.
In recent months, numerous allegations of workplace misconduct have come out against Joss Whedon. Since the end of BtVS, Whedon has created numerous TV shows and has written for Marvel and DC films. The most recent set of accusations began when actor Ray Fisher who played Cyborg in Justice League tweeted about Whedon’s abusive behavior toward cast and crew members on set.
Allegations of mistreatment from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer cast came from Buffy’s stunt double Sophia Crawford, and actresses Charisma Carpenter and Michelle Trachtenberg. Carpenter, who played reformed mean-girl, Cordelia Chase, released a lengthy statement claiming that Whedon was “casually cruel” on set and called her “fat” when she was four months pregnant. Many cast members came forward with their support for Carpenter. Even more alarming was Trachtenberg’s cryptic accusation on Instagram. Trachtenberg was fourteen years old when she began playing the role of Dawn Summers, Buffy’s younger sister. According to Trachtenberg, “There was a rule. Saying. He’s not allowed in a room alone with Michelle again.” While no further details were given, simply imagining what Whedon could have done for such a rule to be put in place is terrifying, to say the least.
So, now what? Do we cancel Joss Whedon? Do we cancel Buffy the Vampire Slayer?
For Whedon, my stance is a solid probably. We must hold people in positions of power in the workplace to account. None of the women and men, who have come forward with allegations against Whedon should have been placed in such a position to begin with. But the truth of the matter is that “canceling” hardly ever seems to work, especially not for people with power and prestige like Whedon.
Regarding Buffy, I’ll refer to one of my favorite quotes from John Green: “books belong to their readers.” And this is true for all works of fiction. At some point, a work of fiction will begin to take on a life of its own, somewhat independent from that of its creator. This is a marvelous thing. While it’s impossible to ignore the major role that Whedon played in the creation of BtVS, the show belongs to its fans now. We can allow ourselves to be moved by the performances of the actors and relate to their struggles. We can appreciate the way that Buffy defeats villains and organizations that stand for hatred and misogyny.
The true legacy of the show lies with the fans who have supported it and have changed for the better because of it.