The Fanboy next Door: Whedon and his Appeal to self-professed Geeks
by Maria Sulimma — Department of Culture, John F. Kennedy Institute for Northamerican Studies, Free University Berlin
October 02, 2013 – 00:00
One aspect about Joss Whedon and his work worthy of discussion is his appeal to “geek” audiences and the way he is marketed (and markets himself) as a “geek.” This observation is based on audiences’ desire to perceive showrunners of television series as sole authors instead of acknowledging complex, multicentered production conditions (i.e. Whedon wrote only 17%, directed 14% of all Buffy the Vampire Slayer-episodes, and was showrunner for the first five seasons).
Whedon’s (self)portrayal as “geek” or fan/nerd contributes to his immense success and popularity, with similarities to the following of “cult” directors like Quentin Tarrantino. Like Tarrantino’s films, the texts that Whedon is involved in producing seem to form a brand, despite crossing various genres and media forms (from Shakespeare to the self-reflexive horror of Cabin in the Woods to the Buffy spin-off comic books). Yet viewers and readers seem eager to follow the work of their “Joss” and trust him to bring a certain style to these diverse narratives. Consider Whedon’s cameo appearance in Veronica Mars as linking that show to Buffy and ultimately to the Whedon “brand.”
In this regard Whedon is a great example of what Suzanne Scott has conceptualized as the authorial identity of the fanboy auteur, a liminal – and gendered – figure equipped with “narrativized fan credentials and self-identification as a fan/geek, positioning himself as an ideal (if ultimately conflicted) intermediary between producer, text, and audience.” The fanboy auteur Whedon is so appealing to “geek” audiences because he is “one of us” and loves “his” texts. Concerning Buffy Whedon has frequently stated that he intended to make a show that is multilayered and open to several readings, that viewers should be able to “bring their own subtext.” Yet the “subtext” that seems to offer the most rewarding reception of the texts that Whedon is involved in producing is one of “geek” culture. In the interview Whedon expresses his annoyance at the commercial exploitation of fan audiences, but ultimately is this not what fanboy auteurs do as well - profit while participating?