Thursday, April 19, 2012

Geek Heresy

I self identify as a geek.

Obviously. People who don't think of themselves as geeks don't maintain a blog about a bunch of cartoons and the writings of a particular science fiction writer.

We're generally a pretty ecumenical lot, we geeks, being a loose assembly of fans of media outside the mainstream. We understand what it's like to be scorned and everyone is welcome under our big tent, role-players, cosplayers, furries; whatever weird thing you're into, your fellow geeks might not understand it, but we are, by and large cool with it. Credit (or blame) the geek social fallacies if you like, but there are few cardinal sins in geek culture.

But I'm going to commit one today.

What can I say that will get me excommunicated from the Church of Geek?

To digress for a moment, you may or may not like Aaron Sorkin, but he's generally considered a very good writer, even by people who don't share his opinions. He wrote A Few Good Men and won about a zillion Emmy awards for The West Wing, so by any objective measure, he really is a good writer.

Many genre fans feel the same about Joss Whedon, 

but Joss Whedon is not a good writer.

Oh, he can be, mind you. I still think Buffy Seasons 2 and 3 are some of the best genre TV ever produced. But he doesn't write like that any more. And sometimes I think, in light of absolutely everything that came after that, that those seasons were a fluke, an aberration, not representative of what we could expect from him.

I don't think that's true, though. I think there are two explanations.

Either, he's just pandering to the lowest common denominator or he's just fucking lazy.


Take a look at Avengers trailer. It's awesome...and it's everything that's wrong with geek culture.

 Oh, hey, Tony, you get to make a clever remark AND defy an authority figure? If there were a girl there you could touch, it would be the geek trifecta! 

The whole thing is just a series of softballs pitched at Stark.

Stark: And you, big fella, have managed to piss off [all of The Avengers]
Loki: That was the plan-
Stark: (faster and louder) Not a great plan.


Loki: I have an army-
Stark: (faster and louder) We have a Hulk.

It's like watching Mark McGwire hit home runs off a pitching machine. Did you see that?!  He knocked it out of the park! And he did it again!! Oh, and...again. This machine...isn't really much of a challenge, is it?

Years ago, I was watching some daytime TV with my friend Dave. It was some trashy Jerry Springer show, and the woman on stage yelled something and the audience started clapping and then Dave started clapping too, and said "Oh yeah! You raised your voice! All right!"

And that's all that I think of when I see this bullshit.

To return to Aaron Sorkin, he's probably even more liberal than I am (and that's pretty liberal), but at least he eschewed the use of straw men. His viewpoint certainly informed his work on the West Wing, but when writing lines for people who held opinions with he did not agree, he didn't make them stupid. Sure, he gave the better lines to his viewpoint characters, but it came across as a conflict between a smart person and a smarter one.

I don't have a problem with smart and smarter. I have a problem with "stupid"  and "average" pretending to be smart and smarter.

But, it's sure easier to write. Most writers are not, in fact, super intelligent.  So, like Thorton Melon told us in Back to School, "If you want to look thin, you hang out with fat people."

But, look at Loki in that clip. I don't think he could be a shift manager at a McDonald's. He's rasping his barely coherent threats and Stark is batting them back, as anyone over twelve could. And I think that's the core of Whedon's appeal. The people in the audience are saying, "Fuck, yeah! That's what I'd tell 'im!"

And that's fine. Everybody loves a popcorn movie.  I could let it go without bitching about it, if not for Downey's smirk. I guess we're supposed to believe that his lines are clever.

People are, generally,  good at their job or they don't keep it for long.

Bad guys are good at their job too. I mean, Jesus, which is more frightening, a villain who is smarter than you are, or one who's a buffoon you handily best in an exchange of quips taken from back cover of The Beginner's Dictionary of Clich├ęd banter, First Printing?

This is what ruined everything about Whedon's work after 1999. The idiotic smugness that seems to suggest that minimal competence is actually transcendent brilliance because every else around you is even dumber.

Oh, hello. I didn't see you there.
I want to watch people I like overcoming obstacles. I don't want to watch people I dislike overcoming mildly strenuous situations, while smirking like backwards-cap-wearing douchebags from a Mountin Dew commercial.  


  1. My geek heresy is that I don't like Buffy. At all. I'm not taking your Firefly bait. Also, when I hear The Avengers, I think of John Steed and Emma Peel, but I must be the only one.

  2. :)

    You're not the only one. Despite this whole thing, I've got plans to see it on May 5th and when my friend suggested it, I said, and I quote "Mmmm...Emma Peel. I'm in!"

  3. Thursday, April 19th, 2012: The day Zach stopped frequenting Josh's blog.

    Okay, not really. But seriously, get out from under my geek-tent.

    . . . Okay, FINE. You can stay in the geek-tent. But you have to say 10 Hail Merlins.

  4. Even in later seasons, Buffy remained one of the better shows on TV. The later seasons suffered in comparison to the brilliance of the earlier seasons -- they were merely average to good (depending on the season). That still puts them ahead of a lot of what's out there.

    Angel took a little time to get its footing, but was awesome throughout more or less its entire run. (Though I'm not sure what Joss's level of involvement there was.)

    Firefly/Serenity -- well, we've discussed this before, and we have to agree to disagree on that one. But if you're defining Aaron Sorkin as an "objectively good writer" (whatever that means) based on his popularity, then by your own criteria you have to admit Firefly -- now a staple of geek culture -- was an "objectively good show", even if it was one that you personally disliked.

    Dollhouse is probably Whedon's least successful work to date, and I don't think a lot of people are gonna argue its case -- all I will say on that one is that there was a TON of executive meddling going on, and we don't really know what that show would've looked like if Joss had gotten his way. There were episodes that showed moments of brilliance, but those episodes are pretty much diamonds in the rough.

    Though these are the works Whedon is best known for, I'd like to note he was also a writer on Roseanne and Toy Story -- both extremely popular and critically acclaimed.

    If you actually take an honest look at Joss Whedon's career, trying to say he's "not a good writer" is pretty much pure flamebait. Now, if you want to say "Joss Whedon is not a consistently mind-blowingly brilliant writer", I'll give you that. After all, he's "merely" a consistently very good writer with frequent moments of mind-blowing brilliance. And those are a dime a... oh, wait. No, those are actually incredibly freaking rare.

    One final note: I don't know about Avengers, but you should definitely watch The Cabin in the Woods. It is the best thing Whedon has ever done. If you can still accuse him of not being a "good writer" after watching it, then you may not lose your geek card... but you're definitely a far different kind of geek than I.

  5. Buffy runs this way for me,

    Season One: Innovative, but hampered by lack of a budget, but I've never seen anything like this before.
    Season Two: Great
    Season Three: GREAT!!!!
    Season Four: Okay.
    Season Five: Less Okay.
    Season Six: Meh,
    Season Seven: Pretty good, though marred by Kennedy and the resolution.


    Season One, the episodes with Doyle: Hey, Doyle's pretty funny!
    Season One, the episodes without Doyle:Shit.
    Season Two: Shit.
    Season Three: Shit.
    Season Four: Perhaps the best thing I have EVER seen on my TV.
    Season Five: Shit, but hey, it's Spike!


    Season One: Mediocre, sometimes bad, sometimes tolerable.

    The Seasons that were never made and live on in the dreamworld of fans: The platonic ideal of everything that fan expects them to be, and retroactively informing the the existing episodes, allowing Firefly to be all things to all fans in a way that no existing show could be.

    Dollhouse: I didn't see it, so I can't offer an opinion, but, I do feel that the executive meddling card is a bit of a red herring. Geoerge Lucas faced executive meddling in the 70s and gave us Star Wars. George Lucas had free reign thirty years later and gave us the Phantom Fuckfest. I think the early cancellation of Firefly (and Dollhouse, which got two seasons,) is by far the best thing that ever happened to it, because it allows each fan to have his or her ideal version of the show in his or her mind.

    And I don't want to shit all over something you like, but, Whedon writes like what he is, a third generation sitcom writer who got where he is due to the circumstances of his birth, who happens to write about geeky stuff. He's good, he's bad, he's occasionally brilliant, but the last one is so infrequent that I have to question the level of his involvement in any project that's actually any good.

    However, I will end with this. I really don't like Whedon's work, but I blog I respect published this review of Cabin in the Woods:

    "First two acts are perfectly serviceable and okay meta-commentary on horror tropes that some will claim are more clever than they in fact are; third act is some of the most ambitious, exciting horror filmmaking in years, and since it’s the last bit, you’ll forget that the first two-thirds of it was only okay."

  6. Yeah... Seasons 2 and 3 of Angel are about as close to my platonic ideal of What TV Should Be as any real thing can get. So further commentary would be rather pointless.

    1. I suppose you're right. I guess it comes down to each of us wanting different things from our entertainment. Those seasons are not to my taste, but there is plenty of other stuff out there for me that is, so, for what it's worth, I'm glad they gave you something you could enjoy.

    2. And, on rereading my reply, I think it comes across as a condescending, which wasn't my intent, so I'll try to expand on what I was trying to say.

      I think you're right that the differences of opinions are more or less irreconcilable. We each saw the same seasons of the the same show, but had such different opinions about them that there will never be a meeting of our minds on the subject and there's no point in pursuing that aspect of the conversation any further.

    3. But this is what I like about geek culture. We do have opinions that will never meet, but we each laid out our points logically and passionately, but at the end of the day we can still be okay with the other having a different opinion.

  7. Yep. "There's no accounting for taste," as they say.