Joss Whedon Interview, Lessons from Bad Writing, & Cultural Notes on Wonder Woman

Joss Whedon being one of the contemporary writers that I admire, an interview with Tasha Robinson at the AV Club is useful and informative not just for Whedon fans, but for all students of the culture. The standard take on writers in Hollywood is Henry Slesar's "success in Hollywood is like climbing a mountain of shit to pluck one perfect rose, and then discovering that you've lost your taste of smell". To my unschooled eye, Whedon has managed to pluck more roses from the pile than most, even compared with the admirable William Goldman and Hal Ashby. If this keeps up, Whedon could have a resume that makes him the Billy Wilder of adventure movies.

As much as I am wrapped up in Whedon's successes, I learn more, as a creative person, from his failures. As much as I admired (and early on, imitated) for example, John D. MacDonald and Robert Heinlein, all I could do was gape and wonder, how'd they do that?, whereas it was easier to decode what didn't work in bad novels, B-movies and crap comics, and so learn what not to do. It wasn't until I matured enough to see MacDonald and Heinlein's flaws that I was able to decipher how they got their affects.

The failures described at length in this interview-- the collapse of Whedon's script for Wonder Woman, for instance, has some interesting things to say about our culture's relationship with feminine archetypes. Try and name a female character in an action film that isn't somebody's girlfriend (the anonymous scream machine) or a soulless-but-hot killing machines (Aeon Flux, Underworld, Linda Hamilton in the Terminator sequels, ad infinitum. (Whedon himself, at a low point in his career, was reduced to tears when he saw what had been made of his script forAlien: Ressurection.) To this day, Greg Rucka's series of Wonder Woman reprints are the only ones I'd recommend with a clean conscience.

Whedon's Wonder Woman sounds like an opportunity to stir fish-out-water social satire together with comic book ass-kicking. His Diana of Themiscrya was a kind of Candide with super-powers, who just doesn't understand why humans are so small and nasty and cruel, clawing one another for top position on a mudball, when they could build a paradise on earth if they just... ? He wrote a scene that worked the magic bracelets into this vision. Whedon even managed to redeem the (I thought) unredeemable Steve Trevor (a character so disliked, I found it difficult to type his name)-- making him the wry voice of struggling humanity, trying to explain to a perfect creature made from clay why children are starving, or this group hates that group, or...

I can imagine all kinds of PG-13 Michael Valentine Smith moments, with an Amazon princess being gobsmacked by human taboos-- remember when Heinlein's character took his first dip on a public beach? Or economic inequities-- I can imagine Diana saving us from Max Lord (DC's young-and-handsome take on Rupert Murdoch) and then baffled as to why this man goes unpunished, why he should have more wealth than the people who do the work that creates his wealth. More difficult to pull off, but interesting, might be the feminist villains-- why does the Cheetah's sexual power turn to bitterness and villainy instead of joy, or Circe's revelling in manipulation and deceit instead of using her power to heal? (This is starting to sound too good to me; I'd better get back to my own work before the long day wanes.)

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