In February 2021, Charisma Carpenter made a lengthy social media post in which she alleged inappropriate, sexist, and dangerous behavior on the part of Joss Whedon while she was on the sets of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, where she played the character Cordelia Chase on both shows. Carpenter was showing solidarity to Ray Fisher, the Justice League actor who has made similar allegations against Whedon, and again, the man who was once held atop a pedestal as a paragon of feminism (simply because he helmed a genre TV show with a female lead at a time when that thing was still a rarity) was being exposed as a fraud.
Since Carpenter’s post, other Buffyverse actors — including Sarah Michelle Gellar, Michelle Trachtenberg, Amber Benson, and Anthony Stewart Head — have come forward in support and, in the cases of Gellar, Trachtenberg, and Benson, to allege their own firsthand experiences. For Whedon, who has also been accused of adultery and other inappropriate behavior by his ex-wife Kai Cole and has been fending off such allegation at least since he was tapped to write and direct the first two Avengers films, it’s yet more damage to his reputation.
More importantly, it’s a lesson in how we’re supposed to view people like Whedon.
First off, I believe and support Carpenter and her co-stars. Rumors of Whedon mistreating Carpenter have persisted for years — that he retaliated against Carpenter for getting pregnant in real life and he used Angel season 4 as a means to get back at Carpenter before writing her off the show. Whedon’s track record is now well-established, both when it comes to how he treats his female actors, his history with characters of color, how he treats just about everyone…
Joss Whedon is a person. A bad person, by all accounts. A bad person who just happened to create stories a great many people still enjoy to this day. I’ve written repeatedly that Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel were both key to my creative resurrection and the fact that I’m now a published author. That’s still true. I still (…mostly) enjoy both shows. Firefly and Serenity were enjoyable, and I even liked Dollhouse for a time.
But all that’s tempered by the realization that the man whose name is forever attached to those stories is a bad man.
For some, that means his work can no longer be enjoyed. That’s valid, and I’m not here to argue otherwise. The same is true for those who can no longer enjoy the Harry Potter franchise because author JK Rowling has, in recent years, revealed herself to be a virulent, unrepentant transphobe and bigot.
Rowling’s station is not that dissimilar to Whedon’s; they both created pop culture milestones, stories that touched millions of hearts and made them household names (at least in some circles). Both Buffy and Harry Potter should have created enough goodwill for them both to spend the rest of their lives. But Rowling and Whedon being who they are, blew through all that goodwill and revealed themselves to be what they are. Gross, abusive, bigoted, and — especially in the case of Whedon — the exact opposite of what we were told they were.
Creators are, for better or worse, people. We like to think they’re larger than life, like the stories and properties they helped bring to life, but they’re not. The same is the case for Gina Carano, who just lost her job with The Mandalorian because… well, everything; for Nathan Fillion, who was accused of bad behavior and having a bad relationship with his co-star on Castle; for David Boreanaz, who fielded his own allegations of inappropriate behavior on the TV show Bones; etc. etc. etc…
(And lest you think Boreanaz suffered for that, I remind you he’s now the lead in another show on CBS.)
How much of this is institutional? A fair bit, which is why we don’t hear from the likes of Carpenter and Gellar and Trachtenberg until decades after the fact. They understood, then and now, that speaking up would’ve jeopardized their respective careers, that Hollywood would’ve likely sided with Whedon over them. Which is why Fisher speaking up so soon after Justice League as he did so remarkable. There’s an institution behind the abuse and the disgusting behavior and the bigotry and the inappropriateness. Just ask anyone who ever crossed paths with Bill Cosby or Harvey Weinstein.
Still, the lesson remains: even the creators who have made things you love, things you adore with every fiber of yourself, things that have defined you in one way or another, are human beings. And human beings are often capable of incredibly messed up things, of horrible behavior. Sometimes, it can be impossible to separate the art from the artist (I know I have no desire to ever read any of Orson Scott Card’s work, and there are novels I’ve passed up on specifically because of who wrote them), but it’s also necessary.
It’s important not to put creators on a pedestal, to treat them as if they are gods among us. Because they’re not gods. They’re people.
Creativity is not some divine gift, handed down from on high, that gives us humans a free pass to act as we please. Sometimes, they’re good people (please tell me Lin-Manuel Miranda’s a good dude, at least). Sometimes, they’re not. Bad people can create great things, and we can’t let inappropriate behavior slide just because the offender created something we like.
No TV show is worth the abuse Whedon has allegedly perpetuated. No book is worth Rowling’s transphobia.