The Pitfalls of Idolizing Creators (AKA Joss Whedon’s a Dick and JK Rowling’s a Bigot)

Earlier this week, 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.

Being Honest with Myself

I gotta be honest with myself about a few things from a creative standpoint. I think I’ve let my ambitions outpace my abilities, and it’s led to a level of frustration that’s left me unable to create anything.Behind the Mask

I have a ton of projects I want to do, but the time my day job leaves me, how tired I often am, how good at drawing I’m not… there are limits I need to acknowledge and accept.

Note: I am not abandoning any of my projects. Everything I intend to create will see the light of day.

Eventually.

That means Bounty: Origins is on hold. As are commissions and my other artwork. And my NaNo fantasy romance project. I will return to these… I just can’t focus on them right now, not at the detriment of everything else.

Priority No. 1? Well, it’s in my Twitter handle… finish Betrayed (Jill Andersen #5). Dec. 4 will mark two years since the last book was released. That’s unacceptable.

Finish Betrayed. Launch the next series after that. And then I can figure out what’s my next step. Focus. Commit. Stop chasing every idea that pokes its head out from the bushes.

Pick a project.

Work.

Finish.

 

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard, scratching a pencil over a piece of paper, or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitterGoodreads. and DeviantArt.

About That Graphic Novel…

Some of you may remember that I said one of my 2019 goals was to produce a Bounty graphic novel. I thought I’d provide some insight into setting that goal and what I’m learning as I dabble into the world of creating comics.

Those of you who’ve been around a while know how much I love comics, and how that love is lifelong and originally sparked my creative streak. Even though I’m a published author, my love for superheroes and comic books is evident in my work. So doing a graphic novel just makes sense. Bounty started as a comic book character; writing and drawing a Bounty graphic novel returns her to her roots. It brings her home, so to speak. And it returns me to my roots. I started out wanting to create comics. So I’m creating a comic.

Now I realize how ambitious doing that this year is. Especially since I’m both writing and drawing it. Both steps are time-consuming on their own, but together? Especially since I’m learning a) how to draw again and b) how to tell a story in this medium. It’s not just drawing a bunch of pictures.

Were I at my peak as an artist, maybe this would be easier. But I like the challenge. I *need* the challenge. I haven’t grown bored with writing novels — far from it — but adding this challenge has actually given me a boost of creative energy. I’ve needed that.

I’m not abandoning novels. Far from it. This graphic novel is just me challenging myself, as a writer and artist. Pushing myself to set a goal and finish it, to encounter obstacles and overcome them. To prove to myself that I can take on a task and accomplish it.

Maybe this graphic novel doesn’t see the light of day until 2020. That would be okay — so long as I see this project through and finish it. As Chuck Wendig (and others) says, FINISH YOUR SHIT. I intend to do just that — but I’ll admit, this is hard.

I’m practically learning, as I go, an entirely new method of storytelling. How to tell a story with images as well as words. How the two work in concert with one another. There’s a method there, and there’s gonna be a ton of trial and error here. I’m okay with that.

(Come to think of it, this very process would make a great future Pixel Wretches podcast.)

I fully anticipate being occasionally frustrated to the point of wanting to stop. The point is getting myself to NOT stop, but to push forward and create in spite of that. Abandoning projects midway through is not how I’m gonna get better. Finishing my shit is.

So I’m pushing myself, challenging myself to return to my creative roots. To remind myself where my love for telling stories started, and to show up at a con one day with both my novels *and* a Bounty graphic novel on my table.

Maybe that’s 2019. Maybe it’s not.

I used to dream about being the next Jim Lee. Now I just wanna be the best J.D. Cunegan I can be. That means novels. And comics. And who knows what else is down the road for me. But if I don’t push myself, if I don’t test myself, how will I know what I’m capable of?

Four years ago, I pushed myself, and the result was my first novel. Bounty proved to me that I can complete a creative project and see it through and put it out there for the world to see.

Now I have five novels, a novella, a collection of short stories, and an an anthology credit to my name. And there are plenty more such stories coming in the next few years. That’s not nothing, and I keep having to remind myself of that, even when sales are… yeah.

But, and I think other creatives can relate, I want more. More stories to tell. More ways to tell them. More ways to push myself and flex my creative muscles. Make them grow. Make them better. Make *me* better. This graphic novel will do just that.

In a perfect world, Hampton Comicon in October would be the debut for the Bounty graphic novel. But if I have to push that back, so be it. This is a lengthy, involved process, and I’m going to make sure it’s worth every moment of it.

And I want you on the journey with me.

 

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads, and you can also become a Patron.