There is a real desire not to belittle what Joss [Whedon] has done. It makes sense, for a lot of people, myself included, because his work has been very important through our lives. It was a new feeling: someone was truly and visibly making an effort for us in media and that effort was actually successful. Joss Whedon proved that there was an audience just salivating for more feminist media.
But there is part of the problem: we were an audience just begging for more feminist media. Any feminist media. Anything was better than what we were being offered. Whedon’s work happened, and it was like finding an oasis in a desert. Here was somewhere we could survive and possibly thrive, and it was good.
But upon examination, the feminism of Buffy, or of any Whedon project, inevitably falls flat. It becomes clear that the feminist message in the work is at best heavily flawed, at worst purely superficial. And really that isn’t shocking. It’s a feminist work written by someone who absolutely seems to admire strong women, but does not have the life experience that comes with being a woman. It’s a very, very good and compassionate imitation of what life is like for women, but it’s still several layers removed from being the real thing.
–Ashly Nagrant on Whedonism.
Nagrant essay is very gentle criticism of the “media feminism has moved on from Buffy and Whedon hasn’t followed” sort.
And, like, just speaking as an aside to people my age–i.e. the people who watched Buffy when it aired, in the target demographic it was aimed at–y’all know how frustrating it is to deal with 1960s and ’70s era progressives? Yanno, those Boomers who think things like Illuminatus! or Barbarella or (heaven forbid) Deep Throat are “progressive” or “radical” or “feminist” or whatever because they have a lot of drugs and fucking, and also maybe a black person? You know those people, and how difficult it is to convince them that what looked progressive to them when they were in their teens and twenties now actually kinda reads as pretty retrograde, because social justice has moved on but cultural products stay the same? You know those people?
Yeah. Don’t be those people.
I’m talking to you, thirty-somethings. I know you like Buffy, but the show finished over a decade ago. It started nearly two decades ago, i.e. about the same distance the 70s were from you when you were a teen. It’s progressivism is, by definition, not going to hold up to two decades’ worth of scrutiny, because that’s what progressivism is: progressive. It snowballs over time. So of course things made in the past, while “okay for their time”, are going to have aspects that look quaint and gross now.
That’s okay. It’s okay to recognise the contributions a thing made at the time it was created, while still criticizing it through a modern lens. And it’s okay to realise your progressive heros as a teen ended up disappointing you as an adult. All those Boomers I mentioned before? Yeah, they went through it too, with the Dylans and with Heinleins. The times, as they say, they are a’changing… but sometimes not everyone changes with them.
If we don’t remember the past, we are forever doomed to repeat it.