On Ray Fisher’s Allegations: It’s Time to Stop Excusing Joss Whedon’s Bad Behavior and the Bad Behavior of Geekdom in General
It’s time to admit something to ourselves — being a “nerd” or a “geek” is no longer subject to stigmatization. We are now the “cool kids” on campus, in the workplace, etc.
Now, for some younger nerds reading this, what I just said is probably obvious. Chances are, if you are a Gen Z nerd, you may recall little to no incidents where you were made to feel “less than” for consuming comic books, cartoons, anime, science fiction novels, etc. At most, older Gen Z nerds probably witnessed the culture shift that has taken place in the last decade or so. However, millennials and older generations took the brunt of the bullying and ridicule from our peers before any sign of a culture shift took place.
Despite the change in attitude towards “geek culture,” however, it seems many older nerds are clinging to the idea that we are pariahs or outcasts, but the truth is probably a hard pill to swallow for some of us. Chances are if we are having trouble making or keeping friends and people generally want nothing to do with us, it very likely has nothing to do with our nerdy interests. Some of us need to be honest with ourselves and admit that a portion of us have become bullies. This hard truth is seen quite frequently in fandom circles, and even the creators themselves are not safe from the bullying.
In recent news, actor Ray Fisher has come forward via Twitter with claims that Joss Whedon’s behavior on the set of 2017’s Justice League was “gross, abusive, unprofessional, and completely unacceptable.” Obviously, with such claims, it’s only natural to be curious about the details. Fisher explained further in a live stream interview that he is “still very much under contract and [he is] still very much under non-disclosure agreement […] So, [he’s] gotta be very careful about what [he says] and how [he says] it.” Kevin Smith, known fanboy of all things comics, has since appeared to place himself in Fisher’s corner stating that during a visit to the set of Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker (of which there were those who worked on Justice League) that the “special effects guy said there was, like, a fair amount of trashing of…Zack’s version of the movie on set by Joss. Again, this is what a special effects guy who worked on both versions of the movie told [him]. And that [Whedon] would cut down, dismiss and be negative about Zack’s version, which he had seen, and all these people had made together without [Whedon] and stuff. And so the guy said that it was kind of uncomfortable on set because, like, the people that he was talking to about not liking that version of the movie were all people that made that version of the movie. So that […] is probably the ‘unprofessional’ thing, like, you don’t do that. Especially if you came in to, you know, help out during a bad moment in the director’s life.”
For those who are unaware, the “bad moment” Smith is referring to is the death of Zack Snyder’s daughter in 2017. Snyder announced via Twitter that he would be stepping down from Justice League in the following statement:
“Here’s the thing, I never planned to make this public […] I thought it would just be in the family, a private matter, our private sorrow that we would deal with. When it became obvious that I need to take a break, I knew there would be narratives created on the internet. They’ll do what they do. The truth is…I’m past caring about that kind of thing now.”
To many fans, Whedon comes off as this guy who is just as much a fan of this stuff as we are. Many people in fandom likely identify with him. However, when people come forward to talk about their experiences working with him, it’s important we listen to them, regardless of how we felt about him prior. In 2009, actress Charisma Carpenter revealed at DragonCon that she and Whedon’s relationship became “strained” on the set of Angel when she became pregnant which resulted in her character being written off in a way that rubbed fans the wrong way (this is known as the “Evil Cordelia” storyline). Years later, in 2017, Whedon’s ex wife, Kai Cole, came forward revealing alleged affairs he had with young actresses who worked for him while the two were married. In addition, blogger Grace Randolph has claimed via Twitter that actress Gal Gadot did not want to shoot a scene in Justice League in which the Flash (Ezra Miller) lands face first into Wonder Woman’s breasts for comedic effect. Randolph goes on to claim that the reason we cannot see Gadot’s face in this scene is because a stunt double ended up doing it. Now, I could not find anything to verify this claim, but there might be something to be said for the fact that Caitlin Burles, the stunt double in question, has liked and commented on Fisher’s statements about Whedon.
All of this alleged behavior is a stark contrast to the man Whedon presents himself to be. On multiple occasions, Whedon has hailed himself a “feminist,” yet claims made by Fisher, Carpenter, and Cole along with some of his creative choices in his writing of women suggest something different. These things, however, tend to get swept under the rug by geekdom. Snyder, however, has been subject to the kind of ridicule I believe many could call unfair. This is not to suggest that anyone has to like Snyder’s interpretation of well-known DC characters or that he has never written anything problematic in his own films. His work, like Whedon’s, should not be immune from criticism. However, there is an obvious difference in the way these two filmmakers are treated by geekdom and some fans have gone as far as to celebrate his stepping down from Justice League and even mocking the tragic loss of his daughter.
As earlier stated, to many fans, Whedon comes off as a nerd ‘just like all of us.’ However, Whedon made it. He’s successful. He’s well respected in the film industry. He’s who many fans wish they could be. But like many fans, perhaps he’s still clinging to the idea that because he’s a nerd, he can’t possibly be a bully. Maybe because he calls himself a feminist, he doesn’t believe he has the potential to be even slightly misogynistic. This is a pattern many of us might see amongst ourselves, but as many of us know, a person has the option to call themselves whatever they want — a feminist, anti-racist, ally — but if you are an artist, people will often make their own conclusions based both off your actions and your art. With this in mind, it seems quite strange that Whedon, time and time again, seems to avoid any real consequences, while Snyder seems to take most of the punches from geekdom.
Unlike Whedon, Snyder doesn’t really make it a point to publicly label himself a feminist. Subjectively, however, Snyder does present varying types of women from vulnerable, intelligent, threatening, nurturing, and sometimes a mix of all of these things in his films. Additionally, he took a risk casting Jason Momoa as Aquaman, a character who has historically been presented as white and blonde. He has also publicly praised Fisher and has described his character, Cyborg, to be the heart of his version of Justice League. Again, Snyder is not known for being blunt about his opinions, but sometimes actions speak louder than words.
Many nerds are reluctant to think of themselves as potential bullies, but all one needs to do is look at the behavior of geekdom from 2013 on when Man of Steel was released and Ben Affleck was announced to have been cast to play Batman in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). Full-on petitions were made online as an attempt to pressure the studio into reconsidering. Not long after this, Gadot was cast to play Wonder Woman and geekdom immediately began to pick apart her appearance as a way to argue against the decision. Somewhere in the midst of the culture shift, it seems, nerds began to forget that all of the people involved in these movies are, in fact, people.
Whedon, it seems, gets a pass for his behavior because his work is well-liked and heavily praised by geekdom and critics alike. It’s apparent that his behavior outside of the persona he presents in the public eye can all be excused by geekdom as long as he continues to make creative choices that geekdom, at large, agrees with. Snyder, however, made the mistake of taking creative risks with characters loved by geekdom, so by geekdom logic, ugly behavior towards him can be excused.
Within many of the stories that nerds love is the theme “with great power comes great responsibility” (this phrase is most famously used in the Spider-Man movies and comics, but the theme itself can be found in many stories of different franchises). I have to wonder, however, if this theme goes right over some of our heads. We are now the “popular kids” at the table. No one picks on us anymore for liking the things we do. Unfortunately, it seems many of us have not used our past experiences as lessons in how to treat people, whether they be within our fandom circles or the people involved in creating the things we love. Instead of looking out for one another, many of us can’t seem to wait to tear one another down while allowing bad behavior by those in power to go unchecked. It’s time to look in the mirror, geekdom. It’s time to call out bad behavior when we see it, whether that behavior is present in our fandoms or in the people we look up to. It’s time to acknowledge that sometimes a movie really is just a movie and regardless of whether or not we like a filmmaker’s work, bullying is never justified — whether that bullying comes from the filmmaker themselves or if said bullying is coming from fans towards a filmmaker who made a couple of creative choices they didn’t agree with. We no longer should allow those within our circles to hide behind the “nerd” or “geek” label when called out for bad behavior. As stated before, you can call yourself whatever you want, but your actions will tell everyone who you really are.
A Tired Nerd