The Chosen Ones

Proust, Kafka, Orwell. . .if hyper-intellectual 21st century geeks have their say, the name Joss Whedon will someday be right up there with those dead guys. Creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Serenity and Firefly, the genre king is one of those rare artists whose work hits both low and high, embraced by teenage fans and philosophers alike. Entering his office on the Fox lot (where his upcoming series Dollhouse has set up shop) feels like stepping through a wormhole to a parallel universe—the Whedonverse, to be exact. Grr! Aargh!

The man himself is, as expected, all energy and geeky cool. Between obscure references and funny voices, he explains his latest creation, Dollhouse. Doe-eyed Buffy-vet Eliza Dushku plays Echo, a member of an underground group whose personalities are wiped clean and replaced so that they may be hired out as saviors, lovers or killers. The trailer for the new show reveals certain recurring, very Whedonesque themes—a fantastic narrative infused with the mythical, complicated issues of identity, and, of course, complex female characters, a subject he isn’t shy about.

“Since Buffy [2003], we’ve taken a giant eight-year leap back into the stone age,” says Whedon. “In the 1930s everything was Rosalind Russell and Katherine Hepburn, who were very interesting to watch. These women were replaced [in films] by a dim-witted blonde with very little to offer,” he says as the conversation turns to Marilyn Monroe, whose face, ironically, is depicted on a mural just outside his office. “Television, then, became the place where women could be interesting and funny.”

Television is certainly Whedon’s primary canvas, but not his only one. At 44, he is an Oscar-nominated screenwriter (Toy Story), a comic book author (Buffy Season Eight from Dark Horse), and the engine behind several hugely successful online media projects including Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog—oh yeah, and he’s also pretty much Yoda to the thousands who treat their annual trip to Comic-Con like a religious pilgrimage.

Whedon doesn’t underplay the extent to which his attitude towards of pop culture is critical to his success. “I take storytelling very seriously,” he explains. “Anything that affects the culture is worth studying. Dynasty affects the culture, but fuck that shit. That shit is ghastly. But I still want to figure out the connection between that show and American culture.” It’s no wonder his stuff inspires academics. “Buffy Studies” is an official phenomenon, gleefully deconstructing with critical papers like “Imaginary Para-Sites of the Soul: Vampires and Representations of ‘Blackness’ and ‘Jewishness’ in the Buffy/Angelverse” and “Community, Language, and Postmodernism at the Mouth of Hell.”

My theory? The Los Angeles-born “Chosen One,” Buffy Summers (played by Sarah Michelle Gellar), is secretly a member of the tribe. Though sidekick Willow Rosenberg is the official Jewess, Whedon’s gone on record saying that Kitty Pryde of X-Men comics, a tiny, brilliant, brown-haired teenager who fought monsters while wearing a Star of David, was his biggest influence in the creation of Buffy.

“She’s the prototypical ‘I-am young-and-slightly-confused-and-different-from-everyone-else’ character and she’s my absolute archetypical role model and I met her when I was just the right age.”

As writer of Astonishing X-Men, Whedon insisted on bringing Kitty back and made her the de facto protagonist of his 2004 run. “When my friend and I were literally scouring our Marvel Comics for girls to have crushes on, it was like, ‘You can have this girl from Swamp Thing. . .’ but I’m from the Upper West Side and Kitty was every girl I went to school with—only nice.”

Strangely, Kitty’s ethnicity largely eluded Whedon. A college girlfriend actually had to explain to him the difference between a WASP and a Jew. “I’m from Riverdale where everyone is Jewish,” he quips. “The fact is, I was raised in an agnostic household in a largely Jewish neighborhood, but I finished high school in England where we had to go to church everyday. . . .The Christian mythos was ingrained in me—either the story of Christ or the story of Spider Man is in there.”

At the rate the Whedonverse is expanding, the name Buffy Summers could someday make that short list of archetypes, right between Jesus H. and Peter Parker. We’ll see how Echo fares.

Dollhouse premieres on Friday, February 13 at 9 p.m. E.T. on FOX.

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About The Author

Josh became an editor-at-large after accruing exorbitant legal fees as the publisher of Heeb in his efforts to trademark the word "irreverent." Follow him on Twitter @joshuaneuman.

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