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The negative space *around* Marti Noxon

will45
There's a fascinating post on Feministe that's been discussed lately: How Come It's Never Joss' Fault? The Scapegoating of Female Creators in Pop Culture.

It's primarily about Marti Noxon and the bile that gets directed at her for her part in S6. This article got posted on Whedonesque, and a read-through of the comments reveals a general lack of understanding of the problem. Understandable, because I think the situation is more nuanced than the initial post lets on.

There's a lot of explanations that Noxon gets criticized because of the execution problems in S6, that it's not because she's a woman, and that any exec producer would have been criticized for it.

I think it's true that any executive producer at the time would have come under such criticism, but there are more layers to the problem than just that.



For one, a lot of the criticism directed at Noxon is specifically sexist in nature.

Perhaps the best example of this are the criticisms of Noxon's affinity for naked!Spike. These criticisms are usually made in a derogatory, shaming fashion. That Marti 'just' liked seeing JM shirtless/naked.

Folks, this goes back to the idea that women aren't supposed to display their sexuality. Exec producers who are men litter their shows with naked women because they 'just' like to see women naked. They're rarely shamed for it (At least outside of feminist circles - which are still less about 'shaming' and more about pointing out the imbalance). But when a woman is actually in charge and she displays her own desired eye candy on screen, she's insulted and belittled for it.

That's a problem.

Additionally, there are criticisms that Noxon was drawing from personal experience in some of the decisions in S6. I've never understood these particular criticisms, and I can't recall ever hearing a male showrunner held to the same standard. A woman writing about her own issues, relating to the characters she's portraying, working through her own experiences, is something to be criticized? Okay. I can't help but speculate that there's an aversion to having anything linked to "women's issues" in our TV viewing.

However, there's more to the problem than just the nature of some of the criticisms. This problem has two steps:

1. In the first step, Noxon's gender is largely irrelevant. This would likely happen even if it were a man in her place.

Fact is, there's a pretty strict dichotomy at work when discussing the show. Aspects that we like are credited to Joss. Aspects we don't are blamed on Noxon. Even in S6.

This is something I'm guilty of, as well. When I squee about, say, Dead Things or Buffy's depression arc or the tone of S6, I inevitably praise Whedon. Noxon? Never gets praise. She only receives criticism and hate.

This is a problem. It means that everything negative about the season, even things that Whedon may be partially responsible for, are laid to rest on Noxon's shoulders. Alternately, it means that everything positive about the season, even things that Noxon may be primarily responsible for, are credited to Whedon.

This suggests that 'Noxon as a failure' is such a given, fandom can't fathom that she deserves any of the credit for the good in S6. So it's handed to Whedon, instead. This locks Noxon into a rigid symbolic representation of Failure in fandom.

2. There's an effect to this, though, and this is where the criticism of Noxon becomes problematic from a feminist perspective.

There are few to no female writers in the business. There are even fewer female executive producers and showrunners. And it's incredibly problematic that, when we finally get one, she's designated the Fandom Scapegoat for All That's Bad in BtVS.

Yes, it may have happened even if Noxon were a man. But male showrunners are a dime a dozen, and one more being criticized as a failure is nothing. When a woman is unjustifiably criticized in such a fashion, though, it heightens the hurdle of future female showrunners to be successful.

It's like...well, it's like when there's a group of superheroes with one token chick in it. Sure Superhero Bob may be hated by the fans for questionable reasons, but it's okay, because there's Superhero John, Tom, and Bill to cover. However, when Superhero Token Chick trips once (while saving the day), and fandom criticizes her as being the reason the entire mission failed, then she's it. She's representing for all women.

It's unfair. I know it's unfair. It's unfair that I cringed when that female pro golfer attempted to play with the men and lost. That makes it harder for the next female pro golfer that wants to give it a try. And that’s a problem with the system.

So, yes, it's a problem in this case. Because of the strict dichotomy explained in #1, Noxon is often unfairly criticized and almost never praised. This is the key point. It's that the criticism is one-sided and not reflective of the good that Noxon brought to the season. When her talents are overlooked to focus on her failures, when those moments of brilliance are credited to a man, when she's one of the only female showrunners, you have a grand example of fandom inadvertently contributing to a sexist culture.

Let me address some questions that I'm sure will get brought up.

So you're saying we're not allowed to criticize Noxon?

Absolutely not! Criticize her where criticism is deserved.

Like the superheroes. Criticize Superhero Token Chick when she trips. However, also praise her when she saves the day. Don't hand her kudos over to Superhero Tom, instead.

But we'd do that with a male showrunner, too. Isn't this giving women special treatment?

In a way, I suppose. However, it's more accurate to see it as recognizing the context surrounding the show and the media wherein women are generally disempowered and underrepresented and asking for appropriate sensitivity to it.

Think of it like the VAWA (Violence Against Women Act). Sure, it seems like "special treatment" on the surface. But that's assuming everything's equal in society; that women who are victims of domestic violence are given adequate attention by the justice system. Frankly, they're not. In order to rectify this imbalance, a special act for women is required.

Likewise with female executive producers. Asking fandom to take into account the cultural context in which Noxon did her thing may seem like special treatment. However, it's just taking into account the sexist society that surrounds her.

Besides, it's kinda a shitty thing to do to someone, man or women.

But this doesn’t mean the criticism of Noxon is necessarily sexist.

True, but not the point.

As noted (at length) in the post, some criticism of Noxon is absolutely sexist. Some is not. However, it exists in a sexist context, which is why it's a feminist issue. It's also why it's especially disheartening to see it happening in a fandom for an ostensibly feminist show.

The point is less to label individual fans as "sexist" and more to create an awareness of the larger problem and how the Noxon example exacerbates said problem.

Okay, have at it, guys. One rule, though: No bashing of any real life person! Noxon, Whedon, Fury, anyone. Criticism =/= bashing. Don't cross the line.


Comments

bookishwench
Jun. 17th, 2010 02:49 am (UTC)
But if it's the case Marti Noxon is being scapegoated at least in part because she's female, then why is Jane Espenson, who was co-executive producer, beloved by pretty much everyone?

For me, I did have some issues with Noxon's take on the show for very specific reasons. One of them involved that fact that, in various interviews, she kept screwing up the canon of the show, and not small things but things like the idea Buffy had DIED in season 1. I can't find the link, but I remember my jaw dropping open because it was obvious from the quote that she had not watched most if not all of season 1, and this was in season 6. That's a pretty huge canon blunder.

As for the idea of her expressing her sexuality via the show, I had very few problems with plenty of shirtless Spike, though even I had to admit that it was getting excessive in a way the show had never done before. What really bothered me though was the idea that the exact same sexuality was always immediately linked to massive shame and wrongness. The public anal sex scene on the Bronze catwalk? About three steps beyond good taste.

I can't help thinking this probably related to the fact Noxon stated repeatedly in interviews (I swear, half of what happened with the fan opinion of her was based on the idea that she has a tendency to put her foot in her mouth) that she was using Buffy as a stand-in for herself and Spike as a stand-in for a college boyfriend who was apparently a bad guy. Using one's background to inform characters is absolutely fine, of course. Any good writer writes from experience. The problem is there was little to no blend I could see between the Buffy and Spike of seasons 5 and 6. Maybe key moments were cut out, but it did feel to me as though someone in the writing staff (maybe it wasn't even Noxon, but somebody) was saying, "No, audience, you just don't get how hard it was for me! And how evil he was! And you will pity Buffy and hate Spike because I need you to pity me her and hate my lousy college boyfriend him!" I never was sold that the characters I knew would behave the way they behaved in season 6. They acted like other people entirely, and while factors could have caused that to happen, the change was so huge I couldn't accept it.

As for loving the guys instead, I do love "Once More with Feeling," which was nearly all Joss, so yeah, he gets some love that season for that reason. I do, however, blame Joss for not putting the brakes on some of the stuff that went desperately wrong in season 6 because it was still his show, and the buck does ultimately stop with him. Oh, and for the record, David Fury's infamous statements about women who want to marry serial killers being equivalent to fans who liked Spike pretty much blacklisted him from a lot of fans' books as much as anything Noxon did, so Noxon's reception is not unique.

I'm not sure that it's really the fault of either one of them. What the show tried to do in season 6 needed a truly deft hand, a very focused one, someone who knew the characters inside out and was willing to write them, not try to squeeze them into other people entirely, and very carefully change them. Frankly, I don't know if anyone could have done what they were trying. But for a lot of people, it just did not work, and Marti got the blame.

And this got really long. Sorry!
gabrielleabelle
Jun. 17th, 2010 03:09 am (UTC)
But if it's the case Marti Noxon is being scapegoated at least in part because she's female, then why is Jane Espenson, who was co-executive producer, beloved by pretty much everyone?

Espenson wasn't full exec producer and de facto showrunner for a season.

As for the idea of her expressing her sexuality via the show, I had very few problems with plenty of shirtless Spike, though even I had to admit that it was getting excessive in a way the show had never done before. What really bothered me though was the idea that the exact same sexuality was always immediately linked to massive shame and wrongness. The public anal sex scene on the Bronze catwalk? About three steps beyond good taste.

There's one thing to criticize sex on the show. It's another to shame Noxon for "just wanting to see JM with his shirt off". There's a distinction in criticisms there.

The problem is there was little to no blend I could see between the Buffy and Spike of seasons 5 and 6.

I disagree. I think it was an incredibly natural progression and very well-done (I think the Buffy/Spike relationship of S6 is one of the best parts of the season). However, back to what I said above: you can criticize Noxon for going off-course on characterization if that's what you think happened. It's another thing to criticize her for using her experiences, which is neither here nor there. If you think it's a bad story, then think it's a bad story. There's no need to shame women for putting their own life into their works. Instead, criticize them when they fuck up in how they do it.

Oh, and for the record, David Fury's infamous statements about women who want to marry serial killers being equivalent to fans who liked Spike pretty much blacklisted him from a lot of fans' books as much as anything Noxon did, so Noxon's reception is not unique.

I never said it was. In fact, I went on at length about how it plays differently due to different cultural contexts. There was a whole superhero example.
bookishwench
Jun. 17th, 2010 08:14 pm (UTC)
I apologize if my statements came across as antagonistic. I did not mean to offend.
gabrielleabelle
Jun. 17th, 2010 08:39 pm (UTC)
Oh, I'm not offended. It's just a bit jarring as this post isn't intended to be a "defense" of Noxon so much as putting the criticisms of her in context. So a comment in response detailing several criticisms of her is a bit of a non-sequiter.

The title is pretty much the point. It's not so much about Noxon but the culture she exists in which makes the form and extent of some of these criticisms problematic.
menomegirl
Jun. 17th, 2010 03:57 am (UTC)
The public anal sex scene on the Bronze catwalk?

Sorry to but in but I was wondering why you termed that as 'anal sex'? I have never viewed that scene and thought that.
bookishwench
Jun. 17th, 2010 08:06 pm (UTC)
I could obviously be wrong... and frankly, I really couldn't work out what the heck was going on in that scene. I've heard several people refer to it as that in discussion, and I figured that worked as an explanation about as well as anything else I could come up with, hence.
shipperx
Jun. 17th, 2010 04:00 am (UTC)
This.

Man, interviews were not Noxon's friends. I remember swearing at some point in Season 6 to stop reading her interviews. They only ever made me feel worse about the show.
eowyn_315
Jun. 17th, 2010 05:08 pm (UTC)
I think it's a general BtVS curse, which has unfortunately transcended medium and is now afflicting the comics. I can't count how many times I've wanted to tell them (both TV and comics folks) to just STOP TALKING FOR GOD'S SAKE YOU'RE KILLING ME HERE.
bookishwench
Jun. 17th, 2010 08:07 pm (UTC)
Thank you.

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