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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

local_max
Jun. 17th, 2010 01:51 pm (UTC)
Pretty much the entire sixth season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer had the characters (particularly Buffy and Spike) changing opinions, morality and emotions depending on whether or not Marti Noxon was writing the episode that week. For example, one week Buffy is shown to be trapping lovelorn Spike in an abusive relationship. Then next, he's preying on an emotionally damaged Buffy.

TVTropes' argument would be more convincing if Marti had written more than one episode in the entire season in which Buffy & Spike were both alive and in Sunnydale.
penny_lane_42
Jun. 17th, 2010 01:58 pm (UTC)
HAHAHA!

Actually, I don't know why this:

For example, one week Buffy is shown to be trapping lovelorn Spike in an abusive relationship. Then next, he's preying on an emotionally damaged Buffy.

has to be a contradiction or an inconsistency. People are complex. Dynamics shift. Plus, they're both emotionally damaged and they're both pretty damn depressed. It makes total sense that they'd be using/abusing/manipulating/preying on each other. How do people not get that?
local_max
Jun. 17th, 2010 02:10 pm (UTC)
Actually, I don't know why this:

For example, one week Buffy is shown to be trapping lovelorn Spike in an abusive relationship. Then next, he's preying on an emotionally damaged Buffy.

has to be a contradiction or an inconsistency. People are complex. Dynamics shift. Plus, they're both emotionally damaged and they're both pretty damn depressed. It makes total sense that they'd be using/abusing/manipulating/preying on each other. How do people not get that?


I think that most relationships in Jossverse history are co-dependent, and have flaws on both sides, even the good ones. But Buffy/Spike is a whole other level. There's just no way to boil it down, and I think that gets accused of bad writing, because a lot of people can't follow the emotional dynamics, which change so quickly.

I'd even go a step further and say that both of these (trapping Spike in an abusive relationship, preying on an emotionally damaged Buffy) happen often in the same episode, in the same scene. Dead Things sets up Warren/Katrina as the ultimate abuser/abused situation, and then it parallels them to Buffy & Spike in the alley beating scene, where Spike is Katrina, too in love with Buffy to stop her from abusing him, AND in the Bronze balcony scene, where Buffy is Katrina, too emotionally paralyzed to stop him.

Anyway, the dynamics between Buffy and Spike in Wrecked aren't clearly one or the other, so I REALLY don't get what this accusation is about. They are both exceptionally cruel to each other in that (brilliant) morning-after scene. Neither of the two is particularly sweetness and light.

I haven't watched the episode-to-episode flow in a while, so I think the only real problem comes in when the actual episode-to-episode emotions don't track--which I think happens, for example, between Dead Things and Older and Far Away.

The AR has the unfortunate thing of making the Buffy = victim thing super-clear, but even then the text cuts against it in several ways (and I really am already regretting talking about the AR earlier on this page so I really should stop talking about this now before I offend the world!).
penny_lane_42
Jun. 17th, 2010 02:16 pm (UTC)
See, and I love "Dead Things" for exactly that reason--everything is so complex and layered and dark and fantastic. I love it.

They are both exceptionally cruel to each other in that (brilliant) morning-after scene.

It's one of my favorite scenes on the show. I don't know what that says about me, but.... The rest of the episode isn't so great, but that scene is fantastic. The way they hurt each other. Gah.

so I think the only real problem comes in when the actual episode-to-episode emotions don't track--which I think happens, for example, between Dead Things and Older and Far Away.

Agreed. There's definitely a dissonance between those two.

The AR is such a sticky topic that there's no way to talk about it without offending someone.

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