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The negative space *around* Marti Noxon

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.


Jun. 20th, 2010 10:18 pm (UTC)
Is allecto the one who claimed that Joss raped his wife, based on the fact that Zoe called Mal "sir"? That was what I thought of but obviously as you say that's a definite outlier whereas Marti-bashing in certain quarters is sadly the norm.

Certainly in other fandoms showrunners are often hated; stroll to Trekdom and read what they say about Berman and Braga for example, or Heroes and Tim Kring. But again that seems to be based on the quality of their work.

I wonder if the hyperbole in the attacks come from the amount of controversy season six generates? If *everyone* would just acknowledge that it was terrible than the haters could write it off more easily, but generally disagreement leads to people in the "yay" and "nay" camps getting angrier and angrier and more and more obscene. I have a feeling that this is not the case--that Marti would simply be bashed universally rather than in x % of the fandom, but it might be worth thinking about.

True, times have changed although the Buffy OOCness is very specific...

This is pretty close to my interpretation. Certainly we know that Buffy (in the whole run of the series) deals with would-be rapists with a lot more ease than she does with Spike--she doesn't bat an eye about hyena-Xander (nor does she hold it against all-human Xander) and she stops the Go Fish guy very quickly. But Spike isn't just anybody. She let him into her home and into her heart, whether she admits that or not, and I think when he's trying to force himself upon her, she's hoping that he'll turn around and stop himself, so that she doesn't have to stop him. I don't think she really believes that Spike is as evil as she claims she believes, and it's really devastating to see it (in her eyes) proven that she was right all along.

On the other hand, the fact that the episode went out of its way to set up Buffy being injured in a random vamp fight tends to support the "she's so weak and helpless" interpretation that many find so distasteful. I can buy that Buffy would be feeling worse because she's physically injured, but that plot element seems out of place and unnecessary in a Buffy-reacts-purely-emotionally reading. Take the random!vamp!fight-injury out and I think the scene works better but that thin thread (the fight injury) is also what other people rely on to make the scene make sense, so who knows.

I think the immediate reactions of Buffy to the beating ...

I agree with this. In season seven Buffy feels bad for using Spike and Spike feels bad for the AR, but just as much as Buffy doesn't apologize for the alley beating Spike doesn't go out of his way to say sorry he fairly deliberately tried to cut her off from her friends in Dead Things or interfered frequently with her attempting to tend to Dawn (Gone, As You Were).

In a few brief comments on each episode Marti pretty much apologized for the lack of follow up to the alley scene in OAFA, so I agree with you there. OAFA I tend to agree is not a good episode: Anya and Tara are great in it and there are a few good moments, but besides screwing up the followup to Dead Things it does very badly by Dawn. I feel intellectually like Dawn has every reason in the world to be upset, as her sister alternates between overprotecting her (so she can't make friends) and neglecting her completely. But in-episode, Dawn just comes across like a crazy, whiny brat. To an extent I think this is realistic (teenagers aren't known for their communication skills), but a defter hand in this one could have made Dawn much more accessible to the audience in a season where her main role is the somewhat thankless task of being The Person Buffy Is Neglecting.

I feel similarly about all Drew Z. Greenberg episodes except Entropy (which I love) and maybe Smashed though, so there's that. Safe from Firefly manages to get by on the strength of Simon and River's bond alone. Empty Places is probably the worst offender in terms of taking a situation where every person has valid arguments a priori and then when it counts, no one makes them and they all sound like lunatics.


The One Who Isn't Chosen

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