Joss Whedon received his first writing credit on the television series Roseanne in 1989 (alongside Chuck Lorre, creator of 2 and a Half Men and Big Bang Theory). Joss would go on to create one of the most iconic cult television shows of all time, a cult spinoff, another cult television series which led to a cult feature film and we can't forget his cult web musical.
On Monday it was announced that The Avengers, which Joss Whedon wrote and directed, had grossed over 207 million dollars in its first weekend, easily making it the biggest film opening in history. For the first time in over twenty years, Whedon had a gigantic mainstream hit. And for the first time in almost as long, his legion of cult fans were faced with a new reality. Their little secret was out.
Being a die-hard Joss Whedon fan was never easy. Try having a discussion of the best television shows of all time with your friends. Inevitably they would bring up classic shows such as The Sopranos, Lost or The Wire. But when a Joss Whedon fan mentions Buffy, The Vampire Slayer? This would generally lead to a look of disdain followed by a glib denouncement and possibly all out mockery. Did you say "Buffy?" "The Vampire Slayer? Really??"
In some ways this reaction was exactly what Whedon was counting on. And so the title of his first television creation became symbolic of why his fans loved his work. The title gave an immediate impression of what one would expect while the series became something completely different and unexpected. What appeared on the surface to be a simple campy show about a dumb blonde vampire slayer instead turned out to be a deeply complex, richly layered, metaphoric examination of teenage angst. And those who watched couldn't look away.
Whedon's greatest talent is his ability to take any genre and completely turn it on its head. Nobody can subvert genre expectations better. Sometimes this might upset and turn off an audience preconditioned to watching generic entertainment, but Whedon never cared. Whether he failed or succeeded, he never wrote to please anyone.
Whedon was creating genre entertainment but none of his work could be defined in any single genre. Buffy was at once drama, comedy, action, suspense, horror and romance, sometimes in the same scene. The way he was able to carefully balance those elements together became his trademark and his genius (and a major reason he was the perfect choice for The Avengers). Along the way, he faced many obstacles and roadblocks from outside influences but Whedon never compromised his vision, even if it meant his shows would get canceled.
Buffy was never canceled (although it had to be moved from the WB after season five) but his next three shows (Angel, Firefly and Dollhouse) were. In 2005, Whedon wrote and directed his first feature film, Serenity, a sequel to Firefly. Despite positive reviews, it couldn't even make back its low budget upon release. With each new setback, his fans felt the heartbreak, almost as if it were happening to them. Because in many ways, it was.
For years, being a Joss Whedon fan meant you only knew what rejection felt like. Now, with the unprecedented success of The Avengers, it's strange new territory for anyone who has followed his career from the start. For the first time, his fans don't have to explain or defend their love for his work. For the first time, they don't have to explain what makes Joss Whedon so special. It may have taken over twenty years, but the world finally knows.
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