Joss Whedon went to Harvard to accept the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism, and science fiction site io9 was there. A few highlights:
In terms of the future, Whedon pointed to education as the surest, least violent way to make people confront the ideas of humanism. He stressed that he did not mean people would be educated out of religion, but instead this would work to counteract the fear, hatred, and ignorance that are the real enemies of humanism; these are all part of the darker side of humanity that is within humanists and non-humanists alike. He closed with a brief musing on the nature of faith, pointing out that while religious people believe in a divine deity with no evidence to confirm or deny this, humanists believe in the basic goodness of humanity in the face of a huge amount of evidence to the contrary. In that sense, humanists are the most optimistic, most faithful group of all.
I really like that.
Whedon spoke candidly about his problems with the first few episodes of Dollhouse. He admitted that he has made episodes that have nothing to say, for which he is ashamed. He singled out the fifth episode, “True Believer”, as one that fails to explore the motivations for why people join cults and how these reasons connect with why people end up in the Dollhouse. Ultimately, he said, though there’s nothing wrong with making television that is merely diverting, it’s not something he’s interested in doing.
This is heartening, and unsurprising. Whedon recognizes the flaws in the first episodes of Dollhouse, and owns up to them. Since so much has been leaked about Fox’s interference in the first half of the show’s season, it’s easy to figure out that these episodes were somewhat rushed in order to satisfy executive demands. Once Whedon got more control on matters, the show slid perfectly into the groove he’d intended for it all along.
Indeed, he was generally highly pessimistic about the show’s prospects for a second season, all but acting as though the show had already been canceled (which, for the record, it hasn’t yet, at least not officially). He didn’t give any specific reason for his opinion, although one might guess lackluster ratings and bitter experience are contributing factors.
It’s not a good sign when the show’s creator starts acting fatalistically about it in a public venue.
Whedon explained that Dollhouse is not a feminist show, as to make it explicitly adhere to any set system of belief would make it didactic instead of dramatic. When an audience member asked whether he saw it as troublesome that all the actives were unfailingly young and gorgeous, he acknowledged this to an extent, mentioning that early drafts of the show had involved actives of all shapes and sizes to reflect the fact that people’s fantasies don’t always adhere to Hollywood’s conception of attractiveness, and the beautifying of the Dollhouse was one of the realities of dealing with Fox. There had been an entire early subplot about an active named Tango who was an older woman, but sadly all of that had to go when the show’s direction changed.
Again, we see hints of the show that might have been versus the one created through necessary compromise with the idiot suits. It’s not a crippling flaw — looking at attractive people isn’t exactly a hardship — but it would’ve been nice to have the greater humanity Whedon wanted in the show.
Dollhouse is looking good, but its chances are looking worse and worse. I encourage you to watch if you aren’t already, and if you need to catch up watch previous episodes on www.hulu.com. Fox is watching not only the ratings of Nielsen households watching the show (an utterly outmoded and lousy system), they’re monitoring DVR recording/watching (you need to watch an episode within three days for your viewing to count) and how many views episodes get online.
To read the entire io9 writeup of Whedon’s appearance, go here.