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 Post subject: The Lesbian Cliche FAQ
PostPosted: Sun Sep 08, 2002 9:03 pm 
This FAQ was written by Willowlicious and Kyraroc with the help of many members of the Kitten Board.

In summary this FAQ states:

1) That Joss Whedon and the writers of Mutant Enemy are NOT homophobic, but have perpetuated a hurtful lesbian cliché with the death of Tara and the resulting Vengeance Willow storyline that ended Season Six of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

2) That, in public statements made both before and after Tara's death was planned, Joss Whedon and other Mutant Enemy writers indicated that Tara would not be killed off.

3) That creative freedom, ignorance and/or absence of malice on the part of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy do not excuse the social harm this storyline has caused.

The Death of Tara, the Fall of Willow and the Dead/Evil Lesbian Cliché FAQ

Copyright © 2002 Kyraroc and Willowlicious.This FAQ may be reproduced in whole as long as this copyright statement remains intact.

1) What generally is the "Dead/Evil Lesbian Cliché"?

The "Dead/Evil Lesbian Cliché" is a version of the basic "dead/evil minority cliché" in which minority characters - gay people in general, all people of color - are introduced into a storyline in order to be killed or play the villain. For example, American Indians were almost always villains in westerns. The "black guy" used to be the servant in early films, then he became the drug dealer, then, when "equality" was reached, he got to be the funny sidekick who is tragically killed while all the white guys managed to get away. These clichés are so well known that many recent film comedies have made fun of the token "black guy" who gets killed.

Why were minorities always portrayed as villains or always killed off? Hatred and ignorance, to put it bluntly. Ironically, as various groups obtained more civil rights and demanded more representation in films and television, villain, sidekick and "dead cliche" roles were easy ways for producers to place minorities in their films without giving them meaningful roles. They could take credit for being "enlightened" without drawing ire from mainstream white America. So, whenever minorities started questioning why they received only "lesser" roles, producers could shoot back, "Well, I put a black guy in the movie." But he's dead. "But he made an appearance." But he died. "But it's better than nothing." But he always dies. "Sorry. The white guy could've died, but he just didn't this time." But the white guy never dies. "But he could." But he didn't. "But it's theoretically possible." But...

That's a very frustrating and insulting argument. We'd like to say that times have changed, but when you get to Question #10, revert back to this section and draw your own conclusions.


2) What specifically is the "Dead/Evil Lesbian Cliché"?

That all lesbians and, specifically lesbian couples, can never find happiness and always meet tragic ends. One of the most repeated scenarios is that one lesbian dies horribly and her lover goes crazy, killing others or herself. (Sound familiar?)

Until very recently, gays and lesbians were portrayed in film, television, literature and theater to be evil and miserable. They would be villains or weak victims or psychologically unstable people. They would stalk and try to pervert straight people. If one of them fell in love with someone of the same sex, this love would lead to death or insanity or both. A classic film example of this is 1961's The Children's Hour starring Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine. MacLaine's character hangs herself after she confesses her love for Hepburn. Two films that portray predatory lesbians are Walk on the Wild Side (1962) with Barbara Stanwyck and Young Man With a Horn (1950) starring Lauren Bacall. The Fox (1968) features Sandy Dennis as a lesbian who is crushed to death by a falling tree immediately after making love to Anne Heywood. A gay example (and there are TONS) is Rebel Without a Cause (1955) in which Sal Mineo spends the film crushing on James Dean before getting a bullet in the back. These older films depicted gays this way because the filmmakers were trying to tell people that homosexuality is wrong. They wanted to show that no good could come from it. If you are gay, you are doomed. Period. Heterosexuality was the only safe option.

One would hope that the cliché had died with modern times, but sadly it lives on. The intended moral message that homosexuality is wrong has mostly given way to a results-based exploitation. Lesbians and lesbian couples meet tragic fates in an alarmingly disproportionate number of films and TV shows. One of the most notorious recent examples is Basic Instinct (1992), in which Sharon Stone's character is a murderer and her girlfriend is crazy, jealous and ends up dead. Another is Heavenly Creatures (1994), which has the added horror of being a true story. In this film two teenage girls develop an intense sexual friendship which is blamed for the girls brutally murdering one of their mothers. Lost and Delirious (2001) depicts a lesbian relationship at a boarding school that ends with one girl denying her love for the other because the peer pressure is too painful and the scorned girl leaping to her death after slowly going mad. High Art (1998) ends with the overdose death of Ally Sheedy's lesbian character. Mulholland Drive (2001) ends with a lesbian having her ex-girlfriend murdered then turning a gun on herself.

As for television, recent examples of lesbians dying horribly or being evil have appeared in literally hundreds of TV episodes. Just a few of the shows that have perpetuated this discouraging cliché are: 24, All My Children, Babylon 5, Dark Angel, ER, Law & Order, Millennium, Northern Exposure, NYPD Blue, The Practice, Quantum Leap, Xena: Warrior Princess, and, now, very sadly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The impression that these films and TV programs leave, through blatant moralizing and/or thoughtless exploitation, is that lesbian relationships end in death and misery. There are no happy endings. This is the image that has been driven into the psyche of gay people. There is no hope for you. You cannot be happy. This message has also reinforced the bigotry of others by either leading people to believe that gays are evil and worthy of nothing but hatred, or by alluding that they are sick and pitiable, in desperate need of conversion and curing.

3) How does Tara's death and Willow's descent into vengeance fall into the "Dead/Evil Lesbian Cliché?!

Well, for starters, Tara meets a typically violent end as a bullet rips through her chest and showers Willow with her blood. Worse, her death causes Willow to go crazy with grief and go on an evil rampage that includes sadistic torture, mutilation and murder, followed by an attempt to destroy the world. It's a two-for-one lesbian cliché package, complete with one dead lesbian and one evil lesbian.

The setting and events leading to Tara's death also fall horribly into the storied lesbian cliché. One of the most overused features of the lesbian cliché is that the death is generally directly associated with the act of lesbian sex. It usually occurs soon after a real or implied sex scene in order to cement the connection. Tara died at the end of an episode in which she spent practically the entire time having sex with Willow; further, she died immediately after a scene of heavy sexual flirtation and beside the bed in which she and Willow made love.

What is even more damaging is that BtVS writers chose to kill Tara and change Willow and Tara's sex scenes from metaphorical to literal within the same episode. Up until "Seeing Red," all of Willow and Tara's sexual activity had been shrouded in magical metaphor. A sensual magic spell that ended with Willow writhing in orgasmic ecstasy was used to illustrate their first time making love in Season Four's "Who Are You?" Tara magically floated above the couple's bed as Willow hovered out-of-frame in Season Six's "Once More, With Feeling." They never kissed and barely touched during those "love" scenes. But "Seeing Red" removed all magical metaphors and placed Willow and Tara naked in bed together for the very first time. Viewers finally saw them behave like the straight couples on the show...and immediately one died and one turned evil. This seems to say that Willow and Tara were safe as long as things were metaphorical and hidden, but the moment their sex life was brought out in the open, there was hell to pay.

Tara could have been shot in the garden (like Buffy), but she was killed in the bedroom after partaking in the cardinal sin of lesbian sex. This has been done over and over again in film and TV with devastating results, it didn't need to be repeated on BtVS no matter what the writers claim their intention was.

Compare this to the deaths of straight characters in BtVS - such as Jenny, Angel, Joyce, and Buffy (both times). Not a single one occurs after a real or implied sexual act. In the cases where sex is even mentioned in passing much earlier in the episode, as with Jenny (who was looking forward to her reconciliation with Giles) and Joyce (who was finally dating again), there is no consummation; the deaths therefore cannot possibly be viscerally felt as punishments for acts performed. In fact, they work from the opposite emotional angle - disappointment at an anticipation of something good, unfulfilled.

A closer cousin to the post-sex fates of Willow and Tara might be what happened to Angel, who turned evil immediately after sex. It's interesting to note that in that case, the writers explicitly said that they were doing that deliberately in order to make a point about men who seem to change for the worse after sex. Which means that Tara's post-sex death happened in a show where the connection between sex itself and bad things following sex had already been deliberately established and discussed. However the scene was intended, the show's own structure and history would seem to reinforce the notion that Tara and Willow were punished for having lesbian sex. But, while possibly linked in theme, the negative impact of the fate of Angel and the fate of Willow and Tara are wildly divergent. Angel's fate as a straight white male was not an oft-repeated example of a damning and hurtful cliché, but rather a fresh, clever metaphor for male sexual behavior. It was a new look at an old story. Willow and Tara's fate is an old look at an old story that perpetuates a hopeless outlook for lesbians.

And what of Willow? While it is believable that this historically gentle, moral character, who also carries deep-seated insecurities and rage, would murder Warren to avenge Tara's death, her utter descent into evil is extreme and over-the-top, to say the least. Warren's murder is not a quick "crime of passion," but a prolonged stomach-turning gore-fest that climaxes in his skinning and immolation. Her thirst for blood unsatisfied, Vengeance Willow (as UPN calls her) then tries to hunt down Warren's accomplices, Andrew and Jonathan, eliminate her friends and then destroy the world. And, of course, Willow's descent immediately follows the first material, non-metaphorical sex scenes Willow and Tara have been allowed.

Vengeance Willow's total meltdown mixed with its unfortunate sexual timing strains credibility and, unfortunately, falls head-first into the unstable, evil lesbian cliché. Was, as so many lesbian cliché movies have suggested, Willow's love for Tara so extreme, unhealthy and twisted as to cause her to try to destroy everything and everyone? And Willow's magic, once the show's primary metaphor for lesbian sex and love, was instead in Season Six portrayed as dark, addictive, and leading to insanity. The message--unintended as it may have been--of this storyline: Lesbian love is an intense, dangerous thing. Death and destruction awaits.

Thank god Xander is there to talk Willow down from her destructive path with anecdotes about yellow crayons, or who knows what would have happened? A man saves the world from the crazy lesbian. What a horrible, painful and insulting way for Willow and Tara's relationship to end.

4) But how can one character death, even of a beloved character, really add to the impact of such a cliché?

But it does, even if it's hard to see when looking at any given single example. Practically any example of the lesbian cliché, or in fact any kind of cliché, will tend to sound like crying wolf when presented by itself in the absence of other examples - especially when the show being talked about is reasonably sophisticated and not a clear case of pure exploitation. A cliché doesn't become a cliché in a vacuum, and it doesn't have to seem like some kind of obvious, monstrously bad piece of writing. A cliché becomes a cliché when the weight of hundreds and hundreds of previous examples make any given example another piece in the pile. We're not pointing to dead Tara and saying, look how obvious a cliché this was. We're pointing to a pile of hundreds and hundreds of dead and evil film, TV, theater, and novel lesbians and saying, why add Willow and Tara to that pile?

5) It's well known that Mutant Enemy is far from homophobic. Shouldn't you just be grateful that they gave you gay characters at all? Doesn't the positive role model of a same-sex couple that Willow and Tara have provided for two years make up for how things ended?

We are grateful. We are SO grateful. And we've said so every chance we've gotten. We've written letters to Mutant Enemy and Fox praising and thanking the show for giving gay people, especially questioning youth, two beautiful, caring lesbian characters that they could relate to. We've encouraged the media to pay attention to and praise the Willow/Tara storyline. We've begged friends and family to watch the show. Some of us have been lucky enough to meet Mr. Whedon, Ms. Hannigan, Ms. Benson, and other Mutant Enemy staffers and tell them how much this storyline means to the gay community and how much we appreciate their efforts.

Willow and Tara have indeed provided a role model which was nearly unique in prime-time television, and have served as an example of the beneficial effects such a positive image can have. Numerous letters have been written by gay teens and adults detailing how the existence of Willow and Tara have helped them find hope for the future, come out of the closet, or become comfortable with their orientation.

However, rather than making up for Tara's death, it actually just made it worse. People placed their trust in the Willow/Tara relationship, and came to regard it as a rare safe place where they could return to renew their hopes; a fairly natural thing to do in light of the fact that there were so few other places they could go to do so. So when the Willow/Tara relationship collapsed into the same cliché of death and insanity as so many others had before, hope and trust that had built up over years was crushed. The message seemed to be that there is no hope, no safe place, and that the happiness was a lie - death and derangement will always be the end result.

6) So did ME simply do this unwittingly, not knowing about the evil/dead lesbian cliché?

But they did know. Sadly, this is part of why Tara's death hurts so much. We talked to Mutant Enemy and they talked back. They said they understood where we were coming from and that they knew how important the Willow/Tara storyline was in social context. They, on their own without prodding, publicly claimed knowledge of the "Dead/Evil Lesbian Cliché" and repeatedly made statements indicating that they would never do it. Here are some ME quotes regarding Tara's future on the show:

Doug Petrie (Fandom Shop 2/21/00): "Willow and Tara are going to have a good, happy, satisfying relationship. That's something that we're more acutely aware of and we definitely don't want to touch on 'being a lesbian is bad.' We've all seen shows where if you have any kind of gay tendencies, you must be killed or made to suffer for no other reason other than you're gay. We're hyper aware of that, so we're more predisposed to have things work out for Willow and Tara. In fact, if Tara were a guy, I would predict a near 100 per cent chance of a breakup for Willow. The fact that Tara is not a guy may make things work out better, because we can avoid what we feel is this old cliché."

Joss Whedon (Bronze Beta 5/24/00): " post from a gay or questioning teen saying the show helped them is worth six hundred hate letters...Here's the word: Tara's not gonna disappear. She's part of the show, part of Willow's life."

Joss Whedon (E! Online 5/01): "I have no plans to send Tara anywhere. Amber (Benson) and Alyson (Hannigan) have such great chemistry; they're so great together, and they're very romantic together. We have terrible, terrible things to do to them because they're on my show, so needless to say, horrible things will happen--but as a couple, I think they work really well. As for Amber, even if she weren't going out with Willow, I think she's become a big part of the heart of the show."

Steven DeKnight (Bronze Beta 1/25/02): "As for Tara getting killed--OVER MY DEAD BODY!"
Drew Greenberg (Bronze Beta 4/01/02)): "Amber (Benson) and Emma (Caulfield) are both sticking around, neither one is going anywhere, so don't worry."

Besides the reassuring words of the writers, the reputation of Buffy the Vampire Slayer itself provided great hope that "The Dead/Evil Lesbian Cliché" would never touch Willow and Tara. The entire premise of BtVS is built around a shattered cliché. Buffy herself was created as the antithesis of the stereotypically helpless blonde girl who is always killed by the monster in horror films. Buffy is a blonde girl who kicks the monster's ass. Up until now, BtVS has been known for its clever writers who take glee in over-turning any and all clichés. Other clichés BtVS has conquered include the "magically appearing younger sibling/cousin cliché." This was brilliantly mocked when Buffy's previously unheard of little sister Dawn suddenly appeared in the midst of S5, and the oblivious Scoobies acted as though she'd been there all along. "Buffy: The Musical" overcame the silliness of the cast randomly bursting into song by making the Scoobies the unwilling participants of a musical production forced upon them by a demon. This mocked the "novelty episode cliché" by openly winking at the conceit of the ploy and making it a plot point to be solved.

Mutant Enemy knows clichés. They knew all about the "Dead/Evil Lesbian Cliché" by their own admission and their own

Update: During a Succubus Club radio interview on 5/15/02, ME producer David Fury admitted the following: "In retrospect, I can see the cliché . That was not our intent, we wanted to show (Willow and Tara) together and happy. We dramatized them being back together. It created the impression in a lot of people's mind that the event of her death was linked to them having sex. I do understand it, I say oh yeah. It was not intended. We make mistakes."

While it is gratifying to hear Mr. Fury not only admit the existence of the cliché , but also that the Willow/Tara storyline falls into it (something Mr. DeKnight was unwilling to do), it is disappointing that he claims ME can only see this in retrospect. It is clear from ME's previous statements on the subject that they were well aware of the cliché before planning Tara's demise. They were aware of it, they indicated they would not repeat it...then they did it anyway.

Update: During a Succubus Club radio interview on 5/22/02, ME writer Jane Espenson stated: "I am very very sorry about Tara, really. We really feel bad. It is very possible that we did a bad thing. And I don't want to completely exonerate us. It is possible."

First David Fury admits he can see the cliché of Tara's death, then Jane Espenson admits that ME may have done "a bad thing" by killing Tara. Slight progress.

7) Former BtVS writer Steven DeKnight clearly said that Tara wasn't killed because she was gay, but that she was a "plot device" in order to hurt Willow. He said she was treated as a "real person," and that's all you can really ask for. Doesn't that nullify the cliché?

No. First of all, how can Tara be both a mere "plot device" - a tool to get at Willow - and also be a "real person"? That is a contradiction. They can't have it both ways. Is Anya only a "plot device" to get to Xander? No. She has her own storyline and Emma Caulfield is a full regular in the credits. Is Spike a mere "plot device" to get at Buffy? No. Storyline. Credits. Amber Benson was the only Scooby significant other kept out of the credits. Tara was sent away most of S6 and not given an individual storyline, only to be brought back as a "plot device" to make Willow go crazy. From this, one can only conclude that ME didn't view Tara as a "real person" at all. She was a disposable object and she was treated as such.

Did ME kill Tara because she was gay? No. But intentions don't matter, results do. The sad fact is that most lesbian couples meet horrible ends in films and television and Willow and Tara met a horrible end, too. They were the FIRST and ONLY long-term lesbian couple on network television and now they are horribly lost. There is no other couple to replace them. ME killed the unicorn for a cheap plot device they swore they were above. All the straight main characters survived and have a chance for happiness just as they have each and every season of BtVS (Angel was brought back). Only the gay ones are dead/evil. As usual. Hence, the cliché. All of the gay characters to ever grace Sunnydale - Larry, Tara, Willow, and apparently Andrew - have ended up either dead or evil. All of them. One hundred percent. Also, the only two characters whose behaviour was laced with bisexual undertones, Faith and VampWillow, are also mysteriously dead and/or evil.

8) Wouldn't you agree that the story is more important than any of the characters on Buffy? Why then would you object to killing off Tara if that's what was needed to advance Willow's story?

Writing is about making choices. Mutant Enemy had plenty of opportunities to send Willow down her dark magic path before "Seeing Red," and they chose not to use them. They could have, for example, had Willow pulled into darkness by her own pride and/or her own insecurity. Willow was clearly headed down this path early in Season Six when she raised Buffy from the dead, threatened Giles, and fought with Tara. But the writers chose to change directions and occupy her with a physical magical "addiction" until May sweeps when they could kill Tara and send her on a quest for vengeance. Mutant Enemy deliberately chose the cliché when plenty of other possibilities were available to them. Not to mention that Willow's Season Six vengeance storyline is merely an extreme retread of Willow's actions in Season Five's "Tough Love," in which she attacked Glory for brain-sucking Tara. Necessary forward progression? That's very arguable.

9) Joyce and Jenny died and didn't come back. Why is Tara's death any different just because she's a lesbian? Plus, plenty of Straight White Male characters have died on BtVS, too.

Yes, Joyce and Jenny died, but 1) they weren't Scoobies and we are discussing W/T's treatment as compared to the other core Scoobies, B/S/X/D/A, 2) they were adults whose deaths were foreshadowed and given moral reason (Jenny) and great meaning (Joyce), 3) Robia LaMorte had personal reasons for leaving the show, Amber Benson has said she wanted to stay, 4) Joyce's death was planned and carefully laid out since S1 in order to provide a lesson to the entire Scooby Gang, Tara's death was decided upon last year because it was the easiest way to hurt Willow, it was a means to an end, there was no moral reason and certainly no meaning, 5) they weren't minorities.

So, Joyce and Jenny are not relevant to the discussion, but just to be thorough, let's discuss the impact of their loss for a moment. They died and who was left in Sunnydale to have straight sex and pursue the right of happiness? Who? Oh, that's right. Buffy, Xander, Anya, Dawn, Giles, Oz, Riley, Angel, etc, etc, etc.

Now let's kill Tara. Who's left to have gay sex and pursue the right of happiness? Who? Oh, Willow, the cliched crazy, bereft lesbian who will never be happy again because she's been tormented more than any Scooby in the history of the show. After all, no other core Scooby kid has permanently lost their significant other to death. Tara and Willow are unique in their torment.

What about all those white male vamps and villains who have died? Again, we are discussing core Scoobies here, but, for the sake of argument, Straight White Male (SWMs) characters aren't minorities. You kill a white male character, there are thousands waiting to take his place on BtVS and every other show on television. According to the Children Now "2001 Prime Time Diversity Report," gay and lesbian characters make up less than 2 percent of all characters on television. Of that 2 percent, 92 percent are gay men, meaning that only 0.16 percent of all TV characters are lesbians.

Actually, that's now 0.16 percent minus Tara.

There are so many SWM's (and SWF's) on television that a variety of stories are being told about them. Some characters are good, some are bad, some poor, some rich, happy, depressed, single, married, dead, alive. You name a situation and there is a straight white character available to represent it. That's simply not true of gay characters. There are so few in film and TV and the bad stereotypes are still so ingrained, that positive characters such as Willow and Tara are simply precious. To lose W/T, who are the ONLY long-term lesbian couple on network television is simply devastating. To lose them to the "Dead/Evil Lesbian Cliché" is nauseating and demoralizing.

10) Everyone on BtVS has a miserable life. Aren't Tara and Willow just getting equal treatment?

A lot of people, including Steven DeKnight during his 5/8/02 Succubus Club interview, claim that Xander or Anya or anyone else on the show could have been killed off, so all is fair. Well, anyone could have been killed but they weren't. There are five straight major characters and two gay ones on BtVS. Only the gay ones are dead and evil.

This "would've, could've" argument is similar to the one parodied in Question #1. It is a glib answer that, by its design, actually answers nothing while attempting to deflect responsibility. The killing of a TV character is not a random act of God, it is the result of a choice by the writing staff. ME is arguing that every character had an equal chance of being killed off, but that is not true. The fact is that, because Amber Benson was the only Scooby significant other not to be given regular status in the credits, the cards were unfairly stacked against her from the beginning. It appears that Tara never stood a chance, despite ME's protests to the contrary. Her second-class contract status seems to indicate that she was always a marked woman. After all, why pay an actor for a full 22-episodes when you're going to kill them off? Was this because Amber's character was gay? Of course not. However, appearances are everything. And the fact remains that the actor who portrayed the gay significant other was, for whatever reason, treated differently than the actors that played the straight ones, therefore nearly guaranteeing that the gay character's future on the show was more limited than that of the straight characters.

It is worth noting that Seth Green, who played Willow's former boyfriend Oz, was a series regular. Could he have been killed off? Sure. And since he was a full member of the cast, his death would not have appeared pre-destined. As it stands, Seth wanted off the show and Oz was written out, not killed off. Amber Benson was brought in as Willow's girlfriend, was never made a regular, has said she did not want off the show, but was killed off. Equal treatment? Not so much.

Appearances. Are. Everything.

As for equal treatment in the area of misery, let's compare BtVS's two longest-running couples, Xander and Anya and Willow and Tara. What has happened to Xander and Anya over the last two years? They hooked up in a direct, no angst fashion; they enjoyed a very literal, non-metaphorical sex life; they did research; they got engaged; they saved the world; they planned their wedding; then Xander left Anya at the altar. Not that much angst for X/A until their ill-fated wedding. In fact, nothing happened to them at all.

How about Willow and Tara? Their initial get-together was an angsty triangle involving Oz; their affections were mostly metaphorical and hidden; there was the big "Is Tara a demon?" scare; followed by Tara's four-episode brain-suck; they saved the world; next Willow became a magic addict; then Tara left and they were separated for most of the season; finally Tara came back and she and Willow engage in their very first implied (though not overt like the straight couples) on screen sex and Tara immediately gets her heart splattered all over Willow's shirt.

Conclusion: Not only did W/T suffer more as a couple, Tara did not survive. Anya did. Xander and Anya could still get back together. Willow and Tara's chances died with Tara.

As for Buffy, who would have thought that in Sunnydale, you can sleep with not one vampire, but two, and STILL not be in as much danger as sleeping with another woman? Even in a horror universe filled with monsters, the surest way for a Scooby to get killed or go evil is to be gay (results so far point to a 100% chance of it). Some things just never, ever change.

All the straight characters on the show are alive to seek happiness in Season 7. The gay characters are either dead or utterly bereft with no chance for happiness.

No chance for happiness. The cliché strikes again.

11) Other minority groups have suffered on this show. All of the, say, Gypsy characters have died. Why isn't anyone claiming the show is unfair to Gypsies?

Well, actually, given that not only are all the Gypsy characters dead (Jenny, Enosh), but practically all the black characters have been killed (Kendra, Forrest, Mr. Trick, the slayer from the seventies), as have the vanishingly few Asian characters (like the Chinese slayer), and Native American characters (like Hus), not to mention that Hispanic characters have been practically nonexistent (has there been anyone but Tito?) - in a show set in Southern California! - in fact it's pretty reasonable to question the show's treatment of minorities in general. In fact, after all the bodies are cleared away, the only significant minority characters we seem to be left with are one Jewish lesbian who has turned evil, and one black character on a different show on another network.

Of course, as has been mentioned previously, there have been deaths of non-minority characters on the show as well, but a glance at the cast list is enough to demonstrate that the percentage rate of this hasn't been anywhere close to as high, and the number left after the deaths is, well, plentiful rather than zero. While it is doubtful, once again, that Mutant Enemy is being deliberately racist, it isn't a stretch to say that they've been thoughtlessly perpetuating the general dead/nonexistent minority cliché in the same way that they've been perpetuating the dead/evil lesbian cliché. Pointing out that the show has killed off its Gypsies, etc. as well doesn't undercut our point . . . it just adds another dimension to it.

12) What are the societal effects of the dead/evil lesbian cliché?

The most visible effect is generally on gay and lesbian teenagers. It is not unusual for gay and lesbian teenagers to be trying to come to terms with their sexual identity in an overtly or subtly hostile environment. And if that is indeed the case, any gay peers are frequently either closeted or still grappling with their identity themselves, leaving many gay teens pretty much bereft of anyone they can talk to comfortably about these issues; and any gay adults they might meet are likely to be either closeted or discreet, leaving them without role models as well (bear in mind that gays and lesbians are one of the few minority groups whose parents are not necessarily members of the same minority.)

So, the gay and lesbian teenagers who are already the most likely to be at risk as a result of dealing with bigotry, and the most likely to feel completely alone, are also the ones most likely to have to draw their images of gay life from the media, for lack of any direct sources. And what do they find there? A usually unvarying, depressingly bleak portrait of mental illness and inevitable violent death. The pervasiveness of the cliché has left the media largely bereft of any positive same-sex couples. So it's not exactly reassuring for teens who are possibly already depressed, confused, frightened, or all three, and it can have a catastrophic effect on how they feel about themselves and their future.

More generally, the dead/evil lesbian cliché in the media sends out a message, whether unconscious or overt, that homosexual sex, love, and impulses are wrong, deranged, and will be punished. It isn't going out on a limb to say that this is likely to increase the incidence of homophobia in society, and make gays and lesbians of all ages feel unwelcome and disliked.

13) Willow and Tara finally got some on screen intimacy, aren't you at least happy about that?

Absolutely! We applaud Mutant Enemy for pushing this issue with first The WB and then UPN. Willow and Tara's relationship was beautifully written and portrayed. It was historic in its longevity, sensitivity and sensuality. However, the mere fact that ME needed to fight for intimate scenes between W/T in the 21st Century should tell people that gay characters are desperately needed on TV and killing them off not only sends a horrible message, it wastes a golden opportunity to continue to make a difference. Despite all of ME's pushing, Willow and Tara were only blatantly intimate in their last episode together. Even then, no actual sex scene was shown. The one and only truly sexual moment--Willow ducking her head under the sheet and Tara moaning--was cut from "Seeing Red" by UPN. (Although the network had no problem showing Willow skinning Warren.) Compare that to Buffy/Riley and Buffy/Spike where there were numerous graphic sex scenes in and out of bed that included full pelvic thrusts, groans, etc. And sadly, as mentioned earlier, Willow and Tara's intimacy led directly into Tara's murder, which is an unfortunate component of the "Dead/Evil Lesbian Cliché." It would have been much preferable to completely separate Tara's death from any sexual acts.

Equality? Ummmm. No.

14) Doesn't the attitude that lesbians shouldn't die make them unfairly sacrosanct and not subject to the problems that other characters face?

There are actually a fair number of reasons that this is a specious argument. For one thing, what's wrong with keeping them sacrosanct, anyway? We've had enough dead lesbians in the past, is it too much to ask that a show which prides itself on being ground-breaking and cliché-subverting actually keep the lesbian couple alive for once?

In addition, the lives of several characters are clearly already considered untouchable; none of the core Scoobies is going to die permanently. Adding another to this list therefore wouldn't particularly mess with the show's established mode of operation. Heck, "don't kill Dawn" was practically the Season 5 motto.

Also, a character being kept alive and not evil is a very different thing from saying a character is immune to trouble, as the entire show has adequately demonstrated. Simply keeping a character alive is hardly making them permanently smiley and happy.

But finally - most people arguing against the lesbian cliché are not even really arguing that Tara can't die! The argument is simply that she shouldn't die in a clichéd manner. If Tara had gotten to die at the end of a story arc that made her death meaningful, important, and true to her character, there would be a lot of sad fans, but most of them would not be enraged the way we are now. But ME chose to have Tara shot randomly immediately after sex in a way that drives her lover insane and makes her evil.

15) Are W/T fans mad at Steven DeKnight for writing "Seeing Red?"

Absolutely not! It was a beautifully written episode that displayed some of the sweetest, sexiest Willow and Tara moments ever. It was not his decision to kill off Tara. It was Joss Whedon's. What upset some W/T fans is that Mr. DeKnight (and other ME writers) claimed that Tara would not die this season. After Tara was killed - in Mr. DeKnight's very own episode - fans wanted to know why he lied to them. In his Succubus Club interview, he claimed that he had to lie to protect spoilers and that fans shouldn't have believed him. Mr. DeKnight did not have to lie.No one at ME had to lie. A simple "no comment" would have sufficed. Interestingly, even though Amber Benson was aware throughout Season Six that Tara was going to be killed, she never lied about it and she never let the spoiler slip. This despite the fact that both the media and fans constantly asked her about her character's future. She was polite, respectful and appropriately vague.

Lying isn't a necessity, it's a choice.

Tara attracted many fans who are marginalized in society because they are shy or gay or stuttered or all three. More than any other character on the show, her fans were a sensitive, gentle group, many of whom found solace in Tara and W/T that they couldn't find anywhere else. For ME, through lies, to bolster false hope about the fate of a character that meant so much to people just so they could splatter her blood onto Willow's shirt, was especially cruel. This was not the death of any character. It was the death of a character that represented hope to thousands of people. Great care was required. Great insensitivity was shown.

16) Why did some Tara fans object to Amber Benson being in the credits of "Seeing Red"? Wasn't that a nice gesture?

Normally, it would have been wonderful to see Amber Benson in the opening credits. Her fans have been begging for her to be a regular for the last two seasons. She is the ONLY significant other of a Scooby to not have been made a regular. Her omission had become glaring. Unfortunately, Amber was included in the credits in the very episode Tara was murdered. Mr. DeKnight admitted that this was intended both as a goodbye present to Amber and to be "mischievous" to the fans. But why wasn't she included all season long like all the other Scooby significant others such as Anya, Riley and Oz? Too little, too late.

Furthermore, seeing how fans were already going to be shocked and hurt by the ending of "Seeing Red," ME did not need to heighten the pain by "mischievously" adding Amber to the credits, building false hope to make their plan of devastation more complete. It was a mean and crass move.

17) Mutant Enemy writers have said that Amber Benson may come back, but not necessarily as Tara. What if she does? Aren't you going to look silly for causing such a stir?

After indicating they were above falling into lesbian clichés and then leaping gleefully, head-first into not one, but two of them, Mutant Enemy should not be surprised by the reaction of the gay community. We would, of course, love to have Tara back (note: that's TARA, not just Amber Benson, as this is about the character, not the actress, lovely as she may be). However, nothing is going to change the fact that ME chose to perpetuate extremely hurtful clichés that have far-reaching social consequences, lied about not killing Tara this season, and, according to Mr. DeKnight, purposely tried to make the loss hurt more by putting Amber Benson in the credits for the episode of Tara's death. Nothing will change the fact that seeing Willow covered in Tara's blood made an infamously vocal group of people that hated Tara because she was gay and viciously maligned both the character and Amber Benson the moment she appeared on screen in Season Four, very, very happy. ME fed W/T fans to the wolves - wolves they claimed to disdain - for what amounted to a weak three-episode Vengeance Willow arc. That's really sad and pretty hard to forget.

Real damage has been caused, no matter what the future holds.

18) In conclusion, what does Tara's death ultimately mean?

It means that the gay community has been hurt and misled...again. It means that perpetuating a tired, horribly clichéd storyline was ultimately more important to ME than keeping their word. That hurting Willow above all the other Scoobies was more important than being socially responsible. That killing Tara anywhere but in the bedroom thus downplaying the lesbian cliché, required too much effort and apparently would have meant giving up too many ratings points. That giving all the homophobes, Tara-haters and Amber-bashers (a segment ME supposedly holds in great disdain) exactly what they've wanted since Tara first appeared was preferable to thinking a little harder and coming up with another story solution.

It means that, just like all those old (and new) movies that ended without hope for gay characters, so ends this season of BtVS. Mutant Enemy can say that it could have happened to anyone in Sunnydale all it wants. Sure, it could have. But it didn't. It happened to the freakin' usual.

Long live the cliché.

"The most provocative thing that any piece of fiction could do is show two gay people living together happily ever after." Gore Vidal

 Post subject: Re: The Lesbian Cliche FAQ - Final (tentative)
PostPosted: Fri Sep 13, 2002 12:17 am 
here are my essays/letters etc

this is my original letter which was sent out at random


I feel that I need to bring attention to recent developments in UPN's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a show that has a large younger fan base.

Two and half years ago, the producers chose to depict a lesbian relationship involving one of its major cast members (Alyson Hannigan, "Willow") Over time, they have shown this relationship in an honest and natural way. It became the first network television show to show a lasting, healthy relationship with characters that appeared in nearly every episode. Nearly three years later, it is still the only network television show doing this. Hollywood has a long-standing history of either killing their lesbian characters or turning them into villains (a detailed documentary of this is The Celluloid Closet) and for the first time, this particular drama seemed to be avoiding that cliche. Then, on the season six, episode 19 ("Seeing Red," U.S. airdate Tuesday, May 7, 2002) one of the lesbian characters was shown being shot through the heart by a stray bullet in front of her lover, mere minutes after being shown in bed together, and the remaining character descended into "dark majiks," eventually becoming a murderer and trying to end the world.

Although this story has been done before, it is particularly upsetting that the producers of this show decided to do it to the only lasting gay relationship on network television. When the producers took that step to show a long-term lesbian relationship to millions of viewers, many of them young, they were doing something good for these people. They were giving a community sorely lacking in screen time someone to relate to. They were telling people who didn't know any lesbians in their lives that it was OK and normal. They were helping people overcome prejudice.

Now that they have taken this away in such a violent fashion, they have taken something that was doing actual good in the world and torn it down. Whatever the reasons, they weren't worth it. Most people will go their entire lives without affecting so many people for the better, and instead of embracing it and doing more good, they reduced it to nothing, took it out in a body bag, no funeral, no remorse.

I believe that the people who take the good out of the world are no better than the people actively doing harm. I don't believe there is anything that can justify the treatment of these characters, and I want the producers of Buffy to be called on it. I strongly feel that they should take responsibility for the messages they send and I urge you to help in bringing this matter to attention.

Thank you for your time and attention.


I Know Why Willow Weeps


It has become clear to me that there is something of a misunderstanding as to why there is such anger and sadness over the death of Tara on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Yes, Tara was treated as a character, not a lesbian. No, I do not think Joss Whedon or Mutant Enemy are homophobic or were trying to send a homophobic message. Why, then, am I so completely disappointed in this storyline? In an attempt to convey this without the emotion, I am going to try to relive the timeline of Willow and Tara with nothing but facts and quotes.

Tara is introduced into the Buffyverse in December of 1999, in the episode "Hush." Her romance with Willow is subtle, and is not directly acknowledged until nearly six months later in "New Moon Rising." At this time, there are no lasting same-sex relationships on network television that involved major characters. The closest example might be the occasional "Friends" characters on NBC, Carol and Susan.

On February 21, 2000 Doug Petrie talks about the future of Willow and Tara with Sci-Fi Universe. "Willow and Tara are going to have a good, happy, satisfying relationship. That's something that we're more acutely aware of and we definitely don't want to touch on 'being a lesbian is bad.' We've all seen shows where if you have any kind of gay tendencies, you must be killed or made to suffer for no other reason other than you're gay. We're hyper aware of that, so we're more predisposed to have things work out for Willow and Tara. In fact, if Tara were a guy, I would predict a near 100 per cent chance of a breakup for Willow. The fact that Tara is not a guy may make things work out better, because we can avoid what we feel is this old cliché."

The relationship between Willow and Tara continues and continues to spark controversy. The network and producers receive hate letters as well as testimonials from gay teens stating how important the show was to them. May 24, 2000, Joss Whedon states on the Bronze Beta that " post from a gay or questioning teen saying the show helped them is worth six hundred hate letters...Here's the word: Tara's not gonna disappear. She's part of the show, part of Willow's life."

Over a year after the introduction, Willow and Tara are still the only lasting same sex relationship on network TV. Websites appear across the net devoted to the relationship, thousands of people talk about how Willow and Tara changed their lives, gay and straight alike. On February 27, 2001, "The Body" airs with Willow and Tara's passionate first on-screen kiss. Reportedly, the WB fights hard to keep it out, and Joss Whedon is rumored to threaten to leave if the kiss was cut.

In May of 2001, Joss Whedon tells Entertainment Weekly "I have no plans to send Tara anywhere. Amber (Benson) and Alyson (Hannigan) have such great chemistry; they're so great together, and they're very romantic together. We have terrible, terrible things to do to them because they're on my show, so needless to say, horrible things will happen--but as a couple, I think they work really well. As for Amber, even if she weren't going out with Willow, I think she's become a big part of the heart of the show."

As the couple approaches its two year anniversary during Buffy the Vampire Slayer's sixth season, Willow and Tara are still the only lasting same sex relationship found on the network. Organizations such as Concerned Women for America warn parents against allowing their children to watch the show. NBC's "ER" features a budding relationship and a passionate kiss between Dr. Kerry Weaver and Sandy the firefighter, but their relationship receives less than thirty total minutes of airtime.

Rumors begin to surface across the net that Tara is going to be killed before the end of the season. Multiple writers from the show state that Tara was not leaving the show.

During this season, Willow and Tara are broken up for much of the season until "Entropy," where their second passionate on-screen kiss in two and a half years is featured. On May 7, 2002, the next episode "Seeing Red" breaks new ground by showing Willow and Tara lounging in bed together. Within three minutes of getting up and dressed, Tara is shot through the heart. Willow embraces black magic. "Villains" depicts the fall of Willow as she tortures and murders Tara's killer and threatens her friends. By the end of the season, Willow is talked down from destroying the world and falls sobbing into the arms of her friend.

In response to upset fans during an online interview in May at Succubus Club, writer Steve DeKnight jokes about lying to fans, accuses "the lesbians" of causing technical problems during the interview, and makes sarcastic remarks about Joss Whedon killing Tara out of religious motivation. At the Bronze Beta after the finale aired, Joss Whedon mocks the outrage with "The gay thing is so passe. We're over that."

At the end of Willow and Tara, there are no homosexual couples receiving significant airtime on network television.

Relationships on Buffy the Vampire Slayer have never gone smoothly. They do not end well. People have died on the show before. Out of the relationships involving major cast members, Angel, Cordelia, Oz, Riley, Anya, and Spike are all alive. Buffy, Giles, Xander, and Dawn have never been evil.

The fact is I was lead to believe that a lesbian relationship in the media could work out for once. The fact is that people involved in the show acknowledged the cliche and said it would be avoided years before it played out. The fact is that I was lead to believe Willow and Tara's was a safe relationship to invest it when it wasn't.

The fact is that Willow and Tara are the only couple even trying to portray a healthy and loving relationship between two people of the same sex. The fact is that you can't claim equal treatment when you are talking about the only example of its kind. Anything that happenes to Willow and Tara is necessarily excluded from equal treatment because they are the only lesbian couple of its kind on television. When you wipe them out, you wipe them all out. The fact is that the only equal treatment that Willow and Tara received was equal treatment with all of the other lesbians in Hollywood. Dead. Evil.


Missing the Point


Months after Tara's death, there is still so much debate and misunderstanding about the controversy and reactions that followed. When I read replies that tell me, over and over, how it's just television, just characters, just a story, I am baffled by how much people are missing the point. But I've figured it out, I know why so many people don't understand the upset and the disappointment. And this is what I think it boils down to: people think it's easy to be a lesbian.

Many of us straight-type people assume that in this day and age, sexuality is no big deal. Being a lesbian is just like being anything else; there are the few people who don't understand, but for the most part no one cares. We take it for granted that if we, personally, don't think homosexuality is a problem, then no one else would either.

The truth is, it's not easy. Most of the lesbians I know have had hard, hard lives. They've been kicked out by their parents, they've been verbally and even physically abused. They have lost friends and jobs, all because of their sexuality. Every day they have to go out and face the knowledge that they can't get married to the person they love, they can't go into certain parts of town holding hands, they can't be honest with their parents or brothers or sisters. It's a much harder life than people think it is. Even the ones who have supportive friends and family lived for a long time in terror of being discovered. None of them, and I mean none of them, have gone through their lives without encountering hate for their lifestyle.

I won't even go into how the media supports homophobia by ignoring homosexual relationships. What I will say is that every day, we all go out into a world that shows us ten million images of straight couples. We see them in the movies, we see them on TV, in commercials, on cereal boxes. When Willow and Tara surfaced, it was the first time there ever was a lesbian couple loving each other, right there on television, right there for the whole world to see. And it made a difference. For the questioning youth who saw them, they were a beacon, letting them know it was normal and healthy. For the older and wiser, they were an affirmation.

So it is no surprise to me that a lot of people put a great deal of love and hope into Willow and Tara. When Mutant Enemy told them that they knew what the relationship meant and that it was sticking around, people believed them. People put their hearts into Willow and Tara because they were the promise of a better world. They were the an indication that maybe they wouldn't have to encounter homophobia all their lives. Willow and Tara meant more to the lesbian community than any characters will ever mean to the rest of us.

When Tara died, it meant more than just the death of a television character in a fictional story. The reason most of us don't understand this is because we have no conception of how hard it is to be gay in a world that assumes you are straight. Willow and Tara were more than plot points, more than servants to a narrative; they were a reason to hope. Once we understand this, I think we can begin to understand just how much damage this storyline has done.


 Post subject: Essay #1
PostPosted: Fri Sep 13, 2002 6:38 pm 
Okay, here we go...

It's Not Homophobia, But That Doesn't Make It Right

Creative Freedom, Responsibility and the Death of Tara

By Robert A. Black

Over a month into the summer rerun season, one of the most talked-about subjects among fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer continues to be the death of lesbian character Tara MacLay in the episode "Seeing Red." Message boards have been filled with discussion on the subject, the media has seen a host of articles about it, and the staff of Joss Whedon's production company, Mutant Enemy, has fielded questions about it in almost every interview they've given since the episode aired.

What was it that motivated Mutant Enemy to kill off Tara's character? Is it something the fans have a right to be angry about? Didn't Mutant Enemy have the right to tell their story in any way they wanted? What exactly are the responsibilities of a TV production company with regard to its story and its audience? These are the questions I intend to address here.

Willow and Tara: Why they matter

The first issue to address is the question of why Willow and Tara matter in the first place. After all, other Buffy characters have been killed off before, and there was no firestorm of protest over their deaths. What makes Tara's death different from the others?

The difference lies in the unique nature in mainstream American television that Willow and Tara had together as a couple. They were the only realistically portrayed long-term same-sex relationship on the air - the only opportunity the gay community had to see its relationships depicted in American popular culture. When tragedy or a breakup strikes a pair of TV characters in a heterosexual relationship, heterosexual viewers who are fans of that couple can redirect their emotional investment to dozens of other couples at any given time. With the Willow/Tara relationship now gone, gay and lesbian viewers have nowhere else to go. Willow and Tara were the only couple on the dial.

It can be difficult for the heterosexual community to understand how important it is to see one's self reflected onscreen. It's so common for heterosexuals that we take it for granted, often to the point where we don't even think it matters at all. But to a marginalized segment of the population, where there is a constant feeling that one's very existence is being denied, that onscreen reflection can be priceless.

A similar situation existed in the 1960s, when the first realistically depicted African-American characters began to appear onscreen. Bill Cosby's portrayal of Alexander Scott in I, Spy and Nichelle Nichols's portrayal of Lieutenant Uhura in the original Star Trek were groundbreaking roles for the African-American community. They gave African-Americans their first long-running opportunity to see themselves reflected in popular culture as something other than stupid, lazy or fit only to be a white person's servant.

Similarly, in the past gay and lesbian characters in movies or on TV have predominantly either been killed off or shown to be insane or evil. Even liberal-minded TV series like Northern Exposure and Babylon 5 fell into this pattern when they included a same-sex relationship in their stories. Today, there are several gay and lesbian characters on American TV, but none of them are in a steady long-running relationship. The fact that Willow and Tara were together was what made them unique. The relationship was greater than the two characters individually, because together they gave the gay community something that it could find nowhere else.

Homophobia and the image on the screen

Given the significance of the Willow/Tara relationship, why did Mutant Enemy choose to end it? A common perception to those who are only peripherally aware of the controversy is that fans are accusing Joss Whedon and his writers at Mutant Enemy of being homophobic because they killed a lesbian character. For their part, Mutant Enemy seems to be encouraging this perception by repeatedly insisting that Tara's death wasn't motivated by homophobia. But most Buffy fans who are angry with Mutant Enemy aren't accusing them of being homophobic at all. A group of homophobic writers and producers could never have given the world the Willow/Tara relationship in the first place, and there's no reason to assume that they have all suddenly turned homophobic now.

On the other hand, even if Mutant Enemy didn't intend to tell a homophobic story, they were still capable of placing a homophobic image on the screen. Images have cultural and historical significance that go beyond the confines of a story. The swastika, for example, is an ancient symbol of good luck, but in the 21st Century it's almost universally associated with Nazism and Adolf Hitler. Similarly, the images of Tara lying dead and Willow going on a destructive and murderous rampage conjure images of the many dead and evil lesbian characters that have appeared on American TV and movie screens before. For Mutant Enemy to have placed these images on the screen and not expected viewers to hearken back to the homophobic stories of the past is as naïve as if they had placed a swastika on the screen and expected the viewers to think it signified good luck.

In a May 15 interview on the internet radio program, "The Succubus Club," Buffy producer David Fury admitted that the way Tara's death was depicted, with her being shot inside the bedroom where she and Willow had been making love for most of the episode, was a mistake:

"In retrospect, I can see the cliché. That was not our intent. We wanted to show them together and happy. We dramatized them being back together, it created the impression in a lot of people's minds that the event of her death was linked to them having sex. I do understand it. I say, 'Oh yeah.' It was not intended. We make mistakes."

So Mutant Enemy and the fans seem to agree that what appeared on the screen was harmful. Yet Mutant Enemy still maintains that their intentions were pure, even if the results were not.

The death of Tara as "dramatically necessary"

The official explanation Mutant Enemy gives for Tara's death is that was "dramatically necessary." In all the interviews with the Mutant Enemy staff since "Seeing Red" was aired, it has almost the only answer that any of them will give, even when asked questions that are only peripherally related to Tara's death. Willow's storyline of descending into the grip of dark magic to the point where she became an enemy of Buffy and her friends was a primary goal of the seasonal storyline, so the Mutant Enemy argument goes, and Tara's death was necessary to bring that storyline to fruition. Therefore, Tara had to die.

But is that true? Claiming that Tara's death was a necessity implies that there was no other way to bring about the ultimate goal of the storyline - Willow's emergence as an enemy, filled with dark magic to use against Buffy. Was this really the case?

Many Buffy fans think otherwise. They point to the first nine episodes of the season, in which Willow was depicted as becoming increasingly dependent on her growing magical abilities, and she was using them to make life simpler for herself. When she had a fight with Tara, she cast a spell to make Tara forget the fight. When Willow and Tara went to the Bronze looking for Buffy's sister Dawn, she wanted to project everyone but Dawn into a parallel universe in order to make the search easier. The temptations of the power she wielded were luring Willow into increasingly darker parts of her personality. If this storyline had been allowed to continue, Willow could easily have ended up as a villain all by herself. It wouldn't have been necessary for Tara to die, or even for Tara to be present at all.

So why didn't this storyline take place? Because in the tenth episode of the season, "Wrecked," Willow's problem suddenly changed. Instead of using magic to impose her will or make her life easier, Willow began using magic to get high. What had been a story about the temptations of power became a story about addiction and recovery, despite the fact that there had never been any drug addiction symbolism used prior to "Wrecked." Willow went through a long recovery process, during which time Buffy had to take away Willow's "magic weed" and get rid of all the candles in the house, because "to witches, candles are like bongs."

By the time "Seeing Red" came along, Willow was close to a full recovery. Since she was largely magic-free, of course it required something cataclysmic like Tara's death to send her back into dark magic. But the "necessity" of killing Tara in "Seeing Red" was brought about by the choice to change the nature of Willow's problem in "Wrecked."

So was it a better storyline to have Willow go through addiction and recovery before descending into dark magic rather than progressing there through the temptations of power? The widespread condemnation of the addiction and recovery story by fans and critics alike would suggest that it wasn't. But that's not really the point. Regardless of whether the "temptations of power" story or the "addiction and recovery" story was better, the fact remains that there were two options (and perhaps more that aren't considered here). Having more than one option means that there were no "dramatic necessities," only "dramatic choices." Tara didn't die because "she needed to." She died because Joss Whedon chose to kill her.

Joss says "I killed Tara"

Interviews haven't yielded much information about the decision process that led to Tara's death, since everyone from Mutant Enemy has stuck to the official position that Tara's death was a "necessity." There was, however, one telling piece of information from a post Joss Whedon made at the Bronze Posting Board shortly after the season finale:

"I knew some people would be angry with me for destroying the only gay couple on the show, but the idea that I COULDN'T kill Tara because she was gay is as offensive to me as the idea that I DID kill her because she was gay."

Who is Joss referring to when he mentions "some people?" I can't really see any executives from UPN or Fox sending him orders to keep a gay couple intact. If he's referring to any of his writers, none have spoken up and said so, and I highly doubt they ever will. That leaves only one group - the audience.

What exactly was Joss Whedon's relationship with the audience during the course of the Willow/Tara relationship? From all appearances, it was very good. Joss seemed to be pleased with the fact that he had created a symbol of hope and encouragement for gay and questioning young people. In May 2000, he wrote:

" post from a gay or questioning teen saying the show helped them is worth six hundred hate letters."

In the August 2001 issue of Out magazine, he is quoted as saying:

"We do have a bunch of people saying we've changed their lives. I always want to put out good role models. But I wasn't there saying, 'I want to help gay teenagers be comfortable with themselves.' We talked about the idea of college as being a place where people expand their sexuality or discover their sexuality. Then Seth Green decided he didn't want to do the show anymore. That's when [Willow's sexuality] blossomed into full womanhood. To get these responses was wonderfully overwhelming. It turned out to be one of the most important things we've done on the show."

Meanwhile, for the entire duration of the Willow/Tara storyline, Joss was having praise and gifts heaped on him by the fans, and Buffy was being nominated for awards because of the way Willow and Tara were being portrayed. It appeared to be a situation that was pleasing and beneficial to Mutant Enemy and the viewers alike.

So what happened? If Joss was enjoying the positive response and good relationship with his fans, and if he felt the Willow/Tara relationship was "one of the most important things" they had done on Buffy, why did he turn around and destroy it so wantonly?

Two sentences in the above quotes point toward a likely answer. First, note that in the Out interview, Joss says, "I wasn't there saying, 'I want to help gay teenagers be comfortable with themselves.'" Second, note that in his post at the Bronze following the finale, he said, "the idea that I COULDN'T kill Tara because she was gay is as offensive to me as the idea that I DID kill her because she was gay." In both instances, Joss places himself and what he does or doesn't want to do at the center of the issue. He accepts the praise and gratitude for what Willow and Tara did for people, but insists that he never set out to do any of it. He states that he killed Tara knowing full well that people would object to it.

In a sense, the two quotes complement each other. The Out interview can be taken as an attempt to provide himself cover for what he knows is to come. By saying he never intended to make Willow and Tara role models, he gave himself an excuse for the time when he was to take those role models away. Effectively, what Joss is saying in these two quotes is, "I gave you Willow and Tara because that's what I wanted in my story, and now I'm taking them away because that's what I want in my story." His story is always what's most important. He places his own creative freedom at the center of everything, elevating it above any social benefits the Willow/Tara relationship produced and above any harmful effects ending the Willow/Tara relationship causes.

Creative Freedom and Responsibility

But isn't that the way Joss is supposed to think? He's a writer, after all, and an executive producer. He's an American citizen, and that means he's guaranteed freedom of speech. But all freedom comes with responsibility attached to it. In the case of a TV show, the writers and producers hold power over their audience, because they control the story that the audience sees and hears. The amount of freedom they have to exert that control, therefore, is tempered by the responsibility they have toward the audience over whom they have power.

The balancing act between freedom and responsibility manifests itself in three ways. First, writers and producers are responsible for the messages they craft in the story itself. Second, writers and producers are responsible for the consequences that result once the story has been told. Lastly, writers and producers are responsible for the way they conduct themselves when interacting with their audience. All three areas have boundaries, of course. Responsibility can only extend so far. But where those boundaries lie is something that can't really be generalized. Each story must be examined individually. In the story of Willow and Tara, the case can be made that in all three areas, Mutant Enemy was willing to accept the responsibility of handling the storyline for as long as it suited them, but has tried to deny that responsibility now that the storyline doesn't suit them any more.

Responsibility for telling the story

Mutant Enemy claims that telling the story is of paramount importance, and no other considerations can get in the way of telling whatever story they want. And yet there are numerous times when Mutant Enemy made a deliberate effort to play up the Willow/Tara relationship in ways that had never been done for a gay couple on TV before. In a September 5 2001 interview with The Onion, Joss Whedon ridiculed the series Thirtysomething in order to defend the way Buffy was depicting the physical aspects of the Willow/Tara relationship:

"If it's not sexy, then it's not worth it. Like those two guys in Thirtysomething sitting in bed together, looking like they were individually wrapped in plastic. They did a scene with two guys in bed, and it was a big deal, on Thirtysomething, and it was the most antiseptic thing I've ever seen in my life. They were sitting ramrod-straight, far away from each other, and not even looking at each other. I was like, 'Ahhh, sexy!'"

In other interviews and on the Bronze Posting Board, Joss talked about the objections the WB executives had to the Willow/Tara kiss in the episode, "The Body." He boasted that he had threatened to walk out if the WB didn't let him keep the kiss in the episode. More recently, Marti Noxon gave several interviews in which she boasted about how Buffy was pushing the frontiers of what they could show on TV in the way of physical affection between the two girls. She spoke excitedly about Mutant Enemy's plan to show a "naked sex scene," just like the scenes all the heterosexual couples on the show had done.

In the wake of Tara's death, however, Mutant Enemy has denied that they had any responsibility to preserve the Willow/Tara relationship and its storyline. They claim that the needs of the story tied their hands, and they had no choice but to kill Tara. As long as Willow and Tara served their own interests, Mutant Enemy was willing to promote the storyline and play the part of responsible storytellers - but once their own interests went elsewhere, so did their sense of responsibility.

An interesting footnote to this issue came on June 18, when Mutant Enemy gave a presentation for the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Joss Whedon informed the crowd that in the upcoming season, Buffy would no longer be working at the "Doublemeat Palace," a fast food restaurant where she had been working during the previous season. The reason for the change? The fast food industry didn't like the way it was being portrayed at the Doublemeat Palace and threatened to pull its advertising money. Apparently Mutant Enemy feels their story is too important for them to listen to the gay community, but not too important for them to listen to Ronald McDonald.

Responsibility for the consequences of the story

When it comes to taking responsibility for the consequences of their story, Mutant Enemy again goes only as far as their self-interest takes them. When Mutant Enemy was interested in telling the story of Willow and Tara, Joss Whedon proudly proclaimed, "one post from a gay or questioning teen saying the show helped them is worth six hundred hate letters." In the wake of Tara's death, the Mutant Enemy response is reflected in the following excerpt from writer Steven DeKnight's May 8 interview at The Succubus Club:

"Q: The other day I heard a despondent gay teenage girl, in desperate pain to begin with, say that Willow and Tara are the only bright light in her world. They give her hope for herself and her life... So please answer this question for her: How do you think that she will feel after witnessing the end of 'Seeing Red?' ... What do you think we should tell her about the ending of your show?

DeKnight: You can't really think about storylines in that way when you're trying to tell a big, grand, seasonal story. Anybody can die. Anybody can get it. Anybody can be destroyed or broken down, and it's whatever serves the story."

And so once again we see that Mutant Enemy gladly takes the credit for the good their story does in the world, but refuses to take the blame for the harm their story does in the world, choosing instead to duck behind the smoke screen they call "serving the story."

Responsibility for conduct when interacting with the audience

One element of this controversy that is almost always brought up by fans but is almost never addressed by Mutant Enemy is Mutant Enemy's conduct when talking to the audience about the story.

According to both Steven DeKnight and actress Amber Benson, who played Tara, Joss Whedon made the decision to kill Tara during the summer of 2001. This means that Mutant Enemy spent months giving interviews in which they took credit for a relationship that they knew they were going to destroy. Joss Whedon's Out interview, in which he called the Willow/Tara relationship, "one of the most important things we've done on the show," was most likely published after Joss had already decided to end the relationship. He may have even given the interview after he had decided to end the relationship. When Marti Noxon boasted about "pushing the frontiers" with a "naked sex scene," she was referring to "Seeing Red," the very episode in which Tara was killed. Again, we see that Mutant Enemy's self-interest came first, and that they had no problem with the hypocrisy of accepting praise for a storyline they knew they were about to undo.

In addition to the media interviews, several Mutant Enemy writers interact with the fans on a regular basis through the Bronze Posting Board. For weeks worried fans asked the writers whether or not Tara was going to be killed off, and for weeks the writers assured them that she wasn't. Steven DeKnight loudly proclaimed "OVER MY DEAD BODY!" once when asked if Tara was going to be killed off, even though he was the one who wrote the episode in which she was killed. In his Succubus Club interview, DeKnight justified himself in this way:

"Well you know, part of the thing at Mutant Enemy, since I do talk to the fans, is I kind of feel a semi-responsibility to throw up a little smoke now and then."

Again we see that Mutant Enemy's sense of responsibility is directed solely toward itself. Of course it's reasonable to assume that writers would want to conceal the details of their stories until the episodes are aired, but concealing the truth is not the same thing as actively lying. No one forces the Mutant Enemy writers to go online, and no one forces them to answer any specific question. To spread lies instead of simply remaining silent is irresponsible and disrespectful.

A better way of doing business

In his May 3 interview with E!Online, Joss Whedon said:

"...I need to give [the fans] what they need, not what they want."

But how can Joss give the fans "what they need" when he doesn't listen to what the fans are saying? For two years, Joss and his staff heard the praise of the gay community and heard about all the hurts and disappointments they had helped wipe away through the symbols of hope that Willow and Tara provided. Did they really think the gay community needed to have those hurts and disappointments put back on them again, even more forcefully than before? On the contrary, it would seem that what Joss is actually saying is that he needs to give the fans what he thinks they need, without his bothering to find out whether his opinions are accurate. Again, Mutant Enemy appears to accept responsibility only for themselves.

There's a better way of doing business than the way Mutant Enemy behaves. There's a way of giving people what they need that goes beyond egocentric opinions. It's the way of actually listening to the audience and to the world in general. It's the way of crafting a message that can transcend the simple medium of television and attempt to improve the lives of those who hear it. It's a way that novelist Madeleine L'Engle describes in her book, Walking On Water:

"We don't want to feel less when we have finished a book; we want to feel that new possibilities of being have been opened to us. We don't want to close a book with a sense that life is totally unfair and that there is no light in the darkness; we want to feel that we have been given illumination."

And in the case of Willow and Tara, it's a way that could still have accomplished the stated goal of the seasonal story arc. If Joss had chosen to stay with his original story of Willow grappling with the temptations of power, Tara could have lived. And in fact, Tara could have been there to help Willow at the conclusion of the story, thus strengthening their relationship instead of destroying it. Joss could still have had the Dark Magic Willow storyline and the confrontation between Buffy and Willow while also doing the socially responsible thing by maintaining and building upon the relationship. Listening to the call of responsibility would therefore have cost Joss nothing - and yet he refused to listen.

Instead, what we see from Mutant Enemy is example after example of behavior that expresses little more than self-interest. Time after time, Mutant Enemy has appeared willing and eager to take credit for doing good but has refused to take responsibility for doing harm. Time after time, they have demonstrated hypocrisy and callous disregard for their viewers. They claim to produce what the viewers need, but it always appears to be more in line with what Mutant Enemy needs instead.

And so in conclusion, I come full-circle and return to my title. No, the killing of Tara was not an act of homophobia, but that doesn't make it right. Through proper handling of the Willow/Tara storyline, Joss Whedon could have attained greatness as a pioneer and visionary in modern society, but instead he traded that in for the imagined self-importance of his own ego - and we have all been diminished because of it.

Robert A. Black spent two seasons on the writing staff of Nickelodeon's You Can't Do That On Television back in the 1980s. After several years in the fields of Engineering and Quality Assurance, he is currently attempting a writing comeback as a Young Adult novelist.

"A man who fails well is greater than one who succeeds badly" - Thomas Merton

Edited by: BBOvenGuy  at: 9/13/02 5:39:04 pm

 Post subject: Essay #2
PostPosted: Fri Sep 13, 2002 6:39 pm 
The Message Is - "Pay Attention to the Message"

More thoughts on the craft of writing and the death of Tara

By Robert A. Black

"It was such an out-of-left-field way to die, you know? Stray bullet through the window? Warren's a really good shot. Right through the heart. You know... I mean, we're joking, we're all singing like, 'Shot through the heart! Joss is to blame! He gave Willow's love a bad name!'"

- Amber Benson at the Toronto Trek convention, July 7 2002

I've been very pleased to see all the response my first essay, "It's Not Homophobia, But That Doesn't Make It Right," has received. I even appreciated the people who didn't like it and wrote me nasty emails, because at least they gave me the time it took them to read the essay and the amount of thought it took them to fashion a reply.

Roughly two months have now passed since the Buffy season finale. Mutant Enemy is taking part in the annual media promotional campaign for the upcoming season, and production is just getting under way. And yet the controversy surrounding Tara's death continues to rage on, in the fan community and in the media alike. Some new information has come to light through new interviews, and I've found some information in older interviews that I think shows us how all this trouble got started in the first place. I've therefore decided to take another look at the issue.

Before I begin, though, let's get one thing straight. Some have suggested that in my last essay I was trying to dictate a specific storyline to Mutant Enemy - "Bring Tara back or else" - or that I was trying to say that writers need to have all their stories approved by some kind of Political Correctness Board before they publish or produce them. That's not what I was saying at all. I'm a writer myself, and I've been at it for a long time. I was writing Locker Jokes and Opposite Sketches on the set of You Can't Do That On Television three years before there even was a Roseanne around to give Joss Whedon his start. Creative freedom is something I take very seriously. If Joss Whedon thinks it was right to kill off Tara in a fashion so improbable that even his own cast made fun of it, then as much as I disagree with him, I have to respect his decision.

So what am I trying to say, then? Simply that creative freedom comes with responsibility attached to it. You can't have one without the other. All stories send messages, whether they're the messages the writer wants to send or not. That's as true for a TV show as it is for any other form of storytelling, despite the fact that many people try to dismiss television as "just entertainment." Even a TV show that doesn't try to send a message is still capable of establishing or reinforcing the cultural norms of our society. We all watch television, after all. It's our popular mythology, the folklore of our time. It gives us all common points of reference. And that means it's something that can be used to help society, or to hurt it - to move it forward, or to hold it back.

If you have total creative freedom and total control over your work, who can you point the finger at if the messages your story sends aren't the ones you wanted? If those messages lead to consequences that you didn't want, who can you blame for it? No one but yourself. It's therefore in the writer's best interest to keep a sense of social responsibility, and to consider the messages a story sends carefully. The controversy surrounding Tara's death illustrates this point perfectly.

A lesson from the past

Let's look at an example from the 1960s, the original Star Trek. If you want to see how big an impact a TV show can have on a culture, just look at the nearest cell phone. It probably looks very much like a Star Trek communicator. Coincidence? Even people who have never seen the show probably know catch phrases like "Beam me up, Scotty!" or "Live long and prosper," or they know how to make their fingers do the Vulcan salute.

Gene Roddenberry very deliberately set out to give the Starship Enterprise a multi-racial cast. He wanted a black character, an Asian character, and even a non-human character to be core members on his team of adventurers. (He even wanted the ship's second-in-command to be a woman, but the network thought that idea was too outrageous.)

Why did Gene want these things? It was part of the message he wanted to send about the future. He wanted to convince America that outward appearances didn't matter, that no matter what we looked like, we were all capable of functioning as equal members of "team humanity." And look what an impact that message had. Today there are African-American scientists and astronauts who point to Lieutenant Uhura as their inspiration. In science fiction shows on TV today, it's almost expected that starship crews be multi-racial. (Which brings me back to Buffy, but I'll get to that later.)

"Just entertainment?" In Star Trek's third season, Gene decided that in one episode he'd have white Captain Kirk kiss black Lieutenant Uhura. It wasn't even by choice - aliens were forcing them to do it - and yet many TV stations across the American "Old South" refused to air the episode. Today white Rupert Giles can sleep with black Olivia and nobody bats an eye, but would that even have been possible if it weren't for Gene Roddenberry or someone like him back in the 1960s?

Now imagine what it would have been like if Gene had gotten sloppy about his characters and allowed racial stereotypes to creep in. Suppose Uhura started eating watermelon on the Bridge or saying things like, "Massah Kirk, I don't know nuthin' 'bout openin' no hailin' frequencies!" Suppose Lieutenant Sulu, an Asian character, started wearing really thick glasses or leaving the Enterprise's turn signal on as they flew through space. "Just entertainment?" It would have damaged everything Gene had tried to say before. In the case of Uhura, the "hailin' frequencies" line is a direct reference back to Gone With the Wind, and the derogatory stereotypes of African-Americans that movie contained. Instead of sending a groundbreaking new message, Gene would suddenly have started to reinforce the status quo.

And that brings us back to Willow and Tara.

Willow and Tara - Another vision? If so, then whose?

When I first realized that Willow and Tara were going to be a couple, I immediately thought of Star Trek and Gene Roddenberry's role in introducing serious and real African-American characters onto America's TV screens. Willow and Tara were an opportunity for Buffy to take a place in TV history alongside Star Trek, by giving TV its first long-term realistic same-sex relationship.

But is that what Joss Whedon was thinking? The evidence tells us it wasn't. In August 2001, Joss himself told Out magazine:

"I wasn't there saying, 'I want to help gay teenagers be comfortable with themselves.'"

Willow and Tara were never even supposed to get together in Joss's original vision of the Buffy storyline. Willow needed a lover who could die at a certain moment in order to send her down into the grip of dark magic. Several Mutant Enemy writers have claimed that if Seth Green hadn't left the show, his character Oz would have been the one to die. But Oz wasn't available. Tara was, and she had some chemistry with Willow. The actresses had a lot of chemistry, too. And so Joss decided it would be "cool" to have Tara be Willow's next lover.

And then something happened. Willow and Tara became more than just two characters on a TV show. Even though Joss hadn't planned on sending a message to the gay community, he had sent one anyway - a message of hope, a sign that the gay community could see themselves reflected in our popular culture, just as everyone else is. And the audience responded. Gay and lesbian fans wrote in by the hundreds, perhaps even by the thousands, telling the Buffy team how Willow and Tara had helped them, or how the storyline had changed their lives. People went to the Posting Board Parties and broke down in tears when they came face to face with Amber Benson or Alyson Hannigan. Some fans even sent Joss Whedon an engraved toaster (a reference to an Ellen DeGeneres joke about coming out, in case you don't know), which - at the time - Joss claimed meant more to him than an Emmy Award.

Did Joss realize what he had done? He certainly talked as if he did. In May 2000, he told the Bronze Posting Board:

" post from a gay or questioning teen saying the show helped them is worth six hundred hate letters... Here's the word: Tara's not gonna disappear. She's part of the show, part of Willow's life."

And really, it's almost impossible to think that he couldn't have seen what was happening. After Xander discovered his talent for carpentry at the end of "The Replacement," I highly doubt that Joss received an engraved tool box with the message, "You know, I'm a carpenter myself, and that story really helped me feel better about the profession I've chosen." And obviously Joss would never have received letters from people who could relate directly to the experiences of vampires, demons and other fantasy creatures that populate Buffy's universe. The fan response to the Willow/Tara relationship was unique in the history of the series. Even the negative response from some fans - the hate letters Joss referred to in his post at the Bronze - were unprecedented. Clearly Willow and Tara touched the audience in a unique and powerful way. Their relationship was a powerful message, even though it was a message Joss had never intended to send.

At this point, Joss had a dilemma. The relationship between Willow and Tara was outgrowing his plans. Tara wasn't supposed to be that important a character - she wasn't in every episode, nor did Amber Benson appear in the opening titles of the show. Tara's role was simply to be there until it was time for her to die and send Willow down into the grip of dark magic - but the reaction of the fans was turning her into something much more.

In many cases, writers rejoice when something like this happens, when a character or a storyline suddenly blossoms into something greater than they could have expected. The ancients used to think of such happenings as gifts from the muses, and even now some writers attribute mystical or spiritual origins to them. And many writers, when offered a surprising new storyline to explore, will take the new path they've been given and set their previous agenda aside, or at least they'll try to blend the new path in with their existing destination, changing the way they get to the end of their story if not the end itself.

Joss Whedon could have done that. He could have seen the unexpected blossoming of the Willow/Tara relationship as the gift that it was and adjusted his story accordingly. Someone with Joss's talent would certainly have been able to find a way of achieving the Dark Magic Willow conclusion without destroying the Willow/Tara relationship in the process. But that's not what Joss chose to do. He looked at the gift he'd been given, and he turned it down.

Mixing the message

As I said before, no matter how much I disagree with Joss Whedon's story decisions, I respect his right to make them. He had every right to reject the opportunity he had. However, at the same time we can see that it was that very decision and the way Mutant Enemy acted on it that caused the trouble they're currently in with the audience. The controversy over Tara's death is the consequence of decisions Mutant Enemy made and carried out without paying enough attention to their responsibilities.

The trouble started when Mutant Enemy decided to mix the messages they were sending to the viewers. Long after they had made the decision to kill Tara, Joss and his staff gave interviews and made posts at the Bronze posting board reassuring the audience of Tara's importance and her continuing presence on the show.

How long did this mixture of messages go on? New information from Amber Benson's July 7 appearance at the Toronto Trek convention has shed more light on when Joss made the final decision to kill Tara:

"I knew like in the middle - pretty much the middle to the end of Season 5 - that it was going to happen. In fact, Joss was really excited about it."

In my first essay, I pointed out that Joss was busy taking credit for the groundbreaking nature of the Willow/Tara relationship even after he had already made plans to destroy that relationship, while Marti Noxon was boasting about a "naked sex scene" that occurred during the very episode in which Tara was killed. With this new timeline from Amber Benson, we can now also include the following quote Joss gave to E!Online in May 2001 as an example of Mutant Enemy's disinformation campaign:

"I have no plans to send Tara anywhere. Amber [Benson] and Alyson [Hannigan] have such great chemistry; they're so great together, and they're very romantic together. We have terrible, terrible things to do to them because they're on my show, so needless to say, horrible things will happen--but as a couple, I think they work really well. As for Amber, even if she weren't going out with Willow, I think she's become a big part of the heart of the show."

As I said in my first essay, it's perfectly reasonable to expect that TV producers would want to conceal their upcoming plot twists and thus maintain the element of surprise. But that's not the only thing that was going on. A look back at a May 2000 interview Joss Whedon did on National Public Radio's Fresh Air reveals another agenda:

"When I worked on Speed, there was a character who died, a lawyer that Alan Ruck played, and I took out the lawyer. He was a bad man. He was terrible. You know, he was causing trouble and he ended up dying, and I turned him into a likeable, sort of a doofy tourist guy, and they're like, 'Well, now we can't kill him!' And my opinion was, 'Well, now you should, because now people will actually care when he dies.'"

It's easy to see the attempt to make Tara as sympathetic a character as possible as the sixth season of Buffy unfolded. She was the only member of the Scooby Gang who acted like a mature adult, the only one who looked after Dawn, and the one Buffy trusted with the secret of her affair with Spike. All of it was done by writers who already knew where Tara's road ended. All of it was done in an attempt to make the blow of Tara's death as devastating as possible.

And many Buffy fans are now saying, "So what? That's what Joss does." But Tara wasn't just any character. There was much more of an emotional investment in her. There was much more of a social investment in her. Tara wasn't just a recurring character fulfilling her destiny of dying as a plot device. She had grown into much more, and Mutant Enemy knew it. But instead of looking at Tara's significance in the light of social responsibility, Mutant Enemy saw nothing but a means to their own ends.

Note that I'm giving Mutant Enemy the benefit of the doubt when I assume that they simply didn't pay attention to their responsibilities. I could make a case for much worse. After all, killing off Tara hurt the gay community in ways that anti-gay hate groups never will. A hate group has only one message - hatred - and the objects of that hatred know better than to listen to the message for very long. Mutant Enemy, on the other hand, held the gay community's attention for two and a half years, giving them hope, placating them with false reassurances and winning their trust with lies - all before cutting them down as surely as Warren's improbable marksmanship felled Tara. Hate groups can only dream of being able to inflict that much pain and suffering. Like Warren shooting Tara, Mutant Enemy did their damage by accident - but that doesn't change the fact that damage was done.

The fact that Tara's death brought cheers from homophobic viewers was made evident by this May 11 post from Steven DeKnight at the Bronze Beta:

"As for those who are happy that 'the lesbian got what she deserved' - these are the people I hold contempt, loathing, and disgust for. That's just plain ignorance and hate, and I openly call for them to stop watching the show and any show I ever work for."

Unfortunately, Mr. DeKnight's post was far too little and far too late. If Mutant Enemy had paid attention to the messages they were sending in the first place, there would have been nothing for homophobic viewers to cheer about at the Bronze Beta. And in the case of Steven DeKnight himself, perhaps he wouldn't have had to express his contempt, loathing and disgust if he hadn't first made comments like these examples from his May 8 interview at The Succubus Club:

[In response to the interviewer commenting on a technical problem that was plaguing the show.] "I suspect it was the lesbians. I'm pretty sure."

[In response to the interviewer asking him to talk to the upset Willow/Tara fans.] "Come on, come on! Tara had to go! She had to go!"

Interviewer [remarking on all the Willow/Tara questions that had been sent in]: "They all really just want to know why."

DeKnight: "Well, you know, there was the whole lesbians-against-God thing."

Again, Mr. DeKnight has complete freedom to tell any "jokes" that he chooses, but if he later finds a group that he loathes agreeing with him, does he have anyone but himself to blame?

Tara's Death - Business as usual?

In a story published in a recent issue of The Advocate (the issue is dated August 20, even though it's being released in July), Marti Noxon claims that when it came to Willow and Tara:

"We never thought about the fact that these characters were gay when we were deciding what their fate was going to be."

For Mutant Enemy, killing characters off is a part of the normal routine. As Joss Whedon said in his May 2000 NPR interview:

"The problem with doing a horror show on television is that you know your main characters are coming back week to week, and you don't really care about somebody who just showed up for one episode. So every now and then you have to make the statement, 'No, nothing is safe,' and [killing a recurring character is] a very effective way of doing that."

From Mutant Enemy's point of view, then, killing Tara seemed perfectly sensible. In fact, the knowledge that so many people were so emotionally invested in Tara probably made her an especially tempting target. But there's a problem with this line of thinking. When a character is tied to larger emotional or social issues, the writer needs to look at the bigger picture and weigh the consequences as they extend beyond the confines of the story.

Now that he has the benefit of hindsight, Joss Whedon himself has admitted to the problems with failing to consider the bigger picture. In his interview for The Advocate, he said:

"...when you kill a character like Tara, statistically speaking, [lesbians] are underrepresented and so people have a legitimate reason to say 'It's not the same'".

In other words, trying to "treat everyone as individuals" only works if the initial playing field is level for all those individuals. Otherwise, competition between the haves and the have-nots does nothing but maintain the status quo. Those who are ahead stay ahead, and those who are behind stay behind. Such competition is about as "equal" as if I tried to play a game of one-on-one basketball against Shaquille O'Neal.

Willow and Tara are individuals, yes. But they're also lesbians. When a heterosexual couple is destroyed on TV, straight people have dozens of other heterosexual couples in which they can invest their time and emotions. Willow and Tara stood alone, the only long-term same-sex couple on television. Now that they're gone, who do gay people have to turn to? Nobody. That's the bigger picture Mutant Enemy failed to consider before it was too late.

Tara's death is the most visible problem Mutant Enemy has had with the messages behind their routine killing of characters, but it isn't the only problem. Some have questioned one of the basic premises of the entire show - a premise that was described by Steven DeKnight in his Succubus Club interview:

"Anybody can die. Anybody can get it. Anybody can be destroyed or broken down, and it's whatever serves the story."

The problem with this claim is that it's simply not true. Perhaps anybody can die, but it's not just anybody who actually does die. Among the recurring "good guy" characters over the first six seasons of Buffy, all the ones who have died were women, except for Larry, who was gay, and Forrest, who was black. And speaking of recurring black characters, all but one of them - whether they were good or evil - have been killed off. And the Asian characters? There haven't been any recurring Asian characters. There have only been two Asian characters at all. They had less than five lines of dialogue between the two of them, and they're both dead now. The same is true for Latino characters. There have only been two, appearing in one episode, and they both died.

On the other hand, if you're a straight white man with reasonably good intentions - or at least if people think you're funny or you're sexy - you pretty much don't have to worry about being killed on Buffy. Not even the Slayer herself has that much peace of mind. The apparent preferential treatment prompted a columnist for The Boston Herald to make the following comment:

"We knew that Buffy lived on a hellmouth. Who knew she lived in Klan country?"

Does this mean that the people at Mutant Enemy are racist or sexist? Not really. What they are is careless. No one is stopping to consider the cumulative effect of what they're doing. The only recurring student characters killed in the Graduation Day battle with the Mayor are Harmony (female) and Larry (gay). The only recurring foot soldier of the Initiative to be killed is Forrest (black). When we dip into Spike's past and see him kill two Slayers, one is Asian and the other is black. The only Scooby love interests to be killed off are Jenny (female) and Tara (female and gay). Individually, all these decisions might appear to make sense. Cumulatively, they send a different message entirely, and one that Mutant Enemy might not have wanted to send if they'd been paying better attention.

The Bottom Line - A better way of doing business, revisited

So what exactly has Mutant Enemy gained by insisting on their own creative freedom without regard for the responsibility that goes with that freedom? What have they reaped from the seeds that they sowed? Falling ratings, loss of trust, a segment of the fan base so alienated that it has actively organized against the show, people with agendas they claim to hate cheering them on, negative reviews and stories in the press, and a controversy that has dragged through half the summer and now threatens to haunt the promotional efforts for the fall. And this is in addition to the fallout from several other elements of Buffy's sixth season that exhibited the same signs of irresponsible storytelling and lack of regard for consequences.

Joss Whedon and his team kept their creative freedom, but at the cost of their status as the darlings of many critics, and at the cost of their reputations with many of the fans. Sooner or later, that will likely translate into a cost at the financial bottom line as well. So was it worth all that?

Freedom and responsibility are inseparable. You cannot insist on one and refuse the other. If you try, you may make a splash on the face of the world for a while, but sooner or later too many of those people you feel no responsibility toward will either be offended or bored by the things you give them. Why wouldn't they be? You feel no responsibility toward them, so what chance do you have of connecting with them? When that happens, chances are they'll stop giving you their money, and at that point what are you left with? Nothing but a raging ball of resentment toward a world that doesn't understand your "vision."

A better way of doing business, a more responsible way, is a way that looks beyond the self and toward another. In the case of the writer, it means looking beyond yourself and toward the audience. Joss Whedon says he needs to give the fans "what they need," but in order to do that a writer must make contact with the audience and establish a dialogue. It's the only way you can find out exactly what it is that they need. Does that mean you let the audience dictate your story? Of course not - that would be slanting in the opposite direction. Each of us who writes has a unique message to give the world - but we can't do that if we never bother looking to find the best way of delivering those messages. Without contact, without dialogue and without responsibility, we end up delivering our messages about as effectively as if we were standing on street corners, shouting them out through bullhorns.

Gene Roddenberry once said there was quid pro quo in the writer/reader or writer/viewer relationship - the audience expects something in return for the time and attention they've given the writer. Responsible writers reward the audience instead of punishing it. They give the audience enlightenment instead of darkness. Does that mean their stories must be full of nothing but happy sweetness and light? Of course not. The essence of drama is the principle of tension and release, of moving from consonance to dissonance and then to a new state of consonance. Responsible writers can make their characters as miserable as they want - but they remember to bring those characters back from it, too.

As I write this, there are signs that Mutant Enemy might be starting to get the message. As I quoted above, Joss Whedon told The Advocate that he now understands why the lesbian community, so vastly underrepresented on television, has a legitimate reason to say that Tara's death was different from other character deaths. In that same article, Marti Noxon said the following:

"It's the first time that we've gotten public outcry where I really can't even read some of the letters, they hurt so much. It's very indicative of how underrepresented gay people feel in the culture. Because the kinds of letters we've gotten have been so emotional and so personal and so deeply felt, you realize that every single instance of a positive portrayal of gay love on television means so much to people."

Does this mean there's hope that Mutant Enemy can turn things around in Buffy's seventh season, and tell their story in a more responsible fashion? Of course there's hope - but after all that's happened, Mutant Enemy isn't going to win any fans back with words alone. They've been able to talk a good game before, saying all the right things about the Willow/Tara relationship while at the same time planning to tear it apart. This time, Mutant Enemy will have to follow up their words with deeds, not just once but on a continuing basis. As fierce as the controversy has raged this time, it will be much worse if the fans are played for fools again.

Can Joss Whedon do it? Can he run his show in a more responsible fashion and win back the fans' trust? Does he even want to? Or is he so insistent on his own "vision" that he will continue to alienate his audience instead? The answers to all those questions are completely up to him. And that's just as it should be.

Robert A. Black already has a publisher interested in looking at his latest Young Adult novel, which means he really should be finishing the rewrites on it instead of working on this essay. Such is his dedication to the Willow/Tara cause... :-)

"A man who fails well is greater than one who succeeds badly" - Thomas Merton

 Post subject: Essay #3
PostPosted: Fri Sep 13, 2002 6:41 pm 
Secrets and Lies Beyond the Fourth Wall

The part of Tara's death Mutant Enemy won't discuss

By Robert A. Black

Lilah: You know, I always forget - the very bottom of Hell, in the ninth circle, the devil is frozen in ice, right? He's got three heads, three mouths and those mouths are reserved for the worst sinners. Now, I can't remember - who is in the center mouth? What was his name? The one person in all of human history deemed the greatest sinner? Who is it?

Wesley, after a beat: Judas Iscariot.

Lilah: Right. The worst spot in Hell is reserved for those who betray.

-- From the Angel episode, "A New World"

Well, here we are again.

It's been three months since Tara MacLay met her death in the Buffy episode "Seeing Red." Many Buffy fans have known about it for much longer - some as early as the middle of March, not long after the episode was filmed. Now the new season is already in production, the networks are gearing up for their fall premieres, and yet the subject of Tara's death remains on people's minds and on message boards across the internet. Major publications have been told of the controversy, and some have already written articles about it. There are even rumblings that the issue will be the subject of a panel discussion at the upcoming World Science Fiction Convention in San Jose CA.

This is my third essay on the subject. The first one, "It's Not Homophobia, but That Doesn't Make It Right," was something I felt the need to write almost from the moment I first heard that Tara was going to be killed off. The second one, "The Message Is, 'Pay Attention to the Message'," was more of a surprise. I hadn't expected the response the first essay received, and I wasn't sure how much more there was for me to say on the subject. You can imagine, then, how surprised I am to be addressing the subject for a third time. Who would have guessed that the issue would still be affecting people so profoundly after all this time?

So, you may ask, what is there left for me to talk about? Plenty. For one thing, Joss Whedon has had more to say on the subject. Wanda from E!Online asked him some very pointed questions recently, and his answers have given me plenty to think about and comment on.

As expected, Joss's explanation for Tara's death is that he was focusing on the narrative and what was necessary for Willow's story arc. It's safe ground for him, because he's essentially untouchable there. No matter what you think of Joss's story decisions - and personally, I think they were really bad - they were still his decisions to make and we must respect his right to make them.

However, that's not the end of the matter. While viewers were watching the Willow/Tara story unfold onscreen, there was an entirely different story unfolding beyond television's "fourth wall" - in person, through the postal service, on the internet and in the media, where Mutant Enemy was interacting with their fans. It's this story that Mutant Enemy hasn't been willing to say much about. It's this story that warrants further attention.

Questions, questions, questions...

I've noticed a trend in the replies I've been writing to the people who have sent me comments on my essays. (I do try to write everyone who sends me something - even the guy who told me I couldn't possibly be more wrong. My reply rate isn't one hundred percent, but I do make the attempt.) Some people have pointed out Mutant Enemy's repeated claim that they treated Tara just like any other character and asked me why that's not a good enough explanation. Some have asked me whether or not I think Tara's death invalidates all that was done before with the Willow/Tara relationship. And some have objected to the way I compared Mutant Enemy to anti-gay hate groups in my second essay.

The answers to these and many of the other questions I've been asked are all rooted in the same thing - the combination of what we saw on the screen with what we heard and read away from the screen. The difference lies in the profound effect that Mutant Enemy's interaction with the fans had on the way those fans viewed the events on the show.

Let's look at what I meant when I compared Mutant Enemy to anti-gay hate groups. The very term "hate group" conjures up images of the Ku Klux Klan or gay-bashings, and sadly these are as real as ever in some parts of the United States. However, a shifting national mood and a string of costly lawsuits have prompted many hate groups to change their tactics. According to a US Commerce Department study, today many hate groups concentrate more on propaganda, distributing their messages through literature, the internet, public access television and public demonstrations.

And that's why I said that Mutant Enemy hurt the gay community in ways that these groups never will.

An anti-gay hate group will never gain the gay community's trust the way Mutant Enemy did. A hate group only has one message - hate. I doubt there are many gay people who would see a group of people waving signs, passing out propaganda or hurling epithets at them and believe the members of that group could be trusted. I doubt there are many gay people who would consider the members of that group to be their friends. I doubt there are many gay people who would continue listening to that group for two and a half years.

But the gay community did trust Mutant Enemy. They heard Joss Whedon say things like "one post from a gay or questioning teen saying the show helped them is worth six hundred hate letters." They heard Joss Whedon tell a number of journalists - including one from Out magazine, a leading publication in the gay community - that the story of Willow and Tara was one of the most important things they've done on the show. A bond of trust was formed, and when Tara was killed that bond of trust was broken.

The pain of betrayal is a uniquely intense emotional experience. It's what fuels many divorces and crimes of passion. It's what powers Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and allows his line "Et tu, Brute?" to transcend the play and enter our popular culture. It's why Dante put Judas Iscariot in the worst part of Hell when he wrote his Divine Comedy - and why Mutant Enemy had Lilah Morgan refer back to Dante in an episode of Angel.

But you can't have betrayal if there's no bond of trust to betray. An anti-gay hate group can't form a bond of trust with the gay community, and therefore can't inflict the pain of betrayal. Mutant Enemy, on the other hand, did form a bond of trust with the gay community. They made the gay community believe that Buffy was a safe haven, a place to escape from hatred and feel included (Joss even claimed as much himself once, as we'll see in a moment). But instead of nurturing that trust, Mutant Enemy chose to betray it. Joss Whedon, who says he needs to give fans what they need and not what they want, decided that the gay community needed to see what the hate groups want, a lesbian killed by an act of violence, right in the middle of what was supposed to be a place of safety. All the public access programming on the airwaves couldn't have dealt a harsher blow.

What did Joss know? And when did he know it?

And yet as I said, so far Mutant Enemy hasn't commented on this aspect of the controversy. In fact, most recently Joss has claimed that he didn't even know it even existed. Here's Wanda's report of what Joss said when she asked him about it:

I asked if he could understand why it was painful to lose TV's only positive lesbian relationship. "You have to understand," he said, "I'm not watching TV. You either watch it or you make it. So, when people said, 'Willow and Tara were all we had.' I was like, 'I didn't know that.'"

I've already shown numerous examples in my first two essays that refute Joss's claim. The fan reaction to Willow and Tara was simply too great and too intensely personal for him not to have seen that it was unique. The interviews he gave and the postings he made on the Bronze make it clear that not only did he know what was going on, but he was actually using it to further his own ends. In case anybody still has doubts, though, let me offer a few more quotes to consider.

On April 28 2000, Joss made this comment to a fan calling herself "Riley's Girl":

Actually I'm really glad you like the show. I'm against intolerance of any kind, but if I only made a show for people with the exact same opinions as me, I'd have a pretty teeny audience. So welcome. The whole point of Buffy is to be inclusive to those who feel excluded, like gay teens and, right now, like Riley's Girl. (But no Nazis. I'm serious about that.)

On August 1 2000, Joss had this to say about the "lesbian toaster" he had been given:

NO ONE I know has an engraved toaster. Plus, coolness aside, the fact that you cared that much about what we've been doing with Willow and Tara... sniff sniff, something in my eye...

And a few days later, on August 6, Joss had this to say about a convention experience:

At the con, a woman came up to me after the panel to say "Thank you for Tara." But I was being herded away and I didn't get to respond, I shouted "You're Welcome" but I don't know if she heard, anyway it was a big deal for me that she came up to say that and I hope she knows it. Amber and I chat on occasion about the greatness of helping people with this role.

As the Willow/Tara relationship continued, the fan response and the media interest only grew larger. If Joss didn't know that Willow and Tara were unique, why did he think a magazine like Out wanted to interview him? Why did he think people were thanking him? Why did he think people were breaking down in tears in front of Alyson Hannigan or Amber Benson, telling the actresses how their lives had been transformed? Joss's claim that he didn't know simply doesn't hold water.

And this brings me to another point about Joss and lies. A number of people have told me that producers lie all the time. It's necessary in order for them to protect the plot twists in their stories. But that isn't really accurate. J. Michael Straczynski spent far more time online than all of Mutant Enemy combined during the run of Babylon 5 - and on the USEnet of all places, not a private forum like the Bronze. At the same time, he also visited the America Online forums occasionally, and his producer John Copeland was a regular there. Neither of them ever spread disinformation on the scale that Mutant Enemy did with Willow and Tara. When a question about spoilers came up, they either ignored it, gave an extremely vague answer or said "I'm not going to answer - you'll have to wait and see." There were never any statements like "I have no plans to send Marcus Cole anywhere," or "I think Talia Winters is a big part of the heart of the show," or "Kill off Warren Keffer? OVER MY DEAD BODY!" (Those are all characters who were killed off, in case you didn't follow the series.) So while it's reasonable to expect producers to protect their secrets, that doesn't mean they have to behave the way Mutant Enemy has behaved.

Besides, even if Wanda is right and it really is acceptable for Mutant Enemy to behave the way they did, there are no plot twists to protect now that the season is over. Tara's dead, and everybody knows it. So why is Joss Whedon still lying?

Just what is this "narrative" thing, anyway?

Another thing people who have written to me point out is Mutant Enemy's repeated claim that "the narrative" required them to kill Tara. How can I expect writers to sacrifice their freedom by subjecting their narrative to the demands of minorities or the politically correct? Aren't I trying to take away creative freedom? Do I really expect a writer to work under such restrictive conditions?

What a lot of people don't seem to realize is that the issue of "the narrative" is never that black and white. Writers are never in a situation where they have only one way to tell a story. Taking away one story option is never something even remotely crippling. "The narrative" isn't rigid. It's fluid. When you're telling a story, the playing field available to you is very wide and gives you plenty of room to maneuver. There is always room for changes and adjustments.

Don't believe me? Then read what Mutant Enemy has to say on the subject. Let's start with something I brought up in my first essay - the announcement from Joss at his June 18 Academy of Television Arts and Sciences presentation that Buffy would get a new job in the upcoming season. Why?

Doublemeat Palace was the only thing we ever did to make advertisers pull out. They did not like us making fun of fast food.

Next, consider the following interview with James Marsters from the October 1999 issue of Horror Online:

Although the characters of Spike and Drusilla have become an integral part of the show, Whedon's initial concept differed slightly, James' role being a bit more disposable. "He was supposed to die three to four episodes after being introduced," James explained. "Supposedly Angel was going to go bad, and Juliet was to be his girlfriend, and Angel was going to kill me as his first bad-boy thing to do.'"

And speaking of Angel, consider the following item from the February 25 2000 issue of The Hollywood Reporter:

Whedon went on to explain that they originally thought of Angel as a guardian for other characters but soon realized that the show's audience wanted to know more about the mysterious good vampire.

So here we have three examples of how the narrative can change based on the reaction of the sponsors, the producers or the fans.

Now consider this quote from Joss Whedon's June 2001 interview with, in which he discusses his original plan to make Tara part demon (a wood sprite was the example used) and what led him to change that part of his story:

Wood sprite family fell by the wayside. It was like a bolt from the blue: Wait a minute, we're doing this wrong! And that's why when we lay things in, we keep ourselves open, to a sudden change or a better idea. We've often had ideas that we were like, "Oh, we could pursue this," and then something much cooler came along, and we're like, "OK, never mind!"

Obviously, the people at Mutant Enemy don't think the narrative is as rigid as they would like us to believe it is. There are many reasons why it could change, some which involve the writers themselves and others which involve someone watching the finished product. So had the narrative really locked Mutant Enemy into killing Tara? Not at all. There were plenty of opportunities to change the story. The goal of the story - Dark Magic Willow - could still have been achieved, but in a way that would have preserved the Willow/Tara relationship instead of destroying it. The relationship was destroyed not because Mutant Enemy couldn't avoid it, but rather because they wouldn't avoid it.

The implied hypocrisy

Remember what I said in my second essay, about the need for writers to be careful that they don't send out messages they don't intend? The excuses Mutant Enemy has given for killing Tara add up to another of those messages. They imply a sense of hypocrisy in the Mutant Enemy staff and cast doubt on the claim that Willow and Tara were being treated just like anybody else.

It's not as if Mutant Enemy has credibility to spare. When Joss Whedon tells The Advocate about his gay godfather but tells people at the Bronze Beta, "The gay thing is so passé. We're over that," or when Steven DeKnight rails against homophobes at the Bronze Beta just days after telling homophobia-tinged "jokes" during his interview at The Succubus Club, they're already casting doubt on their sincerity. The inconsistencies in their excuses only make the situation worse.

Why is it that Angel's popularity gave him an expanded role and eventually his own series? Why is it that the positive reaction to Spike has kept him on the show to this very day, when he was originally going to be killed off over four years ago? And if positive reactions got those characters more screen time, why did the positive reaction to Tara get her killed? This example is only the beginning. There are others, too.

In his May 15 interview at The Succubus Club, David Fury was asked if there was any chance that Tara could be brought back from the dead. Here's what he replied:

Understand we can't cheapen death on the show. We have explored bringing people back already. So um, I don't think there's any, Joyce is really dead, Tara is really dead.

"We can't cheapen death on the show?" What exactly does that mean? To be sure, there have been deaths on Buffy that have had a profound impact, most notably the deaths of Jenny Calendar and Buffy's mother Joyce. But at the same time, Angel was killed and brought back, while Buffy was killed twice and brought back. If you consider both Buffy and Angel, we've now seen Darla die as a vampire, come back as a human, die as a human, come back as a vampire, and then die as a vampire again. All of these events took place before "Seeing Red" was aired. So I must ask - why is it that bringing Tara back would "cheapen death" when all these other resurrections didn't? In what way is death cheapened that it hasn't already been cheapened?

And then there's the issue of exactly what Joss was trying to say - or not trying to say - with the Season 6 story arc and with "Seeing Red" in particular. Here's what he told Wanda about "Seeing Red," as reported in her July 26 column:

It was an episode that was so clearly about male violence and male dominance...

But if this was supposed to be the point of the story, it's a very muddled point. In the episodes that followed, Warren paid for his acts of violence and dominance with his life - but the act of making him pay that price destroyed Willow as well, turning her into the very "evil witch" stereotype that she herself railed against earlier in the season. Meanwhile, Spike tried to rape Buffy and yet Buffy still trusted him enough to seek him out in the very next episode and ask if he would protect Dawn, and Spike ended the season by gaining the reward of his soul. So exactly what is it that Joss is trying to say about male violence and dominance? It doesn't exactly look like he's entirely against them, now does it?

Meanwhile, here's what Joss told Wanda about Willow and Tara in that very same interview:

I don't really care about issues. I didn't care about the one I introduced with Tara, and I didn't care about the one when I killed her.

So let's see if we've got this straight - he's unhappy with those in the audience who missed his muddled and morally ambiguous point about male dominance, but he doesn't care about the issue of giving the gay community its only realistic portrayal of a loving same-sex relationship. In this light, are we really still supposed to believe that Buffy is a show about female empowerment? Are we really supposed to believe that Willow and Tara were treated just like everybody else?

Moving on and looking forward

The special Wednesday airing of Buffy on July 24 had a Nielsen household rating of 0.9, which translates to roughly 950,000 viewers. That was good for a ranking of 125th out of 137 prime-time shows on the seven commercial broadcast networks. Three of PAX TV's nightly Touched By An Angel reruns did better. The regular Tuesday broadcast on July 23 was only slightly higher, with a 1.3 Nielsen rating. That was good enough for 110th place, but three of PAX TV's nightly Diagnosis Murder reruns still did better. That week's episode of Angel was in the basement as well, ranked 123rd with a 1.0 Nielsen rating.

Am I about to suggest that Mutant Enemy's plunge in the ratings is the result of people protesting the death of Tara? Not entirely. Instead, I think the poor ratings are the result of a much larger problem, and the way Tara's death has been handled is only one symptom of that problem. Other symptoms exist as well. While I've been talking about the people upset over Willow and Tara, others have been upset over any number of different things involving Buffy and Spike, from Spike's attempted rape in "Seeing Red" to the restoration of his soul in the last scene of the season. Still others are upset over the oppressively dark tone of the past season, or the fact that a series which stood for five years as a champion of female empowerment became more like a symbol of female degradation instead. Angel viewers, meanwhile, have their own problems to worry about.

Should Mutant Enemy have seen this coming? Well, take a look at what Joss Whedon had to say in his September 2001 interview with The Onion, when he was asked whether the dedication of his fans put any extra pressure on him:

You don't want to let them down. The people who feel the most strongly about something will turn on you the most vociferously if they feel you've let them down. Sometimes you roll your eyes and you want to say, "Back off," but you don't get the big praise without getting the big criticism. Because people care. So. Much. And you always know that's lurking there. It does make a difference.

Is this the same person who is now defending his right to tell his narrative at the cost of everything else? If so, then what happened? We may never know for sure.

For three essays now I've tried to show how the death of Tara illustrates the need for a writer to maintain a sense of responsibility toward the audience, and toward society as a whole. Writers who succeed do so because they're able to form relationships with their audiences. Relationships can't work if they're one-sided - neither the writer nor the audience can have total domination over the other. Relationships are based on trust, and without it they fall apart.

Look at Mutant Enemy's track record, and you'll see what happens when trust disappears. If no relationship ever turns out well, if no character is ever safe from death or emotional destruction, if no promising future ever comes to pass, and no assurances from the writers and producers can ever be believed, what reason do people have to invest their emotions in the show? Today the Willow/Tara fans are in mourning - whose turn will it be tomorrow? Yesterday Mutant Enemy was lying to the Willow/Tara fans - who are they lying to today? If Joss identifies someone as "a big part of the heart of the show" - as he labeled Amber Benson last year and has labeled Charisma Carpenter more recently - is that a sign of good things for that actor's character, or a sign that you'll soon be hearing how much that actor will be missed and how much it hurt everyone at Mutant Enemy to let that actor go?

Speaking of which, Amber Benson appears to be moving on with her life quite nicely these days. Her movie Chance will be a part of the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival in Birmingham AL in September. When asked about Buffy by the Birmingham News, she remarked, "That's three years of my life, kind of over, but it's exciting to go on to new things." Joss has said she'll be back on the show in a different role this coming season, but all Amber has said on the subject is, "I don't know, and even if I did, I still couldn't tell you."

In time, the Willow/Tara fans will also move on. New things in their lives will demand their attention, as things always do. Sooner or later, someone else in Hollywood will attempt to put another same-sex relationship on TV. Let's hope it's someone who not only gives the relationship a good and realistic beginning, as Joss did, but also has the courage and conviction to remain faithful to an audience that has such an enormous need to be reflected in our popular culture along with everyone else.

And what of Joss and his team at Mutant Enemy? As always, what they do with their stories is completely up to them. I just hope they learn a few things while they still have an audience that's willing to pay them any attention.

Robert A. Black has the distinction of being the only writer who ever got to drop green slime on Alanis Morrisette. He never imagined that a straight white man would have so much to say about lesbians.

"A man who fails well is greater than one who succeeds badly" - Thomas Merton

 Post subject: Essay #4
PostPosted: Fri Sep 13, 2002 6:43 pm 
The Executive Producer's New Clothes

Points to ponder as the new TV season approaches

By Robert A. Black

I promise, I really am going to stop writing these things. The summer is almost over, the new TV season is about to begin, and I have other things in my life I need to be doing. I thought the issue of Tara's death last season on Buffy the Vampire Slayer was about to run its course. had even stopped posting links to articles on the subject.

Nevertheless, I'm continuing to receive emails responding both to the three essays I've written on the subject and to my recent review of the pilot for Firefly. On top of that, reversed itself and posted a link to a new article, with the title "Misrepresentations. Misunderstandings. Slurs and allegations." It's an interesting title, because while the article does made some reasonable points, it also contains exactly what it says - misrepresentations, misunderstandings, slurs and allegations. In this case, directed toward me. It's all made me think a bit more about the relationship between Mutant Enemy and the fans in general.

Misrepresentations, misunderstandings, slurs and allegations

Let's look at the rebuttal article, which was written by someone calling herself "Ang." It covers pretty much the same ground as the emails I've been receiving, and it's laid out well enough that we can explore all the issues in turn. As I said, the article does make some reasonable points, but in some cases it does so by refuting a point that I didn't actually make, and in other cases it does so by ignoring evidence, even when that evidence is in plain sight.

Ms. Ang breaks down her primary argument along three lines. Let's examine each in turn.

1)        Killing Tara was an act of homophobia

The first issue of the essay is whether or not we can accuse Mutant Enemy of being homophobic because they killed Tara. Ms. Ang claims that people are reading my essays and reaching the conclusion that I'm making that very accusation, even if it's not what I intend. Specifically, she writes:

"I find it amusing that someone that is insisting that Joss Whedon has committed an awful atrocity because of how his story is being interpreted by a small group of people is also confused and exasperated by how people are interpreting his own message."

But let's look at what I actually said. Two perfect examples are quoted by Ms. Ang herself:

"...even if Mutant Enemy didn't intend to tell a homophobic story, they were still capable of placing a homophobic image on the screen."

"Like Warren shooting Tara, Mutant Enemy did their damage by accident - but that doesn't change the fact that damage was done."

I've been very careful throughout my essays to make sure that what I said wouldn't be seen as a claim that anyone at Mutant Enemy was homophobic. Why? Because I don't believe that anyone at Mutant Enemy was homophobic. I never have. I believe they were careless and irresponsible by not paying attention to the consequences of what they were doing, and I made every effort to stress that point. The first words you see in the title of my first essay are "It's not homophobia." How much more clear can I get?

It's one thing to send a message unintentionally, and I have no doubt that I'm capable of sending such messages myself. But it's something else entirely when readers draw a different conclusion by ignoring part of what's written on the page. Imagine I was writing something about animals and I said, "Cats and dogs both have four feet, but that doesn't mean they're exactly the same." Would it make sense for someone to ignore the second half of my sentence and claim that I was saying cats and dogs were exactly the same? Of course not. And along those same lines, I don't appreciate being accused of saying the people at Mutant Enemy are homophobic when I very clearly and frequently said they weren't.

2)        Killing Tara was socially irresponsible

Ms. Ang believes that individual artists are not responsible for the actions of anonymous viewers, a claim I've also heard from many others. She points out that:

"Keanu Reeves is not responsible for Dylan Klebold shooting up Columbine High School, despite the fact that Dylan was a large fan of The Matrix. Jodie Foster is not responsible for John Hinckley shooting President Reagan."

She's right - but is that really a valid comparison? I've never seen The Matrix, but I highly doubt that Keanu Reeves used that movie as a means of telling kids to go shoot up their high schools. I know for a fact that Jodie Foster never told anybody to go kill a President for her. Joss Whedon, on the other hand, did tell the audience - loudly and repeatedly - how important the Willow/Tara relationship was, how the whole point of Buffy was to be inclusive to people who felt excluded, like gay teens, and so on.

Let's take another comparison Ms. Ang makes:

"Oliver Stone is not responsible for my neighbor hating the government."

Again, she's right - but again, is the comparison valid? Her neighbor might have decided to hate the government without Oliver Stone's help, but as someone who hates the government, her neighbor might look to Oliver Stone as a sympathetic figure, perhaps even as a champion for the cause of hating the government. Imagine what would happen if Oliver Stone's next movie had a very pro-government message - a story where a group of CIA assassins were the heroes, for example. Suppose Oliver Stone gave an interview where he said, "The needs of the story required me to trust the government. I treated the CIA hitmen as individuals, not as government workers. Besides, hating the government is so passé. I'm over that." Wouldn't Ms. Ang's neighbor feel like Oliver Stone had become a traitor to the cause?

In the same way, Mutant Enemy set themselves up as sympathetic figures in the eyes of viewers who believe in the cause of gay rights. You could even say they set themselves up as champions for that cause. And when they took back everything they had said before, they left those viewers feeling betrayed.

Ms. Ang then goes on to raise another point:

"Joss says he gives fans what they need, not lesbian fans what they need. If the clubs at my college were correct - roughly 10% of the population is homosexual. Since the ratio of men to women is about 1:1, 5% of the population is lesbian (roughly, exact statistics are somewhat irrelevant to my point). Based on my experience with Buffy fans, I think there is a higher percentage of lesbian Buffy fans than lesbians in the general population, but even if 10% of all Buffy fans are lesbians, that is still nowhere close to a majority. While most of the people upset about Tara's death would probably have been completely happy watching season 7 with a perfectly happy Willow and Tara, Joss did not feel this was true for the other 90% of the viewers. People that watch TV are often not satisfied with happy couples - they get bored with them very quickly. So, Joss decided to give that 90% of the viewers what he thought they needed, major Willow drama."

This line of argument makes a couple of highly dubious assumptions.

First, it assumes that continuing the Willow/Tara relationship and "major Willow drama" were mutually exclusive - that the couple had to be "perfectly happy" in order to be acceptable on the show. I've said several times now that the Dark Magic Willow story could have been achieved in a way that didn't require Tara's death (and I'll do so again in a few moments). But even if you don't believe me, I would think the brain-sucking story arc from Season 5 was all the proof you'd need that the Willow/Tara relationship and "major Willow drama" were capable of coexisting.

Second, it assumes that the only people who cared about the Willow/Tara relationship were lesbians. I myself am living proof to the contrary (unless your definition of "lesbian" includes the Riley Finn sense of the word, at any rate). Fans of Willow and Tara include both men and women, both gay and straight. Willow and Tara were voted "Best Couple" in this year's "Golden Fang Awards" at The Succubus Club. The gay and lesbian fans may have been the ones who benefited directly in social terms from the portrayal of Willow and Tara, but that didn't mean others couldn't appreciate it or enjoy it.

There's another message here as well. Ms. Ang is telling us that Joss was right to kill off Tara because an overwhelming majority of the audience was heterosexual. In other words, if you're in the minority you can't expect to have your viewpoint expressed. Majority rules, period.

Once upon a time, the idea that African-Americans shouldn't be kept as slaves was a minority viewpoint - but that didn't stop Harriet Beecher Stowe from writing Uncle Tom's Cabin. Once upon a time, the idea that we should be careful not to destroy the environment with dangerous chemicals like DDT was a minority viewpoint - but that didn't stop Rachel Carson from writing Silent Spring. The idea that war is a bad thing is always a minority viewpoint somewhere in the world - but that didn't stop Erich Maria Remarque from writing All Quiet on the Western Front or Nevil Shute from writing On the Beach.

Social change never starts out as the majority viewpoint. Most often it starts when people have the courage to stand up and say, "I know this idea is popular, but I think it's wrong." With Willow and Tara, Mutant Enemy appeared to be saying that very thing about the way our society tries to render gay people, and especially gay couples, invisible - but then they took it all back.

I'm not trying to suggest that anyone at Mutant Enemy ever intended to be a social crusader along the lines of Harriet Beecher Stowe or Rachel Carson, but their words and actions certainly indicated that they at least cared a little about their gay viewers. But if they thought depicting a realistic same-sex relationship was important, then why did they destroy the one they had? And if they didn't think the inclusion of homosexuals was important, then why did they spend over two years telling everyone that it was?

Next, Ms. Ang had this to say about the feasibility of being "socially responsible" at all:

"If a writer wants to create a masterpiece, it is not essential that they be socially responsible; in fact, it would be very hard for a completely socially responsible show to be considered a masterpiece. Any show that had a perfect mix of every ethnicity, sexuality and possible handicap and did not write any stories that killed any of those characters or had any of them go evil or make morally ambiguous decisions would probably not be widely watched or read."

As a writer myself, let me first point out that if you want to create a masterpiece, the surest way to fail is to think about whether or not you're creating a masterpiece. And regardless of what the writer tries, whether or not a work is considered a masterpiece is really something for history to decide. Lewis Carroll, author of Alice In Wonderland, considered Sylvie and Bruno to be his masterpiece, but obviously history hasn't agreed with him (which is too bad, really, because the book has some very interesting things in it).

Secondly, what Ms. Ang is saying here is merely a rhetorical tactic, inflating the idea of "social responsibility" to its extreme and then attacking the overblown phantom instead of the actual point. Nobody expects Joss Whedon or anybody else to create something with "a perfect mix of every ethnicity, sexuality and possible handicap." Nobody expects a single writer to address and solve all of the world's social problems. But writers can decide to address some social problems that have meaning and value to them. Once they've done that, it's reasonable to expect them to stand by the choices they've made, especially if they've been particularly vocal about those choices in public and in the media. Rachel Carson didn't write Silent Spring and then go out to spray her garden with DDT. Gene Roddenberry didn't portray Lieutenant Uhura as an equal in one episode and then have her happily waiting on "Massah Kirk" hand and foot in the next. Similarly, all the Willow and Tara fans expected was for Joss Whedon to stand by his own words - not treat a same-sex couple with unprecedented sensitivity and respect but then turn around and toss them aside as callously as everyone else ever has.

And that brings us to the third point...

3)        Killing Tara was an act of betrayal by Mutant Enemy

Ms. Ang's attempt to refute my claim that killing Tara was an act of betrayal rests primarily on one point:

"...the whole idea of betrayal can only be used when talking about people that sought out more than the episodes online (which is at most 25% of the viewers)."

This claim simply isn't true. Joss Whedon lied about Willow and Tara to E!Online, a website that has a much broader reach than just the Buffy community, and also to Out magazine, one of the most popular publications in the gay print media. When Marti Noxon boasted about the "naked sex scene" that was coming in "Seeing Red," she did so on National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation. The lies spread much farther and much wider than just the places where only Buffy fans would think to look.

But even if Ms. Ang was right, so what? Is she suggesting that it's okay to lie as long as you don't spread your lies around very much? Most people who cheat on their spouses don't lie to a major media outlet about it - does that mean their spouses have no right to feel betrayed? If it does, then I imagine we can expect divorce court judges to start telling plaintiffs, "Sorry, I can't grant this divorce because your spouse didn't lie to enough people." Somehow, I doubt that's going to happen.

Ms. Ang then misquotes me in her attempt to refute my criticism of the lies Mutant Enemy told after Tara died. She writes:

"His assumption that Willow and Tara were 'too great and too intensely personal for him not to know' is as egocentric as any of Joss's statements. While Tara was special to some viewers, she was just another character to many - and more importantly her and Willow's relationship was not special enough to retain if it meant forgoing the Evil Willow story in Joss's opinion."

A valid point - except for the small detail that it doesn't address what I actually said. Here's the original version of the misquoted sentence:

"The fan reaction to Willow and Tara was simply too great and too intensely personal for him not to have seen that it was unique."

As you can see, I was talking about a completely different issue. I know perfectly well that a great many people thought Tara was just another character. I wasn't trying to say otherwise. What made Willow and Tara unique was the intensely personal manner in which some fans responded to the story. As far as we know, nobody sent Joss Whedon an engraved toolbox when Xander became a carpenter, but fans did send him an engraved "lesbian toaster" when Willow and Tara officially became a couple. And in the wake of Tara's death, Marti Noxon told The Advocate, "It's the first time that we've gotten public outcry where I really can't even read some of the letters, they hurt so much."

So now, just as before, Mutant Enemy acknowledges that the fan reaction was unique, and yet they still won't explain how they can justify the amount of pain they inflicted on fans who had far more than the normal amount of emotional and social investment in their story. Unfortunately for them, acting like the question isn't an issue is not going to make it go away.

Speaking of misquotations, Ms. Ang also accused me of taking a Joss Whedon quote out of context. She writes:

"Other sited examples of Joss's betrayal are jokes, often taken out of context or chopped up to make them seem like the writer was saying something he wasn't."

She cites the Joss quote, "The gay thing is so passé. We're over that," as her example, pointing out that it was actually part of one line in a much longer humor-filled post. For the sake of brevity, I'll limit myself to the one relevant line:

"The gay thing is so passé. We're over that. But honestly, that's just the way Clem ACTS. We're having a talk."

I'm often amazed by the widespread belief that a person can say the most hurtful things imaginable and get away with it by adding, "I was just joking!" Jokes can hurt just as much as insults - perhaps more, because the targets of such jokes are expected to repress their hurts, be "good sports" and laugh along. But it rarely works that way. Just ask anyone who grew up in a household or school environment where they were a frequent target of such "humor."

Let's look at Joss's "joke" in this instance. The punch line is his revelation that he's talking about Clem, which means we were supposed to be thinking about someone else when he said, "The gay thing is so passé." Who could that be other than Willow and Tara? So not only are Willow and Tara fans supposed to swallow the pain of Joss's betrayal for the sake of "the narrative," but they're also supposed to be "good sports" and laugh along with his insults.

Even if you don't want to believe that Joss was trying to hurt the fans grieving over Willow and Tara, this "joke" is still one more example of his ongoing insensitivity - another instance where he was completely clueless about the effect his words were having. He may or may not have intended the line to be a reference to Tara, but the fact remains that people took it that way. I would have expected him to know better.

Ratings - Truth and Spin

After her three main points, Ms. Ang presents a series of tables that claim to show that Buffy hasn't been suffering in the ratings as a result of their most recent season. I know other people who can generate tables of numbers that are just as impressive and paint an entirely different picture. Rather than hash through them, though, let's look at what others have said about those numbers:

"The WB's Gilmore Girls surged to series highs in adults 18-34 (3.1/10) and persons 12-34 (3.5/11), even topping UPN's Buffy the Vampire Slayer in young male demos. ... UPN showed big year-to-year gains vs. its weak Tuesday scores last season, but Buffy the Vampire Slayer fell to first-run season lows (4.07 million, 2.2/6 in 18-49)." - Variety, May 9 2002

"In what must be a most satisfying result for executives of The WB, its season finales of Gilmore Girls and Smallville outpointed back-to-back episodes of UPN's Buffy the Vampire Slayer by a ratings average of 29 percent." - The Salt Lake Tribune, May 23 2002

" the 8 p.m. hour, a repeat of the WB's should-be-Emmy nominated Gilmore Girls scored a respectable (and fifth place) 3.4/ 5 -- 62 percent above a repeat of UPN's Buffy (#6, 2.1/ 3). Stop smiling WB!" - Media Week, June 5 2002

"Buffy and Angel fell so far that even with shows like Roswell, Wolf Lake and Alias gone (Alias only temporarily) they could not break the genre top ten. Angel only took in 1.7 million viewers with its first rerun." - Cinescape, June 11 2002

These articles and others like it seem to indicate that the ratings have been more along the lines of what I described in my previous article, not what Ms. Ang described in her rebuttal.

Finally, Ms. Ang compared the Summer 2001 ratings against the Summer 2002 ratings to show that there has been no change during the rerun season. What she fails to take into account, however, is that during the summer of 2001, Buffy had already been picked up by UPN, and consequently the WB was moving their final airings of the show all over the schedule. This summer the show has not only remained in its usual timeslot, but it has also been placed in the 9pm Wednesday slot following the higher-rated Enterprise. Last summer the WB gave their Buffy reruns no promotion at all, while this summer UPN has not only created new commercials (including a very curious one for "Normal Again" which tries to depict the episode as some kind of zany comedy), but has also tried using tie-ins to the movie Blue Crush and the pop group N*Sync to boost ratings. Yet the ratings have been no better, and in many cases they've been much worse.

One more thing about the summer rerun ratings - a number of people have emailed me to claim that the low numbers don't count, because after all they're only for reruns. But remember that Hollywood depends on the audience's willingness to watch a show repeatedly. There's money to be made in the reruns on FX, syndicated reruns on local TV stations and DVD sales - but if viewers aren't even willing to tune in for a second broadcast on UPN, the prospects for all those other avenues aren't good.

I suppose there's also a possibility that people are watching their own tapes of Season 6 instead of watching UPN - but why would that be going on any more this summer than any other summer? If that was all that accounted for the low summer reruns, the ratings for the previous summers would have been just as low - but that's not what the numbers say.

"The Narrative" revisited

Ms. Ang concludes her rebuttal by saying this about me:

"Mr. Black states that 'Claiming that Tara's death was a necessity implies that there was no other way to bring about the ultimate goal of the storyline.' But actually, their claim that Tara's death was a necessity implies that there was no better way to bring about the ultimate goal. Are there other ways? Of course there are always other ways - that doesn't mean there are better ways. Joss felt that the best way to bring about Evil Willow was to kill Tara, while I've seen many hypothesis on other ways to make Willow evil, most of them introduce large inconsistencies into the story or stray from the story Joss was trying to tell."

There's an implication here - Joss chose this path and therefore it's automatically the best - but I'll get to that in a minute. First, I want to explore a hypothesis or two on other ways to make Willow evil.

I'll start by pointing out that Joss's own method introduces a large inconsistency into the story, namely Willow's reasons for using magic and the effect magic had on her. Before "Wrecked," magic was never depicted as a metaphor for addictive drugs. Willow was never shown going to a magical crack house or performing spells for the sole purpose of feeling high. Magic was a challenge that gave her a feeling of accomplishment. It allowed her to become a vital part of Buffy's fight against evil. And eventually it became a crutch that she used to shortcut her way through the rough patches of life.

What if Joss had kept that initial depiction of magic? What would Season 6 have looked like? For about the first third of the season, it wouldn't have been all that different. Perhaps, though, we might have seen the beginnings of some friction between Buffy and Willow. After all, Willow had been in charge of the Scooby Gang for months, and there was Buffy moping around instead of taking the leadership role back. Perhaps Willow would have tried to step in - just to help until Buffy was back on her feet, of course. Perhaps she would have used magic to make up for the fact that she didn't have Slayer strength. The forget-spell on Tara would still have occurred. Tara would still have left in "Tabula Rasa." Being socially responsible doesn't mean a couple can't have problems or temporary estrangements.

Around the time of "Smashed" or "Wrecked," instead of seeing Willow turn into a crackhead, we might have seen the friction between her and Buffy become more open and deliberate. Instead of trying to help Buffy, perhaps Willow might have begun to feel like she could replace Buffy. Perhaps Willow might have seen the attempts to reduce her magic use as a threat, an attempt to remove her from being in charge. Perhaps she wouldn't have wanted to give up being in charge, because perhaps she felt like her magical methods really were the best way to go about fighting evil.

Around the time of the February sweeps, the strained relationships between Willow and the other Scoobies could have reached a breaking point. Perhaps a crisis would have come up - possibly involving the three nerds - in which Willow thought the only solution required her to delve even deeper into dark magic. Perhaps Buffy would have objected, and Willow would have angrily done it anyway. And in that moment, perhaps something would have happened to bring about Dark Magic Willow.

Think about it. Dark Magic Willow appearing during the February sweeps. Not with a mere three episodes remaining in the season, but with roughly one-third of the season still to go, with agonizingly long stretches of reruns before the conclusion. That's how long Angel got to be evil in Season 2, after all. Think of what Dark Magic Willow could have done with all that time. Perhaps she would have killed all the nerds, or taken them over and made them her henchmen. Imagine the irony of having Warren the misogynist bowing down to her instead of being flayed alive by her. He could still have died eventually - a victim of his own resentment over being controlled by a woman - but it wouldn't have been necessary. Perhaps Willow would have kept Amy around as well. Perhaps Willow would have made little "adjustments" to her, changing her hair color or her personality to resemble Tara, the lover she had lost and still missed. Imagine what Alyson Hannigan could have done with a part like that.

Meanwhile, Buffy would have been faced with the task of figuring out what to do. Fight Willow? Join her? Bring her back? Instead of moping around until some miraculous unmotivated revelation in the last five minutes of the finale, she would have been forced to come out of her depression in order to meet the challenge. And what about Spike? Buffy could still have been sleeping with him - perhaps his attempts to have her join him as a "creature of the dark" would have prompted him to argue with her about what she should do, or even about whether or not Dark Magic Willow was right. Buffy and Spike could have had a relationship that was about more than the alternating cycles of violent sex and sexy violence that we ended up seeing.

And Tara? Sooner or later, Buffy would have needed a magic expert to counter Willow's powers. The fact that Tara wasn't as powerful would have added suspense and drama to the story. The fact that Dark Magic Willow might have turned on Tara would have added even more suspense and drama. But none of that would have required Tara to die. In fact, Tara's presence when Dark Magic Willow was ultimately defeated could have been the thing that began Willow's healing process, and her eventual return to the Scooby Gang.

So there you have it - a way to achieve Dark Magic Willow without killing Tara. A way to give Joss Whedon the "cool" Dark Phoenix imitation he wanted while being socially responsible at the same time. Would it have been better than what we saw? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But aren't you at least a little sorry that we'll never get to find out?

Sparks from a Firefly

I'm going to digress for a moment now and talk about my review of the pilot for Firefly. Trust me, I have my reasons and they'll become apparent when I wrap everything up.

Some people who commented on my review were unhappy with the way my feelings about Mutant Enemy in general colored what I wrote. I'm unfairly biased against Firefly, they claim, because of the way I feel about what happened to Willow and Tara. Some have told me that I couldn't possibly be more wrong - they think Joss has been doing a great job with all his shows, and they're eagerly waiting to see Firefly as well.

But wait a minute. Isn't that what I said in the review? My conclusion was:

"If you like the same old thing Joss Whedon has been giving us over the past few years, then the show is probably right for you."

Doesn't that match what these people told me? If so, then in what way am I wrong?

Believe it or not, my review of Firefly was much more even-handed than I'd expected it to be. A lot of people, in fact, were expecting me to give it a full-on Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment - but I honestly thought the show deserved better. My primary complaint was personal and had to do with my feelings toward Mutant Enemy in general, and I freely admitted that.

And even if I hadn't felt the way I do about Mutant Enemy, that still doesn't mean I would have given Firefly a glowing review. Remember, this is the episode the executives at FOX turned down, and they probably don't even know who Willow and Tara are. The pace of the show really is dreadfully slow at times. The Western motif really does annoy me. Making the main character a nihilistic anti-hero would be a risky venture under any circumstances. Besides all that, it's a pilot episode, and pilot episodes rarely turn out to be masterpieces. I said some negative things in my review of the Birds of Prey pilot, too - and I liked that.

The Executive Producer's New Clothes

The reaction some people had to the Firefly review reminds me of what I've seen several times in emails to me or on various posting boards - the feeling that criticizing Joss Whedon at all is some sort of blasphemy. The simple fact that Joss Whedon made the Firefly pilot should somehow be reason enough for me to think of it as the greatest science fiction show ever. The simple fact that Joss Whedon thought killing Tara and turning Willow evil was the right thing to do should be reason enough for me to think it was the best possible choice that could have been made.

I feel a bit like the boy in the story of The Emperor's New Clothes. You know the story, don't you? Two con men convince a vain emperor to buy a suit from them, made of a material so light and fine that people who are stupid or incompetent will think it's invisible. They end up taking his money and selling him nothing, but when the emperor starts parading around in his non-existent new outfit, everyone is too afraid of being thought of as stupid or incompetent to point out that he's actually walking around naked. Everyone, that is, except for one small boy who isn't worried about being thought of as stupid or incompetent and therefore says exactly what he sees.

That's how I feel, not just because of Willow and Tara, but because of the entire Buffy season in general. Emperor Joss has gotten himself a new suit - a suit woven with threads that turned female empowerment into female degradation, but where white men could walk away from their responsibilities or become attempted rapists yet could still be thought of as heroes. A suit that stitched sex and violence together and glamorized the pairing, but where a healthy relationship between two young women was sacrificed on the altar of a plot twist that played itself out in all of two weeks. Perhaps some are reluctant to call Joss's new suit what it is because they're afraid they'll no longer be thought of as "cool" - or as Ben Varkentine said at

"There's a line in the second season where Xander says to Buffy, about Angel: 'The way I see it is that you wanna forget all about Ms. Calendar's murder so you can get your boyfriend back.' The way I see it, some people want to ignore the horrible execution of Tara's death and the way it fits into a larger pattern so they don't have to have their belief in Joss & Co. shaken."

Mind you, I don't feel this way about everyone who disagrees with me on this issue. I know there are plenty of people out there with different but no less rational points of view, and I have no problem agreeing to disagree with them. It's just that generally speaking they aren't as noisy about their views, and so I sometimes feel like they've been overwhelmed by their more enthusiastic comrades.

And really, on one level I can even understand the noisier people. Joss Whedon and Buffy have meant a lot to me for a long time. You might even say I owe them my writing career. In 1996, after ten years of beating my head against the Hollywood wall, I finally admitted that they didn't want me, and realized that I didn't want them. I thought I had nowhere else to go. Then Buffy came a year later, and Buffy fan fiction became the training ground where I learned how to write prose instead of scripts. It was where I first put together a story that was as long as the novels I'm writing now.

Imagine how I felt, then, when the writer who had inspired me and brought my own craft back to life suddenly and inexplicably went in a direction that I felt was so horribly wrong. Could Joss really have gone so awry, or was it somehow my fault because I was no longer thinking "properly?" It was a question I had to answer. Why do you think I've written so much on this subject? Not just to see myself put pretty sentences together - if that's all I wanted to do, I have other things I could be writing that might actually get me paid someday. But since I first found out about Tara's death back in March, I've been wrestling with my own uncertainties, and making sure that what I thought was wrong actually was wrong. After all that, I'm now very very sure - and I don't care how much that detracts from my ability to look "cool."

In any event, ultimately how "cool" you or I or anyone else looks won't matter. The Nielsen boxes will determine Mutant Enemy's fate in the coming season, and as I said before, history will have the last word on Buffy or anything else Joss Whedon creates. I think I can finally live with that. I think I've finally said all there is for me to say.

Of course, I've thought that before - but I'm serious this time. Really. I mean it.

Robert A. Black has written three Young Adult novels in the past year, and is currently seeking publishers for them. By the time you read this, he should be hard at work on his fourth.

If you'd like to know more...

Below are some links to other pieces written on the subject of Willow and Tara:

The Lesbian Cliché FAQ at "The Kitten, The Witches and The Bad Wardrobe"

"I killed Tara": Desire and Death on Buffy - Pop Matters

Ceci n'est ce pas une lesbianne - Pop Matters

A Heinous Cliché Raises Its Ugly Head - Gay Today

Heterosexuality Wins - Camp Rehoboth

Rest in Peace - The Bunny Slayer

Lesbians, Where Art Thou? - scifidimensions

An Ode to the Death of Love - scifidimensions

The Death of Tara and "The Dead/Evil Lesbian Cliché" - Ink 19

I Know Why Willow Weeps - Hillary Clay

"Buffy" Not So Great at Slaying Stereotypes of Lesbian Relationships -

Killing Tara: The Demise of an Exceptional Lesbian Relationship on "Buffy" -

Television and the Threat of the Lesbian Action Hero -

"A man who fails well is greater than one who succeeds badly" - Thomas Merton

Edited by: BBOvenGuy  at: 9/13/02 5:44:19 pm

 Post subject: Re: Essay #4
PostPosted: Mon Sep 16, 2002 2:16 pm 
Essay started on kitten board in may:

The recent events of Buffy the Vampire Slayer have prompted me to ask the question: What do I want?! It's only television.

I answered my question and realized that the potential of the medium for groundbreaking storytelling is equal only to that of it's power to break our hearts.


Lesbians, Where Art Thou?

If they’re not dead, they’re evil. Why are lesbians denied a sane reflection of themselves in today’s media?

I started asking myself this question many years ago. Sadly, it keeps cropping up.

I grew up without role models. I never knew a woman that I admired. The place I lived was so small and isolated that I looked to the media for any reflection of strong women.

At first, I was looking for anyone who was strong. Superman, Wonder Woman. These were my first impressions of people who could really take care of themselves.

Then I wanted to see more "me." I read "A Wrinkle in Time," and "Ramona Quimby." Strong females indeed! But still, they were barely teenagers. I wanted to read about women who kicked ass. Who took control of their own lives.

I was too young to articulate what I wanted, and so was handed a copy of Anne of Green Gables and told to go read in a corner.

I also longed to see a powerful woman. I went to see “Star Wars.” Princess Leia talked back. She was sassy. She was still the damsel in distress, but she had an attitude. Getting closer.

I watched "The Bionic Woman." Obsessively. Here was a beautiful woman who kicked ass weekly! (When she wasn’t being chloroformed or dating men who didn’t understand her.)

I loved her so much. I would replay in my head how she talked, walked, jumped, ran, smiled. I didn't know it, but I had fallen in love.

So I rode my bike making bionic running sounds and lay at night in my bed, staring at my poster of Jaime in her pro-tennis days. I dreamed about how Jaime might need my help foiling an evil super-spy ring. She might need me to be the cute kid decoy while she goes around back and catches them red-handed, doing something with papers and money and briefcases while wearing plaid blazers.

We would go back to her townhouse after a long day’s work and have kool-aid and sit by the fire. I would watch her run her hands through her hair and she would ask me to be her partner. I would accept my badge and gun gravely and tell her that I wouldn’t let her down.

My brother got a lot of Star Wars toys for Christmas. I got the Bionic Woman beauty salon.

I watched Laverne and Shirley. I wanted them to stay home more and stop worrying about boys. They had each other! What more could they want?

I went to high school and experienced 2 very close female friendships. I was called a "dyke" and was bewildered. I couldn't understand that there was something other than the stereotypical butched-out, shit-kicking dyke. I looked in the mirror and that wasn’t me.

Then I met someone. First love. I was overwhelmed by my desire to be near her. We were in a relationship for 6 years, but we were both “straight.” We didn’t know any lesbians and we didn’t see any lesbians on television or in the movies. How were we to know that our relationship was okay? That it was typical and just like countless others? And that it was nothing to be ashamed of?

I watched Cagney and Lacey and went to see Fried Green Tomatoes and Beaches. I was getting closer. But in C&L, lesbianism was never addressed – they were just strong women - and the movies? Well, as long as one of them dies, it’s okay to have a “romantic friendship.”

My lover and I split. She joined a church and got married. She was straight after all. I got into a relationship with an out lesbian. We saw Thelma and Louise 7 times. The best yet! Oh yeah, except that they both died.

I came out. I was in and out of relationships. I worked in gay-friendly places and met many folks a lot like me. I identified with other women. I commiserated and laughed and fell in love. It was an accelerated adolescence/early adulthood.

I watched Star Trek:TNG and fell in love with Dr. Crusher. In the 24th century, she could almost bring herself to love a woman, but not quite. So 300 years in the future, there are no gays in space. I wondered if there were entire gay planets that they were just avoiding?

I watched the X-Files. Scully. Mmmmm. Pretty, smart, intense. She didn’t cow-tow to smarty pants Mulder either. And also, UFO’s…. Cool.

For date night, I choose “Heavenly Creatures.” Hot hot hot. And funny. Wait, they kill her mother. The price of lesbian love at a young age, one supposes. I wonder if my date is thinking about hitting my mother in the head with a brick. I decide not to ask.

I get into another bad relationship – the most destructive to date! She’s splitting up with someone she still loves but she also loves me and wants to move in with me so I can take care of her through her breakup with her ex whom she is still sleeping with but loves me, you understand, and then she starts sleeping with my immediate ex, who happened to have dumped me and started sleeping with my roommate, who was a boy. (takes breath here) The most accurate summation of this: young and stupid.

Then I watched Xena. Whoa. She kicked ass. Muchly. And was clearly in love with her little “sidekick.” Damn…. Now this is what I was looking for. Strong, flawed, beautiful. And (drumroll here) she didn’t apologize. She wasn’t punished. She wasn’t corrected. She did a lot wrong, and was incredibly destructive. But she also never waivered in her love for Gabrielle and never questioned it’s validity.

Although it was still subtextual, it was there for “us” to see. We threw parties so that we could tape the show and then play back “the moments” in slow motion. You know what I mean: the look, the brush of a hand, the peck on a cheek, the tear. Anything that illustrated the intensity between these women was celebrated.

Scully started making goo-goo eyes at Mulder. Damn.

I got out of destructive relationships and committed to a life-partner. She is everything I ever wanted or needed. We are making a life together, and after 5 years, have barely scratched the surface of what we might be together.

My partner and I see Go Fish and Claire of the Moon. I tell myself, “Watch for the sex, not the story. Watch for the sex, not the story.” It works. We went again, surrounded in the theater with deprived lesbians - virtual thickets of women looking for anything that resembles their lives being reflected back to them off of the magic silver screen. We watch for the sex.

We start watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Witty, cool, Buffy kicks major ass with a kick and a quip. We love it. It’s not us, but we love it. Oh yeah, and Willow is so cute. We were kind of like her way back when.

We rent houses and get jobs and get better jobs and take vacations and talk about having babies. We hang out with our friends, start exercising and go to therapy. We write and draw and go to graduate school.

We go see High Art. Good! Oh wait, she dies. We rent the Northern Exposure episode with Cicely and Roslyn. Good! Oh wait, she dies. We rent Bound. Wow. Cool! And while we are not ourselves grifters and con-people, we appreciate that these particular grifters and con-people are indeed lesbians.

Xena has turned into a parody of itself. I still watch, but just for the sex. More accurately, for the insinuations of the sex that is then fleshed out in a plethora of fine fan fiction.

Oh my god, who is that on Buffy? She’s soooo cute. Are they gonna make Willow a lesbian?! The blowing out of a candle makes it official. Willow and Tara are together. Off camera, out of range, mostly implied, but together. No subtext. And weekly.

I go to a lesbian bar to watch the series finale of Xena. Hundreds of lesbians who’ve gathered in her name gather once more to pay homage to Xena, Warrior Princess. With bated breath, they hold each other in the dark, waiting, waiting. Waiting for the kiss, for the declaration, for the summation of their energetic, financial and undying devotion to this mythology of grand and true love. Oh yeah, Xena dies.

After 6 years of death and resurrection, the Xena mythology is capped off with a permanent sacrifice for the greater good. Gabrielle is sailing the seven seas talking to Xena’s spirit and taking care of herself.

Everyone goes home.

We move to a better neighborhood, buy a better car, get promotions and rescue a kitten. We become aunts and still discuss having babies. We think about moving to a city where we might feel less threatened should we actually start this family we talk about.

We rejoice weekly in the most honest, open and sweet lesbian relationship we’ve ever seen in the media: Willow and Tara. We download pictures and read reviews and visit the Kitten Board daily. Willow and Tara love each other fiercely and smartly. The way we love each other. And they don’t apologize. I love Buffy for bringing a life-long dream to a reality – a reflection of me. I see me in them. I see my friends. I see my lover. We are in the world and it’s okay and we belong. We are a part of the family.

They move to a different network and now what?! They’re kissing? In front of us? For all the world to see? It really can’t get any better. Time goes by. We love them. They love each other. They break up. It’s okay, they’ll get back together. No one on Buffy is happy for long. That’s built in, so it’s okay. They are just like everyone else, so they have to go through the wringer.

We go see Mulholland Drive. Um. And also… huh?

We go see Kissing Jessica Stein. Cute cute cute! And funny! And contemporary and true to life. Oh yeah, Jessica is really straight. She was just experimenting.

I teach myself to web design, how to ftp and network, and how to maximize time on video downloads. My teachers? People on Buffy boards. I get a promotion at work. Thanks Buffy!

I go to a software conference and take my laptop so that I can download Buffy. I’ve heard there was a kiss and I don’t want to miss it. I spend 2.5 hours downloading a 12 second kiss. It was worth every minute.

They get back together. Then they kiss. And kiss and kiss and kiss. Um, ahhh, ahem. Oh, hell yeah. Next week, sounds of sex, post-sex glow, more kisses, more post and pre-sex glow and even more kisses.

Oh yeah, then Tara dies. Shot in the chest.

What? Willow wants revenge.


We talk to our friends, and we laugh at how sad we are. We watch Buffy now, telling ourselves that we will hold out hope that they are not doing what we know they are doing.

Well! We tell ourselves, we just have to create our own reflections. It’s up to us, to tell the story we want to hear and to make the story we want to see. We are spurred on in our creative and professional pursuits, with a new dedication to undo what we’ve seen done.

I want my money back. I want a refund, a full and unconditional promise of compensatory damages for havoc wreaked. I don’t want to have invested what I have in this story. I don’t want to believe what they are telling me. I don’t want to hear the moral of this story. I don’t want this, in the end, to be the summation. But it is. It’s back to the beginning:

Bad lesbians. Bad girls.

Emily A. Almond                copyright”2002

 Post subject: Re: Essay #4
PostPosted: Tue Sep 17, 2002 10:25 pm 
So I hope you have taken the time to read our essays and most importantly the FAQ. If you have questions about the FAQ this is the place to do it. Please be polite and try to address the document and your specific problems with it.

- - - - - - - - - - - -
Tara and Willow

Accept NO subsitutes

 Post subject: Re: The FAQ
PostPosted: Wed Sep 18, 2002 6:21 am 
Hi all.

I hope nobody minds me posting this - ie my motivations aren't to troll or anything, but I'm rather paranoid about being misunderstood... especially since I'm so new and unknown here.

I read a post on about a month ago that I thought raised an interesting point that might be answered in the FAQ. Basically the poster thought that, because the gay community is protesting so loudly, there's a risk that many writers will simply decide that they'll only use straight characters (in fact, straight white characters), as only then can they write without feeling the need to watch for anything offensive creeping in.

The actual post can be found here if you're interested.

But it's an interesting balancing act isn't it? On the one hand, you can't just sit back and do nothing when you think the media's portrayal of gay characters is wrong, but on the other, protest too loud and the writers decide not to have any gay characters at all, to avoid controversy.


10^57 varieties.

Edited by: Evercat at: 9/18/02 11:18:45 am

 Post subject: Re: The FAQ
PostPosted: Wed Sep 18, 2002 7:44 am 
Well that is an interesting post, it does not really respond to the FAQ itself, but rather it quetions whether we should voice our criticism at all.

I think we can. In an ideal world gender/race/sexual preference would not matter, but that obviously isn't the case. True Equality does not just magically happen unless you stand up for yourself and when you do the reason you are being treated unequally can't be denied or hidden, in this case sexual preference.

In the end all the years of praising Joss Whedon and ME got us lies and a dead Tara and a broken Willow. I am not too worried about what criticizing them will do. How much worse can it get when almost every gay character we see dies or goes insane, is evil or miserable and long term loving relationships are once again non existent? I am not worried ME will never show a gay character again, I am more worried that they will falter from one cliche into the next.


Tara: "uh Willow?"

Willow: "No dancing naked, huh?...It just won't be the same."

Tara: "That's all right, we can save it for later"
----From Wilderness, the newest WT comic written by Amber Benson and Christopher Golden

Edited by: DrG at: 9/18/02 6:59:52 am

 Post subject: Re: The FAQ
PostPosted: Wed Sep 18, 2002 9:24 am 
Hi, Evercat,

I sent you an e-mail, but thought I'd post my answer here too.

As to the argument that, if the gay community--or any minority--complains about the way they are portrayed in the media, producers will shy away from adding minorities to their shows/movies, well, I just don't agree. First of all, in the case of gay portrayals, no one is suggesting that gay characters be held to a higher standard or live their lives in safe little bubbles where real life can't hurt them. No one wants that. It's not real, it's not true, it's not interesting. In the case of Tara, for instance, it's not only that she died (although that is an oft-repeated scenario), it is the WAY she died. She died in direct connection to lesbian sex, which is a storyline that has been used against the gay community for decades. That is my deepest objection to the whole thing. And I have a right to object because it has direct bearing on my life. But I'm not saying that nothing bad should have happened to Willow and Tara. I'm saying that there are other options than the same old cliches that we see over and over.

Do you think that black people would have ever been more than mammies or servants in film if they hadn't started objecting? No way. Did the producers fight it? Sure. Did they feel annoyed that someone was "infringing" on their creativity? Probably. But do you think it is a good or bad thing that the black community stood up and said, "We don't want to just be the maids and servants. There are more stories that can be told." Think how many thousands of stories on TV and film would never have been made if black characters were still just maids. Or how many stories would have been missed if after they moved up to "thug" characters they didn't say, "More please?" Or after they moved up to "funny sidekick" they didn't ask for more and after they were the token "dead minority" they didn't ask to the hero of the picture? Do you think that writers and producers and directors in Hollywood would have done that all on their own? Out of the goodness of their hearts?

I don't. Things don't change until people demand it. Not only did the producers not have incentive to do more with minority characers until people spoke up, they didn't have understanding. Prejudice was deeply rooted in their creative process and it wasn't until this problem was repeatedly pointed out that things slowly began to change. People cannot change what they are not aware of. Silence will do nothing to promote understanding and awareness. And awareness is critical, because it is not good enough to simply have gay characters on screen, it is important for them to have varied, truthful lives that include happiness and stability as well as despair. Despair is by far winning the day right now because many producers aren't aware of the prejudice that is driving some of their creative decisions. If they are made aware of the problem, they can truly unlock their creative options.

So, my plea to Joss Whedon and other producers is not, "Stop making bad things happen to gay characters!" Rather it's, "Start coming up with a variety of life scenarios that better reflect the lives of gay people. Start showing gay sex in an equal light to straight sex in order to avoid unintended, harmful contexts showing up in your scripts. Start UNDERSTANDING the history and reality of real gay people and gay characters so you can EXPAND your creative possibilities. Bad things happen to gay people, but good things happen too. Your numbers are way off and you're limiting your vision by your ignorance. Wake up."

If that idea is "offensive" to Joss Whedon, so be it. But that doesn't make me wrong for telling him. And, hopefully, some other TV producer hears me--hears us--and thinks of a new story involving gay characters that hadn't occurred to him/her before. That wouldn't happen if no one ever gave honest feedback about the way they are portrayed on screen. That's all this is: feedback. Dialogue. Information.

That's never a bad thing.


Edited by: Willowlicious at: 9/18/02 8:43:17 am

 Post subject: Re: The FAQ
PostPosted: Wed Sep 18, 2002 11:31 am 
The contention that protest over the treatment of gay characters on television will actually lessen the number of gay characters portrayed makes several assumptions I disagree with.

It assumes that no one is interested in pleasing or marketing to the GLBT audience.

It assumes that no one in the arts and entertainment industry is willing to listen to, is interested in, or already agrees with the arguments we've been making.

It assumes those currently unaware of or uninterested in the problem are likely to change without argument, information, discussion, and protest.

It assumes that a show which depicts gays in an offensive manner is preferable to a show which does not depict gays at all.

And it assumes that those shows which have portrayed or are likely to portray gay characters in the first place are terrified of controversy and likely to withdraw in the face of criticism.

I can't really agree with any of that.

As Willowlicious has already eloquently argued, suffering in silence never helped anyone. Making the problem known frequently has.

--- KR

 Post subject: Re: The FAQ
PostPosted: Wed Sep 18, 2002 12:16 pm 
Thanks y'all for your replies. You make many good points. I don't really have anything further to say, particularly.


10^57 varieties.

 Post subject: Re: The FAQ
PostPosted: Wed Sep 18, 2002 12:45 pm 
"It assumes that no one is interested in pleasing or marketing to the GLBT audience."

It also assumes that all creative teams think straight audiences cannot be entertained and moved by, or identify with, a good storyline about characters different than themselves

Last night NBC reran their "Cosby Show" retrospective, and the point was made, again, that what that show did was universalize the experience of a black family. We all know how succesful it was. The number one film in America this week is "The Barbershop," a "black-themed" movie that has attracted a crossover audience.

None of that came without people raising their voices.

Ben Varkentine

"Any frontal attack on ignorance is bound to fail because the masses are always ready to defend their most precious possession."-Hendrik Van Loon

 Post subject: Re: The FAQ
PostPosted: Fri Sep 20, 2002 10:11 am 
It also assumes that all creative teams think straight audiences cannot be entertained and moved by, or identify with, a good storyline about characters different than themselves.

This is an excellent point. I think it's safe to say that most people's lives are nothing like the Sopranos, yet that didn't stop 11 million people tuning into watch the season premiere. I'm also pretty sure that most kids do not attend a private school for magicians, yet the Harry Potter books continue to be bestsellers. I think most writers know that the biggest successes are usually achieved by people who do something new and different.

 Post subject: "Tara is Dead. Who is to Blame?"
PostPosted: Sat Sep 21, 2002 1:43 pm 
I've written this essay to try and make my own points about this issue. Although it is intended primarily for those who've not made up their minds--or who disagree with my own views--I include it here because I hope Kittens may find some worth in it. Besides, maybe they'll want to call me on something that needs fixing.



For months a small hurricane of controversy has surrounded the plotline of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," specifically the death of Tara Mclay. Since her introduction two and a half years before, Tara was the source of considerable argument. One reason was that some audience members found her dull. Another, more obvious source of debate was the fact that Tara was gay, and was soon in a relationship with regular character Willow Rosenberg.

The plot arc for S6 called for Willow to use her magical skills so irresponsibly that her beloved Tara would tolerate it no more. She left Willow, who then began a difficult process of breaking her addiction. In time, the two reconciled. They had just done so--involving lots of passionate love-making--when Tara was killed by a stray bullet meant for the title character. Dying in Willow's arms, Tara became the catalyst for Willow going mad with grief. Summoning all the power she could to try and resurrect her lover, Willow failed and went on a rampage of vengeance and dark magic. Once she caught up with the actual gunman, he soon found himself tied up, then literally skinned alive. Next she went after his accomplices (who, it was pointed out, had had nothing to do with any attack on Tara). Fueled entirely by rage and grief, her lust for more and more magical power eventually put her into contact with the entire world on some mystic level--and, horrified by all the pain and suffering in life, decided to end it. She very nearly destroyed the entire planet, putting all humanity out of their misery until her oldest friend refused to leave her side, insisting no matter what she did he still loved her. That, plus an infusion of "white" magic from another character, finally let Willow grieve properly. Sinking to her knees, sobbing, her eyes went from coal-black to their more natural emerald. Her rage-driven hatred dispelled, she became again a human being grieving over the loss of someone who was her "everything" and no longer an embodiment of vicious despair lashing out at the world.

Dramatic? Yes, without doubt. Logical? Some would disagree but most audience members pretty much accepted it.

So why the controversy? Is it simply because Tara, a character especially beloved and revered by some fans, was killed so suddenly?

At least partially, yes.

But many point to another issue. In our society, some say, there exists a vicious stereotype with regards to lesbians, a stereotype seen in every major film and television series wherein a lesbian appears. That stereotype is that lesbians must always be (1) utterly alone and loveless, (2) evil, or (3) dead by violence. Most usually, it is the latter two. Examples are easily enough found. In fact, looking at network television and movies from major Motion Picture Studios, finding a positive example of a lesbian or bisexual woman is a difficult feat. The vast majority are like Intendent Kira on "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," a sadistic woman of insatiable desires (including, in her case, political power). Even harder was finding a positive portrayal of a lesbian relationship that wasn't doomed.

Within the last decade, this author can think of three such couples. One was Paul's sister and her gynecologist partner on the now-cancelled "Mad About You." Second is Ross's ex and her partner on the current hit "Friends." Both were minor supporting characters, and in the latter case years can go by without their appearance. Third was Willow and Tara on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

Or that was the third, emphasis on the past tense. Hence the issue. In a society where lesbians (and gays in general, but for simplicity's sake lets focus on gay women) are victims of rampant prejudice, then does the murder of Tara--with the subsequent murder spree by Dark Willow--feed that prejudice by repeating a bigotted cliche?

Elsewhere the author compared killing Tara with having Lieutenant Uhura--a ground-breaking character for African Americans in the 1960s--suddenly throw up her hands and start moaning "Massah Kirk! I don't know nothin' 'bout opening no hailing frequencies!" (Parenthetically, it was rather fun to see others repeat the same argument nearly word for word--evidence some cord had indeed been struck) Most interesting was the replies such phrasing inspired from those who disagreed. Apart from those who simply stated their disagreement, one in particular called the comparison "just hysterical."

Why? How is this not an appropriate comparison? There was no reply to such, but perhaps the most obvious answer--at least the subtext that seemed present in a lot of discussion on the subject--is that prejudice against lesbians doesn't count.

Of course a more explicit argument was (and continues to be) made that Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy weren't trying to deliberately insult or degrade lesbians, that Tara wasn't killed "because" she was a lesbian so that made it acceptable.

And another point made--often by those who study dramatic arts in one form or another--is that the murder of Tara was utterly necessary in order to achieve the story. This argument--echoing comments from the cast and production staff of Mutant Enemy--holds that to create the rampaging Dark Magic Willow (and use her to explore the nature of grief and how we respond to same) required the death of her Tara in as upsetting a context as possible. Advocates of this viewpoint also tend to champion artistic freedom and integrity over the demands of demographic groups, no matter how well-intended and sincere.

One such advocate even wrote that if the killing of Tara was a socially irresponsible act, Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy would be wrong to pay any attention to this fact.

Let us begin with a premise--namely, that artists (especially dramatic artists) have power.

No historian of note will deny the novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was a major catalyst to the American Civil War because it led so many to view slavery in human terms. Likewise its not too hard to argue the greatest influences on American foriegn policy vis-a-vis Africa and Asia were Edgar Rice Burroughs and Sax Rohmer, creators of Tarzan and Fu Manchu. Whether such was ever their intention (highly unlikely) doesn't change the effect. Neither did film director D.W.Griffith's stated belief in the universality of man keep membership in the Ku Klux Klan from jumping following the release of his motion picture "Birth of a Nation."

Artists, incidently, do not in general regard this power as an unintended by-product of entertainment. Many, if not most, actively promote the idea their work addresses issues of importance. Certainly those at Mutant Enemy do so, and it shows! Episodes of "BtVS" have dealt--usually in metaphor--with such matters as child-abuse, intolerance, relations between the sexes, compassion versus logic, redemption, maturity, etc.

Interestingly, one issue permeating Season Six was responsibility. Resurrecting Buffy from the dead was explicitly stated as being against magical law, and in fact the process created a demon. Later, the characters learned their friend had been in heaven--that their actions had snatched her away from comfort and bliss. Willow's solution to this--and to an argument with Tara--was to brainwash them both in an effort to erase inconvenient memories. The result nearly got everyone killed. In fact, going back over the series a lesson seems pretty clear from the very first hour--with power comes responsibility, and shirking it is never, ever a good idea.

Applying such a standard to Mutant Enemy itself hardly seems a stretch.

So what if Joss Whedon and company had harkened to some other stereotype? Suppose, for instance, that the Elders of Zion had contacted Willow during the show, recruiting her (as a Jew) into their long-range goal of enslaving all Gentiles? Would this have been acceptable because objecting threatens artistic integrity? Or if Giles stated on the program that all Africans were part demon in origin, hence their uncontrollable tempers and sexual urges--would that be something the audience should simply accept without comment?

Here in the United States lesbians are not allowed to marry each other. If they claim to be the victim of discrimination special interest groups (many closely associated with Presidents and other powerful leaders) accuse them of wanting "special privileges." Prominent ministers in many churches publicly equate lesbianism with pedophilia but remain silent on the subject of gay-bashing. Funds to combat a fatal disease are witheld and even considered controversial because the most prominently affected group is homosexuals. Judges forcibly seperate mothers from their childen precisely because the mothers are lesbian, no other reason given. At the same time, portrayals of lesbians in the mass media are overwhelmingly negative. Commentators note that "lesbians do die" but ignore the correlary--namely, lesbians also live and love and manage to without once resorting to crime or torture. One wouldn't know it by looking at our mass media.

It seems an easy argument to make, that if one accepts that lesbians are victims of prejudice (and the opposite is very difficult to back up) repeating a negative stereotype is something dramatic artists simply should not do.

Yet to say such a thing raises a much-feared spectre--that of censorship. Apart from the raw discomfort of demanding that someone (in this case Joss Whedon and his associates) admit they were wrong, critics of Tara's death must wrestle with a perception that they are insisting on power over content. This emotionally puts them in the same category--at least in some people's eyes--as reactionaries the world over who long for an end to whatever makes them uncomfortable.

Hence the battle cry of "political correctness!" To want special consideration for your group echoes past instances where (insert a demographic here) demanded that no negativity should ever under any circumstances be associated with them. The Spanish Inquisition, after all, might have been as horrible as they say but it makes Hispanics and Roman Catholics look bad. Likewise, couldn't we skip the whole fact that John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer were gay? While we're at it, surely the Germans had their own point of view during the Holocaust--why single out them?

But take that argument to its logical conclusion. No minority may every complain about how they are portrayed. Stereotypes--even nasty ones that teach self-loathing and encourage discrimination--deserve no feedback. Criticism is the same as a call for censorship, so writing a film review means calling for a repeal of the right to free speech.

Maybe there's another way of looking this.

Perhaps we should take comments and feedback as just that--personal reactions by audience members, worthy of attention based on what is actually said rather than what others assume they imply. Fans who see a negative stereotype and are enraged by same deserve more than dismissal. If any were to call for actual censorship--or to actually claim nothing bad should ever happen to lesbian characters--that would be one thing. To complain instead that "BtVS" did something wrong in portraying lesbians in the same negative cliche as has been the habit for years, that is something else altogether.

One defender of the "Tara dies" storyline quoted Virginia Woolf about an artist's need to follow his or her individual vision come hell or high water. Somehow, the idea that artists should dismiss unheard any concerns at all of their audiences doesn't seem what Ms. Woolf had in mind. It would also have carried far more weight if Mutant Enemy had not already admitted to changing stories and details at the demands of networks (so as not to insult fast food chains, for example--hence the vanishing of the Doublemeat Palace).

Here is another quote. Perhaps by takings its spirit to heart along with that of Ms. Woolf's the best possible results can be achieved. After all, one of the strengths of this particular series of stories has been its refusal to come up with simple, formulaic answers:

Julien Benda, a French intellectual, said Peace, if it ever exists, will not be based on the fear of war but on the love of peace. It will not be the abstaining from an act, but the coming of a state of mind. In this sense the most insignificant writer can serve peace, where the most powerful tribunals can do nothing. I believe writers and artists should remember this, showing far more care than Joss Whedon did in what truths--and lies--they tell.

"O Let my name be in the Book of Love!
If it be there I care not of that other Book above.
Strike it out! Or write it in anew, but
Let my name be in the Book of Love!"

--Omar Kayam

Edited by: Zahir al Daoud at: 10/6/02 10:26:52 am

 Post subject: Article - the history of gay and lesbian characters on TV
PostPosted: Wed Sep 25, 2002 1:29 pm 
Mods, feel free to move this to another thread if appropriate.

The BBC have a website up for their new lesbian drama, 'Tipping the Velvet' (which I'll post about in the 'other lesbians on TV' thread in a minute.) As part of the website, they have a long article on the history of gay and lesbian characters on TV. The article mostly focuses on British TV, but there is a W/T reference, which is pre-end of season 6:

Even hip teen drama, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, now has the previously-straight Willow in a full-on lesbian relationship with a fellow witch.

The article begins here, and the W/T reference is on the final page. Please note that they include some quotes and statistics to show just how unenlightened the general public can be about LGBT characters.

Edited by: tyche at: 9/25/02 1:21:19 pm

 Post subject: Re: "Tara is Dead. Who is to Blame?"
PostPosted: Wed Sep 25, 2002 5:35 pm 
I'm a fan along the same vein as the author of the first three essays. I'm a straight male who loves the character of Tara, in point of fact my favorite episode of the series, 'Family', is centered around her. I found the character compassionate and empathic, mature beyond her years; I could identify with her shyness, her feelings of isolation. I'll freely admit my skepticism when the she was first introduced: "Willow's falling for a girl? What's up with that?" Around the time of 'Who Are You', however, I began to really like the character. When 'New Moon Rising' first aired, her status as one of my favorites was firmly cemented; her desire for Willow's happiness above all else was inspiring, that selflessness is rare in the human species.

It's an intresting, ironic paradox that when Whedon claims that he gave us, the fans he claims to want watching his creation, what we "needed": the brutal murder of a beloved character, the subsequent grief-induced madness of another, and the destruction of a beautiful relationship that meant so much to so many people, whether it was a sign of hope to many, or a powerful testimonial to the power of true love, regardless of the participants, to others, he gave the homophobes and the hatemongers, people he claims to despise, exactly what they wanted.

"I now make a new vow, one weighed in experience and proclaimed with my eyes open: I will not raise my scimitars except in defense: in defense of my principles, of my life, or of others who cannot defend themselves."

Edited by: Jherek5150 at: 9/28/02 1:07:54 pm

 Post subject: Re: "Tara is Dead. Who is to Blame?"
PostPosted: Fri Oct 04, 2002 3:30 am 
"Peace, when it comes--if it comes--will arrive not because of treaties or alliances, nor by the fear of vast armies or the advantage of trade. Peace, should it ever truly be achieved, shall arrive by a change in the hearts of men. In this great endeavor, the teller of tales and the singer of songs holds more power than all the kings and potentates of the earth."

Zahir, who is that quote from?

 Post subject: Re: "Tara is Dead. Who is to Blame?"
PostPosted: Sun Oct 06, 2002 11:19 am 
Diebrock, I must confess that quote was from memory and I knew it was a paraphrase. However, this morning I finally re-discovered the actual quote, which was by the French intellectual Julien Benda. Here are his actual words:

Peace, if it ever exists, will not be based on the fear of war but on the love of peace. It will not be the abstaining from an act, but the coming of a state of mind. In this sense the most insignificant writer can serve peace, where the most powerful tribunals can do nothing.

I'm now going to change the quote in my essay.

"O Let my name be in the Book of Love!
If it be there I care not of that other Book above.
Strike it out! Or write it in anew, but
Let my name be in the Book of Love!"

--Omar Kayam

 Post subject: Steve DeKnight at the Bronze Beta
PostPosted: Sat Oct 12, 2002 11:51 pm 
Steve DeKnight says:

(Sun Oct 13 04:31:20 2002) [Edit/Delete]

Time out for a more serious note.

Drlloyd11: I’ve said this in the past and I can’t emphasize it enough: I deeply regret that I hurt anyone’s feelings with my ill-conceived Succubus Club interview. I was very tense over the whole Tara issue and pre-show fan backlash, and tried to defuse the situation with admittedly inappropriate humor. I’m a man that can admit his mistakes, and I don’t mind apologizing repeatedly when I blunder into a big one.

I took the writing of the Willow and Tara arc very seriously. Being able to write a loving, realistic relationship between two people who just happened to be the same sex was an honor and a privilege, and one I hope to repeat frequently if I’m ever lucky enough to helm my own show. I think nothing can promote tolerance and understanding more than showing this kind of relationship as normal and compassionate, just like any other.

That being said, I still support Joss’ decision to do what he did in order to tell the story he wanted to. If I had my way, would Tara have died? Of course not. It was a beautiful relationship and I was sorry to see it end in such a violent, tragic manner. But the Jossverse is built on a bedrock of pain and suffering, and this is how it played out.

Finally, I’d like to ask the rest of the Bronzers not to attack drllody11 or anyone else who’s upset with me for my lapse of sanity and compassion on the Succubus Club. After much reflection, I can honestly say they have every right be. My sincerest apologies to anyone I inadvertently hurt. I only hope you’ll give me the opportunity to make it up to you in the future, in both words and deeds.


"There's a whole lot of singing that's never gonna be heard

Disappearing everyday without so much as a word somehow"

 Post subject: Re: "Tara is Dead. Who is to Blame?"
PostPosted: Sun Oct 13, 2002 12:11 am 
Gosh SKD is mistake if he thinks a little apology over there.. can make a difference. He knows where the kitten is.

And it is so meaningless months later. He knew exactly what he was doing then, well it's too late now. I'd be apologizing too if I took one look at the Buffy ratings.

- - - - - - - - - - - -
Tara and Willow

Accept NO subsitutes

 Post subject: Re: Steve DeKnight at the Bronze Beta
PostPosted: Sun Oct 13, 2002 12:35 am 
Dr. Lloyd asked us to post this exchange he and Steve DeKnight had tonight on the BB.

drlloyd11 says:

(Sun Oct 13 04:13:28 2002

SDK : Steve, I doubt you will read this, but..

I am one of those people who called into the sucubus club and was so upset at the end of last year. I wanted you to understand, really understand, its not you writing the ep where Tara dies that is the reason I am upset (I am upset about that but not with you). Its the fact that you seemed to take this immense pleasure in really mocking the fans.

Look, yes you lie, spoilers etc, but when you got on the succubus club that wasnt lies. I imagine many people told it was funny, alot of people I know were crushed. They thought it had all been a trick, everything, and that this was how you felt, that the W/T was just a private tape for home and a few jokes..

I mean, do you udnerstand steve, its the fact it meant SO much to me and you made it so apparent how little it meant to you? How little I meant to you? How little what you had done meant to you?

I think my biggest source of anger was not just the jokes, but the genuine sense of mockery I got.

ok, thats all sdk. I imagine you are an intelligent man, and you can write very well, how hard was it to say something mildly nice?

Steve DeKnight says:

(Sun Oct 13 04:31:20 2002)

Time out for a more serious note.

Drlloyd11: I’ve said this in the past and I can’t emphasize it enough: I deeply regret that I hurt anyone’s feelings with my ill-conceived Succubus Club interview. I was very tense over the whole Tara issue and pre-show fan backlash, and tried to defuse the situation with admittedly inappropriate humor. I’m a man that can admit his mistakes, and I don’t mind apologizing repeatedly when I blunder into a big one.

I took the writing of the Willow and Tara arc very seriously. Being able to write a loving, realistic relationship between two people who just happened to be the same sex was an honor and a privilege, and one I hope to repeat frequently if I’m ever lucky enough to helm my own show. I think nothing can promote tolerance and understanding more than showing this kind of relationship as normal and compassionate, just like any other.

That being said, I still support Joss’ decision to do what he did in order to tell the story he wanted to. If I had my way, would Tara have died? Of course not. It was a beautiful relationship and I was sorry to see it end in such a violent, tragic manner. But the Jossverse is built on a bedrock of pain and suffering, and this is how it played out.

Finally, I’d like to ask the rest of the Bronzers not to attack drllody11 or anyone else who’s upset with me for my lapse of sanity and compassion on the Succubus Club. After much reflection, I can honestly say they have every right be. My sincerest apologies to anyone I inadvertently hurt. I only hope you’ll give me the opportunity to make it up to you in the future, in both words and deeds.

drlloyd11 says:

(Sun Oct 13 04:37:19 2002

Thank you steve...

I wish we had this exchange in may, but I appreciate your taking time now to say. I wish you the best in angel..

Steve DeKnight says:

Drlloyd11: Wish we had had this exchange back in May, too. And thank you for being forgiving. I promise to think before opening my big fat yap on sensitive issues in the future.

Tara or nothing.

Tara & Willow Love Forever

Edited by: kpmuse at: 10/12/02 11:43:26 pm

 Post subject: Re: "Tara is Dead. Who is to Blame?"
PostPosted: Sun Oct 13, 2002 12:41 am 
honestly , I would rather not bring in a conflict from elsewhere over here. So just taking SDK's comments on its own would be best. I care not to discuss bronzers.

- - - - - - - - - - - -
Tara and Willow

Accept NO subsitutes

 Post subject: Re: "Tara is Dead. Who is to Blame?"
PostPosted: Sun Oct 13, 2002 1:57 am 
Xita, I'd like to respectfully disagree with the idea that this apology is meaningless. Late in coming, yes, and I'm still not exactly thrilled with the way he lied to the fans during season six, but quite honestly I don't think what he said to Dr. Lloyd was just spin and damage control. (And I also don't see why he would necessarily have to make his apology here, since his original offensive remarks were not made here.)

He basically said, in a public forum, that he gets our point of view. That the Willow/Tara relationship was important, and that killing Tara was a bad idea. That as a writer he wouldn't do it if he had the creative freedom not to do so. And that mocking and trivializing the relationship was inappropriate.

And if he's telling the truth, maybe his future writing will reflect that when he gets a chance. And whatever his motivations, maybe just his saying that will get through to people we might not be able to. And I think that matters.

--- KR

Lost in Ecstacy

 Post subject: Re: "Tara is Dead. Who is to Blame?"
PostPosted: Sun Oct 13, 2002 2:06 am 
I have a hard time believing him because of the way he behaved at the Succubus Club and subsequent bronze appearances. It wasn't just the lying but the deliberate hurtful way in with which he behaved. What changed since then, oh yeah Buffy's ratings fell.

I do see a good thing in that he's pulling away from Joss and admitting it wasn't a good thing and he wouldn't do it himself. However after the way he mocked everyone's feelings I am not inclined to believe he's being entirely sincere. He didn't just disagree , he mocked. And so now to come waving a flag, I have to wonder why? WIth all these lies forgive me for being cynical, but his word is not worth much to me.

I also disagree about the apology, it wasn't directed at bronzers it was directed at us. NO he never posted here, but many times he mentioned our board, our members, wanting to be here, lurking here and being hurt by our remarks. So yes I think it should be made here as the people involved in the conflict were us.

- - - - - - - - - - - -
Tara and Willow

Accept NO subsitutes

 Post subject: Re: "Tara is Dead. Who is to Blame?"
PostPosted: Sun Oct 13, 2002 2:24 am 
FWIW, I pretty much agree with Kyra, though I think I understand Xita's skepticism. And I have to admit, this coming on the tail of the ratings nosedive and the unfortunate David Fury interview incident makes me wonder, in my paranoid fantasy way, if someone hasn't issued an order to "go out and get our fanbase back!"

I have no real problem with "it's not what I would have done, but Joss runs the show," though obviously it would have been better to say that back in the day. But I've never fully understood the "Buffy exists on a bedrock of pain" argument, because that's not how I saw the show for the first five seasons worth of episodes.

But anyway, for the moment, I do take him to be sincere.

Ben Varkentine

"You can lead a horticulture, but you can't make her think."--Dorothy Parker

 Post subject: Re: The Lesbian Cliche FAQ
PostPosted: Sun Oct 13, 2002 5:42 am 
What a wonderful thread and an absolutely outstanding piece of writing (particularly the first post).

I thought I understood the cliche and its connotations but that has opened my eyes.

Well done to all involved.

She's my everything

 Post subject: Re: "Tara is Dead. Who is to Blame?"
PostPosted: Sun Oct 13, 2002 9:06 am 
I'm not sure I believe SDK's sincerity, but I do appreciate that there is value in his apology. He did admit we have a point and that his actions were inappropriate. That is important and useful. On the whole, I would rather he made this statement than not.

His sincerity is suspect to me because he's had months to say something like this and instead during his visits to the Bronze he chose to make yet more lesbian jokes and mock the Kitten board. Only now that BtVS ratings are in a nose-dive, Firefly is complete disaster, and internal problems at Mutant Enemy seem to be growing, does SDK turn in his King of Snark crown for a stint as Mr. Peace and Love. BtVS and Firefly are goners, Angel still has a chance. I smell ulterior motives. Sorry.

But still, I'm glad he apologized. I really am.



"And nobody wants to hear this tale. The plot is cliched and the jokes are stale. And baby we've all heard it all before." Invisible Ink by Aimee Mann

 Post subject: Re: "Tara is Dead. Who is to Blame?"
PostPosted: Sun Oct 13, 2002 10:14 am 
SDK is not going to win me back as a fan (of his, or of the show) with this apology. At this point, that's impossible. Aside from the irreparable harm that was done with the W/T arc last season and the many deeply hurtful comments regarding it made by ME staffers, the quality of the show has deteriorated so much in the last year that I find no enjoyment in continuing to watch. Joss can keep his vision of despair, disrespect, and degredation, not to mention his woefully contrived storylines and way, way off characterization; I'm not interested any more in what he has to say through the characters, or where he intends to take them from here. As a viewer, I've moved on.

Having said that, I do appreciate the fact that SDK finally mustered a real apology for the part he has played in this, even if I must view it with at least a little suspicion because of how bad the ratings are right now, even if it is woefully late in coming. Even if he still couldn't bring himself to utter the C-word. I also appreciate that this was posted where it was with a request for that particular community to be more understanding of people who were, and continue to be upset with him, and by inference, with the show. Do I think this is likely to change the minds of a majority of the people who still consider themselves Buffy fans? No, I really don't. But I think he did a decent thing in admitting that he really screwed up, and that we have every right to be upset. Too little, too late, perhaps. But just the same, I think he gets that people were really hurt, whereas I had no indication that he understood or remotely cared about that before. I think he feels genuinely bad about it. And ya know what? Good. Maybe if he feels some smidgen of the immense pain that he and his colleagues have inflicted upon this community, some good will come of it.

As I have no trust left to give anyone over at ME, I'm not going to hold my breath and wait for SDK or anyone else over there to go and introduce new and fabulous same-sex relationships in their future endeavors, or demonstrate increased understanding and sensitivity to the representation of GLBT people and relationships in the media. I don't trust them to do it, and I don't care to try to evoke from myself new trust. Not in them, perhaps not in anyone in the position of producing and writing for television. If they handle things better the next time they get the chance, great. I hope it helps people. It certainly could, and it's good to see that SDK gets that, too. But they've hurt me too much for me to ever think of placing my trust in them again.

What I wonder now is if he gets the flip side of positive portrayals being helpful, if he understands something of how damaging the overwhelmingly negative portrayals of GLBT life and love in the media are- to society in general, to people who may not know any openly gay folks to serve as living examples in overturning negative stereotypes and misconceptions about what it means to be gay, to people who have to grapple every day with how screwed up their culture is in matters of gender and sexuality because they are gay, or lesbian, or bisexual, or transgendered. To people bombarded, every day by messages in real life and fictional worlds as well saying either "you're invisible, and you should stay that way, because while we might deign to 'tolerate' you, we can't be bothered with showing real acceptance," or the ever popular, "there's something wrong with you, and because the way you love looks different than the way it's supposed to, you're going to come to a bad end."

We've learned that Tara was always meant to hurt Willow, her unconditional love and kindness to be used against Willow as forcefully as any of the other weapons raised against her in the history of the show. Intentional or not, the message is there. Loud and clear. And in time I may forgive, but I will not forget.

"And never let it be said that I left a Tara craving unsatisfied." Willow, Wilderness Pt. 1

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