The Philosophy Of Joss Whedon edited by Dean A. Kowalski and S. Evan Kreider (book review).

This volume of ‘The Philosophy Of Joss Whedon’ could easily be called ‘The Joy Of Joss – surely there is already a book with that title? This is one of a regular series, collectively called ‘The Philosophy Of Popular Culture’ and is aimed at the market of deep thought. Split into sections, it takes several of Whedon’s series and applies thoughtful essays on the philosophy within them. It’s really one for the interested amateur or professional film student but, either way, it helps if you are a fan of the director because each chapter takes apart the minutiae of meaning implied and/or intended in a particular show, drilled down to episode level.

PhilosophyOfJoss Whedon

Although the dust jacket on the hardback has a cute picture of Buffy, Angel and Captain Tightpants himself, this is a less Buffy-centric as it acknowledges there is a bookshelf worth of volumes dedicated to the sassy Slayer. Nevertheless, the spirit of the Buffster is present as that show very much set the tone for the themes addressed in his ventures since and we can see how these themes play out with everything Mr. Whedon has touched, even ‘Toy Story’. With his newer ventures into the world of ‘The Avengers’ and even his latest film of Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, hopefully, there is another volume waiting to be written.

Part 1 of the text has four chapters on different aspects of ‘Freedom And Its Limits’. The first three focus around ‘Firefly’ and its movie incarnation, ‘Serenity’. Despite only having one series and a movie, there is plenty to pull apart. So if your Mum ever tells you to stop watching rubbish TV, you can wave this book and cry ‘freedom’ for the individual. She will be impressed.

The final essay concerns ‘Dollhouse’, which ran to two seasons and addresses the controversial aspect of the show that of consenting adults involved in becoming ‘dolls’ Again, this show like the precious one had many more miles to travel and, reading about them, makes you realise that you might have been just a little bit shallow when you thought they were just another show…although, as we well know, most of the meanings we attribute tend to be our own rather than anything other than careful and clever storytelling. However, there is nothing wrong with using this popular media to address the big questions. You have to start somewhere and it’s the accessibility of the dramas that make this book and the big themes easier to address.

The second part of ‘The Philosophy’ is about ethics and virtue and digs under the shell of the popular shows to tackle how people behave and how they should behave. Again, this is not for the faint-hearted and its best consumed one chapter at a time. Students of philosophy may have issues with what conclusion the various authors draw but philosophers will tell you that, ultimately, we have to draw our own meanings and fierce debate is what it is all about.

‘The Human Condition’ is the third and final part and, as Buffy might comment, ‘It’s a biggie.’ For instance, we get to relive and think about the Jasmine arc from ‘Angel’ in ‘Look What Free Will Has Gotten You’ by Susanne E. Foster and James B. South and putting the discussion into the context of the characters and what choices they make ensure that the theories are more accessible

These books are surprising and, of course, will make you want to watch some of the old episodes with eyes more open than previously. What it relies on and takes as read is Joss Whedon as auteur where, subject to the controls of the network, his author’s voice is directing the morality shown in each drama. It’s fascinating and, although I struggled with some of the concepts, I thoroughly enjoyed how the arguments were put together.

Sue Davies

May 2013

(pub: The University Press Of Kentucky. 244 page hardback. Price: £31.50 (UK), $ 35.00 (US). ISBN: 978-0-81313-419-2)

check out websites: www.kentuckypress.com and www.eurospanbookstore.com

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