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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Some comments on the new Joss Whedon biography

Amy Pascale has written an engaging and interesting biography of Joss Whedon. It’s an authorized biography, meaning she had access to Joss, his friends, his family, his classmates, his teachers, and lots of his professional associates. There are quite a few revealing quotes throughout the book, a number of which I intend to incorporate in my own book. She also describes every project Joss has been involved in ever since he was in college.

She organizes the book chronologically, so we follow Joss’ path in Hollywood from his early work on Roseanne through Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Pascale is obviously a big fan of BtVS, so she devotes more time to that series than most of his projects. That suits me fine, obviously, but if your preferred series is AtS or Firefly or Dollhouse, you won’t find as much detail. Pascale describes herself as an early and avid Buffy fan, and an early poster at The Bronze. Some of her most interesting chapters (to me, anyway) detail the beginnings of The Bronze and the participatory nature of fandom back then.

Pascale has definite opinions about the various shows. For example, she clearly didn’t like AtS 4 and doesn’t hesitate to say so. I’m pretty used to people disagreeing with my own assessment of episodes, so the fact that she didn’t like, say, Dead Things, doesn’t bother me. I know some readers get frustrated when an author doesn’t like one of their personal favorites, but Pascale is a fan and the vast majority of the time she’s very positive about Joss’ work.

I’d characterize her discussion of the shows as generally descriptive rather than analytical. By that I mean that she mostly tells us plot and theme without trying to analyze details as I’ve done on this blog. That’s useful on its own and I don’t mean it as a criticism; I’m just trying to give a sense of the book. Her descriptions do not extend to behind the scenes gossip. If you’re hoping to learn which actors were sleeping with each other, this is not your book. I find that a relief, though I wouldn’t mind reading a “tell-all” some day.

That leads to one final point. Because Joss authorized the biography, it’s nearly inevitable that it’s less critical of Joss than an independent biography might be. The quotes from actors and business associates are uniformly positive, which is what we’d expect for statements on the record. Joss deserves a lot of praise; whether it’s quite so one-sided is harder to say, but I’m sure there are those in the industry who’d be less than favorable towards him. I don’t see this as the kind of problem which qualifies the book as hagiography – every biographer has to face the tradeoffs of access versus criticism. There is, however, a line beyond which praise becomes too – what’s a word means “glowing”? – effulgent, and there were times when I thought the book reached that point. 

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