Book Review: Joss Whedon and Religion: Essays on an Angry Atheist’s Explorations of the Sacred, Anthony R. Mills, ed. (2013)

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

“Oh…my…Goddess!” (In which an “angry atheist” is pleasantly surprised by a religious journey through the Whedonverse.)

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program.)

As a Joss Whedon fan and a fellow self-described “angry atheist,” I approached Joss Whedon and Religion: Essays on an Angry Atheist’s Explorations of the Sacred with some trepidation. Specifically, I was worried that the authors who contributed to this anthology – many of them theologians – might be dismissive of or downright hostile to Whedon’s beliefs. Happily, this isn’t the case. After all, many (if not all) of them are fellow Whedon fans, even if they don’t share in his atheism. While some authors are critical of certain aspects of Whedon’s work, I suspect that this primarily comes from a place of love: it’s those you respect most who have the greatest potential to let you down.

As with any anthology, Joss Whedon and Religion is a bit of a mixed bag, with all of the pieces trending toward “adequate” to “excellent.” Some authors are heavier on the academic jargon than others; overall, I found most of the contributions to be fairly readable. (Some of the heavier stuff is tempered by more enjoyable, in-depth discussions of, say, Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Dollhouse. Warning: you will want to revisit your favorite shows by book’s end!) Occasionally, I had to take a breather to further research a specific topic, usually religious in nature; those who have a better background in religion (specifically Judeo-Christian) will no doubt have an easier time of it.

Due to the religious iconography prominently displayed on the cover (which is consistent with the Catholic imagery common to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel), I anticipated a largely Christian perspective. While I can’t comment on the authors’ personal religious convictions, I’m happy to report that they address a variety of religions and ethical systems, both mainstream and not: Wicca and witchcraft; ancient Greek and Roman gods and goddesses; the philosophies of Aristotle and Kant; even Ayn Rand gets a chapter (alongside Stan Lee, natch). A few essays don’t really seem to pay much mind to religion at all.

(In an especially amusing aside, Dean Kowalski gently pokes fun at K. Dale Koontz – who penned the forward – for reading too much religion into Whedon’s work, a criticism one could perhaps level at many of the contributors to this volume. See page 105.)

Of course, Christianity does receive the lion’s share of attention.

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Book Review: Dollhouse Volume 1: Epitaphs, Andrew Chambliss et al. (2012)

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Dollhouse lives!

five out of five stars

Dollhouse is easily my favorite Joss Whedon project – and, because I watched it in real time, its premature cancellation crushed me all the more. (Knowing that Firefly only got 14 episodes going in made the end a tiny bit easier to bear.) When Amazon recommended Dollhouse Volume 1: Epitaphs, I nearly fell out of my seat with shock and excitement. As someone who doesn’t normally read comics, Dollhouse had slipped under my radar. Forever late to the party.

Epitaphs is a must for anyone who’s loved and lost Dollhouse. The five-issue series – reproduced here along with cover art and actor portraits – takes place in 2019, before “Epitaph One” but after “The Hollow Men.” (The opening panels show Mag, Zone, and Griff in their previous lives.) Rossum has just unleashed its “thoughtpocalypse” technology that wipes the minds of innocent people, turning them into “butchers” and “wielders” – mindless zombie killers and soldiers programmed to carry out directives: in this case, multiple their numbers and find and kill Echo, whose brain holds the key to creating a program to block the signal.

Caught in Los Angeles, Mag, Zone, and Griff band together to destroy the radio tower that Rossum’s using to further spread the signal. Meanwhile, Alpha, several Ivy imprints, Trevor, and Paul are converging on Rossum headquarters in Tucson to find and help Echo steal the technology she needs to develop an inoculant to imprinting.

With an engaging story line, – you could almost picture this as a live action episode – dialog that’s true to the characters (Alpha especially), and all your old favorites (Paul!), Dollhouse Volume 1: Epitaphs is quite enjoyable, even if you’re not a voracious reader of comic books. Granted, some of the art could use a little work; while the cover art is spot-on – Echo, Alpha, and Mag are immediately recognizable – I can’t always say the same for the interior art.

Even so, it’s a huge win in my book. More please!

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

From animal liberator to animal hunter: Life and death in the Dollhouse.

Friday, April 10th, 2009

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Caution: Spoilers ahead! (More specifically, after the blockquote.)

Firstly, I’m extremely happy to report that, as promised by Ms. Dushku, Dollhouse has improved by leaps and bounds since last I blogged about it. Not only have we gotten to know Echo – our hero – a bit better, but more importantly, the show has addressed “the consent issue” head-on.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. For those who haven’t seen the show, here’s a brief summary via Wiki:

Eliza Dushku plays a young woman called Echo, a member of a group of people known as “Actives” or “Dolls”. The Dolls have had their personalities wiped clean so they can be imprinted with any number of new personas, including memory, muscle memory, skills, and language, for different assignments (referred to as engagements). The new persona is not an original creation, however, but an amalgam of different, existing personalities. The end result incorporates some of the flaws, not just the strengths, of the people used as templates. The Actives are then hired out for particular jobs – crimes, fantasies, and the occasional good deed. On engagements, Actives are monitored internally (and remotely) by Handlers. In between tasks, they are mind-wiped into a child-like state and live in a futuristic dormitory/laboratory, a hidden facility nicknamed “The Dollhouse”. The story follows Echo, who begins, in her mind-wiped state, to become self-aware.

As I noted before, the Dolls’ lack of agency in both their “wiped” and “programmed” states makes it impossible for them to give meaningful consent – for any of their actions, including sexual relations. When a doll “has sex,” she (or he) is actually being raped. Usually the rapist knows full well that he (or she) is “having sex” with a programmable “doll” – so it’s rape with intent. Occasionally, however, the “doll” is sent on a covert/undercover mission – for example, to seduce a certain FBI agent – and sex becomes a tool she (or he) uses to that end. Such cases still constitute rape, but…well, it’s hard to say who the rapist is when the “doll’s” partner believes that the encounter is consensual. The Rossum Corporation, perhaps?

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Hunting "Tail" on Dollhouse

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

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Caution: Major spoiler warning below the jump!

I’ve been a Joss Whedon fan since his Firefly days, so when I heard that he was working on a new project, Dollhouse, I immediately got all giddy like a schoolgirl. That is, until I hear that Eliza Dushku would be starring. Ugh.

Even before the hunting flap, I disliked Dushku. Perhaps it’s because she came off like an entitled snot in a very early episode of Punk’d; even before she was faux “arrested” for “shoplifting” in a local retail boutique, she copped a huge ‘tude over all the free swag she was obviously owed for being a celebrity. That, and Tru Calling looked absolutely dreadful. Well, and I’m also weird like that; Dushku isn’t the only celebrity I have an irrational, knee-jerk dislike for. Take Ben Affleck, for example: clearly, he’s a funny, charming, altruistic guy, but there’s just something about him that I want to hate. He’s smarmy, but not. Did I also mention that I have a crazy aversion to feet? So maybe it’s just me, after all.

Anyway, the aforementioned hunting flap gave me a reason to dislike her – a good one, actually. In an August appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Show, Dushku discussed her love of hunting – you know, that sadistic leisure activity which involves murdering innocent animals for “fun”:

Here’s the gist of the interview (via ecorazzi), in case you don’t want to sit through the whole video:

A couple night ago on Jimmy Kimmel Live Dushku revealed that she loves to hunt elk and deer. Not only did she brag about it, but she also showed off her bow and arrow skills and boasted about killing a deer in Oklahoma last Christmas. WTF, Eliza? Why are you such a jerk?

Even the studio audience turned on Dushku forcing her to joke, “My mother called me herself and said, ‘You’re a liberal from New England, what the ‘f’ are you doing in Oklahoma shooting things.” Backpeddling later she said, “When you’re in a relationship with somebody you have to, like, experience things that they do. A lot of people eat meat… and I eat what I kill.”

Dushku’s hunting isn’t so much the point, though, as it is a set-up for the rest of this post. Despite my ambivalence, I started watching Dollhouse on my DVR last week. It’s alright, certainly no Firefly, but also not the complete stinker I was afraid it’d be. The second episode, “The Target,” is of particular interest from an animal rights standpoint.

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