The Sporting Life: Happy Birthday Joss Whedon Edition

Joss Whedon at the 2012 Comic-Con in San Diego. photo: Gage Skidmore

Joss Whedon at the 2012 Comic-Con in San Diego.
photo: Gage Skidmore

June 23 marks the birthday of one of pop culture’s most influential artists. Joss Whedon has distinguished himself as a writer, director, producer, composer, actor, film-maker, and pop culture icon. He will celebrate his 50th birthday this year. Born Joseph Hill Whedon on June 23, 1964 in New York City, “Joss” Whedon has said that he has been most influenced by Ray Bradbury, Tim Burton, James Cameron, Philip K. Dick, Neil Gaiman, John Hughes, Stanley Kubrick, Monty Python, Sam Raimi, Jean-Paul Sartre, Ridley Scott, Rod Serling, William Shakespeare, Stephen Sondheim, Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, and Alan Moore.

One of many distinctions he has is that there has been for the past decade an academic conference held every two years to parse his work. Attended by scholars from universities around the globe, the Slayage Conference on the Whedonverses started here in middle Tennessee. In 2004 the first (and only, it was assumed at the time) Slayage Conference on Buffy the Vampire Slayer was held in Nashville, Tennessee, an event hosted by Middle Tennessee State University and organized by David Lavery and Rhonda V. Wilcox. Interest in meeting again was so high that the conference became a biennial gathering of scholars and other enthusiasts.

Today, the Slayage Conference on the Whedonverses has convened at Gordon College, Barnesville, Georgia (2006); Henderson State University, Arkadelphia, Arkansas (2008); Flagler College, St. Augustine, Florida (2010); and the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia (2012). This year, the conference celebrates the 10th anniversary of its first gathering. Entitled, Much Ado About Whedon, The 6th Biennial Slayage Conference on the Whedonverses convenes at California State University – Sacramento, June 19-22, 2014.

As a screenwriter, film and television producer, director, comic book author, composer, and actor, Joss is the founder of Mutant Enemy Productions and co-founder of Bellwether Pictures, and is best known as the creator and show-runner of the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997–2003), Angel (1999–2004), Firefly (2002–2003), Dollhouse (2009–2010), and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013), as well as Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (2008). Joss Whedon co-wrote Toy Story (1995), wrote and directed Serenity (2005), co-wrote and produced the horror film The Cabin in the Woods (2012), and wrote and directed the film adaptation of Marvel’s The Avengers (2012), which earned over $1.5 billion, making it the third highest-grossing film of all time, and the highest grossing superhero film of all-time. Joss Whedon is also notable for his work in the comic books Astonishing X-Men, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel: After the Fall and Runaways.

He is particulary distinguished by his creation of the character Melaka Fray and his version of Kitty Pryde of the X-Men franchise. The character Kitty Pryde from the X-Men comics was an early model for Whedon’s strong teenage girl characters. “If there’s a bigger influence on Buffy than Kitty, I don’t know what it was. She was an adolescent girl finding out she has great power and dealing with it.” Kitty Pryde later played a central role in Whedon’s run on Astonishing X-Men. Kitty Pryde is currently played by Ellen Page in the X-Men film series, and it was her character’s abilities which were pivotal in the X-Men: Days of Future Past storyline.

“I think, ultimately, gun to my head, TV is the place,” said Whedon, about developing Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television show, which debuted in the Fall of 2013 on ABC as a follow-up to the Avengers movie. “Being able to spend years with a character, to really develop them, to understand them, to challenge the actor, to learn from the actor, to work with a team of writers — that experience is so fulfilling. The idea of putting something out there and letting it grow is really exciting.”

“His respect and empathy for women are obvious and consistent,” says author Lisa Anderson. “He does more than pay lip service to equality; he also shows respect for women behind the scenes. Many important writing and production roles on his projects have long been given to talented women… such as Jane Espenson, Marti Noxon, Marissa Tancharoen, Rebecca Rand Kirshner, Sarah Fain, Elizabeth Craft, Jeanine Renshaw, and more.”

“Whedonites United, the organization that puts on Whedonfest, is more than just a fan group,” says Anderson. The middle-Tennessee based group is part of the global Can’t Stop the Signal movement that supports charities through activities involving fans of the film Serenity in action. Check out their website at: http://whedonfest.wordpress.com/ or their facebook page: Whedonites United.

“In the case of Whedonites United, we fight womens’ oppression by supporting Equality Now, we help get children’s books into libraries through Kids Need to Read, and address the plight of stray animals through New Leash on Life of Lebanon, Tennessee,” says Anderson.

Come celebrate Joss’ birthday on Saturday, June 28 with Whedonites United. And while Joss will not be attending, The Secret Commonwealth and Kasey Lansdale will. For a $5 cover, you can come hang with other Whedon Fans, and maybe win one of the (usually awesome) door prizes. In lieu of WhedonFest, this is the only fundraiser for Can’t Stop the Serenity this year, and will support Equality Now. The event runs from 7 – 11 pm at the 3 Brothers Craft Brewhouse, 114 North Church Street in Murfreesboro.