Friday, June 13, 2008

Jeanine Basinger on Joss Whedon (by Suzie)

          Before Jeanine Basinger spoke at Slayage, she called Joss Whedon to ask what she should not say. The list grew longer and longer.
           “I’m not going to have anything left to tell them,” she told him.
           But Basinger ended up with plenty to say about the creator of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” “Firefly” and “Serenity.” Basinger, a renowned author and film-studies professor at Wesleyan University, spoke Sunday at the Slayage Conference on the Whedonverses* 3 in Arkadelphia, Ark.
           After her speech, I asked about feminism. She said Whedon was a feminist before he became her student, and she credits his mother, who was a librarian and teacher. But she does think she influenced his ideas on feminism.
           Basinger, who is in her 70s, was among the first women to get tenure at Wesleyan. She teaches women that, if men take the camera from them, they can take it back. She said she practices with them, if need be.
           Basinger recalled the first time she saw someone wearing a T-shirt that read: “Joss is God.”
          “This makes me one of the mothers of God. I’m comfortable with that, but is he really God?” Another reaction: “Joss? My little Joss?” He ignores stuff like the T-shirt, but she feels “a little appalled” by his deification. In Hollywood, she has seen the wreckage that ego causes. She considers Whedon remarkable for never losing his humanity, his perspective, his basic personality.
          “Today, Joss is exactly the same person as when I taught him. He is wearing the exact same T-shirt. He is wearing the exact same sneakers.
          “Joss is a very sensitive person. He would describe himself as a lonely, nerd-type teenager.” Although he had outgrown that description by the time he got to Wesleyan, he still felt – and feels – protective of teenagers, she said. “Joss is youthful in spirit and body and mind. I don’t think he has waked up to the fact that he isn’t a teenager.”
           She met him in 1983 or ’84 when he asked permission to take a class. They had a long talk. “It’s a conversation that’s still going on,” she said, and it’s one of the most important in her life. The feeling is mutual. Whedon once said: “I’ve had two great teachers in my life. One was my mother, and the other was Jeanine.”
           Asked if Whedon might become a teacher someday, she said it’s possible. “Joss is an excellent teacher,” she said, noting how he works with young actors.
           As a student, he already understood so much. She thought: “It’s all in there. It’s waiting.”
           When he graduated, she came to this realization: “He’s the tribal storyteller. I think, deep inside, he knows that he’s the tribal storyteller and that will be his destiny. We never say this out loud. It would be too noisy.”
            When he’s not telling a story, he’s restless, she said. She imagines him in cave days, wearing burlap and telling stories to guys in furs. Sometimes they would feed him, and sometimes they would beat him with a stick. But he would never stop.
          Basinger gave interviews about him when he became well-known. Then she stopped, feeling uncomfortable talking about a friendship marked by “dignity, always dignity.”#
           What does Whedon think of scholars who study his work?
            “I think this falls under the ‘And, for God’s sakes, don’t tell them’ category." But, she told the audience, “I’m not finding you too scary … too crazy. I think he thinks you do what you do and he does what he does. He has talked to me about it, but I promised not to talk about it.”
            She said she’ll tell him that he should go to the next Slayage. I’m thrilled because Joss is G… , umm, someone I admire.

* That’s like “universes.”
#From “Singin’ in the Rain.”