It seems like it’s every day where the creator behind one of my favorite shows is revealed to be problematic in one way or another. Whether it’s Mark Schwahn, Dan Schneider, or most recently Joss Whedon. I’m not going into depth about my feelings about either man and their disgusting behavior. Instead, I want to talk about their work. Their work that I have grown up watching and loving because frankly, it was never the men behind the shows I cared about. It was always the shows themselves. I want to talk about how I have and will continue to reconcile with the choice I actively make when I rewatch these shows. Many people are going to have their own opinion about the subject. I am not telling you how to feel about it. If you decide that these creator’s actions and behavior are enough for you to never watch their creations again, that is perfectly fine. I am not here to convince you otherwise. This is just me rectifying my decision to continue watching the shows they created along with how and why I arrived at this decision.
As a child, my favorite television shows were created by Dan Schneider. I didn’t know that at the time, I was a little kid and didn’t pay attention to specifics like that. I just wanted to watch Drake & Josh, Zoey 101, and Kenan & Kel (am I showing my age here or what). It was years later as a teenager that I learned of Schneider’s rumored predatory behavior during his time at Nickelodeon that has put his shows under a microscope. Knowing the rumors surrounding him has changed how I forever view his shows. It would be one thing if his rumored behavior was only apparent behind the scenes, but they were not. If you know what to look for while watching shows he worked on you will find disturbing jokes that seemingly back up the rumors. The jokes made were not funny because they were creepy and weird. Jokes that should have never been on a children’s television program. I can never view Schneider’s shows, in the same way, I did as a child. Shows I adored when I was a child that have been ruined for me as I have grown into adulthood. And yet I still get an urge once in a while to revisit a show that Schneider either created or worked on. Why is that? Nostalgia? Maybe, but nostalgia is not a excuse for when you don’t want to acknowledge the things you loved were problematic. You can not put blinders on and ignore the issues if you are not willing to admit the thing you loved had problems. That’s what it begins to boil down to, acknowledging that sometimes our favorite shows don’t belong on the pedestal we put them on. As much as we may adore them, they are created by flawed people. No person deserves to be placed on a pedestal. The same treatment should be applied to the things they create.
In a early blog post, I declared that my favorite television show was One Tree Hill. That was two years ago and that’s a statement I stand by. But that statement is loaded with controversy. The creator of One Tree Hill, Mark Schwan was outed to have been sexually harassing and creating a toxic work environment. My first reaction to the news was with obvious disgust to hearing the troubling stories that took place behind the scenes. Much like with Dan Schneider, the news forced many including myself to examine the show and see it in a different light. And again I saw a creator’s alarming behavior seeping into the DNA of his show. Schwan frequently sexualized his female characters to the point of uncomfortability. Schwan’s sexualization of the female characters is clear and disturbing particularly because the actresses are supposed to be portraying teenage girls. I did not notice these moments when first viewing the show because they did not leave an impact on me. I now know that Schwan would often write storylines to involve having female characters stripped down to their undergarments because he was attracted to them. When I revisit the show and see these moments, it sends a red flag and the thought that Schwan probably wrote it to my head. It happens every time I watch an episode of the show. I know this, and I still choose to watch it. I make that conscious decision on my own. I know what I am signing up for. Many people can partake in separating art from the artist when indulging in works by creators who are found to be problematic. I don’t believe I am one of them because I know it’s not that simple. Separating the art from the artist is the equivalent of putting a band-aid on a gunshot wound, it’s a temporary solution to a bigger problem. One that rises the question, are we enabling the behavior of these creators when participating in watching their shows? I do not have an answer to that. It’s something we all have to come to our own conclusions about.
I thought about writing about this topic for a while now. I knew about all the pieces I wanted to cover. Yet I held off for whatever reason. But once Charisma Carpenter released her statement about Joss Whedon, I knew it was finally time to pull the trigger. I love Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and I love Angel like I know so many of you do. With how successful Buffy was, much of its charm and achievements are accredited to Joss Whedon, the show’s creator. As is with all shows, there is never just one person who is responsible for making a show great. Yet, one person usually gets the credit. Joss Whedon got the credit for Buffy, Angel, and Firefly. I say all of this to explain why the revelation of him being a terrible boss and human being is devastating. It was not a complete shock if you knew about Charisma Carpenter’s exit from Angel, his treatment of Ray Fisher during the production of Justice League, and Whedon’s ex-wife publicly addressing how he repeatedly cheated on her. It was easy to see that Whedon was probably not a great person. Nonetheless, it was devastating because this universe is special for so many people for varying reasons, and to know the man who helmed it inflicted pain on people he’s worked with… sucks. In the simplest terms possible, it sucks. The Buffyverse has brought love and joy to almost everyone who has watched it, but now we are aware it was at a cost. The cost of the actors’ mental health and well being like Charisma Carpenter. She had to suffer in silence working in a toxic work environment that was detrimental to her mental health because of the fear of being backlisted and not believed. Then you remember that she is only one actor from two shows that featured ensemble casts. We do not yet know everything that happened behind the scenes on either show. We may never know the specifics, but what we do know is that Whedon is not the male feminist he was praised for being. His treatment of Charisma is proof enough of that. Whedon got many accolades for creating a landmark feminist show in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, some of which maybe he deserves. But it would be wise to remember other people had a hand in creating the Buffyverse. People like Marti Noxon, Jane Espenson, David Fury, Tim Minear, David Greenwalt, and many more. I will remember this when I watch Buffy and Angel again. It’s what I remember when I watch One Tree Hill or when I think about revisiting a childhood favorite created by Dan Schneider. These shows are more than one person. Schneider, Schwan, and Whedon created their respective shows, but they are not the sole reason why people like myself loved them. Even the actors who are responsible for bringing these characters and stories to life, are not the only reasons why I loved these shows. The reasons why are people who I will never know the names of. The people who I will never put a face to. Like the writer who wrote a particular joke in an episode that never fails to make me laugh. Or the writer who suggested a scene that always makes me cry. Or the writer who wrote a line I love so deeply I would cherish to have it tattooed onto my body. These unnamed people who will never get the credit nor respect they deserve helped create shows that will forever have a place in my heart. And for them, I will continue to watch these shows because of the dedication they put in to make me laugh, cry, and smile. The creators be dammed.
My book Living Rent Free In My Head: Essays On Pop Culture comes out on August 2, 2022. Pre-order it now for only $3.15 on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other vendors.
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3 responses to “How Do We Reconcile With Revisiting Our Favorite Shows From Problematic Creators?”
I grew up on Dan Schneider’s shows too! But I definitely agree with you- the jokes were definitely pretty creepy looking back. This post is a great example of the “Death of the Author” complex. It is so totally complicated to figure when to separate the art from the artist. Great post!
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