This post contains spoilers for Avengers: Age of Ultron.
As with any comic-book movie, Avengers: Age of Ultron had its detractors, including some viewers who were disappointed with Black Widow’s portrayal. Critics sighed at Black Widow being sidelined from combat in favor of scenes in which she talked about her feelings for Bruce Banner. Also, there’s the fact that Ultron’s kidnapping of Black Widow tossed her into the ill-fitting role of damsel in distress. Which is not to mention the part where she calls herself a monster because she can’t have kids. … Put all this together, and you have a thoughtful feminist critique of a superhero movie. But you wouldn’t know that from reading some of the mentions of Age of Ultron director Joss Whedon on Twitter.
And so when Joss Whedon quit Twitter on Monday, many jumped to speculate that feminists had chased a feminist director from Twitter. Patton Oswalt, for one, blamed the “ ‘Tea Party’ equivalent of progressivism/liberalism” for “chas[ing] Joss Whedon off Twitter.” But Whedon told BuzzFeed Wednesday morning, “That is horseshit.”
Instead, Whedon said he needed to recharge and get some quiet time. Trying to do that while active on Twitter, he told BuzzFeed, would be “like taking the bar exam at Coachella.”
This isn’t the first time Whedon has broken up with Twitter—he did so a couple years ago, citing a similar reason. Whedon told BuzzFeed that he’s been “attacked by militant feminists” since he joined, so it doesn’t faze him. “Every breed of feminism is attacking every other breed, and every subsection of liberalism is always busy attacking another subsection of liberalism, because god forbid they should all band together and actually fight for the cause,” he told BuzzFeed. Incidentally, he also recently found himself in hot water for his own feminist tweet, which called a clip from the upcoming film Jurassic World “70s era sexist.”
Whedon’s Twitter haters (feminist and non-) have been nasty, but Whedon recognizes it could be much worse if he were, say, a woman. “For someone like Anita Sarkeesian to stay on Twitter and fight back the trolls is a huge statement,” he said, adding later, “For somebody like me to argue with a bunch of people who wanted Clint and Natasha to get together [in the second Avengers film], not so much.”
Whedon might be the individual in the spotlight, but this controversy was never totally about him—or Age of Ultron. Reviewers’ frustrations with this movie are well founded, primarily because they tap into a broader frustration with the way movies, especially action movies, treat female characters. The Twitter rage, by way of contrast, shows what happens when you take a complex debate, zero in on one movie’s participation, and then condense reactions to 140 characters. And then the other side coopted Whedon’s departure to lampoon so-called Social Justice Warriors. All of the noise about this perfectly illustrates the chaos Whedon cited as his reason for leaving. Can anyone blame the guy for signing off? It wasn’t feminist trolls that chased him off Twitter—it was the nature of the beast itself.