When filmmaker Joss Whedon decided to delete his Twitter account on Monday, the day after his movie Avengers: Age of Ultron scored the second-highest domestic opening weekend ever, it prompted a flurry of speculation about what, or who, might have driven him away. Whedon found one theory — that he left Twitter due to militant feminists angered over the film's depiction of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) — particularly galling, so much so that he decided to break his silence.
"That is horseshit," he told BuzzFeed News by phone on Tuesday. "Believe me, I have been attacked by militant feminists since I got on Twitter. That's something I'm used to. 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.
"I saw a lot of people say, 'Well, the social justice warriors destroyed one of their own!' It's like, Nope. That didn't happen," he continued. "I saw someone tweet it's because Feminist Frequency pissed on Avengers 2, which for all I know they may have. But literally the second person to write me to ask if I was OK when I dropped out was [Feminist Frequency founder] Anita [Sarkeesian]."
What did happen, Whedon said, is that he chose to embrace his long-standing desire post–Age of Ultron to reclaim his personal life and creative spark — and that meant saying good-bye to Twitter. "I just thought, Wait a minute, if I'm going to start writing again, I have to go to the quiet place," he said. "And this is the least quiet place I've ever been in my life. … It's like taking the bar exam at Coachella. It's like, Um, I really need to concentrate on this! Guys! Can you all just… I have to… It's super important for my law!"
While Whedon is adamant that feminist criticisms were not the catalyst for his decision, it is clear that some of the distracting uproar that was crowding his notifications and squeezing his creativity came from at least a nominally feminist point of view.
"I've said before, when you declare yourself politically, you destroy yourself artistically," he said. "Because suddenly that's the litmus test for everything you do — for example, in my case, feminism. If you don't live up to the litmus test of feminism in this one instance, then you're a misogynist. It circles directly back upon you."
One example: Before Age of Ultron opened, Whedon tweeted that he was frustrated that a clip from the upcoming film Jurassic World was "'70s era sexist" — something he later regretted, telling Variety it was "bad form." At the same time, Whedon was clearly exasperated by some of the negative commentary about his tweet. "There was a point during the whole Jurassic World thing where someone wrote the phrase 'championing women marginalizes them,' and I was like, OK! We're done! The snake hath et its tail," he told BuzzFeed News. "There's no way to find any coherence when everything has to be parsed and decried."
As far as Whedon is concerned, however, anyone blaming feminists for driving him away from social media is not only wrong, but missing the point about the relationship between internet trolls and feminists on Twitter.
"For someone like Anita Sarkeesian to stay on Twitter and fight back the trolls is a huge statement," he said. "It's a statement of strength and empowerment and perseverance, and it's to be lauded. 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. For someone like me even to argue about feminism — it's not a huge win. Because ultimately I'm just a rich, straight, white guy. You don't really change people's minds through a tweet. You change it through your actions. The action of Anita being there and going through that and getting through that and women like her — that says a lot."
So while some of the hate directed at Whedon did take the form of death threats, Whedon said he never saw anything on Twitter that escalated to the level of what feminists like Sarkeesian have had to face just about every day. "Nothing that made me go, 'Wait, they're calling from my house,'" he said. "It was like, OK, these guys don't understand about hyperbole."
"For someone like me even to argue about feminism — it's not a huge win. Because ultimately I'm just a rich, straight, white guy." —Joss Whedon
The extreme passion of comic book fans specifically was familiar ground for Whedon well before Twitter even existed, when he first started writing for Marvel Comics in the 2000s and got some advice from veteran comic writer Brian Michael Bendis. "He said, 'You're going to meet a new kind of person,'" Whedon said. "His example was he had a letter somebody had written that just said, 'In panel one, page 17, Daredevil would never say that, die die why can't you just die?' … I haven't dealt with a lot of that, because my fans have always been sweet, erudite, interesting, compassionate people. Like, I don't know any Buffy trolls. So the steady stream of just like, 'You suck, you suck, you suck' [on Twitter] — I don't really think I need to visit You Suck Land anymore."
It wasn't just the constant hate on Twitter that Whedon was eager to shut off, either. "So many people have said mean things, but so many people have said wonderful things. But how much approbation do I need before I become creepy?" he asked. "I so appreciate when people took the time to say something nice. But for my own self, it's like, at some point, you're just like a little compliment leech. That's not going to help your writing any more than people slamming on you."
Ultimately, Whedon said he took stock of everything positive Twitter was providing for him (access to stories he found interesting, people he admired, and jokes he found funny), and everything bad it was throwing at him (the troll-y hate and surfeit of praise) — and realized that the problem actually wasn't Twitter at all.
"The real issue is me," he said. "Twitter is an addictive little thing, and if it's there, I gotta check it. When you keep doing something after it stops giving you pleasure, that's kind of rock bottom for an addict. … I just had a little moment of clarity where I'm like, You know what? If I want to get stuff done, I need to not constantly hit this thing for a news item or a joke or some praise, and then be suddenly sad when there's hate and then hate and then hate."
When asked if he would ever consider coming back to Twitter, Whedon at first gave an almost reflexive never-say-never answer: "I'm sure I'd consider it at some point. It's a lot of fun. I had a great time." But the more he talked about it, the less likely that seemed.
"I think the articles that I found, I can find elsewhere," Whedon said. "I'll miss some jokes. Maybe I'll have to go out to a club to see jokes! I think that's already an improvement in my life. … I need to go out, do the research, turn the page, see the thing, hear the music, live like a person. I'm not great at that. So, oddly enough, because I always feel like I'm the old man who doesn't get the tech, right now I'm the man who thinks he could do better without it."