Speak Up: Satire and Dr. Horrible
At Seed&Spark there’s very little that interests us more than art which has something of relevance to say about the world we live in, and one of the great and hallowed venues through which to do that is satire. Satire, while so very potent, is a slippery realm to dwell in. A good example of satire that seems like it may very well be slipping about in all sorts of directions is 2008’s “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog.”
In the famous (and in some circles, infamous) hall of Joss Whedon’s “strong female protagonists” one stumbles upon a peculiar outlier: Penny. Passive, precious, pristine Penny. The immediate reaction to a character so lacking in agency is to dismiss her as a the product of a writer so focused on his male hero/villain/anti-hero/anti-villain/NPH-in-adorable-goggles that he never bothered to develop his lead female character into much more than an object for the protagonist to react to. This is a valid interpretation, but not necessarily the only valid interpretation.
Joss Whedon is a gifted deconstructionist, and nearly every facet of “Dr. Horrible” is thoroughly committed to the dismantling of superhero conventions. Penny’s bottomless well of empathy, all her saccharine perfection, it renders her functionally a caricature of the comic book love interest and idealized target of geeky “nice-guy” affection. One wonders though, is satire and meta-commentary a suitable justification for her lack of depth? Is this a clever way of exploring a certain male attitude towards women, or just rationalizations for problematic representation? Though “problematic representation” must be getting a wee bit tired now as far as phrases go, so let’s give the fellow a break: a certain male attitude towards women, or… wankery?
There is a noticeable trend when it comes to satire, in which the audience is liable to either proclaim it some unassailable force field against all potential criticism, to find it in places where it arguably does not exist, or to simply ignore it completely, taking the subject matter at face value. We’d love to facilitate a more nuanced discussion on the form. We’re curious as to what people think of the role, limitations, and possibilities of satire, and if anybody has any interesting points to raise, we’d gladly host their thoughts on our blog. So c’mon, let’s TALK AAAARRRRT!