When I look for the phrase “determinative reality” I generally find Christian apologetics quotes like the following:
As Stanley Hauerwas puts it: “the Trinity is not a further specification of a more determinative reality called god, because there is no more determinative reality than the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (With the Grain of the Universe: The Church’s Witness and Natural Theology [Brazos Press, 2001], 15). In short, when we think of God, we should think of Father, Son, and Spirit
And thus I was surprised
when I saw the phrase applied to Joss Whedon’s fictional universes.
I have no desire to see realistic bruises on women on television. …But realistic bruises would almost be preferable to this lie that you’re being told. That women can be shot in the left upper quadrant and neither scream nor fall down. That women can use capoeira to defend themselves against guys with guns. That violence is just a metaphor.
A lot could be said, has been said, will still be said about the peculiar problem of detailing violence qua violence without glamorizing it. [But this essay] is about a very specific lie.
The lie he and, by all evidence, his fanboys, would like to believe is that women possess all the spiritual tools for succeeding at violence.
And sure, in a comic book world where comic book muscles can generate comic book forces and bones don’t break, this is plausible. It’s internally consistent. But it’s not just a fiction, it’s a lie, because there’s idolatry behind it. There’s a genuflection to spiritual tools that exist outside and disconnected from material bodies. There’s a mad notion that spiritual tools for succeeding at violence exist disconnected from a physical realm. There’s a hideous lie that violence doesn’t touch women who are tough enough, who are luminous enough. That violence isn’t part of determinative reality.
Buffy was obviously Joss’s home country, his absolute and purple id write large: the half-icy half-cheery ingenue he can shepherd and eventually worship, the avuncular British and horny teenaged American stand-ins for Joss himself, the bumbling males who inevitably betray the women around them, the damaged sisterhood who make common cause of their wounds. All the fathers are off-screen and all the women are dying, dying, constantly bleeding but always standing tall and righteous. Girls get resurrected.
And while we’re at it, let’s mention the pro-lesbian subtext of Whedon’s work. Whedon doesn’t just want women to break the laws of biomechanics with comic-book violence; he wants to make female homosexuality into something simultaneously titillating to viewers and socially empowered. In practice, lesbians are often lacking in personal power; they are often given the privilege of destroying hetero social structures, but that’s not an inherent power – it’s something handed to some of them by the kleptocrats.
Television is often characterized by various forms of emotional engagement that don’t fit the main plot. What we call “fan service” is really just “sexually titillating emotional engagement,” as opposed to “fantasy violence emotional engagement” or “humorous emotional engagement.” In Excel Saga, for example, Hyatt provides sexy fan service, Excel provides humor, and the main plot limps along weakly, because the show exists for emotional engagement, not plot.
Dollhouse is based on a ridiculous premise that allows constant fan-service, as is Joss Whedon’s wont, and this episode in particular had a mind-wiped Eliza Dushku in a dominatrix outfit preaching to the audience about the spiritual superiority of BDSM…
Whedon has internalized the “emotional engagement over logical plot” aesthetic so thoroughly that he no longer has any potential for non-stylized stories. However, the fact that he’s so dysfunctional means that his failures can teach us a lot about what’s wrong with Western society.
Logically capable writers, such as George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, can write cautionary tales about dystopias. A logician can take the current status of society, project it forward, and conclude that the premises lead inevitably to particular results. Then they can write stories about those results say, “Look, if nothing changes, life will be a living hell.”
Logically incapable writers will never reach a conclusion that they don’t like. If they don’t feel comfortable with the conclusion, they won’t allow the story to conclude. They’ll bring in a deus ex machina to balance the books and then conclude with a crowd-pleasing sing-along.