UPDATED: Joss Whedon and Twitter have broken up. The conscious uncoupling happened at some point on Monday, following the $191.3 million opening weekend of Avengers: Age of Ultron, which collected the second-highest grossing three-day debut in history. (After only the $207 million opening of Whedon’s original Avengers in 2012.)
Whedon’s departure did create a wave of speculation on Twitter that he closed his account because of “death threats.” A search of tweets directed at him over the past week definitely turned up some deep ugliness, with some of the abusive users urging him to “die” or “commit suicide” over plot points they didn’t like in Age of Ultron. Although these comments are clearly disturbing, there was no unifying complaint or groundswell of attack beyond just the random (but all-too-typical) viciousness of anonymous social media trolls.
The most abusive bullying came from viewers who objected to Black Widow’s tentative relationship with The Hulk’s Bruce Banner and another scene in which she was briefly captured by Ultron. There was also anger about how he depicted Quicksilver and a number of other plot points that “fans” of this comic book title apparently felt justified harassment. Filtered out and pasted together, as some on Twitter have done, it looks like significant vitriol — but compared to the immense volume of conversation about this film on the social media platform, it’s really background static.
Was Whedon merely retreating from Twitter after his publicity effort was finished, or was he forced off by a loose fringe of haters taunting him to block them or “commit suicide”? As Patton Oswalt, who has skewered the hypersensitivities of the politically correct crowd before, tweeted today: “There is a ‘Tea Party’ equivalent of progressivism/liberalism. And they just chased Joss Whedon off Twitter. Good job, guys. Ugh.”
Fellow Marvel director and Whedon’s friend James Gunn, who helmed Guadians of the Galaxy, also weighed in via his Facebook page on Tuesday: “Imagine being a guy, like Joss Whedon, who has committed his life to fandom and to creating the best characters he possibly can, characters he loves, and has spent two years of his life working on a movie, and then has to wake up to this shit on Twitter … the angry contingent of fandom is getting more aggressive all the time, and it’s difficult to block out as a person in the public eye.”
UPDATE: Whedon himself has now responded to the situation, via an interview on Buzzfeed. The director says the backlash from feminists disliking Age of Ultron was not his reason for quitting Twitter, but that the social network had become too distracting. “I have been attacked by militant feminists since I got on Twitter,” he said. “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 just thought, ‘Wait a minute, if I’m going to start writing again, I have to go to the quiet place.'”
Not that the Whedon was a fan of Twitter before the attacks, despite being a popular and prolific presence on the social networking platform. (To quote the killer robot in his new film, “Everyone creates the thing they dread.”). The Buzzfeed quotes are not too dissimilar to an interview he gave to EW’s James Hibberd in August 2013:
WHEDON: [Responding to a question about resurrecting past shows…] Now everybody is like, ‘Are you going to remake Buffy? Are you going to Kickstarter?’ My blanket answer is ‘No.’ It’s not a question I’m interested in hearing again, which is why I quit my other job—Twitter.
EW: You’ve quit?
WHEDON: I joined six months ago to specifically try to drive business to Much Ado About Nothing because I figured Much Ado needs all the help it can get. The moment I joined, oh my God, what a responsibility, this is enormous work—very fun, but it really started to take up a huge amount of my head space. I’m making a movie, I got a responsibility, this job doesn’t pay very well. It’s a fascinating medium, it’s a fascinating social phenomenon. People are like, ‘It’s like a drug.’ Yeah, and it’s like a job. It’s just another art form. Until I have a script I truly believe in or a tweet that’s really remarkable, I can just walk away and get back to the storytelling I need to do.
Walk away, Joss. When you want to come back