On this date in 1964, writer, producer and director Joseph Hill "Joss" Whedon was born in New York City, where he grew up. Whedon attended Winchester College in England before graduating from Wesleyan University in 1987. He worked as a screenwriter for TV and film in the early 1990s, including the Oscar-nominated script for “Toy Story” (1995), before creating the hit television series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (1997-2003). Perhaps best known for his work on television, Whedon went on to create and produce “Angel” (1999-2004), “Firefly” (2002) and “Dollhouse” (2009-10). In 2008, he released the Emmy-winning live-action musical “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” exclusively over the Internet. In addition to screenwriting and directing, Whedon has written extensively for comics, including Marvel’s “Astonishing X-Men” (2004-2007), as well as comics based on his television and other properties. With the “Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season Eight” (2007-2011) comics, he took on the role of Executive Producer to retain control over the series without writing each issue himself, an unusual model in comics. He also continues to work in film. More recently Whedon landed directing duties on "The Avengers" (2012) and "Much Ado About Nothing" (2013).
Whedon identifies as an atheist with an existentialist and absurdist philosophy, and in 2009 accepted the Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy’s Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism. (Acceptance speech available here). He has explored religious themes from many perspectives in his work, including creating strong nonreligious and humanist characters. The title character of the supernatural show “Angel,” set in modern-day Los Angeles, is a vampire who strives to be human and embodies a humanist philosophy. Although the character is a traditional hero and plays an important role in a war between the forces of good and evil, he resists seeing himself as a soldier for good, telling a friend, “I wanna help because I don't think people should suffer as they do. Because if there's no bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world” (“Epiphany,” aired Feb. 27, 2001). In the space western show “Firefly,” set in the year 2517, the protagonist, Mal Reynolds, is portrayed as a Christian in a flashback and an atheist in the present day in the pilot episode “Serenity” (Dec. 20, 2002). The show also features a preacher, Shepherd Book, who causes conflict over whether to say grace at dinner (“Serenity”), and a schizophrenic genius teenage girl, River Tam, who systematically defaces Shepherd’s bible, explaining: “Bible’s broken. Contradictions, false logistics — doesn’t make sense.” (“Jaynestown,” aired Oct. 18, 2002). Perhaps most subversive is Whedon's show, “Dollhouse,” a science fiction show set in twenty-first century Los Angeles. Its premise is that a company has developed a way to “imprint” people with personalities not their own. Genuine religious belief is programmed on a computer and a miracle is manufactured in order to infiltrate a gun-running Christian cult (“True Believer,” aired March 13, 2009).