The Politics of Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

The Politics of Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

Joss Whedon. Mr. Whedon. Joss. We have such a complicated relationship, Joss. I mean, shows like Buffy and Firefly were
formative to my childhood experience in a way that still affects my tastes and preferences
to this day. Once More With Feeling is a masterclass on
how to do a musical episode, and I still feel little pangs of nostalgia whenever I hear
You Can’t Take The Sky From Me. Characters like Zoe or Kaylee or Buffy were
some of my first exposures to complex women with their own unique forms of strength, and despite the pernicious
way their story ended, the relationship between Willow and Tara on Buffy was one of the first
of its kind that I ever saw, and that’ll always be meaningful to me. But then, there’s everything else. There’s the time you fired an actor for becoming
pregnant. There’s the allegations that you cheated on
your wife for fifteen years while gaslighting her every step of the way. There’s the way you keep slipping dated tropes
into your work, like killing off your only gay couple, implying a woman is a monster
for her infertility, and the use of one-dimensional stereotypes for many of your characters of
colour, like portraying the first slayer as a savage whom Buffy makes fun of for her
dreadlocks. I still don’t know how to feel about your
work. It’s problematic, sure, but I still love it. A lot of approaches primarily suggest
that we should completely separate the art from the artist, and I get that to an extent. I made an entire video explaining why lending
unconditional credence to authorial intent is often a bad idea. But oftentimes, that kind of context matters
when examining a work. If we know someone’s writing a story primarily
about their own experiences, we might take that into account when examining their story
and notice certain nuances that we may have missed otherwise. When we’re looking at a Woody Allen film where
a man in his forties dates a teenage girl, it’s probably worth being aware that Woody
Allen’s a sex creep. Example borrowed from Linsday Ellis, when
we’re looking at The Fault In Our Stars, a story about a teenage girl with terminal cancer,
we might be able to better understand it if we know it was written in honour of a real
teenage girl who died of cancer and was friends with the author. Or, in Joss Whedon’s case, when he keeps writing
socially awkward nerdy guys who are super attracted to our leading women but are kinda
douchebags in their own nerdy way, we might glean some new insights from examining those
characters through the lens of what we know about Joss Whedon. What that means for me is sometimes I have
trouble reconciling my nostalgic love for his works with my increasing discomfort with
some of what I know about him, both things that show up in the works and outside of them. I mean, on one hand, the mythical morally
pure work that never has any problems and passes every single kind of quality test simply
doesn’t exist, and that’s not a reasonable standard to which we hold the media we consume. On the other, simply saying “everything is
problematic so who cares” isn’t really satisfactory either. Like, yeah, everything’s “”problematic””,
but there are different degrees of bad. I’m still gonna love it, and I’m still gonna
criticize it, but I wanna go a bit deeper than that. When it comes to works that can be interpreted
in particularly progressive or particularly regressive ways, I wanna look at these multiple
possible interpretations and see where we stand with that. So what I wanna look at today is one of his
cult classics, the musical miniseries Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. The series came out 11 years ago, and I’ve
had complex feelings about it for a while. Namely, it’s one of those works that could
potentially serve as criticism of harmful attitudes , or could just end up reproducing
those attitudes. I’ve seen it taken both ways, and so i wanna
go a little bit deeper into it. So, if you haven’t seen it before, it’s essentially
about this aspiring supervillain named Billy, or Dr Horrible. He’s madly in love with a girl named Penny,
who he sees on the regular at the laundromat, but has never actually spoken with. He ends up accidentally introducing her to
his nemesis, the douchey superhero Captain Hammer, and the two start to date. Meanwhile, he learns that in order to get
into his coveted supervillain league, he needs to kill someone, which he really doesn’t want
to do. After Captain Hammer figures out Billy’s secret
identity and taunts him about the relationship, Billy resolves to kill Captain Hammer. At the last minute, though, his weapon backfires
and kills Penny instead. Hammer is humiliated and Billy gets into the
supervillain league, ending the series feeling lost and numb. Ad the often-repeated fanquote goes, he got
everything he wanted, and it only cost him a Penny. It’s an interesting story with some catchy
tunes, and it gave us villain Neil Patrick Harris and hero Nathan Fillion ten years before
A Series of Unfortunate Events did. If you like musicals and have an extra 45
minutes of time, I would definitely recommend checking it out, both to understand this video
better and because it’s a pretty solid series on its own. As with any work, it’s gonna be interpreted
differently based who’s doing the interpreting and from what context are they approaching
the work, and things like that, but I think there are three different readings that I can pull out of this story that might
tell us a little bit more. There’s what we can take from it at face value,
there’s Dr Horrible Bad, and there’s Dr Horrible Good. I wanna go through each of of these readings
and hopefully come out of it with some better answers as to how we’re supposed to feel when
it comes to works like this. So let’s get started. So, one thing it’s important to ask,
putting aside all these questions about whether Dr Horrible was actually super feminist or
super bad, is “what is the story actually about”? Well, it’s about a lot of things, and one
theme that consistently pops up throughout this series is this theme of vulnerability. So, there are two formats throughout which
the story is told. There’s Billy’s Dr Horrible vlogs, where he shares his life updates with
his in-universe followers, and then there’s the more traditional storytelling style where
we follow Billy throughout his daily life. With a few notable exceptions, which we’ll
talk about in a minute, Billy is in costume as Dr Horrible during his vlogs and Billy
in the outside world. There’s definitely a shift in the way he talks
and behaves in each persona; as Dr Horrible, he often engages in a sort of posturing where
he emphasizes how villainous and clever he is, whereas as Billy, he’s downright socially
awkward and more honest about his feelings. Even when he admits his faults in costume,
like when he admits he needs a vocal coach to practice his evil laugh or complains to
his viewers about his plan failing, he always quickly recuperates and covers it up with
some kind of bragging. There are, of course, exceptions to this;
there’s one particular scene where after a particularly awkward and embarrassing encounter
with Penny before a heist, Billy realizes time is running out and he needs to go through
with the heist, and do it quickly . He changes costume midsong after telling us “a man’s
gotta do what a man’s gotta do” and his demeanour very quickly changes with it as he gets to
work on stealing the van. Notably, this talk about what man’s gotta
do very much ties masculinity to a lack of vulnerability, as him doing what he’s gotta
do entails him moving away from it. The most jarring example of this comes at
the end of the story, where Billy has successfully made his way into the supervillain inner circle,
or the “evil league of evil”. He’s decked out in a brand-new supervillain
costume, showing us what he had to give up and how evil he now is. A few seconds later, the very last lines are
delivered in front of the vlogging camera, with Billy dressed as himself once again as
he admits in this heartbreaking tone that he doesn’t feel a thing anymore. The costume serves as a means for Billy to
mask his own emotions and desires, and he’s a lot more vulnerable without it. This new heightened costume also represent
a heightened masking of his feelings, and it’s only when we we see him as Billy again
that he allows himself to be vulnerable. Contrast that with Captain Hammer, who’s very
much portrayed as this stereotype of hypermasculinity. He’s only ever in his superhero costume, even
after what we’re meant to believe is an intimate moment with Penny. If he has any sense of vulnerability, we never
really get to see it, and he’s equally insistent on covering up anything that might break the
illusion of effortless machoness. There’s this one moment where he asks Billy
if the two know each other from the gym, before he very quickly corrects himself. Have I seen you at the gym? At the gym. I don’t go the gym, I’m just naturally like
this. We never even learn Hammer’s real name; in
a sense, he represents his ultimate lack of vulnerability. Once again, this is very much tied to his
masculinity; this is particularly noticeable at the end of the series. After being injured for seemingly the first
time in his life, he starts crying for “someone maternal” and running away; we later see him
sobbing in therapy in a way that’s very much meant to emasculate him. His only expression
of vulnerability coincides with him crying for his mother and breaking this hypermasculine
illusion of power. It’s also worth noting that this is meant
to be pretty degrading for him, and it’s more or less played for laughs. When it comes to Penny, who obviously does
not have a secret identity unless we get a really badass sequel tomorrow where she comes
to life and justifiably murders everyone in the story Vanya-style, Maurissa, please do
this, she’s a lot more up-front about being vulnerable. She’s unabashedly passionate about her activism,
more than willing to tell Billy about her various struggles in life, and makes no effort
to conceal her feelings for Hammer, which deepen very quickly. She’s also very much portrayed as nurturing
and feminine, being an idealistic activist for homeless people, a vegetarian, and an
all-around comforting figure. If Captain Hammer represents someone with
no vulnerability, Penny is full of it. So how do all these pieces fit together? Well, if we view Penny as the series’ purest
representation of vulnerability and Captain Hammer as the purest representation of lacking
it, Billy’s two identities can definitely be understood in the context of beating Hammer
and losing Penny. Penny’s own death is, of course, the catalyst
for Billy joining the Evil League of Evil, and shedding his previous identity. And yet, at the end of the story, where we
see that one last glimpse of Billy as himself, we clearly see that this is not a desirable
thing. He’s unbelievably sad and lost behind the
veneer of the costume, and it’s clear that joining the Evil League of Evil doesn’t bring
him any sense of personal satisfaction any more. As it turns out, he probably would’ve been
happier just ditching the career in evil altogether and just getting a nice cottage with Penny
somewhere. But his own quest for getting revenge on Hammer
after being challenged by him directly led to Penny’s death, and prevented that from
ever being a viable future for him. In short, it’s pretty much tragic, and the
story is clearly framing Billy’s loss of Penny, and thus, of his vulnerability, as a bad thing. It seems like we’re getting kind of contradictory
messages here. When it comes to Captain Hammer, his lack
of vulnerability is directly tied to his strength and masculinity, and we’re meant to kind of
laugh at his only showing of it. It emasculates him, and makes him seem silly. But when Billy loses it, there’s this tragedy
associated. He’s clearly an unhappy person as a direct
result of this loss, so in the story, some degree of vulnerability is a desirable trait
in order to have some base happiness as a person. Strap in, ’cause this story’s not gonna get
any less contradictory from here on out! Despite the somewhat confusing way in which
the story frames these topics like vulnerability or masculinity, the primary tragedy of this
story is indeed the loss of Penny’s life and what that means for Billy. His actions are the catalyst for her death,
and her death is the catalyst for Billy gaining everything he ever wanted while losing everything
he ever needed. This relationship between Billy and Penny
is really the emotional core of the story, and that’s the most important thing most viewers
might take from the story at face value. Billy has caused the death of this very important
person in his life, and has lost himself as a result. This is very very sad. This tragedy is indeed the primary takeaway
of the miniseries. So, there’s some spicy analysis for you guys! I could probably end the video here. But I don’t wanna. I just got my makeup done at Sephora for filming
this and I want to milk it for all its worth. D’you think I know how to do this? Instead, let’s dive a bit deeper. I mean, this was made in 2008, and as a viewer
in 2019, plus as a Real Life Woman, there are definitely a few things in the story that
are a bit … unfortunate. So let’s talk about that. So, one thing you might have noticed about
the previous reading is that it doesn’t really take Penny’s feelings into account at all. And, on the whole, it really is a story about
Billy, and about how Billy feels about how Penny’s effect on his life. And, unfortunately, this is about as much
depth and agency as we get from Penny in canon; her primary purpose really is as a plot device
for most of the story. Before her death, she mostly functions as
a prize to be won, to be fought over by the two men in the story. Her desirability isn’t really tied to any
particular traits or values of hers, as Billy thinks he’s in love with her before the two
had ever actually spoken and he seemed surprised to learn what she does in her spare time. Even her own death isn’t really about her;
we’re not sad that she died with goals unfulfilled, or for all the potential she had in life,
or for how she must have felt in her final moments. We’re sad because the death made Billy sad,
and we care how Billy feels. So, in this sense, Penny is really reduced
to an object for most of the story, someone who isn’t really a fully rounded person with
agency, but moreso just serves to motivate the main character’s desires for revenge or
happiness or whatever it is he’s suppsoed to want at that moment. I mean, this is pernicious in and of itself,
but when it comes to Billy as the protagonist and the only person we’re really encouraged
to empathize with, this relationship with Penny gets a bit stranger. I mean, it’s so sad for Billy, right? She didn’t date him, and instead went for
that asshole Captain Hammer, even though that nice guy was right there in front of her. And she’s essentially punished for this by
the narrative; she doesn’t have the sense to date Billy, Billy needs revenge against
Captain Hammer for this relationship, Penny dies instead. There’s definitely this theme across Whedon’s
work about female characters essentially being punished by the narrative for sleeping with
the wrong people. I mean, this happens to Buffy constantly,
whether it’s in the form of her boyfriend tunring into an evil vampire hellbent on killing
her or being trapped in a house filled with vines because she got too intense with her
military boyfriend.. We also see simialr things happening to characters
like Cordelia, Dawn, or Inara on Firefly. It’s weird theme that seems to pop up, and
there’s definitely a possible avenue of interpretation in terms of Penny’s death being the result
of her relationship with Hammer and her failure to see him for what he really is. And narratively speaking, yes. If she had just gone out with Billy instead
of Captain Hammer, she probably wouldn’t have died. Which is already kinda yikes when you
think about it for too long. I mean, we’re meant to empathize with Billy
in this situation, but he kinda sucks. Like, why would she date him? She’s never spoken to him before, and when
they first speak, he’s super weird, belittles her petition, and “texts” most of the time. He’s so distracted that she ends up walking
away from him wthout getting a goodbye back. On the exact same day, from her perspective,
she’s saved by a handsome guy who actually focuses his attention on her. Billy’s reponse to this is to be bitter about
it. He stalks her on dates, belittles her boyfriend
in front of her, and never makes any attempts to express romantic feelings towards her or
ask her out. He blames her for his own change in attitude,
with the line “there’s a darkness everywhere and Penny doesn’t seem to care that soon the
dark in me is all that will remain”. He doesn’t care that she’s happy, as long
as she’s not happy with him. It’s a pretty shitty, entitled attitude. This lowkey blaming of Penny for not dating
him, even though he’s done nothing to make himself apparent as either romantically interested
or romantically appealing is pretty consistent throughout the series. And like… his descent into actual evil isn’t
even really motivated by anything particularly awful? He vows to kill Captain Hammmer because Hammer
bragged about how he gets to sleep with Penny and Billy couldn’t. This very specific form of anger directed
towards both Penny and the man she chooses to date was definitely a lot more normalized
in 2008 when this was made, but if we look at it in a modern context, the first word
that would come to mind for a lot of people is “incel”. I especially wanna thank Maxie Satan Official
for a really good post where she correctly identifies that this narrative very closely
parallels the radicalization that a lot of incel types seem to experience- particularly
in the fact that his desire to kill Captain Hammer really is ego-based and isn’t borne
out of any particular desire for social change except to his own position in life. One nowadays might use the term toxic masculinity. So, quick note on this. When people use the term toxic masculinity,
a lot of misconceptions and emotions can be brought up, both from people using the term
and from people reacting to it. We all know that one of these ideas is that
this is an indictment of all masculinity, and that people using the term are saying
men aren’t allowed to enjoy chopping wood or fishing or cracking open a cold one with
the boys any more. Of course, this isn’t what the term means,
only that there’s a version of that masculinity which is harmful. People like Terry Crews or Nick Offerman are
traditionally masculine in non-harmful ways, for instance. But another popular conception is that this
term only refers to a very specific type of person; that, is the hypermasculine jock. This is the kind of character that we see
in Captain Hammer, and the narrative absolutely frames him as a bad person. But we don’t really see that same scrutinity
and negative framing applied to Billy and his attitudes towards Penny; rather,
his feelings for her are portrayed as something genuine and wholesome. But again, he kinda sucks and makes no attempt
to romantically pursue her and is kinda a dick to her. Like, at least Hammer actually does stuff
for Penny, like help her get her homeless shelter. I mean, it’s certainly not because he cares
about her as a person; he’s very clearly only interested in her because he wants to sleep
with her. But based solely on actions, it’s no wonder
she prefers him. Related to that, a youtuber named Pop Culture
Detective has a really great video about how harmful ideologies towards women can manifest
in nerd culture in unique ways, specifically talking about The Big Bang Theory. I would definitely recommend giving it a watch,
and I’ll link it below. The short version is that there’s this very
specific style of toxic masculinity that is present throughout nerd circles. There’s still a very specific ideal that it
aspires to; it’s not the jock, but instead the hyper-rational renaissance man who can
attract women through his superior understanding of art and culture and science. These things are framed are primarily masculine
traits that women don’t or can’t possess to the same degree as men. This often leads to a lot of condescenscion
towards women or the idea that these men would be constantly getting girls if these women
were smart enough to see what was right in front of them. And this is definitely something we see in
Billy. Throughout the story, Billy repeatedly expresses
this underlying, very paternalistic belief that Penny is unable to make her own choices
if her choice doesn’t result in her ending up with Billy. She’s somehow incapable of understanding Hammer’s
true nature, and she’s overly naive. Him sneering at her in the first act when
she mentions starting a petition is really indicative of his attitude towards Penny. He doesn’t see her as a fully developed human
with the same capacity for reasoning and intellectual thought as him; he sees a pretty girl, who
he wants, who he’s built up in his head to have specific idealized characteristics. He imagines her going along with whatever
he says, understanding his desires for supervillainry, and blindly falling in love with him, even
when presented with evidence to the contrary. And when Penny doesn’t meet the expectations
that Billy has crafted for her in his head, Billy grows bitter. Basically, Billy is the only character we’re
really meant to empathize with, and the only person really framed as in the wrong
in terms of how they treat Penny is Hammer. If not an endorsement of Billy’s lowkey sexist
attitudes towards Penny, it seems like the work is at the very least turning a blind
eye to it. This is particularly true when taken in concert
with the fact that Penny has virtually no agency in the story, and primarily serves
as a prize to be won for Billy. So, we could stop here. Okay. Dr. Horrible is problematic and contains a
lot of bad attitudes towards women. It’s basically just “Nice Guys: The Musical”,
and we’re rooting for Eliott Roger. You can still like it, but don’t take it as
anything more than it is. But, this doesn’t quite feel right either. I mean, sure, Penny’s character was handled
poorly, and Billy’s character is certainly an example
of like, Nice Guy Nerd Masculinity, but does that mean that the series itself necessarily
endorses Billy’s behaviour? Are we supposed to be rooting for him, or
is this more of a condemnation of his behaviour? Is the primary purpose of Dr Horrible not
to just serve as an example of these tropes, but instead to take them and turn them on
their head, to point out the harm in them? Was the true hammer in the story not Nathan
Fillion, but the hammer and sickle bestowed upon Comrade Whedon for his super subversive
musical? Actually, before we answer that… Hey. Do you like Dungeons and Dragons? Do you like content with me in it? What if I told you, you could have both those
things at once? Well, you can, because I’m in an actual play
DND podcast called Trials & Trebuchets! Basically, the premise is that we play these
kids at a secretive, elite magical school, and we’re makin’ friends, having some good good
anime tropes, while also uncovering the school’s deepest mysteries. And maybe saving the world? I don’t know, we haven’t gotten there yet. I assume we’re gonna save the world. It’s a nice, lighthearted podcast, it’s a
good time, I play a bard, we have a Discord server… If you like DND, or me, or you just like one
of those things and you’re interested in learning more about the other thing, I would definitely
recommend you check the podcast out. So, I’ll going to be leaving links in the
description for our Discord server and for websites where you can listen to the podcast,
see previews, and learn more about us! Back to your regularly scheduled… actual
video essay now. So, is it actually a condemnation of Shitty
Nerd Masculinity? I mean, the fact that a popular interpretation
of the story is “oh, it’s so sad that Penny didn’t date Billy, the relatable nerdy protagonist”,
might lead some people to just say no. I mean, there are a lot of works that try
to serve as a subversion of these shitty ideals- Fight Club, Bojack Horseman, Rick and Morty- In all of these cases, you have guys not viewing
the protagonists as the way the work is trying to portray them; that is, as super flawed people, but instead
as icons whom they should aspire to become like. And so, a lot of people criticize these works
for not being explicit enough in their framing of these characters. Basically, the idea is that if something is
supposed to be a criticism of a bad idea, but then people come out endorsing the idea, it
has failed as a criticism. This is a fair point, but I think there’s
a type of person who will see a shitty nerd character and identify with them
no matter how unlikeable an author makes that shitty nerd character? Like, for Heaven’s sake, Kylo Ren is like
the most snivelling little weenie, and people still identify with him. So, I think the question is still worth asking,
even if it is telling that we have to ask the question at all. I mean, once again, there’s still that question
of authorial intent that I talk about extensively in my JK Rowling video. Should we look at what we think Whedon intended
to portray? Or, should we narrow our scope exclusively
to the film itself, and what a casual viewer, not knowing anything
about Whedon or his other works, might take from it? Y’all already know I don’t like examining
things primarily through the lens of authorial intent, mostly
because it lends itself very easily to bad-faith reinterpretations. That being said, if we do try and do that
here, the result is kinda a resounding “eh”. I mean, Whedon’s works have absolutely been
critical of Nice Guy Nerd Masculinity in the past, particularly with the Trio’s presence on Buffy
The Vampire Slayer. The Trio consists of three guys who serve
as the big bads on the show’s fifth* season. They’re both deeply nerdy: talking in Doctor
Who references, displaying social awkwardness around women, and building spy gadgets, and deeply misogynistic. In particular, the trio’s leader, Warren Mears,
views himself as entitled to the women in his life; he tries to brainwash a woman into sleeping with him and
murders her when she rejects him. He ends up building an entire robot solely
for the purpose of simulating a relationship, and then leaves her to die. Basically, he sucks. So, if we are looking at authorial intent,
there’s definitely evidence that Whedon is aware of this problem, and is willing to criticize
it. On the other hand, he’s also created nerd-type characters with unfortunate attitudes in situations
where this isn’t really criticized; in particular, Xander on Buffy begins with a lot of entitlement
to the women in his life, and is never really called out or punished for it. So, Billy’s character could be an attempt
to create someone we’re not supposed to like, or to create a cute relatable nerd guy. Jaboy Joss has done both. Of course, Whedon wasn’t the only person responsible
for creating Dr. Horrible; there’s also the influence of his brothers and icon Maurissa
Tancharoen. So, examining the actual content of the story
only through the lens of what Whedon intended creates a limited picture of the overall content. So, let’s look at the actual text itself. I’m mostly going to be looking at the end
result of the story; that is, Penny’s death and Billy’s resulting emotional devastation,
because that is kind of the emotional core of the story here. If we’re looking at cause and effect, it’s
still true that Penny choosing not to date Billy ended up leading to her death, and we
can certainly view that as the narrative punishing her for
her choices. Indeed, her choice of who to date is really
the only agency we see her express in the story. But, one could just as easily make a case
that the person being primarily punished for their actions is Billy. Once again, the supposed turn to darkness
where he decides he’s going to kill Captain Hammer isn’t motivated by any real injustice,
but the fact that his ego is bruised. He feels entitled to dating Penny, and feels
anger at Chad- I mean, Captain Hammer- as a result. And, it’s this entitlement to Penny, and his
resulting violence, that ends up ultimately killing her, and this entitlement is his fatal
flaw. And it’s very important here to remember that
Billy ultimately has a significant amount of agency and placed himself in the majority
of the harmful situations we see him in throughout the narrative. Hammer’s a dick, but he didn’t force Billy
to try to freeze ray a mayor, or to try and kill Hammer. These are all choices that Billy makes fueled
by his entitlement, and he’s experiencing the consequences of his own actions. He did this to himself. Furthermore, even though he’s not framed as
being as bad as Hammer, and we’re certainly meant to sympathize with him, he’s definitely made fun of at certain points. For example, even though he makes fun of Penny
for her naivety in thinking a petition is going to help the LA homeless, he has similarly idealistic and simplistic
beliefs. In his villain song, he has a line talking
about how he’s going to create: Anarchy! That I run! “Anarchy that I run”. Which is very much not how anarchy works? Or, in his very first monologue, he ends up
getting an email where he’s asked if he’s ever actually spoken to Penny; if she even knows he exists. And she absolutely doesn’t at that point;
the email dude’s right! This fantasizing over Penny and projecting
his own ideas of what she’ll be like onto her is certainly not a desirable trait. Taken in concert with everything we know about
Billy and his own attitudes, there’s definitely a case to be made for this story as a cautionary tale about radicalization
and entitlement. Billy essentially drives himself to these
harmful actions through his own ego, and the story can be viewed as the process of watching
that happen to him step by step. We see how that crush turns into stalking,
which turns into violence against her partner, which turns into (albeit accidental) violence
against her. And Billy experiences real consequences for
those actions in a way that can absolutely be interpreted as a condemnation of this very
toxic way of viewing the world. Here, the story says “no, people aren’t your
playthings. They have real thoughts and real feelings,
and attempts to control them and make life go according to your wishes while ignoring
their own will end up hurting both you and them”. But what about out-of-universe, Penny’s own
lack of agency in the story? Once again, she’s definitely portrayed more
as a prize to be won for Billy than as her own person, and we’re only really meant to
feel sad about her death as it pertains to affecting Billy. But there’s certainly a degree of self-awareness
about this coming from the story itself. I mean, it literally cuts to a news segment
saying Country Mourns What’s-Her-Name, and there’s an earlier song where a group of fans
were commenting upon Penny’s personal life as she becomes increasingly well-known as
“Captain Hammer’s Girlfriend”. So, perhaps this isn’t the fridging trope
played straight so much as an attempt to call it out, to call out the way that women are
often treated as powerless by these popular narratives. Like, she does all this work for the homeless,
and she’s still reduced to What’s-Her-Name and Captain Hammer’s Girlfriend, even though she does more good for the world
than he ever will. And like, this is a really apt observation! Oftentimes, women who do a lot of work still
end up getting sidelined in favour of guys who do very little, and women often have to
do a lot more to prove their contributions and agency! Like, look at the recent news story with the
picture of this black hole, where people were scrambling to find a way to dismiss all the
work this woman put into it, even though she never took sole credit for
the project. Even I’ve experienced it; I made a joke about
Breadtube once and it prompted like an entire comment war about whether I was Breadtube
enough to count! People won’t be satisfied until I’ve poured
some kind of liquid on my face, which I’m really not inclined to do right now because
I did just get back from Sephora. And like, this is such a minor example. I’m not curing cancer or helping the homeless
here; it’s just videos. What happens to Penny, dedicating extreme
amounts of time and attention to this really noble cause, dying at a celebration of that
cause, and then barely being recognized or remembered,
is a really sad and real example of something that happens quite often. Maybe the story here is taking it to the extreme-
having a news segment literally call her What’s-Her-Name, to draw attention to how silly this is. There’s definitely a fine line between invoking
Thing as satire to point out how ridiculous it is, and just doing Thing and saying it’s satire,
and the distinction is often difficult to describe in words. Just doing something shitty and pointing it
out isn’t inherently good satire. See: Riverdale calling out Kevin’s existence
as the one-dimensional token gay friend, but still continuing to have him be the one-dimensional
token gay friend. It’s not really a commentary; they just tried
to use self-awareness as a get out of jail free card. But like, this can be done right! Think about the perennially underrated show
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, whose main character does a lot of stalking and
other generally unsavoury things for the purpose of love. The theme song to one season is a quirky ingenue
song where she sings in a cutesy voice about how she ♪ can’t be held responsible for her actions
♪ ’cause she’s just a girl in love! And that ends up being really effective, because
it draws attention to how ridiculous it is that we tend to excuse these things when they’re
framed as being done for the sake of love. So, which is the “right interpretation” here? Is the entire narrative a cautionary tale
about entitlement and radicalization and how we should all be drinking more Respect Women
Juice? Or, is it just an uncritical portrayal of
that entitlement in a way that doesn’t meaningfully challenge those concepts? Well, let’s discuss! When we put everything on the table and take
a look at this series eleven years later, it really comes out feeling like a mixed bag. It promotes vulnerability in some men while
using it as a tool of shaming in others, it calls out some creepy attitudes towards women
while drawing less attention to others, and it parodies a lack of female agency in some
situations while just invoking it in others. The whole thing ends up feeling like a mess
of contradictions that it’s particularly difficult to decide how to feel about. Fans can, of course, draw their own conclusions
as to where Billy went wrong and what caused Penny’s death, but the narrative stops short
of really showing Penny’s death as a direct and immediate consequence of either Penny’s
actions or Billy’s. There’s no singular, clear examination of
the root causes, which is why you have some people calling it a love story, some people calling it subversive, and some
people calling it problematic. And, truth be told, there’s also no such thing
as a singular, uniquely valid interpretation of the work. Especially when we do away with the idea there’s
only one right way to view it, and that’s what the author wanted. We can look at how other people react to it
to see how well it fulfilled its purpose, and we can look at the text itself, but at
the end of the day, both of these interpretations can be right or neither of these interpretations
can be right. But if you really wanna know how I feel after
this whole thing, I think the series was a bit of both. I mean, I think there was probably a real
effort there to parody the way women are treated in the public eye, hence “What’s-Her-Name” and the entire So They Say
Number. But, it didn’t really take the situation to
intense enough lengths to be much of a biting satire, either. Billy is absolutely entitled, and once again,
there’s definitely a real effort to make sure we the audience knows that he’s naive and has a poor conception
of how the world works. But, the series really stops short of examining
the way those traits led to the consequences, only really driving home that Penny’s death
was indeed a tragedy. I absolutely wouldn’t call the series a biting
takedown of Nice Guy Nerd Masculinity, but I also wouldn’t call it an endorsement of
it either. Ultimately, I think Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along
Blog has some bad and some good. Read through a feminist lens, it definitely
functions as an interesting case study about how radicalization and toxic attitudes
lead to violence, but the story itself doesn’t quite make those connections enough for me
to justify me calling it subversive. But, there’s also enough meaningful criticism
of Billy and his actions that just calling it an ode to Nice Guys isn’t really accurate
either. Looking back on the series eleven years later,
I think the most important thing to take from it is that we’re not owed other people. Even when we feel those people aren’t doing
what we think is best for them. It’s a hard pill to swallow, especially when
frozen yoghurt is so much easier to swallow. But it’s necessary. Brand New Day slaps, and it’s OK to like it. I like it. But, if you’re not feeling great about your
choice of media for the day… just watch Megamind. No, seriously, watch Megamind. It has literally all the same commentary about
entitlement and woman as prize, but does it like, ten times better. Plus the soundtrack is almost as good. Oh my god. Rule of threes. I have to do this, don’t I? [BreadTube baptism splash] WHY DID I DO THAT, oh my god. In addition to all my patrons, I would like
to specially thank Benjamin Maier for joining my $20+ tier.

100 thoughts on “The Politics of Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

  1. Damn, you're so right. This is very much so the incel vs Chad. It's just modern incel radicalization only ten years too early.

  2. I do still think, though, that Fight Club fails as satire. If it was even attempting to be satire.

  3. It is worth noting that Kylo Ren is a well acted sniviling little weenie. Nobody identified with Anikin who had many of the same traits as his grandson but who was not portrayed effectively in the prequels.

  4. Dr horrible=Max Thundermen
    if his plans had gone the way he wanted it to
    Re-watch the movie and imagine the characters as those from the thunderman's

  5. I always thought we were supposed to see Hammer and Horrible as both as bad as each other but in different ways. But now I'm older and know more about Whedon, it seems were meant to be pro-horrible?

  6. I got really excited when you mentioned Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, even if briefly. Though it's name and advertising gives a wrong impression, it's a great and occasionally heavy-hitting show that should be talked about more often.

  7. I have also experienced long comment threads about how I'm not a breadtuber. Great video btw!

  8. I'd say the story is a perfect example of going full MGTOW and never looking back. The main protagonist is constantly hindered by an unfulfilled from a woman that will never acknowledge him and is perfectly comfortable dating his mortal nemesis just because it makes her vagina tickle. Only when that parasite is out of the way the hero can finally fully realize his life long goal without being held back by her. He finally gets his fame, position, money and even women he so hard worked for.

  9. I'm a tiny girl who enjoys chopping wood. So they can' get me with that line. But tbh it's great fun so let out energy while cutting wood.

  10. I'd argue that it's not totally contradictory w/r/t how it treats their approaches to vulnerability, but rather portrays them (in an incredibly abbreviated way, as with most of the series) as a kind of duality: Billy self-identifies as Billy, not as Dr. Horrible. When he puts on his persona it's to quell his insecurities, to put himself in the 'right' mindset (thus setting himself up for failure, as he shows that he's not really villain material without it), and ultimately to 'put on his suit of armor' and hide what makes him vulnerable. Captain Hammer identifies as Captain Hammer: as far as he's concerned, his insecurities and vulnerabilities are so far behind him that he can't see them anymore (if he ever could) – he needs no suit of armor because he is his suit of armor, he has no higher aspirations beyond being Captain Hammer to the fullest. In the end, both fall from their 'grace' in the same way but opposite directions: the person they identify themselves as being is stripped away from them, as all of Billy's fears come to pass and he's forced to become the villain persona which he deliberately designed to be someone who he is not and discovers that he cannot feel truly fulfilled as, while Captain Hammer's literal and metaphorical invincibility is shattered and leaves him with no clear identity in its wake.

  11. “I think there a type of person who will see a shitty nerd character and identify with them no matter what.”
    Does Warren from Buffy have stans I wonder…

  12. I recommend you just avoid the phrase toxic masculinity since there is so much baggage around it. I appreciated your disclaimer though and really enjoyed the analysis all around!

  13. You mentioned Black Widow's "monster" speech from Age of Ultron and I feel like that one gets a rough shake. I mean, it's not his best work, true, but I think the issue with that one lies in the gap between intent and execution. My read on it was that she was trying to tell Banner that she is a monster like him because the Red Room (sidebar, I'm not going to pretend to be Black Widow expert but I am utterly fascinated by the fact that it looks like a ballet academy. Is every fight scene she's in just a high stakes dance-off for her?!) trained her to be a killer and infertility was a by-product. I mean, yeah that mental association is hella problematic, but in the context of the scene, I think her intent was to reassure Bruce that they wouldn't have to worry about possibly conceiving a child born with gamma radiation.

    It kind of makes me regret that She-Hulk doesn't exist in the MCU because it would render the whole point moot because she is the gold standard of proving that living with gamma radiation and being a Hulk in the Marvel Universe doesn't inherently make you an uncontrollable giant rage monster. I mean, why rampage and ruin your clothes every time you lose your temper when you can have a snarky fourth wall-breaking workplace sitcom instead?

  14. One thing you didn't touch on when discussing the minimalisation of Penny's death; although you did say it was at an event to honour her work, she was furthermore sidelined by the fact that it was pretty much a Captain Hammer event, hell they were even about to unveil a statue of him. All in all though, 10/10 video! I've always loved Dr Horrible and this analysis can help me enjoy it more thoroughly 🙂

  15. It's less that there are contradictions than life is just complicated. Both Billy and Hammer are examples of negative characteristics. The narrative clearly shows that both are negative examples of entitlement and toxic masculinity. Also, Penny does have agency. She chooses what she does, and in the context of the story, who to date. Yes she is treated like a trophy for both Billy and Hammer, but it's not presented as a good thing. The end result is Penny dies and neither Billy nor Hammer get what they want. You talk about disliking authorial intent, but then get stuck on a story having a singular or small group of meanings. There are as many interpretations of a work as there are people. Also, hand-wringing about how problematic something from the past is, is not particularly useful. Art needs to be judged for its own sake on its own terms. If authorial intent isn't the way to go, then external moral judgments aren't either. That's not to say that you can't dislike something because of some noxious factor that isn't considered moral or acceptable anymore, it just means that you can't say that art is better or worse for it. Just critique and enjoy a work without worrying about whether the rabid crowd likes it or not.

  16. As someone who loves this movie, I really appreciate your take on it. While I do disagree with some parts of it, I overall enjoyed the deep dive that went into this. It is weird looking at Joss Whedon's work knowing some of the uncomfortable details about the man. The man prided himself a feminist and there were definitely elements of that in his work. But there were also clear problematic elements of his work that becomes more clear given the shady stuff Joss has done. I mean just look at his proposed script for a Wonder Woman movie to see how sexist his writing can get. Still the man has made some great works and that deserves recognition and appreciation in spite of their problematic elements and the questionable authorial intent of them.

  17. I haven't seen any variant of my take-away from DHSAB mentioned in the comments, so I thought I'd write it down (sorry for length!). There's plenty of people saying Billy and Hammer are the two "sides" vying for Penny's love, but narratively that's not the axis of symmetry at all.

    There's only one actual character here – Billy. The other two are not characters – they're shallow NPCs that have an initial character sheet, but then the DM steers them around in fairly simple ways to make plot points. Neither of them do anything interesting or novel or have any real agency at all. One is the absolute epitome of overblown eye-rolling brute masculinity (dick jokes!) and the other is overblown eye-rolling soft femininity (petitions!). They're exactly equal opposites. Billy's reaction to them is also basically the same – one he must instinctively have, the other he must instinctively destroy – even before he knows who they are as people. Because they're not people.

    They might be kinda maybe based on real people, but this isn't the real world. This is the world seen through Billy's eyes – he's our narrator – it's in the title – it's HIS blog. So of course they're not real characters, because he is incapable of seeing them as anything but paragons. And so neither can we, except through little bits of colour here and there that leak through Billy's filter.

    Sarah's video goes into good detail about why Penny's not a real person (at least through the eyes that we're using). But all the same points apply to Hammer. And it's blatantly lampshaded with things like the line about not going to the gym – even Hammer knows he's not a real person. And as pointed out – same with them both having their names stolen. And Billy does his fair share of actively robbing both "characters" of their agency (e.g. Hammer doesn't get to stop the speeding van). Again with the symmetry!

    I see the whole thing as a fable. Penny and Hammer aren't characters – they're the angel and devil sitting on Billy's shoulders. Or maybe they're Yin and Yang with a bit of Oedipus thrown in. They are parts of his potential future personality that he aspires to. He's a little boy trying to grow – to be more masculine (defeat Hammer with force) and/or to be more feminine (win Penny with love). But he struggles to do either – his violent plans distract him from his romantic ones and vice versa – so he ends up being terrible at both. Instead of finding a sensible middle path, he finds… the League! They offer the solution to both problems. It is of course a really bad solution, but… boys. And so the NPCs stumble to their tragic inevitable ends once Billy makes his bad choices and exerts his incompetent agency. He loses both along with any chance of them becoming real facets of his personality – something he seems to realize at the end.

    There's a nice feature of the ending that sells the above "mirror" theory for me as being intentional by the authors (not that it's required, but it's nice to have). Nominally, Billy is trying to bend both NPCs to his will – one violently, the other emotionally. And he actually succeeds with both, but because of his bumbling it's the wrong way round. Killing Penny is indeed a standard trope. But subduing Hammer emotionally is not a trope – it's surprising and rather shoehorned into the plot – but it's required to maintain that mirror symmetry between the two NPCs all the way to the end.

  18. Actually, if you like having NPH as a singing-super villain, you should check Batman: The Brave and The Bold's episode "Mayhem of the Music Meister".

    Long story short, NPH is a supervillain who can control people by singing. And I love it.

    Great video, btw!

  19. Hi. I wandered on to this video, and I'd like to offer some respectful constructive criticism, because the conclusion felt a little wishy washy.

    One way to reach a more definitive conclusion is to look at the choices that were made. We see time and time again criticisms of Billy included (particularly it's interesting how his blog establishes him as an unreliable narrator).

    Anyway, to avoid rambling, I think example after example can be found in the text illustrating it is designed to be subversive. But the way to reconcile inconsistencies is to argue while it was designed to be subversive, that does not mean it was effective (in particular, I think Neil Patrick Harris was miscast because he is too charismatic and likeable for the role).

  20. Only heard of this sing-a-long a few months ago in Neil Patrick Harris' choose-your-own adventure autobiography, which I mainly bought because of Bandersnatch reminding me of the genre.

    Thought the musical was alright, annoyed when Penny was killed though.

  21. A "romantic" story about a stalker who murders his victim. Whedon is really messed up, and certainly a peculiar sort of "feminist".

    As to your final question, the problem is that this endeavor tries to have it both ways. Which is often true of Whedon.

  22. Billy/Dr Horrible is a villain, just because he's played by Neil Patrick Harris and the series is viewed from his point of view doesn't mean we should agree with him. It's like saying people should feel bad for Hitler in Downfall.

    But I assume the story is told the way it is in part because Whedon is a fat nerdy guy, and probably grew up resenting guys like Hammer who worked out and were stoic. There are a lot of weird love stories by ugly guys where a woman falls in love with a literal monster. I loved Alan Moore's run on Swamp Thing but he's an ugly weird guy so it's not shocking he has a woman fall in love with a mass of swamp muck. While I haven't seen it from what I've heard The Shape of Water is also about a woman falling in love with a monster, and del Toro is a good filmmaker he is an obese guy.

    I can enjoy the series as much as any horror movie where the bad guys wins, such as In the Mouth of Madness because it's a story and I'm not rooting for the bad guys, it's just a journey I'm going on. it's not something fun like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings where the heroes fight and defeat the evil overlord in the end.

    I do remember thinking it was odd how people embraced Dr Horrible's character at the time as if he was the hero, and not just the protagonist. But at the time a lot of people worshipped Whedon so anyone who questioned any aspect of the story would have been shouted down. It is like having a slasher flick where the slasher is seen as a sympathetic misunderstood person who just wants to be love at not a evil psycho killer.

    But in the end it was just a silly series that we should look to much into unless we want to look into the sad mind of Whedon and his issues.

    I just thought the Penny's death can be taken in many ways. I don't know what the creators intended but I didn't take it that she was punished for not dating Billy and should have dated him. I think it just shows that Billy was going to ruin everything in his live and other's lives because he was so selfish. It's not impossible that if she dated him that she wouldn't have died because on him in some other way, such as touching something in his apartment that's part of a death trap and dying, or him getting enraged when she comes home late and chocking her to death. We don't know what would have happened if she dated Billy, we just know because Billy was a narcist his actions lead to her death.

  23. I think your final take on Penny is correct. She clearly has a life outside of the fight between Hammer & Horrible. It just doesn't affect the plot & none of the other characters care. Straight uses of this sort of trope (see The Man Who Killed Don Quixote) they tend to not apparently have any traits beyond the the plot requirements.

  24. How can she miss the point of Captain Hammer's downfall so spectacularly. He's isn't mocked for his vulnerability, Hammer is mocked for his arrogance. The fact that he needs therapy isn't what's wrong with his character. His problem is that he has never faced any significant adversity yet acts as though he can handle anything.

  25. Wow, I actually never put that much thoughts onto this show.

    I always interpreted it as Billy choosing between Penny and evil. At the start, he's a total stranger to Penny, and he's a nobody in the evil's world. Then, one day, he got a start with both. He got the chance to discuss with Penny and build a relationship with her, and he got the chance to do an act to bring the attention of Bad Horse, and has to choose. Then, as the story goes on, he got another choice with either killing Captain Hammer out of pure jealousy to become fully evil, either go back and let Penny be in this relationship and becoming friend with her. At the end, Billy made his choice for evil.
    Like, I always saw it as this, with Billy having two shots to stop going on the evil, bad ending path, and missing them.

    Now, with this analysis, I can't help but think deeper in my interpretation.
    Like, I realize now that in this interpretation, Penny is clearly more a prize, an object, than a person in herself. And I'm affraid that it's exactly it. I won't even go as far as saying that her death was a punishment for choosing the wrong guy, but a punishment for Billy choosing the wrong path. And that's it. She was no more than a prize.
    For the sensitivity part, I don't really know. In one hand, Billy losing Penny was a symbole of him losing his sensitivity and humanity to become a bad guy, and by so having the bad ending, meaning that indeed without sensitivity you can't be happy, but on the other hand, you have this part with Captain Hammer that you mentioned (and that I totally forgot about until you talked about it, to be honest), where he is shamed and laughed at for his sensitivity. I would say that this part with CH was something made for the laugh more than an actual part of what the story wanted to say, but they poorly handled this and made the story's message more confusing. Though a counterpoint could be made that it happened to show that Billy was now fully evil, by shaming his rival from the period he had still a sensibility, and CH was so much in his masculinity that he thought being sensible was a shame, and it was the most efficient way to humiliate him… and since CH has always be shown as the bad guy, the fact that he thinks his sensitivity is something humiliating is a last exemple from him of what not to do nor think?
    I don't know, I think it's too much thinking for it to actually be about that. I rest my case on a last joke that was poorly done.

    So, my conclusion is: it's a show about a guy bad choices and how sensitivity i not a bad thing, that didn't show entitlement as a good and normal thing, but poorly executed its only main female character and made one of its message confusing for the sake of a last joke. So… not awful, but not that good? Like, it'still really enjoyable, but you should not start to dig deeper than the clear message the ending gives, because it wasn't thought that deeply.

  26. Buffy sleeping with Angel was made into a lesson of unconditional support by her father(figure) however, so I don't feel it's fair to include. It's such a good scene, her beating herself up about it and Giles going, maybe it was ill-advised, maybe not, that has no bearing on how hurt you are and my love for you.
    Even if your boyfriend turns out to be a monster after you sleep with him, that doesn't make you lesser or a bad person for doing it.

  27. Since I'm apparently the only person that watched Age of Ultron more than once: Black Widow was not saying she was a monster because she was infertile, she was saying it because she had been physically and mentally eviscerated in service of becoming an assassin.

    Everytime people complain about this, I have to ask: If a woman were to say that her infertility makes her monstrous to you in real life, who the FUCK are you to tell her otherwise?

  28. I don't know anything about that firing a pregnant woman incident, but if she was supposed to play a non-pregnant character what else could be done?

  29. Do you consider all stories to be moral instruction or is that just the lens through which you choose to examine them through?

  30. I lean very strongly towards Billy being the one punished by the narrative. As others have said, we're not supposed to see Penny as punished because she's just an object in the narrative, which itself is problematic. SO the narrative condemns Billy, but uses a sexist way of getting there

  31. "The series came out 11 years ago" I'm sorry. I had to stop the video to feel old af for a few minutes.

  32. While I'd largely agree with this, it does bother me to some degree that there's no mention of Penny's song. I think the combination of her song and the scenes during My Eyes flesh Penny out a little more than she's given credit for. I'm not saying she's not a fairly one-dimensional character, but her dimension is given at least a little depth once you find out that she was a lonely and sort of aimless as a child and growing up, not sure what she wanted to do with her life. The line "thinkin love was fairy tale and trouble was made only for me" suggests that she never really dated much, if at all, and possibly had a really hard time. So to that degree it makes some amount of sense that she would be very flattered when Captain Hammer started dating her. Her happiness wasn't necessarily because she enjoyed being with him, during the My Eyes scenes we see all he does is show off for her and not really pay any attention to her interests.

    Towards the end is the song So They Say, and she's very happy because the good she's trying to do is made possible thanks to the fame and popularity of Captain Hammer, which can be interpreted as him doing a kind thing for her, or as him flexing again and showing off. Even with her happiness, she has some doubts about Hammer and whether or not she actually wants to be with him, but she tries to reassure herself with the fact that everyone around her seems to think she's in a good situation, and that being with him might be the solution to her loneliness and troubles "this is perfect for me, so they say, after years of stormy sailing have I finally reached the bay?"

    Not saying that it changes most of the points about Hammer and Horrible/Billy, but Penny for sure gives some thoughts and feelings on the situation, and we get some brief glimpses into her personality. Considering how short Dr. Horrible is, and done originally in fifteen-minute segments with multiple songs it seems important to look at whatever minor character development points are available when looking critically at the story.

  33. I don't have an issue with this being a narrow focus on Billy, as I took this series (which tbh, always thought it was a movie cause of Netflix) as just a Vlog, with the non-Vlog parts being almost like retellings. How else is Dr. Horrible going to sing into Captain Hammer and Penny's face without them reacting and have that be normal?
    So in my eyes it never needed to focus on any other character's goals, and if characters were swip-swapped around I'd say the same thing.
    It's the story of a tragedy, and a "oh, look how tragic this was" and nothing really needs to be focused aside from that. Could they have done more than the damsel trope? Yup! But it also wasn't necessary for the overall plot.

  34. Never heard crazy ex girlfriend mentioned in a video beofre. Or know anyome else whos watched it. Im hapoy now ???

  35. To Joss Whedon's credit at least, the fact that the likeable nerdy guy characters have their own kind of douchiness seems very much like a level of self awareness on his part, if only because a lot of that seems to be written in as very real and deliberate character flaws.

  36. I've always loved DHSAB, and I'm glad you approached it with such complexity and nuance! For me, it was always a cautionary tale about how festering resentment leads to the loss of everything. Seeing things through Billy's lens, we only see Penny and Hammer as he perceives them – an unworthy jock, and a one-note trophy girl. We feel for Billy because we all know the feeling of not getting what we think we deserve, but I never once thought of it as an endorsement of Billy's behavior. It's his own fault for not talking to Penny all this time and not getting to know her, and if he had, they probably wouldn't have connected at all. But because he never got to that point, all his energy is misplaced and destroys him. We never got that character development on Penny because Billy never took responsibility to find out who she was. It's his own fault for losing her, and the fact that this poor woman got caught in the crossfire of it all makes it really tragic.

  37. (long comment warning)

    I actually think that the theme of Dr Horrible is simply, there is a fine line to where things are taken too far.
    The best example of this is in the song "my eyes". Billy is at first shown as sympathetic, as he's lamenting Penny choosing to be with another person. He then quickly loses that sympathy the audience sees that he is, in fact, stalking penny and hammer.

    Another fine line shown is the line between confidence and arrogance.
    Throughout the musical, Billy is shown to have very little real self confidence. And many of his failures are a result of this. Captain Hammer, on the other hand, shows the exact opposite, being extremely arrogant, which also eventually leads to loss at the end (and in a way, Penny's death). Almost every time we sympathize with a character, they then do something that pushes too far, and that sympathy is lost. I think that the idea is that people will often go over the line, and then good intentions will heed bad results.

  38. Holy shit you are an incredible movie reviewer. I love the dr horrible movie and I’m so glad I found your channel! Thanks for this video my dude!

  39. Behold the common chad, Dr Hammer and the stacy Penny. Watch as Dr Horrible descends further and further into depravity in his tradgic attempt to become the chad and win the stacy's affection. If only he knew a couple centimeters of bone were his downfall and not his own self-sabatoging sexist attitude.

  40. I cam e to not watch the video…I will watch it tomorrow…Just want to say that I can't wait to here if you are a nazi feminist. or if you actually understand the message. Good guys exist…and they are villainized! We know that woman are not objects that you "put kindness in to until sex falls out". And in come the people calling a married man an incel in 5, 4, 3 ,2 …

  41. I hate the term "problematic" and generally the hypersensitive mentality a lot of people have. I feel like I politically disagree with you on almost everything, yet… I love your videos and learn a lot from them. Keep up the good work.

  42. Let's not forget that Penny seems to regret her choice in romantic partner as she's sneaking away while Hammer is talking about how Penny is who he sleeps with.

  43. This video got me to start watching Crazy Ex Girlfriend, and now I am at a loss of what to follow it up with now that I have all the songs stuck in my head.

  44. As much as I enjoyed the show 11 years ago, I thought the dr horrible bad reading was the appropriate one and the defenses you gave it were cringey.

  45. I don't understand DHSAB to be contratictory on the point of vulnerability. It's not "is it good?" Or "is it bad?". It's balance between having some and having some power that was more ideal.

  46. I got a wealth of depth from Penny in the story. We get glimpses of her doubting her feelings and relationship with Hammer even before he airs their sex life on stage, we can infer she likely struggled with homelessness herself at one point, or at least came close to it, with losing her job before, and giving her context for how strongly she feels about helping those in need. We can see she's not strictly an idealist, as she doesn't say or intend to say, "Everything happens for a reason," but rather that, "Everything happens," and implying that you have to deal with the hand you're dealt. She has a desire to make change rather than be content to let things happen as they may. We see her buy extra yogurt and look earnestly around for Billy in the dry cleaners while trying to sort out her own conflicting feelings about Hammer, looking for the one person who hasn't told her how happy she should be and how lucky she is and how perfect her life must be now to talk to. I saw her death as more a tragedy for her own sake than for Billy. She has a wealth of goals and dreams and ambitions of her own, likely a river of hardship and tragedy under her bridge she's been trying to move beyond, and while she didn't get credit for the shelter, she's finally made progress in one of her goals (and that seems more important to her than recognition anyway). It seems like she may even stand up for her own feelings and confront Hammer after this about his blase handling of their private life. She is in the middle of a very strong character arc.

    When she is dying, even knowing Hammer is a tool who just ran and the villain is Billy, she lets it all go. That's the tragedy of her character–she doesn't get to finish her arc, she doesn't get to die a transformed character. Penny is not the perfect girl or Strong Female Character ™ that is expected of her role. She would rather die trying to cling to a lie and false comfort than to face reality and see the ugliness of the world. It's such a 180 from the direction she was headed, and that's what broke me. It's like the hero admitting he's scared when dying, or the villain remembering the good times in their final moments. Penny reverting into what society expects of her, that she should feel lucky and be in love and blind from it, is the tragedy of her death.

    I felt bad for Billy for other reasons, but I cried for Penny. I was actually surprised at how much she had going on in her limited screentime. And while I hate a fridged woman as much as the next, I didn't see Penny as solely a plot device. I saw her for her own character.

    On top of that, I thought narratively, Penny's death wasn't a punishment for her, but for Billy. The fact she was shown to be seeking him out specifically at the laundromat while doubting Captain Hammer, that she's obviously at least somewhat drawn to him (almost kissing him at the end of her song, recognizing him off the street as one of the laundromat goers, seeking his approval of her boyfriend and introducing her boyfriend to her friend, etc.) is emphasized specifically while Billy himself is otherwise consumed by villainy. Had he been there as himself when she needed him, had he instead turned away from his obsession and attempt to murder his nemesis and instead been there as a friend and willing ear for her, maybe Penny would have left Hammer. Maybe he would have won her over. At the very least, it's very likely he wouldn't have accidentally murdered her. So his ego and obsession was being called out, not Penny's romantic pursuits.

  47. Even though I'm months late and just finding this video in my recommendations now, I just really want to thank you for putting so much time and effort into a well-thought and researched analysis of this miniseries. It's definitely something that I've been wrestling with a bit since Dr. Horrible was just about my number one hyperfixation in middle school before I grew up more and became disillusioned with my favorite relatable nerdy protagonist once I realized that – frankly – he was a creep. Seeing both viewpoints of Dr. Horrible Bad and Dr. Horrible Good really put some things into perspective for me. For my own sanity, I'd like to view the series as an imperfect commentary of entitlement and admonishing toxic masculine nerd culture (authors intent or not). The beauty of media is that no one interpretation is correct, and that you can choose to personally read media in whatever way speaks to you.

    There's also the fact that no matter how problematic something is, you can still enjoy it. No matter how problematic Billy as a character is, I can still enjoy him. Nothing you enjoy is ever going to be perfect, and that's okay.

    Also the soundtrack still slaps. Yeet.

  48. After Bianca Devins death, this video feel different. I used to not really think this incel-y threat towards women want really there, but I was proven dead wrong

  49. I think you can like and identify with shitty, awful characters while not glorifying them. You just need some self-awareness

  50. Well if there is one thing prehistoric slayers before any civilisations would be, it's civilised and sipping tea clearly.

    At the point where you want to be drawing people in, regardless of how right or wrong you may be in general, it is best not to lead with objectively stupid statements that colour everything else you say as suspect in the unlikely even they stick around for the rest.

  51. The way I have always interpreted it is that neither of the male leads are meant to be “good” characters in the sense of being role models or relatable, and I see all the characters as straw men or caricatures of people like “incels” “chads” etc. so a lot of the humor of it is in the fact that it is problematic if that makes sense? I just feel like none of the characters are developed enough for it not to be a commentary or at least meant to be ironic.

  52. Hammer is only really interested in Penney to tease Horrible.
    That said Hammer really is not a bad guy he's just an ass, and Horrible really is an incel I guess. But we have all been in a place where we have liked someone, not had the nerve to ask them out, then someone else swoops in with all the right moves. We all dream of what we should have done and what we would like to do to the guy/girl that made the moves on our crush. We get over it and move on, hopefully learning that the bold win the day and so win the next one. Horrible did not take this path.

  53. "people won't be satisfied until I pour some kind of liquid on my face"

    I never thought of it that way, but yeah that is pretty much what breadtube is now. Hey, I can't complain.

  54. Interesting analysis, though I kept expecting you to also include analysis of the Dr. Hoorible Sing A Long Blog, The Commentary. it doesn't un-muddle the analysis much, but it does provide additional insights including additional songs from Maurissa Tancharoen that highlight this and more of the tensions you cite.

  55. yeah I've always thought that Dr Horrible is a story about how it's the job of women to make sure men don't turn into the monsters they are deep down. I never made the connection to incel culture, that's so true. clearly very problematic. I'm also so sick of women in musicals having no other function than being romantic interests. That's the one thing I don't like about Hamilton.

  56. I agree with virtually everything you said, except the Black Widow thing. It's not implying she's a monster for being infertile. I've seen that said time and again, and honestly, people are wrong about that. She feels like a monster because she was poked and prodded and operated on, and made into a killer by the Soviet Union. But all that context is dropped and reduced into "Joss is saying she's a monster because she's infertile."

  57. That said, I agree with virtually everything else you said. Especially that just because it's problematic doesn't necessarily mean it needs to be totally thrown out, as nothing is perfect, and having a "purity test" for all of our media isn't helpful.

  58. there is one important thing missing that i think skews certain readings of Dr. Horrible, that being Billy doesn't ultimately pull the trigger that kills Captain Hammer. He says "here goes no mercy…" hesitates, and ultimately does nothing. When Hammer has the weapon, he doesn't think twice about firing on Billy. He attempts to kill him without hesitation, and when he pulls the trigger the gun explodes killing Penny.

    I think perhaps it is much easier to read the narrative as unambiguously critical of Billy with this detail gone, because it feels like just another reinforcement of the "Billy is a nice guy, its actually CHAD who murders without hesitation" mindset

  59. Something I'd like to point out about this show I know I'm commenting before I actually finished it switches you know bad Advocate but I don't expect you to touch on this topic and I'm going to be getting a little busy right now so I'm going to have to stop early give me a second. One of the things I'm very fond of about the show is the reason behind it production aka the writer strikes. Let's just say I have very few kind feelings towards what went down I don't know the full extent of this event but we all experience did anyone around their twenties probably still remembers that time in which literally all their TV shows just stopped for months and then when everything came back it all sucked. Joss Whedon made this to basically Get Around The Writers Guild and the conflict and he did it with almost no budget. Whatever your feeling about the man's politics or personal life (I personally agree that there's problematic elements but I struggle to believe the domestic allegations) created a show that had a cultural impact and was one of the first television industry veterans to see the internet as an opportunity during a conflicting time. He also created a show unlike anything he has ever made before or since due to being forced to experiment with the limitations of the platform he used and was wise enough to pull it off as if he'd done this before. it's a perfect example of how you can create an emotionally investable story with multiple layers to it beyond the face value farce that it presents itself as and a testament of what a little discipline can accomplish from a production standpoint.

  60. That was a pretty long video of "Hi, I'm a Try Hard." A respectable Try Hard, honestly. But, still. I honestly don't know how anyone could see this series as anything other than a satire on toxic masculinity in multiple presentations and the lack of agency in female characters. Unless the person who sees it differently is as legitimately insecure and unwilling to critically think about their own drives as the overblown characters in the series are. Basically: Idiots. Idiots who don't understand the the medium, or nuance in artistic storytelling. It's made very obvious that we're meant to empathize with Billy (NOT sympathize) in order to better tackle our own tendencies toward these unhealthy characteristics, especially men. Joss Whedon certainly has his own unhealthy masculine tendencies. As does virtually every man alive in our society today. Including myself. While it's unlikely we'll ever be able to fully shed them, most of us who are aware enough of our own unhealthy tendencies are doing our best to influence the FOLLOWING generations of men to be better than we will likely ever be ABLE to become ourselves. I think that's the thing most people who have arguments about this sort of thing forget. Which DIRECTLY leads into instances like this where they just try too fucking hard at figuring it out when it's really just as a simple as "People, and their art, are complicated and imperfect, and we're just trying to influence future people to be better than we were." In short: No SHIT it's a mixed bag. Because it was supposed to be. Because that's fucking life.

  61. Does everything have to be a social commentary? It was a fun story that was done during a writer's strike with people who wanted to film a small project. It can simply be just that too you know…

  62. Damn good breakdown, a lot of my same thoughts, but one thing I think was missed: Penny walks out on Hammer.

    Like, it's a minor point, but I think it does speak to the character and her agency in a big way. In the middle of "Everyone's A Hero," she really comes face-to-face with how terrible Captain Hammer is and starts to low-key sneak off the stage. She might not be going off to run into Billy's arms, but she has decided on her own that she doesn't want any part of this. Then Horrible breaks in to have his dick-waving contest with Hammer and she gets killed in the middle of it.

    Not saying that detail makes her character an empowerment icon or anything, but I think it's a pretty important moment, emotionally and plot-wise. Penny's a big girl, she can figure out on her own that Hammer's a jerk, the whole "I can only have her if I kill him" thing is entirely in Dr. Horrible's mind.

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