The Tip of a Massive Iceberg

If you opened your wallet to watch The Avengers you aren’t alone. As of Tuesday June 19th, The comic book mash-up of Marvel’s most beloved non-X-men Characters has grossed $1,421,027,710. It’s so much money that it’s hard to comprehend.


Not since 1989, or as I call it “The Summer Of Batman” has a movie been so perfectly targeted at a summer audience. Curiously, The Avengers quickly jumped beyond its target demographic, making it’s way into previous unheard of age brackets.

The Avengers is a SuperHero movie that even grandmothers have gone to see.

Even if it won’t be the best comic book movie to play in theaters this summer, it will be several summers before we stop comparing blockbusters to The Avengers.

Much like many of the other 12 movies that have grossed over a billion dollars, The Avengers is a cultural benchmark that shapes how we think, act, and talk.

And that shouldn’t be surprising, considering who brought the film to life.

If you’ve never heard of Joss Whedon, you haven’t been living under a rock, you probably just care very little for geeky, nerdy, sci-fi. Whedon is the creative brain behind cult sci-fi shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly.

Before he made his mark on youth-oriented television, he was known for crafting dialogue for movies.

If your script was in trouble, you took it to Joss Whedon.

Whedon took badly scripted, good ideas and re-wrote them in a language that people could care about and relate to.

Specifically he did so by appealing to the very “feminine sensibility” that each of us possesses in regards to our relationships with people, places, and things.

Because he knew what real, intimate conversation sounded like, he had the ability to reproduce those conversations convincingly.

It was this very specific skill that brought him to 1995’s Toy Story, a movie that made it easy for young and old alike to access their emotions while watching computer generated toys interact with one another.

While Whedon’s ability to pair apt words and actions with perfect timing may have finally burst through the surface of our cultural water with The Avengers, the iceberg of his influence is much wider and more pervasive than most understand.

You probably don’t know this, but you already speak and understand Joss Whedon’s language. His prose and style of speaking entered our mainstream by way of the Buffy series:

Whedon excels at turning nouns into adjectives by adding a “y” to the end of the word.

We no longer say that we are uncertain, we say we are “iffy”.

He drops the preposition from his verb phrases.

We don’t “Hang out” we “Hang” or “are Hanging”

Adding “age” to anything makes it awesome.

We didn’t hang with awesome babes, we took part in “babe-age”

By far Whedon’s biggest linguistic contribution seems to be turning adjectives into nouns, describing the end results instead of the process. We no longer say that we made just made a joke, we say, “I made a funny”.

Whedon’s influence on our modern lingo is great enough that PBS has dedicated a page to explaining how “Buffy changed the way teens talk”. Those teens are now adults, and their words and phrases are commonplace enough to sneak their way into casual conversation.

One of the reasons that The Avengers is such a hit, is because Whedon didn’t just “paint us a picture”, he created a “color palette”, showed us how it fit together, then “painted us a picture” that we would resonate with… since it was something we were already familiar with.

The Avengers contains battling male egos, powerful and empowered women, tongue-in-cheek wit, emotional awareness, and decisive actions that are driven by characters with strong personal codes of ethic; signature elements of Whedon’s creations.

Each of those values were espoused through the 1990’s and became cultural norms for American humanists in the 2000’s.

Contrary to popular opinion, it doesn’t take money to do this type of culture shaping, it takes intentionality.

Whedon “speaks well” because he “listens well”. His words work because his ears do. He then applied a purposefulness, over time, to his unique brand of speaking and writing. As a result, authenticity shines through in his efforts.

He listened to the conversations of humanity.

He practiced writing until it became a crafted skill.

Then he didn’t just display it, he went about using it.

In using it, he shaped the language of those around him.

So that they would understand him as he spoke.

When it comes to communication, our words are just the tip of a massive iceberg.

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” – James 1:19

2 Responses to “The Tip of a Massive Iceberg”

  1. Melinda Gray June 20, 2012 at 9:43 am #

    Love this. It’s cool & well written.

    • Jon June 20, 2012 at 5:13 pm #

      Thanks Melinda, hope you are well!

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