In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a lifelong Democrat, and I’m voting for John Kerry. That said, I briefly considered voting for Bush while at the Joss Whedon Fundraiser for Kerry, High Stakes 2004. It’s not that I don’t have a lot of love for Joss Whedon or John Kerry, it’s just that I’m infuriatingly contrary. If I’m in a room full of people who all agree that something rocks, I must be the asshole pontificating on why that thing sucks ass. I am that jerk.
The fundraiser was at Cinespace in Hollywood, which is a restaurant/movie theatre on the corner near Hollywood and Vine. Guests included: Buffy alum Alyson Hannigan, Nicholas Brendon, Amber Benson, Adam Busch, Danny Strong, and Tom Lenk. Angel was represented by Alexis Denisof, J. August Richards, and Amy Acker. Firefly was also in the house, personified by the gregarious Nathan Fillion.
(Images below: Joss Whedon, Adam Busch, Amber Benson)
Rumors had been spreading for weeks that Joss Whedon was going to host some sort of fundraiser for the Kerry campaign. Joss fans could call into a conference call on Sunday, October 24, and talk to the man for the low price of a $35 donation to Kerry/Edwards. Bush supporters had to pay the higher price of abandoning all their principles by making a donation to the Kerry campaign. Eventually, the conference call evolved into a party, where fans could pay $50 to both listen to and watch Joss talk to other fans on the phone through a little glass window in a sound booth.
I didn’t pay any money for any it — I got a VIP pass to get in due to shilling the event out on the ‘net. I would ordinarily feel a great degree of guilt for getting in free to a fundraiser, but I’m from Massachusetts, and therefore have been supporting Kerry since birth. I figured we were even, John and me.
When I arrived, I was whisked upstairs to the party, where some Dude Who Does Press for Kerry was waiting to shake my hand. I asked him if there was a place for press to set up, and he said press wasn’t going to be allowed in the party. I was not allowed to take notes or record conversations with anyone, because “Josh wants to keep it loose and informal.”
I didn’t know who Josh was or why he was busting my nut, because I had been told by Joss’ office that press would be welcome. I wondered if it meant that the security guard was going to confiscate my pen, so I asked if I could still come in. Press Dude said that I was, of course, welcome: I was on Josh’s VIP list!
It occurred to me that he meant to say, “Joss.”
I leaned in and whispered in his ear, “It’s Josssss.”
He replied, “I have a lisp!”
But lisp has an “s” in it, and he totally didn’t lisp that word. So in addition to being pissed off about not being able to write anything, I was also obsessing about the lisp charade. I immediately called Amy to lament – and then called everyone else I ever met to tell them I was a hanger-on in a Top Seekrit political fundraiser with minor celebrities who my mom has never heard of.
I wandered aimlessly through the room taking pictures of actors chatting with fans while news footage of Kerry played in the background on theatre screens. There was no sound, just John Kerry’s ENORMOUS noggin on flat screen TVs strewn haphazardly throughout the room. Kerry could have been talking about healthcare or monkey balls; I wouldn’t know. If I wasn’t already reading Salon, National Review, The New York Times, Washington Post, and dozens of bloggers, I’d have been no more educated on John Kerry by attending this fundraiser than I was before I came. But then, fundraisers aren’t so much about educating people on a cause, they’re about getting you to contribute to a cause you already believe in. Celebrity fundraisers attract believers and starfuckers alike, and as long as they all put a little money in the pot, it doesn’t really matter why they came. I was there as a starfucker/believer, but the only person who got my money was the bartender.
Eventually, the announcement came over the loudspeaker that Joss was going to start talking to other fans on the phone. I can’t fully explain how bizarre it was: Joss was shoved into a small room with several other people, like celebrity veal. A moderator read questions to Joss that were sent in by people around the country who had agreed to throw Kerry fundraiser parties.
(Images below: Nathan Fillion, Alyson Hannigan, J. August Richards)
And so everyone stood around frozen staring at the floor or the wall listening to Joss answer questions on the phone; some crowded around the little window in the sound booth. Others quietly checked the flash on their cameras and succumbed to Attention Deficit Disorder until the flash went off in their faces. Maybe that just happened to me.
This is what a report looks like when no one lets you have a pen so you can concentrate on taking notes:
MODERATOR: Some person who lives somewhere wants to know if Sunnydale County votes Republican or Democrat.
ALLYSON’S BRAIN: Oooh, that’s an adorable question, I must concentrate so I remember it.
JOSS WHEDON: Sunnydale is a place where the people in charge want the citizens to keep their heads in the sand…
ALLYSON’S BRAIN: Hey, Amber Benson and Adam Busch are still dating. She has shiny hair. Shit, I’m not concentrating.
JOSS WHEDON: So, no, I’m not going to write or direct X-Men 3, because I realized no one asked me to do that and if you show up and start directing a movie when no one asked you to…
ALLYSON’S BRAIN: Shit, I totally missed the Sunnydale answer. I wonder if this will take the full two hours. Amber Benson has shiny hair.
MODERATOR: A random person from some town wants to know if you would consider doing a Faith series now that Eliza Dushku’s show is canceled.
ALLYSON’S BRAIN: All I can remember is he answered that he’d love to if she wanted to, and then I became confused because I remembered someone telling me Joss didn’t want to be doing TV anymore, which was later confirmed in Daily Variety. He cut his contract with 20th Century Fox and can’t develop anything for TV for a year.
(Images below: Amy Acker, Nick Brendon)
This went on for some time. Eventually the call ended and I went out for a smoke, where I saw Herc from Ain’t It Cool News, who, as it turns out, was the ringleader of the event. He’s a tall redheaded guy who wears dark sunglasses and has a talent for finding a way to take up as much space as possible. I introduced myself.
He thought my name was Alyssa. I corrected him. He said, “Allyson? Are you my assistant?”
“No. I am not your fucking assistant, jackass.” I thought, but did not say. He mentioned that there were were a lot of Allysons at the event. Whatever. I asked if I could take his picture anyway. He said that it’s supposed to be sort of a mystery as to what he really looks like: It’s a thing. If he was so concerned with keeping up his cyber-batman identity, he should invest in a burqa, especially if he is going to hold court at Hollywood fundraisers. He let me take the picture.
Back inside, during the closing statements, Press Dude Who Wouldn’t Let Me Write Anything got on stage and thanked Josh. He reminded us that it was very important that young women vote. Okey doke, Presh Dude.
Joss followed up with some quips about not voting for a man who thinks the Presidency was a birthday gift from his daddy. Then it was over, and I went to go find Joss’ assistant to thank him for inviting me. He was talking to Press Dude, and said, “Have you met Allyson?”
I told Press Dude that I was there to write for PopGurls, and we were a web magazine whose readership is tens of thousands of young women.
He replied, “Well, there’s a lot of single guys here!”
I had no idea how to respond. He said that he was concerned about press interviewing people and having a celebrity say something sketchy that could wind up in the news so close to the election.
I really wouldn’t want to be responsible for misquoting Tom Lenk and costing Kerry the election, not when Press Dude was there to point out the fine array of men with whom I could possibly score a quickie.
As I said, I’m a Democrat. I’m voting for John Kerry. I like his health care proposal. I think he’s sympathetic to the weary troops who are losing homes, families, and limbs on their third tour of duty overseas. I’m intrigued by his ideas on how to stop frivolous lawsuits that jam up the courts while respecting the need for people to be able to seek reparation from asshead corporations when grievous injuries prevent them from living their lives. I think he’ll beat the budget back into submission, I know he respects my right to choose, and recognizes that gay couples should enjoy the same benefits as married couples in regard to property and matters of health. These things are important to me, but no one really discussed them, here.
I would have liked to ask Alyson Hannigan why she was voting for Kerry, which issues she holds dear. I would have liked to have asked Amber Benson her thoughts on the Patriot Act, or how she felt about Faith-Based Initiatives. I would have liked to ask J. August Richards if he feels that the U.S. should be more involved in helping to stop the atrocities in the Sudan, or even if he thinks Gunn would have been a registered voter.
But Press Dude was pretty adamant about the “no pens” rule. Unless it was for autographs, and then it was all good. Perhaps I could have asked the celebrities to write out their answers on a worksheet and hand them in on Tuesday.
I’ve given some thought to Whedon’s conservative fans, and how they must have felt very left out of this opportunity to meet their heroes. I mean, it was a really relaxed environment – despite a few clusterfuck moments here and there. The fans were all lovely and kind and patient, offering to take photos for other people. No shoving or rudeness of any kind did I witness, just smiling and laughing and hugging. The celebrity guests were gracious and patient. There were times when they stood alone, contently eating crudités and people-watching. It was a lovely, intimate event that was surely of interest to any fan of any political persuasion.
But given the nature of the event, any conservative fan whose gut principles lie on the right side of the line in the sand just couldn’t attend. No one says life is fair, but as Joss said while talking to someone on the phone, he wants his work to appeal to all people. It’s just difficult sometimes, to separate the man from his work, especially if you’re a fan of both the man and his work. I get that this event was something important to him, and support his right to get on a soapbox and cry foul if he feels that is righteous. The nature of celebrity is that you get an especially large soapbox, microphone, and mixer to help spread your message.
This late in the election season, an event like this is strictly to raise funds. It won’t actually change any minds that have been set. At best, it could inspire a few more people to vote who may have been apathetic about it. At worst, Joss could have just traded in a great deal of the capital he built in the last 10 years for the amount of money to pay for a 30-second attack ad in Ohio, and I wonder if that is worth alienating a truckload of his conservative fans who probably felt more than a bit unwelcome at this particular party.
I’m not quite sure how I feel about the whole thing. As a spectator, I was entertained. As a writer, it’s reasonably interesting subject matter. As a fan, it was a cool opportunity to ogle my heroes. As a voter, it doesn’t really matter to me at all whether Joss Whedon votes Kerry or Bush. He could have been a Conservative Christian Pat Buchanan supporter and I would have liked him more if he had remembered my name. Political leanings are such a tiny part of who we are, in total. Celebrity doesn’t lend any more credence to a message. It just makes the message a little louder, and means the message probably comes with fancy cheese cubes.