This weekend, the brain of Joss Whedon rises again, as Much Ado About Nothing hits select theaters. Every single actor Joss has ever worked with is in this movie, including Spike's poker kittens playing the Duke of Florence. How can your mind comprehend it? Luckily, we have an excellent analytical tool: The Whedonic Calculus.
The Whedonic Calculus is a simple rubric. It was invented by Jeremy Bentham, who was one of the founders of Utilikiltarianism, a philosophy which calls for the greatest number of pockets for the greatest number of kilts. Jeremy Bentham, of course, was co-founder of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society and a prolific contributor to Doctor Who Magazine, before being sent back in time and having his stuffed corpse propped up inside a college dorm room for all posterity. He also invented the Panopticon, the meeting room of the Time Lords.
But what did Jeremy Bentham teach us about the works of Joss Whedon?
The Whedonic Calculus instructs us to judge any work of escapism or world-building according to several criteria:
1) The Intensity of the drama, and of the emotional satisfaction. How many squees per minute? How many memes are generated? How much does it break Twitter? Unlike his colleague John Stuart Mill, Bentham did not consider the quality of the emotional satisfaction, or consider some forms of satisfaction high and others low. In 1795, Bentham and Mill had a public debate over whether Angel's muppet episode was inherently a lower form of pleasure than the ballerina episode, because of the relative cultural value of those two forms of satisfaction.
2) The Duration — how soon is this show going to be cancelled? Is this going to be some webseries that we get three episodes of, and then no blasted sequel for five years? Bentham argued fervently that Firefly, though a higher intensity of satisfaction than Angel, is of lower value because of the short duration. This assertion led to Bentham's first duel, in 1798, where he was forced to maim three Browncoats with a single fowling piece.
3) The Certainty or Uncertainty of the satisfaction — is this actually going to materialize, or is it going to be like Whedon's Wonder Woman movie? Is the "Cordelia sleeping with Angel's son" storyline going to pay off, or are we just going to be annoyed by the whole thing? In 1772, Bentham had a famous slapping match with David Hume, pioneer of empiricism and skepticism, who argued that you could never predict that anything Whedon-related would actually come to exist, or that any storylines would ever pay off. "Our expectations of future satisfaction are falsely founded on past experience. Also, I still do not understand why their hands were blue," said Hume.
4) The Propinquity of the satisfaction. Here, Bentham was influenced by his friend Thomas Malthus, who argued that the population of actors who must be included in every Whedon project would eventually outstrip Whedon's ability to create roles for all of them. And that when this occurred, we would reach a crisis of dwindling propinquity.
5) The Fecundity of the satisfaction — how likely is it to lead to further satisfaction, or is this going to turn into an entire year of Buffy having S&M sex in a nightclub while Willow gets told she's a big strawberry? "It greatly behooves us not to be burned by that shit again," exhorted Bentham.
6) The Purity of the enjoyment, or how likely it is to be followed by intense pain. How many characters is Whedon going to have to kill off for every moment of happiness people are allowed to experience?
7) And finally, the Extent of the enjoyment, or how many people actually like this. Is this another Dollhouse, which only a few weirdos actually liked? Also, Bentham cautioned, you must consider the relative enjoyment and pain for everybody concerned, including all of the fanfic writers who are going to have to work this into their next crossover. If there is intense satisfaction for a few, but pain for everyone else, then that is of less utility than a more general satisfaction. Argued Bentham:
Take the balance which if on the side of pleasure, will give the general good tendency of the act, with respect to the total number or community of individuals concerned; if on the side of pain, the general evil tendency, with respect to the same community. Also, divide the amount of screen time for Nathan Fillion by the number of extreme close-ups of people's feet.
And there you have it: the Whedonic Calculus. Use it responsibly!