Director Joss Whedon deleted his Twitter account on Monday following criticism of his film Avengers: Age of Ultron, but says militant feminists had nothing to do with it.
Clicking on a direct link to Whedon's account, which had over a million followers as of Sunday, currently leads to a blank page that reads, "Sorry, that page doesn't exist."
His final tweet on Monday simply read, "Thank you to all the people who've been so kind and funny and inspiring up in here."
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Many speculated that his departure was prompted by a flood of angry and abusive tweets in the wake of the North American debut of Avengers: Age of Ultron, which has grossed more than $230 million in North America since it launched last Friday.
While Whedon did say in an interview with BuzzFeed on Tuesday that his decision was motivated, in part, to get away from Twitter's "steady stream of just like, 'you suck, you suck, you suck,'" he made it clear that feminist criticism had nothing to do with his decision to leave the platform.
"That is horseshit," he told BuzzFeed News, addressing speculation that he "left Twitter due to militant feminists angered over the film's depiction of Black Widow."
"Believe me, I have been attacked by militant feminists since I got on Twitter. That's something I'm used to," he said. "Every breed of feminism is attacking every other breed, and every subsection of liberalism is always busy attacking another subsection of liberalism, because God forbid they should all band together and actually fight for the cause."
Whedon said that his primary reason for quitting Twitter was to concentrate on his work.
"Twitter is an addictive little thing, and if it's there, I gotta check it. When you keep doing something after it stops giving you pleasure, that's kind of rock bottom for an addict," he said. "I just had a little moment of clarity where I'm like, You know what? If I want to get stuff done, I need to not constantly hit this thing for a news item or a joke or some praise, and then be suddenly sad when there's hate and then hate and then hate."
Much of the online abuse recently appears to centre on the treatment of Scarlett Johansson's character, Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. Black Widow, in Avengers: Age of Ultron.
In the film, Romanoff becomes romantically involved with Mark Ruffalo's character, Bruce Banner, a.k.a. the Incredible Hulk. But their romance is rocky from the start thanks in part to their roles as superheroes, with little hope for a normal life.
One compilation of angry tweets directed toward Whedon included dozens of messages littered with profanities. The tweets accused him of being sexist, of misogyny, and of ruining Black Widow by making her a love interest or damsel in distress.
Johansson's Black Widow has been a mainstay of Marvel's films since her first appearance in 2010's Iron Man 2, but she's never headlined a film of her own.
Age of Ultron, as well as its stars, has been under the PR microscope, with criticism of actors Chris Evans and Jeremy Renner calling the Romanoff character a "slut" in an interview, and Robert Downey Jr.'s character Tony Stark, who is regularly portrayed with an acerbic attitude, making a one-off joke about prima nocta.
Whedon has described himself as a feminist over the years and has been generally praised for elevating female characters, especially with his television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. So for some, attacks calling Whedon a misogynist were treated with confusion or ridicule.
Of note, Joss Whedon not only wrote strong women characters, his strong women characters aren’t ONLY strong in their relationships with men.— @TabathaSouthey
IMHO, if Joss Whedon wasn't enough of a feminist for you than your standards might very well be impossible for a man to achieve. By design.— @Boogie2988
Hi. I like Joss Whedon & I also believe in social justice & feminism & I'm going to see #AgeOfUltron again & I see valid critiques of it.— @elonjames
Some articles described the harassers en masse as "angry feminists" or "angry fans," though as with any Twitter mob, it's difficult to single out any one characteristic other than abusiveness.
Salon's Mary Elizabeth Williams takes issue with these characterizations, arguing that heightened vitriol and even death threats have become commonplace on Twitter, no matter what the subject matter.
"[T]here isn't a single social group in the world that doesn't contain deeply disturbed jackasses with thumbs, ready to actively hate you for whatever you say or do," she writes. "And while I'm sorry to see Whedon depart Twitter, because his exit once again shows the worst of it, I'm not surprised he got fed up with it."
James Gunn, who directed the Marvel film Guardians of the Galaxy, posted a lengthy note on his Facebook page, lamenting how "the angry contingent of fandom is getting more aggressive all the time."
"Whatever these angry tweeters are in need of, I don't think it's more anger and more rage thrown back at them on Twitter. I actually think that's what they're seeking. But what they need is something different. Compassion, maybe?"
Actors who have worked with Whedon quickly came to his defence online, including Ruffalo, who responded to criticisms of the Hulk-Widow storyline, and Patton Oswalt, who appears on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Jewel Staite, who co-starred in Whedon's cult hit Firefly.
@thordinsons @josswhedon Weird I thought he turned Banner into a love interest that needed saving.— @MarkRuffalo
Yep. There is a "Tea Party" equivalent of progressivism/liberalism. And they just chased Joss Whedon off Twitter. Good job, guys. Ugh.— @pattonoswalt
This isn't the first time Whedon has left Twitter. He described walking away from his account in an interview with Entertainment Weekly in 2013, calling the social media platform "a fascinating social phenomenon" that ended up feeling like a second job. He also said that he originally joined Twitter to promote his 2013 film adaptation of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing.
"The moment I joined, oh my God, what a responsibility, this is enormous work — very fun, but it really started to take up a huge amount of my head space," he said at the time.
Age of Ultron marks Whedon's final project for the gargantuan Marvel films franchise, and Twitter is just be another part of the job he's content to leave behind — at least for now.