The man who brought you Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, The Avengers, and so much more turns 50 today—and he's said some pretty wise words along the way.
1. On Humor
"Humor keeps us alive. Humor and food. Don't forget food. You can go a week without laughing."
2. On Fanfiction
"All worthy work is open to interpretations the author did not intend. Art isn't your pet—it's your kid. It grows up and talks back to you."
3. On Changing the World
"You are going to change the world, because that is actually what the world is. You do not pass through this life, it passes through you. You experience it, you interpret it, you act, and then it is different. That happens constantly. You are changing the world. You always have been."
4. On how Close Encounters of the Third Kind Changed his life
"More than anything, seeing that film was a germ that opened my mind: the idea that Roy was going to leave Earth and travel through space, and that when he came back it would be several decades later and everybody he had known would be dead, hit home the reality of being human. It made me consider what we are, what we can be, what our limitations are. That blew the brains out of my head and I wore them on my shoulders as epaulettes. I became obsessed with the film. ... When I got back to school I told my best friend what had happened and he handed me a copy of Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre. I realized, 'Oh! Other people have gone through this!' Basically, the film had made me an existentialist."
5. On Rebellion
"The greatest expression of rebellion is joy."
6. On Horror
"I think there's a lot of people out there who say we must not have horror in any form, we must not say scary things to children because it will make them evil and disturbed ... That offends me deeply, because the world is a scary and horrifying place, and everyone's going to get old and die, if they're that lucky. To set children up to think that everything is sunshine and roses is doing them a great disservice. Children need horror because there are things they don't understand. It helps them to codify it if it is mythologized, if it's put into the context of a story, whether the story has a happy ending or not. If it scares them and shows them a little bit of the dark side of the world that is there and always will be, it's helping them out when they have to face it as adults."
7. On writing
“If I find out I have to write today and nothing else, that’s a perfect day. I know a lot of people who are great at it and make it look easy who are tortured and miserable people. Writing for me is perfect peace.”
8. On Making A Connection
“This was one of the most important things I’ve ever learned, one of the defining things about humanity. ... [E]very time somebody opens their mouth they have an opportunity to do one of two things—connect or divide. Some people inherently divide, and some people inherently connect. Connecting is the most important thing, and actually an easy thing to do. ... I’m shocked that there are so many people that live to divide."
Speaking about what he learned as a writer on Roseanne during a 2003 interview with Ken Plume
9. On Buffy the Vampire Slayer
"I designed the show to create that strong reaction. I designed Buffy to be an icon, to be an emotional experience, to be loved in a way that other shows can't be loved. Because it's about adolescence, which is the most important thing people go through in their development, becoming an adult. And it mythologizes it in such a way, such a romantic way—it basically says, 'Everybody who made it through adolescence is a hero.' And I think that's very personal, that people get something from that that's very real."
10. On obsession
“Obsession is beautiful. It's what makes art.”
11. On Why He Creates Strong Female Characters
“There is one question that I've been asked almost every time I’ve been interviewed. So I thought tonight, briefly, I would share with you one question and a few of my responses. Because, when you're asked something 500 times, you really start to think about the answer. ...
“‘So, why do you write these strong women characters?’
Because equality is not a concept. It’s not something we should be striving for. It’s a necessity. Equality is like gravity, we need it to stand on this earth as men and women, and the misogyny that is in every culture is not a true part of the human condition. It is life out of balance and that imbalance is sucking something out of the soul of every man and women who’s confronted with it. We need equality, kinda now.
“‘So, why do you write these strong female characters?’
Because you’re still asking me that question.”
12. On His Writing Rituals
“I do listen to music. Movie scores, exclusively, because it’s all about mood and nonspecificity. I love the way modern movie scoring is all about nonspecificity. You know, if I shuffled the tracks from Inception, I challenge you to tell me which is which. But … you feel incredibly heightened during all of it. I don’t know what I’m very excited about but I’m very excited. Or worried. Or sad, I’m not sure which, but it’s all happening. And that’s really great. Whereas, you know, your old-school, very theme-specific music, which is the kind I like to actually use in my movies, is useless to writing.”
13. On Humanism
"The enemy of humanism is not faith. The enemy of humanism is hate, is fear, is ignorance, is the darker part of man that is in every humanist, every person in the world. That is what we have to fight. Faith is something we have to embrace. Faith in god means believing absolutely in something with no proof whatsoever. Faith in humanity means believing absolutely in something with a huge amount of proof to the contrary. We are the true believers."
14. On the Kinds of Conversations He Enjoys
“I always enjoy conversation more if there is some substance to it—which is a just incredibly hilarious thing for me to say because for many, many years I was the guy whose only contribution to any conversation was, ‘There was a funny Simpson’s joke about that.’ But I’m trying to evolve from that. I mean, just having a silly time and laughing your butt off is . . . don’t get me wrong, I’ll take it, but yeah, I have a problem with pointlessness.”
From an Interview with Fast Company
15. On Inspiration and Creation
"Actually, I don't think of myself as being inspired to create. I can't imagine doing anything else. It's like breathing."
16. On advice he’d give to geeks with good ideas
"If you have a good idea, get it out there. For every idea I’ve realized, I have ten I sat on for a decade till someone else did it first. Write it. Shoot it. Publish it. Crochet it, sauté it, whatever. MAKE."
17. On Happiness and Peace
"If you think that happiness means total peace, you will never be happy. Peace comes from the acceptance of the part of you that can never be at peace. It will always be in conflict. If you accept that, everything gets a lot better."
All photos courtesy of Getty Images.