While wandering around my web neighborhoods this morning, I ran across a list on io9.com about 10 ways of looking at firefly. I think the X things about <whatever> is kind of a weak premise to begin with and there seemingly no limits to which this device is used on the web. To me it seems a little bit of a slap-dash (to borrow an apt description from my boss) way of throwing together an article with as little effort as is possible, but I must admit that at times I do get sucked into them. After all, who doesn’t want to compare their own ideas with someone who is going to lay down a delineated list? In most cases the list seems to be the limit of the consideration given to the topics and no further attempt is made at analysis. Cracked seems to be one of the better exceptions to this rule as their webiste seem to subsist on these lists, only with more depth. (I got sucked into the memes that went viral before the internet list as I was verifying the url)
The Io9 article seems to be a prime example of what I dislike about list articles, it’s brief and superficial and doesn’t do justice to a great show. I do have to confess, at times I spend an inordinate amount of cycles contemplating Firefly, but I’m not what I’d consider a “Browncoat”. I’ve found myself immersed in a learning project lately that is decidedly Firefly-centric and has caused me a lot of contemplation about the nature of the short-lived series.
To say Firefly lacks depth isn’t accounting for the fact that it didn’t even get the first season completely aired before it was cancelled. I think Joss’ following Fox project “Dollhouse” is a good example of how a more complex second season could have followed had Firefly been given the chance. Both the first seasons of Firefly and Dollhouse were just laying groundwork for the character arcs that were on the way. Unfortunately Dollhouse also just started to get good before they got the axe and had to wrap things up in a hurry.
That being said, were I to have written the Io9 piece, I would have said that the points I think Firefly was (or potentially would be) examining were:What makes up a family?
In the family theme we have the obvious Brother/Sister and Husband/Wife crew members, but we also have the crew as a family and the lengths that Captain Mal as the stern father figure will go to defend his family even when it runs against his stated intentions. Mal, the righteous outlaw, is contrasted with Inara, the potential mother and heart of the group, a law abiding citizen with a profession of a legalized prostitute that Mal finds immoral. The crew, like any normal family, may not always get along, but under dire circumstances they tend to pull together to help each other out.What does it mean to have faith?
In the expository scene we have Mal, a rebel Sargent on the losing side of a civil war briefly praying before running into battle. We are given the suggestion that some time later (likely through the defeat of what he considered a righteous cause) that Mal has lost his faith as he declines to participate in Shepherd Book’s saying of Grace over the communal meal, even saying he’d mind if the prayer is said out loud. Ironically, the most unrepentant criminal in the group, Jayne, even bows his head during the silent prayer. On the other end of the spectrum we have the Holy Man who has fallen in with thieves and has trials in his own beliefs. In the first episode Shepherd Book ends up confessing to Inara, in an ironic twist of roles, that he let the man he swore to protect get killed and he wasn’t sure it was the wrong thing to do. We even have a small setup on the science vs. religion front with the relationship between Shepherd Book and the troubled genius River as Book tries to explain that, “you don’t fix faith, it fixes you.”
What is moral?
This topic alone could be split into its own top 10 list. We have several comparisons of moral inequalities from the most grandiose as “when is it moral for governments to impose their will upon those that do not want it” in the case of the civil war where the Alliance of the core planets defeated the outlying Independents who wanted to live a life free of big government interference. Scaled down we are also given example after example of the petty fiefdoms and oppressive oligarchy’s that take root where the arm of the Alliance fails to dominate.
Corporate morality seems to also be present in the form of the ubiquitous Blue Sun Corporation, whose logos adorn billboards, t-shirts and labels throughout the series. We are led to believe that Blue Sun had something to do with River’s physical and psychological transformation as she reacts negatively to the Blue Sun logo in a pair of instances in violent fashion. From this we can infer that there would have been more of an arc of storyline on the morality of the corporate influence on an individual’s freedom.
On an interpersonal level we have examples of how morality guides the greater arcs of the individual characters. Mal sees himself as a sort of Robin Hood, but in the end many of his exploits benefit not the poor, or even his crew, but the criminal middle-men who hire him to do their dirty work. Yet, scraping by as they do, he often jumps to fulfill missions where the profit to himself is scant, if nonexistent through some ideal of what is right. Simon gave up a lucrative and prestigious career as a surgeon for the love of his sister, but what he sees as his duty to family supersedes any personal considerations. The mercenary, Jayne, sees everything through the filter of personal profit and openly refuses to act in anything but a selfish manner, even to the detriment to those around him. Inara makes her living as a high-class licensed prostitute that most of society accepts amorally if not semi-religiously. Mal continuously reduces her status to “whoring” and at one point in the series Inara accuses Mal of hurting his own prospects for criminal activity by staying away from profitable locations to keep her from plying her trade. Yet Mal tries to keep Inara’s reputation clean by separating her involvement from the rest of the crew’s illicit activities
The pastoral isn’t always idyllic and the technological isn’t always liberating
We have the tendency to look at the past through a nostalgic filter of a simpler time when men could live free, often without giving much consideration to the hardships of lives lived without the benefits of technology we experience. Also, we frequently don’t see the chains with which we are bound by the technological wonders that do provide our lives with such ease. As the crew of Serenity moves between worlds we are offered glimpses of both the technologically brimming core planets where everything is monitored, analyzed and policed, and the backwater fringe worlds in dire need of basic medicines and necessities. We see slavers and bureaucrats, criminal kingpins and secret agents and are confronted with the fact that no society on either end of the technological extreme is without its drawbacks.
Firefly offered a unique blend of Science Fiction and Westerns, two genres that offer freedom from the constraints of normality to evaluate our existence. Sci-fi traditionally inspects what it means to be human, and westerns give the freedom to evaluate the components of a society and how individuals relate to the structure our communities provide. Together with morality as a fulcrum, the Firefly universe provided a complex scale to measure our own expectations of the world we live in while being entertained by a rich, imaginative environment with the freedom to explore nearly limitless sociological combinations.