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August 23 2006

"It is striking what a conservative movie Serenity is." Jonah Goldberg of the National Review also thinks Browncoats are "sour" on the BDM as compared to the series.

Stick to politics, Jonah.

I have no problem with people viewing the movie as conservative, despite my not being conservative and, well, Joss not really being conservative either. I find more confusion with the idea that Browncoats are "sour" on the movie. Is that why we sold out advance screenings, saw the film multiple times, kept it going in second-run, and brought it back on our own in order to raise money for charity? Because we're "sour" on it?
Yeah, the sour thing is a little odd.

However, I (the I-heart-FDR guy) loves how the movie can be viewed from this point of view. I don't agree with this reading but it's a compellingly contrarian view.
I think lots of Firefly fans were soured by the deaths of Wash and Book. And I assume most fans would prefer six seasons of Firefly over six years of making three Serenity movies. Maybe that's what he means?
He said "compared to the show," which, like Succatash points out, is probably true for a lot of fans.
In the 1930s, when ideological content was deliberate and ideological deviationism was denounced, Serenity would be villified as "fascist" for its opposition to social planning.


Huh?
I second the "huh?"

Well, if you can't dazzle 'em with brilliance...
Oh, that's brillant. It's just so brillant, we can't comprehend how brilliant it is.
In the 30's, ideological content was meant to reinforce the norm, and if Serenity was shown in that time, Serenity would have been considered fascist because the ideals of the movie deviate from the norm (in that, Mal and everyone else fight against the government instead of for it). In other words, because Serenity's themes involve the subversion of the government, it would be classified as fascist in the 30's.

Of course, that liberal FDR had something to do with it too, but thats for another debate.

ETA: I dont think its brilliant at all, but my keen and penetrative mind tells me that others are making that point, so Ill be quiet now.

[ edited by jerryst3161 on 2006-08-23 06:34 ]
>Stick to politics, Jonah.

Or in his case, not.
In the 1930s, when ideological content was deliberate and ideological deviationism was denounced, Serenity would be villified as "fascist" for its opposition to social planning.

And yet, the Communist Party USA newspaper gave "Serenity" a rave review for being so politically progressive.

I also think that Serenity created a lot more Firefly fans than it "soured."
Really? He thinks so? Conservative?

"1. Favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change. 2. Traditional or restrained in style: a conservative dark suit. 3. Moderate; cautious: a conservative estimate. 4a. Of or relating to the political philosophy of conservatism. b. Belonging to a conservative party, group, or movement. 5. Conservative Of or belonging to the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom or the Progressive Conservative Party in Canada. 6. Conservative Of or adhering to Conservative Judaism. 7. Tending to conserve; preservative: the conservative use of natural resources."

Wow, using any of these definitions, that's a strain. Socially & historically, I think not so much. Politically -- it's fairly open. One of the happiest aspects of Serenity is that it's a dish that goes well with many political persuasions.

But remember, this is the National Review (*throws salt over shoulder & makes sign to ward off the Evil Eye*) fellow that thinks most of the best rock 'n roll music is politically conservative, which to me is either a sign of drinking the Koolaid, willful misunderstanding, or being one toke over the line (sweet Jesus).

Okay, I'll stop now. But the movie's author has weighed in on this subject, so I'm gonna go with him:

"Yeah. I would say about the movie [Serenity] that it is very political, but it's not partisan. And I think the curse, right now, of the politics of our nation is that a line has been drawn down the middle of our country -- and that's not actually how the human mind works." -- Joss Whedon, The CulturePulp Q&A with Joss Whedon, 9/24/05
Wouldn't a movie considered "fascistic" be a movie that advocates fascism, fascism being absolute support of a powerful centralized goverment? There were movies made in the 30's that people dismissed as "fascistic," and they had titles like Triumph of the Will. Subversion of goverment is kind of a big no-no for fascists, peculiar folks that they were.

I think that this might be another case of the "everything bad comes from my ideological enemies, everything good is derived of my philosophy," approach that is all too prevalent in our shrill age.
Well, it is conservative if you think, as he does, that the government in Serenity represents liberal democrats. When he talks about the assassin, its clear that he thinks the assassin is analgous to liberal democrats who go beyond good and evil to achieve a utopia of choice (think abortion). And in the end, the whole affair with the reavers is akin to the conservative/liberal debate, where conservatives are Mal and the gang who fight against the liberal tendency to impose their own ideals of utopia on the masses who dont want it. You know that whole egalitarian ideal that we all equal? Whats up with that?

Interestingly, I thought Serenity meant to show us a "parliament" that wanted to impose its will on the masses, and Mal was supposed to represent the fight against fascism. Its amazing how he turned that around...he isnt right, but that logical leap is impressive.
But remember, this is the National Review (*throws salt over shoulder & makes sign to ward off the Evil Eye*) fellow that thinks most of the best rock 'n roll music is politically conservative, which to me is either a sign of drinking the Koolaid, willful misunderstanding, or being one toke over the line (sweet Jesus).


Hee!

Well, it is certainly a very revisionist view, unless the whole of the 1930's occurred under Stalin, everywhere, including Hollywood movies, and the American public's response to them and...or...no...drugs?, insanity...?

I'm gonna stick with "huh?"
Also being discussed (with more cursing and cheesecake photos) at Fark.com....

Quotergal, I posted Joss' very same comments on this issue (in a slightly longer excerpt) in the Fark thread.
I get the feeling he missed the point of, at the very least, the Reaver experiment. Also, he seems to overlook the central idea of freedom.

Rather than conservativism vs. liberalism, he seems to be arguing the extremes, communism cs. fascism. Those are the two extremes of the spectrum that always end up closer to each other than to any kind of liberal freedom, are they not?
How dare he. How dare he say something different from the perceived fandom opinion. This is indeed an awful day from which we may never recover. I am tired of people having their own opinion which differs from mine. I know better. Blah blahity blah.

And how dare Joss create something that is so wonderfully ambiguous that people can take different things from it.

Coming up next on Whedonesque: "Buffy. How faithful was it to Bulgarian libertarian politics?"

Though in a small sense, he is some what right about Browncoats being sour on the movie. There were complaints about the movie from some die-hard fans. The Save Wash campaign springs to mind (wonderfully pofaced effort). But the dissenters were in such small numbers that they were barely noticeable. I do remember some hilarious claims that stated that Serenity failed at the box office cause Wash and Book were killed off and that the fans stayed away as a result. Fandom is a wonderful glorious thing but on occasions like that, it can take itself far too seriously.
Yeah, HudsonVC, I might have cut mine just a little too short -- there's some really great lines I left out. I'm trying to post more sparingly (or less loquaciously).

I make a point to collect Joss's published political statements -- he doesn't say a whole lot (with notable exceptions) or often, but what's there is cherce.

(I know this is such a tiny, tiny point, but I'm gonna make it anyway -- as someone pointed out in the Fark thread, Mr. Goldberg has mis-used "It's" in "It's übermenschy representative" -- he's a reputable journalist, right? Scary, scary stuff... is our children learning? (And seriously, I want whatever they're smoking over at NR.)

[ edited by QuoterGal on 2006-08-23 08:58 ]
I don't think I mind that this writer had his own opinion about the movie, it's that I don't think he made a good job of backing it up. His statements were very confusing, and I agree with others who said that it doesn't sound right to say that a film in the '30s that was anti-government would be labeled "fascist." I mean, in the '30s, there were real live fascists in Spain, Italy and Germany, and they were either waging or preparing to wage war; it wasn't just a label you threw at someone whose politics you didn't like. So, I just don't think this opinion was supported well by Mr. Goldberg. :-(
I think Jonah is allowed a typo every now and again. As am I and everyone here, professional writer or not. That's why we have spellcheck, proofreaders, and editors. Considering this was a blog post I assume was written on the fly, I'm also assuming that he ran it through spellcheck which wouldn't have caught the typo.

Happens to the best (and worst) of us.

His reading could be flipped on its head, though. Some would say that anyone disagreeing with the current admin are unpatriotic and undermining the President in a time of war. McCarthyism, anyone? But where it's all wrong is that he's associating freedom from tyrrany with one specific ideology...his. Tyrants come from all political walks of life, right and left, and Mal certainly pulls from several places, as River can't pull herself up by her bootstraps, but she is fed and protected. He stole from the rich and gave to the poor, as well. Depending on which side you're standing on, Mal is either a terrorist or a hero. Or maybe that was V.

I forget what my point was. I'm so going to bed.

PS: This post was not spell-checked, grammar-checked, or otherwise vetted for sense-making.
I think it's great that Serenity can be read so many different ways and, as someone above mentions, in the 30s the fascists rebelled against the incumbant governments so in that sense Mal could be seen as fascistic but in pretty much every other way, not so much (and whether he'd be 'labelled fascist' is obviously difficult to know at least until I iron out the whole 'flux capacitor' problem ;).

This reading does seem to be a little bit blinkered though and not particularly well justified (must confess I wonder if this guy just likes the hits he gets whenever he's linked to from here since these sentiments sound pretty familiar and the National Review's been linked before).

To me, Mal is very clearly libertarian. He doesn't want any form of government interference in his affairs and believes above all in personal freedom and responsibility (so he's 'big C' Conservative in the sense of the UK opposition party which believes in minimal government interferance and the free market but not really 'small c' conservative since his preference would be for the current Alliance system to be entirely dismantled, not exactly conserving anything). It's clearly a balancing act since compulsory primary education could be seen as 'making people better' as could any kind of social security system so I don't think i'd agree with Mal on a lot of points though the whole freedom thing's pretty cool so i'm with him there ;).
Mal's army was fighting for a different form of government than the Alliance. That's all we know.
Oh, yeah, Saje, Jonah Goldberg has weighed in before, as well as NR writer Catherine Seipp and others. (And I'm pretty sure Tim Minear has been interviewed by NR).

It's nifty that they like Serenity and Buffy, etc. It just feels peculiar to me that they have to sorta bend them or confine them into something they can call "conservative" in order to -- I dunno, feel comfortable or consistent with their own liking.

You know, I'm in favour of gun control, and yet I frequently enjoy the gun battles in FF/S and even Angel -- don't need to perceive them as "cautionary liberal anti-gun messages" in order to feel okay about my enjoyment. I'm okay with the contradictions, paradoxes and ambiguities.

(O.T. -- Saje, when you didn't show up for the pile-on in the James & Joss thread, I suspicioned you were either on a toot or a trek. Dunno why...)

[ edited by QuoterGal on 2006-08-25 09:48 ]
Heh, yeah I probably would've leapt into the fray sooner (I loves me some list-making ;) if not for a friend's stag do down in old London town.

In fairness, if that's his genuine opinion then he's just reading it based on his background, same as the rest of us and as I mention above I reckon it's certainly possible to see Mal as being against the entire progressive liberal agenda (e.g. better education = more choice = a happier, more productive society) but I agree there does seem to be an element of "I'm against progressive liberalism and I call myself conservative so therefore Mal/Serenity must be too".

Not to be contrary dreamlogic ... oh, go on then ;) but we don't even know that. The Browncoats could have been fighting for no government at all (i.e. they could've been an army of anarchists if that's not an oxymoron ;) and they were certainly fighting against centralised, authoritarian government which tells us something about them but that aside i'm talking about Mal not Mal's army. He's against government interference as evidenced by his line in 'Serenity Pt 1' about government just being there "to get in a man's way", being a private trader means he basically has to be pro free-market and it seems pretty obvious from his general outlook and fierce independence (as well as his 'making people better' speech in 'Serenity') that he's kinda pro personal freedom ;).
Everyone will read it from their own perspective and it does support multiple readings (as Simon and Saje point out above). If we all didn't have better things to do, I could outline how Serenity very logically reads as conservative, liberal, libertarian, buddhist, christian, pro-squid, or what-have-you.

I reckon it's certainly possible to see Mal as being against the entire progressive liberal agenda (e.g. better education = more choice = a happier, more productive society)


Like conservatism, progressivism is open to taking a pathological bent - ie it can become intolerance and 'well, they don't know any better, so we'll make the right choice for them'. Thus Serenity can be seen as Mal championing conservatism, Mal correcting the progressive agenda to its well-meaning roots, or Mal rallying for libertarianism and individual choice.

There is, to steal a South Park-ism, a noxious cloud of smug over some parts of this thread that should make it obvious just how easy it is to fall into 'they don't know better...'; also, just a reminder to be careful to play the ball, not the man (not that anyone's been really over the line, just a heads up).

ETA -
It's just feels peculiar to me that they have to sorta bend them or confine them into something they can call "conservative"


I dunno, independence, pro personal freedom, pro free market, anti big-government sounds like how a lot of my conservative friends describe themselves (and libertarian friends, and some liberal friends...). No bending required. Food for thought.

Dictionary definitions of political parties/movements rarely give a real sense of them, especially when just grabbing the definition of an associated term (ie liberal, conservative, progressive, libertarian).
In the 30s, both communists and fascists believed it was essential to have a strong, central, rigidly controlling government. To a lesser extent so did an awful lot of UK and even US pro-democracy politicians. The cult of the strong leader was pretty much ubiquitous. I'm not convinced that writer has fully internalised that fact.

Of course, Mal is a very strong leader...
Very true, Gill :) Strong leaders are bad!!! ... except our strong leader, who is awesome!
Saje and zeitgeist, as usual your posts are reasoned and thought-provoking, and expressed better than I could. If you knew how often I agree with your respective selves it would rightfully cause you both a crisis of self-doubt. Thank you for obviating my urge to post serious, possibly misbehavin' comments. I think you've succeeded in making me better.
Given Joss's well-known liberal opinions, the portrayal of the Alliance as "meddlers" in foreign policy, and the fact that the villain is a religious man who believes he has to kill people to create a better world, I think it's pretty clear what the political parallels of the film are supposed to be. I think he's actually making some pretty bold statements about the root causes of terrorism.
Shit, I didn't mean to jaynelovesvera but cheers ;).

Oh, yeah, Gill, Hitler was quite well thought of among some politicians in the UK and elsewhere. Luckily we had a very strong leader in the form of a certain drunken, war-mongering old Tory to set the record straight ;).

Like conservatism, progressivism is open to taking a pathological bent

Sure, zeitgeist but Mal doesn't say "Making people better's OK in certain circumstances" he says he "don't hold with it", full stop, end of chat. I like to think Joss would've looked at this later on in the series (it would only have muddied the first film's message, IMO) since from some comments in interview he doesn't seem to agree with Mal about this (though i'd say i'm a progressive liberal - even if that's slightly more libertarian over here than the US meaning of 'liberal' seems to be - i'm not saying all government interference is OK so I agree that any philosophy taken to a pathological bent is bad).

And I also agree that a lot of conservatives are pro-freedom, pro-free-market etc. but i've yet to meet a conservative rebel since conservatism, if it's to be anything but a meaninglessly arbitrary label (OK, so they're all meaningless and arbitrary but YKWIM ;), must be about conserving something. It's not seen as the party of tradition for nothing and (kinda like an anarchist army ;) conservative rebellion strikes me oxymoronic.

(though maybe if the Alliance was a new body which had stepped into a power vaccuum and usurped the previous system of total freedom then a rebellion to conserve the previously held values would make sense)
This is a post on NR's "The Corner", which is sort of like a blog for various NR regulars, so don't expect the same standards as you might for a column. Sometimes they throw stuff out to start a conversation.

This particular post by Jonah is pretty clearly not well thought out.
Well Saje, looking specifically at Britain then the rise of the 'New Right' within the Conservative Party in the mid-70s - coinciding with the start of Margaret Thatcher's leadership (although the faction existed before this) - represented a movement away from both the post-war consensus and the 'small c' conservatism that had dominated the Conservative Party since WW2.

As with the vast majority of political parties in states without PR, the Conservative Party is a coalition with a number of different ideological strands within it. The key to Conservatism had long been that change should be slow and incremental. In this case though, the rebels gained power within the party and then in the country as a whole and made huge changes relatively quickly.

Conserving ideas or a specific way of life is often at the heart of Conservative thinking, but if the power of specific ideas or ideals are being destroyed then sometimes only rebellion from the political orthodoxy can make a difference. Libertarians will tend to feel this way about Governments interfering in their lives and impinging on their freedom.
Great discussion, folks :) Saje, points all well taken, though there is some wiggle room within them (as far as the dichotomy of what we say/what we feel and distilling Mal's thoughts into a quoteworthy line/not making a 15 hour film to explain the full intricacies of Mal's position) and thanks Jon for posting my response for me ;) And I heartily echo Saje's:

Shit, I didn't mean to jaynelovesvera but cheers ;).


The Joss has quite often said that he doesn't always agree with Mal, he has also said that the government is not evil (waits for the 'Well, they can't be conservatives, then...' posts ;)), just misguided and ahs done a lot of good as well as made mis-steps.

ETA - Saje and I were separated at birth, or possibly before birth, or something. Yes. That :)

Also, one can hardly fault someone with good taste in movies for trying to sell said movie to his readers in a way he knows will get their/others attention, right? :)
Why Oh, Why Oh... spells yo-yo... But, seriously, why can't people who enjoy making blanket statements actually learn to write?
Kentonist - personal attacks on the author of the piece are not an acceptable form of debate here.
It wasn't a personal attack on the author... but on the style and readability of the piece.

Surely, when one chooses to write in public, such criticisms are acceptable?
Well, you called him a yo-yo and asked when he would learn how to write. If you were to say such to me, I would assume it was a complaint leveled at me rather than the piece, so try to be careful where the barrel of your criticism points :)
On a more general note, it does seem to me as though many authors are frightened of ambiguity... I know very few people, in life, who actually conform completely to any one set of political or idealogical ideals. Yet, art is often pigeonholed as left or right wing.
Ah, I see... a misunderstanding. I wasn't calling him a yo-yo...

"Why Oh, Why Oh..." spells yo-yo... is an expression. It's a joke. A throwaway joke, I admit, but a joke nonetheless. Not in any way directed at the author.

His opinions are valid. Poorly-expressed, in my opinion, but valid nonetheless...
Kentonist - quite so, and the pigeonholing is so seldom correct :) Most thought provoking, effective, (great?) art can be interpreted in a number of ways or is capable of evoking thoughts and feelings that have a more permanent effect on the witness. It seems to me that this does a dis-servcie to the art, though it can also have the beneficial effect of controversial-izing it (is that a word? it is now!) and probably putting more eyes on it. There are, of course, also negative effects to the controversy, but thats a given, I think.

ETA - also, you said 'why can't people who enjoy making blanket statements actually learn to write?' which aside from being a blanket statement about people who make blanket statements (if we had an index file we could look it up in the index file under index files... come with me now for recursion theatre!), says that the author of this piece can't write, which, again, sounds like playing the man rather than the ball (piece).
Zeitgeist, I agree completely. The moment at which you divide human beings into "Left" and "Right", is the moment at which you fail to reach someone when they need it most. Political divisions are as arbitrary and inconsequential as racial and sexual divisions in that they seldom represent the individual. And human life can only be defined by the individual - or the race as a whole would be good for nothing but extermination.

Re: the blanket statement controversy....

Who said I didn't enjoy irony?

: )

[ edited by Kentonist on 2006-08-23 16:04 ]
Word, Kentonist :)
I don't think the reading is that outlandish. Mal is definitely the hero and he is without a doubt a libertarian which is more or less associated with the Right in our American spectrum. Furthermore he has rather traditionalist social mores (rather opposed to the whole companion thing. although he does, ahem, get some sometimes, he's not at all focused on sexual adventure.) He basically comes across as a highly conservative guy, albeit with a high amount of tolerance in the vein of 'dont mess with me, i wont mess with you.'

The 'message' of the movie is also pretty libertarian: don't engage in social progamming. This is, again, libertarian message against social engineering programs of the Right (mostly social) and Left (mostly economic.)

However what I think most reviewers who are trying to do a political review of the film (and series) overlook is that we are following a generally conservative hero in a universe which itself extols many many progressive values. Its a genius move on Joss's part that allows for borrowing from different philosophies for their strong suits at the same time. So in the Firefly universe, for example, we can have conservative Mal interact with 3rd Wave Feminism come-alive'embrace feminine identity and overt sexuality' Inara. The very nature of the universe is also overtly multi-cultural, where cross cultural mixing isn't just accepted its the norm. Obviously in the general population (not on some of the outworld backwaters) some kind of gender equality has been achieved/is encouraged. And so on...

There is also the whole anti-corporate angle, which is highly progressive, but which you have to really be a BIG fan to know of.

Anyway, I'm a pretty dedicated Leftist with some quirky ideas that don't fit, but I can see the conservatism in the movie. sometimes its real useful to have a curmudgeonly conservative around. I think the thing that needs to be emphasized is the difference between the political valences of the charecters and the universe as a whole.
Serenity is a movie about being an indiviual, your right to behave that way, how much you can afford to loose before you fight, meddling in foreign cultures and a great many more issues.

These, however, are universal issues. They're historic. They will always exist.

I said to Joss - in a drunken, staggering way - that I loved Serenity because it said I had a right to be wrong. To exist in a way I saw fit, and not have people try to make my world their definition of better. I doubt there are many people who could disagree with any of this, and I don't care where you sit on the political spectrum. However, what I actually said to Joss was more like "Dude, I'm really drunk".

The Operative (or Jude if you're cool) represents somebody with belief in a better world, for everybody. Mal represents somebody who finds (again) belief in a better world, for himself and his own. I'm sure a lot of people can relate to either or both of those.

I don't, personally, think Serenity is about being left or right, or which is more correct. I believe it's about believing in ordinary people being able to make a difference.
Hear, hear, ajay42 and (I can't believe I'm typing this) gossi (just teasing, g-man)!
The Operative (or Jude if you're cool)


Let's see:

Hey Operative, don't kill our crew, take a Pax pill and make it better. Remember, don't stick that sword in my hide, I'll make you cry, and make it better, better, betterrrr....
Pete and Repeat are in a boat. Pete falls out. Who's left?
Dude, janelovesvera, I smell a song parody asking to be written. It smells like purple.

[ edited by pat32082 on 2006-08-23 19:41 ]
"I dunno, independence, pro personal freedom, pro free market, anti big-government sounds like how a lot of my conservative friends describe themselves (and libertarian friends, and some liberal friends...). No bending required."

I'd add, at the very least, feminist & some questioning of big-business practices to that description, zeitgeist, and radical, anarchist & pro-squid to that list of possible groups, and then you'd have the reason why I said that limiting the description of Serenity as "conservative" was "bending" or "confining" -- it's reductive, and that was my point. Not that Serenity was something else altogether, just that it doesn't only portray some conservative ideology or agenda made manifest...

"Also, one can hardly fault someone with good taste in movies for trying to sell said movie to his readers in a way he knows will get their/others attention, right? :)"

...whatever his reasons may be for doing so. Sure can and will fault him if it's reductive. I don't try & sell any of my fav Whedonverse creations to my radical or otherwise friends as embodiments of their politics just to get their attention. That just backfires, in the long run.

"Dictionary definitions of political parties/movements rarely give a real sense of them, especially when just grabbing the definition of an associated term (ie liberal, conservative, progressive, libertarian)."

Mr. Goldberg was defining the conversation in those terms -- I find them limiting myself. Again, that was sorta part of my point, and my reason for chosing that Joss-quote on the subject.

In general, there's obviously differing points of view held by the characters in the movie. Of course, no one political perspective of a character can be said to be the defining political outlook of this movie, regardless of their hero, main or supporting-member status.

Oh, and this below is not germane to my particular narrow discussion on here, but I love this from Sage:

"And I also agree that a lot of conservatives are pro-freedom, pro-free-market etc. but i've yet to meet a conservative rebel since conservatism, if it's to be anything but a meaninglessly arbitrary label (OK, so they're all meaningless and arbitrary but YKWIM ;), must be about conserving something. It's not seen as the party of tradition for nothing and (kinda like an anarchist army ;) conservative rebellion strikes me oxymoronic."

Hell, yeah. I tried for a long time to make a play on words using Rebel Without a Cause and conservatives, but I ain't got the stuff today.

Oh, and jaynelovesvera just made me laugh with his Beatle-parody song... He just might be the Perfect Parodist.

"What "Serenity" and "Firefly" were both about is how politics affect people personally. And the personal politics are the only politics that really interest me. I'm not going to make this big, didactic polemic -- I'm just going to say, "When there are shifts in a planet, those tiny little guys are the ones who are affected. So let's hang out with them -- not the Federation heads or the Jedi Council."

And with the show, the idea was to have as many points of view as possible. The reason I made the Alliance a generally benign, enlightened society was so that I could engage these people in a debate about it. Now, in the film, obviously, there's more chasing and guns than debating... You know, people don't love a great debate flick..." -- Joss Whedon, The CulturePulp Q&A with Joss Whedon, 9/24/05

...whatever his reasons may be for doing so. Sure can and will fault him if it's reductive. I don't try & sell any of my fav Whedonverse creations to my radical or otherwise friends as embodiments of their politics just to get their attention. That just backfires, in the long run.


Nah, it draws them in and they may become more open to differing POVs than they were before. Anyway, no one was saying its the best way to do it, its just a shortcut to get them in front of the show, the bigger conversations can be had later. I don't think that describing parts of it are by necessity reductive (even in the literal sense of the word, I'll get to that in a second), either. Maybe the radical-anarchist-pro-squid reading is completely informed by one's own subtext/meta-text and not ingrained in the source material? Something to think about. If the stuff that person a is talking about isn't present in person b's reading of it, are they really being reductive?

Plus, if you never try to turn people on to things by telling them about parts of it that they might like, you are certainly in the minority. Ever mentioned a specific actor/actress to pique someone's interest? A specific issue of the film/show without covering every variation or reading within/tangent to the endeavor? Its relatively standard operating procedure for many folks.

Mr. Goldberg was defining the conversation in those terms -- I find them limiting myself. Again, that was sorta part of my point, and my reason for chosing that Joss-quote on the subject.


Actually, people here were bringing the dictionary definitions of these terms into play, which reduced the scope of the argument to out of hand dismissiveness. Look to Jon's post above for a more (dare I say it? I do) liberal definition of conservatism.

p.s. - conservative rebellion is no more oxymoronic than liberal rebellion. In truth, one might say that there's more to rebel against in conservatism ;) By definition rebelling within a system that claims to be more open and accepting is the more restrictive to rebelliousness ;) Still with me?
I find the words conservative and liberal misleading in general, because depending on the point of view you look from, those words may not apply. It's a bit off-topic, but take the abortion debate. Conservatives are trying to "conserve" life, I suppose, and liberals are trying to be "liberal" about choice. But if we apply the words conservative and liberal to the status-quo in--say--America, then those labels are all wrong...because abortion is legal. You will rarely find a group of people more stridently for change than conservatives crusading against abortion, and you will rarely find a group of people more stolidly conservative than liberals defending the legality of abortion.

Still, risking the use of those labels...I think that Mal, as a person, would have more conservative government/defense policies and more liberal social policies, which practically defines the term "libertarian." He strikes me as a very conservative kind of guy personally...one who has personal standards and would be appalled by any behavior that crossed his lines. But he's also not one to dictate morals and duties to anyone who doesn't dictate to him. He just refuses to deal with them if they go too far, and fights them with all he has when they interfere with him. His money is his, his business is his, his people are his...but as long as you're playing by the rules, your money and business is yours, and so are your people. I like this kind of person much better than I like the fiscal lib/social conservative, where both your money AND your business are theirs.

Why do I get the feeling that Mal would fit right in with all the people in the state of New Hampshire? "Don't Tread On Me," indeed.
Fascinating how folks do read their own perspectives and ideological preferences into Firefly and Serenity. As an American libertarian-conservative, I of course see much of the ethics behind the stories as agreeing with my beliefs. Those include personal freedom, limiting government control, and an openness for others to live their lives as they choose rather than as I would.

I do find it ironic that this author describes the movie and its Hero as conservative, because at least in the context of American politics he'd not be. Libertarian yes, but there's no support for authoritarian government and social control - which he even highlights when talking about that the movie would have been considered fascist. The irony is that the Alliance are the fascists, so the movie, by portraying the horrors of social control, government domination of society and its excesses, is most definitely anti-fascist. To me that point was hammered home too heavily - and I agree with it.

Oh, and Jesterinacast, the Operative was never portrayed as being religious - fanatical yes, but not religious at all.
Good points, BAFfler, but don't everyone start talking about abortion ;)

Sidenote: am advised via email by a non-Whedonesquer that "There's a context everyone at W'esque misses, which is that Kathryn Jean Lopez (an editor/den mother on NRO) gets cranky when the male writers on there geek out without some kind of political tie-in. So the guys on there frequently manufacture one just so they can give a shout-out to BSG or West Wing or whatever."
Who'd have thought that Serenity would be such a political Rorschach test...
See, this is yet another reason I love using this film in my undergraduate political science courses. All along the political spectrum of Right and Left, regardless of where one falls, students are usually convinced the film is speaking to THEIR point of view and no one else's--which results in some of the best class discussions I've had. (and also a sneaky way of introducing more people to the 'verse.) :)
Quetzal, this raises an interesting question. If Serenity can so easily be interpreted to one's own point of view, regardless of the position asserted by that view, then does Serenity have any inherent message, or is it (like the Rorschach ink-blots) essentially meaningless beyond the value placed upon it by the observer?
Anybody can read anything they want into just about everything. Serenity's got something to say, and only Joss knows for sure what that is, because it's his piece.

But I don't think of the Alliance as an evil entity. Just like any (or most) governments, no matter what type of government it is, its intentions start off well meaning, there just comes a time when certain people within it make some really bad calls (in the Alliance's case, there was a good purpose behind it) and skeletons find their way into the closet, and in order to keep it hidden, to keep power, the government gets more and more compromised. Maybe to the point of not being salvagable.
Regarding the "I know Firefly fans are more sour on it compared to the show (vide Derb et al)" comment: Goldberg is referring to John Derbyshire, another National Review author, and his review of Serenity.

[ edited by stuart on 2006-08-23 21:57 ]
Oh, and Jesterinacast, the Operative was never portrayed as being religious - fanatical yes, but not religious at all.


No? The first time we meet him, he refers to Dr. Matthias' "sin"--a theme he repeats at least twice more in the movie. Sin's a purely religious concept.
If he's religious, what he worships is the ideals of the Alliance. So much so that he holds them on a very high pedestal, akin to religious devotion. He doesn't believe in God, he believes in the government. Which is why the revelation at the end of the movie is such a crushing blow for him.
Who'd have thought that Serenity would be such a political Rorschach test...

Bet that Joss fella had an inkling ;).

Hmm, really good points especially Jon about the change of tack in UK Conservatism to what we might call neo-conservatism today starting roughly with Thatcher and I also like the idea of each party being a rough coalition of more or less like-minded people since it's a step closer to true representational democracy which, IMO, we don't have at the moment because of the Whip system.

I think possibly i'm getting slightly bogged down in terminology since i've always thought of libertarianism as being closer to classical liberalism which (partly owing to party names over here) I don't associate with conservatism so that Mal could be a libertarian (which I think most would agree he is) without being conservative or even necessarily right of centre.

Gossi said...

I don't, personally, think Serenity is about being left or right, or which is more correct. I believe it's about believing in ordinary people being able to make a difference.

But gossi (and IMForeman kinda) talking about ordinary people being able to make a difference is a political position (though I agree it's not necessarily left or right) so I think reading 'Serenity' as say a defence of communism or any other kind of centralised authoritarian control which devalues the individual would be extremely difficult (one reason I think the 'Mal as fascist' idea in the original article is a bit reachy).

no matter what type of government it is, its intentions start off well meaning

Exactly pat32082. To do good you need influence, to keep influence you need to be in power, to stay in power you have to compromise. Compromise enough and you're no longer able (or maybe even willing) to do good. It's one of the reasons democracy is the worst possible system, apart from all the others ;).
I'm getting into this very late, but it might be interesting to note that Markos "DailyKos" Moulitsas is writing a book on a new sort of political animal he's calling "Libertarian Democrats", which basically marries a sort of Libertarianism-lite with more traditional American liberalism...just another example of how squishy all of these things can be. (Kos, btw, has made favorable remarks about "Firefly" and is a pretty big SF fan in general.)

But here's one remark I've made before -- it really strikes me that Serenifly seems to have particular appeal to political types, regardless of point of view (though conservatives seem slightly more represented). Labels asides, there's something deeply political about the whole set-up.

One more thing, I get the impression that Tim Minear is probably about every bit as right-leaning as Joss is left-leaning, so at least "Firely" in theory was more politically "balanced" than most and there might have been a dialetic of sorts going on there.

[ edited by bobster on 2006-08-23 22:51 ]
"If Serenity can so easily be interpreted to one's own point of view, regardless of the position asserted by that view, then does Serenity have any inherent message, or is it (like the Rorschach ink-blots) essentially meaningless beyond the value placed upon it by the observer? "

Good point, but I think Quotergirl's Joss quote above covered that.

"What "Serenity" and "Firefly" were both about is how politics affect people personally

So the message is not about the specific political system, but politics in general. With that in mind, the fact that everyone sees the political engine affecting the characters through their own lense should open the actual message up to everyone of all political points of view. Unfortunately many seem to want to make the Alliance evil rather than just impersonal and disinterested in the affect that its actions have on indivduals without power and influence.

...And as I read this thread (always late to the party) an old saying kept coming to mind for some reason: There are two groups of people in this world; people who divide everything into two groups and those who don't.

[ edited by newcj on 2006-08-23 22:56 ]
If anyone cares to -- I'm mixed about its relevance to the discussion here, but it is by the writer that started off this thread, and it helps to define his terms, here's a link to "Conservative Zoology 101" by Jonah Goldberg at NR's "The Corner."

As much as I do not share most of Mr. Goldberg's political viewpoints & opinions -- and I really don't -- there's something very mocking and self-derisive about his writing that occasionally tickles me:

"of course, me, the fat guy with the encyclopedic knowledge of women's-prison soft-porn and Marvel Comics. Actually, in all seriousness, my knowledge isn't encyclopedic, just disturbing."

But again, I'm gonna post more quotes from Joss's Culture Pulp Q&A interview 'cause I think he's said what he intended in the script, no matter what we do or do not want to read into it:

"I mean, if the movie's about anything, it's about the right to be wrong. It's about the messiness of people. And if you try to eradicate that, you eradicate them.

"And people are always like, 'They're fighting an evil empire!' And I'm like, 'Well, it's not really an evil empire.' The trick was always to create something that was complex enough that you could bring some debate to it -- that it wasn't black-and-white. It wasn't, 'If we hit this porthole in the Death Star, everything will be fine!' It was messier than that, and the messiest thing is that the government is basically benign. It's the most advanced culturally…"

"But if you let the points of view exist, then it does the work for you. In the show, that was always the idea: Nine different people see the same thing and have nine different reactions to it, based on who they are and where they've been. And that's what made for the drama. And, uh, most of the comedy."

Great quotes, QuoterGal, from Joss and from Jonah Goldberg (who seems somewhat Jossian in his humor).
Saje sez:

To do good you need influence, to keep influence you need to be in power, to stay in power you have to compromise. Compromise enough and you're no longer able (or maybe even willing) to do good.


I used to have a friend in L.A. who could have told you a pretty powerful story about this basic concept. He and his friends were real do-gooder types. Unfortunately, I've lost touch with them of late. The law firm they were running crumbled to the ground, and none of them have been seen since.
I assume thats a sneaky "Angel" ref...
Thanks, zeitgeist, I actually noticed the same thing about J.G.'s Jossian moment in that little excerpt.

It's very cool having access to so much published & on-line material from Joss -- it's like having Marshall McLuhan behind a potted shrubbery & being able to pull him out at will.

Nice connection, BAFfler...

[ edited by QuoterGal on 2006-08-24 04:40 ]
Poor Goldberg. Seems like he's just trying to put a spin on Serenity so he can like it. (A typical "loyalist" if you ask me.)
He needs to put down that glass o' Kool-Aid and recognize.
The Alliance is not an "Evil Empire". It's just way meddlesome. Too way meddlesome, and when they screw up, they go out of their way to hide/deny it.
Sort of like...oh, don't get me started.
Hey Operative, don't kill our crew, take a Pax pill and make it better. Remember, don't stick that sword in my hide, I'll make you cry, and make it better, better, betterrrr....

I love this.

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