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January 16 2009

Poll: Best conservative movies in the past 25 years. Serenity is among the nominees for Hot Air's Best Conservative Movies of the Last 25 Years.

I presume it was included because of the message in Mal's speech.

Lord of the Rings appears to be winning, so I'm guessing the conservatism is pretty much in the eye of the beholder.
I'd love to know their definition of "Conservative Movie." But you know, if I think some of those movies are more liberal than conservative, maybe movies are the last great communicator? Appealing to both groups and all.
Yep, what embers said. And I'd hardly consider La Malkin a credible source. When George Will posts his list of conservative movies, I'll pay attention.
That message in Mal's speech can be taken a lot of ways.
Conservative in that it's heavily anti-government-intrusion/control, anti-conformist, pro-individualism.

And, so someone says it: Michelle Malkin rocks. Independent thinker, takes a lot of abuse for it. Tough lady.
I think Serenity is disqualified as a conservative film by it's intense, intense feminist leanings. Not sure Zoe's baddassery would appeal to conservative values, nor the interracial marriage that is never given a second thought.

As for Mal's speech, I don't think it's either liberal or conservative, I think it's revolutionary, which, not for nothing, revolutions are usually against the more conservative tendencies governments (seldom will you hear a liberal advise the peasants to simply eat more cake.)
Huh. Complete befuddlement.

That's art for ya, open to interpretation using whatever color of glasses you own. In this case I'm guessing...red?

Heh. I got to use the word 'befuddlement.'
But filops, how does that anti-government concept go with crowning Aragorn as King of everything in Lord of the Rings (the clear leader of the poll)? Pretty much I'm guessing they are picking films without much nudity or swearing....
Conservative in that it's heavily anti-government-intrusion/control, anti-conformist, pro-individualism.

Mainly what that goes to show is how the labels have become useless as shorthand for anything. Half of what passes for, and stakes a claim to, the word "conservative" these days doesn't live up to those values in the least. Which sort of makes the label itself more an agent of confusion than communication, because no one can ever tell just what sort of "conservative" is at issue at any given moment.

I'm anti-government intrusion, but most of the people who these days seem to lay claim to the term "conservative" support warrantless wiretapping and domestic spying. I'm anti-conformist, but most of the people who these days seem to lay claim to the term "conservative" behave like Limbaugh "dittoheads", not freethinkers.

And yet generally speaking I'm liberal in my politics. So, really, I'm not sure what the word "conservative" is supposed to communicate to anyone anymore.

[ edited by The One True b!X on 2009-01-16 18:15 ]
Malkin is more authentically conservative than Will.

There are several movies on that list that I find stretches to call "conservative", but LOTR is not one of them. Neither is "Serenity". "Serenity" and "The Incredibles" would be my top picks on that list at a glance -- all about that rugged individualism. "Serenity" adds the whole "the state can never be the right agent to create the perfect society" element.

I have *no* idea why being feminist would disqualify anything from being conservative. Conservatism is first, foremost, and almost exclusively about the primacy of individuals (and by extension, the market) over the state.
I have seen libertarian, marxist and radical feminist labels applied to Serenity (and to Firefly as well). It's fascinating to see what people get out of the movie. If they can talk a good talk and back it up with evidence and not say "it's *insert political label for the sake of it*" I'll always be interested to read it.
KoC: I would argue that you are correct about its aims in theory, but seldom in practice.
Serenity" adds the whole "the state can never be the right agent to create the perfect society" element.

Well, no, that's not what it does at all. There's no all-encompassing "never" in this movie. Just a blunt assessment that wrongful state action to impose its own will over a people must be guarded against, because you can't ever be entirely rid of that threat.
Can we not also remember that it was those liberal egg-heads in Philly who wrote the Declaration of Independence, which was just a longer way of saying, "We aim to misbhave?"
That Mal "does not hold with" the belief of the state that it "can make people better" is basically the conservative mission statement.

And where, in the course of the series or the movie, do you get the impression that Mal *would* see an exercise of state authority over individual rights and markets as the right course, in any context?

"liberal eggheads"? I can't think of a single sense in which a single member of the Continental Congress would fit the modern definition of liberalism.
Its pretty unquestionable that Mal is some form or another of libertarian which puts him on the right wing end of the spectrum. However that's just one character. I would say overall the series as a whole has a progressive bent and just happens to be about a conservative man living through that. Particularly all that corporate power abuse, private interest slavery, etc. stuff runs completely against the 'all private power is good' tendency in libertarian and conservative thought.

"I can't think of a single sense in which a single member of the Continental Congress would fit the modern definition of liberalism."

Why? Contemporary liberalism is basically a combination of Jefferson's engagement with the radical enlightenment and hamilton's love of the state and central authority.
Only libertarianism and maybe some of the more staunch fiscal/institutional conservatives in Congress, a la Paul, wouldn't have to turn right to find the Framers.

"All private power is good" is not a tenet of conservatism. More like "all private power is better than any state power that's extended beyond the protection of core individual rights".
Depends what you mean by "turning right." Like I said I don't think Jefferson's radical critique of religion for example or Hamilton's love of central banking are really in line with anything like modern conservatism. Jefferson also has a perpetual revolution model that practically puts Mao to shame. Remember maintenance of public order and a certain respect for authority are amongst the only shared values of conservatism of the 18th and 19th century and conservatism of now (not libertarianism.)

My line about private power was more meant to undercut the notion that what is being expressed is some kind of libertarianism where, in fact, the only concern people seem to have it with public power. So much so that I have heard many impassioned libertarian defenses of things like slavery ("woudld've burned itself out anyway")...
[deleted]

[ edited by Simon on 2009-01-16 18:52 ]
TeddyKBG, your posting privileges have been withdrawn temporarily. I'll not have this thread turned into a polhatefest.
Nevermind, then.

[ edited by KingofCretins on 2009-01-16 18:48 ]
I think Serenity is disqualified as a conservative film by it's intense, intense feminist leanings. Not sure Zoe's baddassery would appeal to conservative values, nor the interracial marriage that is never given a second thought.

That seems a bit unfair. Conservatism isn't the same thing as sexism or bigotry.
I think Serenity is disqualified as a conservative film by it's intense, intense feminist leanings. Not sure Zoe's baddassery would appeal to conservative values, nor the interracial marriage that is never given a second thought.

Are we saying that conservatives are anti-interracial marriage? That's a bit harsh.
Ha - jinx, Sparticus! :)
streetartist; What they said on race 'n stuff ; that really comes across as almost almost a personal dig, to my very peculiar ears.

Can't evalaute them since I'ven't seent hese; but Team aMerica was I've heard total satire of bushwarrignness so it's hardly pro-conservative.

I agree with Malkin 7 times out of 10 on the facts but her attiude, well the best I can say is she isn't Coulter
Can't evalaute them since I'ven't seent hese; but Team aMerica was I've heard total satire of bushwarrignness so it's hardly pro-conservative.


Well, its also a harsh satire on liberalism. Matt and Trey love to pick on EVERYBODY, which is one reason I love them. Also, I 3rd what the two jinxes said.
I don't really view Serenity through the spectrum of a political bias, though I am most firmly liberal. I do see that it can be read a number of ways, but here is where for once I wish to put on an authorial intent hat (which is well outside my normal perspective) and ask one question: how does Joss see this movie? Was he solely trying to write a great sci-fi film or was there a broader perspective to what he wrote? In general terms, I think Joss is very much a liberal, at least in terms of his political leanings. While I am sure he would love to see discussion of his films, I wonder if it would bother him to see it appropriated by those whose political leanings are antithetical to his own.

As I read the lengthy list of films, some do interest me. Many have myriad readings: Juno has been apropriated by both the right and the left, though I think it has distinctly liberal heart and do not feel Diablo Cody meant for it to have the conservative reading it has gained. Most of these films seem to celebrate individualism, but that is not conservative in and of itself. Finally, I see that is a minefield when such issues get brought up; I cannot, for example, discuss my feelings about Michelle Malkin without violating the terms of service here. I will not, but I do find civility critically important in getting people to hear what you are saying.
I'm not sure that I could define Serenity as a conservative movie...but what movie could actually be a conservative movie if the definition of conservative changes.

It's certainly easier, IMO, to say that Serenity has values common among several schools of thought, not just one set of values.

There's nothing that says conservatives are against interracial marriage, and there's nothing that says all liberals are fine with a large government. These things that people say are "left" or "right" certainly don't represent everyone, and sometimes not even the whole.

That conservative people (I consider myself one of them) don't support interracial marriage or a strong sense of womanship (women can do whatever they choose, whether it is fight in a battle or raise children) is a terrible assumption to make.

As an example...there are certainly a great deal of conservatives who are NOT religious - but to say that all conservatives are religious would be wrong, just like it would be wrong to say that Simon would be a liberal because he is a rational man who most likely does not invest much stock in religious beliefs.

Certainly not all liberal-minded people are non-religious, and making generalized statements about what people do or do not do based on terms such as "conservative" and "liberal" is unfair.

[ edited by The Ninja Report on 2009-01-16 19:22 ]
Hey, when you all manage to figure out exactly what it means to be a "conservative," you ought to go over and let the folks at the Republican National Committee know. They seem to be in a little bit of disarray over that very issue, currently fighting over questions of whether or not distributing a CD with Rush Limbaugh's rendition of "Barack the Magic Negro" is racist or Republican appropriate political satire.

*edited so as not be be accused of accusing Republicans of being racist. Which would be kind of pathetic since I have many lovely Republican friends who are not remotely racist.

[ edited by BrewBunny on 2009-01-16 19:57 ]
Again with the derailing. I've already warned one person about it.
Team America left no political stance unmocked by the end.
Are you referring to me, Simon? All I was doing was observing that the Republican party is currently engaged in a very serious and very public debate about who in the party can claim to be a true "conservative." As indicated in the linked article, there was a lot of debate among party leaders about that very question, with some Republicans taking the public position that the guy was racist, whereas other Republican leaders took the position that the song was nothing more than political satire and was perfectly acceptable for a would-be RNC Chairman to distribute.

I could list all of the other issues contributing to this navel-gazing saga in the Republican party (e.g., financial bailouts, auto industry bailouts, the appropriate level of deference to religious consservatives and inflammatory pundits), but the main point is that if the Republican National Committee itself can't decide what it means to be a conservative in this day and age, can anyone else claim a monopoly on that definition either?

[ edited by BrewBunny on 2009-01-16 19:52 ]
I would rather have this thread concentrate on whether Serenity is conservative/liberal/etc rather than what goes on in Capitol Hill. That sort of debate can quite happily take place over at our Flickr group.
BrewBunny, I'm interpreting your tone as being that of a person who is staunchly against the Republican party, but I think you seem to be equating Republican = conservative, which is certainly not the case. One does not have to be the other, and vice versa.

The topic at hand is, is Serenity a conservative movie, and regarding that, what truths or values does it espouse and can we say that those values are strictly conservative, liberal, or even marxist? I say Serenity embodies many values, and the core value (which is that you are your own person, and your equality is the same as the person next to you, whether you are one side or the other) as being fairly universal, and can be applied to different value systems.
Which of course means nothing more than the poll is fun, is meaningless, and reflects only the responses of those that bother to complete it. But this also raises the general issue of defining terms. we cannot say what Serenity might be if we do not all agree on the terms we are using. To be conservative or to be liberal, what does it really mean, when as ninja report notes that you can be liberal and hold some "conservative" beliefs, and be conservative and hold ones generally ascribed to liberals. In the end, it is all about posture, position and power. My hope for the new administration is that we get past that and actually get to governing rather than the imposition of power.
Well, I certainly didn't intend to start a firestorm. I'll just say that, for my part, KoC pretty much nailed it. I like that you can take a lot of things from the flick. As a libertarian type, I find it resonates very, very well. There's nothing about Zoe or her marriage that conservatives would find distasteful. But there's a lot about the 'right to be wrong' (as Joss puts it in the commentary) that jibes perfectly with the basic conservative position on the right to be let alone (no, not everyone who calls themselves 'conservative' adheres to this ideal; that's on them, not conservatives in general). And Child River's speech about how meddlesome the Alliance is a nearly perfect summation of the conservative reaction to people who think government is the answer for everything.
... making generalized statements about what people do or do not do based on terms such as "conservative" and "liberal" is unfair.

True enough but when people talk about 'conservative' or 'liberal' (in the broader US sense) they're talking about averages not claiming (if they're sensible) that every single person that identifies as one or the other has a particular specific set of qualities/beliefs. If the terms have meaning then the average applies (or maybe you don't think they have any meaning The Ninja Report ? That's a reasonable position to take I reckon, even if I don't agree with it).

'Serenity' could easily go either way though as others mention, Mal is very clearly a Libertarian (probably quite a rigid one at that - i.e. I don't think Mal would see any central government intervention as desirable not even, for instance, compulsory primary education or universal healthcare).

LoTR strikes me as being pretty conservative BTW, old alliances are reformed, we're told that 'mankind' has become corrupt and venal (unlike back in the good old days) except, as it turns out, for a few key individuals and the old order is restored when Aragorn is crowned king.

Some of the others are pretty puzzling though. 'Master and Commander' for instance has one conservative character, 'Lucky' Jack Aubrey (who is, in fact, a big 'C' conservative since he's a Tory) and one progressive in Stephen Maturin (who, to grey things up a little, is also landed gentry - albeit abroad - and a bit stuck in the mud on some issues) but the general tenor is progressive, in parts it's almost an ode to the enlightenment in fact and the great age of collecting and cataloguing that lead to Darwin and natural selection. And 'Rob Roy' ? Wuh ? Fair enough it features a rugged individual but then, it's a hero story, they tend to feature rugged individuals on account of that's (partly) what a hero is.

In that way it's more like "A list of films from the last 25 years that we enjoyed and that have a good message that conservatives can lay claim to" (in much the same way that liberals do).
There are many Conservatives who don't call themselves Republican. We are talking basic ideas here not the American political system.
I wasn't actually trying to debate anything, Simon.

b!X said: So, really, I'm not sure what the word "conservative" is supposed to communicate to anyone anymore.

All I was trying to do was add-on to b!X's comment to the effect that not even those who claim to be "conservative" can agree on what "conservative" means anymore. See, e.g., Republican Identity Crisis:

The GOP enters its first debate with a fundamental problem: it no longer agrees on the definition of conservative.

Writing about the problems facing the Republican Party this year has the feel of a broken record. But on the eve of the party's first presidential primary debate it's worth exploring just how bad this identity crisis facing the GOP really is.

The very basic definition of "conservative" and "Republican" is at stake in this first debate and this election in general. This debate isn't just a competition to see WHO is conservative but simply a competition to define what "conservative" means in 2007.

"Conservative" as it has applied to the Republican Party has evolved over the last 40+ years. From Barry Goldwater's definition in the 1960s that emphasized a limited federal government to Ronald Reagan's that picked up on Goldwater and added national security and faith elements to the definition. Newt Gingrich, in 1994, gave the word "conservative" an aggressive, sharper elbow, while George W. Bush added a pro-government appeal.


So in that light, should it be a surprise to anyone that Serenity could be viewed by so many as "conservative" at the same time that others just as effectively argue that it's "liberal"?
I wasn't actually trying to debate anything, Simon.


Fair enough.

I did idly wonder if Marxist critique would allow for the downplaying of Mal's role and focus on the general movement that lead to the Alliance getting "defeated". Certainly I would argue that the role of the individual in the movie did make a difference. Mal = Great Man?
Hmmm, seems to me we've had this discussion recently in another thread.

Re: "conservative": it's a term that gets appropriated by fundamentally opposed political philosophies. In some ways libertarians are wildly radical: the philosophical core of libertarianism is fundamentally opposed to the mainstream "conservative" political tradition as it traces itself back to, say, a thinker like Edmund Burke. Burke's conservatism is essentially rooted in the idea of a shared history and a communal identity. It is "conservative" because it seeks to "conserve" the essential elements of a national identity which it sees as rooted in tradition and history. That kind of conservatism is at work wherever you see, say, French politicians trying to legislate against encroaching anglicisms in the French language or American Republicans trying to pass anti-flag-burning legislation or trying to make English the Official Language of the USA.

That kind of conservatism is, of course, radically anti-libertarian. A truly libertarian world would, presumably, be a world without nation-states at all, let alone any coercive state powers to enforce elements of "national identity."

The reason, though, that libertarians end up making common cause with Burkean "conservatives" is because they are united in opposition to leftist-progressivism. Leftist progressives share the "conservative's" willingness to use state powers coercively, but do so not solely with a view to defending the state against change. Leftist progressives believe in the power of the state (and of supra-national structures such as the UN or the EU) to bring about ameliorative ("progressive") changes for the good. This terrifies both the "conservative" right (because it means breaking the continuity of national/historical identity) AND the "libertarian" right (because it means constraining the free action of the individual).

I think you can offer both left and right readings of Serenity. Mal, I think, is indubitably a right-libertarian figure (his entire ethos is a kind of "get the damn government off my back" one)--but then he has a backstory of crushed-idealism which is meant to explain that position. One could argue that we are meant to read Mal as someone fundamentally damaged by history--not as someone whose position we are meant to endorse or emulate.

More to the point, though, the fate of Miranda in Serenity strikes me as open to several readings. In one of them (which, I imagine, would be Malkin's) the desire of the Alliance to drug the entire populace to make them happy and compliant stands as a kind of Brave New World satire on the left-progressive belief in the power of collective governmental action to bring about social amelioration. But you can also read it as a left-progressive satire on the power of corporations seeking a passive and easily indoctrinated consumer base. Libertarians are necessarily somewhat baffled by corporations: on the one hand they want limited government intervention, so they tend to want to give the corporations a free hand; on the other hand corporations have a natural tendency towards monopolistic behavior which leads to a constraining of individual freedom just as draconian as any perpetrated by government.
Joss has specifically said that Serenity is to a certain extent a critique of the Bush Administration, hasn't he? There's certainly a lot in that can be read that way; River's condemnation of the Alliance's "meddling" in other cultures, intrusive surveillance, the implied themes of Reaver-fear-mongering by the government and the parallels to policy blowback.
Reaver-fear-mongering: maybe I'm misremembering the film, but I thought the Alliance was mostly playing down the Reaver threat--trying to encourage the idea that they were mythical.

On a side note: did anyone else feel that the Reavers were one of the worst things about the movie? I loved them in the TV series, where they were tied in to the whole existentialist line that Joss was exploring. They were people who'd looked into the nothingness of existence and been driven mad. They were inexplicable and unaccountable.

Reading them as victims of a pharmaceutical experiment gone wrong (in the movie) just seemed, well, lame. Once you naturalize them in that way, all sorts of dull "well, how does that work again?" questions start popping up: why doesn't the Alliance just go kill them all, if they all hang out around one planet? Why haven't they all died ages ago if they were all created at one time and they're all stark raving mad (how are they feeding themselves? Operating the ships? They can't be that mad, really.) Shouldn't we be rooting for someone to be capturing and treating them if they're just innocent victims anyway? etc. etc.

Which is, perhaps, to say that the film would have worked better if it had steered away from any of this political allegorizing altogether.
The thing with the Reavers is they always reminded me of the band members of Kiss.
If we talk about Serenity being conservative in the strict sense of the word... wanting to *conserve* traditional values and power structures... I don't think the argument holds up. The crew want to fight the power, the government. That's hardly conservative. Obviously conservatism is more complicated than that, but even so.

Oh yeah, and how is Finding Nemo conservative???

[ edited by fortunateizzi on 2009-01-16 20:48 ]
Miranda was drugged and murdered by the state, not an opportunistic corporation.

If Joss was trying to critique the Bush administration (pre Summer 2008, anyway), I don't think a Reconstruction allegory is the way to approach it.
Fortunateizzi, I guess it depend on whose values the power is seeking to "conserve." One could just as easily argue that the crew, and Mal in particular, are seeking to conserve the traditional frontier values of independence, self-reliance and self-governance. In which case Mal would be the "conservative" and the Alliance would be "liberal."

Miranda was drugged and murdered by the state, not an opportunistic corporation.

Who's to say that the people of Miranda weren't drugged and murdered by an opportunistic corporation operating under the authority of the government?

[ edited by BrewBunny on 2009-01-16 20:58 ]
As a for instance, Blue Sun.
I think that several tenets of modern "conservatism" in the U.S. apply to Serenity, but I think that most of those apply a lot more to Barack Obama's policies than to George W. Bush's.

A lot of the Republican base in the U.S. comes from social conservatives--the pro-life, pro-"traditional marriage," pro-Christian, pro-state jingoistic element. I think that, i.e., Sarah Palin, Mike huckabee, and George W. Bush are very much of this school. Ron Paul is more a libertarian, anti-government interference above all else; many of the social conservatives still have some anti-government inclinations or define themselves as reformers, but are defined themselves primarily by the social aspects. And that's why I personally have tremendous problems with what "conservatives" are defined as today--on social issues, I disagree with the Republicans pretty much 100%, even if some libertarian things appeal to me.

The conservatives who defend government programs of torture or wiretapping civillians as a legitimate practice are the opposite of libertarians, and so in that sense Serenity and Firefly come down hard against the present (for not too much longer) Republican establishment. But I can still see how it's conservative in the libertarian sense.

Left-right definitions are a little meaningless at some point. Keep in mind that the Alliance is pretty much run by Blue Sun, or that seems to be the case, which would make the Alliance very pro-corporate, or very conservative in some ways.

Anyway, I see some other movies on there like "Air Force One," which is basically silly rah-rah go America propaganda, and "300," which should not, I think, be taken as having any political messages. A few quick comments on some other ones and my guess why someone would consider them conservative (sorry in advance about the snark--I am genuinely trying to understand these, and which of these fit conservative definitions that I can get behind, and which fit conservative definitions that I don't):

"300": Um...Persians suck. I've read other interpretations of Xerxes as Bush, though.
"Air Force One": the president is an action hero who beats up terorrists.
"An American Carol": Isn't this one of the worst-reviewed films of all time?
"The Dark Knight": Um...vigilanteism is okay--having to do, I guess, with libertarian conceptions of exceptional individuals, maybe. Wiretapping innocent civilians is also okay when you're facing up against terrorists. I think the movie may well actually argue against these points, but it's a little ambiguous....
"Finding Nemo": Uh...conservatives think that kids are too coddled and should be allowed to have adventures without their parents overprotecting them?
"Gattaca": Again I can actually read this one as being a conservative or a liberal movie. The social conservative gyst could be that you shouldn't mess with God. The social liberal gyst could be that you should never discriminate against someone because of anything about them, including their genetics. The libertarian aspect I guess is the hero rebelling against the state's idea of what he can and can't do?
"The Incredibles": Again, libertarian power of the individual over the collective; should real life superheroes have to go into hiding for fear of persecution from the state? The movie's thesis is that wanting everyone to be special actually makes nobody special, so maybe it's rebelling against a (perceived) tendency in liberals to put everyone in society on an even playing field at the expense of the exceptional individuals.
"Iron Man": Um. I guess it has some pro-military, let's-fight-terrorist elements, and its hero is a rich entrepeneur--go capitalism, right? (It also has its anti-military, anti-capitalistic elements with Jeff Bridges, so I can again see how it could be seen as a liberal movie, too. Stark isn't a hero until he realizes that he's screwed up bigtime by--being a thoughtless businessman growing rich selling weapons. Are you sure this isn't a liberal movie?)
"Juno": Uh, teen pregnancy is conservative? I guess Juno decides not to abort the baby, and it ends with an affirmation of traditional family values, with Juno and Paulie getting together like the cute couple they are. (But teen pregnancy and single parents? Definitely not very socially conservative.)
"L.A. Confidential," "Lord of the Rings": I really don't know here.
"Man on Fire": Torture is good when your hostage is a sweet little girl.
"October Sky": People can achieve vast economic disparity through hard work and not handouts?
"The Passion of the Christ": Jesus = awesome.
"The Patriot": British = bad people. Americans = awesome.
"Requiem for a Dream": This movie is actually about the death of the American dream and the realization that it was all a lie, really. That doesn't sound very conservative value-y. But it also says that drugs are bad. So maybe that's it?
"Saving Private Ryan": War is hell, but heroes fight in it.
"Schindler's List": Individual people make a difference.
"A Simple Plan": ...don't steal money or else you'll eventually have to kill yourself?
"Spiderman": ....
"Thank You For Smoking": Cigarettes suck, but so do the liberals trying to ban them.
"United 93": I really don't like the idea of this movie, whose entire point was basically "This is what happened," being politicized. I think if I thought of the movie as having a political message, or leaning, I would hate it immensely. (Right now? I'm...on the fence.)

So most of these movies that are actually any good are probably chosen as great conservative movies because--shockingly--they're good movies, which do not simplify morality down to standard rhetoric of either major political party in the U.S. Basically the movies are good vs. evil in somewhat complicated cases, and the viewer can generally figure out from themselves how closely the good and evil apply to liberal and conservative ideals. Still, pretty interesting.

Anyway, I really gotta say I disagree with some of the posters on this site. Some examples:

No seriously, hear me out!! “Cabaret” is set during the 1930’s in Berlin where a glorious new movement (and leader) is emerging and everyone just wants to have a good time. It’s decadent and wild and people do whatever (and whomever) they want. Meanwhile, the glorious new movement and leader are setting up to dominate the entire country by indoctrinating the youth and the susceptible. The movie (and musical) ends with the Nazis being the majority while Sally Bowles tries desparately to pretend that life is a cabaret and a big party, ignoring the dark and malevolent forces now driving Germany and in the larger context, the world.

Yeah, it’s pretty prescient at this point….


I really don't think these are comparable.

Another one:

OK, I’m kind of bummed that Unforgiven isn’t on that list.

C’mon, the climax of that film is what I wish American foreign policy could still be: Clint walks into the UN with his shotgun still smoking and proclaims, “Better not go…[insert just about anything here]…Or I’ll come back and kill every one of you sons-o-bitches.”

Cowboy diplomacy? Hell yeah.


I...don't think we were supposed to be cheering.

Based on a large part of the comments, I think the users of this site might be more on the jingoistic, social conservative side than the personal freedom, fiscal conservative side--but I might be wrong.

By the way--I'm not trying to put down the commenters, here or elsewhere; but I do think it's important to distinguish between different areas of conservatism, and I'm trying to understand, again, why these movies are considered conservative in the first place.
How about this: Reavers represent liberals, Mal and the gang represents conservatives, and the Alliance represents the administration of President Bush. In the Republican party these days, there is a battle between those who believe that Bush failed to embrace true conservative principles and those who believe that Bush did a wonderful job. The current administration would be represented by the Alliance, those who believe the administration failed to embrace true conservative principles (in some sense, we can call this the Sarah Palin group) of free-market capitalism and small government would be represented by Mal, and the Reavers have just gone mad, so they must be liberals.

Makes sense to me.

[ edited by jerryst3161 on 2009-01-16 21:14 ]
I have seen libertarian, marxist and radical feminist labels applied to Serenity (and to Firefly as well)

Those are not mutually exclusive. I am a Marxist with some libertarian leanings and a radical feminist. :)

I agree with anyone who says the labels conservative and liberal are meaningless. Or at the very least, too fluid to use in the context of a best of list spanning so many years.
"October Sky": People can achieve vast economic disparity through hard work and not handouts?
"The Passion of the Christ": Jesus = awesome.
"The Patriot": British = bad people. Americans = awesome.

*snort*

"Air Force One": the president is an action hero who beats up terorrists.

Back when that movie came out, David Letterman spent a considerable amount of airtime promoting it as "THE ASS-KICKING PRESIDENT!!!" I've never been able to call it anything else ever since.
Unforgiven wasn't intended to be seen as pro-conservative; the flag was associated with darkness, et cetera.
Saje is right that I had "Blue Sun" in mind when suggesting that Serenity could be read as an anti-corporatist film. Admittedly, it's a thread that's buried pretty deep in the film, but there's a strong implication that the Alliance dances to Blue Sun's tune (River, in particular, seems to be a Blue Sun project).
I'd definitely have applied the Libertarian label (if I were, you know, forced to label) to most of those movies they are labeling Conservative. This either means I don't understand those terms, THEY don't understand those terms or I need to watch those movies again through another lens (so to speak)...I'd certainly say that "Serenity" had a strong Libertarian leaning,though; very little question about that in my mind.

Now, here's a question: I wonder what kind of list would be generated under the union Liberal label?
It's not surprising, I think, that a lot of movies and novels end up with a strong libertarian streak. It's not hard to see why writers working for Hollywood studios end up being attracted to stories of heroic individuals triumphing over soulless corporations, for example. But more generally, the story of the individual struggling against an all-encompassing and overwhelming structure of some kind (be it "destiny," "the state," or "the corporate machine") has been a central strand of what we understand "story" to be since time immemorial. Stories by their nature ask us to identify with individuals and individual desires, and tend to equate happiness with the removal of the obstacles to those desires.

Of course, there's a right-libertarianism and a left-libertarianism. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see many of these same movies cited by Malkin as examples of how the "godless left" controls Hollywood. The left embraces what I would call "expressive libertarianism": that is, it believes that the ideal society is one which nourishes the individual's freedom to "be themselves" (hence it's commitment to gay rights, or to feminism, or to indentity-politics more generally). Storytellers pretty naturally embrace that kind of left-libertarianism as well, which is why the "godless hollywood" line is always easy to peddle (despite the almost total absence of actual atheists from Hollywood films--but let's leave that be).

The difference between the "expressive libertarianism" of the left and right-libertarianism is that the left believes in the essential role of the state as guarantor of those liberties and, more crucially, believes the state has a role not merely in defending but also in fostering and developing their exercise. Thus right-libertarians and "expressive libertarians" will both oppose, say, state-mandated prayer or measures to strip some group of voting-rights, but they will be divided over, say, affirmative action or legislation to enforce equal pay for men and women.
Good question, OzLady. Frankly, I think you could take many of the movies from the proposed "Conservative" list and just as easily re-characterize them as "Liberal." Just off the top of my head, one could argue that Will Smith's The Pursuit of Happyness was really about the need for affirmative-action type programs aimed at bringing greater numbers of poor non-whites into the ranks of well-paid financial services employees so that poor non-whites aren't reduced to sleeping in a train station bathroom with their young child in order to get such jobs.

Give me a few minutes and I could probably do the same for any other movie on that list.

[ edited by BrewBunny on 2009-01-16 22:23 ]
Political conservatism is about subsidiarity, independence, and in the case of the US, federalism (the long-forgotten 10th Amendment). It's sovereignty of the individual, and where not possible the city, and then where not possible the state, and then where not possible and as rarely as ever possible, the federal government. It's the sheriff in "The Train Job" making up his own mind about Mal and Zoe and not making it the Alliance's problem, while the high concept, high minded Alliance can't even make time to treat a gunshot wound until they find out someone's got a connection.

"Social" conservatism is sort of a red herring, because in a state organized by conservative political philosophy, the "socially conservative" ideas would be on equal footing to rise or fall in competition with the "socially progressive" ideas. What *political* conservatism demands is that that marketplace is made open. That people decide (vis a vis the legislature) not the courts; that state governments decide and not the federal government; that the more general/universal political power gets in government the fewer types of power it has. Things as intimate as social policy left to the lowest levels of government, the levels most responsible and accountable to individuals, or to the private sector. That the more freedom and responsibilty are left to individuals, the more invested they will be in their success and failure.

Again, in the "Serenity" pilot when Mal fires back at Zoe about counting on "luck", it's as much the fear of being left around waiting for the Alliance (the state) to hand him work, to lose the control over his own existence, that drives Mal on than anything else, and that's not something he'd have picked up from the trauma of fighting for the Independents, it's the type of thing that would have motivated him to fight with the Independents.

[ edited by KingofCretins on 2009-01-16 22:40 ]

[ edited by KingofCretins on 2009-01-16 22:41 ]
Perhaps for purposes of the poll, the question was most often read as 'movies that self-described conservatives like'.
It doesn't surprise me that the Serenity flag is being saluted from all sides of the political spectrum. Conservatism is indeed in the eye of the beholder.

European conservatism differs from American conservatism. In the past, I've talked with Dutch citizens who insisted to me that their political system (replete with decriminalized soft drugs and legalized prostitution) is a conservative system.

The argument being: their system keeps the seedier aspects of society in control and reduces the harm they cause. In their minds (those I spoke with -- not necessarily all Dutch folk), a liberal society lets things get out of control and they felt the Dutch actually have more control over victimless "crimes" than the U.S. does.

So while Fox News types may blast the Netherlands (and I've seen them do just that), some Dutch citizens actually agree with the Murdochians that American society is "too liberal".

Strange world, eh?
Joss: 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.

• • •

Joss: Yeah. I would say about the movie 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.

Q. Well, the problems are hugely complicated infrastructural problems, and we're trying to solve them with bloodsport. David Foster Wallace said that.

Joss: Yeah. It's not useful. The political statement that Serenity makes is very blatant -- but it can be embraced by someone who's extremely conservative or someone who's extremely liberal. That's not the point. The point is: It's a personal statement.

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."

Q. [laughs] Right.

Joss: 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 --

Q. Plus explosions --

Joss: You know, people don't love a great debate flick.

Q. And when people try and make them, and critics praise them as great "message movies," no one goes to see them.

Joss: Yeah. Including myself. 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.

- CulturePulp: Writings and Comics by Mike Russell > Interviews >THE CULTUREPULP Q & A: JOSS WHEDON. September 24, 2005
I cannot see Serenity, or any Lord of the Rings movie as conservative. Joss is very liberal, obviously, and Mal's atheism is a far cry from the Christian right in this country. And saying LotR is conservative is also very strange. Its good versus evil... so is that automatically conservative? Its also pro strong, very involved, just government via Aragorn (and Theoden) hardly a conservative's ideal. The lazy, not particularly industrious hobbits aren't very conservative either. The Elves are also a far cry. The closest thing to monetary conservatives are Dwarves, and we don't see much of them other than Gimli.

Dark Knight isn't conservative either I'd think, nor Iron Man. Both of their alter egos are playboy millionaires, which does not mesh with modern American neo-con 'morality', not to mention the strong anti industry, especially war industry, in Iron Man. And that aspect is represented in other movies like Passion of the Christ, so don't tell me they aren't that kind of conservative.

I think it is very telling that 300, one of the most insulting and inaccurate movies ever made, is on there. I am in the process of becoming a historian (its a long one), and while my focus is not Iran, pre Islamic Iran is my second favorite area of history. I watched a few minutes of 300, and I got violently angry.

The notion that Iranians were a. black/latino b. evil or even wrong to invade Greece (Athens funded rebellion within the Persian Empire) and c. less moral than Greeks, especially the Spartans, who had sex with little boys as a matter of course, were highly xenophobic, and killed little sick kids is laughable. The foolish, insulting, and ignorant portrayal of Iranians in the movie goes well with modern American conservatives, and America in general. This is not a jab, but a fact: Americans are ignorant about the history of Iran (despite the fact that the Persian Empire was the first world empire, and they continued to be the only world power other than Rome until the Arab conquests) , and about who Iranians are. Most think that they're Arabs, and apparently some think they're black or latino as seen in 300, as opposed to the fact that Iranians were, and many still are in certain areas,'white' (Caucasian or whatever other term you want to use), not to mention thinking that Aryans are Germans thanks to the lies of Hitler as opposed to the fact that Aryan is a cognate for Iran, and the majority lived in Iran, India and other places in Central Asia.

Hmm, I got a bit off topic, sorry. I get frustrated sometimes about people who don't know about history (at least the stuff that I care about, which seems to be the opposite of what everyone else thinks is important, like all that modern US stuff). In any case, I don't get how LotR or Serenity can be considered similar to 300 in any manner, especially sharing a conservative feel.
Just a small point: Mal wasn't an atheist. He believed in god. He was just super super pissed at him/her/it/whatever.
He was a former believer, yes, but I saw little proof that he still believed. Book pointed out that Mal wouldn't be happy with him praying for him, Mal takes every opportunity to insult religion, especially Book (You're welcome on this boat, god ain't, etc.) He didn't pray, unlike almost everyone else on Serenity before a meal. He also makes fun of Buddha, so its not just a vendetta against god.

Unless there is some word of god (Joss) that I'm forgetting, I really don't see any evidence to support Mal still believing. Maybe he's more technically an agnostic than atheist, but still, it does not jive with American Christian conservatism.

[ edited by SteppeMerc on 2009-01-16 23:09 ]
I agree with NYPinTA. I think that Mal was angry with God in the same way that he was angry with the Independents' leadership that let him down after the Battle of Serenity Valley. I took his comment about "a long wait for a train that won't come" to be a rueful reflection on his sense of abandonment by those in whom he'd placed his faith. And his objection to prayer at his table I took as more a "I'm pissed at you and am not going to talk to you," rather than a "I don't believe you exist." I'd always kind of thought that if the show had been allowed the chance to play out (*sniff*), we might have seen Mal come to terms with that sense of abandonment that religious-folks struggle with in time of crisis and renew his relationship with God.

ETA: And although I can't point to evidence that he affirmatively believed in God, I would note that the hostility you point out is not directed at other people who believe in God (see, e.g., Richard Dawkins), but at the idea that God could be looked to as a source of assistance in time of crisis. Prayer is not bad, it's just pointless because God doesn't care and isn't listening.

[ edited by BrewBunny on 2009-01-16 23:27 ]
KingofCretins: the "conservatism" you describe is an interesting mix of libertarianism (the "marketplace of ideas") and traditionalism (the yearning to return to a mythical ideal past, i.e. the "original" nature of the US Constitution). As such, of course, it relates only in rather complicated ways to any non-nation-specific concept of "conservatism."

As for the "marketplace of ideas"--well, the problem with that is that "traditionalist" conservatives (Burkean conservatives) don't believe in that at all. In fact, they're the ones who want to ban, say, kids books about gay penguins because they endanger the continuation of a "traditional" order that they hold dear. It is self-described "conservatives" who tend to commandeer those local institutions you cherish (the local school board, the local library, the local sheriff's office) in order, precisely, to maintain a controlling monopoly on that "marketplace of ideas" (hence local opposition to the teaching of evolution, for example; or local sheriffs in the South who turned a blind eye to lynch mobs).

Things as intimate as social policy left to the lowest levels of government, the levels most responsible and accountable to individuals, or to the private sector.

"Most...acountable" to whom, exactly? There are obviously cases where this will work fabulously well; I'm not sure, though, that if I were the only openly gay, atheist man in, say, a small mormon-dominated town in Utah I'd think that the "lowest levels of government" were the ones I'd want to be controlling the "social policies" that affected my life. That is where the left or "expressive" libertarian would say that that individual's freedom to be who he chooses to be is actually best guaranteed and defended by the highest level of government--which is least likely to be captured by local and partial prejudice--than the lowest.

[ edited by snot monster from outer space on 2009-01-16 23:34 ]
By the way, Lord of the Rings is absolutely devoted to a strong traditionalist-conservatism of the Burkean kind. It worships the idea of the small, organically-unified, rural community protected by a royal power that is benign but utterly undemocratic.

The clearest expression of Tolkien's Toryism was left out of the films, of course--it was the "scouring of the Shire." Evil creeping modernity and all its attendant ills has polluted the timeless Little England village that is the Shire. In a burst of redemptive violence, the returning heroes chase away the corrupting agents of modernity and change and restore the village to its timeless order.

What's interesting here, of course, is that this is a very pure expression of that traditionalist conservatism that shows how, at its core, it is deeply suspicious of capitalism itself. Marx himself, of course, was always insistent that capitalism was an essentially progressive force--just, in his view, one that needed to be overthrown in its turn.
streetartist — goodness, I know truckloads of conservatives, and interracial marriage wouldn't be a shadow of an issue to any of them.

embers — I was mainly giving my thoughts about how Serentiy could be seen to be conservative. But both Tolkien and his bud C. S. Lewis were dead set against government mind-control. That's what Sauron was all about.
And in some accounts Sauron and the Orcs represented the Nazis; in others, they represented The Other.

I note a distinct difference in interpretation of liberal/conservative between those based overseas and those here in the US. I do not think it matters here how we traditionally define conservatism; it is a movement that embodies a host of stances, and to call yourself conservative here is to essentially align yourself with those stances, regardless of whether you agree with any given one of them.
"He was a former believer, yes, but I saw little proof that he still believed. Book pointed out that Mal wouldn't be happy with him praying for him, Mal takes every opportunity to insult religion, especially Book (You're welcome on this boat, god ain't, etc.)"

But the very comment you quote suggests that he does believe in God but is really pissed off at him. Nothing in Firefly or Serenity suggested to me that he's stopped believing that God exists

On the topic of Mal's speech about not holding with making people better. I'd be wary of viewing that as a critique of governments trying to improve lives and make people happy. I see a distinction between trying to change institutions etc. in order to make people happy, and trying to change people themselves. You can reject the latter without rejecting the former. (Though I don't think there can be doubt that Mal is a libertarian right character)
"I do not think it matters here how we traditionally define conservatism; it is a movement that embodies a host of stances, and to call yourself conservative here is to essentially align yourself with those stances, regardless of whether you agree with any given one of them. "

I think what you've said makes it even more important that we define conservatism. The term can mean any number of contradictory things. And many of the stances in the conservative movement (and the liberal movement) can't be reconciled with each other. Why would we want some catch-all term that kills debate and allows people to hold any number of contradictory beliefs?
Snot said it well, if the discussion is based on a traditional definition of conservatism the Lord of the Rings books/movies deserverve a high ranking, cause even removing the final act set in the Shire the story can easily be interpreted as a fight by a traditional feudal society against the encroaching forces of industrialisation, capitalism and democracy. The scenes around Isengard can easily be construed as a battle between industrialization and "the old ways".

For fun think of the Orcs marching against Gondor with placards saying "One Orc one vote" and "Down with the King".

ETA:
In Peter Jacksons version the Orcs could be quite nicely interpreted as literally 'self-made' men of the coal mines and the factories.
Maybe the poor downtrodden Orcs with their fresh engineering degrees from Mordor University just wants to have a say in how their world is run ? :)

[ edited by jpr on 2009-01-18 14:52 ]
Huh? What? When? How?

O.o
All good questions :)
@ LetDown:
Perhaps its a matter of perception, but I saw nothing ever in Firefly or Serenity to suggest Mal still believes in any sort of god, whether he's angry at it or not. This is no doubt influenced by my own views, but I also take into account Joss' beliefs, and what I assume he's going for. Maybe I'm off, but unless I see some good proof, I ain't changin' my interpretation.

@ jpr:

Saruman is an industrialist, and that is what the scouring of the Shire represents. But certainly not a capitalist or a democrat. And neither are the Orcs (they don't even appear in the Scouring of the Shire, just ugly men). And the Shire is far from a traditional Feudal society. Feudal society by definition need a king (or prince, or emperor) and lords that then distribute land to their followers, and so on. That is not present in the Shire, just farming (and an elected mayor). The Shire is the English countryside, not Feudalism.

[ edited by SteppeMerc on 2009-01-17 01:37 ]
Holy God in heaven I loathe these political debates. Given there are already 75 replies to this topic I realize I'm in the minority, but I've gotten so burned out on idealogical infighting like this... Get a thousand so-called "conservatives" in a room and you'll find a thousand different idealogies. Likewise with "liberals". I have my own kneejerk reaction to the label "conservative", which I fully acknowledge likely has little to nothing to do with what anyone else here associates with it. Be that as it may, MY definition of conservatism as I understand it in the the world today has absolutely NOTHING to do with Serenity. And how LOTR gets thrown into that messy genepool utterly baffles me.

I've lost the appetite for this kind of debate. I'll move along now...
Saruman is an industrialist, and that is what the scouring of the Shire represents. But certainly not a capitalist or a democrat.

This is a little like saying "Aslan is a lion, he can't possibly stand for Jesus Christ who was, it is plainly stated in the Bible, a human being!"

No, Saruman is not a capitalist--however the kind of industrialized society which--you agree--he represents was a capitalist one. That is certainly what Tolkein would have thought and what he would have expected his readers to understand.

A similar point could be made about the Shire's quasi-feudal relationship to the Kingdom of Gondor. It is true that in the larger Tolkein mythology the shire is a "free land" under the protection of the Northern Kingdom, but it's rather typical of misty-eyed conservative recreations of an eternal village-England to be as vague as possible about the actual details of political structure. Everyone's rosie-cheeked and has a well-appointed cottage, but the questions of who owns the cottages, how the rosie-cheeked peasants? yeomen-farmers? what? are paying for the food that puts those roses in their cheeks, what happens to the ones who get sick, or don't think that this is the best of all possible lives etc. etc. are all glossed over. I would say it is the inherent absurdity of the shire existing as a viable political entity under a "mayor" with no higher political structure that precisely marks the book as a deeply conservative fantasy.
I fail to see how industry is automatically equated with capitalism and democracy. Non capitalist and non democratic countries cannot industrialize? Nazi Germany was pro industry but not particularly capitalistic or democratic. I'm using them as an example not just because people usually equate them with Saruman and Sauron, as Tolkien himself always denied it. But I still think the point remains that Sauron and Orcs are far from democratic or capitalist, and they are the evil.

In any case, it seems to me that Tolkien was far more interested with Saxon (and by an extension, English) history and myths (that was his job after all) than modern political ideals. The Rohhirim and Gondorians are far more Feudal than the hobbits obviously, but I really don't see it as a call to a return to Feudalism.
One of the reasons I like Joss's work is that he's able to write characters he doesn't personally agree with that avoid being big cartoony strawmen. Being conservative or right-libertarian implies nothing about religion, gender, race, color, or how awesome you think Summer Glau kicking butt is.

What most of the movies on the list have in common is "one (wo)man/a small rag-tag band can make a difference". You can apply it to Serenity (regardless of if you otherwise interpret it as Mal's or River's story), to 300, to Air Force One, to The Incredibles, and so on. It's not on that list but for instance "Kill Bill" would fit for the same reason.

Serenity gets bonus conservative/libertarian points exactly for it's grey areas. Modern governments tend to engage in well-meaning social engineering towards various goals. Sometimes it works out as planned and sometimes it blows up in their faces (although rarely does it turn people into Reavers). It doesn't mean you can make any moral value judgement about the government for doing that because people are not perfect. You *can* judge the government for how they handle things when they do blow up however, and I would submit the Alliance is on shaky ethical and moral ground there. But that's another discussion.

[ edited by holeintheworld on 2009-01-17 02:54 ]
I haven't advanced any argument about whether the industrialist forces that Saruman represents would be "democratic" ones--I think you must have confused my position with someone else's (easy to do in these fast moving threads). Or perhaps you're suggesting that I'm endorsing Marx's claim about the essentially progressive nature of capitalist society. Marx, of course, would see capitalism as naturally democratic (both capitalism and democracy being bourgeois institutions), although he would be skeptical about the value of bourgeois democracy. Even if I were, I wouldn't imagine that Tolkein would endorse Marx's theory.

And I'm not suggesting that Tolkein was actually advocating, much less provide some kind of workable blueprint for, an actual return to a feudal order. I'm suggesting that the kind of unthinking, nostalgic and deliberately unanalytical yearning for a stable, organic, village-based, ethnically monotypical, unchanging society with apparently "natural" and unquestioned social hierarchies (the "lordly" Aragorn, the unimaginative country-bumpkin Sam Gamgee who seeks only to serve as batman to his far more sophisticated master, Frodo--their class positions perfectly represented in the wildly different nature of their speech--itself rather inexplicable given the fact that they appear to move in absolutely the same small world) is a conservative one. It speaks to a desire for a world rooted in tradition, where we do not feel ourselves to be subject to the distorting stresses and strains of history, where our social relationships are "natural" and nobody troubles us by asking "but, maybe we should do things differently? Maybe the Sam Gamgees of this world should be given the same educational opportunities as the Frodo Bagginses? Maybe Sam's "Rosie" would have been just as much use on this adventure as Merry or Pippin? Maybe she's more into the other girl hobbits than she's letting on" etc. etc.

The world of Middle-Earth is changing, of course--the "age of men" is on the way. But for Tolkein that can only be read as disaster and as fall. There's simply no room in his account for a narrative of progress. That's the essence of conservatism.
I was sure I'd always been a liberal - now you've all got me so confused.

If I don't know what I am, how can Serenity?
I found this link that talks about the topic list....
Holy God in heaven I loathe these political debates. Given there are already 75 replies to this topic I realize I'm in the minority, but I've gotten so burned out on idealogical infighting like this...

This comment brings to mind a nice interview today in Salon.com about the value of conversation as a means of forging social connections:

The old cliché used to be that we should avoid talking about sex, politics or religion, but hasn't that gone by the wayside? Do you think that's been good for conversation or not?

Any straight, strict list of things that you must never talk about is automatically wrong. I like breaking rules. God, it would be so bland if everything was so mutual that you never offered an opinion. Provocative topics -- the ones that tickle our taboos -- are also the ones that we really need to talk about, because they're controversial. We need to know where people stand.

No particular subject makes a bad or a good topic. The topic is always this unstable combination of attitude and fact. So a topic's viability for conversation depends on how much conversation it will inspire. If people aren't interested, then it's automatically bad, and if it turns into an excuse to attack your pet hobbyhorse, and ignore them, again it's bad. It's all about how much you can use topics to open up connections.


[ edited by BrewBunny on 2009-01-17 03:58 ]
Well done BrewBunny! :-)
Well not to put too fine a point on it, but I never said this was a good or bad topic. I may have an opinion about whether it is or not, but I never said that it was. I said I was burned out on the subject. It's difficult (read: nigh impossible) to talk about what is "conservative" versus what is "liberal" without stepping on toes, particularly on the ol' interwebs.
"Perhaps its a matter of perception, but I saw nothing ever in Firefly or Serenity to suggest Mal still believes in any sort of god, whether he's angry at it or not. This is no doubt influenced by my own views, but I also take into account Joss' beliefs, and what I assume he's going for. Maybe I'm off, but unless I see some good proof, I ain't changin' my interpretation."

Neither you nor I have any idea what Joss was intending as far as Mal being an atheist goes. And Joss's own (atheist) beliefs are entirely irrelevant to what he had one of his CHARACTERS believe. Joss has said that he made Mal a kind of guy he emphatically disagrees with on many points (eg. big / small government).

So the only evidence we're left with is the fact that Mal did believe in God, the reality that very few people become atheists after childhood, and Mal's own comments which strongly imply that he DOES still believe God exists eg. 'You're welcome on my boat. God ain't'. That doesn't make sense unless he thinks God exists (he could be being poetic but that's not exactly Mal). By contrast, there isn't a single comment he makes that suggests that he doesn't believe there's a God.

My point isn't really that we can be absolutely sure that Mal still believes in God but that it's by far the better interpretation on the information we've been given and that it's a bit bizarre to choose an interpretation that goes AGAINST all of the evidence and then say that you'd need proof that that's not correct to change your mind.
the reality that very few people become atheists after childhood,

That's a bit of a stretch. It may well be true that "people in general" maintain the faith they are raised in, but it is certainly the case that there are many atheists who used to be believers. Given that the question being debated is whether or not Mal is an atheist (i.e., we're already asking if he is an "unusual" case), it would simply be begging the question to say "well, most people aren't atheists, and therefore Mal probably isn't either."

and Mal's own comments which strongly imply that he DOES still believe God exists eg. 'You're welcome on my boat. God ain't'. That doesn't make sense unless he thinks God exists (he could be being poetic but that's not exactly Mal).

This seems like a hopeless stretch to me. You're insisting that we read Mal utterly literally ("God ain't welcome" must mean that he attributes existence to "god" but refuses to offer him welcome) but you're happy to skate over the fact that if we take him literally the statement is meaningless. If Mal believes in God, then he knows perfectly well that God is present on his ship whether he wishes it or not.

Frankly, the "common sense" reading of a statement like "God ain't welcome on my ship" when made to a preacher is "don't bother me with any God talk, because I'm not interested."
Eh. We could type about whether Serenity is conservative, liberal, libertarian, etc. until our fingers come off. But then we still wouldn't agree on the movie and we would have no fingers.

So I'm just going to say that Serenity had a message that appealed in some way to everyone.
Get a thousand so-called "conservatives" in a room and you'll find a thousand different idealogies. Likewise with "liberals". I have my own kneejerk reaction to the label "conservative", which I fully acknowledge likely has little to nothing to do with what anyone else here associates with it.


Which I think is the main problem is that everyone has their own definition of what is conservative and liberal. Ask 100 different people to define those labels and you will get 100 different answers. It gets even more fuzzy when we look at it from an international view that you find on the internet, as what might be taken as conservative or liberal in say US, would take on the opposite view in the UK.

With everyone having different views on where the goal posts are, it's hard to tell when one side or the other scores a point.

Example, I would say the Lord of the Rings, has a very liberal pro-environment message. Where if man pays no concern to the environment, tearing down forests without concern to push the industrial world forward, that there will be sever consequences with nature literally fighting back. However, that pro-environmental view could be considered a liberal view in some places in the world and could be considered conservative view in places like the UK.

Still it’s interesting to read these debates and the different interpretations people get from great movies like Serenity and Lord of the Rings. I think one of the things that makes these type of movies great is that they have enough depth to them to see them interpreted all these different ways.
I would just like to object to statements such as, "That is certainly what Tolkein would have thought and what he would have expected his readers to understand."

One should never presume to attribute thoughts and/or expectations to another. If Tolkein stated that he thought or expected such things, then by all means, give us the quote. But don't tell me what he "would have" thought or expected, because you are incapable of knowing such things. Such a statement is egoistic and offensive, and it undermines your argument.
Heck, Walter Scott, Tory Socialism, the meaning of "liberal" and "conservative" migrates over time. Plus,
"leave us face it," there are so many issues in anyone's real life, and the reaons for making one choice or another so various, that a bipolar classification always has shortcomings.
Groups like the Southern agrarains, however much rhey supported wahta re now standard-issue conservative positions , were also hard-core environmantalists. The folk singers and workers'-theatre types were hard-core developmentalists.

Lord of the Rings has always been resisitant to political interpretations; the critic will be making one good point after another then all of a sudden be talking about his own ideas and no longer about the book. Similarly, Lewis was also much more easily classifiable by the poltical categories of his own young adulthood than by that now after he's been dead 45 years.

In one of the essays in one of the Buffy-related books, Buffy was described as a democratic heroine and it was also said she'd champion the inhabitants of Mordor.

Eyes of the beholders; for years the first Invasion of the Body Snatchers (illogically when you think about it, since the threat in the movie is real) was classified as a criticism of McCarthyism until the director finally spoke out and said it was actually made in support of that worldview. It ain't Horton Hears a Who for grownups.

[ edited by DaddyCatALSO on 2009-01-17 22:11 ]
Thank you snot for phrasing the arguments far better than I could in regards to Mal's beliefs.

The reason I said I would need proof to change my mind because the 'evidence' cited is in fact interpretation of dialogue that I (and others) interpret differently. I was trying to say that I would need a statement by Joss, or a line by Mal that I forgot along the lines of "I believe in, but hate God" or something like that, rather than claims that I know personally to be false like adults don't turn atheist.
One should never presume to attribute thoughts and/or expectations to another.

You may well be right, but if we "never presumed to attribute thoughts to another" that would be the end of all analysis and all attempts to understand. Even if I had a quotation from J.R.R. Tolkien to support my claim, I would still be "attributing the thoughts" that lay behind that statement. Just as you attribute "egoism" to me on the basis of my words in the thread.

Personally, I don't think it's much of a stretch to say that Tolkien's conservative anti-industrialism amounts to an opposition to unbridled capitalist development. It would seem to me to be an utterly perverse reading of Tolkien's work to suggest that he was solely opposed to, say, socialist or Nazi industrialism but would welcome the construction of a polluting factory in the middle of some quiet corner of the English countryside as long as he knew it was being done on purely capitalist terms. You, of course, are free to disagree.

Actually, though, I would argue that it is Tolkien's deep belief in static quasi-"natural" social hierarchies even more than his anti-industrialism that makes him an "anticapitalist" conservative. Marx was right about capitalism to the extent that it is inherently socially disruptive: hence that archetypal figure of late C19th and early C20th fiction: the newly-moneyed man thrusting himself into the higher ranks of society.

Tolkien believed deeply in the value of social hierarchy, of there being a place for everyone and everyone knowing his place (don't just take my word for it, here's a quotation from the man himself: "Touching your cap to the Squire may be damn bad for the Squire, but it's damn good for you." There's no room for, or interest in, the "self made man" in Tolkien's ideal imaginative world.
Matt_Fabb writes:
Example, I would say the Lord of the Rings, has a very liberal pro-environment message


I would say that it has a very conservative pro-environment message. The fact that liberals and certain types of conservatives both find common ground on a desire for environmental conservation (the very word shows why one should hardly be surprised that a conservative would be in favor of it) doesn't make either position self-contradictory.
Environmental conservation hardly equals conservatism. Not in any sense that Americans would understand.

We have a saying in my profession that I think is germane here as well: put three chiropractors in a room and you will get five opinions on any topic.
I didn't say it "equalled" conservatism. I said that it was not incompatible with a consistent "conservative" philosophy. There are, in other words, both a "left" and a "right" environmentalism. Remember, the US National Parks were created by Teddy Roosevelt. The EPA was created under Richard Nixon (admittedly with some gnashing of teeth on Nixon's part--but he signed it into existence).

Obviously "right libertarianism" (let the free market decide, get the government off our backs etc. etc.) tends to be anti-environmentalist because environmental preservation requires massive governmental (and supragovernmental) action. But true conservatism of the Burkean variety is actually very amenable to a conservationist message: it is built on the idea of "conserving" the ways of the past. It will happily see the need, therefore, of "preserving" the national patrimony in the form of nature-preserves, national parks and so forth. Where it will be harder to motivate the conservative is in supra-national endeavours, or campaigns to take up novel ways of living or utilizing resources in order to benefit the ecosystem. Traditionalist conservatives want to root their actions in values that they derive from grand national (or ethnic, or religious) narratives, which tend not to provide much purchase for, say, multi-national cap-and-trade schemes or the like.
My point was really that, in the traditional viewpoint of most Americans, they would not see conservatives as advocating environmental conservation; rather, they would see conservatives favoring opening up the land to development, using market forces as a driver. In general, mind you- this is not my area of expertise. Leonard Read rejects both terms, right and left libertarianism. I myself view this more as consequentialist libertarianism and deontological or Kantian libertarianism, and one of the reasons I do so (the other being that I am in a master's program in bioethics where these forms of philosophy are the main drivers of ethical debate) is that I think most libertarians reject association with either platform. Not that this has anything to do with the main discussion, mind you. :-)
Well, sure. Most self-described "conservatives" in the US hold to an odd mixture of not-very-compatible philosophies. For reasons often having to do with the vagaries of party-political history (the various trade-offs between the "cultural conservatives"--who want to use the coercive power of the state to enforce certain ethical/behavioral norms--and the "fiscal conservatives" who hark back to the old "the business of America is business" wing of the party and whose conservatism is much more of the "right libertarian" kind) certain strands of "conservative" thought are largely repressed in American political discourse and others are abnormally prominent (when compared with similar movements in other Western democracies).

But that doesn't mean one can't consider the philosophies as such and make reasonable arguments about what would or would not be consistent positions to take if you were trying to put them into practice in the real world. A good example of this would be immigration reform--an issue which we saw divide both the US right and the US left in the last couple of years. Bush was speaking almost entirely for the old Northeast free-market Republicans when he pushed for immigration reform. From a "right libertarian" perspective the idea that national boundaries should present a limit to the free flow of labor is nonsensical. In order for labor to find it's proper price (i.e. nice and low), the traditional business-oriented wing of the Republican party is entirely in favor of measures to ease the flow of surplus labor from South America into the US labor market.

That, of course, ran into a buzz-saw of opposition from the "cultural conservatives," who see the identity of the USA as they like to imagine it (English speaking, predominantly white, Protestant etc. etc.) being contaminated by an influx of poor, brown people who "don't understand our values."

Now, both the "pro" and "anti" positions make sense within different positions that can be fairly called "conservative"--it's just that one in particular happened to carry the day in terms of intra-party discourse.
Let Down said:
"the reality that very few people become atheists after childhood"

and snot monster from outer space replied:
"That's a bit of a stretch. It may well be true that "people in general" maintain the faith they are raised in, but it is certainly the case that there are many atheists who used to be believers."

Just to add my two cents to this (and Let Down, have there been extensive studies/reported statistics on the life stages at which people generally abandon religion, or is what you said more based on what you've seen first hand among family, friends, and aquaintances ? And does "childhood" mean under-18 in this case, or younger than a teenager ? I don't think many 10 year olds argue the legitimacy of religion with themselves or eachother and decide that early whether to keep believing/feel it isn't true anymore, but I'll assume you were making a distinction between adulthood and when people are legally still considered children in many Western cultures, including the teenage phase as "children". If that's what you meant, you might be right, the teen phase does seem to include the most drop-offs, but I'm under the impression that the 20s result in many atheists as well--and agnostics, of the cynical/skeptical variety or otherwise, while we're at it).

From what I've observed, I've noticed a whole lot of people who don't necessarily maintain the faith they were raised in so much as never really gave it enough thought to challenge themselves on the subject in a way that would result in either a more firm, adult-intelligence-level commital, or finding good reason for rejection or a change of faiths. I know so many half-assed Jews (sometimes that's their own description, heh, but they still don't want to give up the label and to be fair I realize it's a cultural badge as much as it is a relgious one for many) and my Catholic mother never goes to church anymore but made me and my sister go to Catholic grade school, highschool, attend church until I was 15 and questioning it and got my first job partly as an excuse to do something more valuable with my Sundays, and claims that she still believes the way she does "because it's the way my mother raised me".

Not that it's the most convincing or "best" reason for giving up on your beliefs, but I know a couple folks who've given up on God at older stages of their lives (40 and 50) because life threw them a few nasty curveballs and they felt beaten down and abandoned. This is more how I see Mal...I dunno, maybe he had heavy internal intelligent debates with himself, maybe he spoke to a priest/pastor/reverend or two after the Battle of Hera, but I still see his abandonment of his [whatever form of Christianity he's supposed to be] as more of a he-felt-seriously-slighted kinda thing as opposed to coming to some sort of startling self-realization. I don't know what this interpretation means in terms of how I expected he might end up later in the series. Saw a great argument years ago for how Firefly may have been majorly about Mal's rediscovering/re-confirmation of his faith and liked it as an arc enough that it would've been interesting and probably strangely (for me) touching to see (despite not being what I would personally want for the character were he real), but I have no idea if it was indicated by the series that this was the way things were headed (this theory of the fan who wrote it also maintainted that Simon would gradually step up as the second lead of the series, sort of a reverse mirror of Mal's or something in terms of character development, which I sorta already saw in the series but not so much the movie and really liked because Simon was my second-favorite character in the series). Maybe instead it was going to be about dealing with life and enjoying the makeshift family you've got despite the loss (or perceived loss, if some of you like) of your spiritual family, with Mal never to end up back at peace with his possibly former beliefs. Who knows.
I don't think many 10 year olds argue the legitimacy of religion with themselves or eachother and decide that early whether to keep believing/feel it isn't true anymore ...

I was about 11 when it stopped making sense to me (or at least, that's when I told my Mum I didn't think God was real and didn't want to go to church anymore) and from atheist friends I don't think 10-14 is unusual. I'm not saying you have a fully formed alternate philosophy by that age but I think many adult atheists were already asking the sorts of questions that'd lead them away from belief in gods by that age and already have a feeling that something's not right (in fact, a lot of kids are asking the right questions much earlier they're just still at an age where they believe more or less everything adults tell them so they - IMO - fall for the waffley responses to stuff like "Why does God let bad things happen ?" or "Will Tiddles go to heaven ?").

I'd say BTW that 'Serenity' actually is about Mal regaining his faith, just not his faith in God.

(and to me Mal is angry at god and feels betrayed by him, that's not how you feel when you don't believe in him. It's not so much that he decided that God doesn't exist at Serenity Valley, it's more like he realised if he is there he's not much help to the little people, that he's a "train [that] don't come", no-matter how long you wait)
but I really don't see it as a call to a return to Feudalism
Neither do I SteppeMerc but it makes for an interesting discussion doesn't it ?

Actually I have read some interpretations of LotR that makes Morgoth Marx and Sauron Stalin, make of that what you want. The mark of deep and rich writing is indeed in the different interpretations it leaves for the viewer/reader.

[ edited by jpr on 2009-01-18 15:33 ]
Not really sure what you mean by "half-assed Jews" but as a person who is Jewish, that is not a moniker I'd ever want tossed around by someone who is not. Just saying, because my initial gut reaction to that term is very negative.
In context I assume it just means not particularly observant (like a lapsed or "half-assed" Catholic that maybe attends church at Christmas and confesses once every 20 years) though it's more often heard in connection with a trade (like building something in a half-assed manner) and if it's reporting a label that someone's used of themselves then I guess it's OK (though I can understand being offended or at least wanting clarification).
saje, I understand that, sort of. But see, to a lot of people being Jewish is sort of all or nothing; whether you are observant or not, you are still Jewish and therefore (1) not be trusted, (b) part of the global Jewish cabal, (c) in control of Hollywood, (d) taking our jobs, or (e) some combination of this and a whole lot else. The term typically used within my faith to explain someone who is not particularly observant is "cultural." It is a whole lot better, more informative, and much less negative than "half-assed."
I'm not sure I agree it's more informative to be honest (i've never heard the term and wouldn't know what it meant though could probably speculate, just as I did with "half-assed") and as I say, if it's someone within your faith that described themselves that way then clearly not everyone's as politically correct as yourself Dana5140 (Kris actually says "sometimes that's their own description") but like I say, I understand you being offended or whatever, it's not a term i'd use.

Why bring the negative stereotypes into the discussion BTW ? Bit of a straw-man surely ?
(and to me Mal is angry at god and feels betrayed by him, that's not how you feel when you don't believe in him. It's not so much that he decided that God doesn't exist at Serenity Valley, it's more like he realised if he is there he's not much help to the little people, that he's a "train [that] don't come", no-matter how long you wait)

I just don't get this, myself. The statement "that's a long wait for a train [that] don't come" is exactly the kind of comment that atheists make (I say, speaking as an atheist who has discussed the ins and outs of atheism, agnosticism and theism with dozens upon dozens of people of all kinds of states of belief). I don't say that this "proves" that Mal is an atheist, but I think the idea that someone who is an atheist would rigorously avoid making statements that might possibly be construed to attribute existence to god is just false (and this statement doesn't even do that--it just says that God "don't come").

I'm an atheist, but I'll still say "thank god" or "god damn it." I'll also easily slip into more elaborate kinds of 'existence attribution' if I'm arguing with a believer. If a believer tells me "god ultimately punishes the evil and rewards the good" or some such, I'll be very likely to say "well, he's not doing a very good job of that, is he?" That's not me "admitting that God exists and showing that I'm angry with him" it's me saying "if I accept your postulate, the available evidence hardly seems to support it."
I don't say that this "proves" that Mal is an atheist, but I think the idea that someone who is an atheist would rigorously avoid making statements that might possibly be construed to attribute existence to god is just false (and this statement doesn't even do that--it just says that God "don't come").

Which, if you think about it, may well be why i'm not claiming that "an atheist would rigorously avoid making statements that might possibly be construed to attribute existence to god".

To me Mal seems angry at God and that is something that's incompatible with atheism. Seemingly he doesn't to you snot monster and that's super-cool, you see it differently, there's no need to resort to arguments from authority based on who's talked the most about atheism to various sorts of people, the "authority" of your own opinion is plenty enough to "prove" how you feel ;).

(as mentioned, i'm also an atheist and I don't as a general rule say "Thank god" BTW - which proves as much about Mal as the fact that you do i.e. nothing)
saje: one of the lessons I have tried to teach my kids, who are in fact not kids at age 28 (twins) and 23, is that despite how you identify yourself- and my kids are pretty much agnostic- there remain many people who will judge you just because of the faith you were born into. That is, if you were born to Jewish parents, you are Jewish whether you practice (whether "half-assedly" or "fully," as my step-son-in-law, who is rabbi, does) or not. So perhaps my comments are a bit outside the box of this discussion, but I do feel the term was poorly chosen, no matter how it was actually meant, because I think people within my faith would take issue with that description- and of course, I speak for myself, not the entire denomination, so that no one states the obvious.

Of course, I do not know what "half-assedly" actually means, given that we have many branches: Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Humanistic, Orthodox, Progressive, etc. In some of these branches it hardly makes sense to say "half-assedly" because of the nature of the belief sets and practices involved. My assumption here is that the original comment may have really referred to either orthodoxy or conservatisim, which has perhaps the greatest stringent rule set, but again, the way I see it from within, you cannot be "half-assed" at all, since there is no single overriding set of rules or precepts to follow, meaning how would even be able to make the claim? In my mind, no matter how you cut it, the term is a negative and thus poorly chosen. But I am not looking for either an apology or a correction; this is not about winning some debate point. It is more about sensitization to an issue that may offend some and did me, and this board is very good at ensuring that that not happen.
I think we can all agree that Mal starts off believing in God. In the absence of Mal subsequently saying "I don't believe in the existence of God," doesn't it make sense to assume as little as possible about his internal spiritual journey? In which case, which is the shorter logical leap to take? That he went from believing in God to being pissed at God for letting him down in a time of crisis? Or that he went from believing in God to not believing that God exists at all?
No problem clarifying, though saje covered it.

When my friends say it like that, I don't think they're coming from any kind of "guilt" angle, like they feel they should make more of an effort to strictly eat kosher or attend synagogue (sorry if I spelled that wrong. I'll apologize for bad spelling before I'll apologize for possibly being politically incorrect. Just quoting some friends and using a term that I've found to be very common and which I used to use myself when telling my older family members I was a little "half-assed" about my Catholicism before I felt comfortable in my late teens saying "non-committal", "agnostic" [very few of them know what that means, unfortunately] or whatever other term may've been floating around my head). They're just making light of their practices (or lack of), perhaps in comparison to others (maybe older members) in their family or maybe how they perceive the average North American Jewish person behaves or should behave...who knows. I dunno, I didn't ask them about the term, I just took it for granted and maybe related on its use, assumed they were utilizing it the same way I did.

And although I was only quoting this time, I don't subscribe to the idea of only members of a particular group being allowed to use certain terms on themselves or describe themselves in a certain way. Not that I'm gonna go out of my way to try to piss people off, but I say with full confidence that I'm an extremely open-minded guy who enjoys the friendship and company of people from various backgrounds and cultures. I've never tossed a racist, prejudiced, or homophobic term in anyone's face, ever, I'm not like that at all (and I also realize I'm not being accused of that, just wanted to clarify). I do think it's okay to not take ourselves, and the habits, traditions and cultures of the entirety of humanity, regardless of historical baggage (and every aspect of humanity has some) and the problems currently being faced, so seriously. The world is dark enough as it is without worrying about the odd questionable term (which I admit probably should've been in quotation marks if I was writing my previous post with my "be-extra-careful-not-to-offend-anyone" hat on), it's just not worth jumping down each other's throats over.

I had never heard the term "cultural Jew" before, though it makes sense. For a long time I didn't understand the inability for most Jews to separate their cultural identity/background bloodline from their religion, simply because I was coming from a place of ignorance, but I had a dinner with my friend Jen maybe five or six years ago and she helped me understand. She had kinda drifted toward an agnostic point of view of God/faith, but stressed that she still considered herself Jewish. I think I said something like, "Well without the firm faith in God, wouldn't you technically see your background as "Hebrew" or "Israeli" (way far back) or "French-Canadian" (since she didn't know which country her family was from beyond her great-grandparents in Montreal, Quebec) ?" But I think she set me more or less straight on the apparent indivisible nature of the term/identifier "Jewish". I would never claim to be an expert on the subject, haven't studied it, just have three female friends who identify as Jewish but don't care about eating kosher, don't attend synagogue at all (except for funerals it seems like, lately, unfortunately), don't really observe Hanukkah, and will maybe only incorporate some traditions into their weddings in the future.

I agree that the false beliefs/irrational fears that you listed in numbered order, Dana5140, are reprehensible and/or laughable, though I'm sure it would merit a grand discussion (not in this thread or anywhere on Whedonesque, unless it comes up in a thread about Willow) why people have those misconceptions. Although I can probably do a search online and find some good in-depth ones already talked through if I'm ever curious enough. Thank-you for adding "cultural Jew" to my vocabulary. It might come in handy if I'm ever engaging in this sort of conversation at work or somewhere else where I feel the need to come off more professional.

Having said all that, I don't think it's necessary to get as defensive as you sometimes do about issues like these. You get your back up before receiving clarification, when the more diplomatic course of action would be "what did you mean by that?", wait for response, then "okay cool" or "[insert educating response and/or angry rant]". I mean this is Whedonesque, you're preaching to the converted already. Even the vast majority of the more conservative and/or Republican-types on here are awesomely accepting/open-minded, what-have-you, from what I've read over the years in everyone's comments (yeah, I took a winking pot shot at conservatives/Republicans. I could be conservative/Republican--well, a fan of the Republican Party, being in Canada--for all anyone knows. I don't seriously mean that I automatically expect conservatives to be less open-minded and I haven't said anything grievous). There's no need for the lectures/tsk-tsking. The rest of the world at large that needs to see those comments probably isn't reading Whedonesque, unfortunately.

I'll, um, maybe edit later to add some Serenity/Mal-related relevance. Yikes, off-topic is in full.

[ edited by Kris on 2009-01-19 08:54 ]
Point taken, but glad to have helped broaden horizons. Though Hanukah really is a minor holiday made more important by its proximity to Christmas and its penchant for gift giving. :-)

But, Kris, you raise one interesting point directly relative to the Buffyverse and this discussion, and that is about Willow. This discussion really started out about faith and belief in Serenifly. But it could be broadened again to looking at that question in the Buffyverse. Given that we know Willow is Jewish (and for all intents so far as we can see, a cultural Jew, LOL), why was it even necessary to make her Jewish since that never actually was important to who she was, and never was a driver in any aspect of her story line? I do not refer to those few times where she made jokes about her religion (honking Menorah, anyone?), but if we were to see her as Jewish, where was her faith on display? How did it infuse her personality? These are sort of the same questions we are asking about Mal- given the few comments he made, and the role of belief in Serenity, what can we infer about Mal? Or about Willow? IN Buffy, she was really the only one whose religion was ever really mentioned. Why?
I dunno, Riley's religion was mentioned (or his churchgoing at least, presumably to highlight what a straight-arrow he was) and religion also played a part in Angel and Dru's stories. The difference is of course, Mal's story was about faith in a lot of ways (how you lose it, how you regain it, what merits it etc.) whereas Willow's story (and BtVS in general) just wasn't.

I mean, is it necessarily true that their faith informs a Jewish person's life a lot more than it does for many Christians ? I assume Buffy, Xander etc. weren't atheists but they also weren't exactly really into their respective religions, they were just kind of unmindful of it, as many people are (though, in fairness, that's probably more the case in Europe than the US).
After a skim of recent comments, I'll just say WSStm.
WSS? What saje said? This is making me meshuggah!

Well, saje, though, then why mention it all? Background? Or did it somehow matter?
there's no need to resort to arguments from authority based on who's talked the most about atheism to various sorts of people

Er...there was no argument from authority at all. What I offered was my own experience as proof that it is possible for an atheist to make statements that, if taken literally, seem to attribute existence to a deity.

The only reason I mentioned the fact that I've frequently discussed these matters was to show that even an atheist who is very self-conscious about their atheism is capable of making such statements. I offered this solely as a real-world example which suggests that Mal's statements need not be construed as coming from a person of faith. I also made it clear that I don't see my experience as deciding the question one way or the other.
Ah, it was the "dozens upon dozens" that made me think you considered the number of conversations as important to your point (i.e. that more conversations means more "authority" on the point). As I said though, I don't disagree with that point anyway (that atheists sometimes use "god" language) and never have (even if it's - largely - not true of myself) so i'm a wee bit puzzled as to its relevance ?

Well, saje, though, then why mention it all? Background? Or did it somehow matter?

I dunno, I guess only Joss can say why he made that part of Willow's character. Maybe it was going to be a bigger "thing" but they just didn't go down that route in the execution (the same way Spike apparently wasn't originally meant to be the huge character that he became) ?

ETA: And don't be meshuggah Dana5140 (Google is my friend) be, err, unmeshuggah (well, maybe more like an acquaintance ;).

[ edited by Saje on 2009-01-19 22:09 ]
The claim is being made (by you and others) that because Mal makes statements that suggest he is "angry" at God, he must therefore believe in god. I am arguing that in my experience an atheist who is very self-consciously and deliberately "atheistic" can and will in real life make such statements. I am further suggesting that it is therefore possible that the writers for Firefly were trying to paint Mal as an atheist of this type.

The "dozens and dozens" was merely to present my bona fides as someone who has considered his own lack of religious belief as thoroughly as he is capable. If such a person as I know myself to be is capable of saying something like "that's a long wait for a train [that] don't come" and taking it to mean "there is no God--i.e., you are staking your happiness on a nonexistent being--a train that will not and never can come" then it seems to me to be plausible that the writers of Firefly may well be imagining such a person as the speaker of those lines.

Fair enough? And look: no appeals to authority up my sleeve (except insofar as I claim to be an authority about my own beliefs, which, I think, is fair).
I've already said your authority on how you feel is "plenty enough" for me, so yep fair enough ;).

I think I see where we've gone off the rails a bit BTW - I wasn't offering "that's a long wait for a train don't come" as evidence that Mal's angry (though I can see how what I actually did say might've given you that impression snot monster). For me it's a more general feeling based on his attitude, the flashbacks and the totality of the sorts of things he says (I see "You're welcome on my boat, God ain't" as "angrier", again we seem to see that differently). I'm not making any claim that you're somehow wrong BTW (in the 'incorrect' sense), I think your interpretation of what we see is perfectly valid, I just think other interpretations are too (obviously I think my interpretation is more valid but then i'm gonna, aren't I ;).
(obviously I think my interpretation is more valid but then i'm gonna, aren't I ;).

So predictable, always agreeing with yourself ;). Seems perfectly plausible that Mal lost his faith entirely during the war, or that he still believes in God but wants nothing more to do with a God that allowed the battle of Serenity, or some complicated place inbetween. The writers / Joss may not even have decided one way or the other, not that that would matter to anybody who's a "reader response" type ;). My take was always the "angry" one, for no better reason than that I find religious faith more interesting than the lack of it (probably because I'm an atheist and bored of myself).

As for Willow being Jewish, yeah, I don't think that was "important" so much as... why not? It's never made a big thing of. What always bothered me is the weird coincidence of Xander, Willow and Buffy all apparently being only children ('til season 5). My OT observation of the day. Also, why are deviled eggs called "deviled"? That seems harsh. So delicious.
So predictable, always agreeing with yourself ;).

I dunno, you should hear some of the stuff I come out with ;-).

With me it's also maybe partly because I find that more interesting (and/or bore myself ;) and so want to believe it more. Railing against an omnipotent being is such a human thing to do, so silly and nonsensical on pretty much every level that it almost becomes kind of perversely heroic.
My feeling is that Mal would be a much more comforting figure (and the Firefly verse a more comforting one) if he was given to "railing against God." At least, then, you can see yourself as the hero (as you say) standing up against a malevolent force bent on destroying you. My read of an episode like "Objects in Space" is precisely that that comfort is not available to Mal (or, by extension, to us).

Again, though, I don't see this as having been "decided" one way or the other.

Oh, and of course the devil gets all the nice foods. Pleasures of the flesh are his department.
Since this is off the front I'll just go tot own. And unable to contribute directly because not conversant with the Serenityverse anyhow.

Just an observation; Joss seems to be the kind of atheist (and he has good company) who blames God for not existing.


Dana5140 smfos Saje Kris : There was a B'verse character whose religion was stressed as a major part of her persona; Tara.

And Xander's was mentioned. And given how little attention is paid to religion in most TV shows as an asepct of on-screen character in general, the throwaway lines given to Willow were almost major.

That was one of several reasons I ficced a Mary Sue character into my own stuff, for the different perspective.


I'm assuming "cultural Jew" covers a broader group than "secular Jew," which I'd always thought referred to specifically non-religious Jews. Or did I reverse the meanings and "secular" is the broader group? (I was once searchigna round for a Judaic term to correspond to "cafeteria Catholicism," people who specifically identify with the religious system but don't observe it with any real consistency. From what you said Dana, there might not eb aneed for such a term but the best I came up with was "Judaism-but-not-especially." (Specifically, I was trying to name two of the elements that SMG and FPJ have included in what they call their personal religion, those being their own heritages, along with Heavily Watered Down Evangelicalism and Pop Culture Buddhism and some other things; she once said in an interview they included everything except Mormon. I did something similar in 10th Grade.)

And there are plenty of folks who got into a campus revivalistic group and got all conservative evangelical for awhile and when they came down out of wherever their heads were at ended up as non-believers, so that is well into adutlhood. I've been reading some books and articles by them.

My daughter was very precocious about this (so was I but in a very different way) and I couldn't help much with her 6 & 7 year old doubts because to me faith in a "God of some kind" was always like just something I never doubted, like the sky looks blue. Not enough answer for her. I *did* got hru lots of weird systems; I like to think my current beleifs impressed me because they're the most logical to me. But I have to be honest about my natural conservative temperament; I didn't believe this traditon when I was being taught it, but still ended up there.

[ edited by DaddyCatALSO on 2009-01-20 02:35 ]
...I didn't believe this traditon when I was being taught it, but still ended up there.

Does that mean you came to believe it in adulthood despite not believing it in childhood DaddyCatALSO or do you still not really believe it but just enjoy the community aspect of religion (or maybe the moral compass it provides) ?

My feeling is that Mal would be a much more comforting figure (and the Firefly verse a more comforting one) if he was given to "railing against God." At least, then, you can see yourself as the hero (as you say) standing up against a malevolent force bent on destroying you.

I dunno snot monster, I just think having an active feeling (especially anger) towards something offers more opportunities for drama and interesting character moments than simply not believing it exists (disbelieving in God is only 'dramatic' in any sense because it's currently a minority opinion which some people - on both "sides" - feel very strongly about i.e. it has an opposite opinion to be in conflict with).

And I don't mean it's perversely heroic because you're "standing up against a malevolent force" BTW cos that's not really perversely heroic to me, that's just heroic, no-matter what your actual chances of success may be - in the case of battling an omnipotent deity probably, y'know, not great ;). I mean it's perversely heroic precisely because it's "silly and nonsensical on pretty much every level" i.e. it's small and meaningless and, well, human - it's more like an endearing flaw. Maybe 'heroic' sounds too active, probably a poor choice of word, 'perversely admirable' might be better. Does that make sense ?

(I do agree with that other idea too BTW - if a believer rails against God for other people then it can be heroic. Or even a non-believer can come off sort of coolly arrogant. It was, appropriately enough, the episode 'House vs God' where we hear:
Wilson: "And that's why religious belief annoys you. Because if the universe operates by abstract rules you can learn them, you can protect yourself. If a Supreme Being exists he can squash you any time he wants."
House: "He knows where I am."

House, of all people, knows how daft it is for an atheist to basically challenge God but it's still a cool line and one which works on a few levels as far as the show's concerned)
House is the ultimate rationalist, though. Evidence is not just the thing that matters, it is the only thing that matters (well, to be clear- ultimately, it is the results that matters, but to get there you need evidence). For House to accept that there is a God, he would need to see the evidence. It makes no sense to state a belief in God, to House, because there is no sense such a being exists. And everything he does drives home his belief all the more; there is always a rational explanation present that does not admit the existence of God. House would agree with Whedon: (paraphrasing) If this is all there is, then the only thing that matters is what we do. But I am not sure Mal is such as existentialist; he is more complex to me, because Book's dictate to Mal was to believe- but notable, Book did not tell him what to believe in. That's different than acting, in my, uh, book.

DCA- good point an Tara. Her Wicca-ness did define who she was and she tried very hard to live by the dictates of her faith.

[ edited by Dana5140 on 2009-01-20 18:55 ]
Saje writes: I dunno snot monster, I just think having an active feeling (especially anger) towards something offers more opportunities for drama and interesting character moments than simply not believing it exists (disbelieving in God is only 'dramatic' in any sense because it's currently a minority opinion which some people - on both "sides" - feel very strongly about i.e. it has an opposite opinion to be in conflict with).

Well, I don't disagree with this. Milton's Satan, of course, is in many ways the prototype of the modern hero/antihero. Satan, of course, doesn't disbelieve in God, he simply chooses to oppose him.

(P.B. Shelley on Milton's Satan:
Nothing can exceed the energy and magnificence of the character of Satan as expressed in Paradise Lost. It is a mistake to suppose that he could ever have been intended for the popular personification of evil. Implacable hate, patient cunning, and a sleepless refinement of device to inflict the extremest anguish on an enemy, these things are evil; and, although venial in a slave, are not to be forgiven in a tyrant; although redeemed by much that ennobles his defeat in one subdued, are marked by all that dishonors his conquest in the victor. Milton's Devil as a moral being is as far superior to his God, as one who perseveres in some purpose which he has conceived to be excellent in spite of adversity and torture is to one who in the cold security of undoubted triumph inflicts the most horrible revenge upon his enemy, not from any mistaken notion of inducing him to repent of a perseverance in enmity, but with the alleged design of exasperating him to deserve new torments. Milton has so far violated the popular creed (if this shall be judged to be a violation) as to have alleged no superiority of moral virtue to his God over his Devil.)


I guess, for me, one of the remarkably original things about the Firefly 'verse (and, in this, I would oppose it to the Serenity verse) was that it seemed to be trying to move beyond that Romantic topos. My reading of "Out of Gas" and "Objects in Space" (guided, in part, by Joss's commentary on "Objects in Space" which makes clear how deeply rooted in an atheist existentialism it is) in particular is that we are operating in a universe devoid of metaphysical safety-nets, and that Mal's insight into that reality is a defining part of his character--his sense of being thrown into a world which is utterly indifferent to the moral framework which he nonetheless chooses to live by. I'd be willing to float quite a lot of that on River's 'reading' of Mal at the beginning of the episode: "None of it means a damn thing." A world with a God you're angry at may be devoid of many things, but meaning won't be one of them.

By the way, I'd be interested to know what, in your view, is the strongest evidence that Mal is "angry at God." Is it the 'God not being welcome on his boat' speech, or is there a more telling one?
I don't know if believing there is a power in the universe or a creator necessarily gives meaning ... to life, or to anything. I mean, it does to some, but (if Mal believes in God) not to Mal. A God that doesn't care is pretty bleak. I would say much bleaker, really, than a random universe.

I can't remember what in particular gave me the sense that Mal still kind of believed in some sort of divinity. There's certainly no strong evidence to support it, at least not that I can remember. I suppose it was just the way he interacted with Book, especially when religion came up... he was hostile in a way that suggested he certainly wasn't at peace with his atheism, if it was atheism at all. His attitude could be interpreted as an angry sense of not wanting to hear any delusional nonsense, but I always saw it as him being terribly conflicted and angry when it came to his very damaged faith. But I guess he never comes out and says "God sucks and I'm pissed at Him" or "I don't believe in God" so it's all just speculation.

And I always liked Blake's line that Milton was "a true Poet and of the Devil's party without knowing it." Ha.
ETA: Ah, this was in response to snot monster, cross-posted !

As I say, it really is the totality of his general attitude, what he says, his expressions both during flashbacks - like the first one in the pilot - and normal chronology, probably partly trying to imagine how i'd feel if I was a believer that had the ground pulled from under me etc. There isn't one specific thing (though the "God ain't welcome" bit does feel, to me, angrier than just a casual warning to a preacher not to get preachy because it's annoying - Mal has a chip on his shoulder about it). Sorry I can't be more specific but as I say (and genuinely mean) I think the textual evidence is also consistent with your viewpoint so it really does come down to fairly nebulous impressions and feelings (at least partly influenced by my own preconceptions and imaginings).

"None of it means a damn thing." A world with a God you're angry at may be devoid of many things, but meaning won't be one of them.

Mal's on the side of the angels as he sees it and yet, apparently, as he discovers at Serenity Valley, God isn't. "None of it means a damn thing." is consistent with the sort of crisis of faith that could occur when you realise that there might be a God but, basically, you're agin' him. And not only that, but if he ever does reward the righteous, he does it at his whim (or maybe on another plane).

... his sense of being thrown into a world which is utterly indifferent to the moral framework which he nonetheless chooses to live by.

Again, this is an end to innocence, it's an eye opening experience but it's not necessarily one without a god (because even if God were real, many people in the 'verse are apparently already indifferent to Mal's moral framework, he could probably have figured that out when he had to go to war for his ideals ;).


ETA: House is the ultimate rationalist, though.

Err, what do you mean "though" Dana5140 ? I think I was pretty clear about how House would know it wasn't sensible.

[ edited by Saje on 2009-01-20 20:15 ]
Mal's on the side of the angels as he sees it and yet, apparently, as he discovers at Serenity Valley, God isn't. "None of it means a damn thing." is consistent with the sort of crisis of faith that could occur when you realise that there might be a God but, basically, you're agin' him. And not only that, but if he ever does reward the righteous, he does it at his whim (or maybe on another plane).


Ooh, that's what I meant to say! I shoulda just waited ;).
Or I shoulda (longer I mean ;).

It's something i've long felt on an emotional level, that the arbitrariness of a God run universe is much more threatening existentially than a universe that isn't run at all. I mean, the universe isn't going to decide tomorrow that it's out to get me for some bizarre reason (eating shellfish for instance ;) it either isn't at all in any meaningful sense or it always has been - at least it's consistent though, one way or another.
What you both say makes perfect sense, of course, although it runs up against a definitional problem (one that all discourse about "god" runs into). If one accepts that "a being of perfect goodness" is part of the definition of God (and, from the Judeo-Christian perspective, it really is), then there's simply no meaning to the claim "God exists but he's not good." If a being exists who isn't good from that perspective, he is ex hypothesi not God.

Obviously this is a problem that is familiar to the atheist arguing with theists from the other side--that is, all the "proofs" of God's existence (such as they are) amount at best to proofs of the existence of a Very Powerful Being (a demon or a demiurge--or a race of aliens or what have you).

So...does it make sense to say that Mal "still believes" in Shepherd Book's God if Shepherd Book's god is defined as the omnipotent being of perfect love and perfect goodness who will ultimately make all our crooked purposes straight? If Mal believes that this God is a God of perfect love and justice, then he has to believe that he is not omnipotent. Or if he believes that he is omnipotent, then he cannot believe that he is a being of perfect love and justice.

That leaves us simply with Mal believing that there are powerful forces at work in the universe that are more powerful than him and that are malevolent in their actions and intentions. Well...true--but we already knew that he believes that before God ever gets into the question.

I do realize, by the way, that there are plenty of people of faith (many of them described in both the Old and New Testaments) who, despite professing a belief in an omnipotent God of perfect love and justice still manage to be angry or disappointed in him (one obvious one: the man who says "my God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me"). So I accept that Mal could simply be a typically confused theist. I like to think of him as someone who looked pretty hard and long at what he believed and did not believe after the events of Serenity Valley, though--so for me he remains an atheist who understands the comfort of faith, but feels antagonistic towards that comfort as essentially false (hence the anger towards any attempts to proselytize on Book's part).
If a being exists who isn't good from that perspective, he is ex hypothesi not God.

Hah, like it ;). So even if Mal does still believe in God, he doesn't actually believe in God. Very true in the definitional sense. But it's a lot like the ontological proof in as much as, though the argument seems sound enough from a lot of angles, it's not gonna convince anyone that wasn't already convinced ;).

And yeah, back when I was young[er] and dumb[er] and thought I might actually change believers' perspective by discussion (when I was, if you like, an evangelical atheist), it was always critical to agree on a definition of God upfront (because the Bible is a bit ambiguous about what God's actually like - to say the least). Nowadays I don't really bother because pointing out logical inconsistencies, like being refused credit, often offends ;).

... the man who says "my God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me"

Well, whether he says that kinda depends who you believe (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John ;).
Remove the "though," saje, and it makes sense, sorry. However, it would be interesting to see if House ever had beliefs and if so, how they were shaken. The events of the episode "Three Stories" does give a bit of insight into his persona; he was not necessarily always like the way we see him now. (OT, I just posted an entry about House, MD on my education blog that I maintain: http://tlchiro.blogspot.com)

But I am enjoying this discussion even if I cannot really participate in the deeper religious issues here. My own feeling is that Mal was a believer before the events of Serenity Valley, but not after. And it takes what happens with the Operative to shake his foundation- but this is imply my thoughts, for which I can offer no real support beyond that already said.
Fair enough, -though ;). I dunno Dana, when I watch 'Three Stories' and remember what Stacy said (later ?) my response (jeez, i'm like a kid with a new toy ;) is that House was House before his leg, but just less so i.e. from his perspective, the leg episode showed what can happen when you have any give in your worldview, when you don't absolutely batter the world with rationality until there's no room for anomalies. So it made him more extreme in his position - as being "embattled" often will - but it didn't radically alter it.

If he was ever a believer BTW (he may have been raised an atheist, I can't remember how much we know about his Mum and Dad's convictions) I think he'd have lost it quite young and it'd probably be something to do with his father. Maybe we'll see it one day.

(and i'll have a look at your blog after I watch last night's episode - let's just say i'm really glad that paragraph started "Last night's episode ..." so I could run away like the big ol' spoilerphobe I am ;)
Saje : No, I definitely believe in the basic teachings of my denomiantion. The simple fact is, when Is atrted confirmation classes (it was 3-year course in my day) I was definitely in my deistic phase and by the time I finished I was getting agood start on my polytheistic phase. Then, as I trimmed it all back (wording intentional) into a more or less conventional Protestant type belief system, I foiund that the tradition I'd been raised in was most appealing to and made the most sense to me.

Dana5140: Which is the larger category then, "cultural" or "secular," or am I asking the wrong question?

smfos: Yeah, doubt is definitely part of the package; we humans are kinda hard-wired that way. Lots of the Psalms deal with it, as That Fellow knew.
saje- sorry, I forget that you overseas guys do not have the same schedule, and since House is not our main topic, did not think to spoil. But there is truth in what you say, and of course we also do have some information about his relation with his dad...

DCA- I honestly think "cultural" is the best term.

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