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August 20 2004

The Ascendance of Firefly. An enjoyable article encouraging others to discover the joy of the series.

Thanks to George for the tip :)

A really good article, I enjoyed it a lot. She hit the nail on the head so many times that by the time someone finishes the article the nail should be driven home. However, she got the one piece of factual information wrong. Universal , not FOX, is funding the movie.

[ edited by ringworm on 2004-08-20 16:42 ]

[ edited by ringworm on 2004-08-20 16:45 ]
I thought it was Universal...
Okay, I'm not just crazy, because so did I.
That was a very good article, nice to agree with something written about something I love :)

It is Universal.
"To me, Firefly is primarily an example of what happens when a talented group of people come together and give their best to a project which is itself led by someone talented giving his best... Whedonís commitment to his passion is one of the things worth celebrating in the Firefly phenomenon ó it is the story of a man holding fast to his principles, sticking to his unusual and groundbreaking vision, and winning."

I just got the DVDs. If I hadnít, I think this article would have squelched any lingering hesitation. Iím feeling so full of hope and inspiration now!
"For someone who enjoys Ayn Randís work, Firefly is a welcome respite from the myriad of flawed, moribund, and lackluster moralities of the shows routinely presented on the small screen."

And for someone, like me, who dislikes Ayn Rand's work, Firefly is still all that and more. Despite our philosophical differences, I thought this was an incisive and insightful review.
Oh right, I thought she was the woman who wrote those books about dragons. Thankfully, Amazon put me right.
LOL, Simon. That's Anne McCaffrey I believe. And *her* work I love.
It's an interesting perspective. Mal and Zoe fought for individual freedom as resistence to the Alliance, but the crew itself lives in a commune, where individual talents are combined to work towards a common goal of survival. There's even an aspect of taking care of those who can't so much work to feed themselves, like River. The difference between Firefly and the Alliance is that there's no persecution in not living under the Captain's rules. You're free to leave and live under Alliance. Under the Alliance, if you leave to live under the Captain's governance, you're a criminal. On Firefly, every individual voice is heard and considered (though Mal makes the ultimate decision).

I think that the fandom that Firefly attracted follows the show's doctrine in many ways. Mostly, a large corporate entity decided for them that the show they loved wasn't good enough. And then they took it upon themselves to fight against that for what they believed in, to get back what was taken. What's amazing to me is that they stuck together, worked together, for this long, given that they only had a small handful of episodes to discuss.

It's a testament to the powerfulness of the storytelling that something considered a failure by the FOX beast attracted such a loyal and scrappy following. I can't help but think that if FOX had stuck it out, Firefly going into its third season would have become an enormous success through the sheer will of a fandom that works its as off to promote it.
SoddingNancyTribe -- ditto. Love Firefly, liked the article, absolutely loathe Ayn Rand. It's nice that Joss (holding fast to his principles like ... Howard Roarke in The Fountainhead???) can be a point of agreement.
But this does mean that if Universal takes "Serenity" away from him somehow, he'll have to blow up the negative?

My only actual exposure to Ms. Rand's work is her screenplay for the absurd movie of "The Fountainhead" -- but based on that, I can't think of anyone more un-Whedon. The movie actually blames the problems of the world on altruists.

I knew WWII was Gandhi's fault!

[ edited by bobster on 2004-08-20 18:45 ]
bobster, I actually had to read Rand's "The Virtue of Selfishness" (now does that really sound very Wheedonish at all?)for a political science term paper. Also, "Anthem" which, if memory serves, ends evoking "the sacred word...'ego'."

Yikes!
I just have to chime in on the Ayn Rand issue. I can't see any reasonable comparisons between Whedon and Roarke.

I guess you can argue that they're both men who stuck to their principles but I believe (and my impression may be mistaken) that Whedon is a lot more flexible. He works well in a group. Look at the number of writers invovled in Firefly/Buffy/Angel. Whedon managed to incorporate all these poeople, include their ideas and styles and it doesn't detract, in fact it mostly improved, his overall vision for these three shows.

Roarke, the character, on the other hand was was a rigid pompous jerk. It was always his way or the highway. The book was written so Roarke was always right, but how often does that happen? I think Roarke is more George Lucas than Joss Whedon.
I also thought the Ayn Rand comparisons in the article were odd Ė I can't stand the works of hers I've read, or the philosophies behind them, and don't see Firefly as the TV equivalent of that philosophy (or Joss as Howard Roark!). But I enjoyed the article and love the series. I agree with the writer that the morality of the show makes it unique Ė I love the departure from the typical space-show plots that make the protagonists heroes of the universe, valiently pushing into new worlds and fighting the dark side. Whedon's worlds are always so much more complex, with shades of gray rather than black and white, and I find Mal & co. much more interesting as outlaws who don't have a problem with killing when it needs to be done, or the occasionally hired crime job, than if they were the classic heroes.
I also find the characters' motivations more interesting and complex than the typical Ayn Rand hero's Ė and, thankfully, they're much more likeable!
"I think Roarke is more George Lucas than Joss Whedon."

Ouch. :). You absolutely said it, sTalking_Goat.

And thus we have seen the culmination of George Lucas's freefall, from Master of a Galaxy Far Far Away to petty purveyor of crappy movies and merchandise to gullible kids (and geeks) on street corners . . .
I guess you can argue that they're both men who stuck to their principles but I believe (and my impression may be mistaken) that Whedon is a lot more flexible... Roarke, the character, on the other hand was was a rigid pompous jerk.

Just read this - hear hear! Couldn't agree more, on both counts. And Roark was also (again totally unlike Joss) quite a bit of a misogynist. Interesting that so many on this board agree with the assessment of Ayn Rand...
If Whedon were actually like Roark, he'd have left for the quarry long ago... any interview detailing his history with Hollywood could attest to that.

Whedon's characters tend not to hold Randish qualities, either... yes, the Serenity crew might be opportunistic at times, but Mal's personal code of honor -- and attendant acts of *gasp* altruism -- put them in danger quite a few times throughout the run of Firefly.

That said, yay to the author for being enthusiastic about Firefly.

Oh, and... ::waves hand frantically:: Chalk up another one for "thinks Rand is a pompous halfwit."
I am reminded of the 80's TV show Fridays, where Melanie Chartoff announced that Ayn Rand had died during the week and then sniped, "She buried herself."

Whereas, Buffy unburied herself. So therefore Joss is not Roarke? Ha? C'mon, points for effort?
bogu_salias, very, very nicely done! Major points!
"I think Roarke is more George Lucas than Joss Whedon."

Yipes can't agree less. I enjoyed Rand, diagreed on some points agreed on others. Individual strength in the face of overwhelming odds is a great lesson to take away from Rand. Things ruled by committee (read bureaucracy and confusion) tend to be quite bluntly crap.

Saying that benevolence is at odds with objectivism just means that you haven't the faintest grasp of objectivism.
And for fun:

Chalk one up for I think Chomsky, Focault, and Moore are pompous halfwits. :) So is Antonio Negri, but that's a different story ;) I love that we all disagree on so much but that Joss brings us together. Cheers, friends :D
Firefly is Objectivist/Libertarian propaganda (without the negative connotation of the word).
I'd long suspected it.

Mal's personal code of honor ... and what is the objectivist ethic? ... hmm ...
Rand's characters have also been known to put themselves in danger for the sake of another. Roark even said he said he would give his life for another at one point.

Just because Mal does something, say take on River and Simon, doesn't mean he does it for 'altruistic' reasons. As I see it he sees the potential rewards, being worthy the risk. One of those being: he admires Simon's boldness/strength/skill.

Perhaps those which have an affinity for Mal's personal code of honor ought to examine Rand's writings a bit closer.
"can't see any reasonable comparisons between Whedon and Roarke.
"I guess you can argue that they're both men who stuck to their principles but I believe (and my impression may be mistaken) that Whedon is a lot more flexible."

I should hope so! He's not fictional.

Is he?
Yes I invented Joss and I think I write him very well. Thank you all, good night! :D Firefly is largely driven by enlightened self-interest which has always seemed very objectivist to me... /shrug :)

[ edited by zeitgeist on 2004-08-21 02:47 ]
Ayn Rand seemes very un-Whedon to me. However, Mal is not all THAT unRandish. As Joss himself said, politically, the character of Mal is pretty reactionary.

Actually, we don't really know the source of his hatred of the Alliance just yet -- and btw, the jury is out on whether or not the Alliance is truly totalitarian or just kind of big and impersonal and stupid like the current U.S. government on its lesser days. (Actually, my guess is that the Alliance basically represents a complete blending of today's U.S. and Chinese governments which would make them about 55% totalitarian, about 30% stupid and about 20% decent and humanitarian.)
zachsmind i need to explain this to me.
firefly a western in space, no?
wher's zachsmind when you need him...
I too did a doubletake when I saw Rand and Whedon in the same sentence. Rand was a dreadful philosopher and a hack novelist. No, objectivism isn't incompatible with benevolence, but it is incompatible with any sort of plausible view of what people morally owe to one another. I'm sure Joss would be horrified at any comparison between himself and Rand, but probably not between Mal and Rand. I think, though, it is in Mal's flaws that he seems most Randian.
"No, objectivism isn't incompatible with benevolence, but it is incompatible with any sort of plausible view of what people morally owe to one another."

Whee... no that is not the case except with the extremists of objectivism. You don't judge all environmentalists by those blowing up car dealerships or all animal lovers by some of PETAs wackiness. It does a disservice to yourself and to objectivists to paint them all with the same broad brush. Tolerance, people :) What happened to celebrate diversity and all viewpoints offer something valid?

[ edited by zeitgeist on 2004-08-21 18:41 ]
OK Zeitgeist, formulate what objectivism claims, in a way that doesn't make it a vacuous truism, or something substantive but clearly false. I'm curious to hear what version of objectivism could be plausible.
ascii, still not buying it. I'll agree with bobster that Mal's more Randish than Joss, but there's still a bit too much willingness to sacrifice on Mal's part for him to truly be objectivist. The objectivist ethic, in Rand's own words, calls for a man to "exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself."

zeitgeist, good point. We shouldn't make the mistake of writing off objectivism completely, even if we disagree with the bulk of it. I'm still keeping my hand raised, though. ;-)
It is altruism that has corrupted and perverted human benevolence by regarding the giver as an object of immolation, and the receiver as a helplessly miserable object of pity who holds a mortgage on the lives of others - a doctrine which is extremely offensive to both parties, leaving men no choice but the roles of sacrificial victim or moral cannibal...
Ayn Rand, The Objectivist, June 1966

Altruism is a code of ethics which hold the welfare of others as the standard of "good", and self-sacrifice as the only moral action. The unstated premise of the doctrine of altruism is that all relationships among men involve sacrifice. This leaves one with the false choice between maliciously exploiting the other person (forcing them to be sacrificed) or being "moral" and offering oneself up as the sacrificial victim. Why is the second considered good? Apparently because Jesus said so.

But the dichotomy of sacrifice or exploit is false. Between rational people, there should never be any sacrifice involved nor conflict of interest. The true moral interaction between two people should be an interaction as traders - trading value for value in a mutually agreed on and beneficial manner.

This is not to say that benevolence and good will are immoral. It is only sacrifice that is immoral, and being generally benevolent is not a sacrifice but a benefit and a virtue. The difference is that to be "good" according to Altruism, one must hand out blank checks to all who claim a need; while according to Egoism, ones own life is one's ultimate standard of value against which all acts must be analyzed.

blatantly swiped from IoP -- http://importanceofphilosophy.com/?Evil_Altruism.html

So basically: working in one's own self interest is good as is being generally benevolent, without bending over backwards to appease everyone who comes along wanting something. Wish I had gotten home earlier so I could've said more but I must be off to bed for now. Later :)
Zeitgeist,
Well, if the only two moral views in the world were the strawman version of Altruism you've discussed, and Egoism, then we'd have to give Egoism some thought. But no credible theory recommends sacrifice for sacrifice's sake. Look to utilitarianism or Kantianism for a couple of halfway plausible views that fall between these polar extremes (and which don't depend on Jesus saying so). Your explanation is one of things I found so objectionable in Rand. She'd paint as the only alternative to her view some ludicrous position where cringing vermin have more demands on your resources than you do. Just silly, and that's why Rand is absolutely not taken seriously in professional academic philosophy. She is to philosophy what Jim Morrison was to poetry.
Hehe... sacrificing oneself for the sake of other's IS seen as virtuous to a lot of people. I don't actually consider that a strawman version of altruism which the dictionary defines as:

1. Unselfish concern for the welfare of others; selflessness.
2. Instinctive cooperative behavior that is detrimental to the individual but contributes to the survival of the species.

Rand's point seems to me to be not to sacrifice your well-being for the well-being of others to the detriment of yourself. Would you agree or disagree with that? I am reminded that Chomsky and Focault ARE taken seriously in academia and wonder why what those hallowed halls choose to grant legitimacy should matter to me.

Regardless, I am neither an objectivist nor do I have more of an interest in Rand than I do in a hundred other things. Just like to discuss and debate. :)
I haven't seen Firefly yet - and I'm unspoiled too. But based on the Buffy- and Angel-verse: there could only be a connection to Ayn Rand if Rand's book had been called "The Art of Selflessness."
Zeitgeist,
Don't know if you're still reading the thread....
But as you've pointed out, for the altruist the point of self-sacrifice is to help others. Self-sacrifice is the means, not the end. Seems to me that the central idea behind morality is that the interests of others are not less important just because they are the interests of _others_.
I've enjoyed this thread. I've never heard of Ayn Rand before and you guys have encouraged me to go and look for one of the books to see what you're all talking about.
FPM, I'm not debating that the point of self sacrifice is to help others. What would you say the end is if self sacrifice is the means? When you say that the central idea of morality is that the interests of others are not less important... I don't consider it wrong to act in my own self interest or the interest of others. Where morality comes into play for me is whether anyone is being harmed by what I or they do and how much in comparison to whatever good may come of it.

Sidenote, I am still reading and I appreciate your cool-headed responses :) Sidenote to Simon, glad you've enjoyed the thread, I have also :D

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