October 17th, 2005
|10:34 am - Serenity and middle class liberal weeds like me|
This weekend I went to see Serenity again, this time with lots of lovely livejournal people. I am rather afraid I became slightly over-excited. More sober heads than mine can unpick its flaws, but my problem is that I feel such loyalty to the SF concept, and to these particular characters, that I am like a cheerleader for the film.
Having said that, I had a slightly critical discussion with altariel about the political favour of the film, for example its use of race, gender, and liberal values.
It is obvious that Joss Whedon sets up tension for emotional payoff (duh) and uses social and genre conventions to do the set up. A common device is to invest power in a conventionally powerless figure, and to put truth in the mouth of a conventionally amoral or stupid character. Obviously writers have been doing this since year 1.
I think Joss Whedon dwells inside middle class liberal America, and therefore the value system which he is using ironically to set up the tension is the value structure of this liberal, fairly well educated audience, and their understanding of genre conventions leading back through liberal critiques of golden age SF and back. A context we all share to some extent.
One potential problem with this is that Joss sets up irony within the context of these shared values - but they aren't universally shared so the show can be seen (and has been) unironically as a crude advocacy of anti-liberal values. So, putting quasi-liberal political talk into the mouth of the oppressive baddies, or making many of the oppressors black, is intended (I am sure) to increase irony and emotional tension, by playing on shared values and genre conventions that we almost take for granted. However, I think the show has played quite differently among groups who read it without this double-layer of irony, as a simple libertarian or even neo-con tract.
A second more serious complaint (similar to the one made by temeres in the link above) is that the the characters, the writers, and the whole damn lot of us, are middle class weeds playing at being tough guys, that they (and we) don't really confront the darkness at the heart of things, and the hopelessness of resisting it. A part of me wanted the film to be the heart of darkness that it wasn't. Liberal middle class irony only goes so far.
I think you're right that the heart of the film is a liberal one, and that this is held in tension to the Alliance and, to a lesser extent, the Operative. The Operative represents extreme liberalism - that liberalism which isn't liberal at all, because it is convinced of its own worth. Mal represents to one extent or another extreme libertarianism, but it occurs to me that he only turned to this way of thinking once the Alliance became convinced that only it was right.
In truth, sometimes the Operative is right - the Alliance isn't the evil Empire - and sometimes Mal is right - because, in forcing its ways of thinking upon everyone, it is being fundamentally illiberal. Liberalism offers but does not impose, and the Alliance would be the better if it sought to educate rather than instruct. I'm not convinced the politics in this film is working in the same way in the way that its genre stereotypes work, but to question the depth and limits of our liberal values. (What're the point of values if you don't seek to enforce them? But what are the point of liberal values that need to be enforced?)
Mal's right sometimes, as much as we'd disagree with him in real life. I like it when a film reminds me of that.
The Alliance might be a super-liberal social democracy to the urbanised inner planets, but in the outer planets it's an exploitative free market system. So in that respect it's like global capitalism, which gives me an easy life, and rips off women in the third world.
What did you make of Book going on about belief? I thought this had been over-edited, or perhaps I was being thick, because I didn'y really get the subtext there.
|Date:||October 17th, 2005 10:16 am (UTC)|| |
Middle Class Weeds
It is probably a fair criticism to level at the writers and audience. I don't see that it applies to the crew though.
Jayne and Kaylee are clearly working class. Simon and River are upper class. A good case can be made for Wash being a middle class weed but he plays up to this. With Mal and Zoe it is fairly ambiguous.
Re: Middle Class Weeds
Yes. I suppose the argument is that the idea of Jayne and Kaylee is for them to be working class characters, but that the implementation is too middle class. And of course successful actors are by definition no longer working class (though Baldwin did used to be a lorry driver).
My feeling is that they are about as working class as Vila ever managed to be, but possibly not as working class as Rose Tyler. I can feel a whole new top ten list coming on here.
So, putting quasi-liberal political talk into the mouth of the oppressive baddies, or making many of the oppressors black, is intended (I am sure) to increase irony and emotional tension, by playing on shared values and genre conventions that we almost take for granted. However, I think the show has played quite differently among groups who read it without this double-layer of irony, as a simple libertarian or even neo-con tract.
Or in triple-layered perception, as a member of one of the classes Joss likes to use as symbols: "Who's 'we', White Man?"
Yes. cyan, I don't know which group you are speaking from. But this is a problem with white middle class (etc etc.) writers isn't it? What are they/we supposed to do? I think the key is to that the character has an inner life, and is the centre of her own story, and is not just a symbolic other (to whom we can be oh so liberal). Do you think Serenity manages to achieve this? For instance do you think Book is a man with his own life, or seen entirely as a wise old token for Mal to interact with? I don't think Book is just a token, but I remember ninebelow had a poll about that, and wasn't opinion divided?
I remember having a horrid knee-jerk reaction to Whedon's initail "there's no aliens!" plans. And then getting utterly put off by the "it's a WESTERN!" stuff. Because that sort of rugged individualism just puts me off. (Same with B7, which I know loses me at least fifty credness-points.)
This reminds me of when me and spockette
were talking about how right-wing Stargate
is, and how it seems to be more ignorable because you can
utterly shred its political assumptions without totally undermining the nothing it's trying to say. (In other words, it seems to know how shallow and pointless it is, as opposed to "i am making Big Political Insights!" which tend to require that those insights be any good.)
I don't see B7 as embodying rugged individualism, more nerd-tastic nihilism. Have you given Serenity a go yet? You might like it, though I think it works best if you've seen the show before the film. But then my judgement is shot to hell.
I've often said that I refuse to describe myself as a Browncoat because we don't know what they stood for (other than not-the-Alliance). And it doesn't seem to bother anybody except me that B7 doesn't say anything about the beliefs of the Freedom Party (other than Throw the Rascals Out).
The Operative is certainly a Believer for most of the film, isn't he? In fact it might be said that the end of *this* movie is the first three minutes of The Operative's TV show ("Miranda"?) where he isn't kissing the cross anymore. So perhaps the message is "have a nice cup of tea and think before bumping off any large number of people, you won't be able to get them back if you change your mind."
The lesson I took from both B7 and Firefly/Serenity was disrespect for constituted authority. Which, given recent events in Gulfs with and without Coasts, seems fair enough to me.
It was because the operative is such a strong believer that i was surprised by Book telling Mal to 'believe in something, anything'. What's with that? Fiore with fire? I feel more comfy with disrespect and disbelief.
what the heck is the opposite of 'teleological'?
Hm, interesting question. Chaotic?
Yes, good question. It's almost the difference between optimistic and pessimistic SF. The New Wave, Brian Aldiss and JG Ballard, pointlessness and decadence.
The Firefly crew are doomed, but they 'won't lie down' as River says?
I think of the outer planets as the third world more than the wild west. The Wild West was doomed from the start, because it had to be overtaken by the expansion of more developed society. The third world perhaps isn't doomed. Is Vietnam doomed? Was its victory pointless(*) - quite possibly. Hmm... lots to think about.
(*) pointless = a word for 'anti-teological'?
what the heck is the opposite of 'teleological'?
Mechanistic. A teleological explanation of a phenomenon invokes a future purpose, a mechanistic explanation only involves past events.