What ho Wee Readers, I hope you are all as well as can be hoped for in this desperate time of ours. For me myself, I’ve beaten the deep apathy I developed for finishing a book during the lockdown – and am well on my way to completing my GoodReads Reading Challenge. Please do not check if that is true, until at least a week after you’ve read this post, come on at least give me a chance to back up my lies with some facts.
Joking aside, my recent renewed interest in reading is why I’ve chosen this topic for my Post today. I have just – just being a relative term of course – finished a book called Serenity Found: More Unauthorized Essays on Joss Whedon’s Firefly Universe, which is a book of essays regarding the (at time of the book’s release), ‘recent’ film Serenity, and the show Firefly of which it was a sequel to. Now, before we get into anything deeper, I’d just like to say that I love the show Firefly. I think it’s a brilliantly written thing, with a cast of funny and likable characters. Really the only actual problem I can see with the show, and by extension the film itself is the lack of diversity in both the main cast and the background players. And when I say lack of diversity, I don’t actually mean that they’re all just white people – although let’s be honest in a Joss Whedon run project, that would not have been surprising – there are people of colour in the main cast. Rather, that seeing as it is set in a world where America and China have combined to become one giant space faring society – and part of the show’s world flavor comes from the interaction of Chinese and America culture – it’s strange that there are no Chinese members of the cast.
And it’s even weirded that the narrative doesn’t comment on it at all – in this Chinese inspired world, where are all the Chinese people? Something to think on certainly, but not why we’re here today. No, why we’re here today is the book called Serenity Found: More Unauthorized Essays on Joss Whedon’s Firefly Universe. Which is a very good book, full of essays that are insightful, and filled with interesting points of view on this fascinating world. Unfortunately, we’re not going to talk about that today, no instead we’re going to zero in on one small problem I found both in this book and its predecessor.
If I asked you to tell me what you liked about something, say a particular work of fiction, or what you thought made it such a fascinating story – how would you answer that question? Would you tell me about your favourite character, how you were drawn to them? Would you tell me about the dialogue, and the general writing of the story? Might you even tell me about the themes, and what you thought the message of the tale was? All good things, that if I asked that question, I clearly want to know your oppion on. But you know what I don’t want to hear…
“Well, unlike [entirely different piece of fiction that in no way relates to the one I ask about] …”
Basically, if I buy a book of essays about ‘Firefly’ or its film ‘Serenity’; then I clearly want to hear the authors oppion on those two works of fiction – what I did not pay for, were the authors oppions on Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate SG1, or any of the other dozen or so shows they whined about. Now don’t get me wrong I love Star Wars, see my previous posts on the subject if you don’t belive me:
I love Star Trek – the majority of their shows, anyway.
And I have no strong oppion on Stargate SG1 whatsoever.
They just weren’t why I bought that book.
Now all these essays were written by intelligent people, who had clearly thought out and carefully structured their argument to the full height of effectiveness. And yet time, and time again we get paragraph after paragraph explaining why Firefly is good, not simply because it is a well written piece of art – but because it is better than other pieces of art. In a sense we cannot truly see (or at least discuss) Firefly’s brilliance, without first illustrating why everything else is stupid.
We cannot speak about its strong female characters, and how great it is that they are allowed to be both strong and feminine, without first delving into why Stargate SG1 did not do this.
We cannot speak about the cleverness of the character’s banter, and Firefly’s humour – without first asserting that ‘Star Wars’ has no humour whatsoever. (A fact that was not true in the 1970s, and is still not true now).
We cannot speak about the depth of the characters, and the skill that must have gone into writing them – without first clarifying characters on Star Trek mount to little nothing but their job title. And if you think differently than clearly, you’ve just been tricked by a good actor.
Is this starting to sound annoying, or repetitive – good because that’s how I felt reading it. Now, I know what some of you might be thinking – Wee Lassie, aren’t you over reacting? Sure, it’s annoying for an essay to go out of its way to insult more than one of your favourite franchises, but aren’t they just discussing the market? Showing the reader where ‘Firefly’ and ‘Serenity’ stands in the great tapestry of Science Fiction? What, in a sense makes it stand out? And while I wouldn’t say that’s necessarily wrong – it felt more than that reading it.
It felt like Firefly couldn’t just be a good show, worth watching – it had to be better than everything else. Otherwise, it was nothing at all.
It felt like they weren’t just critiquing bits of other Science Fiction – but tearing them down, so Firefly could be built up in their stead.
Sure, in most ‘social worlds’ competition can be healthy – even in the market of Science Fiction. But my question is, at what point are we taking it too far? At what point are we competing not because we want to grow and succeed as people, or creators, or what not – but because we simply have no other way to communicate? At what point is it no longer enough for something to simply be good in of itself to be worth something?
And this attitude is evident in not just Science Fiction communities – but our wider culture as well. Think of any piece of popular culture, media, or online discussion that tries to be ‘feminist’ by implying that woman are innately better than men. Usually because men are depicted as stupid, or simple, or lazy, or just not as good as the fabulous women in the show/film/ anecdote. Don’t look at me like that, we’ve all seen something like this at least once in our lives.
But this I would like to point out is not actual feminism, because real feminism is about lifting people up to be on an even keel with each other; not tearing them down. There’s another word for that, but it’s not feminism. This notion – that to be a proper feminist property your female characters have to be superior in every way to their male counterparts – is an innately sexist one, really on both sides of the supposed gender wars. On the male side, it shows young boys that they don’t have the right to be respected, even if they’re good people. While on the female side, it heaps untold pressure onto young girls – to not only succeed in the specific way our culture deems appropriate, but to outcompete their male co-workers. It is no longer enough to be a strong and successful woman, now they have to be stronger and more successful than men (their competitors) – otherwise they haven’t accomplished anything at all.
And there’s that same notion again – the notion that if there are no losers in this game of life, how can there ever be winners?
This is not an indictment of competition in of itself – sometimes it is good to push ourselves to strive to the standards of others in our field. Rather it’s the indictment of the filter of competition, or the language of it. That is when the only way our society can express approval of a work of art, a political movement, a real living human being, is through putting down someone or something else. Has our world view become just a little skewed? Do we really have no other way of viewing or describing our world, but by these kill or be killed standards?
But what do you think? Am I blowing this all out of proportion? Part of me hopes I am – but I’ve seen people go ballistic with the Star Wars vs. Star Trek debate, so I don’t really think so. Let me know down in the comments, its why I have them in the first place.
If you’ve enjoyed this wee rant of mine – much shorter than usual, but that’s not always a bad thing – why not follow the Wee Blog if you haven’t already. Also check me out on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest and Goodreads for all that good stuff. And don’t forget to sign up to the Wee Mailing list by the 21st of December for a special Christmas-themed addition of the Newsletter. Until next time Wee Readers, stay safe, stay strong and a have a very bonny day.