Though my partner can’t quite see what I like about Firefly/Serenity(and didn’t accept my claim that I was viewing it as a mere artifact of popular culture – really), truth is it’s a damn cool series that should have survived beyond one season.
If you’re unfamiliar with Firefly, here’s the premise: humankind has colonized a new solar system, characterized by a strong, centralized, bureaucratic, quasi-authoritarian “Alliance” that governs the central planets through an elaborate system of surveillance and benevolent but Orwellian incentive structures. However the Alliance struggles to maintain control over the outer planets, which are largely characterized by tribalism and vigilante law akin to the U.S. Wild West or, for those on whom the metaphor is not lost, ungoverned spaces of today’s globe in which criminal networks, banditry, slavery and insecurity thrive. In other words, the political geography of the series rather resembles Thomas Barnett’s distinction between the “Functioning Core” and the “Non-Integrating Gap.”
But the series seems less about a band of criminals than about survival of kin-groups under failed state systems. Of particular interest to people concerned with governance under anarchy is the complex way in which honor codes come to check otherwise self-interested rationality.
“[Joss] Whedon’s vision appears to share much in common with Cynthia Enloe’s (1996) appeal that we focus more of our analytical attention on the ‘margins, silences and bottom rungs’ of world politics, in order to illuminate the amounts and varieties of power that are required to be exerted in order to keep the world functioning as it does…. The Issues with which F/S engages – e.g. travel and migration, trade and smuggling, crime and terrorism, prostitution and sex work, individual and societal security – are simultaneously local and international – or, rather, post-national.”
The show is also, Rowley argues, “post-feminist” insofar as:
“the individuals who comprise Serenity’s crew and passengers, and the situationg in which they find themselves, provide critiques and alternative visions of what it means to be gendered.”
She fleshes out this claim with reference to Zoe the warrior wife, Kaylee the sweet, sensitive ship’s mechanic, Inara the high-class Companion (geisha/prostitute) and various other protrayals of women and gender issues in the show. (Rowley spends only one paragraph on the men of Firefly, unfortunately, although in my mind different constructions of good and bad masculinity underpin the show, and Jayne Cobb’s gradual conversion from greedy, Neanderthal-esque cretin to good guy sidekick is one of the most interesting themes.)