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Firefly Reconsidered: Why Firefly Isn't "Hall of Fame" Great

Look, please stop. I've been being super nice about this. I keep saying that I don't like it. But please stop trotting out this whole, "What? How can anyone possible not like this?"

You're going to like or not what you want. But I've seen a bit too much claims that its "obvious" Lost Cause apologism to just let that go. If its too close for you, it is, but that doesn't make your perceptions self-evident.

Whedon based it on a CIVIL WAR book. He has stated, on the record and before it became controversial, that Killer Angers was the inspiration*. None of this is remotely in dispute. It's not just Western Tropes ... it's specific to the Civil War in America.

He has also repeatedly stated that he envisioned Firefly as having been modeled after the RECONSTRUCTION era during the Civil War.

"I was taken with the idea of a civil war and rebuilding from the point of view of people who had lost the war." -Whedon.

I mean- Browncoats. C'mon, man. Like what you like, but don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining. If I don't like something, then I don't like it, and telling me to ignore what I see with my eyes isn't going to change that.

And ignoring the things that clearly point that, inspiration or not, that's not what he's doing doesn't make those go away.
 

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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
You're going to like or not what you want. But I've seen a bit too much claims that its "obvious" Lost Cause apologism to just let that go. If its too close for you, it is, but that doesn't make your perceptions self-evident.

Author: I based this on the American Civil War. I specifically wanted to explore Reconstruction. From the losing side. The Confederates. Funny thing- I even named the main character's ancestor after a Confederate General. Funny, right! Oh, that's just the tip of the iceberg..... There's a lot to say about Reconstruction, and the nobility of the losing side of the Civil War, and the Gray Coats ....

Thomas Shey: WUT? I CAN"T HEAR YOU!!!!! SHUT UP!
 

Author: I based this on the American Civil War. I specifically wanted to explore Reconstruction. From the losing side. The Confederates. Funny thing- I even named the main character's ancestor after a Confederate General. Funny, right! Oh, that's just the tip of the iceberg..... There's a lot to say about Reconstruction, and the nobility of the losing side of the Civil War, and the Gray Coats ....

Thomas Shey: WUT? I CAN"T HEAR YOU!!!!! SHUT UP!

What part of "this was inspired by a novel about the Civil War but changed up for my purposes" is not comprehensible? Like I said, did the color of the other browncoat, the story's reaction to slavery, and the episode with the Southern style elite vanish while I wasn't looking? Or do the things that look like the Confederacy count while the things that don't look that way somehow not matter?

Let's not even get into how little the other side of the war looks nothing much like the North, because that might make this all less tidy.

Like I said, if its still too close for some people, it is; the Confederacy casts a long dark shadow. But I've seen Confderate apologism, and this doesn't look much like it at all once you zoom in in the least.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Like I said, if its still too close for some people, it is; the Confederacy casts a long dark shadow. But I've seen Confderate apologism, and this doesn't look much like it at all once you zoom in in the least.

What part of Whedon saying that this wasn't just modeled after the Civil War, but RECONSTRUCTION did you miss?

I started this by avoiding getting into the topic, given that (for those who care about it) it is fairly well-known. It was considered an issue when the show aired, and it's become more of an issue since then.

So I'm going to say this one more time- if it doesn't bother you, great. But you are either a) denying it's a show that is modeling American reconstruction, and glorifying the losing side; or b) admitting that, and saying that it isn't "Lost Cause" apologism because you just know it when you see it, and you're denying it. Of course, the majority of Lost Cause symbolism focused on ... Reconstruction, and on how it wasn't about slavery (it was just good ol' boys, protecting their freedom against the big bad gummint) and how the South was always doomed against the technologically superior North but the South had the better minds and the more gallant and dashing heroes. Chivalry- the gallant and dashing soldier? Yeah, that. Is this sounding familiar? At all?

Maybe you missed it. Maybe this doesn't bother you. Maybe you're like, "I have no idea how anyone can mistake the Unification War with the purple bellies to bring in the Independent Faction with the War to Preserve the Union fought by the blue bellies to bring in the Confederacy."

Good. For. You.

But please stop with the whole, "This has nothing to do ... NOTHING AT ALL TO DO with the iconography of the Lost Cause." If you don't see it, or don't care, then enjoy.
 




But please stop with the whole, "This has nothing to do ... NOTHING AT ALL TO DO with the iconography of the Lost Cause." If you don't see it, or don't care, then enjoy.

I never said it had nothing to do with it. What I said is you can evoke some of it without being an apologist. If you don't get the difference, I don't know what to tell you.
 

Rabulias

Hero
Firefly seemed to intentionally invert or make mirror images of a number of traditional western (the genre) tropes. Look back at some western films or TV shows and while they don't present the Lost Cause narrative, former Confederate soldiers show up as sympathetic individuals from time to time (even as protagonists). The ideas of the Confederacy are not presented as sympathetic, of course. Many of these soldiers are shown to be troubled or conflicted about their service, and are often shown to have noble heroism within them. I believe this is paralleled in Firefly with Book's backstory - an Alliance agent/operative who regrets his service and feels he must atone for what he did during the war.

Firefly's setting is based on this inversion. In Civil War terms, what if it was the Confederacy that had the economic and military power, and the free states tried to secede from the south -- and lost? Yes, there is a Lost Cause parallel, but IMO, it's not whether you win or lose that makes you the good guy or the bad guy, it's what you stand for. Firefly makes it pretty clear that Mal and Zoe do not support anything akin to the Confederacy's abhorrent ideas.

Aside: My favorite inverted trope is Inara. In many westerns, the "soiled dove" prostitute is not the most respected person in town. In Firefly, she has the highest prestige and social standing of the crew! :)
 




IMO saying the "lost cause" business is an apologetic, 'cept I'm not from 'round these parts. Seriously though, imagine moving from the USSR to Texas, it was weird.

Well, the great truth is almost any story based on the losing side in a revolution or civil war that valorizes the losers is likely based at least in part on cherry picking what they decide to keep. The Confederacy is particularly fraught because of how bluntly awful it was, but its true to one degree or another with virtually all of them (the Jacobin insurrection comes to mind, as anything using it or something based on it is probably going to be--selective--to say the least). At best, most revolts are based on a mixture of legitimate grievances and really obnoxious prejudices, and you rarely see anyone want to deal with the latter part of that.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Well, the great truth is almost any story based on the losing side in a revolution or civil war that valorizes the losers is likely based at least in part on cherry picking what they decide to keep. The Confederacy is particularly fraught because of how bluntly awful it was, but its true to one degree or another with virtually all of them (the Jacobin insurrection comes to mind, as anything using it or something based on it is probably going to be--selective--to say the least). At best, most revolts are based on a mixture of legitimate grievances and really obnoxious prejudices, and you rarely see anyone want to deal with the latter part of that.

NO.

That is not it ... at all. That, right there, is the type of false equivalency that gives rise to Lost Cause narratives (call it Romanticism or Apology).

The reason that shows that traffic in Lost Cause Romanticism are so particularly fraught in the United States is because there was a concerted effort, for decades, to whitewash* history regarding the Confederacy and to romanticize everything about it. This not only ensured that people would not fully understand just how brutal and authoritarian the Confederacy was, but also caused so much suffering for decades afterwards. Lynchings, Jim Crow- this is all tied back to the failure of reconstruction and the Lost Cause narrative.

Imagine if the Germany, ever since WW2, had spent their time saying, "Do you know who the real villains were? The Allies! I mean, c'mon. They invaded us, and think about how terrible the suffering was when they came into Germany. Really, the plucky and resourceful German soldiers were the ones that we should be thinking about."

Oh wait, there are people that do that! The same people who traffic in Lost Cause BS. There's a reason that you find German WW2 (there's a term for it ... start's with an N) and Confederate memorabilia together.

So, yeah, there is a long tradition in the US of appreciating a rebellion- that's how the country was founded. But the very specific circumstances of the Lost Cause make it incredibly bad.

I can understand not liking Joss Whedon for other reasons; as much as I love Buffy and Angel, I have always had a lot of trouble with how Charisma Carpenter's exit was handled, and once I found out what happened (oh, that makes a sad amount of sense ...) I don't think I can watch it. I really enjoyed Dollhouse, but I don't know that I want to re-visit it right now.

But Firefly always had those issues. It was good- Whedon wrote great dialogue, and it had one of the best casts (if not the best) of any of his series. If you can't stand the Lost Cause stuff, though, it is painful to watch.

The only thing worse are the fans who rush in to deny it. I mean, what's next. "Lovecraft wasn't a racist ... he was inverting the tropes of racism!" Just brilliant.


*Yes, that term is deliberate.
 


NO.

That is not it ... at all. That, right there, is the type of false equivalency that gives rise to Lost Cause narratives (call it Romanticism or Apology).

And this is a remarkable reading fail that you can see what I wrote and consider me not to have made the same distinction you're making. Or did the phrase "because the Confederacy is so bluntly awful" not appear on your screen?

And again, if you think people using other failed revolts don't do their damned best to whitewash them, you don't have enough experience with how they're handled in other parts of the world. Yes, the Confederate apologists are a standout case. No, they're not unique.

I mean, hell, all you have to do to see that is note the way teaching about the U.S. Revolutionary War tends to elide over the part of it that was about not liking how the British weren't allowing the colonists to treat the native people's however the hell they wanted. Its not as central to the whole thing as the American Civil War was about the South's desire to remain and expand its slave state status, but if you don't think people using it as a fictional basis for another revolution where the revolutionaries are supposed to be the heroes is going to ignore and and paper over it, I think you're being naive.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
And again, if you think people using other failed revolts don't do their damned best to whitewash them, you don't have enough experience with how they're handled in other parts of the world. Yes, the Confederate apologists are a standout case. No, they're not unique.

I apologize. I understand it must seem ... weird ... that I would hold an American show filmed in America and written by an American and broadcast on an American network to an American audience to some standard when it came to invoking American Lost Cause imagery that had been used to subjugate so many Americans for so many scores of years after a war; and that this type of Lost Cause romanticism continues to resonate today and continue to cause schisms in America.

I apologize that I pointed out that it bothered me when I watched it, which caused you to come and defend your precious little TV show and make this a thing, after I repeatedly said I didn't want to get into it. Because apparently there is nothing more important than defending the honor of a TV show from people who are uncomfortable with the blithe way it trafficked in those tropes. And because you, who assured me repeatedly that it was okay because you just didn't see it, feel the need to keep arguing the point.

But sure. Firefly fans ... it is what it is. Did you do a sufficient job defending the great honor of Firefly? Are you going to be untroubled the next time you cheer the Browncoats against the Purple Bellies, and appreciate Mal's chivalry as he fights off the overwhelming industrial and technological might of the Alliance because he was all about ... Planet's Rights? I hope so. I wouldn't want you to be troubled by any associations.
 


Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Texas dirt floor BBQ shack, brisket, beans and an orange crush, best in the world. ;)

You are probably right, but the one thing I've learned is the quickest way to a fight is to assert the supremacy of BBQ.

(The best BBQ I ever had was years ago at a rib place in Memphis, but the overall best is Texas. Although ... I know sauce is heresy, but Carolina sauce is good ...)
 

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