Saturday, October 18, 2008

Firefly Post Exchange - Kittens for Jesus

Today, Evan of Kittens for Jesus and I are doing a blog-exchange with posts on Firefly. If you like what he says here, I strongly encourage you to check out his blog, and the underground newspaper he edits. Also, if you like the Firefly post, go ahead and check out my post at his blog, here.

Part I: Firefly and history
I discovered Firefly less than a month ago. It is such a compelling series, however, that I'm already hooked and I am planning on buying the Blu-ray edition of Firefly when it comes out in November, despite my qualms with the BD format.
Firefly, for those unaware of it, is a television show that aired on FOX a few years back, and really didn't do very well. It was canceled after only one season (probably because FOX didn't air the first episode, which established the entire premise), but the response from fans was so great that Universal Studios bought the movie rights and in 2005, a film extending the story, Serenity, came out.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Firefly for me is the deep connection that the show has to history. Although it is set more than 500 years in the future, in a galaxy where humans have spread out from "Earth-that-was" to many terraformed planets, Firefly has a profound feeling of familiarity about it. Many have described the show as a "sci-fi western." I believe that that description of it is quite apt.
The first episode of Firefly begins with the Battle of Serenity and Malcolm Reynolds, a Sergent in the army of the Independent Faction, or the browncoats, fighting against a consortium of "core worlds" (rich, industrialized planets in the center of the galaxy) called the Union of Allied Planets or the Alliance. Joss Wheedon, the show's creator, drew upon the history of the American Civil War for the backstory of Firefly. A group of rural rebels, wishing to maintain their independence, are crushed by a technically superior industrialized force. Sound familiar?
This basis in history fascinates me, and I think that the show is an excellent lens through which we can view the struggles of those defeated and forced to live under a government that they fought against. It doesn't legitimize the confederate cause during the Civil War in my eyes, but it certainly humanizes it.
The way Firefly describes the border planets, the outer limits of the Alliance, is also reminiscent of the American West during the territorial years. Laws exist as only vague guidelines, and those whose job it is to enforce the laws are few and far between. The Alliance, of course, is tyrannical and corrupt on the border planets, just as the North was seen by the Southerners in the conquered South after the Civil War. The Northern authorities, or rather, the Eastern authorities, were seen as similarly corrupt in the American West during the settlement of that area in the 19th century.
I'm a history fan, so I just drink this stuff up, but Firefly is an amazing show even without considering all the history in it. The character development is some of the best I have ever seen in a television show, and the writing is very good, with an excellent blend of humor, action, and drama.

Part II: The Sino-American Alliance
The Union of Allied Planets in Firefly was formed out of an earlier alliance, one that emerged through the merger of the last two superpowers on Earth when humans left the planet: China and the United States. This kind of alliance may not seem plausible given the average American's thoughts on the Chinese, as exemplified by my English teacher's husband's cry during the recent Beijing Olympics: "you rat-assed commie bastards!"
A lot can change in 500 years, though. Currently, the US and China are the major spacefaring nations (excepting, of course, Russia, which in 500 years could be a province of China, just like we could be a province of Canada) and English and Chinese are two of the most popular languages in the world. Everything points to an alliance between the two if the world suddenly got its act together and created a unified world government. However, how effective would such a unified Sino-American government be? Are the cultural gaps just too wide, the mountainous language barrier too high?
More plausible than an alliance, I think, is a war and then a mass exodus of the losing side (or the winning side, depending on the condition of Earth after the war) into space. I think that, rather than rallying around political similarities or geographical proximity, the two sides would be formed by confederacies of states based upon language. Tone language versus tone-neutral language. English versus Chinese. I am probably over-simplifying the situation, but one cannot underestimate the effects of globalization over 500 years.
Once this war had been won by one side or another, the loser or the winner, depending on whether or not Earth had been destroyed by the war, would travel into space and establish colonies, space stations, new Earths. Thus, the process of colonization and expansion, complete, probably, with the concept of manifest destiny, would begin anew. New factions and subgroups would emerge and the endless recursiveness of life would extend into the limitless void. It almost sounds like a premise for a sci-fi show.

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