This post is a response to this critique of Joss Whedon and his short-lived Sci-Fi/Space Western Firefly. A friend of mine pointed me to this blog accurately believing I would find it upsetting. Allow me to preface a few things: I am a fan of Whedon’s work but I am not a fanatic. There is plenty of things to be critical of in his work and a great deal of scholarship has been dedicated as such. Entire academic conferences have been dedicated to Buffy the Vampire Slayer – whether or not such scholarship is justifiable it’s indicative of Whedon’s cultural relevancy. And while I enjoyed Buffy and some of Angel my personal favorite is Firefly in all of its short-lived glory.
I also consider myself to be a feminist, or if you prefer – a pro-feminist male, and it is from this position (not as a fan) that I take issue with Allecto’s “feminist analysis” of Firefly. Additionally, while I am no expert of feminism some of my past scholarship (including my MA thesis) dealt specifically with issues of gender and masculinity – a field that is an extension of feminist studies. I have taken multiple Women’s Studies courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels and am familiar with most major feminist scholars. I would describe my feminism as an amalgamation of traditional liberal feminism, post-modern feminism, and Jewish feminism.
Moving on …
A great benefit of being a student of history is attention to detail and a nose for evidence. Allecto professes to have watched Firefly in its entirety (more than once) and read multiple scripts for both the show and ensuing movie Serenity, yet she easily misses obvious details that dismantle many of her arguments. And while I’m not going to take Allecto to task on each and every one of her points (I have neither the time nor the inclination) I feel a few “illuminations” are in order.
Immediately, Allecto takes issue with the beginning of episode 1 when Zoe (a black female soldier) calls her white military RANKING superior (Cpt. Malcolm Reynolds) “sir.” Yet she mentions nothing of the several white characters in the scene who also call Mal “sir.” Allecto is digging for something here that just doesn’t exist. Then, Allecto offers up this summary:
The next scene is set in the present. Mal, Jayne, and Zoe are floating about in space. They come into some danger. Mal gets all panicky.
Zoe says, “This ship’s been derelict for months. Why would they –”
Mal replies, (in Chinese) “Shut up.”
So in the very second scene of the very first episode, an episode written and directed by the great feminist Joss, a white man tells a black woman to ‘shut up’ for no apparent reason. And she does shut up. And she continues to call him sir. And takes his orders, even when they are dumb orders, for the rest of the series.
Please allow me to fill in some of the gaps Allecto neglected to provide. Mal “gets all panicky” because an Alliance vessel happens upon his crew while they are engaged in an illegal salvage operation. Oh, and the Alliance is the enemy Mal and Zoe were fighting against in the opening scene – they also remain the primary “bad guy(s)” throughout the series (and movie). Regarding Mal telling Zoe to shut up “for no apparent reason,” well either Allecto didn’t watch the same episode I did or I’m watching something else entirely because in no way, shape, or form could it be seen or interpreted that Mal singles out Zoe and tells her to shut up. He’s talking to Wash (the ship’s pilot) and trying to ascertain the severity of their predicament. Zoe says several things then Jayne (white male goon) says “I don’t like this” (or something to that effect) and it is at that precise moment that Mal says shut up. A reasonable person would infer that Mal tells Jayne to shut up or MAYBE that he’s telling both Jayne and Zoe to shut up, but no one can reasonably (and that is the operative word here) suggest that Zoe was the exclusive target of Mal’s outburst. And insofar as the “no apparent reason” goes – Mal was trying to understand Wash and he couldn’t because of Jayne’s (and possibly Zoe’s) talking – it’s quite obvious why he says shut up. But don’t take my word for it – see for your self (both instances take place in the 1st 6 minutes or so of episode one titled Serenity)
Allecto is willfully misinterpreting simple plot devices (she does this repeatedly throughout her “analysis”) which immediately makes me question her motivations for writing this piece.
As such, it would be easy to stop there while dismissing Allecto’s entire premise for critiquing the show as flawed – and it is – but she goes on to make even more ludicrous accusations and interpretations that I want to refute.
In my estimation she mis-reads the character of Zoe and her relationships to her husband Wash and Mal. While it’s true that Zoe and Mal’s relationship is partially one of superior and subordinate – that dynamic exists because it is a military relationship and thus would likely exist in the same form regardless of either character’s gender or ethnicity. I would assert that Mal and Zoe’s relationship is one of mutual respect and completely asexual – they trust each more than any of the other crew members aboard Serenity precisely because of their experience in war and the ensuing friendship. This trust/friendship/relationship is the very source of conflict between Zoe and Wash, as Wash knows there is a part of Zoe he will never know the way Mal does – an issue addressed particularly well in the episode War Stories.
Perhaps the most disturbing thing Allecto says in her entire rant is that:
Let me just say now that I have never personally known of a healthy relationship between a white man and a woman of colour (emphasis mine). I have known a black woman whose white husband would strangle and bash her while her young children watched. My white grandfather liked black women because they were ‘exotic’, and he did not, could not treat women, especially women of colour, like human beings. I grew up watching my great aunts, my aunty and my mother all treated like shit by their white husbands, the men they loved. So you will forgive me for believing that the character, Wash, is a rapist and
an abuser, particularly considering that he treats Zoe like an object and
At least she qualifies this generalization to her own personal experience. So while it may be true that Allecto has never witnessed a healthy relationship between a white man and a non-white woman (which probably is more indicative of her environment than having any universal truth), I have known plenty of people in just such a relationship and they were as healthy as any other I’ve known.
Taking her characterization of Zoe further, Alecto insists she is intentionally un-developed to perpetuate sexist stereotypes of the “sidechick.” I would say under-developed and that it is more a result of the series being canceled after only airing 11 episodes (although 14 made it to DVD) than intentional neglect on Whedon’s part. Additionally, anyone familiar with Whedon’s work knows he takes his time developing characters – frequently dedicating entire episodes to said development. Had the series continued in production Zoe’s character would have undoubtedly been given a complete backstory and personality. That said, she isn’t even the most under-developed character on the show – that distinction belongs to either Kaylee or Wash which probably made it an easy choice to kill off Wash in Serenity.
Allecto descends into full-on idiocy when she claims that two female characters (Saffron and Patience) should not have been treated so harshly by mean ol’ Mal for certain transgressions perpetrated against Mal and his crew. Allecto insists Saffron simply engages in lies and deceit and that Mal unjustifiably enacts violence upon her. Nevermind the fact that Saffron left Mal and his entire crew for dead, not just as an unintended consequence of her deceit but rather with full intentionality. According to Allecto, the character of Patience is simply “disloyal” to Mal and as a consequence he leaves her trapped under a horse carcass. Nevermind the fact that in a previous run-in with Mal Patience shot him with the intention of killing him – a point made clear as the crew repeatedly and vocally question Mal’s sanity in visiting Patience this time around, there’s no way Allecto could have missed that point unless she did so willfully. Oh, and why does Mal leave her trapped under a horse? Well you see Patience tried to cheat him and kill him – but I guess Capt. Reynolds should have just let her shoot him.
And in one of the more astounding passages from a person who claims to have been a fan of Buffy and watched Firefly and Serenity multiple times as well as read the scripts, Allecto offers up this gem:
And just a tip Joss, from one writer to another. If you believe that women should kill men who try to kill them then, quite frankly, I agree with you. If you want to show your encouragement and support for women who defend themselves from men, then write a female character that kills a man who is trying to kill her AND GETS AWAY WITH IT (emphasis mine).
Seriously? Umm, Buffy Summers, Willow Rosenberg, Dawn Summers, Cordelia Chase, Anya, Faith, Drusilla, Zoe, River Tam … need I go on? Additionally, Allecto is obviously unaware that Whedon regularly writes for comics such as X-Men and Runaways in which the EXACT scenario she describes happens over and over. If anything is lacking in Whedon’s writing, murder without consequence is not it.
Sigh … Next up I will address Allecto’s attacks on Whedon and his wife and offer a critique of Allecto’s brand of feminism and why it actually hurts the women’s movement more than it helps it.