Find Someone to Carry You: The Importance of Platonic Friendship in Firefly

There are a great many things about Firefly that are special. The show is a perfect illustration of Joss Whedon’s belief that “good sci-fi can’t be something you like, it has to be something you love1.” Fans of the show continue to love the Firefly universe over a decade after its one-season run was completed. The thing most of us “browncoats” would likely say we love most, though, is the people. The relationships in Firefly feel authentic. They feel grounded despite the fact that much of what we see happens while flying through space.

No matter if it’s the close sibling bond between Simon and River, the surprisingly sweet marriage of Wash and Zoe, the “everyone’s frenemy” that is Jayne, or the socially complex love between Mal and Inara or Kaylee and Simon, the way these people interact with each other is what we keep coming back for. But of all the relationships on Firefly, the one that is arguably the most significant is the friendship between Zoe and Malcolm.

firefly-zoe-and-mal

“Honestly sir, I think you got ripped off.”—Zoe on seeing Serenity for the first time

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Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Sacred Trust

Sacred trust is one of the most fundamental elements of religion, and yet it’s rarely talked about explicitly. Religious belief of any kind is built on relationshipsrelationships between the divine and the human, between the community and the human, between powerful humans and humans without power, and between humans of equal footing. All of these relationships are based on trust. Most religious people have some kind of trust that their God(s) won’t abandon them in this life or the next. We trust our communities to give us support when we’re in need (spiritually or materially) and we honor our obligation as a member of the community to help others. It doesn’t matter if that community is found in a one-room chapel, a megachurch stadium, or an internet forum. Religious people trust their leaders, who have been given the authority and ability to act (essentially, power), to lead their communities in responsible ways consonant with their belief system’s moral codes. We trust they won’t just make things up as they go along or abuse their power for their own gain, we trust they’ll use their education and experience and wisdom to guide others rightly. And we trust our equals to help us in the day to day lived practice of our faiths.

But what happens when that trust is broken? It’s a vehicle for compelling storytelling.

Spoilers for Game of ThronesFirefly, and Serenity after the jump.

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Hope for the Future vs. Warnings about the Future in Science Fiction

While Star Trek and Star Wars still reign supreme when it comes to science fiction, I have noticed that in the past couple of years, there has been a different sort of trend happening in sci-fi. Usually what we get in sci-fi media is the story of plucky humans traveling the universe and beating all the odds. Though humans are usually not ignorant when it comes to science and space travel, there are usually alien species that are much older and significantly more advanced. Many older sci-fi stories are hopeful humanistic stories about how we are able to overcome some sort of problem despite our lesser tech, or by showing how human resourcefulness and good old-fashioned spunk make us major players in the universe despite not being as advanced as some of the older races.

star warsWe have always been fascinated with the idea that we are not alone in the universe; that there is some alien presence out there older than us, maybe watching us. We aren’t certain, but we’re confident that one day we will run into them. But as our technology advances more and more, people look up in the sky and wonder why we haven’t encountered an alien presence or why we haven’t at least seen evidence of them through our most advanced telescopes. While this hasn’t stopped people from believing in aliens, this had led to two interesting theories: that either we are alone in the universe, or maybe we’re the more advanced race. For some reason, when we are left with these theories, science fiction starts to become a little less hopeful and a little more bleak in its outlook toward humanity.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Pantheon: Sailor Moon and Greco-Roman Mythology

A lot of things have brought my old favorite TV show Sailor Moon to mind again recently, from the recent anime reboot Sailor Moon Crystal, to the re-release of the original anime in uncut and subtitled form. Even though some are disappointed with Crystal, the fandom has in fact seen a resurgence.

Syng's First Cosplay

And also I just so happened to go to my first con in my first cosplay as Sailor Moon last weekend, so…

A lot of people, new and old fans alike, may be wondering how Sailor Moon relates to Greco-Roman mythology, since after all, it uses the names of the planets, most of which were given the Roman names of Greek gods. It turns out that Greco-Roman mythology was definitely an inspiration for many aspects of the series, though understandably there are a lot of differences as well. Spoilers for both anime and the manga in my explication below!

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Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Spiritual, but not Religious

world-religionOne of the most common answers to the “So what do you believe?” question is “I’m spiritual, but not religious”. More and more people are identifying as spiritually inclined without the attachments to any formal religion or philosophy. Plenty of self-identified religious folk tend to consider this “just plain old laziness”, but I think there’s something more to it. What’s making being spiritual but not religious so popular, and a successful storytelling tool?

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Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: The Power of Belief

world-religionBelief is a funny thing. When most people talk about belief, they’re usually taking about believing in things that are intangible; things like religion, a cause, or a greater good. Belief is often closely tied to faith. It’s a bit strange to talk about belief in terms of something we can touch or measure, because that kind of belief requires a simple glance over the evidence staring us in the face. It doesn’t really take any effort on our part to agree that something is true when a scientist or other expert has done all the work for us. The more interesting kind of belief requires some component of faith. A large part of faith is believing in something greater than oneself. This sort of belief is crucial to some of the most popular stories in fantasy and science fiction, from Peter Pan to Doctor Who to Serenity to The Hunger Games. It’s this kind of faith in something greater than oneself that gives true power to the characters in these works.

Spoilers for all three Hunger Games books, Doctor Who, and Serenity below.

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You Can’t Take The Sky From Me: Racebending the Firefly Universe

fireflyBack in 2002, you may have watched a little old show called Firefly. It was a Joss Whedon brainchild, a unique sci-fi show that tried to mesh together Asian and Western cultures as a backdrop for space cowboys. No, really. Whatever the case, Firefly became known as a show with a Sino-American background, as evidenced by its Asian/Western aesthetic and the phrases of Mandarin Chinese used right alongside the English in the dialogue. However, one major question remains: why were there never any Asian characters of note in all the episodes or the movie?

In the commentary for the Firefly movie Serenity, it’s stated that China and the U.S. were the two superpowers who took the human race to the stars, and so, by the time the series starts, these two cultures have merged into the default “human” culture. However, if the two cultures really merged, one would expect them to, well, merge—the prevailing theory that the Asians settled on the richer central planets instead of the poorer ones in the Outer Rim doesn’t hold water, because no ethnicity is inherently smarter or better than another. Asians should have been on all planets, rich or poor.

firefly mal chopsticksWhich brings us to our main cast. There were only a couple of extras who were Asian, which is a shame in and of itself, but none of our main cast—Captain Malcolm Reynolds, Zoe, Wash, Kaylee, Inara, Jayne, Shepard Book, or Simon and River Tam—were Asian. So we’re left with a bunch of mainly white characters who all speak some amount of Mandarin Chinese, use chopsticks, and dress up in Asian-inspired clothes and hairstyles. Without an Asian character in the cast and without Asian values reflected in the storytelling, this little bit of otherwise creative worldbuilding smacks of cultural appropriation.

Fortunately, however, Firefly is an old show with a huge fandom (hello, Browncoats), and many of them have written extremely nuanced and articulate posts on why Firefly’s cultural appropriation is a big problem. So I won’t go into that here. It did occur to me, though, that Firefly’s problem could easily have been fixed by racebending. That is, the producers could easily have changed one or more of the characters’ ethnicities so that they were Asian. But which ones would be best?

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