There was a bit of a splash last week when it was revealed that Fox might, finally, be interested in revisiting the Firefly property. The word used was “reboot”, not revival or renewal, but the company’s apparent make-or-break factor was that they would only revisit it if Joss Whedon was interested in coming back to run the whole deal. Presumably, eternally optimistic Browncoats everywhere raised a cheer of joy, their hope renewed. But should Firefly come back to the airwaves?
Frankly, I think that’s a terrible idea.
Well, to be clearer, it’s a terrible idea unless they address the various and sundry deeply problematic problems that the original series had. The issue I’m coming up against is this: I suspect that eliminating all of these problems would make a show that barely resembles the beloved-by-many original. The show suffered from a variety of racisms with a strong sexist undercurrent, and these were not so much vague issues as they were built into the worldbuilding of the show, deep down in the foundations. Let’s get digging, shall we?
We at Lady Geek Girl and Friends are ardent supporters of sex workers’ rights and sex positivity. Because of this, we find the portrayal of sex workers in musicals, well, troubling at best. As with many other forms of media, prostitution is shown as pretty much the lowest possible rung a woman can reach. Sometimes it’s used as a code word that means ‘she has a tragic backstory’; sometimes it’s used to show just how low she has been brought. Either way, if you’re a sex worker in a musical, odds are you’re gonna have a bad time.
Fantine from Les Miserables probably comes to mind first. Fantine, left with no other way, is forced to turn to prostitution. Her compatriots, who all seem to be hookers with hearts of gold sing raucously about their trade at first and seem to be pretty content with their lot, but as Fantine’s situation worsens, their lyrics as well as her lyrics get more and more tragic:
[Ensemble] Lovely ladies, going for a song
Got a lot of callers but they never stay for long
[Fantine] Come on, captain, you can wear your shoes
Don’t it make a change to have a girl who can’t refuse
Easy money, lying on a bed,
just as well they never see the hate that’s in your head
don’t they know they’re making love to one already dead?
There are a couple topics within feminism that really polarize feminists. One of the biggest ones is sex workers and sex worker rights. There are a lot of issues that come to play here, such as sex trafficking (which is the forcing of women and men into sex work and is not the same as someone who chooses to be a sex worker), poverty, objectification of women, and much more. Still, the rights of sex workers has become a divisive issue for feminists around the world.
In the TV show Firefly and the movie Serenity (though to a lesser extent in Serenity) Inara Serra is one of the main characters and also a sex worker. In the world of Firefly, Inara is considered a Companion, which is similar to a very bastardized western appropriated version of a geisha. A Companion entertains, has tea ceremonies, attends parties/events with their clients, provides for their clients’ spiritual and emotional well-being as needed, and yes, has sex with their clients. Despite the general acceptance in society of Inara’s profession and even her standing as a member of an elite class of people, she often comes under fire for her profession as a sex worker.
So today, I am going to explore whether or not Joss Whedon, the writer of Firefly, intended Inara to be a positive example for the rights of sex workers or if he is attempting to show that sex workers are a symptom of an inherently problematic society.