Saturday, December 31, 2005

In which I descend to previously unseen levels of geekiness

My sister gave me a copy of the Serenity Script book for Christmas (and full credit to her, she had to buy something that geeky and then carry it down the street, which is over and above the call of duty). It turns out that there was supposed to be a Mal & Inara subplot to the movie that got eliminated, a decision I completely support.

So since I'm a geek, I thought I'd take this opportunity to discuss the gender dynamics in cross-class relationships in Firefly (well wouldn't you?). For those of you who don't know Firefly or Serenity (although left-wing, particularly feminist, blogs and Joss Whedon fandom do seem to go hand in hand) it's set on a small transport spaceship that mostly gets work smuggingly. There are two crew members who are relevant to this discussion Mal, the ship's captain, who comes from a poor outer planet and fought in the recent civil war, and Kaylee, the ship's mechanic who comes from another depressed planet, and used to work for her daddy (when he had work which wasn't often) until she went up on the ship. Simon joined the ship at the beginning of the TV series, he comes from a central planet and was very wealthy, until he became a fugitive (which is the reason he's now on the ship). Then there's Inara, who works as a companion (which is supposed to be the equivalent of a geisha - and we will be getting into that), she rents one of the ship's shuttles from Mal, to keep her business going. Throughout the TV series Kaylee & Simon and Mal & Inara were supposed to provide the sexual tension (and didn't, for me), but the relationships never got anywhere.

It wasn't until I watched the movie that I thought about Kaylee and Simon's relationship as a cross-class relationship. Because he'd come into her space, most of his markers of being from a different class (usually defined as him being proper) were more immediately about him being an outsider. Kaylee was all over Simon in the TV series, and he didn't seem to be that into her. I also got the feeling that the only reason she was into him was because he was there. There's nothing wrong with that, but it meant I didn't care if they got together. Plus Kaylee is unbelievably cool,* and I wanted her to be with someone who was really into her. Anyway, in the movie they do end up together (you mean like sex?), and I really liked it. They gave Simon a good reason why he hadn't seemed that into being with her, and when it comes down to it, I want Kaylee to have what she wants.

It was then I realised how rare it was to portray cross-class relationship where the man wasn't rescuing the woman in some way (either pygmalion like, or the way Jack rescues Rose in Titanic). In fact, to have a cross class relationship where an upper-class man comes into a working class women's world as a stranger, with no rescuing going on, is incredibly rare. In the world of movies class is just another way of exploring the power men have over women.

Partly this is because a lot of culture (particularly television) ignores class entirely. At the movies, upper middle class America is the default - anything else is a concious choice - something that needs an explanation. Movies that show people from different classes relating to each other are even rarer.

Grace Paley once said that all your characters have blood and money - that is, every fictional person (just like every actual person) has a family, or lack of family, that shapes who they are, and their life is also shaped by money, and how they get it. I really liked the fact that Firefly (unlike other Joss Whedon shows) showed people's money as well as their blood. I do think it says something that the only way you can get class on American TV (on Fox no less - but they did cancel it) is by going on a spaceship. I think it was because the 'verse was built to be economically real, that they were able to portray a cross-class relationship whose sole point wasn't to show women being rescued.

Mal & Inara are quite a different story. Throughout the show they're set up as a cross-class relationship, most obviously in 'Shindig', when her familiarity with a hoity-toity world is contrasted with his complete out of placeness. In fact I'd say the classes that Mal and Inara belong to are more complicated than the show allows. In economic terms, Mal owns a ship and makes money out of it, while all Inara has to sell is her labour power. If they are a cross-class relationship, then that's viewing class as culture, as opposed to purely economic relationships. I think if you were to transfer it to America today then Mal is a white guy from Georgia, who has managed to scrape together enough money to buy his own truck, and gets work from it, while Inara is a college educated woman (from a long line of college educated women), who works as a psychotherapist (I don't think it would transfer to New Zealand quite as well, because for all the 'two New Zealands' drivel after the election, we don't have different geograpical cultures which interact with class in the same way).

But the real conflict between Mal & Inara is based on Inara's job. Now I should start by saying I'm really sceptical about the whole high-class geisha idea. While it's true that there have been times in the past that prostitution has been highly respected, and possibly woman controlled (I'm not sure about that), those are times when the roles of women have been severely restricted. We see no signs that the roles women play in the 'verse are restricted any more than they are today - certainly not on the central planets. I don't believe that if women had the freedom to take any role they choose, they would choose dedicating their lives to pleasing men (I don't think the one woman she is with changes this argument as both her clientele, and the brothel shown in 'Heart of Gold' primarily focus on men). I don't believe that high-class, respected prostitutes would exist in a world where women had the freedom to do the same work as men. Women might still choose prostitution because they needed the money, but I don't believe someone like Inara would choose to work as a Companion if she could get the same prestige and fulfillment from other jobs.

Anyway back to Mal & Inara - Mal is contemptuous of Inara's job, and was from the very moment he met her. This is portrayed as part of the class differences. Mal comes from the outer planets, where they don't have respectable companions, only normal whores, and therefore doesn't respect the job she does. But I think it's also supposed to be part of the sexual tension - he doesn't want her sleeping with anyone else because he loves her.

But to me, the fundamental problem with their relationship is that he doesn't respect her and doesn't respect what she does. That this is shown as a sign that he's in love with her is, quite frankly, sick. It may be realistic, but that doesn't mean I have to want them to get together (and I don't). I think it's the weird class dynamic that makes their relationship so messy. Class is used as an excuse for his disrespect for her, and I have a problem with that on many, many different levels.

Inara and Mal's relationship is more interesting than Simon and Kaylee's, and I think you could tell a good story about it; I just don't think it's the simple one that the series (and in particular the script of the movie) seemed to be telling. I don't cheer for them, but they could be interesting and messy. Because they're not portrayed as interesting and messy and real, it's much easier to read their relationship as a wider statement, and I think that's where it comes up lacking.

* What I adore about Kaylee, as a character, is that she completely ignores any sort of gender stereotypes, she's a mechanic, she's girly, she really into sex, she's innocent, and when she wants a pretty dress it is quite possibly the ugliest pretty dress you've ever seen - but you love her for it. I don't actually think that an individual character in a story can be feminist (except in the sense the character might identify as a feminist), but if they could it would be Kaylee.

64 comments:

  1. I just watched Serenity last night. I thought Kaylee was a perfect example of what a woman might be in a post patriarchy world. I liked her very much.

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  2. I think it's interesting how Kaylee is doing a traditionally male job (mechanic) but using what are thought of as female attributes - she uses instinct to find out what is wrong rather than scientific deduction, she treats the ship almost as a person.

    I don't want to read too much into this, because it fits more with the individual character than gender roles, and it is entirely possible to read this as still partially confining her to a gender stereotype, but I think it's a brilliant example of the idea that women can do anything men can without having to be men.

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  3. Exactly eniloraca - there's this huge false dichotomy where feminism is either about being men (getting jobs, pursuing pay checks), or celebrating women (women's culture or spirituality). I say we can have equality, and valuing what women do at the same time (and so do a lot of other feminists - I think this is mostly a media false dichotomy.

    One of the things I found most frustrating about the 'verse is that in some ways it did seem to be post-patriarchy, and in others it really wasn't. I think the 'verse wasn't as honest, or thought through, when it came to gender, as it was when it came to class. But Kaylee rocks enough that I don't really care.

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  4. It seems to me that it's _because_ women have the freedom to do the same work as men that prostitution has become a high-class, respected profession (at least on the inner planets). With more options open to women in need of money, sex work has to be made more appealing in order to attract workers.

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  5. Interesting insights.

    Just wondering if you have anything to make of Zoe/Wash then? Although we are not given to think that class is or ever was an issue in their relationship.

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  6. I don't think that argument really holds up. The question isn't why poor women become prostitutes, that's always happened, and it's clear that poverty exists in the 'verse. It's why rich women, who have other options, would become prositututes. In my understanding that only happens when rich women don't have any other options to gain prestige and power.

    Tym - no class was never the issue with Zoe and Walsh (I think it's reasonable to assume they are both working class people in the economic sense, although we don't know whether either of them came from a middle class background and what the general class-backgrounds of career soldeir and pilot are). Although their relationship did begin to annoy me near the end, particularly in War Stories. I just had no time for the conflict that was created because Mal was Zoe's captain during the war.

    Like Mal & Inara it's not that I didn't think this could be interesting. I just never understood it - why was Walsh so upset about Mal & Zoe. Was the conflict actually about something else, was it a cultural issue, or was he just an asshole who had a problem with his wife having a life outside him (these are not mutually exclusive). Because it was never clear what was going on, I usually jumped to the asshole conclusion, which was helped by the fact that he'd use really offensive stereotypes in his arguments. I got the feeling that the writers thought it would be natural that he would be threatened in this way, while I thought if that was the dynamic it would need explaining.

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  7. I don't recall any suggestion that Inara and her colleagues were rich _before_ becomming companions. I expect it would be mostly poor women signing up as companions in order to become rich, or at least obtain a much higher standard of living than they could earn from other available jobs. Alternatively, maybe the freedom for women to do whatever they want only applies to the poor, and becomming a companion is the only way for a rich woman to gain independence and keep her wealth and status? We don't see very much of the rich, but Shindig does suggest a rather more restrictive society than that of the outer planets and moons.

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  8. In the shooting script Inara says that she'll never begin to train people as Companions because they began too late - and that she began training at age 12 (which I find super-duper extra creepy).

    So these children are in live-in training from age 12 till they're significantly older (18? 16? 20? we don't know). Who pays for this training? It must be the parents of the girls (and we have no evidence that men undergo companion training, and significant evidence that they don't). That's a significant investment in their daughters, so they must have some sort of income beforehand. I think there's further evidence that these schools are funded by the pupils because Inara (who for some mysterious reason left the companion house) can set up and run one. Where else would she get the money to run it if it wasn't from the parents.

    I don't think the argument that this is the only way women can gain high-status position really holds - since we've seen the women councillor.

    I don't think Shindig is supposed to be set on a core planet (in fact I'm pretty sure it's not). Instead we're seeing the rich on a medium sized planet that is obviously highly stratified.

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  9. Oh man, I think the opposite of this. I think the entire POINT of Shindig was to show that Mal does not respect Inara's job, but he does respect her as a person. After all, he smacks Atherton BECAUSE Atherton was about to call Inara a whore, and outright tells Inara later: "I might not show respect to your job, but he didn't respect you."

    (shooting script: http://www.twiztv.com/scripts/firefly/season1/firefly-106.htm)

    Course, it does kill me that Mal, the guy who's so against whoring, SLEEPS WITH A WHORE (and not even a Companion, mind you) in Heart of Gold. WTF?

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  10. There are certainly male whores, so I'd be surprised if there weren't male companions. What's the evidence against it? I'd assumed that the companion house and training is funded by a percentage of the income of adult registered companions. You're right, the councillor does show that ruling class women do have other options.

    Possibly Mal doesn't object to whoring so much as someone he cares about doing it. Or possibly his association with Inara has softened his views on the subject. In any case, there's no payment involved in that encounter, and I don't think he distinguishes between companions and whores.

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  11. I agree that that was what they thougt they were trying to do with Shindig - it just totally doesn't work for me. I see no difference between Mal's disrespect for Inara and her job - and Atherton's disrespect for her. Why is one about her job and the other about her, how would Mal know? If Mal respects her, but not her job, then why does he insult her all the time? Would you be able to say about anyone else on the crew, I respect you, I just don't respect your job? I think it's particularly bad with Inara, because we don't know anything about her but that she's a companion, and we're lead to believe that the way she acts (and dresses, what is up with her wearing the fancy outfit in Out of Gas, when they're not going to see anyone for a week. I'd like it a lot better if she'd worn the Companion version of jeans and a T-shirt then) is because of a training. I can't think of one part of Inara that is seperate from being a companion (except possibly being in love with Mal - to which - whatever).

    I was looking over the script book, and in the script book it specifically states that the students of Inara's school come from the good families, and have a great academic record. Although it does also seem that there were two boys there (the tokenism of that drives me nuts).

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  12. Sarah S6:23 am

    Just as a quick note, you said "I don't believe that if women had the freedom to take any role they choose, they would choose dedicating their lives to pleasing men".

    While I have a problem with the way you frame the point since just describing it as pleasing men is a gross gross oversimplification to me, I have to disagree simply because if I could choose anything in the world, that is what I would choose. I've actually thought a lot about this, and if I could do anything, I would go into prostitution. I love sex, I think it is an intensely spiritual thing (Inara is also shaped by Assyrian temple prostitution, think Shamhet). I think that getting paid to engage in a mutally respectful sexual experiance would be just about the most important and amazing thing I could do with this lifetime. Sex really is quite beautiful, it creates a very intense moment where you can learn a lot about yourself and others, at least in my experiance.

    So why don't I do that you might ask? Because its just too damn dangerous in our society, because the structures of gender equality and sexual respect just don't exist. If I could find a place where they did, I would get into prostitution in heartbeat. Which was one of the reasons why I loved Firefly, because it showed a system where that dream could be a reality. The Firefly 'verse wasn't gender perfect but it was a hell of a lot better then we are here.

    So if I could choose anything in all the worlds, I would do what Inara does.

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  13. "I see no difference between Mal's disrespect for Inara and her job - and Atherton's disrespect for her."

    But you're contradicting yourself here - after all, you yourself described companion training from the age of 12 as "super creepy".

    Why is it not possible to imagine that Mal thinks that the companion system is bullshit?

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  14. sarah s - I realised I'd been a tad too broad when I wrote it. I do believe that there is considerable evidence that the vast majority of women who enter prostitution do so out of some sort of economic need, usually a pretty desperate one. It is also true that (as far as i know) the only societies where prostitutes have had any kind of high status are ones where there were very few avenues to power. I don't mean that no women would ever choose something against these, but in a world that feels realistic the companion system does not feel like it could arise from the world we have today, particularly when you look at history.

    jester I would find anyone beginning training for anything that they were supposed to do for the rest of their life at age 12 creepy. Particularly if it was something that would shape who they were as much as companion training does. I also think that companion training, in particular, would shape people's sexuality in a way that I don't think someone can knowingly consent to at 12.

    He can think the companion system is bullshit, but that's no reason to call Inara a whore, and try and embarass her, that's disrespecting her just like Atherton did.

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  15. BetNoir10:12 am

    I'm going to nuance this a bit.

    Honestly, Mal has no problem with 'whoring' - in the sense of a straight sex-for-money transaction. In his world, that makes perfect sense.

    This is why he has no problem with Nandi (well, he does have a problem with *bedding* Nandi, but it has nothing to do with her chosen profession). Nandi makes no bones about who she is or what she does for a living, and Mal can respect that.

    Where Companionship sticks in his craw is the pretense that it is *not* just a simple monetary transaction. His problem with Wing is not so much with him paying for the sex as it is with the pretense that he's not doing precisely that.

    'Whore' as a word in and of itself is not a pejorative in Mal's world. However, by using it to describe Inara's work, he's none-too-gently reminding her that, at the end of the day, what she does is really no different from what Nandi does. The only difference is that it is dressed up to pretend to be something more than that.

    Now, if you want to argue that his 'solution' in Shindig is ham-handed and really gives Inara no more say in her own fate than does Wing, I'll have to agree with you.

    BetN

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  16. I think that Mal's objections to the companion system could be interpreted that way. I do think that we're supposed to see his hostility to companions as a result of his class position.

    But that's no the point, the point is he treats Inara like shit. He calls her a 'whore' even though she asks him not to, he attempts to make her uncomfortable with the Sheperd.

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  17. betnoir5:24 pm

    Truthfully, she treats him little better - mocking his lack of (in her eyes) proper upbringing, calling him nothing more than a 'petty thief,' and in 'Heart of Gold' even calling his hygiene into question. I think it cuts both ways. It is the classic Beatrice/Benedick interplay from 'Much Ado About Nothing' - which Whedon even says was the inspiration for their banter.

    Viewed from that standpoint, they are both equally guilty of too much pride AND too much prejudice (both of class and of gender).

    And when Mal finally does make an attempt at actually dealing with her as a human being with real feelings and emotions (at the end of 'Heart of Gold') by attempting to apolgize for hurting her rather than once again shaming her, she resorts to the stereotypical female tactic of lying and running away.

    Is Mal a paragon of virtue? Hardly. But if one is going to accuse him of being a chauvinist pig (which would not be entirely unfair), the same goose with the same sauce needs to be served to Inara for being classist.

    BetN

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  18. I think you misunderstood the point I was making (although I got sidetracked as well). I was looking at the world as a whole, and what I think they were trying to do, and where I thought they succeeded and where they failed.

    I've probably revealed I think Inara and Mal are pretty awful to each other, and never had any interest in them getting together. But that was never the point of my post, I can do attack and defending characters (I hate season 3 Xander, for example), but that wasn't what this was supposed to be. I was trying to analyse the world from a feminist perspective.

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  19. Anonymous7:42 pm

    "I think that getting paid to engage in a mutally respectful sexual experiance would be just about the most important and amazing thing I could do with this lifetime."

    But Inara is insulted by at least two of the men she sleeps with, of the, what, four or five we see, and is slapped and threatened by Jubal Early because of her profession. I really don't think things are much more equal, gender-wise, in the 'verse if you're anyone but Zoe. That is, humans are default referred to as "men" by everyone, doctors are assumed to be male and nurses female, prostitutes/Companions are assumed to be (and virtually all are) female, all of the "backwater" planets appear to have rigorous gender roles, River's treated as just as much of an anomaly as Buffy is for being able to kick ass (though to be fair, the tiny-girl-beating-everyone-up thing is just as silly when it's set in the future), there are still significantly more men than women in leadership & villain roles, and I'm sure there are more things that have bugged me.

    Zoe, meanwhile? Not a single person suspects she's physically or mentally incompetent because she's female, even when she's THE ONLY WOMAN IN THE ENTIRE ARMY.

    -T

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  20. just a note: if you watch the cut scenes on the Serenity DVD we find out that most companions begin training at the tender age of 12. To me that's not a choice.

    (and T: you kick ass, that's what I've been saying all along)

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  21. Exactly T. The fundamental problem with interpretting Firefly's portrayl of gender is that we are never given a complete picture of the patriarchy (for want of a better word) in this world. We don't know how it operates, how it's different from our world and how it's the same. More importantly I don't think the authors knew, and were making it up as they went along.

    The idea that makes most sense to me is that the 'verse has a formal commitment to equality of gender, with huge inequalities in practice, which differ widely from world to world (but for that to make any sense to me I have to ignore companions, which as I've said don't work for me at all).

    I'm not sure that the Zoe thing is significant though. We don't know that no-one suggests she's physically incompentent because she's a woman. We just haven't seen it, which is slightly different.

    lost clown - I think it was when I read about Companions starting at age 12 that I gave up on any interpretation of Companions offered in the show. Thinking about it the most valid analogy I can think from the recent past is nuns.

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  22. I'm going to point out that, in earlier times, children were apprenticed at a much earlier age than 12 to do their life's work. In some cases, like chimney sweeping, this was a horrid thing that killed a lot of children. But the apprenticeship system is still alive and well today, even if the apprenticeship starts later. So, the idea of starting Companion training at that age isn't so ceepy, they probably save the sexual training until after the child reaches an age to deal with it, and before that would be things like clothing, makeup, tea ceremony, and probably the normal education most children would receive.

    I'll also point out Olympic gymnasts start at much earlier than age 12 and that's not creepy.

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  23. I sure as hell think it is.

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  24. I thought the Companions were a quasi-religious order. Wasn't that implied in Serenity?

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  25. It's a shame that the script makes it explicit that the students in the Companion House are of "good family." The series itself, and the final cut of the movie, gave me the impression --or at least, didn't contradict it--that Companions were apprenticed, and their training paid for from their wages during a journeyman period, as suggested above. It would seem reasonable, based on the show's plots, that Companions are apprenticed in childhood out of impoverished circumstances, and have no ties of blood, but consider the House their family. They'd acquire the status and class of their house. To make them the children of the rich is, I agree, hard to buy (not unlike the declaration at the beginning of the movie that the 'verse is all one solar system).

    The conflict between Mal and Inara may be about class, but there are at least two other things that place them in opposition immediately: their relationship to the law, and their political allegiances. (When Mal first calls Inara a whore, in a flashback in "Out of Gas," she's just said she supported unification.) Mal would resent Inara on both those counts. That, added to the class difference, creates a more convincing antipathy between them.

    And I still was never really interested in their "romance," but that's another story.

    (Oh, found this discussion via pnh.)

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  26. "Good family" doesn't necessarily mean rich. Could just mean that they're of the right religion, or the children were raised properly before they started training, or some such.

    "I'm not sure that the Zoe thing is significant though. We don't know that no-one suggests she's physically incompentent because she's a woman. We just haven't seen it, which is slightly different."

    Seems to me you should give them the benefit of the doubt. Because in an advanced society, no one will ever say, "None of us think she's physically incompetent because she's a woman."

    That said, I certainly agree that Firefly/Serenity is a bit spotty on gender roles, partly because of their Old West model, partly because they're writing for the present, and we're a bit spotty, too.

    Oh, and regarding Kaylee being "feminine" by thinking of the ship as a person, Mal thinks of the ship as a person, too. And so did Scotty on the first Star Trek. Probably the first person who maintained a boat personalized it. That's a human thang.

    Good post and comments here!

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  27. In all this discussion of whether or not Inara (and other potential companions) were born wealthy, I'm surprised that no one has suggested the middle ground - that she came from impoverished gentility. It's where people used to get their governesses, after all - you wanted a woman with the right social and cultural background, who could teach your children correct manners, language, and behavior, but such women only chose to work when their families' financial situation forced them to. I can't imagine there's a shortage of such families in the 'verse, or that they'd baulk at having their daughter learn an apparently respected and lucrative trade.

    My own personal guess about the economics of entry into the companion guild is that apprentices are sponsored by full members (possibly as a favor to the child's parents, possibly in exchange for a substantial gift which the family would scramble to raise, in much the same way that families used to pay for their sons to be apprenticed to different tradesmen) who then receive some percentage of their earnings - in which case, Inara, who walked away from a very lucrative career in the Core, has a very pissed-off sponsor somewhere.

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  28. A.N.--"...in which case, Inara...has a very pissed-off sponsor somewhere." Unless she'd already paid off her indenture...but that's an interesting speculation. It would also place her in a position with her House more like Mal's with the law, and when it was revealed, would change that dynamic some. Oh, the plotlines we'll never get to see now!

    (There would have to be completion criteria for the sponsor's relationship with the Companion, though; if there's no way to pay off the obligation, it's economic slavery, and I don't get the feeling that anyone views Companions that way.)

    And yes, I'd forgotten the point that you and Will made: that "good family" could indicate someone of the right "breeding" fallen on hard times. Genteel poverty, in other words.

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  29. Anonymous7:53 am

    I believe the clipped scene from the companion training house said that the companions-in-training didn't even begin with actual sex training until many years into their basic training, for what that's worth. And it's my understanding that in many European countries you're tracked into a class of jobs at 12 (administrative, mechanical, doctoral degree, etc), though I agree one specific job is a bit much.

    For the question of whether companionship could exist in the society it's protrayed in... I found it a bit baffling that one could waltz in and bust suspects out of an investigation. The nun comparison is good, but I'm also wondering if they could be celebrities, like our movie stars and basketball players. Even today we have some porn stars known to the general populace; I can imagine, as society becomes more open about sex, that some could join together and aim for the high-class market, and start receiving respect for the association.

    As for Mal and Inara's relationship, I agree that it's totally screwed up. It's my theory that this is because Mal's sexual orientation is "asshole". He likes to lead people on and have them hanging off of him, and will do whatever it takes to hold their attention and consternation. So he balances Inara between insults and professions of caring. So he is sometimes encouraging and butt-checking-out to Simon, and sometimes a dick. It all fits well with his dream profession as a showboating sergeant, and not at all poorly with his current profession as a captain and lord of a ship.

    -Madeline F
    http://www.livejournal.com/users/zdashamber/

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  30. I agree that whether or not Inara was rich before companion training is unknown. However, I do think that we are supposed to believe that she comes from a different class from Mal, by birth as well as by training, and that is part of what's going on in their relationship.

    I actually have no problem with the 'verse being sexist, our world is sexist and just making that disappear with a wave of the hand would be ridiculous. I just feel that its sexism is lacking in consistency, and wasn't thought through by the writers, and that this problem is exacerbated by Inara's character and the whole idea of companions.

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  31. I agree...I just would hope that by the time we're changing solar systems we'll be a lot further down the road to equality.

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  32. Well they're still stuck with capitalism, so I think we have to assume there haven't been any radical changes to society.

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  33. Hm.

    It seems to me that Inara may have gotten caught between a couple of storytelling impulses.

    One is the frontier call girl. Gender dynamics are altered in heavily male frontier societies-- and sometimes in ways that include higher-status, higher-safety, higher-paid prostitution due to supply and demand. (And sometimes in ways that include sex slavery instead.) Prostitution in much of the American west in the 19th century was pretty different from American prostitution today, and the high-class call-girl or at least high-class madame is almost a stock character from westerns-- which might have sufficed for Whedon...

    with the problem that he was also interested in core-periphery stories. Companionship as a result of frontier-based demand is incompatible with the statement that it's basically an inner-world phenomenon, and that almost no Companions work the life Inara works (which is a pretty good one in terms of reaching the areas of gender-imbalanced populations). I suspect that the mistreatment Inara regularly received from clients (or their fathers) was meant to remind us of the fact that, for reasons unknown, she'd abandoned polite inner world society and adopted uncouth hicks as her clientele. The Geisha/ Venetian courtesan model isn't at all the same as the frontier call girl model.

    What one might imagine is that the inner worlds were much more post-patriarchal, much more civilized, than the uncouth frontier rim-- and that, accordingly, it is Inara who's fundamentally out of place evene in Shindig. The standards of behavior she expects, the cultural place of Companionship that she's accustomed to, are inner world phenomena. One way (Mal's) or another (Wing's), outerworldsmen are likely to look at a Companion and see a whore.

    What we don't know, of course, is what drove Inara to the frontier in the first place, since she carefully refused to ever andswer questions on the subject.

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  34. Barry4:36 am

    Hello,

    I followed a link here from 'Uncertain Principles'. Some comments:

    Maia: "why was Walsh so upset about Mal & Zoe. Was the conflict actually about something else, was it a cultural issue, or was he just an asshole who had a problem with his wife having a life outside him (these are not mutually exclusive). "

    My take on this was that there was a triangle going on here - Walsh and Zoe were married, but Zoe and Mal were combat veteran-companions and shipmates. There was an episode of 'Sex and the City' where triangles were explored in four different ways; this episode reminded me of that quite a bit.

    In terms of the Companions, I believe that Inara was rare in going out to the outer worlds. A geisha in barbarian lands does run into trouble. Mal loved Inara, but hated her profession, just as Inara loved Mal, but did not respect his career. Mal chose to is be a tramp freighter captain to preserve his independence, rather than accepting dependence for a more lucrative, higher-status career.

    About Simon and Kaylee - Simon is the uptight, Hahvahd graduate Easterner Doctor, and a fugitive. He's a product of an class-conscious upper class, plus very rigorous medical training. He's (been turned into from childhood) the sort of man who's used to a high, stiff collar. If he was dealing with a woman who was used to this, there'd be fewer problems, because they'd each know who things were supposed to bend, so to speak.

    When dealing with people who are far less formal, he's at a disadvantage, and he stands out. In his case, things are complicated by the fact that he's a fugitive, with a problematic sister to take care of. In pop relationship terms, he has a lot of baggage.

    ReplyDelete
  35. Anonymous10:47 am

    Another show that deals largely with class issues is Veronica Mars - it's one of the reasons I love it so.

    --Pouncer

    ReplyDelete
  36. I wandered over from Stef's LJ.

    I tend to wonder if any other Firefly fans have read the or the subsequent novels (the second just came out). Author & former working girl Tracy Quan makes it very clear that being a call girl is her conscious choice, one Nancy made in early adolescence. Nancy's friend Jasmine came to the life later but just as deliberately. Another friend, Allison, periodically quits the business - and in a lot of ways she's the most dysfunctional of the group.

    Tracy Quan has written about being a call girl . She does it make it very clear that her life (seeing only well-to-do, high-paying clients recommended by other girls or clients) is NOT the common experience of a runaway who turns tricks on the street. But I do see certain comparisons between Nancy and Inara!

    ReplyDelete
  37. I wandered over from Stef's LJ and posted a screwed-up comment that I'm going to try to clean up a bit.

    Has anyone here read the or the subsequent novels? Tracy Quan has written about being a call girl . Unlike Nancy, Tracy is/was out to her friends and family. I'm suddenly wondering if Tracy has watched Firefly :)

    ReplyDelete
  38. Anonymous11:28 pm

    Kaylee has a lot of good points - she's smart, though not educated, she's tough but not (for lack of a better word) 'butch', she likes what she likes and she goes after it innocently, and she's vaguely confused about the way gender is a hangup for just about everyone on the ship but her.

    But the one thing that makes Kaylee so awesome is that she spends so much time looking after mechanical plumbing that people-plumbing just doesn't matter to her.

    ReplyDelete
  39. Inara is not a common prostitute as far as I can tell the Guild has immense social, political and likely economic power. A woman might choose that ,and might I add there were male companions as well, to access that. Especially if the person was beatuiful, very disciplined and talented but not of a high social class.

    For reference see "Dangerous Beauty" in the character Veronica Franco she had to really be a courtesan. Inara likely didn't have to be a Companion but entered the profession anyway. And the border training house Inara taught at had "girls of good families" they never states of high wealth or position.

    As for the post patriarchy world that was not always true many worlds in the series were strongly male controlled. In the Heart of Gold episode for example the male antagonist was a real chavanist pig.

    I actually liked the Inara and Mal relationship it was actually rather kind and gentle at times.

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