Saturday, December 31, 2005

More Thoughts on Serenity and Politics

Oh well, in for a penny in for a pound, once I start being geeky there's no reason to stop. I've just been reading two pages simultaneously and they've made me think interesting thoughts (or at least thoughts I find interesting). One is on the Democrats in America and how much they suck, and the other was a discussion of the politics of Serenity.

The Democrats suck article coms from a blog called 'Ecrasez l'Infame!' their tagline is even better than mine: "Dedicated to the deconstruction of the Democratic Party. The American Left may not be much, but it won't be anything at all until it ditches the Democrats." I agree with it, although I don't think it matters whether you vote for the Democrats or not (I probably wouldn't in up ticket races, although if I had to move to America I'd try and stay out of swing states so I wouldn't feel tempted). I think what's important is that we give up the pretence that they're left-wing, and criticise them from the left, regularly and in public. For the last 6 years the New Zealand left, such as it is, has largely ditched the Labour party, and I think we're stronger for it (I know, not saying much). It's relatively easy to ditch a government, it's much harder to ditch an opposition. I do think we have it easy in New Zealand - 1984 was a pretty fundamental betrayal and so people, like me, have grown up never having considered the possibility of voting Labour. I know when I was a student activist in the late 1990s we didn't let Labour in - I don't remember a Labour MP speaking at any of our rallies, for example (although I think we did have one where all sorts of politicians spoke - I remember trying to cut off Brian Donnelly in the middle of his history of the education system). We wanted free education, and Labour wasn't even pretending.

What's the relevance of all this to the politics of Serenity? As near as we can match up space politics to current politics, the main character of Serenity is a Libertarian. He wants the government out of his hair, and that's about all he wants. I've no idea about the politics of any of the other characters. I would say that it was the world, rather than the people in it, that the hordes of left-wing Joss Whedon fans respond to. For starters the world is honest about class, there are rich, and there are poor, and the rich get rich off the back of the poor. Although apart from in Jaynestown (where the power of collective action is hinted at) and the movie (which I guess comes down to fighting, and the power of knowledge) there are no solutions to those problems.

Joss Whedon and Tim Minear (who is a liberatarian) seem to have found common ground in portraying this world which reflects the reality of class, and the uselessness of government. I think both a left-wing and a right-wing reading of Firefly/Serenity is perfectly sustainable. But not any sort of view, you wouldn't get far on a religious right view of Serenity, and equally I don't think you'd get very far on a liberal-don't-rock-the-boat-Democrat reading of the Serenity. If you're going to read Serenity left-wing it has to be actual left-wing: a left-wing of class-analysis and fighting for something. I think the article I linked to explains why:

It's a commonplace of American historiography that our national narrative has been, to a very great degree, the story of a struggle between the progeny of Hamilton and those of Jefferson -- or, better yet, of Jackson. The sons and daughters of Hamilton are centralizers, promoters of Federal power, urban and mercantile elites, graduates of Ivy League universities. The progeny of Jefferson and Jackson, on the other hand, have always been the localists, the small-towners, the rough-hewn, the bootstrappers, the tobacco-chewers and whisky-drinkers. Oh, and the local squire and slaveowner -- we mustn't forget him.
Firefly and Serenity's politics are Jacksonian, they're about local people and local problems. I do think it's a problem if the Left chooses the centre over the edges. I think that left-wing politics is meaningless unless you trust people. I think the reason the American Left responds to Serenity is because they want a better option than the Democratic party and the crap that they're served up.


  1. But all the spoilers are in the other post :)

    I'm really bad at spoiler warnings - I spoiled someone about the deaths in Serenity twice (she'd forgotten and so I told her again).

  2. Anonymous9:50 am

    Spotted this on Carnival of Feminism:

    I'm not sure about how compatible Serenity the movie is with left politics. The underlying position of the Miranda plot seems to be a pessimistic conservative argument that human nature cannot be improved and attempts to do so lead to either corruption or dependency, which I can't see as compatible with any recognisably left position.