Fictional Worlds for Today: Cowboy Bebop and Firefly Part 2

Having taken a look at the science fiction world of Cowboy Bebop in my last post, I’d like to turn now to Joss whedon’s Firefly. Keeping in mind the idea of meshing the daily pressures of living and working with an imaginary world common to both shows, Firefly diverges from Bebop in many ways. Though both shows follow small crews as they planet hop around their worlds looking for high-risk jobs, Firefly’s world is based on a center-peripheral distinction, instead of an everywhere dispersed corruption, within the backdrop of a great civil war that the rebels lost.

In Firefly’s future, Earth became so overpopulated that a big chunk of humanity set out to another planetary system to start a new civilization. This so-called “verse” is ruled by the “alliance” government which consolidated all governing power, centralizing it into a giant circle with tightly surveilled “core” and rugged outer planets and moons. Labeling the world as the ’verse’ problematizes the uniformity of the world by striking the ’uni-’ from our ’universe’ – despite this world’s singular military-government force. Referring to a verse reminds the viewer that this is just one version of how a system might function. The omission of ’uni’ in the word is a subtle way to implant a challenge to unified systems in the audience that are understood here as tyrannical – in spite of their undisturbed, “smooth” functioning.

A large focus of the show is on the dilemmas one encounters by holding on to one’s rebellious principles in a world that will not tolerate them. After losing the war to the alliance, the brown-coat rebels (an obvious allusion to the Confederates in the American Civil War) embodied by the two survivors on the ship must find alliance friendly jobs or escape to the less policeable and far more dangerous “wild” peripheral. Our main character Malcolm Reynolds goes through pains to keep his crew flying, fed, and alive without compromising his belief against an invasive centralized government. With dissenters pushed away from the benefits of the center of the verse, they are left alone to fend off the criminal bosses, robbers, and zombie-like “reevers” – or become them. The crew is constantly faced with a choice between participating in corrupt jobs, thereby sacrificing their ethical commitment to resisting any and all slavery (wage-based or otherwise), and being the target of attack from those willfully exploiting. Ever the staunch defender of self-determination, Captain Reynolds always takes the hard way.

As a military-man with his barely functioning, diverse crew, Capt. Reynolds has the final say on his ship. The Bebop crew is much more loose and scattered, with members opting out at will, though the arguing and bickering makes the environment on the space-ship more hostile. There is certainly a kind of nomadic anarchism to the both of them: traveling to all parts of a deeply connected world to survive without losing one’s integrity. But any kind of happy consensus idea is thwarted by the captain’s leadership or the dysfunction of the Bebop crew. Jet Black, the owner of the Bebop ship is the most openly discouraged by the lack of camaraderie and selfishness in their operation. Indeed, the only thing that brought the crews from both shows together in the first place was a strategic alliance to execute jobs better. But the sense of home and friendship that they find goes beyond the completion of a job: its a kind of reliability in times of crisis or a satisfaction in doing one’s part in a successful collective enterprise. With a persistent threat of extreme poverty and predatory counterparts, these two crews have found a non-coercive companionship from the inside and out.
 Firefly is more wedded to the idea of freedom and an anti-slavery message than Bebop and its world is more overtly fascist or domineering. Though forced to move on and accept defeat in the greater world picture, the Captain and his fellow brown-coat warrior woman Zoe do their best to maintain a lifestyle that does not acquiesce to a heavily policed, bureaucratic, hierarchical government. As it turns out in Firefly, a life rejecting and openly challenging servitude at all steps is difficult to say the least, but also far more adventurous and fulfilling. The spaceship is named ’serenity’ after the valley where the decisive battle was fought in the unification war, signifying an desire on Capt. Reynolds’ part to carry the torch of resistance through dark times. The serenity of cooperation without compromise gives Firefly such a lasting appeal.

Some Notes on Fiction, Reality, and Ideas

Fantasy fiction, world of the forms, ideas in the pure conceptual.  Concepts (universal claims, equations of certainty, axioms & deductions) as unreal with a knowledge of their own illusion (auto-critical).  These worlds are not the real world, but they aren’t false or purely negative (or positive Plato) – it is a trajectory, a dream. All structures are built on dreams, be they Middle Earth or an arch (mathematics-numbers aren’t real) or a nation.

Element of difference inside of (and outside of) everything – even matter. Expansion and disequilibrium of quantum mechanics.

Imaginary beings organize, traverse reality (ghosts inhabiting material existence) and form, shape it into things stuff. Think of “forces” that shape atomic structures into atomic elements.

Focusing on the negative, the imaginary, fantasy without laying out a direction or assigning a path for which the movement/energy will carry along.

Fictional Worlds for Today: Cowboy Bebop and Firfely Part 1

The genre of post-apocalyptic science fiction is littered with doomsday visions and exhilarating scenarios of survival in the face of constant attack. Zombie hordes, robot armies, and alien invasions draw up our fears of other mysterious entities that approach we humans as an external threat but one need not look so far away to find catastrophic and alienating scenarios. The fictional worlds of Cowboy Bebop and Firefly offer alternatives to the overtly violent and bleak futural visions populating our culture while retaining the more subtle violence of living and working in a technologically advanced and highly controlled society. The emphasis on more common struggles that have recurred throughout history and still exist today lets the fantastic elements fade into the background, allowing the relationships between the characters to resonate with viewers despite the fictional setting.

These television shows, both of which lasted only one season and have enjoyed a kind of momentary cult-super-stardom, utilize this novel past-future blend of science fiction giving their respective worlds a greater degree of believability without diminishing the majestic sense of inhabiting a foreign place. The attachment to the characters is made stronger by seeming less contrived; the problems they overcome and the comradeship they forge along the way reach across these soft dystopias and into our present thanks to an appreciation of the past. Taking lessons and styles from the past and incorporating them into an imagined future prevents heavy abstraction and lets us look at our own times from a different angle. Cowboy Bebop fuses a cool jazzy noir with a highly technocratic and corrupt capitalist outer-space-sprawl. Firefly brings together western frontier adventure with a tightly controlled central space empire for a more sharp ’fascism vs. freedom’ contrast. Though the worlds of Cowboy Bebop and Firefly differ in key ways, both offer an imagined world that functions like an extended version of our present.

In Cowboy Bebop we get a not-too-distant future in which human colonies have extended out into the rest of the solar system. Hyper-space gates allow rapid travel between planets and moons which are then “terra-formed” to accommodate the ecological needs of earth based animals. Highly controlled dome environments are scattered far and wide resembling metropolises, shanty-towns, “wild” landscapes yet to be developed, and the vast outer space in between them. There is somewhat of a projection of the wild west myth into the future in Bebop (as with Firefly) as there is suddenly uncharted space for outlaws, rouges, and bounty hunters (here called ’cowboys’) to explore. But beyond the caricature of the good old days of adventure, this setting brings along with it another more realistic element pervading life today and throughout much of history: a colonizing capitalism. A single currency called “woolong” is the only unit referred to in the whole show suggesting a uniformity in the system. The main characters are constantly hustling to find work or go hungry and a great disparity exists in the wealth of towns and individuals they meet.

There is rampant corruption and high crime that will be exposed throughout the show, albeit in a case-by-case, decentralized manner. War is seldom spoken of (there was only one mentioned: on a distant moon of Jupiter that was more of test site for biological weapons anyways), but the systemic violence comes straight from the top in the form of large mafia-syndicates, bureaucrats, and the solar police. The illegal yet hushed-up schemes are contrasted with portraits of individuals trying to escape their desperate situations and feeling the pressure of the police, bounty-hunters, and organized crime. In the pilot, we meet a couple trying to escape the drug and gang ridden asteroid slum “Tijuana” for the richer cities of Mars where “there are parks, festivals” and she believes “people are happy there”. The main protagonist Spike reminds her “sure, if your rich”, before he decides to chase after them for the bounty on her boyfriend’s head. These cases along with the high crime schemes make up the bulk of the sessions (episodes) in Cowboy Bebop and test the greed and sympathy of the main crew.

Our characters come from wealthy backgrounds and are highly skilled but have somehow lost their ties to past homes and must drift about to stay fed. They travel the solar system looking for bounties to collect rewards on all the while teetering on the edge of destitution. The lost sense of belonging is a running theme in the show along with the haunting shadow of one’s past. Our characters are constantly trying to either confront or distance themselves from their pasts all the while bickering with each other. This sense of homelessness and longing mirrors the human race in Bebop: a major catastrophe with the first hyper-space gate turned earth into sparsely inhabited desert planet under constant bombardment by meteorites. In an understated reversal hiding in the dialogue throughout the show, Earth is routinely referred to as a place for crazies and cast-offs. Having lost the home planet through its own hubris (detailed in one session where design flaws were ignored for the sake of profit), the human race drifts about a constellation of nation-less colonies: some vibrant and some cold and forgotten. The extremes of sophisticated urban design and unkept decay are depicted in series of transitional shots to the tune of moody music to make the surrounding environment a crucial feature of the story without dominating it. The Bebop crew, like humanity in this world, is torn by a disappointing lack of belonging and becomes a kind of highly functional yet hostile family.

Some Wild Deleuzian Thoughts

Concepts need not lay claim to truth in the absolute/universal/comprehensive sense if they relate to the fictive element which remains in communication with them. To sever the bond connecting illusion and reality is one danger, another being that they do not differ at all, still another being that they relate in a specific way pushing the subject in one defined direction. To dance with the oppositions, play with the terms is to demonstrate the relation/link true & false have together without determining that relationship as subordinate (master/slave).

Without an authoritative role as above or ahead or encompassing the other, the concept and its opposition can be fazed out, left behind, or broken away from. Legitimacy is lost not when the master is attacked, but when one creates a new role outside of a (+ -). Such would be a refusal to take a position since the game is rigged from the start. Instead moving in between the opposites until a new path is found without a pole in plain sight. So a certain wavering and indecision accompanies a radically new approach, but this logic looks different every time it is acted on for difference (something outside of the available means to act) is the object sought: an object always existing elsewhere.
This is meant to be weird, obscure, and non-specifically helpful: to prescribe tangibly or theorize about action concretely/systematically would only reinforce the established norms by giving only one other option for action which can be prepared for and rejoined with. Every act is new in a sense, but to harp on an opposition for too long, to give only a concept and it’s negation will expand the whole without ever breaking it. Connections of another kind, outside of the whole yet without complete disregard for the ground upon which one was thrown bypasses a pure negation which only seeks to destroy that from which it came. Latching onto other systems and assemblages in a light and playful manner of incessant motion increases the chance of being caught in the gravitational pull of the center. Playing the game to have a good match vs. dominate the game and set up a dynasty: the underdog, the rouge, the joker.

Not ’one and it’s negation’ but ’one and the multiple’. To leave the next step, the future open to multiple outcomes instead of its perpetuation or its opposite (it’s annihilation) is to do something new (a universal new that repeats only by being different). The fiction in truth (you never get their but learn anyways), the truth of fiction (message to interpret). The only novel way to deal/relate to these binaries is with wavering until something “else” appears; then go for it.

Emphasizing plurality refuses to bring a belief or an opinion back to center. We need less circles, for the center remains strong as it applies the techniques for reordering trajectories into concentric circles. To demonstrate circularity is to damage an argument (it has no “base” or ground to stand on), but that’s not all: a circle does have a center (imagined or whatever) and so a kind of order in constant motion, albeit a predictable and infinite motion.

To refuse speaking and articulating under a topic or category where the options are easily foreseen, where the motion that compels – the will of desire (without an object attracting it) – is to refuse the current (current as present and as electric flow). There is always motion, synergy, growth, and energetic trajectories; the movement of negation and dissent is allowable yet not unsettling so long as the movement flows according to the logic of the negative against a positive it never can rid itself of. A single, linear movement can be made of this. The two, though opposed and irreconcilable, form a wave relationship that become predictable, calculable, etc. upon shifting the perspective from the actor within the debate to the spectator of the debate. Not that such a position can remain self-satisfied if the shift is possible at all.

To prevent the destructive force of the negative now conceived as rage against “the system” (as the bearer of a forced choice between the positive and the negative, channeling either choice in a controllable direction) a connection must be made with an outside. Another open-minded actor to form a bond that resembles a tentative alliance. Should the bond become too tight and predictable whereby the differences which brought it together crack it open and set the actors against the other, then the bond has become dense or heavy and forms its own system.

A certain urgency compels the bond to remain and the differences required for the bond to come together (rather than being reunited) comes from the mutual rejection of a centered gravitational attractor. This tangled web grows tighter and tighter to the extent that is required to keep a distance from the dense object organizing everything else around it. The bonds may fail, but the center will explode. The bonds may crystalize, but another relation will slip through. Repeat.

Withstanding Tensions

With a new decision making body substituting for a governing body and a space to inhabit, the establishment of a commune is clearly a revolutionary move. The occupy camps however are protests that regularly invoke the bill of rights and other American ideals allowing them to exercise their right to free speech and expression. The radical separation that occurred in these communes sought and practiced more or less effectively a radical democratic process that could also be called anarchism. The repression by police and the coordinated crackdown that went as high as the White House goes to show how scared the American government is with the Occupy movement.

Question: are they justified in their fear? Would this movement unchecked by the violence of the state destroy that state? Or is the occupy movement simply something the government does not understand and isn’t compatible with or controllable by?
Due to the liquid nature of the movement (no central leaders, hierarchy, goal, strategy, etc.) along with its adequate self-regulation via the general assembly the movement itself is not something that can just be physically assaulted, though that is definitely being tried. It has also been infiltrated, spied on, and terrorized in a coordinated militarized police war scenario. The reaction has been so excessive that it is pushing the nation, supposed to protect its people, into an outright police-state where the dissent and gathering of gigantic masses of its people is swiftly put down. But with a new community with a new name to identify with, is this a revolution seeking overthrow where current powers have every right to be afraid for their power structure? Or is this a gathering of American citizens together to redress grievances (as is their right) though refusing to negotiate, refusing an endgame, and affirming cooperation to care for each other?
I think it is in this place of tension, between a revolution of overthrow and a revolution of community, that the occupy movement must endure – *even if this is not an accurate portrayal of the actual occupy events, or the beliefs of occupiers*. The corporate media at the behest of our scrambled government is perpetuating this narrative and anyone concerned with the occupy movement cannot help but be effected by it.
What this movement has got right is a refusal to play by old rules: we have changed the game. The endless (as it should be) talk of co-option wards off those who are in it to simply “smash the state” as well as “institutionalized liberals”. As long as the dialogue goes on and one checks the other, we can use persuasion to convince people to act in the best interest of the movement. To keep people coming out into the streets we must let these energizing debates go on without letting the movement as a whole adopt either position. This is just a problem we’re going to have to deal with and get through.
From entrapment vulnerable insurrectionists to coaxing democrat organizations, from hyped up vandalists to the non-violent police brigade, please open your ears to each other and don’t be hasty with your decisions. We clearly need to withstand each others differences to keep these massive protests going in this time of crisis.