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.
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