Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al (livredor) wrote,
Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al

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Firefly readthrough

I spent some of the weekend at [personal profile] emperor's readthrough of Joss Whedon's Firefly. I'll write about the social experience behind the cut, and while I'm giving you the choice whether to read about the event, I'll also make some comments about the portrayal of sex workers in the series, and mention potential small spoilers.

So I really like the idea of readthrough style social events: get a dozen or so friends together and rent a big, cheap self-catering place for a weekend, and socialize while doing a specific, fun activity rather than just hanging out. In fact, that's pretty much what we did for our not-honeymoon, we even rented a big house from the same company that the readthroughers usually use, in the neighbouring village to the one where this weekend took place.

The downside is that numbers for an event like that are necessarily limited, and it's really difficult to avoid that turning into the awful thing where the cool people get invited and other people, who might have been part of the guest list, feel shunned and excluded. Historically I think some of the readthrough events led to a bunch of drama and hurt feelings, and it's got much better in recent years but I know some people still have negative associations with the whole concept. And then on top of that you put a bunch of people together in a house for a long weekend with a lot of alcohol and a fair number of chores needing to be covered, and it can get a bit fraught.

In fact, this year's event went really, really well as far as I could judge. Partly because there was a little bit more slack in terms of the timetable than sometimes, but generally everybody was helpful and friendly and focused on having fun. And [personal profile] emperor's organization was fantastic, based on years of experience of running these sorts of events smoothly. It was especially nice to see [personal profile] kerrypolka and [personal profile] naath and fluffymark and [personal profile] wildeabandon, plus several people I know less well but definitely like. And atreic and [personal profile] emperor, of course, though they were mostly too busy organizing for much socializing.

The acting felt like about the right level of serious; people put effort into their roles, but also were having fun and we didn't worry too much about things like choreographing the endless endless gunfights, and we were often a bit silly at the Big Dramatic Moments. Firefly works well for a readthrough thanks to Whedon's trademark snappy dialogue, but less well in that there's a lot of action that can't really be conveyed in that kind of semi-staged context. [personal profile] emperor's casting was really excellent, really perfect choices for the main crew plus [personal profile] kerrypolka and [profile] fluffymark doing brilliantly with most of the major one-shot roles.

I had a bunch of bit parts, which suited my limited acting talents just fine. The biggest was Petaline in Heart of gold, who spends most of the episode pretending to be in labour. This is not a great role, partly because it mostly involves screaming, but also I really hate the Hollywood conventions of what childbirth is supposed to be like, and on a personal level I was basically acting out my own recurring nightmare. Also we all completely corpsed at the dramatic climax because we got a bit too enthusiastic about the scene where the bad guy snatches the newborn baby out of Petaline's arms and ended up ripping the limb off the doll representing said baby. But anyway, I felt completely comfortable just having fun reading that part as well as my others, and not anxious about not being able to act "well enough", or not having gone to lengths to find costumes and props; some people did, but others just wore their normal clothes and either was fine.

The thing is, when I first watched Firefly, I was really excited about it. Because I love chosen family stories and I loved the characterization. But the more I think about the show and read meta, the less impressed I am. The worldbuilding makes absolutely no sense, and I'm increasingly uncomfortable with the cowboys-in-space theme which tries to make the Browncoats into a supposedly "cool" analogue of the Confederacy from the US Civil War by glossing over the whole slavery issue and making basically everybody in the entire galaxy white. I mean, there are characters of colour in the main crew, but the whole background, all the minor roles and all the crowd scenes, are white white white.

What really struck me about effectively marathoning the whole season was how awful the gender stuff is. I mean, great, Whedon made that great quip about writing strong female characters, and yes, we have Kaylee and Zoe who are brilliant at mechanics and fighting, respectively, but it just feels so much like Whedon offering his audience the kind of women he's attracted to and feeling proud of himself because his tastes run to geeky and athletic women as well as traditionally feminine blonde airheads. There is far too much implied rape, both using rape threats as a lazy, thoughtless way of generating peril (particularly in Objects in space, ugh!) and also this constant, constant visual trope of men pinning smaller women under their bodies. There are some minor / background characters who are women just doing whatever their jobs happen to be, doctors, politicians etc, but really, that's a pretty low bar considering everything everything else, and there could be rather more women than just Patience offering jobs to Mal's crew.

But then we have Jayne being constantly crudely sexist, and ok, the narrative doesn't entirely approve of him, but he's portrayed as so lovable, as if it were almost cute that he keeps coming out with these "hilariously" inappropriate comments. And it's sort of nice that Kaylee is portrayed as being generally enthusiastic about casual sex, but seeing the whole series at once she really does just seem like a male fantasy of a "liberated" woman.

The main thing that stood out for me in this readthrough was the whole awfulness around sex work. I mean, nothing whatsoever about the Companion stuff hangs together. It's been pointed out before, plenty of times, by people much more genre savvy than I am, but still, I have to rant. I'm just about prepared to buy the idea of sex work as not only a respectable but a highly respected and esteemed profession, but the script keeps on telling you this is the case via infodumps, yet nothing about any of the characters' attitudes or behaviours makes sense in a world where the Companions' Guild exists. If Companions have high status, why does everybody keep sniggering? Why would people be all pearl-clutchy about a Companion interacting with a Shepherd (priest-equivalent)? Why does Mal lie about Inara being an ambassador? Etc etc, it's just really flimsy, it's too transparent that the whole set-up is based on a fantasy of highly trained and skilled women who will have sex with rich men for money, but there's not been any thought about how society would look different if such people existed.

And the way that everybody, particularly Mal, keeps on using the word whore, constantly and with relish, like a little kid who's just learned a "naughty" word and is enjoying the reactions they get from saying it in front of adults. It's really, really gross, as are all the plotlines that involve Inara actually doing her job. The thing with Fess Higgins' father hiring Inara to help him lose his virginity is gross. The thing where Inara takes a female client and everybody gets giggly about it is gross (and yes, Jayne's I'll be in my bunk line is rightfully a classic but again, there's this sort of ooh-isn't-he-naughty expectation of audience identification with his objectifying nastiness). And I really disliked everything about Heart of Gold, highlighting this nasty sexist dichotomy between the respectable Companions and the independent brothel where even Inara describes the workers with the w-word. And I hate the lazy, lazy soft-porn cliché of Mal and Nandi having sex the night before she's killed.

I know people often excuse Firefly's flaws on the grounds that the series was cancelled (boo!) before Whedon could tie up the loose ends and develop the plot-hooks from the early episodes. But if the internet rumours are true that what was due to happen was Inara being gang-raped, I'm on the whole pretty glad those episodes were never made. Or maybe it's just that the series is showing its age, it's more than ten years old, after all.

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Tags: diary, fannish

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