Firefly and existentialism

Caitlin's been re-watching Firefly on her tablet, so I've been passively re-watching Firefly in the background when I'm at her place for the last few days. Which is cool, because I like Firefly. A few years ago, and so I'm pretty sure before the great blog-breaking of 2013, I did an independent study called Exploration of Fringe Genre Fiction. I read books like The City and the City by China Miéville, Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link, and a bunch of other cool stuff.

For one week, I also watched and wrote about Firefly. And since I was, at the time, also taking a class on existentialism, the parallels between the content were easy to see. Spoilers follow, mainly for the movie.

Most or all of the characters in Firefly are existential heroes. Mal is the most textbook -- an atheist independent person who defines and lives by their own standard of morality regardless of the expectations of the culture around them.

But more than is common in real life, everyone in the Firefly ensemble has a clear set of consistent life goals and values that they pursue unapolagetically. Mal's is independence. Simon's is other people's wellbeing, River's especially. Jayne's is money.[1. Okay, that's reductionist and unfair. Jayne's is power, and money is, to him, the obvious route to power.]

The profound exaggeration of qualities of personality is one of the main themes of Firefly.[2. Themes might be the wrong word. Ingredients?] The Reavers are a good example of that: their whole thing is that they're people whose sense of rage was artificially maximized. I think River is an example of that, too -- her sense of empathy and intuitive talents, already on the level of peak human ability, have been science-fictionally exaggerated to the point where they resemble the ability to read minds.

But it's also true of everybody else, and the people for whom it's not true tend to die quickly.

Firefly is about people on the edge in just about every way Joss Whedon could think of. They're on the edge of the universe, they embrace fringe politics, they're outliers in talent and skill, and they're basically avatars of a philosophy that consists of staring out into the void.[3. I can't actually think of any tangible way that's true, but it's a common metaphor in existentialism, and in Firefly, so I'm taking it.]

Man, this post meandered a lot more than I had intended. I tried to re-create some more of the points of that essay from several years ago. I remember being proud of the points I had made about Kaylee and Inara. But I can't remember what they are now, so oh well. And I know I didn't think of the stuff about River until after that class.

If I have any readers who were or still are obsessed with Firefly, too, please chime in.