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“I don’t care what you believe in, just believe in it.”

[ 45 ] April 12, 2011 |

Although reports that he is insufficiently feminist appear to have been exaggerated, Joss Whedon does appear to be insufficiently Browncoat. Or so it would seem since he recently blocked the first fan-based effort to acquire the rights to a television series by nixing Unstoppable Signals’ movement to revive Firefly, the one-season hit space western whose film sequel Serenity just beat out The Empire Strikes Back for Best SciFi Film of All Time at io9.

(If you need more background on the show and its connection to post-9/11 global political culture, start with this and follow the links.)

This latest fan effort to resuscitate the show was sparked after lead actor Nathan Fillon stated in an Entertainment Weekly interview:

”If I got $300 million from the California Lottery, the first thing I would do is buy the rights to Firefly, make it on my own, and distribute it on the Internet.”

Fillon, whose character Malcolm Reynolds is an archetype for outside-the-box machinations against government or corporate powers that be, quickly became an icon for Firefly fandom’s guerilla marketing bloc, who interpreted his dream as a cause and his words as a call to action. A Facebook page was established to gather pledges for a “Buy Firefly” fund in anticipation of the new Fillon-produced show and quickly attracted over 116,000 members and more than $1 million in pledges.

It also attracted some derision by those who thought the idea was a waste of money and time, not least by Fillon himself, who quickly retracted his statement and asked fans to donate to his favorite charity instead, Kids Need to Read. Browncoats took this seriously and many sent money they had planned to pledge to the show to KNTR and well as a variety of other charities. They also hatched a new plan: rather than raise the money for Fillon, they would aim to buy the rights to the show themselves:

Call it what you want… democratic entrepreneurialism, populist production or just plain crowdfunding, we believe it is possible to create the first film company that is owned by the fans and for the fans. And why not? The many are mighty.

But in early March Joss Whedon’s sister, claiming to speak for Joss, tweeted:

Guys, no one in the Whedonverse is in support of www.helpnathanbuyfirefly.com. Please save your money!

According to Screenrant:

Tancharoen later amended her statement with a longer message, stating that there were no hard feelings from the Whedon clan, but Joss and Co. weren’t comfortable with fans trying to take direct control of the Firefly rights, and even less with them collecting real money to do so.

In a disappointed show of deference, pledge collections for HNBF shut down and the fans began directing actual donations toward additional charity efforts instead. These have included design contests and merchandise sales to benefit a variety of organizations including the Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation, the Dyslexia Foundation and Equality Now. However they also continue to explore the idea of crowd-sourcing fan productions of other TV series’ “to address a genre that is plagued by unjust cancellations and complaints of low profits despite its unimaginable importance to our cultural fabric.”

While Whedon’s position is certainly understandable from a copyright perspective, one must note the irony: this notion of “people’s control” over objects of art is perhaps the logical culmination of the very political sentiment promoted by the show Firefly. And the humani-liber-tarian spirit in this comments thread, collecting fan ideas on moving forward is a fair bit, well, mighty. (At least in one sense of the word.) I especially liked this one:

Firefly seems to appeal to people with a soul. I don’t mean nuthin’ with any religiosity, I just mean folk who got more’n a passing interest in the fortunes of other. Build the good works into the fandom-related activity whereby we sit around the campfire enjoying our collective appreciation through story, and song, and craft. But at the same time, we pass around a cup and do a little takin’-up for those who ain’t so lucky.

And when the morning comes, get our gear on and set out for places what have the aforementioned folks-in-need. Show the world that we can do more than just get frothy on the internetz. Show them that a bunch of shiny people maybe can’t make a big ole difference against all the misery out there … but we sure can try just the same. Like vinyahuinewen said, let’s be Big Damn Heroes.

Beats sittin’ around grumbling about how rotten the world can be.

“I don’t care what you believe in, just believe in it.”

[cross-posted at Duck of Minerva]

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  • strategichamlet

    The voters for that bracket are obviously horrible human beings.

    • Malaclypse

      The voters for that bracket are obviously horrible human beings.

      Only because Serenity really needed to be a second season, rather than two hours.

      River Tam would never have let Darth Vader cut off her hand, or gotten all weepy like Luke did.

  • With Stargate:Universe going off the air, this is a real damn shame. I don’t pretend to understand Wheton’s point of view, but it is ironic that he would so casually dismiss a fan-based scifi concept. I suppose money and legal rights are involved, they usually are.

    What a great show it was/could be.

  • Beth in VA

    What? Stargate:U is going off the air? Is the problem cable television? The regular broadcast TV is full of crap reality shows and the creative series aren’t supported. Where is justic when everyone knows who Snooi and the Kardashians are, and these great shows are relegated to Wikipedia sites?

    • Malaclypse

      Stargate:U is going off the air?

      See here.

    • rea

      everyone knows who Snooi and the Kardashians are

      Characters on Deep Space 9, weren’t they?

      • Bill Murray

        Kardashians are a race, not just a character, I think. A race to the bottom

  • BJN

    Have any of you ever read fan fiction? Joss Whedon nixed this because, despite best intentions, this would’ve turn our horrrrrible

    • witless chum

      I can’t imagine the idea was anything other than 1.) Buy the rights 2.) Say ‘Hey, Joss make more “Firefly” for us.’

      I doubt fan fiction movies were ever intended.

      I wish he’d go back to TV, though “Dollhouse” didn’t work (for a Whedon show, it was okay compared to other crap on TV) for me, I wish he’d be working on more TV shows. Having him make superhero movies seems like waste of his talent.

      • chris

        Or any movies. Joss excels at the long arc, and movies just don’t have room for it. _Serenity_ only worked as well as it did because it built on _Firefly_.

      • Ginger Yellow

        “I can’t imagine the idea was anything other than 1.) Buy the rights 2.) Say ‘Hey, Joss make more “Firefly” for us.’ ”

        Yeah, but that’s not exactly how TV works. You need funds for production, not just the rights. A show like Firefly costs $2m an episode, minimum. And someone has to agree to actually broadcast it.

        • iiii

          Fillion specified internet distribution in his original remarks. What does “how tv works” have to do with making a web series?

          • DocAmazing

            How’s the maker of the show going to get reimbursed? It’s notoriously hard to get any return on Internet content, while TV has advertisers, cable subscribers, etc.

            • iiii

              I have no idea. Which seems to me a perfectly good practical obstacle to making Firefly for web distribution. I can think of a bunch more, too.

              It’s just, I keep seeing folks (here and elsewhere) say, “oh, no, putting Firefly in production for web distribution is a ridiculous idea because it would be impractical to put Firefly back in production for network tv distribution.” And… what? Web distribution is problematic enough, so why drag a network in?

  • ploeg

    While Whedon’s position is certainly understandable from a copyright perspective,

    …or more likely, from the perspective of somebody who wants to attend to other projects in peace and doesn’t want to worry about what this untried production model does with the last project when that somebody is not looking. It’s great to think about alternate ways for making shows that deserve to be made, but dude, get your own show.

  • Scott P.

    I’m hoping HBOs Game of Thrones fills the current gap in the TV fantasy/sci-fi genre. It certainly promises to be outstanding.

    • witless chum

      I love the books, but if it doesn’t find a large enough audience to justify what must be a pretty big budget I won’t be very surprised. I think the general audience doesn’t like things to be complex and as brutal as Martin writes it.

      But I’ve also become very indifferent to movie/TV adaptations of things I like. Really, it’s a good thing that someone gave Alan Moore a pile of money he can use to grow his beard longer or something and made a terrible “From Hell” movie. I’ll just read my copy again and it’ll be all better. I don’t think I understand the seemingly widespread desire to see things adapted.

  • Halloween Jack

    Even as someone who enjoyed Firefly and Serenity, I have to agree that this was one of the most stupid ideas that fandom ever had. 90% of the show’s appeal was in Whedon’s writing (aided by people like Ben Edlund, creator of The Tick), and he’s moved on to projects like Marvel Studios’ The Avengers. I doubt that he really cares that he’s insufficiently “Browncoat”, especially as that term has become synonymous (at least in non-Browncoat circles) with fans who promote their favorite show well beyond its virtues, no matter how abundant they may be.

  • Does it trouble anyone else that the Browncoats explain the show’s central parallel so benignly as to assert that: “Not unlike the southern states during the Civil War, the Brown Coats fought for sovereignty and the right to their own government, and like the South, they lost.”

    • Malaclypse

      Eeps.

    • chris

      Except that there’s no indication that the browncoats had slavery or anything like it. If the Civil War had been about something else, the South would have been a *lot* less unsympathetic (which, of course, is why Confederate apologists in our timeline try to downplay the importance of slavery to the war, not very convincingly in light of the primary sources).

      • Hogan

        Yeah, I think it’s supposed to be a version of the Confederacy that actually lives up to the Confederacy’s self-image and propaganda.

        • And that’s kind of my problem. Given how insistently the show draws its parallels to the Civil War (e.g., Mal’s warning that the separatists would “rise again”), it retroactively neuters the CSA from a explicitly proslavery justification to a more acceptable defense of local sovereignty. And the Browncoat site doesn’t qualify the comparison in any way by reference to Neo-confederate self-image, it just says that the South was fighting for self-rule.

    • Murc

      Nerd warning.

      Within the context of Firefly, the Independent Planets were just that; independent, sovereign planets. Nations, in other words, that had never been and had no desire to be part of another political unit. The Alliance (formal name; The Anglo-Sino Alliance) attacked them, unprovoked, with the explicit goal of incorporating their territory and peoples into itself and establishing one-government hegemony over the entire known universe.

      This scenario is so unlike that of the American Civil War as to make comparisons laughable. The most apt parallel you can draw is that the Alliance beat them down because it had more people and more and better ships and guns to throw at them, and that doesn’t really have anything to do with politics.

      • Hogan

        Nerd warning, John Ford class.

        Except in the tradition of Western movies, where the roles of the Firefly crew are consistently played by Confederate veterans. (Which, in Western movies, doesn’t usually have all that much to do with politics either.) You wouldn’t know this from sci-fi, of course, but the Western elements in Firefly/Serenity didn’t just fall out of the sky (so to speak); Whedon put them there, and it’s not out of line to notice their cultural valence (if that’s the word I’m looking for).

        • Murc

          Valence is the word you’re looking for, yeah. (English degree.)

          And yeah, noting that isn’t out of line, Hogan. Of course the Western elements have the origins you note. However, when you start making specific political comparisons, those cultural cues break down. Saying ‘Yeah, Mal and Zoe occupy character niches and have backstories that in a traditional western would have been occupied by guys who thought William Quantrill was a great man’ is accurate and defensible, and can lead to a useful discussion about whether, and how, Whedon is reclaiming that character model and the tropes associated with it.

          ‘Oh, the Independents and the Alliance are like the Confederacy and the Union’ is NOT accurate, in my opinion, and in addition to being wrong it can have the unpleasant effect of helping to reinforce Confederate mythology.

          • Murc, the actual political background of Alliance and Independents might differ from the actual history, but I’m not the one making the parallels. The writers did. The writers have Mal talk about how the Independents will “rise again,” and the writers play with the tropes insistently. If that risks sugarcoating the real-life CSA, take it up with Mutant Enemy, not the viewers who picked up on the clues.

            • Murc

              That’s a really good point, Simon, but in some ways it boxes you in from a storytelling perspective.

              Earlier in the thread, you said the show draws parallels to the Civil War. I’d dispute that. The show draws parallels to the false perceptions of the Civil War that the Lost Causers have been trying to cram down our throats for a hundred and fifty years.

              The whole ‘Lost Cause’ movement, and the tropes surrounding it, are successful in part because it is a good story, especially in a country with an explicitly revolutionary origin stores, as ours is. The defeated underdog, who fought to defend hearth and home, and the noble principle of just wanting to live free and under their own rule, and were defeated, not from lack of valor, but by the ‘unfair’ advantages of the aggressor? And the veterans of that conflict, bowed but unbroken, going to the frontier to make a new life but keeping the revolutionary fire burning in their hearts until the day they rise up again against the evil empire?

              That’s a POWERFUL STORY. It isn’t even unique to the Lost Cause; it shows up in tons of places throughout history. But that story, when applied to the Confederacy, is a lie. It’s just not true.

              Now, what I prefer to think, because I would hope they aren’t neo-Confederate dirtbags, is that the writers of Firefly are not seeking to draw either explicit or implicit parallels with the Lost Cause. They’re taking the skeletal structure of a powerful story and building their own framework around it, one where the story is actually true (within the context of the Firefly universe, which is of course fictional.)

              Basically what I’m saying is that people who claim ‘the Browncoats are like the Confederacy’ are either wrong or lying, and that the writers on Firefly weren’t writing from a ‘lets draw parallels to the Civil War’ perspective, they were writing from a ‘these tropes are powerful, we are totally gonna use them and it will be AWESOME’ perspective.

              I’m not sure writers should abandon a really good basis for a story because historical revisionist douchebags have adopted the same story to lie to people with. It feels like letting them win.

              • witless chum

                I always liked that we don’t know exactly how noble the Browncoat cause was.

  • Superking

    The only thing I don’t like about Firelfy, and this doesn’t show up in your 2008 analysis, is that in moving the western into space, Whedon imported the trope that many of the heroes were on the losing side of a great war. In traditional westerns, they were all former confederate soldiers or guerrillas who moved west when Reconstruction started to force the South to change. See for example Rooster Cogburn and LeBeouf in the True Grit.

    In Firefly, we’re told that the characters are on the same sort of losing side, but we don’t really know what that war was about. (Or at least, I don’t remember clearly). For me, I find this continued, if indirect, glorification of the Confederacy to be annoying. There was nothing noble about their cause.

    It would have been nice if Whedon et al. would have given us a clearer moral framework for the series rather than letting us fill in these blanks.

    • Halloween Jack

      There’s really no world-building to speak of in Firefly; Whedon seemed to think that “space western” covered everything that needed covering, and the browncoats didn’t seem to have a problem with that, either. My jaw dropped when I watched the beginning of Serenity, with its explanation that all of the Earth-type planets that we saw (and all of the ones that we haven’t) are all part of the same solar system.

      • Malaclypse
        • Murc

          And did it much better.

          The whole ‘this ONE system has dozens of planets that can be terraformed to be earth-like and hundreds of moons that can be done the same to’ is Firefly’s weakest hand-wave. A -lot- of peoples jaws drop.

          Whedon didn’t want to deal with faster than light travel for some reason that escapes me, but I don’t think establishing a super-system, or trying to sell that a technologically advanced star-faring people could LOSE A PLANET (as was posited in Serenity) was exactly much more plausible.

          • Hogan

            Whedon didn’t want to deal with faster than light travel for some reason that escapes me

            Possibly because that would leave him with the equally implausible handwave of a faster-than-light ship maintained by a single, largely self-taught mechanic. It’s always something.

            • Murc

              People are USED to that trope, tho. FTL is a sci-fi staple, and so is the ‘tramp freighter, but in space’ model.

              Chewie didn’t exactly have a bunch of machinists mates helping him maintain the engines on the Millenium Falcon. The plausibility of FTL is more related to it being, well, impossible in a causal universe, rather than it being implausible that a single person could maintain by themselves the black box that makes it go.

              • MikeN

                Haven’t seen the series, just Serenity but I imagine the point is that having FTL would open things out too much- as in, okay, you lost the war, why not just head out to another star system.

                This way they have to keep confronting the Alliance, which does tie into the Western motif- no matter how free the West was, a major theme in Westerns is the encroaching forces of civilazation.

              • MikeN

                I’d imagine it’s because having FTL would open things out too much- you lost the war, hey, just go find another star system.

                This way, like the Western, you have the point that freedom is always under threat from, and essentially doomed by, an encroaching civilisation.

  • Spokane Moderate

    Fillion.

    Sorry.

  • I’d pony up for any viral Internets campaign that might prevent Adam Baldwin from scribbling addled anti-Big Bird rants over at Big Dumb Hollywood.

    • I quite like Adam Baldwin as an actor, even on Chuck he makes things interesting. Unlike some of my friends, I’m capable of separating the actor from their beliefs.

  • Halloween Jack

    He’s worked pretty steadily since Firefly, so having too much time on his hands isn’t the problem.

  • Some

    Really? Serenity was a big bowl of Meh, as far as I could tell.

    • Some Guy

      Typing fail.

      The over-arching premise was more interesting then REAVERS AHHHHH RIVER KILL THEY ASS AAAHHH SECRETS!!! plot was.
      The universe was lost in the sea of gimmicky fan-service; blue-gloved gmen, SPACE NINJAS!, yet another retooling of zombies because who DOESN’T love a big ol’ helping of 12-hour cooked turkey?, and River the pyscho chick who is secretly (SECRETS!) a bad-ass space ninja.

      The TV show worked best when it was just an episodic show. Using a small space ship to steal cargo from a hover train, cool, I can get on board with that.

      Alliance/browncoats could better be analogized to whoever it was that united the Grecian city-states into one cohesive nation. Or maybe the Maoist revolutions in China.

  • patrick II

    Nathan Fillion has a fulltime gig at “Castle”. I don’t think he could/would quit, he wouldn’t have time time to star in two series, and I don’t think Firefly would be the same without him.
    I loved the show (still rewatch it on Netflix streaming on occasion) but I am not sure what the fans starting a reboot expect.

  • MikeN

    Sorry- need to learn to wait