Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Reavers, Oh my!

It is no secret that I am a fan of the work of Joss Whedon (Buffy, Angel, Firefly, etc.). Since there is no Whedon show on now I occasionally watch old episodes on DVD. Lately, I have watched "Serenity" which is the name of the pilot of the show "Firefly" and the movie which served as something of a finale to the unfairly canceled show.

I think the pilot is one of the best things to ever air on television. It does not have the sort of awkwardness that made the early episodes of Buffy so embarrassing (and endearing), and has a real patience, developing a world, characters, etc. I like the film as well, but when I watch it I always feel that it rushes through too many things, leaving some things out. For example the "Blue Sun" corporation, the omission of which leaves capitalism out of the picture.

In the series the "Reavers" (bands of violent cannibalistic marauders) are given a mythic definition--as "men gone savage on the edge of space." In the film the "Reavers" are the product of a government experiment. The political implications of this change of the plot point are ambiguous. On an immediate level it lends itself to a somewhat cliche anti-utopian plot, in which any attempt to improve or change human nature comes into conflict with an insurmountable "asocial sociability." On a somewhat deeper, but more contemporary level, given the fact that the government has created the Reavers, created the very thing that it claims to protect its citizens from, could be understood as a thinly veiled allegory for way in which governments produce the violence that justifies their existence. As Captain Reynolds says "The chickens have come home to roost." (Malcolm X?)

However, the account from the series, which presents the Reavers as a product of isolation and alienation, connects in a stronger way to the general theme of the series: the creation of civilization and community. It also connects with series/films Chinese theme at least obliquely, or, more to the point, it connects with something I heard in a paper about Confucian philosophy. To quote Robert Eno, "...For Confucians...the self is a socially acquired and radically maleable product...In Confucian terms, the issue for the person is not whether or how to express oneself, it is how to shape oneself." The Reavers are the technologically produced outside of civilization. This stands in contrast to the struggle on the spaceship Serenity, the struggle to constitute both a self and a society in the face of the void.

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