Introduction to Hollywood Cinema: Genre, Fandom, Orientalism, and Neoliberalism in Serenity Prof. Julia Leyda September 11, 2010
quiz Who are the Reavers and how are they portrayed in Serenity? (10 minutes)
I. genre: space western (?!) combines the quintessential American genre with increasingly popular SF both are sub-genres of “adventure” movie both are in part defined by setting (time and place) iconography (visual motifs) plot formulas and themes
SF and western compared set at the frontier, during a time of exploration, expansion, often war or conflict iconography of guns, boots, sometimes old-fashioned costumes stories about quests, pioneering, gunfighters themes of good vs. evil, civilization vs. savagery, justice vs. tyranny (better world clip)
revisionist representations of gender, race, class?
other famous space westerns Buck Rogers (1928) and Flash Gordon (1934-)radio and movie series Star Wars series (1977-) clear similarities between Han Solo and Mal Reynolds Star Trek original TV show (1966-) “Space—the final frontier. To boldly go where no man has gone before!” Alien series (1979-) dark, dystopian, mega-corporate mining colonies BattlestarGalacticaTV show and movies (1978-) Cowboy Bebop TV show and manga (1998-)
II. fans and Firefly / Serenity Firefly (2002) TV series on Fox Joss Whedon writer / director / exec. producer (Buffy, Angel) despite huge fan base, canceled mid-season fans bought an ad in Variety and launched postcard campaign because of fan activism Fox released the DVD bestselling DVD, internet fan sites “Browncoats”
fans and Serenity Serenity (2005) movie, same cast / crew Fox still owned the title Firefly DVD extras include story of the fan campaign Whedon and cast often attend fan “conventions” and internet fan chatrooms comics, role-playing games, books, other tie-ins unofficial, fan-made sequel Browncoats: Redemption due for release this September
fans and the entertainment industry Fox TV didn’t promote Firefly enough / well Whedon credits the Universal contract to the enormous activism of fans Whedon and cast identify as fans of the series Hollywood’s commercial aesthetic means pursuit of profitable entertainment 21st-century example of interplay between audiences and Hollywood
III. Orientalism 19C (-20C) European and American art and architecture depicting themes, motifs, and styles of “the Orient” Chinoiserie, Japonisme, Turquerie sensual, exotic, despotic, savage, distant, archaic critical term in Edward Said’s book Orientalism (1979), further developed in Culture and Imperialism (1993)
Orientalism in Said political vision of reality whose structure promoted the difference between the familiar (Europe, West, "us") and the strange (the Orient, the East, "them") origin of stereotypes of “the Orient” based in power: myth of the Oriental was possible because of European political dominance of the Middle East and Asia
Orientalism as ideology Orientalism is a pattern of thought in the West that allowed Westerners “to accept the notion that distant territories and their native peoples should be subjugated and … [to] think of the empire as a protracted, almost metaphysical obligation to rule subordinate, inferior or less advanced peoples”
link to imperialism, neoliberalism
“the Orient” in Serenity US and China have merged to form the Alliance, governing “terraformed” planets characters speak and understand Mandarin (also some Russian) visual images of katakana and Arabic script casual integration of languages, details River’s martial arts-inspired fighting style especially Inara’s character and mise-en-scene
Inara and Orientalism costume and makeup, mannerisms vocation as a companion, related to tradition of courtesan (rather than prostitute?) traditional femininity, revised? training process similar to geisha or priestess mise-en-scene combines motifs from India, China, Japan
how to interpret her character’s “Oriental” visual motifs?
a more complex orientalism? elements of design trends, popularity of Asian cultures among westerners interest in eastern spirituality: Buddhism, meditation, yoga, martial arts superficial culture: exotic cuisines, tourism fans of manga, anime, “kawaii” culture, and “Japan cool” greater cultural mixing a result of globalization? sign of Japan’s and China’s economic power?
IV. Serenity and neoliberalism neoliberalism: unregulated capitalism + democracy; dominant political and economic system since the 1980s (Reagan and Thatcher) combination of “free” market, privatizing economic policies with democratic political system since the fall of USSR and the “liberalization” of China, neoliberalism prevails in most of the world unlike in earlier 20C, “there is no alternative”
neoliberalism and the Alliance hegemony: ongoing struggle to maintain people’s consent to a system that governs them hegemony here depends on misinformed public: River’s class, the Operative’s beliefs mass media fail to inform public about real inequalities of neoliberalism / the Alliance discourses of enlightenment and development make spread of neoliberalism seem benevolent
neoliberalism and the Alliance wants to bring “civilization” and trade to the outer planets of the (uni)verse (River class clip) Mal stealing payroll of outer planet private security firm working for Alliance (Blackwater) war is over, resistance fighters (Mal and Zoe) lost—now they are outlaws, smugglers
neoliberalism and the Alliance Miranda: secret planet where psychoactive drug added to the atmosphere (like Prozac)—metaphor for maintaining hegemony (Mal broadcast clip) drug overdose killed most, created Reavers Alliance portrays Reavers as savages as westerns did Indians—but we learn that they are also human, and victims of Alliance
the Alliance as evil empire representation of the Alliance as tyrannical, masquerading as civilizing force tampers with River’s mind to weaponize her exploits planets against their will tolerates smuggling, human trafficking, crime massacre Haven and Shepherd Book in revenge hires the Operative assassin to kill Mal and recover River kills Mr. Universe to protect its hegemony
is resistance possible? Mal’s inspiring speech to the crew the Operative’s disillusionment River and Mal’s last scene is the ending happy? is it believable?
representational systems always engage in ideologies of the society in which they are produced often portray conflicts and struggles of hegemonic negotiation 2002-2005 post 9/11, post-Katrina, Iraq War, collapse of public credibility of Bush administration (and neoliberalism generally?) is resistance possible?
discussion questions Discuss the “space western”—what other movies or TV shows fit this description? How do the two genres work together? Discuss the representations of women in Serenity: Zoe, Kaylee, Inara, River. How do the Reavers compare and contrast to Indians in a western like The Searchers? If Hollywood shows Americans what they want to believe about themselves, what do we learn from Serenity?