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HC6. Genre, Fans, Orientalism, and Neoliberalism in Serenity
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HC6. Genre, Fans, Orientalism, and Neoliberalism in Serenity



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  • 1. Introduction to Hollywood Cinema: Genre, Fandom, Orientalism, and Neoliberalism in Serenity
    Prof. Julia Leyda
    September 11, 2010
  • 2. quiz
    Who are the Reavers and how are they portrayed in Serenity?
    (10 minutes)
  • 3. 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
  • 4. Serenity space western iconography
  • 5. Serenity space western iconography
  • 6. 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-)
  • 7. 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”
  • 8. 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
  • 9. 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
  • 10. 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)
  • 11. The Turkish Bath (Ingres 1862)
  • 12. 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
  • 13. 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
  • 14. market on outer planet
  • 15. port city
  • 16. extras in Asian costumes
  • 17. Chinese characters
  • 18. 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?
  • Inara’s Buddhism
  • 19. Inara’s costume
  • 20. 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?
  • 21. 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”
  • 22. 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
  • 23. 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
  • 24. 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
  • 25. 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
  • 26. 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?
  • 27. 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?
  • 28. 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?