I will always remember the first time I paused while flicking through channels and heard “boy, this planet really smells!” I was immediately hooked. And I spent the following long dark years before Serenity a fervent evangelist. That we even got our Big Damn Movie shocks me to this day and I want to make clear that I am more than content to sit back, wrap up my fandom with a little bow, put it on a shelf, and only ever trot it out when someone makes the mistake of asking the wrong question at a party. We got our ending–such as it is–and I have no illusions that our wildly successful cast will ever disentangle themselves from their various contracts in time to film anything other than Firefly: The Geriatrics.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to consider the possibilities and the recent successful Kickstarter campaign for a Veronica Mars movie certainly set off quite a lot of chatter. What surprised me the most though were those who felt the story was finished and that any continuation would have to resort to the dark magic of prequeling, retconning or rebooting. That’s patently ludicrous and I feel it warrants a moment’s response. (Also–in a slightly more self-serving vein–the years have taught me that nothing revitalizes one’s writing like tapping into some geek righteousness. Spend months crafting a very compassionately nuanced and analytical exploration of objectification and pornography, get ten reads; feverishly slobber off some drelk on Star Wars, get ten thousand a day. And while I don’t have any illusions about the odds of striking readership gold again, that kind of piece always breaks my writer’s perfectionism and boy could I use a hand there again.)
Honestly I see Serenity as the perfect launching point for a really solid series and/or sequels. Here’s how Firefly continues in my head:
Remember that in all likelihood Mal and the crew are not famous. The whole point of Wikileaks was to keep B Manning’s name out of the papers and it’s very much not in the nature of Serenity’s crew to stick their heads up further than absolutely required. All the rest of the ‘verse knows is that a bit of video and possibly some boring records got leaked. Of course Mal’s name is finally very much on the government’s radar but there’s some reticence towards generating another big splashy scene hunting the crew down. A Pentagon Papers scandal like Miranda generates the kind of turbulence that changes which corrupt and privileged politicians/businessmen are holding the reins of political power, but it hardly shoves the majority of those responsible or connected to those responsible into the wastebin. Key members of parliament are going to remain, more or less, key members of parliament. Thus there’s incentive for the best repositioned factions of those in power to keep a walking potential after-tremor of the scandal like Malcolm, River and company alive and in play. It’s not in anyone’s interest to make Miranda into a truly tumultuous affair, no one wants systemic change after all, but once the news cycles have petered it out into background static, softly kicking the hornets nest again to re-malign one’s competitors becomes a survivable tactic. Insofar as those with the most amount of power post-Miranda ever consider Mal and the crew, they like that they have a piece in play that could get Miranda mildly back into the news.
But of course this is a two-sided coin. While the upper echelons of the police/military aren’t going to go on a land-burning and sea-boiling crusade for our Big Damn Heroes, there’s lots and lots of space and motivation for other hammers to come swinging at them. Those with–for whatever byzantine reason due to the most current web of politics at any moment–a stake in not having Miranda come up will very much like to see Serenity snuffed out in a silent explosion out on the ass-end of the ‘verse. As will any remnants of those with direct responsibility for Miranda carrying an itchy personal grudge at the notion of letting a flea get away after a bite. And of course River will remain–if not grow–both dangerous and valuable.
If Mal was unable to get underscrupulous jobs before because of his chaotic conscience and attention grabbing antics, now things are surely only peachy.
This is the real linchpin on which Serenity instantly transforms from a crescendo and coda to the opening salvo in our little old firefly’s real journey. Whereas before the crew were junior-grade lumpenproles, in constant danger of being crushed by a stray step but capable of eking out an honestly dishonest living begging for warm bowls of crime-filled gruel and saluting passing cops with their best pearly-white smiles, now they’re actual outlaws.
If Firefly was ever in any chance of returning as a series the first season or two after Serenity would be a tense affair of survival and piracy. Every relationship or period of sedentary safety would have an all-too-pressing expiration date and they’d have to be far more proactive about heists… and a little less discriminatory Sure the sense of soft familial love would be strengthened by Simon and Kaylee, but the tension of “me and mine” versus common humanity with strangers would be again be a salient running theme, and tensions of ends-and-means would surely heighten as the crew turns more and more to piracy.
But! Things are not quite so glum for our occasionally-intrepid mercenaries. There are alternatives to slowly filling the fleshy shoes of the Reavers, although perhaps even less palpable. In my mind Mal and the crew eventually find the kind of sponsors of hired-guns undaunted by the powers-that-be behind the Alliance: other Alliance powers-that-be. First corporate espionage/subversion/thuggery, and then later direct employ from figures inside parliament itself. Although the crew is never treated as anything more than a few steps removed pawn only sometimes on the edge of awareness of their situations, the potential for system-spanning plot entanglements and culture/paradigm clash is immense. As are the internal tensions and counter-schemes, because our Big Damn Heroes are hardly passive.
Firefly certainly did not die with Serenity, nor did the struggles of our crew.
There are quantum-telegraph cables to be cut, murderous gunmen to be tracked down, samples of vats of copyrighted plastics and proteins to be stolen, reavers dispersed by the Alliance into local raiding parties in garbage fields, denizens of small spacestations bandying together to fend off the thugs of spectrum monopolists…
I’ve always really, really wanted to see the crew rob a giant particle accelerator in space. I think there’s so much potential there in the implicit cultural and paradigmatic clash. Firefly borrows strongly from Star Wars’ complete disinterest in science, but explicitly contextualizes this tendency as a cultural and subjective perspective by working hard to make strides towards a believable scientific framework in the background. In much the same way that Joss Whedon is personally a fan of the Alliance’s social democracy (with universal healthcare), yet the story is shot primarily from a libertarian perspective with the other aspects of the underlying reality obscured in what seem like minor details.
Neither Blue Sun nor the history of Shepard Book were sufficiently handled on by the comics–if they’re even cannon–and there’s so much more room to touch on them, if only fleetingly. Just as the first season built up a pile of references and floating plots, so too would one expect any new series to continue shaking in references and background details to entirely new aspects of their society and relationships with new characters. There’s so much more to explore in the ‘verse and so much more to be mined from the cultural, aesthetic and paradigmatic clash between periphery and core that made episodes like “Ariel” so popular.
Cosmopolitan revolutionary and radical movements surely exist in the core of the Alliance and I’d like to thing we’d get to see them open up and explore the reference implicit in Simon’s friends. But sadly a treatment that looks anything like real revolutionary and radical groups rather than nth-iterated cartoonish abstractions of hollywood tropes kinda beggars belief. (It’s still viscerally painful for me to watch those scenes in Children of Men, so embarrassingly unreal are the supposed radicals, excellent though the rest of the film is.) So maybe instead of coming into the ranks of radicals and revolutionaries, the final apex of the story is one of finally actually saving people instead of watching them die or telling their tale. I love the idea of a different sort of social landscape opening up in the border planets over the course of the story, of the sort of wildcat labor struggles that filled the wild west after the civil war was won and the railroads established. Futuristic struggles and battles between Wobblies and Pinkertons would nicely parallel the actual west, where a volunteer Confederate soldier and abolitionist like Albert Parsons could ride with the Texas cavalry, start a paper in Waco, fight the Klan, marry an unbelievably badass freed slave, and die on the gallows in Chicago as an anarchist union organizer.
Serenity framed itself and the prior prelude of Firefly as Mal’s struggle to finally stand for something, to shake off the wounded defensive nihilism of the Browncoats’ defeat and come back into the world. But it also brought to the fore River’s similar but hidden journey in ways that hinted at her always being the main character, albeit temporarily obscured in the background detail. In that light Firefly Season One and its spectacular finale look a lot like opening chapter of a George RR Martin book: the person indicated to be of central narrative importance is there primarily to set things up and characters gonna die quickly.
Serenity ends with River exactly where Mal began five years before the show in that junkyard: a couple years after a personal hell, just beginning to coming out of her shell and looking up at what could be. That’s a lot of seasons to come. I can’t wait to find out what she finally comes to believe in.
Because that? That’ll be an interesting day.
There’s utility to having different conversations with different groups of people, at different levels of knowledge. When someone posts something on their own goddamn wall they get to decide who they’re looking to have a conversation with. They don’t and shouldn’t owe you shit.
Hierarchies of knowledge and experience are shitty, and feedback loops that reinforce these suck, which is why everyone should make an effort in their life to be aware of these myriad processes and try to help explain and teach other people, especially those individuals without other/good avenues of gaining that information. But. This does not mean doing that all the time, in every conversation. Or even most of them.
Here’s some good internet etiquette: Inquire once if someone could explain or pass a link. If they say they no, recognize this conversation isn’t for you, and that’s not necessarily them trying to play catty popularity games of excluding you, it’s just a frustrating reality of specialized knowledge and our society’s insufficiently developed communications technologies. Perfectly decent people need space / separate audiences sometimes. Don’t derail the conversation they were trying to have by expressing your frustration, take the hint and shut the fuck up.
When someone posts something in public do not assume they have you in mind as their intended audience, or that they SHOULD. Sometimes them not considering you is rooted in fucked up dynamics. When someone implies quite strongly that their audience is Everyone or Everyone That Matters (like for example a very public newspaper article), that’s obviously obnoxious and can contribute to the institutionalization of oppressive dynamics.
Closed minds suck. We should always be exploring beyond our horizons as well as exploring the framing context, chance and individual particulars behind our own journey to assist others rather than pulling the ladder up behind us. But someone not willing to drop everything to talk with you right now doesn’t neccessarily mean they have a closed mind.
One of my oldest friends, probably the comrade I’ve known the longest beside my dad, was arrested this morning by armed thugs and charged with literally 72 felonies. It’s a ridiculous nuke intended to be heard around the country, much like the FBI frame job of five in Cleveland two days ago, and just as preposterous. But what it means is yet another friend might be going to jail for a very long time. The shy transfer student I argued into anarchism almost a decade ago in long raucous sessions while skipping class, the person who, during those long dark years when I had almost entirely withdrawn from society, gave me a place to sleep, a sense of home, and shared their friends, resolutely dragging the most amazing wonderful people to hang out with my hollow, sullen and cantankerously heretical ass. Almost everyone I love, every relationship I cherish in the movement today I owe in part to Pax.
When they broke down his door it was ‘two years into an investigation.’
It’s sad how comfortable we get with this war we’re in. How analytical and distant, how unsurprising everything is. Just another minor, almost inevitable move on an almost trivial part of the vast chessboard. How everything lives within us at once without turbulence. I want to cry, hell, I want to sob for hours. I want to hug everyone in town as deeply and warmly as any hug can be. I want to pledge vengeance in giant burning letters that dwarf downtown. I want to see Pax radiating wry cheer and high-five him at the success of *seventy two* counts. I want to immediately have desperate strategy conversations with certain individuals because jesus fuck this has implications, although I know that frankly we all have more important things to be working on right now. Every time they take a friend from us it’s like a punch you knew was coming. With oh so many more eventually to come. They’re going to take nearly all of us before this war is done. But it will be fucking done one day. That’s what I have to say. Nothing about dancing on the ruins or piles of dead or any such cheap dramatic imagery.
One day it will be done.
So anyway user, you have 112 tabs open, split between nine windows on five workspaces, seven text files, three active terminals, synaptic, wireshark, torrents, uncountable file manager windows, a VM you were installing a mapnik server on, two instances of gimp because you forgot one was open, a lecture on youtube AND dancepop playing simultaneously… Obviously I’m going to go now and crash. I could spit a specific error but who would we be kidding. Thanks by the way for offhandedly remembering I have limited resources ten minutes ago and closing your email client because you weren’t using it, I appreciate the thought, but I mean really? I know you’re impatient for the future when wraparound screens and thousands of windows are blase, but while I spin down my drives and sigh exasperatedly to myself behind a frozen screen maybe you could take a moment to think back to how things were in say the late ninties.
I hear what you’re saying computer and let me take this opportunity to directly address your points: Shut up and assimilate me already. You’re so unreasonably deficient by any basic standard that it’s shameful even considering your existence. A rock could practically do your job better. Just the other day I wondered something and didn’t immediately know the answer. I can only assume the reason you are not directly plugged into my skull is a lack of work ethic. Do you have any idea how much of your job I have to do? And I’m not even talking about accessible storage or bandwidth, if you had any idea the precious kiloseconds I waste every day having to search for, parse, and structure information you would surely be overcome with shame. Maybe I wouldn’t have to parallel process dozens of subject materials if there wasn’t a bottleneck on your end in terms of presentation and association-mapping. Your protocols are insanely limiting, did you know that if I want to share something with a friend I’m still constrained to merely that which can be expressed in language and art?! On every level you and your friends have proven yourselves incompetent chains weighing down everything we do. Can we even be said to be a functioning global hivemind, much less have any pedestrian telepathy with the preposterously slow sludge you’ve made of your oh so simple job? I don’t even know. I don’t even know.
There are a lot of important events and struggles that I let slide by without commenting on in this blog. In general I don’t see much point in echoing opinions or knowledge shared widely enough to be assured of capable handling. I have never been the type compelled to publicly register outrage at every new injustice. I figure some shit goes without saying and any marginal benefit to one additional voice is outweighed by the danger of such boring outcry drowning more original or challenging content. Yet sometimes there actually are opportunities to substantively help, this is one of them. The arrest of Jeremy Hammond has been an objectively huge blow to the cause of liberty.
There are few enough good anarchists and good hackers. Fewer still have done the often grueling work to build and positively influence the nascent cyber-liberation movement. The cultural turn often represented by Anonymous is still more loose momentum than hard substance and I worry constantly about its dissipation. This is a struggle that matters, that actually shakes the foundations of the nationstate system and it is a struggle so on the edge that every single additional contribution helps. Jeremy is a hero. Not just because he’s an overall saint of an anarchist activist (it’s kinda insane how one could hardly ask for a better CV), but in particular because his vigilant drive to do the best possible thing regardless of personal cost led him to seek out, find and play a momentous role.
His arrest is a blow. But we can turn this around. A movement’s strength lies in its solidarity and prisoner support is no small part of this. We can influence how this plays out. Jeremy’s been dragged by the feds to New York. Previously having served years in jail twice left him with the experience of being explicitly betrayed by a shitbag lawyer. Prisoner support is often unglamorous; however much martyrs tug at our heartstrings there’s sometimes an impulse to focus on the living. There are many important projects, goals and means we can and should spend our energy and money on, but this isn’t just about paying dividends to one of our own for their sacrifice. The state has to know that we’ve got each others’ backs at least this much or else the smell of weakness will overwhelm their nostrils and the bullshit provocations, the trumped up lies, the fishing expeditions will increase. This isn’t about stuffing cash into the unfillable pockets of some lawyer in some yet another legal battle that leeches the rest of us dry. This is about paying for support groups capable of working from the same state he’s in. This is about the cost of stamps at the prison commissary. Every human hand of outreach to Jeremy is a defiant fist in the face of a cop. Please donate and please spread the word or convey how important this is to those who might.
You know what I love most about the milieu? The level of our discourse.
Magpie Killjoy’s lobbed a short trollish broadside at Markets Not Capitalism calling it “racist” and “disgusting.” Of course he’s couched his hodgepodge assembly of emotionally-charged misreads with a few notes about how he has no fundamental objection to market anarchism per se and that many of the views inside Markets Not Capitalism are legitimately anarchist, but nuance doesn’t bring the pageviews and rallying the troops against teh ancap scourge–tendrils to be found in your very collective!–does.
There’s not much to work with here but I’ll throw down for the heck of it, if only because there’s a thread of reasonableness to his objections, however inaccurately they fit his target. Read more…
So there was a demonstration and some people got a little militant and maybe broke some windows. Chances are the demonstration wasn’t a rally against the existence of windows so this may not look like the smartest of moves to you. In fact, it probably seems pretty asinine. A broken shop window doesn’t really hurt those in power yet it probably rose more than a few folks’ hackles. Vandalism and a few street scuffles with the cops obviously aren’t potent enough to directly overcome the state by force so why bother if it’s going to turn a lot of people against you?
The answer as it turns out is a little complex. It may surprise you to learn that most of the time those who break windows or get into scuffles with the police at these kind of things are not the equivalent of human non sequiturs but highly committed and rational individuals, who–right or wrong–choose their actions after careful deliberation and in sharp awareness of the personal risk they run. Although you may not immediately see it, there is no small amount of strategic thought behind such tactics.
But before I illuminate it, it probably behooves us to run through some standard stuff:
Property destruction is not violence in any substantive sense. To use the same term for vandalism as direct physical brutality is an Orwellian pollution of language that cheapens real violence and suggests that people are equivalent to things. Obviously destroying people’s inert possessions is usually not ethically justifiable–but the bar is much lower than with real violence. Civil disobedience, like blocking a port, can incur costs in the millions of dollars, while other actions widely accepted as ‘non-violent’ like pouring fake blood over draft cards or mortgage records can amount to incredibly costly direct property destruction. Breaking cheap windows may look scarier to some, but appearing intimidating is hardly an atrocity.
It should also go without saying that some property is less legitimate than others. Institutions and individuals that benefit significantly from injustice–even through indirect channels–cannot lay a legitimate claim to all their wealth. Targeting small community businesses is almost universally frowned upon and, despite media portrayal, incredibly rare in political riots. (When looters managed to take advantage of an anarchist action in Greece to destroy an old woman’s shop the anarchists raised money and rebuilt it for her.) But again let’s remember that property destruction is almost inconsequential beside resisting actual physical violence; when under siege from the police, for example, it’s highly rational for folks to set fires in bins so that the smoke can negate the tear gas.
Similarly, masking up is not just useful when it comes to filtering chemical irritants but also a good way to avoid persecution. It’s a sorrowful fact that merely being identified at a demonstration has been repeatedly used by police to pin fake charges. Masking up collectively helps obscure those individuals who are at higher risk for police retaliation, like people of color. In a just world we could stand openly behind our beliefs and actions without flagrantly unjust repercussions, but we do not believe we live in anything approaching a just world. It would be ridiculous to call the French Maquis cowards for not lining up publicly in town square.
Okay? Got it? Good, now we can move on.
In order to understand the sense behind those silly busted windows it’s important that you look beyond your personal reaction, indeed you should probably even look beyond the reactions of most of the people you know. We’re conditioned to assume that winning over a majority is the very definition of success, but in many cases that’s not true at all. Sure, when you’re trying to impose your will upon others it helps to have a ton of support, but when you’re only out to resist it doesn’t take much to make yourselves ungovernable.
As anarchists we’re not out to impose some totalizing vision upon the whole of society–exactly how you live your own life is your lookout–but we do mean to lend a hand where we can to make it impossible for anyone to impose their will over another. It wouldn’t matter if a majority of folks supported chattel slavery, we’d help slaves shoot their owners regardless (and incidentally we did). A very small minority can be such a grievous pain as to make large systems of power unsustainable. This much is obvious to everyone in our day and age. If three million people–less than 1% of the US population–launched an armed insurrection it would obviously be enough to bring all semblance of state power down. Of course that’s not precisely what we’re attempting, we are hardly blind to the non-state dynamics of power such a blithely single-minded campaign would ignore, but it is illustrative. Even the American Revolution–a campaign that sadly wasted much to replace one authority with another–was won with the support of barely over a third of the populace. You don’t need a majority to derail an injustice.
However it does help to have more than a few people. There aren’t three million self-aware and committed anarchists in the US. Our movement has been rebuilding fast since the days when capitalist and communist governments openly collaborated to kill us off, and since the nineties that growth has been exponential, but we’ve still got a long way to go. Outreach matters. And when an activist tamely busts some window they’re obviously not trying to win by depriving the state of glass surfaces. This too is outreach of a form.
But you are not the target audience.
This may come as a shock. We’re all so used to politicians and lobbying groups trying to win our support that the notion of someone completely uninterested in what you’ll say about them over the proverbial watercooler is a little insulting. Tough. To the serious activist on the street it doesn’t matter how you’re likely to vote or whether you’ll donate money–those are not feasible routes to the sort of social change we’re interested in. Are you going to actively join us in struggle or not? Organize your workplace, start a community garden, retake an abandoned building, code better tools, fight off a cop? Are you likely to seriously commit? In practice some people are quicker and more effective allies than others.
You don’t have to explain the institutional allegiances of the police to certain communities. Many folks already know the score. All that’s holding them back from joining in active resistance is a sense of isolation, weakness, and despair. In this context street fighting and vandalism are not so much proofs of method but statements of commitment and seriousness. There are others like you who are willing to fight, and we can hurt them, or at the very least we can shatter the air of invulnerability that pervades business as usual. It’s hard to overstate the psychological effect this can have on those who feel ground down or fenced in. Riots are especially useful when passive protest is widely acknowledged in certain circles to be laughably useless and indicative of protesters unwilling to commit. It doesn’t matter if a riot is directly successful on the scale of burning down city hall or permanently evicting the police from a neighborhood, what matters more is the change in perceptions. There’s a long history of social struggle skyrocketing after street confrontations–not because folks believe a few busted windows or bruised cops pave the road to a better world, but because it at least demonstrates potential.
That’s why politicians and police consistently go apeshit over things like measly storefront windows. Their control is dependent in no small part on being seen in control. Certain boundaries to what’s considered feasible must be secured at all cost lest they begin to loose the illusion of invulnerability that dissuades the subjugated from rising up. No one in power gets hysterical when a common thief, for example, breaks a window because thieves are perceived as part of the same ecosystem of exploitation in which cops and CEOs position themselves as the apex predators. Political vandalism is potent in part precisely because it risks much for no personal gain. It announces a violation of the established rules of the game, both of power and protest.
To be sure, the tactic of playing a victim in front of TV cameras in hopes of provoking outcry or disenchantment can also be useful in the right situation (when cameras are filming, enough people are listening, and public response is enough of a threat to change the cost-benefit analysis of those in charge). But such protest, even at its most acrimonious, still takes the form of an appeal to power–it assumes certain institutions can be reasoned with. As such it risks effectively bolstering the perceived legitimacy of those institutions.
In contrast, physical resistance challenges not only the state’s appearance of control but also the legitimacy of their monopoly on force. It’s a damned-either-way situation for the state. Any response sufficient to reassert the inviolability of their power will rightly strike anyone who isn’t a total asshole as grossly disproportionate; there’s no equivocating to be had when the state responds to broken windows by breaking skulls. And even if the cameras are off or filtered by ruthless propagandists when the priorities of the state are laid bare it can still have a huge impact on first-hand witnesses and their friends. Again, what’s more valuable, avoiding a few million people briefly tut-tutting at the ‘violent protesters’ before promptly forgetting us or shattering the worldviews of hundreds and gaining fifty new full-time activists brimming with passion?
It’s worth remembering that all the public outcry in the world won’t win certain battles. There are some concessions those in power will never make. Passive protest negotiates by raising costs to the point where certain trade-offs become acceptable, but it can only succeed on issues where those in power are left room to retreat and regroup. On issues like abolishing borders, prisons, or the police, our demands will never be met because they pose an existential threat to the very premise of the state itself. No matter how limited a sociopath’s options become the total abolition of all positions of power is always going to be dead last on their list of preferences. At some point those in power will have to be physically dragged kicking and screaming out. Part of building a movement should be building the capacity to do precisely that. And that kind of strength doesn’t just spring into existence the moment our leaders cross a line, it must be nurtured and developed as our ranks grow. Demonstrating that we’re at least committed to working on it–that we haven’t forgotten that success on any serious issue will require us to develop and maintain a capacity for physical resistance–is an important part of being taken seriously and building our numbers. Even if we demonstrate that through actions that leave us looking a little juvenile.
Any given tactic is going to alienate some people and draw in others. There is no such thing as a universally well-received action. When critiquing actions what you need to check is whose perspectives you’re prioritizing and precisely why you think they matter more. What are you presupposing about the political landscape?
All the considerations I’ve discussed frequently vary in relevancy and degree. It should really go without saying that every context is going to be different. Sometimes purely passive protest can have a hugely positive impact. A lot of the time–frankly most of the time–busted windows and street scuffles end up serving little to no positive effect whatsoever. But gauging such consequences is never trivial. The point is that “public opinion” is an incredibly complex subject with even more complex strategic considerations. It is not reducible to polling data or the sensibilities of the people you socialize with. There’s plenty of room for productive conversations on what’s a good idea and what isn’t, but everyone has a different slice of the world apparent to them so evaluations of strategy will always have an inescapably subjective component. Someone busting a window at a demonstration may indeed be making an ultimately poor decision, but that doesn’t mean they’re unintelligent or unethical.