Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Features and bugs

Whedonesque links to a blog entry criticizing the Firefly universe for having a thoroughly Asian character without the presence of any Asian characters:

My beef is this: why would a man intelligent enough to read the Asian tiger on the wall (having all the characters in his future world speak an English/Chinese patois, and all of the spaceship names and call signs translated into Chinese on their hulls), be too stupid to include a SINGLE ASIAN CHARACTER in said world? Sure, there were maybe enough Asian extras in Serenity to count off on (one of) my hands, but where's the recognition, folks? The slopes are coming, and not just to buy your cheap-ass products (which they're sweat-shopping anyway.) Asian economies are just that: economies. Not wet, gaping holes for you to fill with your junk, but rather whole, integral eco-bitches of cash and power, that will only invite you to join their orgy if you're very, very relevant.

In the world of Serenity, Asians are literally inscrutable. We somehow rule the universe enough to get our main lingo (Chinese, natch) spoken everywhere, yet you can't scrut us. Anywhere. But in fifty years the world really will look more like the establishing shot of Blade Runner (which Whedon jacks with abandon, sans, of course, Asianyness), with the massive moving billboards of future cities burdened with the facets of Asian beauty and Asian power. The politicians you'll love to hate will be Asian. The CEOs who own them will be Asian. The guy in the corner store? Still Asian, but so, too, the cops that park there illegally to grab a dozen you tiu with their coffee, and the kid that stupidly holds up the store while the cops are there. You can't make up, like, over half the world's population, be poised to swoop down upon the new global economy like a hawks on a dazed field mouse, and not end up everywhere. In fifty years, much less five hundred, Asians will be more scrutable than the sky. You won't be able to look away.

At one point during our viewing of the Firefly DVD set, I made a similar comment. But then I thought that this may be a feature, not a bug, of the Fireflyverse. Think about it: You've got a future civilization in which the newspapers elite families read are printed in Chinese, highly-paid courtesans wear makeup that's at least slightly Asiatic in its effect on their appearance, everyone curses in Chinese, and yet there are very, very few actual Asians in evidence.

Sure, that could be an oversight or a hole in Whedon's worldbuilding -- or it could be a fascinating storytelling opportunity. I'm reminded of David Brin's question: Where are all of the civilizations between the Federation-Klingon-Romulan level of technology and all of those ultrapowerful, superadvanced races like the Organians and the Q Continuum? If we ever see more Firefly on the large screen or small, I'd love to see an attempt to explore just what happened on Earth in the run-up to its evacuation to new worlds...

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