Hathor Watch-Along – Firefly, S1 Ep6: “Our Mrs. Reynolds”

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I’m filling in for Revena this week and covering the Firefly episode “Our Mrs. Reynolds.” In it, our big damn heroes save a settlement from bandits, and get rewarded with lots of gifts. After Serenity takes off, they find amongst those gifts a young woman named Saffron who claims to be Mal’s wife, thanks to a custom performed at the settlement which Mal didn’t recognize as a wedding, thanks to his unfamiliarity with their ways – the classic “anthropologist discovers he’s been gifted a wife” trope. She seems very sheltered, yet determined to seduce Mal. Eventually she kisses him with a lip seal that knocks him unconscious, then she tries to do the same to Wash (but has to settle for knocking him out as he resists her advances) and Inara (who sees through her). Then Inara rushes to Mal to make sure he’s not dead, kisses him while he lays there unconscious, and passes out, too (she claims she hit her head). Saffron, it seems, is a thief trying to steal Serenity, but the crew outwits her. Then Mal confronts her and they chat briefly about her trust issues. Then he confronts Inara and insists she didn’t hit her head… she let Saffron kiss her, too. (Or is this just his way of getting her to sort of admit she kissed him, but then let her off the hook?)

Oh, boy. Let’s start with the good points:

  • Jayne. Jayne and the rainstick. Jayne and his gun, Vera.
  • Mal posing as Jayne’s wife.
  • Everyone – except Jayne – expressing horror at the idea of a woman being bartered into marriage with no say in the matter. (Jayne tries to trade Vera for her, natch.)

Then there are the bad points. Purtek reviewed this one a while back and pointed out the main problems:

I’m not comfortable seeing yet another femme fatale using the realities of victimization in order to gain power. It feels, to me, far too much like yet another “women abuse men by lying about rape in order to gain power or money” storyline. Granted, Saffron didn’t invent a rape story, per se, but she did present herself as a victim, and I don’t like the “crying wolf” style implications… I’m sort of insecure about how much countermessage we got about legitimately believing the stories of abuse, control and objectification that women tell, in order to contrast the all-too-common (on TV) but much more interesting story of a lying, manipulative, sexually aggressive threat. I get the impression that the writers on this episode never questioned that of course everyone would believe this “victim” narrative that Saffron sells – because doesn’t everyone always feel sorry for these poor, abused young women? – and that’s why she uses it so frequently. In my experience, of course, the opposite is true.

Yes – once again, we have a woman easily using her sexuality to manipulate, con and callously put lives at risk, and everyone falling for her story. We are reminded never to trust women who claim to have been victimized, because they’re always just after something from us.

There’s a much-beloved line from this episode that I take issue with: Book tells Mal that if he takes advantage of Saffron sexually, he will go a “special hell” reserved for “child molesters and people who talk at the theater.” This is played for comedy repeatedly. If any of you have trouble seeing the vast degrees of evilness between child molestation and talking in a theater, I would like you to immediately go read, oh, at least six books on child molesters and what they do to children and how often they kill them after raping them. Honestly. Imagine if Book had spoken of a “special hell” for “Reavers and people who wear last year’s fashions.”

I get the feeling this episode’s real objective is a kiss that can be forensically traced to prove that Inara really secretly loves Mal, and all other plot elements are subject to serving that end. And that brings me to Inara kissing Mal while he’s unconscious. Yeah, I laughed, too – I mean, they’re the show’s OTP, so what’s the harm, right? But on the other hand, that seems to be the way most female-on-male rapes occur – when a man is incapacitated from drugs or drink. Once again, this relationship comes across way more creepy than I suspect the writers intend.

And Zoe threatening never to have sex with Wash again – not buying that as her style.

And then there’s the conversation Mal and Saffron have when he catches up with her for no obvious reason. She dismisses his complaints with “everyone plays everyone” and he counters by saying the reason his crew outwitted her was that they trust each other. Oh, dear – it’s Bad Girl With Trust Issues Meets Nice Guy (with Mal, Mr. Trust Issues himself, cast most ironically as Nice Guy – I know, right?). This theme continues into the next episode featuring Saffron, so we can talk about it more then.

There is so much going on in this episode, I’m sure I missed some points. Let the discussion begin!

Comments

  1. Clay Mechanic says

    As you note, Inara’s kiss is creepy. It also makes Inara look stupid. She knows that Saffron has injured or killed Mal. Even if she hasn’t heard of the “goodnight kiss” (you’d think Companions would be warned about such drugs), it’s safe to assume that Mal has been poisoned. Kissing a poison victim is a really silly thing to do. The writers at least granted her the insight to acknowledge this before keeling over. Couldn’t she have been giving him CPR instead? Yes, this would leave her opinion of Mal more ambiguous – but for TV writing, this would have left the writers more freedom in future episodes.

    Saffron’s eye roll at 27 minutes is one of my favorite moments of ‘Firefly’. However, there’s a problem in the preceding conversation. Wash first implies that only the threat of physical violence keeps him from cheating on Zoe. This is another creepy double standard played for humor. It’s a brief moment, and I like Wash’s overall babble, as he concludes that there’s something deeper to their marriage – so did it have to be in there?

    There’s also a neat scene 32 minutes in, where Wash and Kaylee admire Saffron’s rewiring of the bridge. It’s a nice buddy moment for them, and it establishes that Saffron has other skills – not that she ever gets to use them again.

  2. Ikkin says

    The “child molesters and people who talk at the theater” line seems like a pretty traditional “Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking” line to me. =/ If you said that child molestation shouldn’t be used in a joke, period, I wouldn’t argue with that, but the joke only works because it’s so absurd to compare something horrifically evil and something utterly mundane, and that would work just as well if it were “mass-murdering cannibals and people who wear last year’s fashion” instead of “child molesters and people who talk at the theater.” (As far as I can tell, child molesters were chosen as the point of comparison because Mal would actually be one if he took advantage of a supposedly-underaged Saffron)

    I agree with a lot of the other things you said, though, and I found the Inara-kisses-unconscious-Mal thing particularly interesting. Fandoms in general seem to be far more forgiving of bad behavior if the two people are involved are the OTP, as if the fact that they’re obviously going to get together overrides what either one would willingly do at any given moment.

  3. says

    Ikkin,

    Ikkin, since most people think a young boy being molested by a female teacher is all “Way to go, stud!” then, yes, perhaps what I am saying is that this society is just not mature enough to process a joke about child molestation. Too many people already think it IS a joke.

    Clay Mechanic: Wash first implies that only the threat of physical violence keeps him from cheating on Zoe.

    You know, I took this as his BEST argument against cheating, not his only, but you may be right. (And I took it as “best” argument since the violence could go against the person trying to get him to cheat, as well.)

    I do enjoy seeing Kaylee and Wash work together, too. And then how proud Wash is that he resisted Saffron after Inara reveals she has serious training in seduction and manipulation.

  4. Ikkin says

    Jennifer Kesler:
    Ikkin, since most people think a young boy being molested by a female teacher is all “Way to go, stud!” then, yes, perhaps what I am saying is that this society is just not mature enough to process a joke about child molestation. Too many people already think it IS a joke.

    I’m not sure that’s as much about people not realizing that child molestation is terrible so much as it’s about people not realizing that female-on-male is child molestation, though. =/ I’d expect those same people would still agree that a man who molested children was the scum of the earth.

    Still a major problem, of course, just a different one (and one that’s more relevant to people’s unfortunate beliefs about women that it is to this particular joke’s assumption that people think child molestation is terrible).

  5. says

    Ikkin: I’d expect those same people would still agree that a man who molested children was the scum of the earth.

    Uh, no – Lolita. And Roman Polanski defenders. And remember the Lucas/Spielberg giggles on Marion Ravenwood being 11 when she “had an affair” with Indiana Jones? http://thehathorlegacy.com/open-thread-george-lucas-on-marion-ravenwood/

    In the cases of female teachers with teenage students, it’s not the gender that’s confusing people, it’s the age (plus something else I’ll explain in a sec). When a man assaults a 13 year old girl, like Roman Polanski did, loads of people rush to question: was she a virgin? Look how pretty and tempting she looked! Oh, come on, her mother left her alone with him, so she must’ve intended for him to either rape her so they could chase a fat settlement or screw her so her career would take off or something. Etc.

    And the other thing? As long as the molestation takes place along correct gender lines – female and male, no matter which is the assailant – most people don’t really grasp what’s so bad about that. I mean, yes, if a poor boy gets dick inserted into him, he’s turned gay and shattered for life, so let’s get the molester! But if dick gets inserted into a girl, well, she was going to find out about that sooner or later (heteronormative assumptions), so what’s the big deal? And a boy who gets pussy? Lucky kid, wish we’d had a teacher like that!!

    There are SO MANY THINGS people in this society don’t get about child molestation. You have to engage people in conversations about it without exposing your own thoughts on it to get the really jaw-dropping sort of remarks that reveal just how blissfully ignorant so many people are. (When Prop 8 was being debated, some Los Angelenos explained to me how letting gays marry would essentially say that society approves of their child molesting (which, you know, all gays are into, right?). I informed them that child molesters are typically married, white, educated men who fit in nicely to their communities, so maybe we should ban heterosexual marriage, because gay child molesters are actually very rare. They couldn’t process the idea that a (nominally, at least) hetero man might assault boys without having some gay leanings, though, because the idea that rape is about lust rather than power is just too ingrained in this society for me to overcome it in one conversation.)

  6. sbg says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    I doubt I will ever understand how so many seem to have misread Nabokov – or, rather, have never read the book and presume to understand the point was that the girl was the temptress, not the victim, because someone somewhere spun it that way and it stuck. Humbert Humbert was not the heroic, sympathetic character in that book, damn it.

    Plus, word to the whole comment, basically.

  7. Attackfish says

    sbg,

    Exactly. He tries to paint her as a temptress, because in his sick mind she is, and the fact that she shows any agency at all in the relationship (trying to make it less horrific) confirms this in the minds of readers already predisposed to agree with him. But she thinks he killed her mother, and he plots to get her pregnant so that by the time she’s aged out of his interest, her (their) daughter will be there as her replacement.

  8. Attackfish says

    Jennifer Kesler: (When Prop 8 was being debated, some Los Angelenos explained to me how letting gays marry would essentially say that society approves of their child molesting (which, you know, all gays are into, right?)

    What about the fact that the vast majority of molestation victims are female? Are all heterosexual men into that? Outside of Roman Polanski’s demented fantasies, I think not.

  9. says

    Attackfish,

    What it all boils down to is that our society teaches people to assess/evaluate rape relationships pretty much exactly the same way they evaluate sex relationships. And there’s enough that’s sick about how we evaluate sexual relationships where everyone’s a willing participant.

    Next time I have one of those conversations, I’ll try mentioning that the vast majority of molestation victims are female, but I have a feeling it won’t help. In many of these conversations, people follow up comments on “child molesters” with remarks like, “Why doesn’t the church just let them marry?” which is, of course, totally surreal until you realize this person has somehow managed to forget any mention they ever heard of any act of child molestation other than priests targeting choirboys.

  10. Attackfish says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    There’s a distinct element of people responding to a reflexive disgust instead of looking at what’s best for other people. Certain kinds of pedophilia in their eyes is wrong because it’s gross, not because it hurts children. This I don’t think is conscious. Since woman/boy, woman/woman, and man/girl molestation doesn’t gross them out, it isn’t wrong, or isn’t “real molestation.” You’re right, this has to do with deeply screwed up views of adult consensual sex which become so much more so with molestation. Oy.

    Don’t they even realize that there are also huge numbers of abusive Protestant youth pastors (and non youth pastors, and I’m pretty sure I could find some pedophile rabbis and clerics)? anywhere you someone with that much power over children, the position attracts predators, even more if you have an ideology attractive to people who relish power period.

    (Don’t even get me started on my issues with how the priest sex abuse epidemic has been handled in the media, including the utter erasure of female victims. I live in a very Catholic state, and some of the biggest priestly sex abuse cases involved priests and young girls, though I’m told this is unusual, probably because priests have more access to young boys. These cases were always tucked away in a corner of the newspaper, whereas the boys got front page… after the scandal broke.)

  11. says

    Attackfish: Don’t they even realize that there are also huge numbers of abusive Protestant youth pastors (and non youth pastors, and I’m pretty sure I could find some pedophile rabbis and clerics)? anywhere you someone with that much power over children, the position attracts predators, even more if you have an ideology attractive to people who relish power period.

    You know, I’ve mentioned to many people that protestant ministers have been known to molest kids, too, and they’re always surprised to hear it. And, you know, it doesn’t make headlines a lot – the media doesn’t seem to find it very interesting. And yes, there are definitely non-youth ministers who molest kids – this I know from anecdotal evidence.

    Like you said, any position which puts child molesters in a situation where they can abuse kids and get away with it is going to attract them. Christianity not only offers positions like this, but also promotes some very twisted ideas about sexuality, which could easily – and conveniently – confuse kids into assuming the molestation was their own fault, which makes it even easier for molesters to get by with it.

    • Maria says

      I think the focus on Catholics is a legacy of anti-Catholic sentiments common in the US, like what made so many people believe Maria Monk.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maria_Monk

      Sarah Palin and some of the conservative protestants she’s supported by are also pretty anti-Catholic, and are vocal about it.

  12. says

    Yeah, I was raised Catholic and I have a lot of Catholic relatives. In my experience, Catholics tend to have a persecution complex (seriously, one of my relatives claimed the Holocaust as a Catholic experience) but there is some justification for it. I’ve had people say some horrible things to my face, not knowing I was Catholic. The pedophilia scandals just fueled the anti-Catholic prejudice and the Catholic sense of persecution.

  13. Maria says

    Sylvia Sybil,

    I’m always hesitant to say stuff like “persecution complex” when you’re able to point to both historical and contemporary examples of prejudice related to a group.

  14. Ikkin says

    Would it be right to think that, in general, people tend to blame whoever they identify with less, whether that’s the attacker or the victim? If the attacker’s “one of us” (eg. man of the same race, religion, and political leanings) and the victim isn’t (eg. a woman), the victim was obviously “asking for it” or “provoked their attacker;” if the victim’s “one of us” (eg. a little boy or an American) and the attacker isn’t (eg. a Catholic priest or a French socialist), the victim is obviously telling the truth and the attacker is scum who deserves to rot in jail (even if, as in the Maria Monk case, those charges are fabricated). The latter, of course, are more appealing to the media, because people love it when their negative beliefs about others are validated. =/

    I think justification for in-group, confirmation bias against out-group type thinking would explain a lot about how people act in these cases, actually (as well as in much less serious ones, like the hacker-apologists who made me consider a more universal explanation in the first place). The female-on-male problem is something else entirely (ie. people thinking that since they want to sleep with the teacher, the victim obviously did too), but it would explain the difference between the male-on-female (girl is out-group) and male-on-male cases (boy is in-group) responses quite well (I’m not going to make any assumptions about female-on-female, because I’ve never actually heard one of those reported).

    And, if that’s the case, I’m not sure how it isn’t tangential to the joke that sparked the discussion, since the joke doesn’t really make any claims about child molesters apart from using them as an example of the worst sinners of all. The problem isn’t that people think child molesters aren’t bad in general — it’s that they think they’re not that bad if the people they hurt aren’t people they identify with. =/

  15. says

    Ikkin: Would it be right to think that, in general, people tend to blame whoever they identify with less, whether that’s the attacker or the victim?

    Basically, no. It seems logical, and it’s what almost everyone thinks. But black jurors are at least as likely to find a black defendant guilty as are white ones. Women are more likely to disbelieve rape victim plaintiffs than are men. Psychology speculates that this is because the jurors want to distance themselves from the perceived misbehavior of people who look like them (and since rape victims are often perceived as having brought it on themselves, there you go).

    And, if that’s the case, I’m not sure how it isn’t tangential to the joke that sparked the discussion, since the joke doesn’t really make any claims about child molesters apart from using them as an example of the worst sinners of all. The problem isn’t that people think child molesters aren’t bad in general — it’s that they think they’re not that bad if the people they hurt aren’t people they identify with. =/

    As I said, it’s certainly NOT the case. Most people don’t want to identify with a victim – in the above cases, a rape victim OR a man of color who might be getting railroaded for something he didn’t do, since we’re now learning that’s appallingly common. So they look at the perpetrators, not the victims, to assess how bad the crime is.

    But do they judge the perpetrator by how much he resembles them? Hell, no. They judge him by his place on the social ladder, because that’s the value they’ve inherited from their society and most people – even when those values make their lives less wonderful than they could be – just don’t have the wherewithal to challenge these POVs.

  16. says

    Maria,

    To clarify, I was referring to specific individuals who were clearly overreaching. Like claiming the Holocaust as a Catholic experience when those Catholics who were murdered during it were murdered for other offenses like being Polish or refusing to comply with the regime. Source. Or claiming that a store selling the Protestant version of the Bible was oppressing them. Or claiming that a secular source referring to a sainted historical figure without “Saint” in front of their name was anti-Catholic bias.

    Like I said, I did get shit for being Catholic back when I was one, even before the pedophilia scandals broke. So I can see that a lot of that sense of persecution is justified. And that was actually the point I was trying to make: some of it is overreaction but there’s a reason they might be sensitive in the first place.

  17. Ikkin says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    Okay, that’s true. I didn’t take that into account.

    How about this: people judge others by how closely they resemble what they want to be/what they value. Because it doesn’t always show up along social lines — corporations and occupying forces seem like they’d have a higher social standing than individuals, but they’re treated the same way if someone hates them, and people swarm like piranhas when a politician they don’t agree with does something wrong (in spite of the politician’s obvious higher standing). It seems like it needs to be more complicated than just social standing, because equal social standing (to the degree that’s possible) doesn’t equal the same treatment.

  18. says

    Ikkin,

    Can you give an example or two? Because I’m honestly not sure what you’re talking about. I observe big stupid corps getting rescued from their own failure by the govt while sensible, savvy businesses go under before they got a foot in the door for lack of capital, yet individuals without trust funds who will never be rescued by the govt for anything keep voting Republican. As for politicians, Bush was a crackhead, and they let him in the White House, but his own daddy was putting lower-class men – particularly of color – in jail for passing joints.

    So give me a couple of examples where social standing doesn’t play a part, and maybe I can understand your point better.

  19. Ikkin says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    I’m talking about individual reactions, not society as a whole. Who the government decides to save has a lot more to do with corporations’ disproportionate influence on the government (and the seemingly-unmanageable consequences of the failure of major institutions) than the majority of people actually wanting the government to save those companies.

    As for examples, the first I’ll give is the internet’s reaction to Sony/PSN getting hacked. There were a disturbingly high number of responses that amounted to, essentially, “if you can’t make your network safe, you deserve to be hacked, because hackers will be hackers” coming from people who sympathized with the hackers, throwing the big corporation under the bus in favor of the “little” hackers. (Companies, in general, seem to be easy to demonize/idolize — in some circles, like trucks and videogames, they’re essentially treated like sporting teams, with the supported team becoming untouchable while the others are called out even for things they’re only rumored to have done.)

    I’d say another would be response the Domenique Strauss-Kahn thing. DSK was in an international position of power, but there were very few people in the US who gave excuses for him, because he’s not someone US people care for all that much (France, on the other hand, had a lot of people defending him, mostly within his own party). And that seems to be part of a general tendency, from what I’ve seen — if a political figure is accused of rape or other criminal sexual behaviors, conservatives and liberals both seem to defend their own but decry the obvious criminal behavior of the other side. Conservatives gladly called for the heads of Julian Assange and Roman Polanski while some liberals defended them, because conservatives saw them as enemies and those liberals saw them as allies, not because conservatives cared more about the women’s suffering; likewise, conservatives defend offenders in their own ranks while liberals call them out.

    There’s a common-sense portion to it, too: people are not inclined to defend someone they hate if they can instead use that person’s behavior as ammunition against him, regardless of that person’s social status; turning on allies, however, has serious costs even if those allies are clearly in the wrong, so a good number of people are inclined to discredit the people making the allegations instead.

  20. says

    Ikkin,

    Okay, you know what? We’re spending a lot of time on this, and I don’t think it’s been valuable. Here’s why:

    You started out defending Book’s joke. I thought because you said you’d accept the argument that NO joke about child molestation should ever be made, you were showing some consideration for the feelings of people who actually were molested as children and aren’t amused by the comparison of the monster who affected their lives so deeply with the garden variety asshat who’s rude in public. So I responded, okay, yeah, I am saying that jokes about child molestation aren’t okay, ever.

    You didn’t accept that at all, did you? For how many hundred words, you’ve not accepted it, railed against it, used ignorant assumptions to try to prove me wrong on my assertion that people in this society don’t get child molestation and what a bad thing it is. Please savor the irony: in so doing, you provided a terrific example of what I’m talking about, because, clearly, a joke is more important to you than the feelings of people who’ve been molested.

    That’s what I mean about this society not getting it. And I am done discussing this with you. Anyone have anything to say about the episode?

  21. Maria says

    I didn’t like that they played Zoe, Inara, and Kaylee as all initially being jealous of Saffron because she’s pretty. Women come off really poorly in this ep, as both catty and dishonest.

  22. Casey says

    I’d just like to add that the joke about “Child molesters and people who talk in the theater” IS a perfect example of the Arson, Murder and Jaywalking trope, but since rape/molestation should never be used as a joke EVER because people are already numb/oblivious towards the obvious evils of such acts, it sucks as a joke.

  23. says

    Maria,

    Can you expand on the jealousy thing? I think I missed that somehow, or maybe I interpreted it differently (like, I thought Inara was just disappointed with the whole situation, understandably). I did notice the cattiness (i.e., Zoe’s 1950s threat not to have sex with Wash ever again).

    Casey,

    I don’t think they’re numb, I think they’re incredibly ignorant of both the causes and effects, and how their failure to take action – or even a firm political stance – against it IS actually part of the problem. Child molesters LOVE this ignorance. Makes it super-easy for them to commit crimes and get away with them.

    • Maria says

      THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS.

      1. I don’t care whether you, your sister, or your cousin was molested and thinks jokes about child molestation are funny. Peep our user guidelines, do some self-work, and do it AWAY FROM our site, as per our commenting guidelines. If you haven’t read them, I suggest starting at the first and reading your way ALL THE WAY DOWN. http://thehathorlegacy.com/guidelines/

      2. DO NOT ARGUE YOUR OPINION AS FACT, particularly when someone is offering, clear, concrete examples contrary to what you’re saying. Again, READ THE GUIDELINES before commenting. http://thehathorlegacy.com/guidelines/

  24. 0Megabyte says

    [Comment edited because it raises the strawman argument that if jokes about child molestation are wrong, then "logically" jokes about all crimes must be wrong. I would have deleted the comment, except The Other Anne had responded, and I felt her question deserved response.]

  25. The Other Anne says

    0Megabyte,

    You know, I would love a solid answer to that as well. Because when certain jokes are said to or around me I certainly consider some “worse” and less acceptable or morally okay than others. For example I know guys who have said they “Matthew Shepharded that (object)” in relation to simply tying some object to a fence. When straight cis-gendered white men full of more privilege than I could ever imagine says a joke like that it is not okay. (And yes, I told them as much, though they deflected with arguments like these that say “It’s just a joke” and “I’m not homophobic” and “it’s not like I’d say that around a gay person.” But, you know, when straight cis-gendered white men use a hate crime as a joke, and in the joke it is making fun of the victim and not the heinous perpetrators, that is not okay and is in fact PERPETUATING the hate crime.

    And maybe that is where the jokes either have impact and are okay or are completely awful and no reasonable, good person would say them. That is, if your joke lessons the seriousness of a terrible act, such as comparing molesters to people who talk in movie theaters, and is not structured in such a way that the joke is on the victim and not the perp. By saying that molestation is like talking during a movie it’s saying that it’s a mere annoyance. And although the argument can be made that it’s actually placing talking in a movie theater on the same heinous level as molestation, that is just not what many people get out of that joke. Talking during a movie is annoying. It does not strip a person of their bodily autonomy and right to consent, and it especially does not harm children. It’s just…such a terrible false equivalency that any humor I’d get out of it…well, I can’t. Who are the victims in the scenarios? Someone who has been sexually assaulted or raped, versus someone who is annoyed during a movie? Is it still funny when we compare them?

    Anyway, I’m just “thinking out loud”, as it were, so apologies if I don’t make a lick of sense. I don’t tend to find jokes about violence funny period. (Except the one Chris Rock joke about upping the prices of ammo so high that there won’t be ANY innocent bystanders–but even then I don’t so much find it funny, I just wish it were true.)

    I’ll be glad to hear from anyone else. It does seem that when these arguments arise people like me get called humorless people who can’t take jokes (when in fact I’d just prefer the sort of humor in, say, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, since I’m about 7 years old. Also farts.), so knowing good arguments against this sort of humor and how to draw a line would be very handy!

  26. says

    I will address this briefly once more, since soooo many people seem to have trouble processing this, and because Anne wants to understand why she instinctively recoils from some jokes and not others. First, I fully agree with her. Additionally: all the jokes in the world can’t truly trivialize a crime society has unreservedly branded as bad, like murder. I’d say Whedon assumed child molestation is branded like that too, but he’s mistaken. When it comes to child molesting, people are a whole lot more flexible in their condemnation, depending who the perpetrator is.

    http://thehathorlegacy.com/hathor-watch-along-%e2%80%93-firefly-s1-ep5-%e2%80%9cour-mrs-reynolds%e2%80%9d/#comment-105891

    Must reads, and I mean that literally: http://thehathorlegacy.com/roman-polanski-may-finally-face-charges/
    http://thehathorlegacy.com/hollywood-thinks-rape-is-okay-as-long-as-its-not-rape-rap/

    Ask yourself at this point: does Whoopi Goldberg think what Polanski confessed to is no worse than talking in the theater? I can’t say I’m quite sure she does, and that really troubles me. And I know she’s not alone in this.

    There are related Polanski articles at the bottom of those two. I suggest reading them all. And remember: no way is it a unique example of people downplaying the seriousness of child rape when they like the perpetrator. I don’t doubt Whedon’s intentions were right, but he seriously overestimated the empathy of the public with that joke.

  27. says

    Announcement: we took a pretty hard line on the question of Book’s joke earlier in this thread, not only because of things commenters were saying which were problematic, but because of the power positioning in the very question. While I hesitate to describe never being abused as a privilege, it functions exactly like one. And maybe that happens because abuse typically leads to mental health issues, and people with mental health issues have to cope with ableism.

    It’s not that hard to build accessibly. So why didn’t we? Because to this society, people in wheelchairs were invisible and obviously useless. Similarly, depressed people and people who don’t know how to socialize with healthy-minded people (because their whole life has been a hardcore training program for coping with psychopaths) are regarded as invisible and obviously useless – unless they can conform to societal norms and hide their depression/fake the social skills. I know this firsthand.

    People who are coping with abuse kind of have enough going on without lucky people who don’t have depression from abuse whining because one joke in the entire universe might be ruined by a critique. Won’t somebody please think of the poor people for whom all of society is designed? They have so little to enjoy, and we former abuse victims don’t really matter, after all.

    Anyone who insists on perpetuating this power dynamic will indeed recognize themselves in upcoming articles from the Activism 101 series.

  28. The Other Anne says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    Thank you for that response–I think it goes more clearly for me into a more general approach as to why certain jokes are not okay–I had read where this particular joke was dismantled, but I was having a hard time applying that in terms those I was arguing with could understand.

    And to be honest now, looking back over what you said and what was said earlier in the thread, I have come to realize a big part of why any joke making light of violence doesn’t sit well with me. Ikkin, upthread, mentions the Arson, Murder and Jaywalking joke structure. Specifically using those crimes that joke no longer works simply because recently a mother was punished more for her jaywalking than the drunken man who killed her child was. So, no, it’s not even like Murder and Jaywalking are so clear cut in society that we’d punish a repeat offender drunk driver for murdering a child more than we would a poor woman who happened to walk across the street at the exact wrong time while trying to get home. (To quote Firefly: “Does that seem right to you?”)

    So I guess what I’m saying is, people really like to think they have their morals straight and they know right from wrong and so can decide whether a joke making light of terrible things is okay or not. In fact, much of the time, (and I am included in this–I am both privileged and lucky, and I’m sure that shows [which is why I love this site so much and can’t wait for Activism 101 stuff and THANK YOU Jennifer for not taking crap and for just telling it like it is) the people who THINK they know these things really don’t. They’ve never been on the receiving end of hate speech or had a group they belong to targeted for hate crimes. They might never have lost a loved one to murder, or suicide, or never felt suicidal themselves. They aren’t in the vicinity of “gay people” (or so they think) and so feel free to make light of that experience.

    Hah, I just keep going on and on. Sorry about that. I don’t tend to learn much just by reading–I have to type my way through it. I often write huge comments and just delete them and don’t post them because the only point was to think it through.

    But anyway–I am going to be spending A LOT of time with the people I mentioned in my previous comment this week, so this rehash of this issue will have a positive impact on me. I hope I will have the courage to speak up–I am always outnumbered by between 4-10 to 1.

  29. says

    I have to admit, in the original post, I phrased my ire with the joke very casually, not realizing our audience didn’t get the basis of the problem. I’ve been mulling over your response and the ones I wrote last night, and here’s my succinct answer, once and for all, and that’s it unless someone has a really fresh point to bring up (0Megabyte did not):

    –Murder victims come from all sorts of groups, privileged and anti-privileged.
    –Molested children are almost always part of at least one anti-privileged group: (1) people with mental health issues and/or (2) people who can’t fit in with a society that punishes people for calling the privileged on their wrongful deeds and rewards those who are willfully ignorant of them.
    –Gays definitely belong to an anti-privileged group.
    –Women are definitely an anti-privileged group.

    So while murder, child molestation, the harming of gays for being gay and rape of adult women are all terrible things, “jokes” about the latter three crimes disproportionately affect people who are already at a privilege disadvantage in society. That’s mainly what makes a joke too ugly to be funny. And as I said before, I wasn’t criticizing Whedon, who most likely meant well. I was more criticizing the fans who have bothered to unpack all sorts of racism and other unconscious bigotry from the series, but have given that particular joke cult status.

    There is also another layer which Anne talks about: murder victims sort of get a weird privileged status because they can’t speak for themselves, so even if perhaps some feel they deserved to be murdered, the person making that assertion has to justify her position, or the joke fails. But even jaywalkers – hardly a crime one associates with victim-blaming or (AFAIK) any particular demographic groups – can be maligned on the same level as arsonists, particularly when they have another privilege issue intersecting (like being a black woman/black mother). As long as society remains so confused about which crimes really matter and which ones don’t, it’s hard to make jokes that trivialize crime without actually trivializing crime.

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