Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Heart of Gold Notwithstanding



I'm a big fan of Joss Whedon's Firefly series, although I didn't discover it until after it had been taken off the air, so I'm forever sorry I wasn't part of the effort to save it. Nathan Fillion's Capt. Malcolm Reynolds falls solidly on my Favorite Top 10 Heroes Ever list. And the particular phrasing and word patterns Whedon used for all of the show's dialogue is nothing short of genius. If you've never watched the show, I highly recommend picking up the DVDs at your earliest convenience.

There is one aspect of the show that, despite many viewings now, never quite worked for me. This is the character of Inara Serra, played by the breathtakingly lovely Morena Baccarin.

Inara is portrayed as the potential love interest of Capt. Mal, and if the show had been allowed to continue on its natural progression, I have no doubt the two would have eventually come to admit their attraction to each other. Fillion and Baccarin had great chemistry, and I was perfectly cool with these two as a couple. In fact, a tragedy of the series' cancellation is no small amount of Unresolved Sexual Frustration between the two. Even the movie, Serenity (also highly recommended), didn't quite satisfy my need to see Mal and Inara in a relationship, so unless I'm willing to turn to fanfic, I guess I'm out of luck.

No, my problem with Inara is her profession. See, Inara is a hooker. Or, in the parlance of the Firefly universe, she's a companion. A woman who is paid to have sexual relations with other people. And not just men. You got the coin, she's got the goods.

And it's not the hooker aspect I even have a problem with. Heck, I rooted for Julie Roberts' hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold just as hard as the next gal. As part of the story, I can fully accept that some women turn to/choose this line of work for a myriad of good and not-so-good reasons.

My issue is that in the Firefly universe, being a companion is considered a very desirable, respectable, indeed - even prestigious, line of work. Inara's presence on Mal's ship gives him and his crew "respectability" they wouldn't otherwise have being that they are, in effect, space pirates. Inara is revered whenever she enters a room, her services highly desired and only given to those of the highest societal standing. She's Classy and Exotic and Respected because of her profession. Little girls in the Firefly verse actually do dream of being companions when they grow up.

Granted, the companions of the Firefly verse are nothing like the stereotype most of us conjure when we think of prostitutes. Companions are very well educated. They are clean and healthy and never saddled with crippling drug addictions. They choose their clients very carefully and have the power to punish anyone whom they feel has treated them in any way badly. They are autonomous in their business dealings (not a pimp in the verse) and they make a lot of money for the services they provide in lush, comfortable love chambers where they set the pace and define the parameters of their encounters. Truth be told, the way it's presented in the Firefly verse, being a companion is a noble career ambition, to be sure.

Thing is, I simply cannot get around my cultural bias against prostitution nor the reality of the real-world, well, reality of being a prostitute, to accept this premise. No matter how many beautiful gowns Inara wears or how classy she behaves or how respectfully other characters treat her, I can't ignore the fact that she's a prostitute. And in my world, prostitution is not a respectable profession. It's not glamorous and it's not something anyone would ever want for someone they loved. It's just not.

I understand intellectually what Whedon was trying to accomplish. Whedon loves a powerful woman, and while our society has done a lot to remove the barriers that have always served to keep females marginalized, prostitution is still the lowest common denominator. No one sees a woman who has been forced into a life of prostitution - even if self-selected and for ostensibly positive reasons - as a person who's realized her inherent power. If at some future point in time, prostitution can be made as something not only acceptable but actually respectable, women will have at long last gained full power over that last, final frontier - their own bodies.

Perhaps some day in the distant future, companions will exist in exactly the way Whedon envisioned them on Firefly. But if reality were to follow the fictional course imagined in the show, society would have had several decades/centuries to accept an evolution of prostitution that moved women from "hookers" to "companions". Unfortunately, the duration of a shortened 14-episode television season is not long enough for me to make that gigantic mental leap.

Inara is beautiful and a good person and I do want her to find happiness, preferably with Capt. Mal. I have nothing against the character personally and don't even mind her being a companion. But I just cannot manage to buy into the premise of prostitution ever being not just okay but an honorable profession.

Space pirates? No problem. Hookers as pillars of the community? Not buying it.

1 comment:

knot.box said...

I know exactly what you mean, I grew up slightly different and my view of prostitution is now much changed from when I was a child.

The most important thing to see was that one ballroom scene where the man thinks he owns her, and she is still marginalized. It's a point that was very important to make, like some things the rich do today, going to a party with someone so expensive and difficult to attain as a companion was something that put you on a 'accomplished list'.

I'm trying to think of something similar, but it's hard. Maybe you can.

Not disagreeing with you, just riffing off what you said: Inara is an important character because, yes, she shows that women have made that further leap, but all of society hasn't necessarily done the same.

Difficult to compare to, but it's a little like tweens reusing shopping bags from the 'great' stores. Showing off where they've been shopping. Or maybe ...

This is a great link to read, if your interested:

http://www.whedon.info/Sex-Work-Firefly-and-Audience.html