catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 11 :: 2008.05.30 — 2008.06.13



Fame is a boomerang.
Maria Callas

Thanks to our good friend Joel, my husband and I are hooked on the television show, Firefly. Those of you out there who are sworn Buffy the Vampire devotees probably already know about Firefly as it is written by the same folks responsible for Buffy. That said, I shamefacedly admit that I have never even seen one episode of Buffy, although I have heard from many reputable sources that the show is a work of art.  Someday I will have to watch the show for myself (on DVD, of course—who has patience for those nasty commercials anymore?) and form my own conclusions about it.

At the risk of offending devout followers everywhere, I will attempt to give an unmangled summary of its premise. No, wait—I’ll let the IMDb do that for me:

In the distant future, Captain Malcolm 'Mal' Reynolds is a renegade former brown-coat Sergeant now turned smuggler/rogue who is the commander of a small spacecraft with a loyal hand-picked crew made up of first mate Zoe Warren; pilot Hoban 'Wash' Washburn; gung-ho grunt Jayne Cobb; engineer Kaylee Frye; fugitives Doctor Simon Tam and his psychic sister River, where they travel the far reaches of space in search of food, money, and anything to live…on.

For those of you who enjoy futuristic, post-apocalyptic (pre-Rapture?) fiction, this is the show to watch. The rest of you can breathe a sigh of relief, as I am finished with my saleswoman schpeel and am, indeed, getting to my point.

In a Season 1, Episode 4, the crew of Firefly (the ship) lands in a town on a planet much like some places in our world today. The rich are getting richer, the poor poorer, and the economy undergirding this oppressive system is driven by slave labor. As the town’s mainstay is the export of mud, the majority of the slaves are forced to the manual labor needed to propel the mud industry.  The work is hard and dirty, and many of the laborers are bitter and broken.  It is not until the crew of Firefly comes upon a large mud statue of their crewmember, the “gung-ho grunt” Jayne, that they realize that something strange is going on.

Jayne confesses that he had been to this place before several years ago, and at that time had stolen money from the government, which made more than a few people angry. When he departed the planet, however, his ship had been too weighty to take off and he had to drop all of the money just to take off.  As such, Jayne was hesitant to return to the town for fear that his presence would be known and he would be killed as retribution for his crime. 

Through a series of events Jayne is, indeed, discovered by the townspeople. Instead of killing Jayne, however, they pull together a large celebration full of drinking and singing to honor him and his Robin Hood-like deeds.  If you are confused, dear reader, so was Jayne. Unbeknownst to him, the slaves assumed that when Jayne had dropped the money (which landed on their mud fields as they worked) from his ship on his last visit, he had done so intentionally as a way of “sticking it to the man” and empowering the slaves.  Inspired by Jayne’s heroic action, the slaves united. Since that time, they had been singing folksongs in his honor and telling the “Legend of Jayne” to their children. They even renamed their town “Jaynestown” to commemorate him.

At first, Jayne is flabbergasted by the news of his undeserved fame. It only takes a minute or so before he decides to let his new hero status soak in, and to be the living legend that they want him to be. He resists telling them the truth and happily accepts their drinks and songs and favor.

The plot moves along and Jayne’s story eventually comes into question when his old business partner (whom Jayne had purposefully dropped from the ship along with the money) finds him, shouts the truth out to the large crowd of gathered slaves and takes aim to kill Jayne. Before Jayne can stop it, an adoring slave jumps in front of him and takes the bullet that was intended for Jayne. In the face of the slave’s selfless act, Jayne can no longer keep up the farce. He looks into the crowd of unbelieving faces, and, with all the strength the muscle-bound ox can muster, brings the large mud statue—a lifelike replica of his own form—crumbling to the ground.

Sure, it’s a TV show, and maybe I shouldn’t be psychoanalyzing it and dissecting every piece of the plot in an attempt to fit it into my strange and sometimes-contradictory life philosophy. Maybe, but I just can’t seem to stop myself from doing so—especially in moments like Jayne’s reckoning when he, looking eye to eye with the mud statue that is his replica, is forced to face himself for what is perhaps the first time in his life. When he does so, he is also forced to come to grips with his pride and the question of his own identity—ah, the ol’ hubris and hamartia twist of tragic literature everywhere!

Before he returned to this town, Jayne had defined himself as a thief, a criminal, and a proudly independent, selfish man. Upon his arrival and discovery, however, he was suddenly made famous for everything he believed himself not to be—humble, generous, principled—and he loved it. Perhaps even more than the adoration of the slaves, Jayne liked how it felt to view himself as a selfless hero. When he was outed in front of the worshipping crowd, however, he had to face the truth of his own identity, although it seemed that, in only 24 hours, that truth had somehow changed. Instead of defending himself and the heroic lie that he had passively agreed to, as the old Jayne would have done, the “new” Jayne chose to act differently. He looked himself in the eye and physically crushed his own image, thus destroying the false idol of everything that he was not. 

Was one man’s purposeful destruction of his own image, including the public coming clean of his sins and the violent reckoning of himself to his true identity, a heroic act?  I don’t know. I taste a bit of bile in my mouth whenever I hear the word “hero,” but that probably has more to do with my puritanical ancestors than it does with any moral integrity or humility on my part. It makes me wonder, though—the show, that is. I highly doubt that there ever will be a town or people who gather in my honor to sing folksongs and to retell the “Legend of Katie,” not that it doesn’t have a nice ring to it! If I were faced with my own statue, the manifestation of all that others think of me and all that I want to be admired for, would I have the courage to take a big baseball bat and ram that puppy into the ground? Obviously, I’d like to say yes—to holler “Yes! Yes! Knock ‘er down!” from the rooftops, but honestly, I don’t know the answer to that question.  It certainly gives me pause, however, to contemplate such a thing.  It also makes me wonder if this very reckoning isn’t actually happening every day, over and over, all the time.  If so, I wonder what my batting average is, anyway? How many times have I had the courage to smash the idol that I have of myself? How many times did I slink away into my warm dirty cave, letting the idol live and lie? I suppose speculating on the past won’t do much for the future, anyway, but I do know this: thanks to Jayne and his brave decimating of his own image, I now, for better or for worse, have my very own hero. 

Oh—and thanks to Joel, for lending us the Firefly DVDs in the first place.

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