To begin this post, I’d like to first bring up my preference for the alternate title to the science fiction genre, “Speculative Fiction”. While the former implies lightsabers, galaxies far, far away and other leaps in logic difficult for some audiences to swallow, the latter name conveys the more interesting component: the ability of the author to comment on our own society and the directions in which the human race is headed.
In the cult television series Firefly which aired on the Fox network from 2001-2002, creator Joss Whedon created a program notable not only for its unique cast of characters, but also for the image of the future it created.
Having left, “Earth that was”, centuries earlier after over population and pollution made our home world uninhabitable, humans left in a mass exodus, eventually arriving in an inhabitable galaxy lightyears away filled with many Earth-like planets and moons ripe for terraforming and the transplantation of our civilization. Struggle continued however, for while there are no aliens, differences of opinion between proponents of big and small galactic government escalated into full blown combat in the “Unification Wars”.
In In the Realm of Uncertainty: The Global Village and Capitalist Post-Modernity, Ang discusses his position that uncertainty is inherent in our current condition of “Capitalist Post-modernity”, “What I would like to do here is take this uncertainty onboard, not only as to the state of the world today, but also regarding the current state (and status) of theory, let alone ‘communication theory’.”
Discussing the flaws of McLuhan’s theory of a “Global Village” in which the world exists as a single community resulting from the annihilation of space and time, which Ang views as the ultimate culmination of capitalist modernity, he refers to James Carey’s statement that Modernist Capitalist culture is a “space binding culture”, pushed forward by the pursuit of real estate, discovery, empire and generally control. Ang carries this a step forward declaring that desire to expand to further markets increased the technology of communication, and vice versa, (see his example of the simultaneous growth of railroad and telegraph infrastructures) building to the line, “Spatial integration was the result of the deployment of these space binding communication technologies, first at the level of nation, then extending over increasingly large areas of the globe.”
While Ang confesses, “the globe becoming more integrated paradoxically is not leading to an easily comprehensible totality, but to an increasing diversity of connections among phenomena once thought disparate and worlds apart”, his comments are critical of Western Culture and imperialism in particular. Citing James Carey again, Ang posits that communication is culture and that Carey’s desire to “build a model of and for communication of some restorative value in reshaping our common culture”, implies a naïve nostalgia for local culture and community independent of external influence. Ang seems to suggest that a global village can only exist at the expense of replacing less dominant cultures with a “ruling” Western one.
One of the most interesting things about the world in which Firefly takes place, is the culture that has been created by the refugee human race. Separated from the age old delineation of nations by the lightyears between themselves and Earth, people in the Firefly universe, or “verse” as it is called in the show’s slang, are torn between a sense of local identity to their individual home world’s and the single body in charge of the larger solar system.
Life on each planet and moon varies more from a technological and monetary perspective: wealthier worlds are better terraformed, booming metropolis’ complete with flying cars and floating neon billboards, while the people occupying the more backwater ones’ routinely suffer from ailments produced by the improperly converted atmosphere and are more likely to have horses running around. This element earned the show its pigeon-holing classification as a “sci-fi western”.
A predominate culture is shared between all the civilized words in the “Alliance”. Following the collapse of “Earth that was” the two remaining superpowers of the US and China merged into a single governing body, creating a blend of the two cultures. Characters regularly converse in English only to swear in Mandarin. Billboards and Advertisements are written in pictograms, and while the captain of the titular Firefly-class starship eats from an Old Western style tin cup, he does so with a pair of chopsticks.
In the Firefly universe, Joss Whedon’s vision of mankind’s future inherently conflicts with Ang’s idea that the spread of communication and capitalist culture must inherently be Western. While there is some truth to the statement that communication’s ultimate pursuit is the creation of a compliant population, the series’ spinoff movie dealing with this issue specifically, the idea that the resultant “functionalist sociology” seeking the dissemination of a central value system must go hand in hand with the “domestication” of non-western societies conveys the writer’s own bias that the present state of Western domination is in fact a permanent truism of cultural expansion.
Just as in the future we may need to look beyond the idea of a Global Village to a “Galactic Village”, with the rise of China as an economic and political power on the verge of (if it already hasn’t) taking over the United States spot as a global superpower, we may need to look beyond the framework of a predominantly western common culture.