PopMatters.com continue putting the spotlight on Joss Whedon lately, with a series of articles that are both fun and facinating.
In this article, Chris Colgan explores The Death of Utopia: ‘Firefly’ and the Return to Human Realism in TV Sci-Fi.
Science fiction television before the year 2000 was remarkably uniform in its view of humanity becoming a somewhat idyllic society in the future. True, wars still existed, but most other problems that plagued mankind in the current era had disappeared from these universes. Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate, Babylon 5, and even seaQuest DSV all showed a future where mankind had, for the most part, eliminated poverty and disease from the social structure and people lived in a clean, almost utopian environment, as long as war was not in the picture. Consequently, most of the television franchises during the 1990s, Star Trek chief among them, also showed a future where social classes had disappeared, and the baser desires of people for acquisition and wealth had been suppressed.
While this vision did help represent a better future and gave people aspirations for such a future, many of these series omitted the human struggle against one’s own environment and the desire to improve one’s standing through possessions and material worth. This is one reason the Star Trek franchise has received some criticism in the past, for having human characters that are nearly devoid of current-day motivations, and for depicting characters that did have such motivations as either wholly evil, comic relief, or inconsequentially minor.
Joss Whedon, however, changed all of this with Firefly. In one fell swoop in 2002, he took the concept of the human utopia in science fiction, tossed it aside, and revolutionized the view of the human future on television. Whedon did not want a future without struggle against environment, nor did he want humanity to be without social classes and the allure of the almighty dollar. Thus, he created Firefly as an antithetical foil to Star Trek—a universe where power was still in one’s wallet, where corruption and deception retained their strongholds in the highest levels of society, and a man would (and actually could) still bleed to achieve his dreams. Science fiction was forever changed by this, and it is why Firefly should be one of the names listed among the greatest science fiction series of all time.