Cansei De Ser Sexy and Joss Whedon’s Firefly
CHAZZ: We’re going to dance to one song, and one song only. (sings) My hump, my hump, my lovely lady hump.
JIMMY: I don’t even know what that song means!
CHAZZ: No-one knows what it means, but it’s provocative.
JIMMY: No, it’s not—
CHAZZ: It gets the people going!
–Blades of Glory
If beauty so far removed from the animal is passionately desired, it is because to possess is to sully, to reduce to the animal level. Beauty is desired in order that it may be befouled; not for its own sake, but for the joy brought by the certainty of profaning it.
-Georges Bataille, Erotism
First of all, in case you have been living under a rock, as I have, I’m going to embed for you a YouTube video featuring Cansei De Ser Sexy (henceforth “CSS”). This is the first YouTube video I’ve ever embedded, and believe me, I do it wincingly.
In order to understand what we’re looking at here, we need to understand Chazz and Jimmy. They aren’t really separate figures at all, of course, which is why they figure skate as a unit. They are two sides of the same psyche. Jimmy listens to the Black Eyed Peas with contempt. Chazz, fulfilling basically the same function as Master Shake from Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Gob from Arrested Development, and (to a lesser extent) Homer Simpson, is the liar who knows he’s not telling the truth. Chazz actually agrees with Jimmy, which is why he has to interrupt Jimmy to roar. The problem is, Chazz is sure that if he gives in to Jimmy, he will suffer an irrevocable loss of desire and become part-asexual, part-gay: the blue uniform. As Slavoj Zizek, also a prominent YouTube figure, has argued, the modern free market has reversed the normal dynamic of repression, such that anything that is not enjoyment has to be repressed.
This brings us to CSS. The song, “Alala,” like the rest of the songs on their debut album, is a mixture of things that have nothing in common except their relationship to hipsterism, as adjudicated by white males. So, we have a pulsing “electroclash” beat, produced and programmed to sound either trashy or lackluster, depending on your point of view. We have a female lead singer who’s from Brazil, looks like an Asian doll, and sings through a vocoder with something resembling a German accent. It’s the grocery list approach: we’re reminded of the torrid, passionate tropics; of the fascination of the Asian woman; finally, of how we’ve been meaning to listen to more Kraftwerk. She appears to be saying things about glamour, by using words like “dirty” and “superfine” and “cool.” The other songs name check, among other things, the indie band Death From Above 1979, and Paris Hilton, who CSS don’t like. Isn’t that amazing? They’re just like you and me!
Then, in the video, this doll and her friends get all bloodied and covered in cake, except with constant, reassuring reminders that everything’s fine and the song is actually healing them. My point here is not that pretend violence of this sort is gnawing away at our moral fiber; rather, it’s just more of giving us what we already knew to want.
In the debate over CSS, which flared for an instant here, Anthony Paul Smith wrote: “CSS makes me want to dance and fuck and drink and smoke and generally be punk rock.” But this isn’t really the case; a whole set of social clichés make those things attractive. All CSS does is bring — fleetingly — back to life an assemblage of desires that are constantly in danger of guttering out. I cannot think of anything less punk rock than what amounts to inspirational music. The format here is the affirmation: I’m mean enough, I’m careless enough, I’m desirable enough. Who cares if you go out and do any of those things! The point is just to know that you can still want it. It gets the people going!
Which brings us to Joss Whedon’s little project Firefly, which as everyone knows, was canceled in one of the greatest tragedies since the Library of Alexandria. (The author would like to thank SEK for his generous loan.) Joss Whedon had a vision: a vision of an uncompromising space captain in a prototypically Western setting. There would be dusty planets, and there would be hyperdrives.
Here is the difference between Arrested Development, which was also mourned, and Firefly. If I tell you what Arrested Development is about, you won’t get it. It would take days and possibly weeks to go through all the in-jokes and setups from the first season alone. If you give me four sentences, I can tell you everything you need to know about Firefly:
1. Space is desolate and makes people crazy.
2. Bureaucratic governments can’t always control the outlying areas.
3. Technological development is uneven.
4. Morality, man. Whew. I get exhausted just thinking about it, it’s so complex. Who are the real good guys, anyway?
That’s it. Everything else, Whedon just steals. He steals the River plot from the Wolverine story and some other comic book sources, and he makes River as annoying as he possibly can — because for Joss Whedon, crazy people are all schizophrenics who mumble and lunge. (Hence Season 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.) If the camera’s on River, she’s either mumbling, or lunging, or pretending to be in a high school version of David and Lisa.
The captain, Mal, is mostly just Han Solo, and the Serenity is the Millennium Falcon. There are a few other references, notably Rick from Casablanca. His crew consists of Joss Whedon (the pilot), Jonathan Harker (River’s brother), and The Three Eternal Women: The Tomboy, The Courtesan, and The Down Home Girl Who You Should Never Have Broken Up With. (There’s also a preacher who’s there to make the captain look good.)
Thus I have to believe that Whedon wants me to like Firefly because it’s sort of like watching Star Wars: repetition with nominal difference, as with CSS. He wants me to be proud of him for his predictable moral subversions. The other stuff, the plot such as it is, is just watching the ups and downs of a group of independent contractors.
Even Zizek, by the end of The Fragile Absolute, seems to argue that you can’t give up on a libidinal complex without condemning yourself to death: he describes the end of Hitchcock’s Vertigo as a death-in-life for Jimmy Stewart. But this seems to me to be precisely the “subjective desolation” that Jacques Lacan considered so crucial for the rebirth of the subject. You can either insist on desire, by repeating punk and space cowboy tropes, or you can try to rediscover it on the far side of a desert.
You pays your money, and you takes your choice.