Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Firefly: The Lies of Inara Serra

              In this post, I would like to continue my meditations on the lessons drawn from the TV series “Firefly”. In particular, I would like to examine the lies told—and the basic lie lived—by Inara Serra, the crew member who worked as a “Companion” (that is, a very high priced prostitute or courtesan).
              In the world of Firefly, such Companions were very respectable. They were different than the usual prostitutes, being more like geishas. They belonged to an exclusive guild, and had to be trained in music, tea-ceremony, and other cultural refinements before being certified as a Companion. They were the ones who did the choosing of partners, selecting from among those desiring their services. Unlike actual geishas, however, paid sex was a part of their work.
Inara, as a traditional Companion, is proud of her work and her status. For her, sex is no big deal; it is simply a part of the honourable work of a Companion, and of no more moral significance than sharing tea in a tea ceremony. Mal, however, is not so convinced. As far as he’s concerned, she works as a whore (his word, objected to strenuously by her), and she should find other work. He respects her, but not her trade. Mal may have lost his faith during the failed rebel war, but something from his old Christian days clearly remains.
            During one of the crew’s adventures, they are called to come to the rescue of a group of women who are being tyrannized by the main man in the town, the rich bully and mayor who has the whole town under his thumb. The women needing rescuing are, in fact, prostitutes working in a brothel. The women themselves are prostitutes of the usual and common kind, though their “Madame” is a former Companion, and friend of Inara’s. She is the one who sent the distress call to Inara, and through Inara, to Mal and the crew of Firefly. They come rushing to the rescue. The stage is set.
             The intrepid crew of rescuers soon find themselves outnumbered and besieged in the house where the women live. They board up the windows, collect guns and ammo, and await the final dawn attack. They may well die in the morning, and Mal is invited by the Madame to have sex with her during their final night. After all, they may well all die in the morning. Mal and Inara share an unspoken and unacknowledged emotional attachment. Bluntly put, they love each other, though neither will openly admit to it. But the morning after, when Inara finds Mal emerging from the bedroom of her friend, and realizes that they slept together, she professes to be fine. She is completely Okay With It. After all, for her in her profession, sex is no big deal, and has no moral significance. She has no problem with someone she loves having sex with someone else. She is An Adult, a Companion, a sophisticated person. Sex is just sex, and does not involve emotional connection. In her words, “One of the virtues of not being Puritanical about sex is not feeling embarrassed afterwards. She’s well worth taking advantage of. I sincerely hope you did.” Good ol’ Inara. A modern, liberated woman.
                  Cut to the next scene, and we see that Inara Serra told a lie. We see her alone in her room, sitting on the floor in a corner, collapsed in grief, crying uncontrollably. Maybe ascribing true and lasting significance to having sex is not “Puritanical”. Maybe it is just human. Maybe it is not okay for the man she loves to have sex with somebody else. Inara’s training and the propaganda of her day might have proclaimed that sex had no moral significance, but clearly her heart knew better.
                 In our day we need to learn from Inara’s tears, shed in bitter solitude. It is a lie to say that having sex does not bind two people together. It is a lie to say that casual sex is possible, and that sex is no big deal. Loving someone involves exclusivity and fidelity. Inara Serra tried to deny this, but for her, light and truth came with the morning.

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