Firefly and Me

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They Call it the Law

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First aired: The Signal: Season 7, Episode 8
Written by Jill Arroway
Read by James Parkinson
Edited by Paul Korswagen

Glass smashing. Truncheons. Black suited police, faceless, helmeted, riot shields and tear gas. I saw these things. They tend to leave a lasting memory. I saw a mother with a crying baby, blood pouring from its ear. The child had been cut by shards of glass as the fine members of the British constabulary smashed through the windows of their home with their big sticks. But the woman with the child wasn't an anonymous stranger - she was my friend, someone I'd known for years. The police were anonymous - literally, with no serial or identification numbers visible. They beat their truncheons against their shields in terrifying war-cry rhythm, as the canisters of tear-gas flew. Fresh from the miners' strike, the new militarised police force of Great Britain had been brought to bear against a bunch of hippies, on their way to Stonehenge, as we had done peacefully for each of the past eleven years. But this year was 1985, and peace was over.

It still amazes me that state-sponsored violence against a country's own citizens could have happened in my country, in my lifetime, to me and mine, but it did. Perhaps you find this tale unbelievable? Google "The battle of the beanfield" and learn more for yourselves. The refugees from attack drove their bruised and battered vehicles away from the scene of the fight, and eventually ended up in Savernake Forest, where we could rest and tend our wounds. The boys in black had taken money and identification from pretty much everyone, so the band of weary travellers - maybe a few hundred of us - lived on very little, sharing communal stew and coffee each morning. To begin with, most of the people at Savernake were women, because for some reason the police arrested more men than women, and then as the days went by, our population began to grow, and more of our number were released from jail. The government wanted to send the riot police in again, to finish the job, but as it happened, Savernake Forest was owned by the Earl of Cardigan, who refused them permission. We flew kites to keep the helicopters at bay, and the police - now locals in regular uniforms - stayed outside the site, keeping tabs on who went in and who went out. Finally, we left Savernake, and spent the summer solstice at Westbury White Horse. There was talk of walking to Stonehenge on foot, but it would have meant walking through a firing range, and in any case, the police would surely see us coming, so it never happened.

The battle of the beanfield was our Serenity Valley. We lost - what more is there to say? From that day to this, I have never been able to trust the police. I have no interest in breaking the law or being a criminal - Like Mal, I just wanted to experience the freedom of life on the road, to live and be left alone. That was a long time ago. I was fresh out of university, and wanting to get out and see the world. Since then, decades have passed, and nowadays I have a successful career - so perhaps you could argue that I've sold out and joined the system and become a bread-head. But in my heart, I haven't, and I will always be on the side of the underdog. That feeling, that knowledge, of being apart from the law, is part of the reason that Firefly resonates for me. My interest in science and space was fuelled from childhood by the moon landings and the Apollo missions and promise that all that implied, and that led to an interest in science fiction, but rarely has there been a sci-fi show that truly resonates with me. Star Trek was a lot of fun, but the Federation were the law, and I always wanted to side with the people the Enterprise whooshed straight by without noticing. I wanted someone to tell their story.

So years passed, and only Blake's 7 (which aired before Stonehenge) had came close to representing anything close to what I wanted to see. And then more years passed - and then there was Firefly. Firefly was it. Firefly was about people on the wrong side of the law, but not because they were bad guys, not because they were rebels or freedom fighters, but just because they wanted to be left alone, to get on with their lives, and to be free. Some people have described Firefly as epitomising "the American dream" - but that's not right; I'm not American - Firefly is about the human dream - the desire to be allowed to get on with living without interference.

But it's more than that. If it was all just about anarchy and individualism, I wouldn't be interested at all, but Firefly also resonates with me on another level - the level of constructed family, and beyond that, community. In Firefly, I see a world largely of equality, or at least striving towards it, and that appeals to me. Gone are the trappings of sexism, racism, and so on - OK, apart from hwoon dahns like Rance Burgess. Problems remain, and plenty of them - there wouldn't be much of a story otherwise - but they are not problems predicated by sex or race, and that is something very, very important to me.

And - something else that matters - it is a show that stands up for the victims of the state.

There is so much more to Firefly than I have covered here, but those things are covered in other articles of the Signal. This segment is about Firefly and me, and on that subject, I think I will let Mal sum things up for me.

You can't beat us, you know
I got no need to beat you. I just want to be on my way

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