Interpreting ‘Firefly’: Libertarianism Vs. Anarchism w/ Dr. James Rocha

Dr. James Rocha is a professor of philosophy at Fresno State University. He wrote a paper entitled “The Black Reaching Out: An Anarchist Analysis of Firefly” in which he argues for an anarchist interpretation of the show over the more prevalent libertarian interpretation on the show. Him and Brett discuss the paper and the arguments therein.
Topics include: Anarchism, Libertarianism, morality, feminism, the genre of Sci Fi, analysis of the State, and much more.



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Critical Race Theory and Black Liberation w/ Zoé Samudzi

Zoe Samudzi is a black feminist writer whose work has appeared in a number of spaces including The New Inquiry, Warscapes, Truthout, ROAR Magazine, Teen Vogue, BGD, Bitch Media, and Verso, among others. She is also a member of the 2017/18 Public Imagination cohort of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) Fellows Program, and she is a member of the Black Aesthetic, an Oakland-based group and film series exploring the multitudes and diversities of black imagination and creativity.

She is presently a Sociology PhD student at the University of California, San Francisco in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences where academic interests include biomedicalization theory, productions of race and gender, and transgender health. She is a recipient of the 2016-17 Eugene Cota-Robles Fellowship. Her dissertation “‘I don’t believe I should be treated like a second citizen by anybody’: Narratives of agency and exclusion amongst male and transgender female sex workers in Cape Town, South Africa” engages hegemonic gender constructs in South Africa as they affect identity construction and health of transgender women and cisgender men in sex work.

Zoe sits down with Brett to apply critical race theory to our current US society.

Topics Include: The Anarchism of Blackness, Double Consciousness, Zoe’s experiences growing up as a black girl in the Midwest, the failures of white liberalism and the democratic party, Trump, racist and sexist tropes in film, the White Gaze, and much more!

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Melancholia: Nightmares, Colors, and the Failures of Wealth

In Lars Von Trier’s film Melancholia, a rogue planet (named “Melancholia”) suddenly appears from behind the sun and hurtles through space on a collision course with planet Earth. I’ve written about the film’s connections with the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche in another post, but here I just want to discuss some random things about the movie that struck me as I was watching it.

My Own Nightmare

Since my teens, I have had recurring nightmares wherein I am walking down a random street in a random, peaceful neighborhood, and when I look up into the sky, I see a horrifying and vivid scene: another large celestial body, usually another planet, ripping open the blue sky of our atmosphere as it rams into our planet. In these dreams I am filled with existential dread, and the planet is usually violently aflame. These dreams took on increased regularity during my loss of faith in god in my late teens, and, later, during episodes of anxiety that I struggled with in my early and mid twenties. The high definition visual details of these dreams are perhaps the most disturbing aspects of them; I see it all so clearly…

Melancholia is the only movie I have ever seen which visually depicts these nightmares of mine almost perfectly (in my dreams, however, the planet is never the calm, serene blue that it is in the film).

Image result for melancholia film

Justine’s Eyes and Hair

In a particularly beautiful scene, Justine and Claire walk out onto the terrace at night to see the incoming rogue planet Melancholia at such a distance that it appears to be the same size as the moon, which is full and beaming in the sky along with Melancholia. The moon shines a beautiful, ghostly white, and Melancholia shines a deep and penetrating blue. The bodies of the sisters are therefore lit up with these colors as they stare, entranced, into the sky.

Image result for kirsten dunst face melancholia

It might just be a coincidence, but I did notice that the main character, Justine, played by Kirsten Dunst, has bright blue eyes and bright white hair. This reflects the color scheme of the night sky. What does this mean? That Justine’s eyes reflects the hypnotizing blue of Melancholia, symbolizes her own melancholy depression?  Does it signify her acceptance of the situation? Or, perhaps, its merely coincidental and just happens to add to the aesthic beauty of the film. It is worth noting that towards the end of hte film, Justine claims to be able to “see things” and tells her sister confidently that Earth is the only planet in the universe with life on it. When asked by Claire how she could possibly know this, she responds with something to the effect of “I just know things”. So do her bright blue eyes reflect that deeper, intuitive ability? I don’t know…

However, as I argued in my previous blog essay, this film is influenced heavily by the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. One of Nietzsche’s famous quotes was:

“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”

Perhaps this could give insight into the meaning of Justine’s bright blue eyes…

As she stares into Melancholia, Melancholia stares back into her.

Image result for melancholia film

Wealth Can’t Save You

The entire movie takes place at a huge mansion which sits on an 18 hole golf course, totally detached and isolated from the rest of society. In fact, Von Trier has exactly zero scenes where he depicts the outside world; the entire film is confined to the estate. It seems counter-intuitive that a film about the end of the world would not dedicate *any time at all* to exploring the societal reaction of such doomsday news. But by confining the film to one isolated estate, and a small handful of characters, Von Trier creates an intimacy, a specificity, and a psychology that the film would otherwise lack if he had decided to “zoom out” and examine civilization as a whole. That would have cheapened the movie, in my opinion.

It is also worth noting (and maybe this is the Marxist in me) that there seems to be a point being made about wealth and its ultimate futility in shielding the very rich from the events of the rest of the world. In one scene, Claire’s husband John brings in a truck load of supplies that can be used to get by in case of any power outages as Melancholia flies-by (John is convinced that science has proven the planet will not collide with Earth, but merely pass by our planet safely, giving us nothing more than a wonderful spectacle as it continues its path into the outer solar system). He is leveraging his wealth to ensure him and his family will be taken care of in an otherwise destabilizing situation. In the real world, with our currently absurd levels of wealth inequality, this seems to be true of rich people generally: they view their wealth as a safeguard against the rest of us. Events that effect us all, like climate change or social unrest, can be kept at bay for the ultra-wealthy, because they can retreat into the sheltered comfort of their isolated estates, or even more radically, as some rich people are already doing, building huge underground bunkers to protect themselves from any sort of social unrest.


Ultimately, this sense of security is an illusion. Rich people are still inexorably tied to the rest of the world, and their wealth can only protect them from chaos for so long. In the film, it can’t protect them at all. The King and The Servant share exactly the same fate… The hyper-wealthy elites in our world would do well to remember that.

Image result for melancholia film mansion

Overall, this film is rife with symbolism, heart-wrenching depictions of mental and emotional un-wellness, philosophical themes, and scenes of truly moving beauty…

Go watch it.





Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia and the Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche

Last night I was home alone during an odd storm which beat on my windows all night. It started as a thunderstorm of rain and developed into a thunderstorm of sleet/hail and then eventually into a thunderstorm of snow; fully equipped with lightening all the way through. It was the perfect setting within which to watch the dazzling Lars Von Trier film “Melancholia”, which portrays the strained relationship between two sisters, Justine and Claire, as an unforeseen rogue planet barrels into the solar system and heads straight for Planet Earth. The purpose of this short essay is not to give a review or a summary of the film (I am assuming readers will have already watched the film), but rather to explore a philosophical aspect of the film that I have not heard others comment on (although perhaps some have). It is my contention that this film, which examines the depths of depression, isolation, nihilism, and annihilation, is heavily influenced by Nietzschean philosophy.

During the first half of the film, Justine is suffering from a particularly intense episode of near catatonic depression, while her sister Claire, sober and stoic, helps her through it. Half way through the film though, Justine begins to slowly emerge out of her depression, just as Claire slowly descends into a chaotic panic as it becomes increasingly clear that the rogue planet “Melancholia” is on a collision course with the Earth. The sisters effectively switch emotional positions. What marks this stark role reversal is a scene in which the two sisters are out riding horses together and Justine, still depressed at this point, tries to urge her horse to cross a bridge which it refuses to cross. In a frenzy of anger, Justine beats the horse with her whip and kicks it with her feet until the horse collapses; she continues to beat him as her sister Claire, riding around in small circles on her horse, yells desperately at Justine to stop. This scene sets into motion the emotional role reverasal between the sisters. Claire, from this point forward, slowly gets more and more anxious and eventually descends into full blown panic attacks as well as completely irrational (and utterly futile) attempts to flee with her son in the face of oncoming armageddon.

The scene with the horse is eerily reminiscent of the famous story of the 19th century German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche. The story goes that one day while walking in streets of Turin, Nietzsche came upon a horse being beaten by its owner. Nietzsche, in an emotional frenzy, ran over to the horse screaming, draped his arms around it desperately, and then collapsed onto the cobblestone streets. He was arrested by two nearby policemen for causing a public disturbance. But this event signaled his complete mental breakdown from which he never recovered. He lived the rest of his life under the watch of his sister, and never contributed to philosophy or literature again.

The connection seems obvious to me: just as Nietzsche went crazy after seeing the beating of the horse, so did Claire. Her usual calm and commanding demeanor slowly evaporated away (not unlike the atmosphere of Earth as Melancholia approached) until she was left in emotional ruin. Furthermore, Nietzsche’s philosophy centered around the problems of a post-god world, and the subsequent creep of nihilism into the human psyche, which Nietzsche saw as a terrible thing that humanity had to overcome; not by reverting back to the old religions, but by pushing through nihilism and transcending it (for those that were strong enough to do so). The relentless approach of the rogue planet Melancholia can be seen as a loose symbol for the approaching nihilism that Nietzsche was so concerned about: both representing the total destruction of all human values and meaning.

The connection between the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche and the themes of the movie is made even more explicit by Von Trier’s use of Richard Wagner’s music to underscore the film; namely Wagner’s famous opera, “Tristan Und Isolde” (which was inspired by Arthur Schopenhauer, another German philosopher, who was famous for his philosophical pessimism and was a huge influence on Nietzsche). Richard Wagner was a famous German composer and contemporary of Friedrich Nietzsche. In fact, Nietzsche and Wagner were, at one time, very close friends, and Nietzsche wrote one of his most famous works, “The Birth of Tragedy”, which trumpeted Wagner’s music as the “rebirth” of European high culture. Soon, though, their friendship became strained, and then ended bitterly, as Wagner moved his music in a new direction that Nietzsche hated. It is not accident, then, that Wagner’s music would be used in a film that is heavily influenced by Nietzsche. The assertion, were it to be made, that this is all mere coincidence strains credulity.

To take my theory about the connection between Nietzschean philosophy and this film a step further, I think it is worth noting that another fundamental element of Nietzsche’s philosophy (which was thematized in “Melancholia”) was a skepticism of scientific truth and human reason. He appreciated science and he clearly used reason, but he was intimately aware of their innate limitations and criticized those who had too much faith in them. This is reflected in the film in the form of Claire’s husband, John, a rationalist, who is hyper-confident throughout the entire film that “the scientists” are certain that the rouge planet will not collide with Earth, but rather perform a safe fly-by; it will appear beautifully in the sky, but humanity is not in danger. He carries a telescope, a scientific instrument and a symbol of the scientific method and worldview, around with him most of the film, through which he gazes at Melancholia amusedly and excitedly. For him, it is just a spectacle of science. Later, when he realizes that the scientists were wrong, and that Planet Melancholia is in fact going to collide with Earth, he commits suicide by swallowing poison in the horse’s stable. The certainty that science and reason had provided for him evaporates, and the existentially destabilizing pain caused by the catastrophic failure of his faith in science proves too much to cope with. His very identity was tied up in his belief in science, reason, and order, and when those broke down, so did his entire sense of self. When his wife, Claire, finds his dead body, she covers him with a thin layer of straw from the floor of the horse stable. He dies an animals death.

To conclude, the beating of the horse which leads to Claire’s emotional breakdown, the exploration of nihilism and the (literal) destruction of all values, the use of Richard Wagner’s music throughout the film, and the depiction of a dogmatic faith-in-science, and its tragically complete failure, all stand as strong evidence that there is, in fact, a clear and distinct strain of Nietzschean philosophy that Von Trier consciously put into his film.

I love this gorgeous and melancholy film. It is, like all of Von Trier’s work, as beautiful and emotional as it is intellectual. It is a true masterpiece of cinema and of art generally.