So I was browsing Wikipedia, going from USMA, to Robert E Lee, to Lost Cause. The Lost Cause if you are happily unaware is the term for an ideological and literary movement in the white South to:
-portray Confederate generals as noble and chivalrous,
-argue the North’s victory was the result of better numbers and resources winning over superior Southern tactics,
-falsely reframe the war as being over states’ rights and not slavery,
-and slaves liked being slaves anyway (more common longer ago), or General Lee was against slavery (more common now).
It began pretty much right after the war as a way to cope with the psychological shitstorm that comes with being the losing party in a war and continues to the present day with much less justification. Not that it was awesome at the time. If you’re interested, Ta Nehisi-Coates has recently been doing a really great series as part of Confederate History Month, to discuss the Lost Cause. Two posts I liked in particular: The Ghost of Bobby Lee, and One War, Three Sides.
Anyway, I came across this:
The term Lost Cause first appeared in the title of an 1866 book by the historian Edward A. Pollard, The Lost Cause: A New Southern History of the War of the Confederates. However, it was the articles written for the Southern Historical Society by Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early in the 1870s that established the Lost Cause as a long-lasting literary and cultural phenomenon.
Now why should I be interested in Jubal Early? Because I recognize his name: he was a character in Joss Whedon’s short-lived cult favorite show Firefly. This show is wildly popular among many flavors of geek and its cancellation is still a sore spot for its fans. A year or two ago I wrote a feminist review of it that was pretty kind, but since then I’ve had some thought and I think it’s pretty flippin’ bad. To wit:
-One common criticism of the show is that despite ostensibly taking place in a sort of combination Western/Chinese culture, with Chinese writing and slang everywhere, no main characters are Chinese. Main characters River and Simon Tam were meant to be Chinese, but got cast white because the people in charge liked the actors.
-The seductress villain character Saffron is not a standard for positive women villains and one episode starring her culminates in something that looks a lot like simulated sexual violence by Mal, the hero, against her.
-Mal is set up for a romantic relationship with high-class sex worker Inara, and one of the major ways this is signaled to the readers is that he ignores her repeated requests for him not to call her a whore and not to come into her room without asking. That’s love!
-Also in pursuit of this relationship, one genuinely feminist character, Nandi, is killed off after having sex with Mal. Makes things less complicated for him and Inara, I guess!
-Ship’s mechanic Kaylee is a very sweet character who is unfortunately used multiple times as a device: because she is innocent and lovable, nasty characters threaten or harm her to show how nasty they are.
Which brings us to Jubal Early. Now the movie made after the show was cancelled had a black man as a villain, but prior to that movie being made Jubal Early was the only black villain the show had had, though not the only notable black character.
Jubal Early is a misogynist and a creepy, creepy character. He hits Inara, and he threatens Kaylee with rape. Let me just say that again: he threatens designated innocent white woman Kaylee with rape. He also seems to be mentally ill, saying things that sound strange in their content and form, and having a past of torturing animals as a kid.
And today I found out that this mentally ill black rapist villain shares the name of the Confederate general who codified the lost cause! Now Wikipedia says this character’s namesake was definitely the Confederate general, and that the real life Early was an ancestor of Nathan Fillion. It doesn’t give a citation, and searching for it yields a lot of websites repeating the fact…it might be true. It’s a pretty unusual name. If it’s true, that just reveals whole new layers of ick to the character.