How Much Is That Geisha In the Window?

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Vid
Title: How Much Is that Geisha in the Window?
Creator: Lierdumoa
Date: 22 August 2008
Format: digital vid
Length: 2:56 min
Music: Boyd's Journey by Damon Albarn and Michael Nyman on the Ravenous (1999) Original Soundtrack
Genre: metavid
Fandom: Firefly/Serenity
Footage: Firefly (2002), w/ additional source from Serenity (2005), Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), 3:10 to Yuma (2007) and Gone with the Wind (1939)
URL: How Much Is that Geisha in the Window? (LiveJournal)
How Much Is that Geisha in the Window? (YouTube)
How Much Is That Geisha in the Window? (AO3)

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How Much Is That Geisha In the Window? by Lierdumoa is a somewhat unusual vid in that it is not set to music with lyrics like many vids, but rather an instrumental piece. The vid is a critique of Firefly's orientalism and glorification of the Confederacy made for the 2008 Vividcon Challenge show. The theme for the Challenge show that year was "FUCK YOU!", and this video was created as a sort of "fuck you" to Joss Whedon, the creator of Firefly.

It is notable for being one of Rebecca Tushnet's examples in the US Copyright Office's DMCA hearings regarding the fair use of ripping material from DVDs.[1] Tushnet argued that the clarity of ripped video footage was what made How Much Is That Geisha In the Window? powerful, since using lower quality video likely wouldn't allow viewers to visually understand the message Lierdumoa was trying to convey.

The Video

Set to "Boyd's Journey" from the Ravenous (1999) soundtrack, the vid opens with a montage of various clips from Firefly featuring either Asian imagery or Asian background extras. These clips are juxtaposed with clips from Memoirs of a Geisha to help show Firefly's treatment of Asian culture. The montage also features several moments where clips have been edited so that the Asian character featured flickers in and out until they're gone. About a minute in, the montage shifts to footage of war and various dead bodies for 20 or so seconds. From this point, the vid then shifts to juxtaposing the clips of Asian background characters and footage from Firefly that features the more "Western" elements with footage of Chinese immigrants working on the railroad from 3:10 to Yuma. Then, the Confederate flag waving in the wind superimposed over Serenity Valley. As that footage fades out to footage of a red cloth in water, text appears on the screen:

There is only one Asian actor with English dialogue in all of Firefly.

This text stays on screen for a few moments before fading out and being replaced with different text:

She plays a whore.

Both this text and the music then fade out until the screen is black and then overlapping audio of the Chinese spoken in Firefly plays before Lierdumoa's voice comes through, saying "Fuck you, Joss, you racist asshole." As the credits of the video roll, an audio clip from the "Firefly Extended Gag Reel" plays and Nathan Fillion sings "how much is that geisha in the window / I do hope that geisha's for sale" while Gina Torres and Adam Baldwin accompany him.[2]

Lierdumoa later clarified exactly which clips were external to Firefly in a comment on her Livejournal in response to someone praising "the progression in the external source from decorative, to violent exploitation":

Actually, none of the scenes of violent exploitation are external source. The battle scenes with the sculpture of Buddha in the background (1:16) are from the Firefly episode "The Message." The dead Asian woman on the battlefield (1:22) is one of the deleted scenes from "Serenity" (the two hour pilot episode). The man in the Asian outfit holding the machine gun (1:23), the girl with the facial tattoo (1:28) and the Asian gang (1:30) are also from the pilot. The dead Asian man slumped over a table (1:25) is from Serenity (the movie). The Asian mother and children, surrounded by soldiers (1:32) is from "The Train Job."

The only footage I use from Memoirs of a Geisha is: woman in bright kimono (0:47), hand holding teapot (0:56), hand reaching (0:59, 1:01), fans snapping open (1:02), woman in red kimono (1:03, 1:06), woman blowing out incense (1:08), red cloth in water (2:07). The only footage I use from 3:10 to Yuma is of Chinese immigrants working on a railroad (1:33, 1:36, 1:39, 1:43). The only footage I use from Gone with the Wind is the shot of the confederate flag. Everything else is from the series/movie.

I'm not surprised that you would mistake the shots I used for external source, because these shots were designed to be forgettable. I wish this were a "Fuck you Hollywood" vid. Hollywood certainly deserves one. I wish I could take credit for using outside footage to make a clever visual metaphor, because it would have meant the cultural exploitation in Firefly was less preposterously pervasive.[3]

History

Lierdumoa created How Much Is That Geisha In the Window? for the 2008 Vividcon challenge show, which had the theme of "FUCK YOU!", and summarizes the vid as follows on YouTube:

Fuck you Joss, you racist asshole—an ode to the invisible Asians of Firefly. For the 2008 vividcon "FUCK YOU!" Challenge Show.[4]

Originally, Lierdumoa wanted to made a vid to "Boyd's Journey," but didn't know what the vid would be about until a friend suggested Firefly.[5] The vid critiques Firefly's appropriation of Asian culture and art while having an almost total absence of Asian actors with speaking roles. It also argues that Firefly tries to glorify the Confederacy. Lierdumoa, in the comments of her original Livejournal post about the vid, said:

Southern culture, particularly the confederacy is perhaps the *main* thing Joss fetishizes in Firefly. It is a post civil war story from the point of view of the side that lost and all the characters speak in a bastardized Southern dialect.[6]

After its premiere at Vividcon 2008's challenge show, the vid was subsequently posted to Lierdumoa's Livejournal and Dreamwidth to general acclaim in the community. Several people recced the vid, including thingswithwings. It was then cited by legal scholar Rebecca Tushnet during the US Copyright Office's DMCA hearings:

One random example of how quality is important to show you things that aren’t easy to see in the original: a video called “How Much Is That Geisha in the Window?”—a critique of a science fiction series, Firefly, by Joss Whedon. Firefly is supposedly set in a future where Chinese and American influences are about equal. Low-quality doesn’t let you see what you need to see, which is the details of the Asian setting, the constant references to Asian cultures, and the fact that nonetheless there aren’t any Asian characters except in deep background—the critique is meaningless if you can’t tell why the artist is complaining because one pixelated person looks pretty much like another.[1]

This vid came out within weeks of Shati's Secret Asian Man, a vid along similar lines.[7] It was subsequently posted to AO3 a decade later with a different summary:

Critique of the anti-Asian racism and confederate apologia in Firefly.[8]

Reactions & Reviews

"A critique of race, this time in Firefly, a show which imagines an Asian-influenced world without any Asian protagonists. Lierduoma brings the show's "Oriental" background to the foreground, focusing on the use of Chinese people and artifacts as set dressing and cutting multiple times to a sign that reads, meaningfully, "Good Dogs." This vid was influential at the DMCA hearings on noncommercial remix as an illustration of the ways in which vidders shift visual emphasis to people and objects on the margins. It became a crucial example of why vidders need to work with high-quality DVD footage - where these background items are visible - rather than lower quality digital video, where details of anything not central might be muddied or lost."[9]

Commentary by Henry Jenkins, from DIY Media 2010

"Yay! I am so glad you posted. This was possibly my favorite Challenge vid and that is really saying something (damn, there were some fine vids out there this year).

You made me think and you challenged a lot of assumptions and you didn't once flinch or back down while doing it and I admire it so much. Go you!"[10]

Comment by sisabet, 2008
"I love this vid desperately. I love the way it savages western culture fetishising eastern culture. I lvoe how you returned to the stereotypes over and over. I love how you underliend the absence of asians in a supposedly asian future. I love the focus of the anger to force us to acknowlege the lack of a voice, with all the white actors speaking chinese to curse. I love the structure of it, and the thought that wwent into every clip choice. In short, I am really goddam impressed by the effectiveness of it married with the beauty of the music and the images, while all the while reminding us of the sources context, and driving home the history Joss chose not to acknowledge (the Confederate flag, GWTW source, and shot of the train in particular).

I owe you so many. many. hugs. And beer."[10]

Comment by taraljc, 2008

"This is absolutely brilliant! And I love the folksy minimalism of the Ravenous score too.

The additional footage from 3:10 to Yuma really reminded me of how the Chinese were marginalised in the period of American expansion which Westerns mythologise, both their role at the time and in hindsight by historians. That Joss recreates the Western down to the invisibility of Asians, but appropriates pan-Asian symbols as evidence of some superior culture, always gets my goat."[10]

Comment by the-grynne, 2008
"I am curious to know whether or not you realize how problematic it is to pull in the Confederate flag in this context and then not give it any exploration, and I'd love to know what you were trying to do with it.

I can pretty much guarantee you that you didn't succeed in what you were trying to do, at least for me, and this vid makes me angry for the reasons everybody else has cited, but angry on a different level because as far as I'm concerned, by bringing in that symbology and (as far as I can tell) not exploring it fully, and not even attempting to understand the full history behind the symbol (or some of the people's stories behind that symbol), you just did the same thing you (rightfully) accused Joss Whedon of doing. The results aren't as harmful, and Southern history and culture doesn't get fetishized and pushed to the side in favor of Manifest Destiny in the way that Asian culture does in Firefly, but that doesn't mean you didn't do it.

I'm aware you don't owe me (or anybody) any kind of explanation, but if five days after watching this vid I'm still furious when I think about it, I felt like I ought to say something."[11]

Comment by agonistes, 2008.

I'm not sure if you've seen the actual show, and I'm not one to judge you on your opinion, but there are many, MANY devoted fans who love this show. I don't badmouth Elementary JUST because I'm a BBC Sherlock fan. And I'm not attacking you (at least I hope I'm not), I'm simply stating my opinion in hopes that maybe you'll stop being so negative about a beloved show that ended too soon for some of us Browncoats.[12]
When a show is so loved, flaws are often glossed over. Sure Chinese was integrated into conversations and we see Asian-esque clothing, but those are insufficient substitutes for having actual Asian actors. Stereotypical background roles such as gang members, geishas, and whores screams racist. A predominantly white main cast in a show that embraces the future and differences does come off as hypocritical. Also, where are the other minorities? Besides Zoey and a crazed assassin?[13]

Just found this for the first time through a rec! I often think of the Firefly racism discussion only in terms of "they spoke Chinese on the show but couldn't be bothered to cast any Asians". My memory of everything else is vague, or something I didn't consciously notice at the time. So what I really liked about this vid is the way you captured the fail VISUALLY, really drawing attention to the way "eastern" culture, imagery, and stereotypes were exploited just beyond the view of Our Heroes. How pervasive it really was to throw in a bunch of Asian extras and symbols in the frame for ~AMBIANCE~ but not treat them as characters. I think this is more striking as a piece of meta than any verbal argument could be.[14]

References

  1. ^ a b Copyright Office DMCA Hearings: Noncommercial remix, wayback capture 07 May 2009. (Accessed 04 December 2010)
  2. ^ "How Much Is that Geisha in the Window?" performed by Adam Baldwin, Nathan Fillion and Gina Torres in the "Firefly Extended Gag Reel."
  3. ^ Comment Thread on Lierdumoa's Dreamwidth. Posted 25 Aug 2008.
  4. ^ How Much is the Geisha in the Window? (Firefly). Posted 24 Jul 2009.
  5. ^ Comment Thread on Lierdumoa's Dreamwidth. Posted 26 Aug 2008.
  6. ^ lierdumoa. Comment from LiveJournal, 12 September 2008. (Accessed 04 December 2010). The original comment was deleted with lierdumoa's LiveJournal, but is accessible here on dreamwidth (a livejournal clone) and archived here.
  7. ^ new vid - Firefly - Secret Asian Man. Posted 9 Aug 2008.
  8. ^ How Much Is that Geisha in the Window? on AO3. Posted 27 Feb 2019.
  9. ^ DIY Media 2010: Fan Vids (Part Two), Archived version
  10. ^ a b c Page 1 of comments on Vid: How Much Is that Geisha in the Window?, Archived version These comments are sourced from lierdumoa's dreamwidth, and thus contain comments made on dreamwidth along with comments originally from LiveJournal. Accessed and archived October 19, 2020.
  11. ^ Comment thread with agonistes, lierdumoa, and muccamukk., archive link. Accessed and archived October 19, 2020.
  12. ^ Comment by RCJ on How Much is the Geisha in the Window? (Firefly). Posted circa 2014.
  13. ^ Comment by moxy on How Much is the Geisha in the Window? (Firefly). Posted circa 2010.
  14. ^ Comment Thread on Lierdumoa's Dreamwidth. Posted 13 April 2010.
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