How Much Is That Geisha In the Window?

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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? is a somewhat unusual vid in that it is not set to music with lyrics, but rather an instrumental piece. It concludes with a fragment of dialogue from the DVD extras[1] and several text plates containing the vidder's commentary, and an original voice-recording.

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. As its author argues, "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."[2]

It was cited by legal scholar Rebecca Tushnet in her 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.[3]

It came out within a couple of weeks of Shati's Secret Asian Man, a vid along similar lines.

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."[4] 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!"[5]

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."[5]

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."[5]

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."[6]

Comment by agonistes, 2008.


  1. ^ "How Much Is that Geisha in the Window?" performed by Adam Baldwin, Nathan Fillion and Gina Torres in the "Firefly Extended Gag Reel."
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ Copyright Office DMCA Hearings: Noncommercial remix, wayback capture 07 May 2009. (Accessed 04 December 2010)
  4. ^ DIY Media 2010: Fan Vids (Part Two), Archived version
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Comment thread with agonistes, lierdumoa, and muccamukk., archive link. Accessed and archived October 19, 2020.