Can't Stop the Serenity
In 1998, for instance, fans from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Bronze Posting Board organized an annual get-together that featured hundreds of Buffy aficionados mingling with the cast and crew of the series while raising money for the Los Angeles Chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. In 2004, meanwhile, blood drives were organized as part of a campaign to save spin-off Angel from cancellation, and in 2007 pizzas were delivered to the picket lines of striking members of the Writers Guild of America courtesy of the weblog Whedonesque.
Arguably the most impressive example of this ongoing sense of “community, support and service,” however, centers on Whedon’s third television outing, the short-lived Firefly. Since 2006, fans from around the world have organized a series of Can't Stop the Serenity (CSTS) fundraisers benefiting women’s rights advocacy organization Equality Now and featuring viewings of Serenity, the big screen follow-up that Whedon wrote and directed in 2005.
Both a stand-alone story as well as a continuation of the Firefly narrative, the film—like the series—follows a rag-tag group of space-scavengers 500 years in the future who live on a Firefly-class ship called Serenity. Their captain, Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds, served in a civil war between the Alliance, who sought greater control over the numerous planets the human race had populated, and the Independents, who wanted more autonomous freedom. Reynolds was on the losing side of the Independents and now keeps the “autonomous freedom” flame burning by adopting a mantra of “find a crew, find a job, keep flying” while trying to remain outside the reaches of the Alliance.
The series makes an apt metaphor for the widespread fanbase that the show has attracted over the years. The FOX network mishandled Firefly from the start, advertising the series as a “quirky adventure” when, in reality, it was a stark psychological examination of surviving on the edges of society and civilization. The series was also given a Friday night death-slot, and FOX’s commitment to Major League Baseball led to a disruption of the show’s schedule. Firefly was eventually cancelled in December 2002, after only eleven aired episodes.
Where most television stories end, however, Firefly’s had barely begun. A “Save Firefly” movement quickly developed, with fans even adopting the term “Browncoats”—as the Independents were known—for themselves. Whedon himself became just as determined to not let the series die and eventually convinced Universal Pictures to greenlight the big screen Serenity. Again, most stories would end there, but Christopher Frankonis, a Firefly fan and blogger who goes by the moniker One True b!X, had different plans.
“Late in 2005, a group of Browncoats were leaving one of the last big screen showings of Serenity,” Anna Snyder, herself a Browncoat, told the Portland Mercury of how the fundraiser began. “And the One True b!X was thinking, ‘Hey, maybe there’s a way we could get the movie on the big screen again, just for fun.’ And that morphed into, ‘Well, if we could do it to raise some money, that would be great.’ Which then became, ‘Hey, let’s organize a charity screening and let’s see if we can get other cities involved.’”
Can’t Stop the Serenity featured 47 showings of the film in five countries—Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and United States—in its initial year and raised $65,000 for Equality Now, a personal favorite of Whedon. The charity organization was founded in 1992 by Jessica Neuwirth, Navanethem Pillay and Feryal Gharahi as a way of bringing attention to the gender disparity in the human rights movement, and addresses such women-centric issues as domestic violence, rape, female genital mutilation, trafficking, and reproductive rights. Neuwirth was a former student of Lee Stearns, the founder of the first Amnesty International chapter run exclusively by high school students and the mother of Joss Whedon.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is one of the few cities that has participated in every installment of Can’t Stop the Serenity since its inception. The first local CSTS was organized in 2006 by fellow Browncoats Cate Steven-Davis and Kiersten Ball, with the former later taking over full-time.
“It’s a lot of work, more than I anticipated,” Steven-Davis explained during the 2008 Can’t Stop the Serenity. “We have a global organizer who helps a lot, getting sponsors. And a lot of the stuff you see in the raffle was donated from the global sponsors. But there was a lot of work. Just pulling it all together, trying to raise money and not lose money. It’s challenging but at the end of the night every drop of sweat was worth it.”
Since 2011, other members of the Rivers and Bridges Brigade—as the Steel City collection of Browncoats are called—have taken over organizing Can’t Stop the Serenity. In addition to the actual screening of Serenity, the Pittsburgh version also includes numerous Firefly-themed games, an assortment of food items and the raffling of door prizes at the end of the evening. Just like in other locales across the globe, many attendees also arrive dressed as their favorite characters from the film, adding to the celebratory nature of the event.
Malcolm Reynolds and the crew of Serenity found a way to beat the odds with the simple philosophy of “find a crew, find a job, keep flying.” Firefly/Serenity fans, meanwhile, have likewise defied conventional wisdom by building a flourishing community centered on a television show that was cancelled after a mere eleven episodes.
A popular slogan among Browncoats is “Done the Impossible,” which is the title of a DVD documentary that tells the story of how the motion picture Serenity became reality through the efforts of that community. As the annual CSTS charity events demonstrate, however, Firefly/Serenity fans are far from “done” with the “impossible”—a fact that will no doubt remain prevalent for many more years to come.