I was watching Firefly the other day and I came to a realization… to be a hero, to be lauded as saving a person or a group of people from something else, you have to be feared.
This realization came while watching the episode entitled “Jayne’s Town.” For those of you who have never watched Firefly or its accompanying film Serenity and have no idea who Jayne Cobb is, I’ll tell you. Jayne Cobb is played by Adam Baldwin (not one of those Baldwins) who is currently costarring in the TV show Chuck as John Casey. Jayne is an interesting character. He’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer (I’d liken him to a plastic butter knife I believe) but what he lacks in brains he more than makes up for in menace. He’s crude and crass and more than a little grumpy. If someone is going to make an inappropriate comment, it’s going to be Jayne. Every so often he’ll say something particularly intelligent and you’ll be like “where the heck did that come from” but most of the time he can be relied on to be a “power-hungry maniac” and violent, and not a whole lot else. His favorite gun is named “Vera” and it’s about 10x bigger than any other gun on the ship.
In the episode “Jayne’s Town” he is his typical menacing self, but in this episode he’s put on about every layer of clothing he owns and is wearing a rather large hat and no one can particularly figure out why. He tells them that he was on that planet a while back and that he made some people angry and he would just as soon not be recognized. They’re in the process of telling him that it’s been so long that no one’s going to remember him when they come upon a statue of him. The doctor’s only comment is “This must be what going mad feels like.” Later, in a tavern, they hear that a folk song has been written about him and no one, Jayne included, can figure out why (The doctor comments, “No, this must be what going mad feels like”).
It is while they are in the tavern that I came upon my realization. There is a kid (about age 10) staring at Jayne, supposably* because he recognizes him. Jayne sees that the kid is staring, growls as Jayne is so apt to do, and the kid jumps and runs off. This made me think, “If Jayne is supposed to be this great hero, and he’s supposed to have saved the people at this town, and they’ve raised a statue of him and written a song about him, then why is this kid so scared?”
And that was when it hit me. He’s scared because Jayne would not be a proper hero to them if he were not. Think about it. Think about Batman, and the X-men, and all of those other superheroes like that (my friend says Superman isn’t scary, but I say that Superman isn’t a real hero – that’s just my own prejudices). If they’re enough to make the bad guys stop and think for a minute, they must be pretty darn scary, and if the big tough bad guys who run around and shoot people and pull kittens tails and try to take over the world think they’re scary, then what is this puny little 10 year old kid going to think?
I think that it’s a sad reality about heroes (fictional heroes like the ones I’m talking about here). They’re misunderstood, often called vigilantes (probably because they are) and the people they’re trying to help find them terrifying and would love to have them off the streets. And I don’t think it’s just fictional heroes either. Think about what the poor kids in the smoke of the fire thinks when he first sees a firefighter. There’s a reason they send firefighters to schools to talk to kids. They’re scary in all of their SCBA gear and whatnot.
So why was Jayne a hero? He’d been stealing money from a rich jerk who lived on the planet and his ship was losing fuel so he had to dump the money (along with his partner) so he could get away. The money landed on the poor town and they were able to be happier for a little while. Was he really a hero? You decide.
*also… for those of you who would like to argue about “supposably” and “supposedly,” look it up. I used it correctly.