Not too long ago a Wisconsin professor put a poster featuring a quote from Firefly on his office door. The quote is from a moment in the pilot episode when Mal and Simon have one of their first showdowns. Simon expresses concern about Mal killing him in his sleep, and Mal calmly explains, “You don’t know me, son, so let me explain this to you once: if I ever kill you, you’ll be awake. You’ll be facing me, and you’ll be armed.”
That last word set off fireworks. The professor received an email from the sheriff asking him to remove the poster. The university stood behind the sheriff stating it wasn’t an act of censorship but an act of sensitivity. They saw the word “armed” as a veiled threat, not freedom of expression. They threatened him with criminal charges. The professor posted the quote because he’s a fan and because the moment really illustrates that Mal is a reasonably peaceful man. He’s not going to get angry unless you give him reason.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) took Professor Miller’s case to defend free speech and also because they love Firefly. Word about the case spread across social media like wildfire, and Neil Gaiman became involved. He used this case as an example of the importance of free speech and pointed out just how ridiculous it was to accuse the professor of any kind of malicious intent.
The sheriff and college didn’t know any better, but of all fandoms to attack, Firefly may be the worst possible one. The fans are loyal beyond question and will swoop in to save one of their own. This instance of extreme overreaction is about more than a TV show though; it’s about a basic American right. And I think we’re in a sad place if someone could take that quote as anything but.
Check out the whole story in the following video.