Companions and the ‘verse

Screen shot from Joss Whedon's Firefly.
Prostitution—that delicate word that you don’t bring up unless you’re debating Canada’s new law on the subject. It’s a topic that’s dealt with pretty openly in Firefly, though, as one of the Serenity’s crew is a registered Companion.

From watching the show, I get the notion that being a Companion is an elegant and respected occupation within the Alliance, though Mal doesn’t seem to agree.

Inara: “You have a strange sense of nobility, Captain. You’ll lay a man out for implying I’m a whore, but you keep calling me one to my face.”

Mal: “I might not show respect to your job, but he didn’t respect you. That’s the difference. Inara, he doesn’t even see you.”

Mal, in fact, spends a lot of his time trying to protect Inara and takes the chance to detour from her requested destinations as much as possible. Though it seems Inara has quite a high social status, as demonstrated at the end of “Shindig.” The Alliance has made prostitution as safe as possible for Companions, it would seem.

Atherton: “Well get ready to starve. I’ll see that you never work again.”

Inara: “Actually, that’s not how it works. You see, you’ve earned yourself a black mark in the client registry. No Companion is ever going to contract with you, ever again.”

Do we impose the morals of society at large onto those who do not agree with them?

This status differs completely for prostitutes who are not protected by the Guild, as we see in “Heart of Gold,” where the crew of Serenity answer a distress call to help out a prostitute. The woman is pregnant and a powerful man named Ranse Burgess has threatened he will take the child if it’s his. It’s apparent the prostitutes deal with harassment often, likely on a daily basis.

Prostitution and its legality has been a topic regularly up for debate over the past few years in Canada. The discussion centers around two main focal points: morality and safety. I think both are equally important to discuss and neither should be shied away from.

If we are debating morality, whose code of morals do we follow? Do we impose the morals of society at large onto those who do not agree with them? And if we are debating safety, is selling one’s body for sex actually safe? Ever?

In Firefly, the Companions choose their contacts. But even Inara in all her wisdom does not always choose well (Atherton is a prime example of this).

I also wonder why Nandy (the owner of the prostitution house who sends the distress call) left the Companion’s Guild in the first place. While the guild offers some level of safety, control, power, and influence, I am not certain putting someone in such an intimate and vulnerable position can ever be safe. The sad truth is, wherever there is a power imbalance, there is a risk for exploitation.

All this culminates in the question: should we be willing to give up the freedom to choose our own shades of morality in order to avoid the risk of one person being sexually exploited? I have to side with yes. The cost of being “free to choose what we think is right” in this situation is just too great.

Allison Barron

Allison Barron

Commander at Geekdom House
Allison is like Galadriel, offering wisdom where needed but turning treacherous as the sea when competitive games are involved. She is the executive editor of Area of Effect magazine, co-host of the Infinity +1 podcast, and staff writer for Christ and Pop Culture. When she’s not writing, designing, or editing, she is often preoccupied in Hyrule, Middle-earth, or a galaxy far, far away.
Allison Barron