On ‘Firefly’ fans, Free Speech, F.I.R.E., and Fascism
Firefly” - a program that was part space odyssey, part throwback Western - was canceled after part of one season in 2002 but developed a fan base that prompted a movie and strong sales of DVDs of the show. Miller said Tuesday that he saw the show over the summer after hearing from friends who liked it.
Miller did, too, and decided to put a poster on a bulletin board on the door to his office. It featured the response of the lead character, Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds, when another character asks how Mal could be trusted to not kill him in his sleep.
“You don’t know me, son, so let me explain this to you once,” the poster reads. “If I ever kill you, you’ll be awake. You’ll be facing me. And you’ll be armed.”
The poster went on Miller’s door Sept. 12. Four days later, UW-Stout Police Chief Lisa Walter emailed Miller saying that the poster had been removed and that “it is unacceptable to have postings such as this that refer to killing.”
University officials say they believe in free speech but can’t allow posters in public that
imply threats of violence.
Miller, some of the TV show’s fans and the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which is backing the professor, argue no one would take the message from the John Wayne-inspired character as an actual threat.
“It’s absurd to say that a reference to violence is some kind of threat,” Miller said, arguing that news clippings posted on his door could contain a reference to violence. “It was a real overreach.”
According to an email exchange supplied by Miller, he shot back with an email arguing that the university was squelching his free speech. Miller said he also sent a clip of a scene from the show to administrators that contained context that was not on the poster.
Miller said he then decided to tweak administrators by putting another poster on his door. “Warning: Fascism,” it read. It also showed a pictogram of a police officer hitting a person with a baton.
“Fascism can cause blunt head trauma and/or violent death,” the poster reads. “Keep fascism away from children and pets.”
That posting also was removed.
“He thinks we acted improperly, and we didn’t,” UW-Stout spokesman Doug Mell said of the professor. “The posters are down, and they’re going to stay down.”