I had a very bizarre dream last night.
I got stuck in an office building with the Try Guys during a blizzard. The blizzard became so bad that snow started seeping in through cracks in the structure, piling up along the walls. And then the power went out. Somehow the inside of the building turned into Mad Max on ice. And at one point, I’m scavenging through the skyscraper looking for things to eat, and I find an old package of hot dogs, frozen solid. Suddenly, Keith from the Try Guys happens upon me. He is bare-chested and carrying a spear. His breath steams the cold space between us. I offer him the package of frozen hot dogs. He considers them for a chilly moment and then grabs them and hawks them into a snow drift.
“Can’t heat hot dogs. Hot dogs is worthless. Hot dogs is now just everything.”
He storms off. Then I woke up.
I lay there for a while wondering what meal had disagreed with me in a way as to bring on such an odd dream. I tend to fall asleep listening to things playing on my tablet, and perhaps a Try Guys video came on right as I was passing into dreamland. A few days before, my Dad had been telling me about a morning he’d woken up in his RV and discovered that a horrible swirling blizzard found every nook and cranny of the structure and put a foot of snow on his floor—no doubt the source of my office building snowpocalypse.
In light of my upcoming video series on it, I have been spending a LOT of time thinking about Firefly. And I think the hot dogs were about that’s—my brain sorting some things out. In the Firefly episode, Objects in Space, there are two scenes I’ve always loved but never really wrapped my mind around.
In the first, River is walking through the ship and finds a branch on the ground which she investigates curiously before picking it up and holding it in her hand.
“It’s just an object. It doesn’t mean what you think.”
The scene smash cuts to a roomful of crew members gathered around her in a panic, begging her to put down the actual item she’s picked up, one of Jayne’s guns. Later, Jubal Early has Simon captive, and they come to River’s room.
Jubal Early: This is her room.
Dr. Simon Tam: Yes.
Jubal Early: It’s empty.
Dr. Simon Tam: I know.
Jubal Early: So is it still a room when it’s empty? Does the room, the thing, have purpose? Or do we—what’s the word?
Dr. Simon Tam: I really can’t help you.
Jubal Early: The plan’s to take your sister; get the reward, which is substantial'—“imbue“, that’s the word.
Whedon’s commentary track for the episode is terrific and worth a listen. As I have mentioned in numerous videos, in it he states that Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre is the most important book he’d ever read. Sartre’s story is about a man named Antoine, who is experiencing strange moments of intellectual uncoupling from his accepted daily reality. Moments in which he experiences the existence of commonplace items like a chair or a tree root, but loses his touch with their accepted purpose—their accepted definition. What that means is, a chair is only a "chair" because we as human beings have collectively decided what the definition of a chair is and carry that definition forward in our linguistical traditions.
Traditions that Sartre would say, we use to keep us safe from the nauseating truth: the fact that we name an object ‘chair,’ and say it has a purpose, does not mean that the object itself has been imbued with any meaningful essence. Which is why River saw the gun as the same as a fallen tree branch. We confer meaning. The object itself just…is. As the gun. As River’s room. As everything.
And I think Keith in my dream was trying to show me that our inability to heat the hot dogs revealed how truly arbitrary the meaning I’d given them was. They were not food. They were not anything. They just were.
At the end of the episode, after Mal has sent him spiraling into the black (now a true, object in space) unmoored from absolutely any physical thing or human being that can define him, Jubal calmly puts everything into perspective.
“Whelp…here I am.“