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April 16 2009

A Different Kind of Dollhouse Review. A parental content review with an interesting view of the show (very mild spoilers for episodes which have already aired).

Not as condemning as might be expected from a conservative christian site, I linked it because I haven't seen this type of review here before and it has a somewhat unique take on the show.

Hm. A cautiously positive-ish review. Seems that it raises the questions that it's supposed to.
Good link. That's a thoughtful review.
...Halfway through its first season, Dollhouse has started to ask questions that go beyond how we treat women. How do memories make up the people we are? Are there traumatic, life-impairing moments that we would be better off forgetting, or is the pain of life too valuable a lesson to lose? If we can't remember our past sins ... are they sins? Is there an intrinsic part of us (a soul, perhaps?) that can never be altered, no matter how slick biotechnology becomes?

So far, Dollhouse appears to be saying yes to all of the above. And that's significant in a TV world all but subservient to utter vapidity. Here we are actually being asked to think about what we're watching.

Still, there's that nagging issue of Whedon's methods. As brave a new world as we live in, we still haven't developed our own memory-blasting chairs. And that means that after we're done grappling with the meaning of life, the role of women and the damage done by twisting the truth, we're not going to be able to purge Dollhouse's images of skin, sex and brutal uppercuts delivered to Echo's pretty face.


That's a very fair review of "Dollhouse" all things considered, and doesn't, ultimately, raise any issues with it that haven't been raised elsewhere. Any flaming of that review, I suspect, is going to have more to do with the site itself.
That was a surprisingly fair review of Dollhouse, in my opinion. The only problem I have with it is its concentration on the exploitation of female dolls. Certainly the males are being used as much.
I think the way it's written and filmed, the audience is not as involved in the exploitation of the male Dolls. We're like the meta exploiters and we don't see so much of the suggestive stuff with the guys so far. We know Victor's being sent out on sexual assignments, but the one we've seen so far was very tame in comparison to what we've seen of Echo and Sierra.

I think the review is decent.
That last line is the oddest note: as if we need to be saved or "purged" from having seen any images of skin or sex or violence. Review is well written, but seems to not hold a particularly clear view about whether it is writing about whether adolescents should be watching this or whether anyone should be, which is a damned important disctinction.
Points to the reviewer for recognizing when the viewer is being deliberately put in the position of having to think about what they're seeing. I'm always surprised at the number of people who are unable to see past the literal surface, regardless of how thin that surface may be (of any show/movie/book/song, not just Dollhouse.)
When I read the title of this post, is it weird that the first thing that came to mind was "Next time, on a very special Clone High..."?

A fair review. When the show first started, I was very iffy on the subject matter, but as its progressed, Whedon and Co. have made it very clear that it is less about "look at this cool mind-altering technology that lets you be anyone you want" and more about "look at this scary mind-altering technology that, if developed and employed, can and will be abused in a variety of ways." I definitely trust Joss to be asking the right ethical questions as they have been.

And hey, I'm a straight female and pretty feminist (using the positive, equality based connotation of the term, not the man-hating, women-deserve-payment-for-past-crimes sense), but I don't mind seeing Eliza in sexy outfits or kicking ass week in, week out. Maybe its just 'cause I have definitely dug Eliza since she was Faith. Though I do have longer t-shirts than the white "dress" she wore in "Ghosts." But whatever; that was enough to convince half my guy friends to watch it...and what's good for the 18-34 male demo is good for the show, right?
Actually I think this review is one of the best I've read, it would be foolish to ignore the human trafficing/prostitution aspects of 'Dollhouse'. But this reviewer gets that questioning this is really part of the show. Personally I found the sexy outfits of the final couple of seasons of 'Charmed' to be more offensive because the thin plots just seemed to be the barest of excuses to get the actresses into those outfits, at least Eliza's costumes are to the point and the plots are aimed at deeper questions of human existence.
For those of you who don't know... be prepared for a bit of a shock.

Plugged In Online is run by James Dobson's Focus on the Family. Hence, the focus on sex, nudity, and scantilycladness (is that a word? It is now) is probably somewhat more subdued that what one might expect from such an outlet.
Is it a shock because it's clearly a very fair-minded review of the show?
Not to me, but my expectation is that others might be rather surprised, as you hinted above.
Considering FotF's history, well... yeah, actually. I didn't know, but I figured it was a similar "watchdog" group. Which is why the serious balance of the review did come as a surprise.
What is interesting about Dollhouse and the issue of female vs. male doll exploitation is to also look at the supporting cast. Casting a female in the role of leader (DeWit) looks at the issue of women exploiting other women. Although she still rationalizes it as doing good and helping the dolls. (Spoiler--but she is also exploiting a male doll for her own personal needs.)

Then the male supporting roles either want to save and protect Echo or destroy her. It is an interesting study of power. And if internal triumphs over external.
Well, I just don't see why it should be a surprise that Christians can be and are discerning and thoughtful viewers of television. The priorities that underline their reviews may not be the same as your own, but they are capable of grasping subtext, nuance, themes, etc in a TV show.

[ edited by KingofCretins on 2009-04-16 21:07 ]
It's not that I would be pre-disposed to think that Christians are not capable of doing such things. But, I AM surprised to see FOF with such a balanced review, given their history.
So what's a, say, 14-year-old to think? Are girls to be gawked at, protected, prostituted or punched full in the face?


As brave a new world as we live in, we still haven't developed our own memory-blasting chairs.


Not so sure the reviewer really believes the latter part.

ETA: Still an interesting review though.

[ edited by hence on 2009-04-16 21:23 ]
Wow, that was good. Very thoughtful.
KingofCretins, I'm certainly not surprised that Christians can appreciate Whedon's work, but there seem to be a fair number of Whedonesque participants who might be. There are no shortage of atheists who raise interesting questions of being, meaning, and essense--Joss and JMS being two of those who've worked in Sci Fi recently.

As one of my seminary professors put it, non-Christians write some of the more interesting commentaries on the Bible, precisely because they don't believe it has inherent value as God's word. It seems fitting that the inverse might be true, that Christians may be in a unique position to comment on an atheist auteur's output, because we believe in the imporance of the questions, if not the underlying assumptions.
I wonder whether that review was written before "The Spy in the House of Love"
The scenes with Adele in that ep definitely show that the exploitation isn't one-gendered, and also display the perils of the fantasy itself for the "john" ("jane"?), rather than just the guilt over the exploitation. Would those images make young girls think that men are for fighting with and using as sexual toys? Or would they perhaps give the watching kids the idea that there are consequences to actions, even actions they might naively think are only fun, like having sex.
FothF and other conservative groups do a lot of work on sex trafficking internationally, so I'm not surprised that they'd immediately see what Joss is doing in the show. I am a little surprised that the review was as positive as it was (well, I'm not sure it's positive so much as it is at least sympathetic to what Joss is doing). They might wish Joss to do things differently, but I'd think they'd at least understand it, and the review seemed to indicate that they do.

I think you'll find that a lot of the best commentary on Joss's work comes from his rather large base of evangelical Christian fans. They might be put off by some of Joss's content (primarily on homosexuality) but they tend to *get* in a fundamental way the metaphorical language he's using. It's usually quite an interesting perspective, even if it's sometimes a little ... different.
I agree with jclemens' comments. I added the "as might be expected" section of the intro simply because I felt that the reputation (whether deserved or not) of the parent organisation would cause a lot of people to assume the review would be heavily biased. And to spark a little debate ;)

FWIW, while I frequently disagree with their conclusions, I have found that the site usually does a good job of staying balanced, and they give enough detailed info in their film reviews to allow you to make an informed choice for what your kids get to see. They have an interesting review of Serenity here.

PaulfromSunnydale, the tag at the bottom of the review indicats that they did, in fact, review "Spy in the House of Love".
swiminstructorguy: Thanks for the link to the Serenity review. Quite possibly the best review of the film I've ever read, I actually think it's kind of beautiful.

I think there tends to be an assumption recently- and I'm trying not to be too controversial with this, heh- that Christians, or even just general believers in God, don't have the same insight into spirituality that atheists do because of the idea it's somehow easier to believe in God, something I've never understood, as it's always been a challenge for me. I've seen a few links here recently that really push the idea, and it makes me really uncomfortable. Seems that a lot of atheists are starting to be as hard line as the kind of Christians they seem to despise. But I guess that's human nature.

It's also really nice when people seem to get that any exploitation in Dollhouse isn't just for exploitation's sake. I'm shocked by how many people really don't seem to get that the show is raising debate about the issues, not coming down on the side of, "Look at that girl in the short skirt". There's always something there that suggests you're at least a little wrong to think it, something that makes it... squicky.
Not surprised it's from a Christian site; otherwise it'd have the a-word plastered all over it like every book, article, and dialogue seems to have lately. Makes a nice change.

[ edited by DaddyCatALSO on 2009-04-17 01:29 ]
KoC:
Well, I just don't see why it should be a surprise that Christians can be and are discerning and thoughtful viewers of television.

As others have already said, it's not surprising in regards to Christians per se, but the parent organization. Back when Dobson and his crowd first came to my attention, "balanced" was about the last thing you could have called their editorializing.
ern: I think you'll find that a lot of the best commentary on Joss's work comes from his rather large base of evangelical Christian fans. They might be put off by some of Joss's content (primarily on homosexuality) but they tend to *get* in a fundamental way the metaphorical language he's using. It's usually quite an interesting perspective, even if it's sometimes a little ... different.

My wife and I are pretty hardcore Whedon fans...and conservative Christians...not evangelical, but rather Catholic.

Joss is famously a "raging atheist", but his understanding of Christian (and Catholic) theology is deep and frankly sometimes astounding (the reverse confession when Buffy wants not forgiveness from Tara, but rather to be told that she's "wrong" is, for these Catholics, at least, a profound meditation on a good soul in pain and torment).

Hope Joss doesn't mind that I dedicate an occasional decade of my daily Rosary to him. I'm betting he doesn't.
Two of the most emotionally powerful moments in Dollhouse are sci fi takes on miracles:

- The climax of the premiere, when Echo/Imprint of Hostage Negotiator Who Committed Suicide gets to face her demons and overcome her childhood abuser. It's a sci fi resurrection and a sci fi afterlife. (And then it all just vanishes in a single edit to post-wipe Echo).

- Joel Mynor and Echo/Rebecca getting to be together after her death. (Which, I'd argue, was a bit twisted, but also a sci fi take on a vision that has long found expression in religion -- that we'll be together with our loved ones even after death.)

When Joss in his "Religion of Narrative" mode, he tends to be pretty awesome. And awfully affecting.

ETA grammar. And, later, spelling. And, even later, to note that if I had gone to the Olivia Williams YouTube clip sooner, I could have added her concept of the "puddle of sin." :D

[ edited by Pointy on 2009-04-17 04:45 ]
As Silv pointed out, the review of Serenity is beautiful.

In my experience, Plugged-In have very fair reviews. If my memory serves me, they often expose the positive and negative elements of shows without making a harsh judgment whether one should or should not then view the show.
Good review and just to confirm pre-conceptions, if I didn't know it I wouldn't assume that was by a conservative Christian organisation - not because it's intelligent and well written but because it's unwilling to immediately write off the issues raised just because of how they're presented. Most articles by conservative Christians that i've read wouldn't be willing to struggle with the surface to get at the gooey centre, they'd already know they didn't like it cos of the (very, very tame IMO) T&A.

But, come on, Joss, it's a pretty visible part, don't you think?

Comments like this highlight what's for me the other (perhaps unwitting) issue raised by 'Dollhouse' BTW, differing attitudes towards sex and violence (especially in the US). We've actually seen more people killed than we've seen shagged and yet that passes by with nary a comment. It's OK to see someone stabbed in the neck apparently but catch sight of some panties ? Oh noes !

...Christians, or even just general believers in God, don't have the same insight into spirituality that atheists do because of the idea it's somehow easier to believe in God...

As an atheist that seems weird to me too - Christians are clearly spiritually moved by their beliefs and so as qualified as anyone to talk about spirituality and more qualified than many IMO.

That said, most Christians i've spoken to don't seem to have thought through the implications for reality of their beliefs as much as most atheists i've spoken to just because at the moment atheism is still (by far) the minority position and so you're asked to justify it against the (literal ;) "received wisdom" more often i.e. I come across more believers that're unable to refute (or maybe haven't even considered) even the more obvious arguments against a god than I see atheists unable to refute the more obvious arguments for one (all just on balance of course - i've met believers that can run philosophical rings round most non-believers and atheists that have got as far as "Cos it just doesn't make sense to me" and stopped there).
One of the aspects I've been appreciating about Dollhouse has been (IMO) how it hasn't "fetishized" the sex and violence. It's all been portrayed fairly frankly. It might not be all "gritty and sordid," which is how "realism" is usually codified, but that's the easy path isn't it? For the most part, there's no coyness in the portrayal of the sex and violence.

In fact, now that I think about it, there really hasn't been much about sex. I mean, there's been some body parts and teasing views thereof, but most of it has been all talk and is probably lived out mostly in the viewer's mind. Oooh. That's creepy... and rather clever.

The violence has been... refreshingly violent. By this I mean that there has been no disguising it as anything other than an assault on one human being by another. Or six(?) on one, as was the case when they were erasing Dominic. And I'm not taking about the incidental gun shot wound. The violence has been abrupt, desperate, and ugly. As it should be.
I wonder whether that review was written before "The Spy in the House of Love"


The very bottom of the article lists the dates of the episodes reviewed. It last episode reviewed was Spy in the House of Love.

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