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August 28 2009

Men, women, and Dollhouse. Taking into account the opening disclaimers about use of generalizations, this is a pretty methodical tour through the different lenses through which different groups might view Dollhouse.

It did read a bit (particularly in the latter half), like there was very little analysis and rather a broad coverage of differing opinions. There is some shallow penetration into some of the show's fundamental questions. The conclusion feels like it's desperately trying to appease people of all opinions reading it, which is really not necessary. The writer has thought about this but needs to present their views with more ... say, consecutive grip... and build more of an argument.

However, none of this is to say I disagree with a single word of it. I was just approaching it as an essay.


Hmm. It starts out making it clear there's lots of room for disagreement and discussion, with various perspectives based on people's social experiences... and then concludes that people who don't agree with the author's take on Actives' ability to consent will hopefully think more about feminism and come around?
Woah woah, that wasn't what I was trying to imply at all! Eeep.

What I was trying to say (and obviously failed at) was that discussions about this issue are making people more aware of feminism, which I think is awesome, because people who haven't been thinking about feminist issues of all stripes are starting to think about them. Not that they will come 'round to my brand of feminism and approve with my position on Dollhouse. Perhaps I should edit to make that clearer if it's not coming across. I realize I did say "...and start rethinking their read of the show," but what I meant by that was that they would start evaluating alternate reads of the show seriously, rather than rejecting them out of hand, as has been the case in some (not all) discussions about this issue.

This post was actually an outgrowth of discussions with people here who do not share my views on the show; I went from having a very narrowminded "there is only one right way to read Dollhouse and that is my way" opinion to, you know "there are multiple perspectives on the issue and they are all of value," and that was what I was trying to drive at here. If that doesn't come across, that's an epic communication fail on my part.
I think the analysis was fairly good, but the issue I have, as a bioethicist, is that the consent issue needs more study. Consent requires several components: information, understanding, voluntariness and decision-making capacity. What is apparent here is that not all of these criteria can be met, and in fact in a few cases, no attempt to meet them was made at all, ie, Sierra. I would argue that no person could understand all the possible ramifications of what it means to vacate their body, that their consent was not actually voluntary- as we know, for Caroline, it was coerced, and coercion is incompatible with informed consent. So I think that the analysis breaks down here, because too many of the questions meloukhia asks revolve around the concept of consent having meaning, where in this universe it patently does not have that meaning. There is no consent as it is currently legally, morally and ethically recognized; ergo, rape must be occurring in those circumstances where sex happens with a doll.The idea you can separate the mind from the body as a conceit of this show is just that, a conceit, because in fact you cannot so separate them; they are intertwined- and the point of the show has been that Echo has been gaining back self-knowledge all along- she is in there. It is for this reason I am not sure Joss has adequatley thought this through. Plus, the idea of the show being "racier" next season is nettling to me on many levels.

[ edited by Dana5140 on 2009-08-28 20:43 ]

[ edited by Dana5140 on 2009-08-28 20:45 ]
as we know, for Caroline, it was coerced

We don't actually know this. We've been shown a conversation that appears to communicate this, but there are other things that could have led to that conversation.
We know Caroline felt she had no other choice but from what we see, we also know she was given one in the first place. The doll we know was forced into it is Sierra.

And yeah Dana5140, I agree about the "dualist distinction" between the show and our reality. As the essay says (though I don't agree with the slant or that it only applies to women/feminists) I think it's very true that what bothers people about the show (and some of the discussion of it) is that
"the show is skirting dangerously close to a reality which already exists ... in which grey areas are automatically not rape"

I can completely understand the position that if you cede any ground on what constitutes rape then you're opening the door to those that would downplay it or exclude certain situations on the basis that e.g. "she was asking for it", it's a reasonable fear. It's only the fact that, as the essay says, "... we live in a world where body and personhood cannot be separated ..." that allows us to talk about it. Because in reality, none of the situations we see in the show are actually as ambiguous as they can be in our discussions - metaphorically the show's reality is a heightened version of our own but in fact, there's an important disconnect from the real world, which is to say the idea that you can "bottle a person" just doesn't seem to be true in our reality. Speaking for myself, it's only that disconnect, that essential abstraction from the really-real world that let's me post so blythely about something as horrific as rape.

How could the Dollhouse possibly include a discussion of every possible contingency in a consent form?

By asking "Do you agree that your body will be used for any and all purposes the dollhouse requires for the five year period of the agreement except in so far as the dollhouse deems permanent harm may be caused to your body and after paying due dilligence to your body's safety ?". It's really not that hard to cover every possibility, you just say "everything possible".

We're lucky on here that no-one (that I can remember) has ever claimed "nothing is wrong here.Ē of the show. Sites where a simplistic, extreme viewpoint like that represents a significant fraction of the consensus are the kinds of places I tend to avoid.

In general, the essay makes a laudable attempt to walk the middle ground but (as is probably unavoidable for any of us) the author's own position shines through. For instance, it presents the least understanding view of rape as if it's the norm (because some people think a thing doesn't mean most do, no-matter how much assuming it does would help your case) and shows a clear bias in its position that if you don't think it's rape (or you're even in my position, which is to say "not sure") then you haven't thought about it (or, I guess, are a man ;). Also, the initial "generalisations" disclaimer, if taken at its word, effectively undercuts the entire conclusion of the essay (since "men" and "women" and even "feminist" and "non-feminist" are such broad or fuzzy categories as to be basically meaningless in this sort of discussion - sometimes "men do this" or "women do this" is nuanced enough because it's at least true on average, here it isn't IMO. Or at least, it's very difficult to prove one way or another, hard to separate fact from anecdote and confirmation bias).

Those criticisms aside though, it's not a bad summary of many of the ideas the show discusses.
We know Caroline felt she had no other choice but from what we see, we also know she was given one in the first place.

We don't know what Caroline felt. We only know what she told DeWitt she felt. For all we know, Caroline specifically set up the situation which led to her recruitment, in order to get inside.
meloukhia, to be honest it reads to me as doing precisely everything you outline as not your intent at the very beginning. I was totally intrigued at possibly a Dollhouse essay that delves into the good stuff... but then you steered directly into feminist vs. not, thinking about these issues every day vs. unaware of them. With an implicit assumption that the source of disagreement must be unawareness.

You seem to be making the mistake many authors of such essays do, which is drift between a safe port of relativism ("there's no right answer") and an argument about why your point of view is actually the right one. I've thought about these issues a lot and I'm not in agreement with many of your points here. I'm very interested in reading such points though. But it's offputting to read an essay that makes assumptions about where my disagreement must be coming from.

I believe you that your intent is good but I think you're going about it backwards. You're trying to understand how people who disagree with you are thinking (or rather not thinking) about the issues. Maybe instead you should explain how Dollhouse resonates with you as a feminist, how the experiences of Dolls relate to social reality for women as a group, why lack of consent and rape are your readings of this. Own your opinion, and explain your reasoning. And then put it out there for people who disagree with you to hopefully read and respond to. Leave it to people who disagree to explain to you where that's coming from. Talk to us, not about us. You have some good points about your take on things. It's the real heart of the piece. Expand on that, explain your point of view, and then people will talk to you about theirs.
I'm not grasping why an essayist can't posit reasons for other people's opinions.
There's a lot of awesome discussion going on here. As has been pointed out, this is a very simplistic and biased essay which has barely even begun to scratch the surface of the show and its larger meanings.

I do think it's important to point out, though, that this essay was not meant as an attack on Whedonesque readers. I think that most people here are thinking about these issues, in a very in-depth way, whatever their gender/position on feminism. Reading posts here discussing this topic, I think that most people fall into the middle ground of "I don't know."

What I was really trying to explore here was the roots of the very simplistic view I'm encountered on other sites discussing this issue, and the fact that many of people arguing that nothing is wrong have been male/nonfeminist.

I think that there are lots of reasons for valid and compelling disagreement from people in the "I don't know" camp, but those people aren't the ones I'm talking about here. In fact, I specifically state that "The truth, as it often does, may lie somewhere in the middle."

I really want to stress here that I am not trying to say that my point of view is the right answer, but rather than I wish people on the opposite end of the spectrum would consider the intersection between the show and feminist issues a lot more. I don't think anyone here is at the opposite end of the spectrum, which means that a lot of this doesn't apply to them. I am really sorry that this essay is coming across as "my way is the only way!" That's pretty much the opposite of my intention.

Also, Sunfire, I have talked about my relation to Dollhouse as a feminist in the past; those posts just haven't been linked on Whedonesque!

Edited to add: Bix, good point. I would argue, in fact, that trying to explore the reasoning behind the opinions of others is pretty much a key to grasping those opinions, as is, of course, listening to the reasons from people who actually hold those opinions.

[ edited by meloukhia on 2009-08-28 21:07 ]
Own your opinion, and explain your reasoning. And then put it out there for people who disagree with you to hopefully read and respond to.

In fairness, meloukhia did that last time and I for one called her article unfair and biased ;).

We don't know what Caroline felt. We only know what she told DeWitt she felt. For all we know, Caroline specifically set up the situation which led to her recruitment, in order to get inside.

Well yeah, that's true but to me we can't pick and choose what we see but don't believe and what we take at face value. Caroline, as depicted on screen by Eliza, clearly doesn't want to sign IMO, she appears to feel cornered, angry at her situation and desperate. She could be faking of course, it could all be part of some master plan but I think once you start down the second/third/fourth order second guessing path you might as well be saying "Maybe the video/memory was a fake" or "Maybe it's all a dream". If we're going to discuss the show then at some point we have to accept what we see or we descend into "Ooooh, nothing is as it seems" territory. True maybe but ultimately a bit of a non-discussion.
Agreed that we don't actually know that Caroline was coerced.
And also agreed that sex with a doll would have to be interpreted as rape under US legal structures. The parallel ethical judgement is not necessarily a given, as it depends greatly on your starting principle and system of ethics; I make this merely as an academic point, not a personal argument that it doesn't count as rape :)
Morally, there is even more gray area, which is what I think Joss is going for here. Many people would agree that it is rape, but I think the interviews in "Man on the Street" indicate that there is room for people to disagree with that, and thus the social judgement in the universe of Dollhouse may not come down on the side of rape.
Saying that Joss hasn't thought it through really begs the question of what he is trying to achieve. If you assume that he is trying to say that the dolls aren't being raped, then yes, I would agree he hasn't thought it through.
However, I do not believe that is his intent. His intent may well be to say; "human behavior is complicated, and people do a lot of things that are both good and bad, and most people try to justify their bad actions by pointing out results that seem good."
If that is the case, then the legal/moral/ethical status of certain sex-with-a-doll / rape is simply one more piece of this complex puzzle, albeit a severely disturbing one.

One additional thought: given the strict standards of consent outlined so nicely above, there are likely plenty of situations where sex, not with dolls, but with "regular" people, is similarly non-consensual. For example, the recent law passed in Afghanistan, or the existing legal standards in too many other countries. Sex with dolls can act as a stand-in for a lot of other human actions, and by questioning the one, we may then be led to question the others. I think that Joss would definitely do that; it is "subversive" in its approach, and he loves that.

And we also have to allow for the fact that, although Joss is considered an auteur, and has a lot of say in what happens in his shows, there is a whole writing staff there, which is changing now from season to season. It is unlikely that the "vision" of the show will remain exactly the same with a change in staff. There will undoubtedly be new influences and thoughts from those new people that will begin to show up in the scripts and the resulting episodes.
I'm not grasping why an essayist can't posit reasons for other people's opinions.

An essayist is free to do whatever she wants. I'm just saying for certain purposes a different approach would probably be better.

Also, Sunfire, I have talked about my relation to Dollhouse as a feminist in the past; those posts just haven't been linked on Whedonesque!

Ah ok. I'll go read those then for context.
Agreed that we don't actually know that Caroline was coerced.

The nub of the Caroline thing is how people see coercion IMO. I think it's fair to say her decision was pressured (from what we see onscreen) BUT I also think it's fair to say we don't know exactly where that pressure came from (seemingly partly Caroline's own choices, partly Adelle, maybe partly some larger conspiracy, likely partly circumstances we haven't seen yet etc.) so that it's unjustified, even from the little we know now, to just say "she never had a choice".

With Sierra though, from what we've seen up to now, she was apparently forced against her will into the dollhouse (or maybe tricked). Not put in a situation where she had to make a tough but (possibly) informed choice between the lesser of two evils but somehow actually forced (how that could happen without inside collusion - probably from at least Adelle and/or Topher - isn't easy to see).

Reading the essay BTW I started thinking about organ donation and how there might be a parallel. People make a choice as to what happens to their body and then later, when they're no longer in a position to actively give or withdraw consent, those choices are respected even though that person is no longer there.

Maybe it's fundamentally different because they're never coming back into their body ? Or maybe because no-one else will be "in" to be affected by those choices ? If the imprints aren't people then it seems to be pretty similar, if they are then maybe not so much.
In fairness, Saje, the last essay of mine Whedonesque linked was unfair, biased, and myopic. So, you know. All's fair in love and war, right?

I think that the Caroline thing is, like the rest of the show, really complicated. I view her situation as coercion because it seems to me like she's been manipulated and forced into joining the Dollhouse; manufactured consent is definitely not consent. I do think that she may have been making a choice between two evils, but being forced into making a false choice is still coercion.

You also brought up a really interesting point in re:organ donation which I totally had not considered before. You're absolutely right, and it's a great parallel: people do sign away their bodies, saying that once they're gone, it's ok to use their organs. I'm going to have ponder this and ramble on for another couple thousand words about it in the future.

And, PaulfromSunnydale, I am pleased to inform you that I am actually working, at this very moment, on a discussion of how much responsibility Joss, personally, bears for the creative content on his shows. I think that I and many others often fail to remember that television is a team effort and that other people can/do have a role in what happens on screen, and that's something very interesting to think about when exploring a thorny issue like this.
I enjoyed the essay, and I thought it brought up some interesting ideas about the moral greyness of the show (and how there will probably never be an agreed upon right answer). The one problem I have is this.

While acknowledging the author's intent not to offend anyone by making generalizations, there was one important aspect of the topic at hand that was not mentioned. Even though the show does focus a great deal on objectification of women, we can't forget that men are also objectified in many ways as well. Victor is used by Adelle no differently than a customer would, which is ironic considering she often is displayed as wanting to protect the dolls under her employ. Even Alpha could be used as an example, as it is unlikely he had any consent in his placement at the dollhouse. And while he did commit a particularly heinous crime in his previous life, I don't think that immediately strips him of his right to consent.

I agree with the author on many points, I just feel that when we look at objectification in this show (and frankly in real life), we have to consider that everyone is objectified in some way shape or form, even if it does happen more to one gender than the other.
I thought it was pretty interesting in the Harvard humanist Q&A when Joss says his original intention for the show was to show how everyone objectifies everyone else. Originally everyone was going to be a victim and everyone was going to be an exploiter. That still sort of comes across to me (i.e. it's ambiguous as to who's a goodie and who's a baddie) and may even be the source of some complaints about how the show doesn't draw a clear enough line between good and bad.

I think that I and many others often fail to remember that television is a team effort and that other people can/do have a role in what happens on screen ...

I know i'm always forgetting the rest of the team so that everything I see is "Joss did this, Joss did that" etc. even though a lot of the time it's no-doubt someone else. That said, on most of his shows he seems to be (by most accounts) the guiding hand for the directions of character and plot development and he presumably has a sort of veto as far as story/script goes so it seems fair to say "Joss allowed this, Joss allowed that", even if it's not actually him that came up with it.

I view her situation as coercion because it seems to me like she's been manipulated and forced into joining the Dollhouse; manufactured consent is definitely not consent.

I think that's still up in the air. The hints about Rossum may mean they were actively manipulating events so that Caroline would find herself with Hobson's choice (e.g. if she was on the run they may have kept giving her location to the authorities to keep her moving, wear her down, push her in certain directions). Or it could be that the animal lib thing (which was her choice entirely, inasmuch as any choice is entirely ours) was all it took, the turning point which eventually lead to the dollhouse.

And Adelle was definitely persuasive, even manipulative but I still maintain we don't actually see anything to indicate that Caroline didn't have the choice to either face the music (which may even have been a death sentence, not saying it was a great set of options) OR join the dollhouse. We don't, for instance, see Adelle give any subtle nods to guards as if to say "Even if she chooses not to sign, we're taking her". Maybe we will in future flashbacks but right now, to me it still looks like Caroline finds herself in a situation where her other options are so much worse (maybe even through her own fault) that she feels she has no other choice.

It's definitely complicated though, no argument from me there ;).
his is a pretty methodical tour through the different lenses through which different groups might view Dollhouse.


One of these days someone is going to write about how our divided fandom views Dollhouse. For instance how does a Spike fan view the show compared to a diehard Firefly fan. Or a Buffy feminist as opposed to a Dr Horrible slasher.
And as usual we Cluffy 'shippers will be ignored. *sigh*.
With good reason too.
Simon, I actually think that would be a really interesting essay. Nay, PhD thesis. And I nominate you to write it, because I am way too lazy to do the amount of research/interviewing required to do it justice.
The grey area stuff does feel very offensive to me. The fact we're arguing over whether Caroline was "coerced" or not sounds very much like the kind of date rape arguments you hear - "But did she know what she was getting into when she went there?"... "Did she say that it would be ok?"... "Did she tell them she would be up for it?"... "Cos you know, if she did then she kind of said yes"... It's vile. I can see why it hits some people so hard, they don't want to follow the show.

Having said that, I feel that getting entrenched in endless battles to meticulously define the term "rape" and then seeing if the events shown meet our criteria is not really very helpful. What we are actually talking about here, regardless of consent, is the violation of a human being. Doesn't matter if the "person" is stored, if it has been wiped, if it is restrained, suppressed, repressed, if it is willing, if it is compromised, informed consent, uninformed consent, lacking capacity... Whatever. It doesn't matter. That's an additional area to argue about. At it's core, it is still violation of a human being. A dehumaning. If people out there are rationalising that that's even partially ok in some circumstances, any circumstances, then that is kind of more terrifying than the show itself, however we define the actions within it.
What we are actually talking about here, regardless of consent, is the violation of a human being.

No, that's begging the question. The discussion is partly about whether it's a violation of a human being (and by extension, about what is a human being).

What I personally find offensive is the idea that we can't discuss a TV show (which is apparently deliberately designed to engender just such a discussion) without somehow being bad people if we don't immediately see it the "right" way, the idea that if you're even able to consider whether it's a violation you must somehow be condoning violating people. That to me, is vile.

If people out there are rationalising that that's even partially ok in some circumstances, any circumstances,

So no to military training then ? Under any circumstances ? Genuine question BTW, some people are against it full-stop.

With good reason too.

Oh yeah, it's all coming out now. Typical anti-cluffist bias. But our love will not be silenced ! Just because it's made up doesn't mean it's not real !
If actives are not held to have consented (and therefore be responsible for) patently illegal and immoral acts they commit on a 'job' (e.g., theft, murder) or lauded for any noble acts (e.g., saving hostages) then they clearly cannot be held to have consented to (and be responsible for) sexual acts 'on the job'; it is non-con by definition. The responsible party for all of the above is the programmer, although one might argue that the person who submits to having him/herself used as an active in the first place may bear some general moral culpability if they don't ensure that their bodies are not going to be used 'for ill'. I don't see how this jibes with an interpretation that DH serves as a subtle insightful commentary on what it means to be a 'person' (as for example, Blade Runner does) but there is no doubt that there is a ton of exploitin' goin' on in this verse.
Hmm, I think Echo's conversation with Caroline sheds some light on this... Echo (the body) confronting Caroline (the mind) and having some pretty pointed things to say. And, as I recall, Caroline acknowledges the point before being shot and reduced to a wedge again.

I think Joss -- and Eliza, because let's not forget that she gets to sign off on all this too -- knows exactly where he's going with this. I think I'm getting a feel for the show's direction, and if Joss & Co. follow through, something they have done so frequently before, then Dollhouse will be his most subversive work yet.
You mean where Echo says you can't volunteer to be a slave ? Sure you can, you can volunteer to give up some or all of your autonomy at any time (anyone with a job already has for instance), if you couldn't then it was never your autonomy to begin with.

I don't see how this jibes with an interpretation that DH serves as a subtle insightful commentary on what it means to be a 'person' (as for example, Blade Runner does) ...

Well, are the imprints people ? If not, why not ? If so, why so ? And from there into an examination of what constitutes a person (in that sense it's actually quite similar to 'Bladerunner' IMO). The idea that the show is partly about the meaning of personhood doesn't seem particularly far-fetched to me. Or to Joss IIRC.

The responsible party for all of the above is the programmer ...

Hmm, if the "program" was a simple rule-based algorithm for accomplishing a mission then yes but as we're told a couple of times, the imprints are able to go beyond what Topher can think of, they have memories and experiences which they can use to perform new actions. So who's responsible becomes murkier IMO.
I am not certain that this can be reduced to a man v. woman issue, as at least the title suggests. The author attempts to finesse this a bit by offering some initial caveats about the dangers of generalization, but I don't necessarily agree there that this can allow these points to so clearly be made. I have to step away for a moment from the consent issue, which is at the root of why I dislike this program- which really seems to want to have its cake and eat it, too. It wants to be seen as feminist even as it objectifies the female body, puts Echo into bondage gear and other revealing clothing and allows the viewer into areas such as the shower where normally no one would be allowed. It is for this reason that I cannot see this as "feminist," of which I believe I am one and am male to boot.

Now in response to interpretations of whether Echo gave consent, while I am- wait for it, saje, 'cause here come your points- an ardent reader response guy, all I can say is there is no visual evidence of anything but what we are allowed to see in her exchange with Adelle. The consent issue is the deal killer for me; it is simply huge and I see no way around it. The discussion about organ donation above is truly simplified; organ donation is so complex an issue entire texts have been written about it, and then you throw a living will on top of it, or an advance directive, and you have a mix of problems there. But we need to keep mindful that the point of these legal devices is to honor someone's wishes when they are no longer able to express them. That is the reocrd we have, and we have no way of knowing otherwise, even when a relative argues that this person has changed their mind. In order to overrule the directive, a court hearing would have to be held and the weight of evidence judged. All by way of saying, a legal device has been used here that is more than a contract; it is an attempt to protect and preserve autonomy- and that is the one point we will all agree on- Echo has none; she is programmed. The conceit, again, is that she is beginning to be self-aware again, and thus we have the implications of that- which I argue lead to rape. This is why I do think that Joss, who may not really understand the ethical nuances because he is, you know, a writer, may not know exactly where this is leading beside what he feels is a compelling storyline. I myself am uncomfortable with much of DH, from its reliance on skin, to its acceptance of what to me seems rape, to other issues as well.
deepgirl187 wrote:

While acknowledging the author's intent not to offend anyone by making generalizations, there was one important aspect of the topic at hand that was not mentioned. Even though the show does focus a great deal on objectification of women, we can't forget that men are also objectified in many ways as well. Victor is used by Adelle no differently than a customer would, which is ironic considering she often is displayed as wanting to protect the dolls under her employ. Even Alpha could be used as an example, as it is unlikely he had any consent in his placement at the dollhouse. And while he did commit a particularly heinous crime in his previous life, I don't think that immediately strips him of his right to consent.


I'm not sure if Karl William Kraft had no consent in being placed at the Dollhouse. Adelle says "We offered the opportunity to trade lengthy prison sentences for five-year terms of service with us".

Now, she could mean they made this offer to the Department of Corrections which was referenced by her in the sentence before as the institution that "furnished" the recruits. This would go along the lines of the DoC saying "We have a rooming problem in our prisons, let's talk to these corporate neuro science types." and not giving the prisoners any choice.

But she could also have meant they were allowed by the DoC to offer these trades to specific prisoners, to Kraft himself, and he then said "I'll take 5 year of ignorant zombie over 25 years of bad food." (Now, how would that scenario connect to the Caroline-situation?)

In scenario 2 Kraft would have a certain degree of consent, the "choosing the lesser of two evils" type of consent. However, I think the show - even as it leaves this question kinda open - explicitely marks him as a "lab rat" and Person That's Been Experimented On. Plus, Alpha in his Post-Composite Crazyness is imo portrayed as a victim of the tech and of Topher. (To clarify: His Post-Composite Crazyness is a result of tech and Topher being reckless. His Kraft-y "Let's slice up Whiskey!" thing is untouched by that. [Ah, great. Now I gotta listen to New Order immediately. :)])

Also, I have to admit, I just now realized the parallels between Kraft (and by some extension, all Actuals) and Alex in "A Clockwork Orange". I cannot remember, did Alex choose to do Ludovico voluntarily in a "Shorter term!" kind of move, or was he picked and forced into it?
It would be illegal under 45CFR46 to offer any consideration of reduction of sentence to a prisoner for his or her involvement in some sort of research or other. Just saying. It would also be immoral, since this involves coercion. Just, again, saying. Of course, this is a fiction, but there it is.
Dana5140, that's very well true, I didn't want to imply that the DoC (or the Dollhouse) in both of those fictional scenarios did anything legal or cool.
Dana5140, does Dollhouse want to be seen as a feminist show? I'm asking because I recall that Joss explicitly said that the show was not meant to be feminist when he got the Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism. Some people may read the show as feminist, but it sounds like that label may actually be applied against the intent of the creators.
Dana5140, does Dollhouse want to be seen as a feminist show? I'm asking because I recall that Joss explicitly said that the show was not meant to be feminist when he got the Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism. Some people may read the show as feminist, but it sounds like that label may actually be applied against the intent of the creators.

He even discussed that question on here.
Ugh... I always see these things when all the good discussion has already happened... What am I supposed to add to this?

*whips out his southern drawl*

Yep... that Dollhouse is crazy... MMhmm.
My "you can't post to Whedonesque after a bottle of wine" application appears to have malfunctioned last night. I don't think I explained what I posted very well, and I don't think I posted half of what I meant to. Unfortunately I have to go and climb up a mountain now so am limited in what I can say.

Saje - I don't think debate over personhood is vile, but questioning whether or not what we are seeing is a violation sets my teeth on edge. People can question it, I'll just find it unpleasant.

Everyone seems to be locating the violation/rape/crime/whatever in the victim - it's all what she/he is, what capacity they have, whether they are there or not. I'm more of the view that the violation is defined within the person perpetrating it. The people using/running/watching(?) the Dollhouse are violating other people - the originals, the imprints, the not quite blank slates, all of them.

In my own mind, as long as that premise is held and kept to one side, I am quite happy to start to ponder the "how am I me?" part of the show.

And nope, hate the army.
I thoroughly enjoyed this piece - kudos, meloukhia. I disagree with the idea that you stated your intentions, only to violate that statement. I understood perfectly that you were putting your own subjective leanings upfront, but attempting to discuss the show in an objective manner. And I think you did just that.

I'm just totally down with the "gray areas" love, and the fact that the issues Dollhouse is addressing are meant to make you uncomfortable - and to make you think, on multiple levels (duuh, this is Joss).

I also agree with someone who said, upthread, that Dollhouse has the potential to become Joss's most subversive work. I would in fact argue that it's already more than half way there.
High praise from my particular point of view regarding great TV, which will hopefully not be taken to mean that I think the show is perfect.

Perfection is an illusion, anyhow, except for passing moments. But Joss's work has an exceptional number of those moments, IMO.
People can question it, I'll just find it unpleasant.

Fair enough curlymynci. FWIW, sometimes I read my own posts back and wonder about my own ability to abstract everything away from the human consequences in the real world, not just where 'Dollhouse' is concerned but with everything (OK, almost everything - we all have something that's too deep in us to be treated as outside us).

That said, as I explain above, to me it's not the real world and never can be, it's a TV show that just looks quite a bit like it so while I get that it's a very emotive subject, i'd rather we didn't draw a nice neat line from "is able to treat it as an abstract discussion" to "is someone that thinks rape is just dandy". If we did that with everything then ethical debates would be impossible without descending into ad hominem attacks.

(and good luck going up, wherever it is, hope you get the weather ;)
This show has given me a deep appreciation for grey areas (even if I don't personally subscribe to them in this case) and it's the thing I love most about it; it makes people think, and engage, and argue. I don't see people having prolonged ethical debates about, uhm, some other television shows. That are airing. That have ethical issues.

I also think, Shey, that this work is really subversive, and in some senses, really feminist (even though Joss himself wouldn't agree with me calling it feminist, evidently). Yes, it's got problems. But if I abandoned everything I didn't like because it had problems, I'd be sitting in a little grey box somewhere, staring at the walls.

One of the reasons it is so subversive and feminist is that people can question their interpretation of events: it's the questioning and talking about it that make people think about ethical issues (not just feminist ones, but egalitarian ones, bioethics, etc). If there were no grey areas and everything was black and white, it wouldn't be nearly as much fun.
Also, I have to admit, I just now realized the parallels between Kraft (and by some extension, all Actuals) and Alex in "A Clockwork Orange". I cannot remember, did Alex choose to do Ludovico voluntarily in a "Shorter term!" kind of move, or was he picked and forced into it?


In A Clockwork Orange, Alex did choose to take part in the experiment, but the "informed" part of informed consent was severely lacking. He really had no idea what he was getting into. And now that you mention it, I never really thought about the parallels between Dollhouse and this. It really is interesting how much Alpha and Alex are similar to one another. I have to wonder if that was something Joss and co. thought about when creating the character.

As far as the consent situation goes though, I kind of feel that as a prisoner, Kraft would have been in a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. If a person's willing to agree to anything to get out of a desperate situation (as I'm sure someone in prison would be), it makes it that much easier to talk them into something potentially harmful. Even if Adelle and the others did explain the situation to him, they had to know that he probably would've agreed to anything in order to avoid being locked up. So even saying he did agree to the contract (and thus giving consent on some level), there's no way the dollhouse wasn't taking advantage of his situation. Which in turn makes the idea of consent more than a little murky in my book. I imagine that the dollhouse likes to go after people like this, because (unlike say, Sierra) they can always fall back on the idea of "he/she agreed to it."
meloukhia, this is what I said in the post where Joss reveleaed himself to the world as a reader-response fellow (*hee*, that makes 2 times I snuck that in, saje):

----We have sort of come full circle and debw's post touches on some of the issues. My first wife was ardently a marxist feminist and saw patriarchy everywhere she looked. She would have supported Katherine McKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, who argued very firmly against porn because they felt it demeaned women by its very nature. Today, porn is mainstream, porn stars are getting roles on TV, sell bestseller books and someone like Paris Hilton becomes famous for doing nothing more than filming herself doing what we all do- apparently, being in the moment was not good enough for her. So today we see arguments that it is actually feminist to let women choose porn as a career, it is empowering as they embrace their sexuality. Sort of like black is white, and good is bad and I no longer know what to think. My view on DH is that is is far from being feminist in any way, no matter how much memory returns to Echo and no matter how much she ultimately embraces her power and identity. It is the trappings around that story that troubles; the depictions of flesh, the selling of bodies and desire, the giving up of identity (which is how Caroline ended up there to begin with, giving up identity like Chirhiro/Sen in Spirited Away). I am certain there will be feminist interpretations of DH, just as there will be anti, but I find this program much harder to invest in and no character to drive my interest. Which is another story.-----

I'm not sure I have changed my thinking. But yes, joss does not himself see this as a feminist show, so it is us who are arguing the question.
This is definitely a case in which my read is very much open to interpretation, especially since I'm going against Joss here when I try to argue that the show is feminist. I am seeing "the depictions of flesh, the selling of bodies and desire, the giving up of identity" as the very thing which makes the show feminist (for me as a viewer) because of the way that they are framed. These are issues which women are dealing with every day, and I find Dollhouse quietly subversive; as I said in my post, depicting horrific things doesn't make something horrific, and in fact stimulates thought and discussion.

Others may disagree with me on this point, but I like feminist texts which approach things subversively, forcing me to form my own ideas and responses instead of spoonfeeding things to me. And I like texts which are accessible to the world at large (why preach to the choir?) and texts which become the subject of thoughtful debate.

Dollhouse is not without its problems (as I've pointed out elsewhere), but I am reluctant to throw the baby out with the bathwater, as it were. After all, I find a lot of things in Buffy profoundly antifeminist, but I still view it (as does Joss) as a feminist show.

The fact that the Dollhouse/feminism issue has come up again and again here is, I think, a powerful argument for viewing it as a feminist work.
I donít think thereís a particular need to try and shoehorn DH into being a feminist series. Not to say people canít find feminist messages in the show but just because itís Joss doesnít mean we must find those themes in all his work. Saying that, if people actually believe itís a feminist show then all the power to them and I think thatís great.

One of the things I find so refreshing about the show is that it doesnít give you the answers. One of the criticisms Iíve seen pop up in a few articles now is that the show doesnít know how to answer itís own questions. But who says it needs to? Who even says there is an answer to these questions? I actually find it to be a rather bizarre criticism because the subject matter is so broad that I challenge anyone to find an answer to all these ethical and moral questions. I donít think you can.

Thinking back to the video clips in Man on the Street, thereís just so many different perspectives on the Dollhouse that no one answer is going to be universally accepted by everyone watching the show. As long as it makes me think I donít need for them to tell me what I should feel, I can come up with my own conclusions as I follow the story. I donít see that as a flaw of DH but rather one of its biggest strengths.
...Consent requires several components: information, understanding, voluntariness and decision-making capacity. What is apparent here is that not all of these criteria can be met,...


Unfortunately, with these criterias very few people can consent or make any kind of informed desition. If the criterias were grounded i reality Im afraid they actually are: Having a somewhat vague idea about, voluntariness in regard to if the end result will be better or worse then the present situation and decition-making capacity that is heavely influenced by peer-preasure, social conventions, hormones, alcohol and what not.

Sorry if I sound bitter, but if any kind of desitions actually was taken with the first kind of criterisa in mind the whole world would be a better place. Unfortunately that almost never happens when people are involved : /
In that sense DH is just another political story. Fox news can frame the question about Obama's "death panels" knowing full well that most republicans supported just that a few years under a different setting. They know it, but truth is no longer matters, only pushing an agenda does. Palin lies, but by the time she acknowledges it, it is already a general belief system for many people. Postmodern politics is here to stay; all truths are relative, and only as necessary for the agenda. Why should DH be different? Or let me ask this: Is there anyone here who will defend the DH if there were such a thing in reality?

I think we are asking the wrong question. I cannot say whether or not DH is a feminist show because I frankly don't know what a feminist show looks like. Is there some agreed upon definition? If so, then we could sit here and come to consensus on the question. But there is not. Therefore, I think the better question is: does DH demonstrate a feminist ethos?

ETA: satai published as I was writing. Satai, these are the legal components of informed consent. I won't waste space here defining each one, but they are necessary in any process involving the use of human subjects in research or in health care decision making, and there are means to determine whether each can be met. Someone with Alzheimer's, for example, cannot understand information, and does not have decision-making capacity.

[ edited by Dana5140 on 2009-08-29 16:41 ]
I forgive Joss his feminism, just like I forgive Bruce Willis his hardcore conservatism, Craig Ferguson his constant alcoholic references, and Paul McCartney his religious songs. I'm only interested in whether the show/song/painting is good or not.
I forgive Joss his feminism,
dispatch | August 29, 19:41 CET


You consider feminisim as something you need to "forgive"?
Just asking.
One of the things that I think is unfortunate about the first episodes is that the content focused people so much on the question of rape. To me the question has always been the destruction of identity and turning people, especially women, into bodies to be used as others please. That is such an incredibly common and important issue that women have had to deal with in so many societies throughout history but it is one that is usually treated as unimportant and often derided when feminists have raised it. The idea that it is okay to erase a woman's identity is what leads to the attitude that women's bodies and lives do not belong to them, but are instead an extension of the men in their lives.

I read this article in the morning and it brought the above to better focau with the discussion of possible feminist/non-feminist viewpoint differences. In the afternoon, a friend without realizing what she was saying, started telling me about the people in her life, mostly men, though some women, who had one after another tried to destroy her identity and substitute their own version of who she was. Since she was raised in an abusive home, she was a perfect target, and she bought into it many times. It came today because she is fighting another version of the battle again, and desperately wants this to be the last time she has to do this.

That discussion with my friend made me decide to come back and write this even though I try to stay away from Dollhouse discussions...mostly because I agree with curlymynci.

As a side note, I actually don't see how one can discuss ethical issues without looking at how they ultimately will affect people since that is what makes something ethical in practical terms. IMO any good fiction is saying something about humanity; whether society, individual behavior, interaction, desires, etc.. To divorce the fiction totally from what it translates to in human reality lessens the possible worth and scope of the piece.
You consider feminisim as something you need to "forgive"?
Just asking.


Well, yeah, in the sense that it's someone's personal politics that I don't necessarily share. That point is that I'm interested in the art, not the artist.
Forgiving someone's personal beliefs implies those beliefs require forgiveness. Why not simply respect another's right to believe in something you don't? Unless the intent is to imply that feminism is something that requires judgment, censure and then forgiveness.

I think you mean "forgive" in the casual sense of overlooking something because it's inconsequential, but it's a touchy subject for some. I hope you don't mean that someone not agreeing with your politics must be forgiven because they're wrong, but I'm reading that implication as well.

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