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October 28 2009

(SPOILER) Can you consent to being a Doll? In the wake of "Belonging", io9 asks Maurissa Tancharoen. Plus bits about that episode itself.

Echo's case is unique as well.

I thought 'unique' meant one of a kind. So we have two unique cases (non-volunteers, coerced dolls) in the same DH. At some point, 'unique' may become 'typical' when we know enough about what brought both Dolls and Staff into the DH.
Maurissa has certainly learned to talk like a Whedon :)
Echo's case likely is unique in the sense that the actual circumstances were not the same as Sierra's. I tend to suspect Echo wasn't coerced so much as given a choice she considered better than the alternative, even though the alternative, to continue suspecting, was probably deserved.
Interesting interview. I didn't catch that Boyd was the one who left the all-access key for Echo, that's pretty big! Not really sure why the spoiler tag is needed here.
I probably put the spoiler tag there by force of habit. The card presumably had to come from Boyd since he's the one Echo said the storm thing to.

[ edited by The One True b!X on 2009-10-28 00:43 ]
You can have different types of unique. One is coerced, and the other wasn't consensual but was seen as a chance to help them. They're even unique from each other, right?
I liked the question about the DH going soft... I mean, I do like to see Victor and Sierra holding hands and snuggling in a pod, but it called for a "Like the DH would let them do that..." thought.
I really love this episode... One thing though. I wish that they had explained why Sierra wanted to stay in the Dollhouse after she finds out what happened to her. I know she doesn't want to remember killing Nolan - but that seems like not enough reason to me.

It seems like they gloss over a lot of things in this show, and while it is very emotionally resonant, it is sometimes lacking logic.
I admit to being pretty perplexed by the numbers of people I've seen on Twitter having trouble with Sierra consenting to return to being a Doll. It doesn't bother me that it perplexes me, it just perplexes me.
Weirdly, that didn't even occur to me until people mentioned it. I just kinda figured... "Well, the Dollhouse found her... time for her to be wiped again."
If real is what you can feel, smell, taste and see, then 'real' is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain

That system is our enemy. But when you're inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.

So what is real.
Maybe I'm just too shallow and don't always go for the deep stuff... I can easily agree with Sierra going back to the Dollhouse simply cause that means Dichen stays on the show.
This also makes me wonder if there's a different process for imprinting someone with their personality and for restoring their personality completely. That is, was Sierra just imprinted with Priya like any other personality, or is that exactly what Topher will do at the end of five years, as well?

I guess the only real impact this would have on the show is if someone like Madeline would need to be re-wired if she became an active again. Or is it, once-wipeable, always wipeable?

Did that make sense? I'm not sure it's the most important line of inquiry about the Dollhouse, it's just something I've wondered since Belonging.
I wasn't surprised by Sierra going back to the DH; the problem is Priya: there's no way Rossum can let her free now, she knows way too much.

So in a way this Dollhouse is protecting her by putting her mind in a hard drive and turning her off as a danger to Rossum. The alternative would have been to kill her. Priya knows that.

Plus Victor is the Dollhouse, so...
But Priya had agreed to go back even before she realized that Victor was the man she loved.
Priya loves "him" more than she hates Nolan. And she feels/thinks/knows whoever "him" is, he's probably in the Dollhouse. jmho
Well, Maurissa says this: "All who consent to becoming a Doll are informed about what that entails... perhaps not in the greatest detail, but they are aware that they're giving up their minds and bodies for a number of years. But in Sierra's case, she was clearly violated. Echo's case is unique as well. As we established in Season One, she had no choice but to "volunteer.."

So, this is not informed consent as it is currently legally and ethically understood. Informed means informed, not "sort of informed." And the general legal standard here is the "reasonable person" standard; that is, what would a purported reasonable person want to know before agreeing to participate. You cannot fudge the important details, and if Echo has no choice but to volunteer, then she has been coerced and that is unethical as well. I know I'll get criticized for making this comment, since we need to have a willing suspension of disbelief, but this just hits me in the face every time I have to confront it with this show. It is just there, staring me in the face, and the issue for me is that the entire issue is unnecessary since the DH is operating illegally in many ways anyway. So why bring it up at all, since it is presented so poorly?
I don't agree, actually, that it's presented poorly. I think they just haven't yet very often addressed it head-on. I think you're just so stuck on not seeing a way to accept it that it just seems poorly presented to you.
I kind of thought that when Priya said to erase the memory of the murder, she was thinking she'd be free to go, as if Topher made her believe he would do that for her.
Maybe not.
My only complaint about the episode is the "one year" time-frame. Seriously, Priya's on Venice beach and meets Nolan. Then he has her eventually paint him lots of artwork, and holds an opening for her work, by which time she's developed anti-feelings to his feelings, then she's drugged long enough to become schizo, and in a ward, then, she comes to the dollhouse around the first episode, which is likely at least 6 months in the Doll-verse. Seems like a lot in a year.
Anyway, I still loved the episode and this interview.
What exactly is your objection, Dana?

In the "normal" situation, we still don't know how much detail is given (even after Maurissa's comment), so whether any particular instance constitutes legally informed consent, we just don't know. I don't think that Maurissa's comment necessarily means that it's not informed consent, just that the type and amount of information provided is still unknown. (Unless, of course, this is the kind of thing that cannot be consented to at all, which is a conversation we've had here many times.)

In the "unique" situations (Priya or Echo), the show seems pretty explicit that there is no informed consent, so I wouldn't say that the show is really pushing it that hard.

Alternately, we may see that the "consent" is often a sham, but perhaps the point of insisting that it isn't is so that the characters (Adelle? Boyd? Topher?) can think that it is, or can not really worry about it by being willfully or blissfully ignorant.
I kind of thought that when Priya said to erase the memory of the murder, she was thinking she'd be free to go, as if Topher made her believe he would do that for her.

What she said was that if Topher ever wakes her up again -- meaning, restores her to being Priya again -- to not include everything she'd learned or done in the past year. She was fully aware she was about to become a Doll again.
RE: people wondering why Priya would want to go back. She just killed a man. She clearly doesn't want to remember that, as she tells Topher. Also, she kind of had to. Rossum would have tracked her down if she merely ran off and they found out she was alive.
I think the idea that the Actives typically have volunteered in exchange for something they desperately needed, with all the differing shades of coercion and exploitation that come with that kind of exchange, is entirely in line with the issues the show is trying to explore in a scifi context.
Now, see, I think sunfire has it right. My point was that the way I see consent being presented is wrong, and that bothers me. It yanks me out of the world of the show back into the real one. So it kills my willing suspension of disbelief. If we accept that the DH is either corrupt or illegal, then the issue diminishes; consent is somewhat not the issue, is sort of meaningless. My only comment on that would be, why bring it up then at all?

BTW, off topic, the idea of Priya going back to the DH to forget what she did makes little sense to me. Once she comes out of her fugue after serving her time, it would seem as though no time at all had passed, and the strain she feels now would simply return then, just as bad as now. She can remember now or remember later, but at some point in time she is going to have to remember, with all attendant pain. Were she to stay forever in the DH, her actual real life would cease to have meaning. Which does beg a very interesting question: in what sense can we say that Priya would even be alive? Priya is no longer interacting with her environment, which is a necessity of being human. She would be no different from someone who is a persistent vegetative state- there is no consciousness and therefore no interaction with the world. Except, of course, some memory seeps through now, but still.
Oh, I see. You still think that they could be good! Of course, the Dollhouse is obviously corrupt and illegal. I think of the "consent" idea as something more like the "honor among thieves" idea in mob movies: you know these people are bad and what they're doing is bad, but they do have their own set of codes and beliefs and, who knows, it may have some validity.
I think it makes sense that Siera went back into the dollhouse. She feels real love for Victor (even if she can't remember him) and people do crazy things for love... plus she doesn't want to remember killing Nolan (therefore asks Topher to remove that memory when she does wake up)
She can remember now or remember later, but at some point in time she is going to have to remember, with all attendant pain.

We don't know the details of the contract though... With Madeline seems like she remembers it, but doesn't feel the pain anymore, which for me it suggests that they have something on their contract that says the Dollhouse will take care of their issue... whatever it is. If it's something emotional, they'll take away the pain.

We could go on discussion whether that changes the original person, and making it just a imprint without the pain... but that's another point.

Anyway, Priya was forced into the Dollhouse, so I don't think she was ever presented with the contract, except for now. I think that Topher filled her in, and then she chose to stay. Not that she'd have a choice, as others said, Rossum would hunt her down.

[ edited by maxsummers on 2009-10-28 03:17 ]
...the idea of Priya going back to the DH to forget what she did makes little sense to me. Once she comes out of her fugue after serving her time, it would seem as though no time at all had passed, and the strain she feels now would simply return then, just as bad as now.

Not that he has any obligation to comply (or that he'll even be the one there to do it), but Priya did ask Topher not to include the memory of the murder when he puts her back, after she's done in the Dollhouse. So, at least for her, she's counting on having those memories and feelings not restored.
Oh, i see what Dana means! Because there are very specific meanings of "consent" in our current (American) legal and medical systems, a fictional "speculative" show that is all about weird examinations of our underlying sense of self and responsibility and memory must not show anyone -- especially the characters who run the dollhouse -- seeming like they might be trying to think about the idea of consent outside of those very specific boundaries. Shame on this show for thinking it could wonder about the meaning of consent in a fictional situation outside the specific rules of legal, medical, or research versions of informed consent as of 2009! Shame, Shame!
That seemed needlessly snarky, thirdflower. Since you're kind of agreeing with me in my kind-of disagreement with Dana, I just wanted to bring it to your attention, on the assumption that it was unintentional.
My understanding of whether or not the consent is informed is mostly broad strokes. Like their body will be subject to whatever physical conditioning ensues and the sexual engagements and so forth or they'll possibly be puppets to criminal acts. I don't think they'd explicitly go "you're going to end up having sex with the following repugnant roster you otherwise wouldn't" or the fact you may be used to kill people. So yep, I'm going with honor among thieves, yada yada. I'm still curious if that one student at Caroline's old college was likewise recruited into the house.

And I see even internally/narratively why Priya would return to the Dollhouse other than the external factors like she's a fantastic actress. It's sort of a confluence of a number of factors... She doesn't want to remember the fact she did kill the guy, it's not like Boyd and Topher can just let her loose without any support or suspicion maybe upon her returning to the world, and the Dollhouse/Rossum coming down on all of their heads if it were ever discovered. It is interesting that she's already went and killed people without knowing, including that one kidnapping school teacher in the pilot who otherwise wasn't even that evil.

On some shallower notes: I can't really figure out why there would be a shirtless scene for Topher but I'm curious. I imagine it somehow paralleling the two or three other scenes of water somehow washing away sins like a quasi-baptism or something? (The black paint with Sierra and Victor or Topher and/or Sierra washing their hands of blood?) I'm still fuzzy on if he actually lives in that little mainframe room and has to make do with the communal showers or if he does have a proper place of his own and only crashes at work when he's got a lot of work? Which is often?

And I'm slightly surprised they did outright spell out that Boyd left the card for Echo. It seemed to me that another possibility was that the third or fourth other undercover party messing with the Dollhouse might have been involved with Echo's burgeoning consciousness. While yes there's the obvious fact that Echo talked to Boyd about the storm and to the audience he's the only one aware of the metaphor, I thought another possibility is that there's someone else feeding Echo that concept.
This also makes me wonder if there's a different process for imprinting someone with their personality and for restoring their personality completely. That is, was Sierra just imprinted with Priya like any other personality, or is that exactly what Topher will do at the end of five years, as well?

We already know - via repeated flashbacks to the scene of Priya being formatted as a Doll - that the process of saving a person's identity, then reformatting their mind as a Doll identity is much more invasive than that of just loading an imprint (electro-acupunctural neurology anyone?) - ie. it would stand to reason that fully restoring a person's identity or even converting them into a Doll again would also differ significantly from the routine imprint load/erase process.

Sierra's mind wipe at the end of "Belonging" looked to be totally consistent with that of a standard imprint erase procedure, indicating that Topher had merely created an imprint version of Priya and loaded it per usual onto Sierra, meaning ultimately that "Priya's" request of Topher at the end to let her forget was void of meaning since she herself was not the full Priya. I think it helps explain why Topher appears so thoroughly appalled with himself at the end of the episode - Even in this situation where he's playing the hero role (or the closest thing to it), he is using faux people as a means to an end.


One of these days I intend to write up an analysis of the whole Dollhouse system. It's really quite fascinating and seems to have a whole lot in common with the conventions of low-level/embedded operating system programming - which makes perfect sense.

[ edited by brinderwalt on 2009-10-28 06:38 ]
I'm not sure that necessarily holds. The first time one wipes an original identity and prepares a new Doll is rather convoluted and involved. But once they've stored that original identity on a wedge, I can't see any particular reason, should they put it back into the person and then have to re-Doll them again, that it should be as convoluted and involved as the first time, unless the Dollhouse specifically wanted to make sure it captured the original identity's new memories. In this case, Priya specifically didn't want those new memories, so all that was required was a normal wipe procedure.

[ edited by The One True b!X on 2009-10-28 06:12 ]
I have two takes on the "consent" issue, and I think it's probably a mixture of both, rather than one or the other.

The in-universe explanation is that Rossum probably wasn't evil to start with. They were probably decent medical researchers who did real research with real informed consent. Then they found this power... and they've used it to make money... and that is what's made them bad. So once upon a time the consent was indeed fully informed, but now it's partial, and a holdover from more ethical days -- vestigial, really. Adelle is probably the exemplar of this: she routinely commits immoral acts but thinks she's doing good. She covers it to herself with her vestigial morality. The Rossum execs (as represented by Harding) are clearly past this now. But I doubt they started that way, in part because the show is trying to teach us something about what money and power do to us...

... Which leads us to Take Two. Ever since I watched Epitaph One and paired it with Man on the Street, I've been convinced that Joss isn't just commenting on "what would happen if certain illicit tech is used?" And he's not just commenting on what power and wealth do to the people who have too much of both. I think he and the rest of Mutant Enemy's writers are also trying to teach us something about what's actually going on with us in society right now. (Watch the second-to-last street interview in "Man on the Street" to see what I'm getting at.) So perhaps the problems with consent in the Dollhouse are meant to send us a deeper message yet. What are we currently consenting to that we don't really know about? What have we signed onto, without understanding all the implications? What's being concealed from us in order that we consent?

Looked at it this way, it ceases to be a problem with suspension of disbelief -- at least for me. Instead it becomes one of the elements that makes the show so powerful and thought-provoking.
If we accept that the DH is either corrupt or illegal, then the issue diminishes; consent is somewhat not the issue, is sort of meaningless. My only comment on that would be, why bring it up then at all?

Because it ties in directly with characters like Adelle who need to believe they’re doing something honourable by running the Dollhouse? If every Active was like Sierra and was dragged in off the streets Adelle wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. Her self-delusions would be shattered and she wouldn’t be the same character. The idea that these people “consented” allows for a more complex story.

It doesn't matter if someone really can consent or not. It just matters that characters like Adelle believe that.
I'm not sure that necessarily holds. The first time one wipes an original identity and prepares a new Doll is rather convoluted and involved. But once they've stored that original identity on a wedge, I can't see any particular reason, should they put it back into the person and then have to re-Doll them again, that it should be as convoluted and involved as the first time, unless the Dollhouse specifically wanted to make sure it captured the original identity's new memories. In this case, Priya specifically didn't want those new memories, so all that was required was a normal wipe procedure.


The Doll itself can be viewed as being the equivalent of a low-level operating system. Its chief purpose is to provide a uniform interface (for the benefit of the neurological programmer) to the inner workings of the human mind and body (it also sets up basic default behaviors and useful customizations such as the warder handler bond.) Since no two people are exactly the same on a neurological level, it stands to reason that to construct a functioning Doll would require that each Active undergo an extensive neurological mapping procedure prior to any proprietary identity displacement. Once an Active is mapped and their Doll is successfully installed and stable, imprints are loaded and erased without effecting the function or presence of the Doll itself.

Putting back an active's original identity or re-installing their Doll would require first running a new neurological mapping procedure since any shifts in a person's underlying neurology could very well lead to the accidental bricking of the Active in question - something you'd most definitely want to avoid.

Update: This also supports why it would be important for former Actives to undergo physiological checkups to double check against the presence of neurological discrepancies.

[ edited by brinderwalt on 2009-10-28 08:12 ]
I just feel like Prya is strong enough to deal with the aftermath of killing Nolan (in self-defense). I don't think she'd want to go back to being a doll - especially when it wasn't her decision in the first place. If they had shown Topher explaining that she had to stay there or she'd be killed -- something along those lines -- then it would make much more sense to me. I love the episode, but this really is a thorn for me.

Also, how ethical is it to take mentally ill patients against their will? How can a mentally ill person consent? We see Prya being carried into a van kicking and screaming. Is that when she goes to the Dollhouse? Or is that a flashback to her being taken to the mental institution by Nolan and the "men with guns?"

[ edited by ShanshuBugaboo on 2009-10-28 07:59 ]
Well, a severely mentally ill person can't consent to being heavily medicated in a mental institution either. If the people involved think is a treatment that will benefit the patient, they presumably see it in the same light.

[ edited by The One True b!X on 2009-10-28 08:09 ]
But it's not the same. They are going to be used as prostitutes, essentially. If a mentally ill person is considered a threat to themselves, they can be held against their will in an institution -- whose primary goal is to help them regain some semblance of functionality. But it's not to exploit them.
One more thing about Priya going back to the DH: maybe a small contributing factor was that she remembered what imprinted Echo said to her at the beginning of the episode:

Why not ride that a little? Make them think they have the power. Our time will come.


I think this is very important: Echo is trying to unionize the dolls (click here to see the image) or something (thanks to AfterEllen DH recaps for the cool image).
My thought is that to the Dollhouse, a person who is hopelessly mentally ill would make basically an ideal candidate. No, they can't consent, but to the odd code of ethics that Adelle and Topher subscribe to, it can't be considered harming them to give them five years of peace followed by a complete cure (and a lot of money to boot). Someone like Priya, who was being "treated" by a genius neurologist but whose condition was visibly worsening, who was obviously suffering when Topher met her, and who had no family or anyone to worry if she vanished for a while, would be perfect. I can see exactly why they'd have people keeping an eye out for cases like hers.

I'm not saying it would be ethical by most people's standards. But it would fit Adelle's quite neatly.

Regarding Priya returning to the Dollhouse, I had no trouble believing that. Dichen sold it with the bleakness in her eyes and the defeat in her voice as she was talking to Topher. She was overwhelmed by what she'd learned and most especially by what she'd done. Like most of the Dolls, the ones who actually did consent, she was in a position where she needed not to live with herself for a while. Maybe they told her she had no choice, we don't know, but I don't have any trouble believing she signed the contract this time.

And, of course, there's Victor. The - not even memory, since she can't remember anything about him - but the knowledge of this man, who she loves so inexplicably and completely that it makes her happy even when she's in the middle of confronting Nolan, and knowing that he's connected with the Dollhouse - I daresay that was a contributing factor as well.
I never had the problem with her going back to the Dollhouse, since, well, it was kind of the premise of the episode. In a weird, circular kind of way, since "Belonging" is Sierra's double origin story, it's how she got to be there twice. Now, when the ep is called "Belonging", I take her return to be the point of the episode: There's the trauma, there's the reaction to the trauma, and now she belongs there, she became the dark blot. It's kinda like the moment in "Normal Again" where Buffy snaps out of it. I never sit around wondering "But why did she snap out of it? Why now? What happened?" The point of the episode is that she does (and it's reflected in the title, just like with "Belonging"). It is a circular narrative, taking its premise to be its resolution in the most beautiful way imaginable. Both these eps had me nearly crying for exactly that reason.
Both those eps had me not-nearly crying (I had something in my eye ! ;) for that reason. But you still need to make it fly within the story, you can't always just say "Because without it there's no episode", that's a cop-out IMO.

My understanding of whether or not the consent is informed is mostly broad strokes.

Yeah, I agree orangewaxlion, that's what i've felt all along and I think that's what Maurissa means when she says "All who consent to becoming a Doll are informed about what that entails... perhaps not in the greatest detail, but they are aware that they're giving up their minds and bodies for a number of years.". If they're told even broadly what's going to happen then they'd have to be bloody daft not to (pretty much immediately) think "Oh, like for sex" or "Oh, like to commit crimes" (that point is made explicitly by one of the vox-pops in "Man on the Street").

The big sticking point is, they'll ALL have been told that they won't remember what happens. And that, as it turns out, just isn't true. Still, AFAweK it was what Adelle believed at the time (i'd love to see Adelle give her "recruitment" pitch now, to watch her try to convince the prospective active while at the same time not believing it herself anymore. Olivia Williams could do wonders with that I reckon).

Re: legal definition of consent ? Irrelevant IMO. Suggesting it "trumps" any philosophical examination (either by us or the show) is to assume that the law must have it right on consent when in fact the law is just our best approximation, it's a codification of the current consensus on morality (in a specific culture or subset of cultures), not in any way the "final word" on the subject. By necessity it draws arbitrary lines and in doing so simplifies situations that aren't necessarily that simple.

As to the broad consent issue on the show itself, feels like well-trodden ground but i'll say (again ;) that IMO even Echo - despite what Maurissa says - had a choice, not a good set of options by all appearances but options nonetheless. She's near the extreme end of the spectrum every single one of us is on whenever we make a decision - we never know exactly what the future holds or what the long-reaching consequences of our choice will be and we never make a choice completely free of outside pressures, even if those pressures are indirect or implicit like e.g. the way we were raised or the last advert we saw.

That to me is part of what the show is talking about on the consent issue - no choices are free but how free is free enough ?
saje says: "it's a codification of the current consensus on morality (in a specific culture or subset of cultures), not in any way the "final word" on the subject." I have to disagree. The idea of consent is now established universally through the Helsinki Accords, so this is not within a specific culture or set of culture, unless you consider the entire world a set of cultures. Now, by the way, this does lead to interesting discussion- we can look at Tuskegee or Willowbrook as examples similar to what might be happening in the DH. Now, outside of the rather snarky response by thirdflower above- whose sarcasm I felt was uncalled for- I think it important to note that this is simply an issue affecting me, and I am trying to explain why. In my case, I am close to completing a master's in bioethics, so this is the world I live in- I am the human protections administrator for my institution, and for those who conduct clinical research, you know what that means. So, living with this, it is hard for me to see past it, since what I see is not how it works. It's there, in a sort of fashion, but it's wrong. That wrongness might be simply due to the fact that the show really does not wish to address the issue in any realistic way, which I admit; but it could also be that the show is perverting the issue on a knowing basis. Whichever it is, it is not clear. Thus, this discussion. In order to best enjoy DH, I think one has to accept the world it is based in, and when I see these kinds of things, it takes me- me- out of that world and back into this one. Which is not good for investing completely in the show. Of course YMMV, and obviously does, but this is still something that bothers me. This is what I do not think thirdflower was understanding about my comment.
The discussion on this thread is proof positive that, ratings and looming cancellation aside, DH is a roaring artistic success.

Name another show (now that BSG is over) that could trigger this kind of discussion - and the discussions on each episodes' weekly thread.

Well done, Joss and company - as ever.
Both those eps had me not-nearly crying (I had something in my eye ! ;) for that reason. But you still need to make it fly within the story, you can't always just say "Because without it there's no episode", that's a cop-out IMO.


I didn't mean it in a "without it there's no episode"-kind of way. I think that both these episodes are especially making it a point that their narrative is circular. Both episodes stress the importance of the (some might say futile) exercise of arriving where they start by highlighting the traumatic trouble our heroine went through to actually get there. A specific choice, in both cases, gets her back where she started. This choice is for me the point of the episode, and way beyond any "Well, something has to go wrong, otherwise there's no show"-scenarios. For me, this is an emotional statement by the show.

The idea of consent is now established universally through the Helsinki Accords, so this is not within a specific culture or set of culture, unless you consider the entire world a set of cultures


Why does any (however universally accepted) concept have to be portrayed realistically in a work of fiction?
I think that both these episodes are especially making it a point that their narrative is circular.

Fair enough. What i'm saying is, their narrative must actually be circular. The script can't just get 3/4 of the way round and then go *distracts viewers* "Hey, wow, we've come full circle". Why Sierra went back is a big enough part of the circle that you can't just skip it IMO (though personally I accept the "little things that add up" explanation, in a perfect world i'd like to have seen the adding up made explicit).

The idea of consent is now established universally through the Helsinki Accords, so this is not within a specific culture or set of culture, unless you consider the entire world a set of cultures.

I don't know much about bioethics but do you actually mean the Helsinki Accords Dana5140 ? Cos as far as I can ascertain (cheers Google ;) only 35 states (in Europe) signed up to that - i.e. way short of the entire world. It's also not binding.

Still, details aside, you can ignore the line about specific cultures or subset of cultures and the rest of that paragraph stands. In other words, even if the entire world did agree a specific set of human rights (and "rules of consent") that wouldn't make it the "final word" from a philosophical perspective, it'd still be a necessary approximation with arbitrarily drawn lines, it'd just be the particular approximation that everyone agreed to (i.e. we'd still need judges to decide how and when the arbitrary black and white laws applied to an actual, less arbitrary, greyer real life).

As to getting past suspension of disbelief, I can understand that (i've mates that just don't watch films/shows which prominently feature computers because they're so badly dealt with almost everywhere). Personally that sort of thing doesn't worry me too much (or rather my line's in a different place) but the point WRT 'Dollhouse' is, it's not really germane anyway IMO because real world accords may well be being broken (I accept that) BUT even in the real world, being against the law doesn't necessarily make something immoral (unless you subscribe to the idea that the law is morality in a civilized society).
there are levels of accepted coercion and consent within every culture. Consent isn't universally set in stone

I still like the dollhouse/Military example.

In the military you initially consent to joining up. perhaps you make this decision based on your economic situation, or because you feel particularly Patriotic (or a mixture of both).

Once you've signed up, you must follow orders, even if you personally disagree with them (and you can get into a lot of trouble if you don't follow these orders). Once you're finished with the mlitary you get certain financial benefits.... sounds familiar?
Helsinki is not binding, and never was, but forms the basis of global bioethics, saje. Let's not bog down over quibbles on this issue- I think you understand the sense of what I am saying. And I feel we are parsing way too narrow now- yes, things change and will change, and who knows where it ends and what is legal may not be moral (ie, gays cannot marry, for example) etc., but the DH is now and here, so that's where I have to position it. The show jars me too often for my liking, but does not you. Cool. All I am doing is trying to tell why.
Fair enough. What i'm saying is, their narrative must actually be circular. The script can't just get 3/4 of the way round and then go *distracts viewers* "Hey, wow, we've come full circle". Why Sierra went back is a big enough part of the circle that you can't just skip it IMO (though personally I accept the "little things that add up" explanation, in a perfect world i'd like to have seen the adding up made explicit).


Fair enough. (<-See what I did there? Circular narrative! ;D)

I think it's clear that the episode left a lot of stuff open to interpretation regarding that point, and I think we simply choose to see different things (leading to different questions further down the road) in that moment. For me, nothing was skipped, though I do see the "little things that add up" as possible influences in Priya's decision (I've been told recently that no choices are free... ;)
This is probably way too much infomration, but I felt that I should post the applicable law- at least people can see where I am coming from. This is from 45 CFR 46, but I have cut out a lot of information that does not bear on what we are talking about to save space.

Except as provided elsewhere in this policy, no investigator may involve a human being as a subject in research covered by this policy unless the investigator has obtained the legally effective informed consent of the subject or the subject's legally authorized representative. An investigator shall seek such consent only under circumstances that provide the prospective subject or the representative sufficient opportunity to consider whether or not to participate and that minimize the possibility of coercion or undue influence. The information that is given to the subject or the representative shall be in language understandable to the subject or the representative. No informed consent, whether oral or written, may include any exculpatory language through which the subject or the representative is made to waive or appear to waive any of the subject's legal rights, or releases or appears to release the investigator, the sponsor, the institution or its agents from liability for negligence.

(a) Basic elements of informed consent. Except as provided in paragraph (c) or (d) of this section, in seeking informed consent the following information shall be provided to each subject:

(1) A statement that the study involves research, an explanation of the purposes of the research and the expected duration of the subject's participation, a description of the procedures to be followed, and identification of any procedures which are experimental;

(2) A description of any reasonably foreseeable risks or discomforts to the subject;

(3) A description of any benefits to the subject or to others which may reasonably be expected from the research;

(4) A disclosure of appropriate alternative procedures or courses of treatment, if any, that might be advantageous to the subject;

(5) A statement describing the extent, if any, to which confidentiality of records identifying the subject will be maintained;

(6) For research involving more than minimal risk, an explanation as to whether any compensation and an explanation as to whether any medical treatments are available if injury occurs and, if so, what they consist of, or where further information may be obtained;

(7) An explanation of whom to contact for answers to pertinent questions about the research and research subjects' rights, and whom to contact in the event of a research-related injury to the subject; and

(8) A statement that participation is voluntary, refusal to participate will involve no penalty or loss of benefits to which the subject is otherwise entitled, and the subject may discontinue participation at any time without penalty or loss of benefits to which the subject is otherwise entitled.


(c) An IRB may approve a consent procedure which does not include, or which alters, some or all of the elements of informed consent set forth above, or waive the requirement to obtain informed consent provided the IRB finds and documents that:

(1) The research or demonstration project is to be conducted by or subject to the approval of state or local government officials and is designed to study, evaluate, or otherwise examine: (i) public benefit or service programs; (ii) procedures for obtaining benefits or services under those programs; (iii) possible changes in or alternatives to those programs or procedures; or (iv) possible changes in methods or levels of payment for benefits or services under those programs; and

(2) The research could not practicably be carried out without the waiver or alteration.

(d) An IRB may approve a consent procedure which does not include, or which alters, some or all of the elements of informed consent set forth in this section, or waive the requirements to obtain informed consent provided the IRB finds and documents that:

(1) The research involves no more than minimal risk to the subjects;

(2) The waiver or alteration will not adversely affect the rights and welfare of the subjects;

(3) The research could not practicably be carried out without the waiver or alteration; and

(4) Whenever appropriate, the subjects will be provided with additional pertinent information after participation.

(e) The informed consent requirements in this policy are not intended to preempt any applicable federal, state, or local laws which require additional information to be disclosed in order for informed consent to be legally effective.

(f) Nothing in this policy is intended to limit the authority of a physician to provide emergency medical care, to the extent the physician is permitted to do so under applicable federal, state, or local law.
and vampires don't exist either

but seriously, why does dollhouse have to be realistic in that way? As long as it resonates emotionally and philosophically I say its doing it's job.

[ edited by mortimer on 2009-10-28 15:08 ]

[ edited by mortimer on 2009-10-28 15:09 ]
I thought Priya thought he was just going to take away the memory of the murder, not wipe her and put her back in the Dollhouse.

I think you can give a sort of general consent, but once your mind has been wiped you can't give specific consent to the individual circumstances (whether that relates to sex, or being a hit man, or whatever the active is programmed to do.)
I accept the dollhouse doesn't conform to that (very detailed ;) set of requirements Dana5140 but I still don't really get why that's a big issue. Jesus, as far as i'm concerned the dollhouse may not conform to the laws of physics (which, y'know, are binding ;) and I don't consider that to short-circuit any ethical issues raised by the show.

Is it really just like my mates with computers, is that what you mean (i.e. you know a lot about it so would rather it was treated more along the lines of how you're used to it being treated) ? Cos as I say, that I get, it's a matter of individual taste and you're right, I shouldn't (and nor will I) try to convince you that your individual feeling on the matter is somehow wrong (it's not, anymore than my unjarred response is).

(I've been told recently that no choices are free... ;)

Oh, you can't believe everything you read on the internet wiesengrund ;).
I still like the dollhouse/Military example.

In the military you initially consent to joining up. perhaps you make this decision based on your economic situation, or because you feel particularly Patriotic (or a mixture of both).

Once you've signed up, you must follow orders, even if you personally disagree with them (and you can get into a lot of trouble if you don't follow these orders). Once you're finished with the mlitary you get certain financial benefits.... sounds familiar?


In the military you may have agreed to follow orders - likely at the risk of imprisonment or even death - but when all is said and done your actions in the line of duty are still subject to your own will to act. With Actives, part and parcel of the process is effectively modifying their very wills so as to match up with their intended mission - imo why the whole business is such an unethical, morally repugnant one. It violates the human psyche - the most closely held possession an individual has. At the end of the day a soldier can refuse to do something he finds unethical. An actives' will can be changed to best suit their mission objective.

It would be comparable to military situations where heavy brainwashing plays a key role (such as child soldiers.)

[ edited by brinderwalt on 2009-10-28 15:29 ]
Yep, it's still hard to wrap my mind around the fact why Dollhouse breaking the Helsinki accords is taking you out of the show, Dana. Now, if this was a show about an actual medical research institute, I could see your point, because it would be 'unrealistic' for them not to conform to the law/regulations, etcetera.

However, the Dollhouse is a largely illegal organization, doing illegal things. It would make sense they'd also break the law for consent, right?

If I understand it correctly, your point then becomes: why show it at all? Well, because: laws don't equal morality, like Saje brought up and you confirmed.

Also very essential is what others have brought up above: the characters in this show, already on morally shaky ground, use the fact that these people are consenting to becoming a doll (not in a legal sense, but in a "yeah, sure, I'll go for this deal" sense) to still their own emotions/conscience. Which makes sense. Morality isn't black and white, but a sliding scale. Could they be doing things better? Sure. But they could also be doing things a lot worse (like what happened in Priya's case, which leads these otherwise morally dubious persons to be morally outraged at what's happening).

So - if we ignore our current technological limitations - I'd say the Dollhouse is actually pretty 'realistically' portrayed. This stuff could all actually happen, including their system of consent, in which they are breaking the law.

It also makes sense they do have this form of (illegal) consent, because it's part of the reason the people inside that organization can live with themselves. It helps their employees accept their work. I simply don't understand where the suspension of disbelief comes in. Unless it's something other than "this would just never happen".

Arguing one level higher, I can see how the show is playing with the sliding scale of morality in their narrative. Which I appreciate. I can also see where one would chose to say "to me the moral line is the law and I don't appreciate them trying to add shades of gray to people breaking that law, as they are clearly evil" or something similar, making this a show not aligning with your sense of morality and bothering you because of that. Which is fair enough, but not what I was taking from your comments so far, Dana.

And finally: this isn't in any way meant to say "your opinion is wrong" or anything similar. You were trying to explain why this aspect of the show bothers you and I'm trying to wrap my head around the why of it :).

ETR three annoying typos

[ edited by GVH on 2009-10-28 17:23 ]
In the military you may have agreed to follow orders - likely at the risk of imprisonment or even death - but when all is said and done your actions in the line of duty are still subject to your own will to act. With Actives, part and parcel of the process is effectively modifying their very wills so as to match up with their intended mission - imo why the whole business is such an unethical, morally repugnant one. It violates the human psyche - the most closely held possession an individual has. At the end of the day a soldier can refuse to do something he finds unethical. An actives' will can be changed to best suit their mission objective.

It would be comparable to military situations where heavy brainwashing plays a key role (such as child soldiers.)


Oh absolutely. there are definitely key differences.

I think I was just making the point that coercion is alive and well, even in western countries (to varying degrees), and that the idea of the Dollhouse, at the least, draws interesting parralels with these types of institutional practices...

I would argue that those trained for combat are effectively brainwashed through their training (they are rebuilt emotionally as well as physically)... although clearly not to the same extreme extent as the dollhouse

[ edited by mortimer on 2009-10-28 15:44 ]
I would argue that those trained for combat are effectively brainwashed through their training (they are rebuilt emotionally as well as physically)... although clearly not to the same extreme extent as the dollhouse.


Potentially, although their is still one key distinction between the two that imo makes the Dollhouse far worse: Brainwashing in the traditional sense amounts to modifying a person's will/personality in order to best serve the interests of another party. With the Actives their will/personality is being totally replaced - ie. leaving them with nothing of their true selves (at least in theory...)
True but they're also (in theory at least) not aware of the change and don't suffer by it. Their "true selves" are still there, safe and sound in the Backups vault ready for restoration after their contract expires so they don't (again, in theory) have to live with the consequences (which is a lot more than most veterans can claim).

I think there are parallels between the dollhouse and the armed forces certainly (conscription came up back in the early days of speculating about the show and the consent issue, especially in the context of subordinating an individual's autonomy for a greater good). And it speaks to the subtler coercion that happens with real life decisions - the army above all else is about operating within a group so going against the wishes, implied or otherwise, of that group would surely take more than the normal amount of willpower/backbone.

(though if I understand it correctly, in the US army at least no soldier is obliged to follow an immoral order i.e. soldiers are still expected to take responsibility for their individual actions. "Just following orders" is not an excuse in other words)

So - if we ignore our current technological limitations - I'd say the Dollhouse is actually pretty 'realistically' portrayed. This stuff could all actually happen, including their system of consent, in which they are breaking the law.

Frankly I think it's even likely GVH. People start from what they want to happen/be true and then "tweak" the system (and their justifications) to get there IMO.
True but they're also (in theory at least) not aware of the change and don't suffer by it. Their "true selves" are still there, safe and sound in the Backups vault ready for restoration after their contract expires so they don't (again, in theory) have to live with the consequences (which is a lot more than most veterans can claim).

Here's where the implications get really interesting: The human brain is akin to a muscle - the more you use it the more new neural pathways are created and your ability to reason actually increases (essentially the neurological description of learning.) Any brain growth that takes place during a person's time as an Active is retained forever as new neural pathways in the brain. Whether the person "remembers" the experiences that caused this growth is essentially immaterial - the significant point in this is the implication that an Active actually does end up living with the consequences of their Active years.

This very well may be the explanation behind cases such as Echo: she's retaining things because her intellect is actively growing on a neurological level - ie. below the scope of the Doll/imprint construct.

[ edited by brinderwalt on 2009-10-28 19:29 ]
And the stress of the engagement would leave lasting effects on the body even if the person inside could not remember it. Good point, brinderwalt.

I've been trying to figure out a way to say why the consent thing is so nettlesome to me. And I think it is simply that because I know some stuff, I can't escape when I see something not quite right. Let me give a (possibly bad) example. I love the movie Juno, love it. But there is one thing in Juno that takes me out of the movie every time it happens. That's the presence of the cross-country team. Why? How could that possible do that? Well, see, I have these 2 twins who are elite runners (my son Noah won the first marathon he ever ran, and came in 62nd overall among men in the Chicago marathon 2 years ago, out of 25000 runners), and both of whom ran for the greatest high school running program in history (York High School, Elmhurst, IL- google it if you don't believe me) and ran at a high level in college and are both now high school teachers and track and cross country coaches. Which means nothing more than I know a bunch about high school XC. And because of that I know that the vast majority of XC teams will never allow their team to run, in uniform, on the streets because of liability issues; they will not wear the outfits we see Paulie wearing, which are years out of date; will never have the team run bunched like that (since it slows the top runners down, and you need the top runners to win meets since XC is scored by the placement of the top 5 runners) and will not see kids wearing high socks because all of them have to wear appropriate running gear, and are required by policy to dress alike, etc. So, do I expect Diablo Cody to know all of this, in her attempt to use the XC team as a transition wipe between scenes and time periods? Of course not. But there it is and I cannot get away from it, no matter how I try, because I simply know without even thinking about it what's wrong. In Juno, does it matter? No, because the XC team is not essential to the story, per se. In looking at consent, it seems more germane to DH, which is why I can't get away from it here. It is not like I go looking for something to negatively affect my viewing; it is just there. If that makes sense?
"Ignorance in this case, truly is bliss." - Adelle DeWitt

;)
I thought Priya thought he was just going to take away the memory of the murder, not wipe her and put her back in the Dollhouse.

Except she very specifically said if he wakes her up again, leave those memories out. The "if" indicates she understood that she was being wiped and returned to Doll status.

It violates the human psyche - the most closely held possession an individual has. At the end of the day a soldier can refuse to do something he finds unethical. An actives' will can be changed to best suit their mission objective.

Which exposes one of the philosophical and moral quandaries here: Does a person have the right to give consent to surrendering the right to consent at any and every given later moment for a five year period? Is there some sort of moral imperative that's meant to bar one from denying one's future self the ability to choose? I admit that I'm finding it difficult to grasp how such a moral imperative could possibly exist.

Granted, the answer might very well be different depending upon the above question as to just how informed the consent is. But I'm not sure it's as simple or as cut and dried as saying (I'm not even sure who here has said this, if in fact anyone) that one could never under any circumstances have the right and the ability to give proper consent to become a Doll.

[ edited by The One True b!X on 2009-10-28 20:27 ]
Dana, if you happen to read this after this has dropped off the front page: I get why your example would take you out of Juno for a bit. The same thing happens to me when sci-fi movies get the science wrong yet again, although it never troubles me enough to stop letting me enjoy the experience.

The big difference between your example of Juno and your issue with Dollhouse is: Juno got it wrong. XC apparently doesn't work like that. And as their highschool XC-team is 'real world' at a real, normal high school, their portrayal of XC is not realistic.

Dollhouse, though, didn't get it wrong and like I said: I have no trouble accepting a situation like the one in Dollhouse as realistic. It's not like they're saying: these people are consenting in the literal, legal sense. They're saying: these people sign contracts knowing what they're getting into, which is enough for their employees to feel they're not completely morally corrupt.

I'd see your point if they were doing the consent thing wrong in a real-world, law-abiding company. I just don't think there is a wrong in an underground, illegal institute. They're breaking the law anyway, I don't get why breaking one more law would break the camel's back ;).
You mean like hearing an explosion in outer space? :-)

Yes, I understand the fact that the DH is corrupt to begin with so that consent is meaningless anyway; I just wonder why it is even necessary to make an issue of it at all if it cannot be based on something approximating reality. But otherwise, yes, you are correct GVH.
Yeah. The 'sound in a weird nebula around a planet'-thing in Serenity is one of the things I'm slightly embarrassed with every time I see it, especially after the series did such a great job ;).

As for the consent issue: I think it's necessary because it adds to the characters to have it there at all, even if it isn't based on how these things happen with real non-underground companies. Having a sliding scale of morality creates drama, which the show would have less of if they basically portrayed every active signing as morally completely bad.

I really liked how Topher and Adelle got morally outraged in 'Belonging' when they found out what happened to Priya, while they had no problem when they thought they were helping her and seem to have even less problems when they think/believe their actives have signed on willingly. It makes for a more shaded, dynamic show and more interesting characters, I'd say.

But it's certainly fair enough to disagree on that :).

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