[personal profile] dipenates
It is self-evident (textual, even) that Dollhouse can be read as an extended metaphor for, or is even a straight representation of, prostitution and trafficking. The way that the dollhouses work, in wiping the personalities of individuals and replacing them with synthesised, or actual personalities of other people, at the behest of clients who pay big money to have dolls 'be' other people, also brings forth a whole bunch of other issues around consent and choice. It's a regular ontological thought experiment.

What I do find disappointing, because I am unreasonable, is the amount of times the show misses the open goal of making any kind of point about gender and bodies being for sale. I've just started watching S2, and this disappointment has not been assuaged much by the first three eps.

Episode 2.3, "Belle Chose", has two separate storylines that could have used a bit of a gendered analysis. One features an immensely stereotypical sociopath (is not down with women's sexual expression, wears a lot of synthetic fibres, has terrible hair), a comatose relation of a favoured client, whose medical treatment in the dollhouse prompts an ethical quiver in amoral Topher. The other has an English literature professor buying the services of Echo, and requesting that she inhabit the role of a spectacularly dim-witted student trying to bump the F she received on a paper into something a little more GPA-friendly.

The two perpetrators are interesting in their similarities: both are seeking women to perform very specific roles. The sociopath likes to pose women on an ersatz piece of outdoors, as you would find in a sporting goods shop, dressed in smart sportswear. He drugs his victims with animal tranquilisers, after stalking them to assess their suitability for his tableaux, and then kidnapping them. The professor outsources all of this unpleasantness to the dollhouse, of course, but his hard-on is for young women who are at his mercy, academically speaking. Not content merely to outclass the intellect of his student by virtue of being older and more learned, he requests a young woman who is studying mediaeval literature, but who doesn't know who Chaucer is. (Interesting doll-as-object side-note: 'la belle chose' is Chaucer's euphemism for 'vagina'.) Sample line of Echo-as-undergraduate dialogue: "But I figured its mid-evil lit, not advanced evil. How hard could it be?"

There is plenty of in-show criticism of the sociopath, as well there might be, but the co-ed being coerced into sex with her professor is handled mostly flippantly, with moments of humour.

Most disappointingly, resolution comes by virtue of a clunky technology dazzle, when the co-ed personality is accidentally downloaded into Victor, who has been performing the role of the serial killer while his real body is comatose, and vice-versa. Echo-as-sociopath slides a knife into the professor, who survives, and then hot-foots it to the grim basement where the sociopaths victims are waking up from their tranqs. Victor-as-coed shakes his tailfeather at a Hollywood club. (The sweetest moment of the whole thing is when he falls into Paul Ballard's arms, and Paul gives him a hug and scowls at the eyebrows this is raising among the douchebaggy, frat-ish patrons.)

Tim Minear, the writer of "Belle Chose" has a little bit of form on this. He wrote the Angel episode "Billy", which I thought was trying to say something smart about violence and power, until I listened to the commentary. He also conceived the Firefly episode that was never made, in which Mal was going to call Inara (the Companion (or prostitute, because prostitution will be a well-respected, high-paying career in the future)) a whore, she was going to get gang-raped by Reavers (killing them thanks to a special Companion-y poison they all take to protect themselves from rape), and then he was going to kiss her hand. Words fail me when I try to articulate how full of chivalrous misogyny I find this whole notion to be. 

It's not, I promise, that I expect Ballard to spend every episode reading aloud from Andrea Dworkin texts. It's just that every episode that trivialises the majority experience of gendered violence (a known perpetrator, power relations being exploited) in favour of dwelling on the edge-case of the lonely, pathological nylon-wearer, perpetuates those stupid myths that cause real harm. In a show that seems to be about this stuff, a lack of understanding of how this stuff works is a little bit of an oversight.

Date: 2010-11-15 08:10 pm (UTC)
ext_15284: a wreath of lightning against a dark, stormy sky (echo)
From: [identity profile] stormwreath.livejournal.com
I just rewatched that episode yesterday, coincidentally, and got rather a different impression. I actually thought the way the camera kept cutting between the professor and the sociopath was making a very pointed and deliberate comparison between them.

The academic was talking about how women have "power" over men because, basically, they can offer or withhold sex at will; and he made it sound all convincing because he's erudite and well-spoken. Then we watched the sociopath screaming at the helpless women for being controlling bitches, and saw the same sentiment expressed in rather more obviously negative terms. I think it's a trademark of a lot of Joss's shows that he gets you humming along thinking, "This is light hearted and funny and frothy and OH MY GOD NO it totally isn't, you fooled me, you bastard!"

As for the resolution, I found it chilling. It's already been established that Echo carries within her all her past imprints - and now she's been imprinted with a sociopathic serial killer? It's no wonder her first reaction on realising that is to ask the other victims to kill her. But I will admit that's more of a season-arc thing than a specific resolution of the gender and objectification issues raised by the episode. :-)

Date: 2010-11-15 08:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dipenates.livejournal.com
I actually thought the way the camera kept cutting between the professor and the sociopath was making a very pointed and deliberate comparison between them.

It did seem like it was supposed to be heading in that direction, but the payoff left the comparison with nowhere to go. (And it started badly, with Ballard talking about the fact that the prof needed to pay for a doll, because he was too unattractive to get his students to put out otherwise, which very much misses the point.)

You're right that the conclusion is chilling, but it's chilling because Creepy McPsychopath is now in Echo's head. (It also completely threw me that we were expected to believe that the three remaining kidnapped women were so readily persuaded that their kidnapper was now inhabiting Echo's body.)

Date: 2010-11-16 02:03 am (UTC)
ext_15284: a wreath of lightning against a dark, stormy sky (Default)
From: [identity profile] stormwreath.livejournal.com
we were expected to believe that the three remaining kidnapped women were so readily persuaded that their kidnapper was now inhabiting Echo's body.

I'm not sure they were actually convinced; but they could see with their own eyes that this stranger was being violent and abusive just like their kidnapper had been, and had injured one of them badly, and then thrown down the mallet and told them they had to kill her. I'm actually quite surprised only one of them agreed to do just that, and another had the presence of mind to restrain her.


I did wonder if putting the Kiki imprint into Victor was meant to be making some kind of statement about how we perceive the same sexualised behaviour differently depending on our social preconceptons, but I suspect it was just meant to be a comedy scene and opportunity for Enver Gjokaj to show off his skill...

Date: 2010-11-16 08:09 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dipenates.livejournal.com
I suspect it was just meant to be a comedy scene and opportunity for Enver Gjokaj to show off his skill...

Which he did very well.

Date: 2010-11-15 10:14 pm (UTC)
ext_3751: (Dear little Victor bless)
From: [identity profile] phoebesmum.livejournal.com
The male Dolls are utilised and victimised as much as the women; the show focuses on Echo because it's a vehicle for Eliza Dushku. A lot of fan reaction to the show only emphasises the viewers' own social conditioning.

Date: 2010-11-15 10:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dipenates.livejournal.com
You're right that in theory the male dolls are treated in a very similar fashion to the women, although Victor (I've only seen up to 2.04) seems to function primarily as love interest for Sierra. Although, interestingly, the show does give us a few female clients for Victor's sexual services, which doesn't really parallel real life, at least, not in the UK. (There is, of course, a (Western) female market for men's sexual services in other countries.)

I haven't read any fan reaction to the show, except a few snippets about the decision to cancel it, because I've been trying to avoid spoilers. This seems like something I wouldn't want to know the plot of ahead of time.

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