[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.

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