The problem with Dollhouse is not that I don’t understand subtlety

the-problem-with-dollhouse-is-not-that-i-dont-understand-subtlety

Yesterday coffeeandink pointed to this amazing Dollhouse vid set to the tune of “It Depends on What You Pay” from The Fantasticks. It’s so spot on I can’t even describe. Go watch, if you’re inclined, but be aware that it could be triggery. C&I mentioned in her post that the vid author warned that it could be, while whoever posted it at Whedonesque warned that it might be offensive. Lordy. I should not have looked at the comments over there because, well, it’s Whedonesque. And yet.

Lots of varying reactions, but one of the opinions I’m seeing over and over is that people who hate the show and hate the rape and are just haters do not understand the subtlety going on in it. That we need to have the idea that the Dollhouse people are bad overstated or spoon-fed to us, etc. And to that I say: bullshit.

The problem here is not that I don’t appreciate subtlety and I don’t need a show to explicitly point an arrow at a character and scream, “This person is BAD OMG, hate hiiimmm!” After all, I watch Doctor Who, a show about the subtlest subtle asshole who ever subtled through time. I also love Dexter, another show one of the commenters brought up. In the latter, the wrongness of the main characters actions is perhaps a bit more obvious (he’s a serial killer, can’t get much more wrong than that) and with the former there are differing opinions on whether the show’s opinion is that the Doctor is a jerk. In both cases I watch and enjoy because I trust that the show’s creators/writers know what they’re on about. The bottom line is: I don’t trust Joss Whedon.

I don’t accept his feminist cred as a given. I don’t accept his talent/genius as a given. And that colors all of my reactions to Dollhouse — both the premise and the actual episodes I’ve watched.

Perhaps this is wrong and unfair of me. But consider this: I started watching Dexter knowing nothing about the show creators or writers or about the author of the book the show is based on. I didn’t know their stance on serial killers except to assume that it was similar to mine: serial killers (really any killers) are bad. And watching that show, I never once find myself thinking that serial killing would be okay if Dexter did it. Or even that killing is okay because he kills people who are criminals. And yet, with every season, I love the show and the character more and more. I find it awesome the way the show gets me to identify with and root for him without ever making me feel like everything he does is okay. That’s part of it — it’s not okay. And yet I am complicit. Crunchy!

Dexter earned my trust based on the strength of the episodes and writing. Joss Whedon has not yet earned my trust. Therefore, I don’t read all the good intentions into Dollhouse as other fans do. Even without trusting him at the outset, Joss still could have earned my trust by the way the premise was handled. He didn’t, he hasn’t, and I refuse to give it to him just because he created Buffy and Angel and Firefly. I don’t owe him anything.

So again, it’s not about my lack of appreciation of the subtle. I get subtlety. I just don’t don’t believe the show is as nuanced as fans want it to be. I didn’t assume it would be super nuanced and complex from the beginning. Did you?

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40 Responses to The problem with Dollhouse is not that I don’t understand subtlety

  1. 1
    Myca says:

    Granted, I’ve only seen the first three seasons, various specials, and Torchwood, (and thus didn’t read the linked article, due to spoilage) but I’m surprised that you find Doctor Who anywhere near subtle.

    —Myca

  2. 2
    lilacsigil says:

    I’ve stopped trusting Doctor Who and, since I’ve been watching it since I was 4 or so, this makes me really sad. Dollhouse was certainly starting to develop some nuance, but not nearly as much as it thinks it has. Unfortunately, Whedonesque (and I’m presuming it’s still like this, because I don’t go there anymore since getting in a terrible and obvious argument about Dr Horrible) has a really patronising attitude about any criticism of Joss’s work. I don’t accept Joss as my Personal Feminist Saviour, but that doesn’t mean I automatically hate (or wilfully misunderstand) everything he does.

  3. 3
    Rose says:

    Wheadonesque is a fansite. That means it’s a place for Wheadon’s biggest fans to go and discuss their love of all things Wheadon. I suspect that their are very few people over the age of 18 who post there or at any other fansite.

    As for me, I really love Dollhouse and dread what I believe will be its cancellation any day now. You don’t love it. You don’t find it subtle. That’s cool.

    I’ll file this difference of opinion under “Opinions are like assholes and everybody’s got one.” Perhaps neither one of us holds the right or correct opinion on Dollhouse, we just have different taste.

    But please don’t ever suggest (as you might be doing here, but maybe not, and if I’m wrong, I’m sorry) that I love this show because I dig rape as entertainment. I’ve been raped and I can assure you I don’t.

  4. 4
    Pattie says:

    It wasn’t until the newest series of Dr Who that I realized what a selfish, self absorbed jerk the Doctor is, looking back he has ALWAYS been this way and I was too young to realize it. Although that doesn’t make me dislike the show. I like that our “hero” isn’t totally pure.

    The Dollhouse however, I’m watching to see where it might lead. I’m not sure I like the show but I did enjoy Buffy and Angel – not so much Firefly – so I want to give this show a chance. I want another show that I’m excited about, but I’m pretty sure Dollhouse isn’t and wont be it. The high priced whorehouse premise with people who don’t actually KNOW what’s happening to them, disgusts me.

  5. 5
    Ruth Hoffmann says:

    Here’s an eloquent review of Dollhouse that approaches the show in a different way and made me reconsider some of my assumptions:
    link

    Quote:

    You can’t just stake the enemy or cast a spell at him or throw him into Hell this time. The enemy surrounds you and controls you and is much, much bigger than any one person. The enemy is in your head: it controls what you’re allowed to think, what you’re allowed to know, who you’re allowed to be. Resistance, this time, isn’t about throwing punches. It’s about getting your mind back. It’s about reclaiming your right to define who you are – your right to be a person.

    That seems, to me, like a much bigger and more profound and all-encompassing metaphor than saying that some boys are vampires and will turn evil if you fuck them. Just saying.

  6. 6
    Rebecca says:

    Since my last comment is awaiting moderation and is full of horrible mispellings (I keep getting interrupted), I’m going to repost this with gramatical accuracy. Moderator- If you post this version instead of the other one, I’ll be your best friend!

    [Oooh, I have a new best friend now! --Amp]

    I think it’s giving the writers of Doctor Who WAY too much credit to say that the show intends a subtle critique of the Doctor (or a subtle critique of anything for that manner). I also think the Doctor is an ass, but it’s entirely unintentional- that’s what makes all the “the Doctor is Jesus!” scenes so funny! Clark on Smallville and the lead character in the Transformers movie are similiar- lionized characters that are obviously jerks but whose jerkiness is never remarked upon.

    As for Dollhouse, I think people who dislike the rape undertone and those who think it’s an interesting rape culture commentary are paying attention to the exact same things- the difference is whether or not you think the writers are saying “this is tittilating”, “this is bad”, the writers are entirely unconscious of the subtext, or some combination of all those things. I like the show and the commentary, but I also think the show isn’t reluctant to exploit the hot/nakes Eliza angle either. They’re kind of having it both ways.

  7. 7
    Myca says:

    I also think the Doctor is an ass, but it’s entirely unintentional- that’s what makes all the “the Doctor is Jesus!” scenes so funny!

    I don’t think it’s unintentional, I just don’t think it’s subtle. I mean, when you have more than one main character explicitly explain the same thing more than once, I think you’re officially ineligible to claim subtlety. Just exactly how many times do we have to hear how terrible and lonely he is, and that’s why he needs a companion? Feh.

    —Myca

  8. 8
    Crys T says:

    OK, so I’m not even that much of a Dr. Who fan, but I do feel compelled to comment: it’s a family show, of course it’s not particularly subtle. It’s there so that adults and kids can all sit down together after their tea on a Saturday evening and watch something together.

  9. 9
    Myca says:

    OK, so I’m not even that much of a Dr. Who fan, but I do feel compelled to comment: it’s a family show, of course it’s not particularly subtle.

    Oh totally. I enjoy it on its own terms, I just find holding it out as an example of subtlety surprising.

    —Myca

  10. 10
    Elizabeth Anne says:

    I’m rabidly hoping that once Stephen Moffat takes over as show-runner, Doctor Who will improve. Part of the problem is that Russell Davies couldn’t make up his mind which one was the bigger Mary Sue: Rose / Martha or Captain Jack.

  11. 11
    Hazel says:

    Rose, I would guess that the majority of posters on Whedonesque are not as young as you think.

    My problem with Dollhouse is that the episodes that concentrate on the motw (mission of the week) have, to my mind, been poorly written and have not done justice to the weighty themes underlying them.

    I short, I agree with The Angry Black Woman.

  12. 12
    hf says:

    So, what problem do you see with Dollhouse? I don’t understand because you say you don’t need to see a show point an arrow at a character and scream, “This person is BAD OMG, hate hiiimmm!” as if the Whedon show in question never did that, and yet we couldn’t ask for a clearer example than that rich asshole looking forward to raping Mellie’s “active” again. That implies a strong indictment of the Dollhouse. It’s not subtle, in fact it seems anvilicious. But you talk as if you thought the show didn’t make this message clear. If you meant to say something else (like Hazel’s complaint, which makes more sense to me) then I don’t get it.

  13. 13
    hf says:

    Hmm, that should read Sierra instead of “Mellie”.

  14. 14
    Charles S says:

    hf,

    I thought that abw’s point was rather clear:

    Joss Whedon has not yet earned my trust. Therefore, I don’t read all the good intentions into Dollhouse as other fans do. Even without trusting him at the outset, Joss still could have earned my trust by the way the premise was handled. He didn’t, he hasn’t, and I refuse to give it to him just because he created Buffy and Angel and Firefly. I don’t owe him anything.

    The premise of the show is fantastically ugly, and really easy to do very, very badly. Unless you trust the show creator to thread the many needles required to do a good job of it, it is a cringe-fest. The fact that the early episodes were wretched does not inspire trust, so unless you had a lot of trust in Whedon banked to start off with, there is no reason to trust that the show isn’t going to eventually do any of the different horrible things it could do (really, the premise is vile enough that if the show ends up being a moderately interesting muddle, it would be a pretty horrible show- a soap opera about the personal dis-satisfactions of a bunch of human traffickers, spiced up with a bunch of sex-ay sex slaves). My housemate refuses to watch the show because the first episode was so painfully “sex-ay,” and it isn’t as though it has noticeably improved on that point (although I guess last episode was actually lacking in sex-ay outfits, as far as I can remember).

    The show requires us to have a great deal of sympathy with characters who are human traffickers, and tv shows have a very hard time not making their sympathetic villains nice (particularly when the sympathetic villains get a big share of the screen time and plot because the main heroes basically lack agency). Yes, the show has given us some single episode villains with giant pointing EVIL arrows, but that only makes it more likely that the show will try to make the sympathetic villains nice.

    I have a lot more trust in Whedon than abw, but not enough that I can’t see what is very wrong about the show if you don’t trust the creator to succeed in making it good.

  15. 15
    tabatha atwood says:

    Yes Charles good description- cringe-fest. That is what I feel, thank you. I did expect subtlety – I did expect respect- I never was fearful with Buffy or Angel or Firefly I trusted there but here I am always uncomfortable in a- the oppresser has his hand on my collar kind of way. Mr. Whedon has over reached and it is not pretty.

  16. Myca, the varying reactions I’ve gotten to my assertion that the Doctor is a jerk say to me that the kernel of that is subtle enough that a majority of people aren’t getting it. or, at least, they are overlooking it because he is the hero. YMMV

    Rebecca, I guess I give the DW writers credit because that scene in Journey’s End seemed so explicit to me — like RTD was screaming LOOOOOK what I did thar!

    Rose, I don’t what universe you live in, but I’ve never been under the impressiont hat Whedonesque posters were by and large under 18. Under 18 when they STARTED posting there maybe, but sure as heck not now. Also: where in that post did I ever, ever imply that people who like Dollhouse enjoy rape as entertainment?

    Elizabeth Anne: I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Stephen Moffat loves him soem Mary Sues as well. I have no doubt that when his reign begins we will see the equivalent of companion-as-mary-sue just as readily as we did with RTD. Think about it:

    Girl in the Fireplace: French Mary Sue
    Blink: Sally Sparrow Mary Sue
    Silence in the Library: Alex Kingson as a smashing Mary Sue (I know the Doctor’s real name! I’m the specialist companion that ever specialed across time!)

    Even The Empty Child has Jack-as-Mary-Sue, though it was RTD’s Mary Sue.

    I see no end to this when Stephen takes over, especially as it has been promised that Doctor’s daughter Mary Sue will be making a comeback — god help us all.

  17. 17
    Froth says:

    Well, we might see no change in Mary Sue presence, but we ought to get some better plots. RTD can do beginnings and middles, but he can never think his way out of his own set-up, so it’s all deus ex machina. Tinkerbell Jesus was a perfect example. He could have had the humans freeing themselves from the Master and saving the universe; instead, everyone believed in fairies and the Doctor got to be special. Again.
    Unfortunately, new Doctor Who is a perfect demonstration of why you shouldn’t give the fanboys control of the show, and Moffat is over-the-top a fan as Davies.

  18. 18
    iiii says:

    Somewhere in the middle of the first Eccleston season it occurred to me that when a man romances a girl one fifth his age, we don’t call it “romance.” We call it “pedophilia.” And with Rose being one *fiftieth* the Doctor’s age, well… I had trouble watching their great love story after that.

    Dollhouse, on the other hand, I’m having no trouble with, because all the self-serving justifications from the human traffickers have sounded to me like the writers meant them to be transparently self-serving. I don’t feel like I’m being required to sympathize with the slavers; I feel like I’m being invited to judge and condemn them.

    I do think you’re right, though, that my reaction is dependent on my assumptions about Whedon’s intentions.

  19. 19
    Maia says:

    I guess I’ve made my opinion of Dollhouse pretty clear. Although not so clear that I don’t understand why not everyone’s going to love it (except those Neilsen families, they should all start watching it). But there are a couple of things I don’t understand about this post.

    The first that you centre intentions (and seem to assume that other people’s reactions are centred on intentions)

    Dexter earned my trust based on the strength of the episodes and writing. Joss Whedon has not yet earned my trust. Therefore, I don’t read all the good intentions into Dollhouse as other fans do

    That’s making a lot of assumptions about how other people react to media. There are things that I see, and love in Dollhouse, that I’m very sceptical got there deliberately. I think appreciate whether or not they’re intended (I think, influenced in part by the post that has arleady been linked to, that all the non-dolls characters reflect a common way of the powerful of justifying/responding etc to their role in maintaining that power. I think that’s a really powerful statement. I’ve no idea if that’s deliberate). I think writers can understand things in their writing that they can’t articulte in their politics). Arguing about the intentions of the writers seems to me to be ultimately futile.

    I understand that the show doesn’t work for you, different things resonate for different people (I can’t stand Dexter). But it seems to me in this post you’re doing the reverse of what bothers you about the (annoying) responses on Whedonesque, because you are theorizing about the way other people react to the show, rather than responding to their reactions, or talking about your own. The idea that people like dollhouse because they want to like dollhouse, is the mirror image of the idea that people don’t like Dollhouse because they don’t appreciate its subtleties. If you have a problem with people theorising your reaction, then it seems strange to theorising other people’s reactions. Either it’s a reasonable response or it isn’t.

  20. Pingback: The crux of Dollhouse « fuzzytheory

  21. 20
    hf says:

    What Maia said. My interpretation comes from what I see on the screen (starting with the cage, I think). My expectations for the show stem from that, plus the fact that by the laws of storytelling this can only end in one of two basic ways (assuming of course that Fox lets it get there). I doubt they’ll go with ‘everything sucks’, or ‘hooray for rape’ if you want to read it that way.

    One could reasonably doubt the committee’s ability to make it work as a whole. But I don’t understand from the post or from the comments on the video what you could possibly be seeing so far. I mean, “single episode villain”? For the love of Eris, people! Even if we had reason to think he would never appear again, even if he hadn’t closed with that line about the future of the Dollhouse (Writers: Look At What We Did Thur) he sounded like the reason Sierra is even there! Did they give us a contrary summation of the Dollhouse anywhere, maybe in some episode that I missed? The closest I recall was DeWitt claiming to have bought Echo while playing Hellgirl, which doesn’t seem like a big endorsement.

  22. 21
    hf says:

    My knowledge of Joss does influence this in at least one important way, though: I know he doesn’t seem at his best with beginnings.

  23. 22
    hf says:

    In fairness, I can imagine someone taking the You’re Watching The Dollhouse promos as a summary of the show, and those do seem wrong on an anime level.

  24. 23
    Radfem says:

    I tried. I just never got past the really poorly done first couple of episodes and I’m not really much of a fan of Eliza what’s-her-name. To each his or her own, I guess.

  25. Maia, as you’ll note from the original post, much of what I had to say was in direct reaction to posts on Whedonesque in which people’s reactions to Dollhouse are very largely based on the intent they assign to the writers and/or their own feelings about Joss and his intentions and ideas. This is largely unavoidable given Joss’ constant reminders that he is a Feminist, gosh darn it, and his shows are meant to reflect that.

    Of course there are people who have opinions on Dollhouse, even favorable ones, that aren’t based on the intentions they perceive. That still does not belie my point.

    Because I have seen plenty of reactions to Dollhouse both on Whedonesque and elsewhere that are clearly and explicitly based on the viewer’s perception of Joss’ intent or the intent of the writers. Big example right here. Everything in my post is in reaction to these specific kinds of reactions and statements. It’s not about everyone who ever watched Dollhouse ever and their reasons for doing so.

  26. 25
    hf says:

    OK, again, what do you see here? The post that attacks Dollhouse does so using a statement from outside of the show.* The author of the first comment interprets that statement differently based on the show to date, and explicitly denies trusting Joss because of Buffy.

    Back in the comments to the rape video, its creator mentioned that the show avoids the word “rape” and claimed it expects us to ignore the issue most of the time.** The comments at Whedonesque didn’t start by talking about “subtlety”, except as a polite way of saying that you shouldn’t need to hear the actual word. Nor did they start by discussing Joss, but by pointing out the glaring implications of what we’ve seen on the screen.

    Now, after a while we do get people in that thread claiming not to see rape. (I say “claiming” because they do not seem to know the legal definition. The issues they raise have no bearing on the question according to the case of Possessed Israelite v Legion. I see someone else made this point later in the thread without the fake precedent. ) It does get confusing after a while, but I want to make two points here: first, the claim initially met a response of ‘dude, wtf?’ And second, I don’t see anyone denying rape because they trust Joss. We do have AlanD couching an argument in similar terms, but the argument depends on a false dichotomy and some strange notions about rape and storytelling, rather than trust in Whedon’s feminist credentials.

    *Topher seems like an ‘author insert’ in the style of Alan Moore’s dirty old untrustworthy occultist from Promethea, who makes money he does not necessarily deserve because (mainly through the work of others) he happens to be in the right place at the right time.

    **The second part at least points to a real problem: we don’t need filler episodes for a show that might just get one short season.

  27. 26
    hf says:

    Indeed, Alan seems to say that he rejects the rape interpretation because, for some reason, he thinks Joss would not bring in a feminist viewpoint. And I think he had to distort the evidence in order to say this.

  28. 27
    Maia says:

    OK, now I don’t understand what your criticism is. Because that thread that you linked to was a discussion about intentions, but the discussion of intentions started in the post itself, which critical of the Dollhouse (the statement that the show wants us to like Topher). And as hf says, the author of the post that was being quoted in the comment you linked in, specifically states that she did not like Buffy, and so while she is arguing from intentions, those attentions are not based on previous good will she had towards the creator.

    This, incidentally, is what Joss said about feminism and intentions (yes, its’ from Whedonesque:

    I wasn’t going to touch the whole feminism debate, but I’m wacky sometimes. All I’ll say is this: what I say about myself and my intentions should have nothing to do with your experience of my work. As Hitchcock said, “Trust the tale, not the teller.” Some ‘feminist’ works reinforce stereotypes, some ‘exploitive’ works provide textured kick-ass female roles. Mostly everyone does both. If you view a piece solely from the perspective of the writer’s INTENTION — or one specific part of that intention — it’s harder to have a true response to how the work makes you feel. In this age of total disclosure (you know EVERYTHING about the shoes now!) that kind of pure watching is hard to come by. PITFALL is a startlingly bold Noir from a feminist viewpoint, but does that make Andre DeToth a feminist director? I don’t know, but I do know it was much more exciting finding that movie without any preconception of what the writer or director intended. I have tried to hide in my work, and even bloging on feminist issues felt like a dangerous trap for me because once I take a stand as a public figure, that purity of watching is gone. Let the debate about me rage on: “I don’t care what you think, as long as it’s about me” — yes, I just quoted Fall Out Boy — but that debate should really ignore what I say in these, my morning-cup-of-tea postings. We are only the sum of our actions. Or our art.
    So, in summary: please ignore me/pay attention to me, and judge my work on its own merits unless it has none in which case give me a pass ’cause I said I was a feminist.

  29. 28
    Ann Q says:

    Y’know, I’ve never watched this show, but just from skimming over the reviews I’m not sure why any feminist *would* watch this show. If it really does contain as much violence, rape, and general victimization as it appears to, I don’t care what Whedon’s intentions are, I don’t want to watch it. What’s the appeal?

  30. 29
    Myca says:

    I’m not sure why any feminist *would* watch this show. If it really does contain as much violence, rape, and general victimization as it appears to, I don’t care what Whedon’s intentions are, I don’t want to watch it. What’s the appeal?

    Because it exists to discuss rape and ‘programming’ in a science fiction context so that it might better shed light on the same sorts of issues in a non-science fiction context.

    Or at least, that’s a big part of what I take from it.

    —Myca

  31. 30
    Maia says:

    See and that’s a question I don’t understand Ann Q. Why wouldn’t feminists be interested in stories about our oppression? Stories of oppression and resistance are the ones that I think are most powerful, and that I’m most interested in. Even stories of oppression that depict only minimal resistance are, I think, more important than stories that elide oppression’s existence.

    I think what muddies the issue a little bit when it comes to depictions of rape in the media, is that most depictions of rape are not telling stories of oppression, but instead they are using oppression to tell stories about somethign else (and often at the same time tell lies about rape).

    But I think the answer to why a feminist might be interested in a story about rape is obvious.

  32. 31
    Ann Q says:

    If I want stories about oppression, I’ll read the news. I don’t feel a need to add fictional stories to the list of horrific things I already know exist.

    Okay, maybe that’s a humorless and strident answer, but it’s pretty much true for me. One thing that bothers me is the same thing you comment on:

    “I think what muddies the issue a little bit when it comes to depictions of rape in the media, is that most depictions of rape are not telling stories of oppression, but instead they are using oppression to tell stories about something else (and often at the same time tell lies about rape).”

    So many times these fictional stories don’t address the issues in any meaningful way, but just add to the background noise already there. To me they’re like reminders of what can happen to you because you’re (choose one or more: not white, not male, not straight, not thin, not rich, not Christian). I have no desire to add more of that to my life.
    But as I said, I haven’t seen the show. The talk about it I’ve read on this blog doesn’t bring across any real sense of resistance or victory by the oppressed, or mercy or guilt from the oppressors, so it sounds like just another TV victim-fest. No thanks.
    If in fact the show depicts oppressed people coming to power, that would be more interesting. There was a period in my life when examining such stories was very important to me; now I’m focused on other things – living my life now that I’ve reclaimed it. For me, continuing to focus on these stories would be giving power to history that doesn’t deserve it.
    I understand your answer, and I’m glad feminists are keeping an eye on this show, so to speak, but I also wonder if rapists out there are watching and taking notes. That doesn’t mean I’d censor the show, but it is one of my reasons for ignoring it and choosing to do something else.

  33. 32
    Myca says:

    The talk about it I’ve read on this blog doesn’t bring across any real sense of resistance or victory by the oppressed

    Hm, how odd. In my view, the resistance of the oppressed is pretty much the entire focus of the show.

    —Myca

  34. 33
    Radfem says:

    Why wouldn’t feminists be interested in stories about our oppression? Stories of oppression and resistance are the ones that I think are most powerful, and that I’m most interested in. Even stories of oppression that depict only minimal resistance are, I think, more important than stories that elide oppression’s existence.

    I can understand this and agree especially with the resistance but it’s not “feminists” or women who aren’t feminists that are telling the stories. They’re being told about women.

    There’s not enough of women telling stories themselves on television especially FOX. Too often they’re still told through the lens of a guy.

  35. 34
    Charles S says:

    In my view, the resistance of the oppressed is pretty much the entire focus of the show.

    I think that is more a matter of your view than it is a matter of the show itself. To me the show seems pretty unfocused. I think the self-delusion and the emptiness of the lives of the oppressors gets a lot more script focus than resistance of the oppressed. I’d say there have been two episodes that substantially focused on the resistance of the oppressed (the drug induced memory glitch episode and the subsequent fake escape episode). All the other episodes have a small amount of the oppressed vaguely struggling for self-awareness, but not much in the way of resistance. The ability of the dolls to form half-aware friendships is a major victory for people who have been reduced to hollow shadows of themselves, but it doesn’t exactly constitute resistance.

    The conditions of oppression in the show are so totalizing that effective resistance is pretty much not an option. Instead of resistance, we get rescue, and even that is undercut.

  36. 35
    Ampersand says:

    I think there’s reason to think the intended focus of the show is the resistance of the oppressed.

    There are two problems with this: First of all, the show’s planned story arc is, it seems likely, much longer than the half-season they’ll actually get to do. (I’m assuming Fox won’t renew, although I’d be delighted to be wrong.) So we’ll be left with about the first tenth of what I imagine they had in mind.

    Second of all, even if they had five seasons (or whatever), intention doesn’t always determine how things come out. Remember when the creator of Battlestar Gallactica (recent version) said that his intent was that the civilians matter as much, and be right as often, as the military?

  37. 36
    Charles S says:

    I don’t think the intended focus matters much in comparison to the actual focus, particularly given that the intent of the show is likely to never be realized even partially. In the actual show as shown, I don’t think that resistance to oppression has been the main focus of the show.

  38. hf:

    The post that attacks Dollhouse does so using a statement from outside of the show.

    And yet that statement was made on record about the show by the show’s creator. I think it most definitely counts.

    The author of the first comment interprets that statement differently based on the show to date, and explicitly denies trusting Joss because of Buffy.

    And yet her reactions to the show are still based on an intent she ascribes to Joss. She doesn’t have to have liked Buffy in order to give Joss the trust I am denying him.

    What I see there and in other places is people reading intent into the show that has not, as far as I can see, been explicitly stated. I do not read that same intent because I don’t give the creators that benefit of the doubt. Giving the benefit of the doubt does not require that one liked Buffy. I liked Buffy, I’m still not giving.

    The thing you’re not getting here is not that I object to people assigning intent to the writers — it’s completely natural. What I don’t do is assume the positive intent many others have.

    Maia, you don’t understand what my criticism is? Then I will attempt to be even more explicit than heretofore:

    I think Dollhouse is an extremely problematic show that normalizes rape and isn’t as feminist as many who like the show and apologize for it seem to think it is. they apologize for it on the basis of their belief that the creator and writers intend it to be feminist, btu I often find their justificatiosn for this to be flimsy at best. I feel that often they’re seeing what they want to see in order to make watching the show okay.

    I don’t think that these people think rape is okay — rather they seem to mostly think that the show does a better job of NOT normalizing rape and making a forcible commentary about rape in the negative than I do.

    This does not apply to anyone who hs ever watched the show ever. It applies to a lot of the people I’ve come across on these here internets.

    Better?

    Additionally, as Joss says that intent doesn’t matter, results do (a sentiment I highly agree with) I’m going to say that the result of Dollhouse is that there is a lot of icky rape on my screen once a week which harms the overall conversation about rape, victims, oppression, power, and how these all impact and relate to women. Plus, a lot of the time it’s not well written and the lead’s acting is middling to terrible.

  39. 38
    Maia says:

    I’m with Charles that intent doesn’t matter. Joss intended for the Dollhouse to populated by a wider range of ages and body types than it is. Which means nothing.

    But as to the resistance of oppressed, I’d agree that it’s not been the focus of most of the episodes. But because oppression depicted is show total, any form of agency is resistance. Victor/Sierra was resistance (and better be resistance again in the second season, which better happen), Echo and Sierra’s friendship is resistance, any conciousness from any of the dolls is resistance. What I find so awesome about resistance in the Dollhouse is not that its victorious, but that it’s continuous – it’s a wave, and waves keep coming.

    Although Charles I don’t think any idea has been as thorougly undercut as rescue, both in Needs and the latest ep.

    Ann Q – I don’t think your answer is humourless or strident – I just think we want different things from our fiction.

    Amp – no talking about the ancellation-cay – you’ll jinx it.

    Radfem – I’m not claiming that the Dollhouse’s portrayal of rape is perfect (readers of my reviews will know that I’ve had many issues). I’m not sure I agree that the identity of the author is necessarily a problem (the depiction of rape that I find most problematic was written by a female writing team). The Wire, which focuses oppression almost to the complete exclusion of resistance (and has so manhy prpoblems from a feminist perspective) was written by white middle class guys.

    the angry black woman – clearly we disagree about Dollhouse. I still don’t understand why you framed your position around intent. Or why you think that intent must be explicitly stated. Or the relationship you draw between someone’s understanding of intent and their view of the creator. I think it’s just as likely that people are reading intent with what they see (and I think that’s certainly true of the long article linked to). For example, I think it was the intent of the first season of BSG to draw parallels between Cylons and Al Qaeda, and that the purpose of the end of Season 2/beginning of season 3 was to undercut ideas about terrorism. I know nothing about Ron Moore – I am reading the intent from the text, I could completely wrong. But I’d feel confident ascribing that intent to the text. But I think if we talk about this much longer we’ll probably be going into areas of literary theory that I don’t know much about.

    I could argue at great length about the result/effect of Dollhouse, but I’ve got a review of Briar Rose to write, and it’s not going to be short.

  40. 39
    CassandraSays says:

    Thank you. I never did buy the idea of Saint Whedon of the TV Feminism so it’s nice to be reminded that I’m not the only one.

    Not watching Dollhouse, though. Sorry, but the basic premise is sufficiently nauseating that it would take a really talented writer to pull it off in a way that isn’t merely creepy and awful, and I just don’t believe that Whedon has the chops. Or a healthy enough attitude towards women in general.