Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Why Dollhouse disturbs me

Okay, I will admit it.  It’s only two weeks in to Dollhouse, and I am a little disturbed by the weekly rapes.  This is despite of, or more accurately because of, the way the rapes have been glossed over during the first ten minutes or so of the show.  In addition, it is made very clear that despite the action/adventure tenor of the episodes so far, that the primary role that all of the actives will find themselves in is that of a living sex doll.  With so many potential military and espionage uses for actives (programmable humans), the fact that they are mostly used as playthings for the rich is obviously a deliberate choice on the part of the writers.

Some people will probably cry foul at my characterization.  They may note that any sex that Echo has with her clients is consensual, or at least that the personality imprinted on her at the time consented.  This argument doesn’t hold much water though, as it is obvious that Echo is incapable of granting consent.  Her default personality is child like and seems incapable of doing anything except smiling and wandering around in a dazed state.  Meanwhile, her programmed personalities are tailor made to please her client, which means choice is really not part of the equation.

It might be possible to argue she signed away all rights when she signed on with the shadowy organization that runs the Dollhouse.  While I am not a lawyer, the contract she signed is obviously an illegal one.  First, she obviously signed it under duress, as she was in enough trouble that she felt she had no option except to join up.  More importantly, I don’t believe it is possible to sign away basic human rights, like the right not to be raped.  Of course, even if the contract is somehow “legal”, it still makes the actions of the Dollhouse morally reprehensible.

Still, I have a lot of faith in Joss Whedon.  The show is not attempting to present what the Dollhouse is doing as a moral, so it is probably a good thing that I am discomforted by their actions.  Also, Eliza Dushku has stated that Joss Whedon has a five year plan for the show.  This has me hopeful.  

One worry I had after the first episode was that the show could fall into a comfortable groove.  Sort of like Quantum Leap in a mini-skirt.  If that turns out to be the case, then using Echo’s programmed liaisons to “sex things up” is reprehensible.  However, if this is just an opening gambit in a five year arc, then I am a bit more willing to withhold judgment until I see where the arc is going.

So I am going keep watching and trust that there is a plan.  Don’t let me down Joss!


Scafloc said...

I agree that it is mainly a case of either "trust Joss" or "don't trust him." The rape analog is a little heavy, but required as a direct parallel to the mind wipe process it's self. That said, I was not displeased in the slightest to see Eliza in the short white dress, though perhaps my cardiologist might have words to say on that matter.

In the long term, I will personally trust Joss on this. He has gone out of his way in past productions that his beautiful heroines are all strong. Heck in most cases, they are supernaturally strong, and gifted combatants to boot. His powerless Buffy episode certainly had rape analogues (even more than the average vampire story), as did much of River's back ground in Firefly. Hell, he even wrote for Rosanne, and you didn't find a lot of knuckling under in the girls on that show (certainly not on the one I know for sure he wrote about the poetry reading).

Finally, I would like to point out that Joss has a somewhat novel approach to prostitution in his previous works as well. In the Buffyverse, there is a class of vampire prostitutes who feed the undead, often in exchange for drugs or alcohol, the supercharging magic witch guy, and probably others I am missing. I feel that the plots involved were obviously drug related on the surface, but many sexual parallels can be drawn. Less like traditional prostitutes, though more obvious, are Firefly's "companions." At least half geisha, these ladies are strong willed, and generally quite self aware. Pointedly, each crafts a persona when working (similar to an actor actually). I would direct you to look at the episode "Our Mrs. Reynolds" if you claim skepticism.

What bearing the previous treatment Joss gives to prostitution has on Dollhouse remains to be seen, but I think we can rely on it being nontraditional at the very least.

PS: Maurissa Tancharoen is also writing this, and on top of being cute as a button, was a major part of Doctor Horrible's Sing Along Blog with Joss. Combining lots of veteran cast members of his previous TV productions, this gives me even more reason to believe that good will surely come of it. Plus she is cute as a button.