Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Fox's Dollhouse... and Subjectivity

Well, my blogging has been light lately, and I wish I could blame it on extreme productivity in some realm of my life. But no, mostly I've been watching TV.

Among my new TV interests is Joss Whedon's Dollhouse. Yeah, it's a show on Fox. Yeah, it's some fairly trashy drama. But it's also really entertaining and well...thought provoking? To the extent that some cheap scifi drama can be thought provoking.

Here's the premise (trailer after the jump, for those who want to know more): A business for the super wealthy rents out human beings as play things. I guess it's a little more complicated than your run of the mill sex business. For one thing not all of the clients want sexual partners. And for another, the workers themselves aren't remotely conscious human beings with even the slightest amount of agency. They're what the employees of Dollhouse call "Actives," humans who have had their entire memories and personalities and consciousnesses(?) erased from them. They're blank slates. Then when a client needs a person for some task, the techs at Dollhouse download a pre-fab personality onto the Active to fullfill the client's needs.

So here's an observation about the show, related to some discussions we've been having here lately.* The experience as a viewer is really interesting, considering this is a show with characters who are also blank slates at times, in other words, characters who become non-characters. When we see these Actives, most of all our main Active called Echo (cute name for a hollow person ready to be told what to do/say, right?), in their Tabula Rasa state, it's hard to feel much for them. They're hardly human. They aren't subjects, and it's hard to relate to them, to humanize them, to care at all about them as characters.

But when they're activated, when they have a personality embedded, even though as a viewer we know this is a total fabrication/construction/artificial, we do care about their fate. That subject has to be created to evoke any care about the fate of the human body in question.

What adds more intrigue to this show is that the main active, Echo, seems to be gaining some independent consciousness or something. She's having flashbacks while in her activated state and hallucinating about herself before she had her mind wiped by the Dollhouse. Now obviously this fact adds some interesting twists to the overall plot, but I think it adds some other questions. CAN a personality be wiped? Can the "subject" be removed and replaced so willy nilly? From a narrative standpoint, can Echo only be our main protagonist because she is experiencing this ever-increasing consciousness? Would we fail to adequately sympathize with her if we didn't even have the hope that deep down in this "doll" was a static, anchored person?

I can't help but think about our conversations about subjectivity in this context. Do we need a constructed subject to be driven to create a just world in the first place (not just to fathom the idea of activism, as was discussed in previous posts, but to have any motivation to improve human conditions)?

...and more importantly, how many seasons will it take for Echo to become a full human? 'Cause I don't how many episodes I can handle of her in this limbo stage...so frustrating to see her on the brink of agency!

*Does this post seem like a stretch? It probably is. I'm probably guilty of grasping for any intellectual worth in pop culture just to justify the hours I spend consuming it. But hey, is that a crime? One must take extreme precaution to avoid crippling cognitive dissonance.

No comments: