The problem with Dollhouse is not that I don’t 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?
ETA: Amazing post on FeministSF about this topic. Shannan makes the point that Dollhouse expects the viewer to do some pretty heavy lifting when viewing that a lot of people will refuse to do. (Or, possibly, not consider doing because they don’t know they should be.)