All of us are in the Dollhouse…

Have you watched the show “Dollhouse?”

In terms of plot, I think it’s only fair.  I’m going to give it a couple more chances, but most of my faith in the show is rooted in the fact that creator Joss Whedon has done some pretty amazing work.

And also, beneath the level of plot, there’s some interesting stuff going on.

The premise of the show is that there is this organization called the “Dollhouse.”  It possesses a group of people (mostly attractive young women) whose minds can be programmed with whatever memories and personalities high-paying clients wish for.

It’s a little less dirty than it sounds.

Somewhere, (embarassingly, it might have been Entertainment Weekly) I read that Joss Whedon almost always deals in subtext and symbolism.  The writer said that “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” explored adolescent angst by turning our private demons into demons of the more traditional sort.  “Firefly” was an exploration of the broken nuclear family.  I don’t remember if the writer said anything about “Angel” but I’d suggest that this show turns Buffy’s adolescent preocuppations into a focus on young adult concerns about vocation, duty, and balancing friendships and morality against career concerns.

And so this writer was wondering about “Dollhouse”.  And I think I get it.

On some level, the show is really about how persuing our own destiny rather than fufilling the roles that others prescribe for us.   One of my early criticisms of the show is that it’s hard to root for a main character who is basically a different person on every episode.  But what  they are starting to explore is ways that elements of the main character’s original personality poke through thedifferent  memories and characteristics they give her on each episode.

The shows title cues us into this theme, I suppose.  Are these characters more than just dolls in a dollhouse?  The main character’s “name” also feeds into this idea: they call her Echo.

I think that might be the most clever aspect of the whole thing.   Because “Echo” could evoke the echoes of her own personality breaking through.  Or it could refer to the idea that all she can do is “Echo” the traits that she’s programmed with.

There are interesting questions about person-hood and our intrinsic worth running around in all this.  And this sub-text kind-of redeems the fact that the shots inside the Dollhouse look a bit like pages torn from Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Calendar. 

Is redeems the right word?  I enjoy beautiful women, so one one level I don’t mind them all wandering around with empty expressions on their faces.

But perhaps this is the point.  I don’t want to feed into the “I’m so beautiful, pity me” idea.  But there is something to all that.

Attractive young women are the ones who lives are the most like Dollhouse operatives.  We have these expectations we project onto them.  We expect them to perform in a certain way.  We try to force certain personality characteristics onto them…

It occurs to me that this show actually returns to some of the ground Whedon covered with Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  The movie that kicked the series off was pretty crappy,  but I think what Whedon was trying to do was consider this character who society tried to force into an empty, meaningless existence.  She was told that she should be a cheer leader and put socializing at the top of her list of priorities.  What she discovered was that she can resist this programming and find a world that is deep and complex and infinitely more rewarding.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

2 thoughts on “All of us are in the Dollhouse…”

  1. Sorry Jeff. This comment is not about this post. It is about your comment on SCL’s free book giveaway post. It was hilarious. I can’t think of anything to say over there that hasn’t been said, but you did! So . . . I hope you win a copy so I can borrow it. 😉


  2. Thanks… I’ll be happy to pass it along if I do. Winning a book from Stuff Christians Like would be a pretty cool redemption of that site for me. A few months back I commented on his “How Pastors are Like Super heros” Post and about 800 people misunderstood me and got all cranky. I still shudder when I leave a comment there… But he is really good, so sometimes I just have to.


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