Otterday, and Open Thread (now Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse discussion)

An otter juggling pebbles. What more could you want on a Saturday morn?

Please feel free to use this thread to natter about anything your heart desires, so long as it’s not the subject of an already active thread. (The bushfires are ——–> that way.)

What’s on your mind?

Update: (for those following the Whedon subthread, direct links to other conversations:

feminism + fandom = attitude problem
and lots more here: “Guys and Dolls
Karen Healey’s place
Dante and the Lobster
Echidne of the Snakes
Elizabeth Kate Switaj
Bitch PhD

Categories: fun & hobbies, Life

Tags: , ,

95 replies

  1. I recently watched the Torchwood episode “Adrift”, which basically argues that PWD and mental health issues should be locked away from society in order to protect everyone. I won’t go into more details here because I found the whole episode incredibly triggering and have been a mess ever since.
    I know other people here are actually in WhoFandom – does anyone know of any fandom-related meta that discussed the various issues with that episode? My first quick glance around found “Oooh, Jack and Ianto were having SEX!” and “Oh, how sad for Gwen” discussions.

  2. What more could you want on a Saturday morn?

    Aspirin. Lots and lots of aspirin.
    Deus Ex Macintosh’s last blog post..No iffs, just butts

  3. If we have any Linux users in the house, it’s Epoch Time/UNIX time 1234567890 Friday 14 Australian time. (UNIX and Unix-like operating systerms measure the time internally as the number of seconds since midnight, 1 January 1970, not counting leap seconds.) So there’s your geeky alternative to Valentine’s Day, there’s even parties although you’ve only got an hour and a bit to get to them from now:
    “date +%s” will get you the time in Epoch time on your Linux commandline.

  4. I have woken up again like a bear with a sore head. Turns out I’ve had some kind of UTI for a while, only I didn’t know…because I *always* get headaches, backaches and nausea for no apparent reason, so those symptoms meant nothing. And I knew I was peeing a lot but figured that’s cos I was drinking a lot of water. No pain…until very suddenly it all hit at once and I had fevers and aches and that eye watering need to pee you get after a bucket of coke and a four hour movie…except ALL THE TIME, even just after going to the bathroom. 😦
    Anyway, the antibiotics don’t seem to be working, all night I’ve been up and down with so much pain in my head that I cried. Think I ought to be off to the docs again.

  5. @ fuckpoliteness:
    ((((( FP ))))) Take care of yourself. Sounds like once you’ve seen the doc you need to settle on the couch with favourite DVDs.

  6. Well…I *need* to clean the house, and do a big shop. I think once I see the doc/get better antibiotics I’ll be ok. It’d obviously been in my system longer than we realised. Anyhoo. My one concession to today being anything ‘out of the ordinary’ is that if I feel up to it I’m cooking Rick Stein’s sunken chocolate cake using Valhrona (I don’t know if that’s how you spell it)

  7. What more could you want on a Saturday morn?

    Well, coffee in bed would have been nice, but alas, we stayed up too late watching Battlestar Galactica, and by the time we woke, the day was well underway.

  8. @ Anna,
    I haven’t seen every Torchwood episode and your summary isn’t ringing any bells for me, so I can’t comment on it. This may mean that I have seen it and was just oblivious to the points you found triggering, in which case I will need to confront my able-bodied privilege on it.

  9. It’s the one where Gwen discovers the rift works both ways and that large numbers of people have gone missing.
    Deus Ex Macintosh’s last blog post..Deadbeat Dad at 13

  10. What more could you want on a Saturday morn?
    Aspirin. Lots and lots of aspirin.

    And more sleep.
    Moving from Brisbane to Melbourne – final flight is today.

  11. @ Deus Ex Macintosh:
    Yeah, I just checked a plot synopsis on Wikipedia and I haven’t seen it, I’ve only seen the YouTube fragment of the “zomg jack and ianto sex!” moment.

  12. I think that in “Adrift” the idea was supposed to be that these people had been so badly damaged by experiences beyond the realm of current knowledge that niether Torchwood nor anywhere else had the resources to help them — which is not to say that the subtext wasn’t completely horrible and ableist. One has to wonder why Jack didn’t even put some paint on the walls. At the same time, though I think there is a level on which we are supposed to find a lot of the things that Torchwood (especially Jack) does deeply disturbing.

  13. *nodnod* Beppie, I think that was their aim, but they did such an awful job of it. And it left me wanting to kick Jack in the shins a lot.
    I’ve found a bit of meta on it (I’m afraid I don’t have the link handy as I am now at the library) that talks about things like how it may have been helpful to Jonah to have his mother involved in his life, how some paint on the walls could have been helpful, stuff like that, which helped, but I must admit, having read a lot of meta about other social issues as presented in Torchwood, I was rather disheartened to not be able to find anything in the usual fandom spaces talking about this.
    Ah well. It’s Spring Break here next week. Maybe I’ll write a post about British Television’s tendency to present PWD as Horrible Tragedies. (It would perhaps be a better essay if I could come up with examples other than Torchwood and Merlin, though.)

  14. Anna — I agree, that the episode is flawed in what it does. Sometimes that I am so used to seeing things as problematic when your average viewer tends to just accept it passively. And I will admit that my own initial response to the episode was coloured by privilege that allowed me to diminish what was happening — I acknowledged it as problematic, but then basically dismissed that in favour of discussing other aspects of the episode.
    As for the PWD as tragedies thing– there are plenty of examples from Doctor Who– Davros, the Cybus industries guy, Max Capricorn from “Voyage of the Damned”.

  15. Migrainey, or I’d have more to say on DW and PWD…I’ve not watched the episode of TW in discussion, though, so I can’t really comment. I like what Beppie said about how we’re supposed to find disturbing what Jack and Torchwood does, but I fear some of that goes over the heads of the casual viewer. Mostly because then Jack and Ianto did sex, and so much for critical thought.
    Generally speaking, I think PWD and those with mental illness are badly portrayed on screen in general, much lacking in shades of grey. There’s a whole rant in me on OCD in the media that’s never gotten written.

  16. In other news, my taping of Dollhouse just finished. Early talk is mixed, and anyone who cares to see me rant on about Joss Whedon’s constant assertion of his allyhood can find that over Attitude Problem, if you haven’t seen it already.
    I don’t think the casual viewer will miss the point here, but they may not appreciate it being hammered in with a brick.

  17. Ah nuts. 10kg over baggage limit. No way are my silver platforms being left behind. Out with the toothbrush!

  18. debating whether to clean house and do other housey related errands, or go to the video store and get a tonne of dvd’s to watch in bed on the lappy… the syd weather is definately making it easier to lean towards the latter rather than the former…
    and I would like to get the house clean before someone comes round to see the room for rent…
    Ah decisions…

  19. Well, from a picnic that got rained out, to women saying ‘what’s the fuss over a rape game?’ (another reason I don’t support the site) to more news that a relative has got a hospital appointment for suspected cancer… I think Sunday might just be hide and wait until the world is over and done with and it’s Monday instead.

  20. ~sending out good vibes to Dwt… and hopes she has a weatherproof hidey hole to wait out in until Monday…~

  21. Bene~ I recently found the viral AVR game related to Dollhouse and got very bad vibes off of it. the first few videos are of a girl rooting around in a storage container, being locked in, finding the camera and pleading for help. A lot of creepy kidnap/voyeur vibes in there and being connected to a show about human trafficking isn’t making it any better…

  22. The first episode of Dollhouse is up at $BIGVIDEOHOSTINGSITE, if anyone wants to see it. The first ten minutes include Eliza Dushku riding a big hot sexy motorbike, Eliza Dushku hot-sexy-dancing in a dress that would show her knickers if she sneezed, Eliza Dushku changing her clothes sexily behind a translucent screen, and her mindwipe tech declaring her to be like a virgin again.
    I’m finding Whedon’s protestations entirely unconvincing. Newsflash, Joss: if you’re trying to portray the objectification as problematic, how about not engaging in it quite so lovingly?
    The NY Times gets it right.

  23. I’ve read some fascinating damning comments online about Dollhouse so far. I think my fav was “Joss, call me when you get some new issues.”
    My ability to hunt down the episode and judge for itself is lacking, though. *sigh*

  24. Ah, no, wait I found. *fetches popcorn* I didn’t wnt to go to the archives this morning anyway. 🙂

  25. Lauredhel, thanks for the link. I’ve yet to watch…and even the feminists I know who’re keen on him seem to indicate that he may have a hard time successfully proving his point amidst the dangerous subject.

  26. I enjoyed dollhouse, but yeah, not exactly problem free by way of representation. Hell he even named the stereotype he was using in the second half of the show 😛
    I need some relax time, this week has been characterized by the major blow ups about BDSM and trans stuff for me. Bleh.
    Btw fp, I’d love to comment, but I have refused to get a wordpress login on principle (the principle being I have too many damn logins as it is kthx). I do enjoy reading though 🙂

  27. Anyone seen this on Denmark making life difficult for female Muslim police officers?
    I hope things improve for all with troubles.
    Also, I am knitting a scarf. It is a scarf of win. And writing a post about Ace from Doctor Who as a feminist figure. (Not simultaneously.) Input welcome.
    Chally’s last blog post..Happy Valentine’s, feminists

  28. Hmm…I likes me a Joss show, but I am having difficulty with the premise I have to say.
    Polerin, thanks, I *must* be able to get around that somehow? I can’t see why someone would *have* to have a WordPress account to comment…I just don’t know HOW to get around it. I tried poking around, but 99% of the wordpress hosting site is a mystery to me. I log in, I approve comments, I write posts. Hell I’m happy I can put photos in properly now.
    Chally I do like the sound of a scarf of win. I think there might be a short story in there somewhere…for someone with fiction-writing-abilities (so not me).
    I’m still hot/fevery/ill. A few mood swings last night and honestly I am kinda convinced over Teh Evil Of Valentines…had an OMG I look like SHIT on V Day freakout yesterday, followed by a ‘What no presents’ moment, and a ‘HUH?? We’re GOING TO SLEEP’ moment. Nevermind that I didn’t *want* presents, or that I’m sick and he’s had the week from hell and we’d just cooked a great meal (the ratatouille dish that featured in the movie Ratatouille – I tell you the interest from the kids in cooking it and EATING it even though it is full of veggies they OMFG HATE was staggering!) and ate cake and just enjoyed each other’s company…there *was* a feeling of “Well?? Shouldn’t there be *more*?”, and I hated that since it’s not really coming from my beliefs…but anyhow…I digress.
    I had to stop reading the article on Rapelay as it was making me both angry and ill.

  29. FP: Go to your Admin interface. Under Settings (in the left sidebar), choose Discussion.
    By “Other Comment Settings”, choose “Comment author must fill in name and email”, and make sure “Users must be registered and logged in to comment ” is unchecked. You can adjust your moderation settings on this page also if you wish. Save Changes at the bottom of the page.

  30. FP, go to Settings in the sidebar. Check the sidebar again and ‘Discussion’ should appear underneath Settings. Uncheck ‘Users must be registered and logged in to comment ‘. Get better soon. Ooh, the scarf of win does sound a bit storyish, doesn’t it?

  31. Ha! Jebus. That simple! I feel like a fool, a damned fool I tell you!! But thanks ever so!
    fuckpoliteness’s last blog post..Time for more panadol?

  32. Ace as a feminist figure…well, you can always start with bashing the Dalek over the head with a bat. I don’t know, I feel in my gut that she is but I can’t really come up with an explanation.
    And fp, feel better. Get rest.

  33. Even The Dollverse is dividing the critic’s reactions to the Dollhouse pilot into “Outright Negative” and “Fairly Positive”.
    Rumour has it that the T&A is at least partly due to the Fox network insisting on it, but we may never know.
    I don’t know; it may have been a bit less bad if Dushku’s acting and posture weren’t quite so wooden. I don’t remember her being this bad in the Buffyverse. It’s like someone once told her, “Pull your shoulders back and push your breasts out!”, and perhaps “That blank, bewildered expression really suits you!”, and she got stuck there. I could maybe give this a pass or blame this on the directing if she only assumed the woodenness in ‘mindwipe’ mode, but her characters did it also.
    Mostly, though, I blame Joss. Even the premise of the show isn’t convincing. It all feels forced and utterly humourless to me.

  34. Yeah, that’s another complaint I’ve heard a lot of, Lauredhel. I didn’t watch it yet–my local PBS station has picked up Spooks (aka MI-5 here in the US) and so I’ve been watching it when it’s on…actually DW S3 is on right now but I’m too lazy to flip back…
    Anyway, sorry, DT interlude. I’m really curious to see how I’ll react, because there are a few, a bare few, people who’ve been entirely I love this!!!1, and they’re people I respect, so that has me bewildered.

  35. I think it has the potential to be fascinating, actually. The first ep was nothing extraordinary, but I personally think the NYT article missed part of the point: it’s clear, even from the get go, that the ‘perfect girl’ and the ‘perfect roofie’ etc are precisely what are up for critique. The following, for my money, is a better engagement:
    I’m never going to disagree that there are problematic, objectifying representations of women. They’re everywhere, and sadly they’re horribly sale-able. I think it’s interesting that people attack Joss (i.e., an individual) without seeming to examine a system (including the BOOBSBOMBS obsession of FOX, as someone put it somewhere) that makes such depictions saleable (not you lot, coz I knows you are more… judicious in your disapprovin’ ;-)). But I do think that what’s interesting, even already, is that this objectification – esp. around the motorbike riding and the sneeze-dress – is not morally a-OK. It is, instead, precisely the issue that is already being interrogated via a couple of characters: is this something we should be able to do to people? What are the consequences? And for my feminist money, I think that this has effects on ideas about the production of femininity more generally: if it’s amoral to be doing this to Echo, forcing her to repeat feminine behaviours, isn’t it amoral more generally? In fact, I reckon it’s a more in-depth challenge than such usually are, because it is not that she’s being made to behave in ways she doesn’t want to – there isn’t some essence she’s having to pretend not to have; rather, she’s being made to *want* to behave in ways that fulfil other people’s desires of her. It’s a shift away from the ‘get back to the pure, unsullied essence and away from enacting patriarchally-approved femininity’ (although the story may wind up going there, because that stuff is hard to escape), and starts to ask how and why we can challenge this objectification even when people’s identities are invested in it: when who they are is precisely bound up with a desire to be, say, gorgeous like Eliza Dushku, and wear tiny skirts ;-P. At least, that’s what the concept and the first ep does for me…
    But sheesh, with you all on the wooden-ness thing. I think it’s a shame that Eliza is keeping aside her sass for her ‘pre-Dollhouse’ self, coz that’s what I liked about Faith. We’ll see whether she can live up to the showcasing the show’s meant to be. I reckon, actually, that she could prove to be the downfall of the show, and I say this as someone with a total thing for Faith-Eliza…
    WildlyParenthetical’s last blog post..Awww…

  36. That Queerty article is the second one I’ve seen today claiming that Dushku’s character “willingly” became a blank-slate human-for-hire. In the beginning of the show, they show her upset, looking trapped, and angrily shouting about having no choice. Where does the “willingly” come from?
    I agree with you that the reading you’re talking about is what Joss claims he’s angling for; I just find him unconvincing on the subject. He’s gone on and on and on before about the hot kickarse (in the literal sense) chicks in his shows, and about how sexy they are. To me, in this case, his meta reeks somewhat of the people who sell shit like whatever tired “edgy” piece-of-shit T-shirt is popular today, and then turn around to critics and claim that it’s all political and ironic and FRESH! and shit, and you just don’t GET them, and why can’t we all just have a good old belly laugh about rape and lynching anyhow?! I think he’s trying to have a bob both way, and he’s running into problems with that approach that should have been entirely foreseeable.
    “You’re creeped out? You’re supposed to be!” (see io9) is the oldest antifeminist-media trick in the book.
    If so many people aren’t “getting” the so-called feminism with Dollhouse, someone of Joss’s experience and intelligence might take a moment to consider that maybe, just maybe, it’s because he’s doing it wrong. None of it’s as new or transgressive as he thinks it is. I guess we’ll know more in coming weeks. If the rape scenes are played for hawt sexy impact, will that begin to change the minds of the people who think that he’s engaging earnestly in critique of TV objectification, I wonder?
    If he’s doing it because it makes money, then he’s doing it because it makes money. That just makes him a bloke who wants to die rich, not a feminist champion.
    As an aside: I don’t think his shows are anywhere near the most exploitative you’ll find on television. He’s copping this shit because he’s fishing for feminist adulation.

  37. I’ve left another comment over at Bene’s too, as I am too tangled to separate properly (see L’s comment above).
    He’s gone on and on and on before about the hot kickarse (in the literal sense) chicks in his shows, and about how sexy they are. To me, in this case, his meta reeks somewhat of the people who sell shit like whatever tired “edgy” piece-of-shit T-shirt is popular today, and then turn around to critics and claim that it’s all political and ironic and FRESH! and shit, and you just don’t GET them, and why can’t we all just have a good old belly laugh about rape and lynching anyhow?!
    Yeah, see, I don’t see that he’s saying it’s all political and ironic and fresh and shit. I think he’s depicting something problematic and appealing to the mainstream viewer, in order to unpack why and how it’s problematic. It would be different if the show was more unequivocally ‘whoo! how fun is this, we make people be whoever we want!’ But it’s not. It’s framed through Echo’s unwillingness to become an Active, and the troubling creepiness of her childlike ‘wiped’ state. And even when Topher carries on about being ‘great humanitarians’, we have that dude (I can’t remember his name) being dubious, uncertain, concerned, and Topher looks like a tool (granted, to me, and potentially not to everyone). The text is far too equivocal, I think, to simply be ‘ironic’ (not in the sense that I think you mean, where people say hideously appalling things then try to excuse it by claiming they were being ironic when there’s no evidence of any negotiation with the hideously appalling logic they are allegedly critiquing).
    I agree that the objectification is problematic; I’m just not sure that it’s not part of a longer arc that will negotiate with that problematic-ness, the beginnings of which can already be seen. And I do wonder why Joss’s work, unlike, say, J J Abrams’, gets people so grumpy *with him*. I don’t see the appeal for feminist adulation in the vid above, like I said over at Bene’s; in fact, what I see is someone willing to raise feminist issues explicitly in the context of Hollywood. Yes, maybe this is partly because he wants feminist cookies and yes, that’s problematic. I’m not interested in stroking Joss’s ego. But if the effect is to change the level of engagement with feminist issues in Hollywood, even a little, say by making them legitimate and even important subjects for series creators and networks to engage with, I think that the significance of videos like that goes beyond his desire for cookies. Maybe? Or maybe I’m just tired and inarticulate and de-brane-ified.

  38. WP: (this is a bit quick, about to watch BSG) I think we’re basically in furious agreement about the underlying stuff around conversations about trafficking of unwiling people, the importance of bringing these conversations to the fore, racism/ableism, and so on. I should spend more time picking out our points of agreement so that I don’t sound too argue-y, here!
    In the hope that I can make my stance clearer, it’s specifically the objectification part I’ve been talking about in this conversation, and since Joss specifically refers to it in this interview, I don’t think I’m too far off base when I say that what he is doing can be boiled down to “Hey guy, you know, we shouldn’t really objectify women, but PHWOAR, get a load of Dushku!” I think he has no credibility with the don’t-objectify message. He’s been doing it and encouraging his viewers to do it for over a decade, and about the most powerful message that comes through solidly from his work is “hey, she’s more than just T & A, but her T & A still rawk”.
    As an aside from the objectification question: I’ve seen the “willingly” misinterpretation in more than one place – a TVsquad reviewer did it also, and I haven’t gone out of my way so there may well be others. This is very telling, to me, that what is perhaps the intended audience is already quite happy to wink so that they can happily not get the message and go ahead and enjoy the pornulated stuff while telling themselves that she signed up for it willingly, so she must really want it. There’s a rape-culture issue emerging in this dynamic that is really troubling to me.
    All poorly said, because I’m tired an branefried too. BSG now.

  39. I can’t speak for anyone else, but the reason I get pissed with Joss personally and not J J Abrams is I can’t even be bothered to watch Abrams stuff. Joss tells me he’s a feminist, that he writes strong female characters. When he doesn’t do that, I feel irritated and angry because I believed him.

  40. I’ll come back to the objectification thing, Lauredhel, but I wanted to comment on the ‘willingly’ thing: yeah, maybe it’s people blinking and skipping out on coercion. Or it’s something where people think that when you sign a contract even when you’re in that problematic position of having very few options, that’s called ‘willingly’. Which to me means that the unfolding of Echo’s unwillingness might have a chance of engaging with questions of consent, and whether it’s actually entirely possible, and whether contract is ever really sufficient to consent (i.e., whether the economic conception of consent is adequate, which, thanks, capitalism, I tend to think it’s not). Anyway 🙂 Must fly – work!

  41. WP, I’m gonna be in your camp re. Joss until and unless something drags me kicking and screaming out of it. I like your phrase “the unfolding of Echo’s unwillingness”. That sounds like the kind of protagonist’s journey that might cause a lot of people to confront a whole messload of stuff that get normalized in our world. Also the kind of journey that is usually only allowed to male protagonists in fiction, and which could(?) be an allegory of feminist awakening. Haven’t seen it yet, just hoping.

  42. I think he’s depicting something problematic and appealing to the mainstream viewer, in order to unpack why and how it’s problematic.[…]
    But if the effect is to change the level of engagement with feminist issues in Hollywood, even a little, say by making them legitimate and even important subjects for series creators and networks to engage with

    I think there’s more to unpack underneath this. My intial thoughts are to think about why “‘appealing to the mainstream’ = tiny dress and T & A” and how we, as feminists, are expected to react to that (or not); and in what way is Joss’s particular choices of presentation legitimising feminist ideas?
    Who is the intended viewer? If he’s saying that he’s trying to make “feminist TV”, why does it exclude and alienate so many people who are already actual feminists? If what he’s really thinking is “fuck off feminists, this isn’t for you, this is remedial feminism for the pornsick” – I think I’d have more respect for him if he actually addressed that and said that out loud. I’ve never heard him so much as allude to this. Instead, we’re all expected to be in orlando’s “kicking and screaming” camp, sucking up the crumbs.
    There is more evidence from this Salon interview that Fox was not the one pushing the “sex it up” angle; that, in fact, Joss wanted this sexier and Fox asked him to tone it down.

    It’s kind of a combination human trafficking/whorehouse/corporate fulfillment center.
    There’s also some assassination. Actually, did we ever do that or did we just talk about it in the room? And of course the network is like, can we have more assassination and less sex?
    Fox asked for less sex?
    You’d be surprised. The networks are very prurient, especially after Janet [Jackson] decided to share with us. So the networks are like, we think this premise is hot. Just don’t show anything or talk about it. Which can be so disingenuous that it becomes offensive.
    Obviously it’s tough because — and this is the thing that kept me up nights — human trafficking in the real world is beyond heinous. What we were trying to do was create a situation in a science-fiction world where people gave themselves up for five years to the idea of, “I don’t care what happens to me. I won’t know about it. And as long as I’m not hurt, go with God. It’s fine.”

  43. I’ve added a few more links at comment 39. I’m really looking forward to someone at The Hathor Legacy taking it on!

  44. I think this is a very interesting post on Dollhouse.
    It talks a lot about BSG, but I haven’t seen BSG. (I think there are spoilers about who is a Cylon, and I suspect this is somehow important. I really fail at fandom lately.)

  45. I thought JW did not want to work with Fox ever ever again, after being screwed around with Firefly?

  46. Ok…well I just finished watching the first episode. It took me a while to get involved properly. I think that’s the first-coupla-episode wonkiness though. She did indeed ride a bike and dance in a short dress…I didn’t have any particular objection to that. I did cringe at her calling someone a ‘little bitch’ and a few pieces of dialogue that make her personality (s?) less than feminist at times. Plus the heels she could have snapped her ankle in as a negotiator.Other than that, yeah, there was a lotta ‘t and a’ for scenery in the club. The women are the focus and they are stunning. The dialogue wasn’t always sparkling and she did make me cringe when she was supposedly uber-happy in the club. But for now, I’m waiting til I see more. I *liked* people being confronted with the weight of their cavalier decisions to appropriate people’s stories/backgrounds/personalities. I *liked* an abuse victim being able to thwart her attacker, I liked the stranger questioning the ethics of implanting someone else’s memories. I thought it set the scene for some really interesting things. And I’m surprised by that, because having not watched it and read the commentary here I was fully prepared to hate it. I’m certainly not arguing against other interpretations, I just think I too am in the Orlando and WP camp, and not there because I’m duped into sucking up crumbs. I think it has potential.

  47. Um shit…that probably needs to contain a spoiler alert or alternatively be wiped to avoid spoling for others…sorry, is my fifth day of high fever, not thinking to well on stuff like that.

  48. Thanks for the links lauredhel. As much as I dislike the show, I was actually kind of impressed by the homage to A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen.

  49. lauredhel
    I think what you were saying about this being more remedial feminism (whether that’s the intent or not) is part of why the ep didn’t feel terribly interesting to me. Much more “been here, done that.” than “wow!”
    And yeah, I think he’s being a bit disingenuous. Despite getting a movie out of it, I wouldn’t be surprised if he still feels burned over Firefly (not to mention Wonder Woman) and is a little over cautious. Not just in the show, but in interviews. And the not-so-feminist-friendly press is more than happy to help him out on that one. They don’t ask him the hard questions, and he’s fine being very careful about what he says. When he accidentally lets something slip out, they are fine with ignoring it and not delving deeper.
    The bit you quoted about him wanting more sex in the show is a good example. I think that what he is trying to say is that leaving the explicit stuff out when you have the kind of premise the Dollhouse has is ickier than actually showing the icky parts and making people face them. (Whether or not he does a good job in making people feel icky – rather than selling icky as sexy is another matter.)
    However, I think that not just bc of his previous shows or bc he says he’s a feminist (ally) but mostly bc I read an interview where someone actually bothered to call him on it and that’s pretty much how he answered when they did so. Not knowing that, however, it’s really hard to tell if he’s trying to say something feminist about the network pushing sexism while glossing over the actual sexism involved or if he’s just trying to say that the network wants to have their cake and eat it too.

  50. Here’s a post on the subject from Racialicious.
    I am a fan of A Doll’s House, HHL. ‘A dolly and a dolly’s bed for Emmy. Nothing expensive; they’ll soon be broken, anyway.’ Oh, the sweet, sweet parallel. Doesn’t ‘squirrelkin’ just make you see red? Not as much as ‘Aha! Little Miss Tarantella still? More delicious than ever.’ The possessive creep.
    Do carry on.
    Chally’s last blog post..In which I rant about toilets

  51. Sorry to abruptly drop out of this conversation, all. Work is incredibly full on at the moment and I seem to still be battling jetlag. Not a happy chicken.
    So I’ll just be brief. There seems to me to be a slippage in the use of the word ‘objectification’. My understanding of that term is that it refers to the reduction of a subject (i.e., a woman, with agency and thoughts of her own and so on) to an object, usually to her body. This seems to be part of the problem with the depiction of Echo, but I think it’s going to be grounds for demonstrating that objectification is always a fantasy that cannot maintain coherence. But when, for example, Joss’s approach is described as “Sure, she’s not just T&A, but her T&A still rawk,” I’m not sure what’s actually at work: if she’s not being reduced to an object (to her T&A, if you like) then is this really objectification, the reduction of a woman to the object of her body? I’m not so sure, and particularly not if we’re talking about the entire Whedon ouvre. (As a side issue, I’m wondering why exactly her T&A rawking is necessarily a problem if she’s not being reduced to an object; Dushku, to me, is pretty hot (hotter in her Buffy days). Is that necessarily objectification? Why? Is my being attracted to her different to JW’s? What is it about appreciating how someone looks, amongst appreciating other things, that is inherently objectifying? This works in with the sex stuff. I don’t have an issue with the depiction of sex, even as I might have concerns about, say, the bodies that get reified as inherently attractive via TV and movies)). The representation of Echo is, totally, about the production of perfect objectification: the woman who really is reducible to her body (and this, allegedly, being the achievement of perfection). Yet at the same time as that’s being depicted, it looks to me like that objectification is going to be set in the context of a critique of the desire for objectification (and already is) and the equivalence of it with perfection; about the ethics of objectification. In which case, this isn’t to say that objectification isn’t being depicted, but that it’s not the only thing that’s being depicted. And that that does actually matter. I actually think the Ibsen link is evidence of this: from memory (but wow it’s been a long time), that entire story is about a woman who is constantly being infantalised and objectified by the men around her, and eventually she *leaves* because she *cannot* be reduced in that way. (On a side note, it’s part of why I think that Freud had no excuse being so conservative: if Ibsen can produce a work like that, Freud should have known better than to characterise woman as shaped entirely by ‘lack’).
    Anyway. I have rabbited on for long enough. I’m hoping to find space to put together a post on this stuff…

  52. I haven’t watched it yet, but what WP’s saying makes total sense to me. I think JW is clever enough that there’s no way you’re going to be able to tell where he’s going with the series from a single episode.

  53. Just as a last note, I think it may be too early to decide if she’s a “strong feminist character” or not. Not all strength is apparent at first, or even existent at first. I’m betting that a bit of the slate isn’t wiped clean, and that is where I’m interested in seeing what happens.

  54. To change the topic wildly:
    It is the anniversary of the birth of The Bearded One and I shall cook for him of the Sticky Date Pudding. Seeing as how I’ve never eaten/made this before, anyone have any suggestions? If not I’m going with Nigella Lawson’s recipe, which I have faith in, but anyone got any total MUST TRY recipes?
    fuckpoliteness’s last blog post..Ok, you can now comment without a WordPress Login

  55. I’ve only been skimming over the discussion here, as I’m not familiar with Whedon’s work (I swear I’ll catch up on Buffy when my thesis is done!), but this discussion at feministing raises some interesting points about the nature of objectification, even though the article on which it was based seems to be deeply flawed.
    Personally, I do not thing that simply being aroused by a visual image is objectifying the person in that image in and of itself, but I do think that our culture trains men to react to pictures of women in a dehumanising way (the male gaze, etc).

  56. I’m going to go back to my original statement, which was: “Newsflash, Joss: if you’re trying to portray the objectification as problematic, how about not engaging in it quite so lovingly?”
    And I absolutely stand by this. A necessary but not sufficient condition for him to convincingly claim that he’s all feminist and non-objectifying would be to cast more than one type of woman in a lead. Instead, all of his leads are extremely thin, athletic, conventionally pretty, and white; then we get the lingering upskirt shots just to rub it in. There are occasionally supporting-actor tokens. Tara was “the fat one” (*boggle*). Zoe was “the black one” (gack).
    If his “hey, she’s more than just T & A, but her T & A still rawk” was coming from a feminist place, there wouldn’t be a requirement to fit into a certain extremely narrow mould before he could bring himself to appreciate the other aspects. There should be a way to rawk without the T&A. This is what is missing.
    His race issues compound all of this, and I think they can perhaps offer a bit of a window into the appropriation dynamic, though it works differently. He uses East Asian imagery everywhere – Racialicious takes this apart much better than I can – without having any East Asian actors in speaking parts (with a _single_ exception, ever, that I know of.) … And then there was Kendra.

  57. I’m not going to comment on the race issues, because it’s something I’ve not really thought through, but I will comment on this:
    “A necessary but not sufficient condition for him to convincingly claim that he’s all feminist and non-objectifying would be to cast more than one type of woman in a lead. Instead, all of his leads are extremely thin, athletic, conventionally pretty, and white”
    He’s producing shows for commercial television. Just how far do you think Fox is going to let him go with female leads who *don’t* fit the thin/athletic/conventionally pretty mould?

  58. I just have to say (no, I still haven’t gotten around to watching it as my sick mum has commandeered the telly) that I would think that anyone in film and television who knows anything about gender issues would have addressed the issue of the male gaze by now, or at least noted it. Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema is the definitive base of feminist film theory.
    If this is Whedon’s stab at replying to Laura Mulvey, u r doin it rong.

  59. He’s producing shows for commercial television. Just how far do you think Fox is going to let him go with female leads who *don’t* fit the thin/athletic/conventionally pretty mould?

    If he’s doing it because it makes money, then he’s doing it because it makes money. That just makes him a bloke who wants to die rich, not a feminist champion.
    (I know, I’ve said it before in this thread, but it fits.)

  60. Also, wouldn’t Joss be a powerful enough figure by now (people will watch something just because it’s got his name attached) that he’d be given more leeway in terms of representing women than most other people?

  61. Good point Rebekka, but that is still no excuse for Joss not to wield his teaspoon if he really is the feminist ally he claims to be. I would say that he is in a pretty good position to be able to test the boundaries a bit without losing his gig with Fox.

  62. “If he’s doing it because it makes money, then he’s doing it because it makes money. ”
    Perhaps he’s doing it because that way it has an audience.
    “(people will watch something just because it’s got his name attached)”
    Not enough people, I wouldn’t have thought. I don’t believe any of his shows have rated hugely well – thus the cancelling of firefly.

  63. Well, perhaps yes, Fox wouldn’t let him do non-conventionally attractive, but Dr Horrible wasn’t produced by Fox, it was all his doing, and I can’t quite get over his constantly describing the actress for Tara as more “earthy” and how she was bigger than he wanted for the role. He didn’t have to make those comments.

  64. Just finished, and my comments still stand on male gaze.
    I enjoyed it on a conceptual level–as in, I thought it was interesting–but felt it was handled haphazardly and that the writing and acting was subpar. Any meaning I might have got out of the ideas was lost in that and the fact that the narrative plots were a distraction. Not to mention the fact that I had stereotypical tropes thrown at me right left and center (the frigid victim of abuse; the cop-types who can’t cope with letting things go; the sick serial killer who liked little girls; the hardass bitch in charge; the curious naive ‘doll’…and of course, the ever-present Joss stand-in…more to say about that later). And the whole Asian motif thing bugged me again.
    I want to know more, but I don’t know how much of it I can stand to plow through before we actually get decent information. I can think of a long list of improvements, and it’s not up to the level of writing one expects from Whedon…like he can only write well if he’s being a smartass. It reminded me of RTD and Doctor Who, like someone out of their element.

  65. Anna, have you got a link to those comments? I’ve googled unsuccessfully.
    I take your point about Dr Horrible, but given that JW funded Dr Horrible himself, and did it at just over $200,000, the main roles were going to be played by the four producers, and ended up being played by friends of JW’s who were happy not to be paid unless the show made money. That’s probably why the female lead is played by someone who had a recurring role on Buffy.

  66. If I recall correctly, they are on the DVD commentary for Buffy. I don’t current own the Buffy DVDs (weo!) so I can’t check.
    Ah, here’s something.
    If you go down to Writing and Acting there’s a more accurate description of what he said. (I think he actually describes her as more earthy at some point in the commentary, but here it describes her as more “voluptuous” than he originally wanted. It really disturbed me when I heard that comment.)

  67. Mmm. To me there seems to be an intriguing slippage between Joss and his work. There’s definitely connections, don’t get me wrong, the author might be dead but that didn’t mean s/he didn’t write the text. But (and this is partly my tiredness which seems to be making me blurry) there are a couple of points where the claim is being made that Joss’s extra-textual claims about the hotness of women who aren’t objects is being assumed to equate with the women he ‘chooses’ (scare quotes coz it’s not just up to him: audience, networks, cultural logics all play a role here) to depict in his shows. The claims about kickarse women being hot I always read as a recommendation to other straight men: ‘look guys, it’s not emasculating to like women as women, rather than only as objects. In fact, when you approach women as agents with thoughts of their own, they only get more attractive’. Maybe I’m too positive, but it’s a plausible reading as well. I’m not sure we should be assuming that Joss is making *his* ideal shows, either (and that’s not to reduce his responsibility, just to acknowledge the complexity of influences on his works).
    On the other hand, the choices of actresses… yes, of course, totally problematic, especially in relation to race. Some have let him get away with that on the basis of having had the Kaylee actress put on weight. I am not impressed with that argument. And I’m not willing to exempt him from responsibility for the preponderance of white, thin, athletic able-bodied girls on screen on the basis of the list of other influences above. But at the same time, I’m not willing to think that Joss needs to produce texts I find utterly unproblematic in terms of feminism in order to recognise him and his work as contributing to feminism. (Like I’ve said before (but elsewhere), I don’t think this is a zero sum game: there are feminist threads and non- and, yes, even anti- feminist threads in his work. These all co-exist, and I want to be able to negotiate with all of them, not with only one facet, and certainly not by playing some equation game where the feminism and anti-feminism of his texts cancel each other out. To me, this underestimates the complexity of (various) readers, and their readings). I’m not invested in declaring feminist heroes, though, so that’s not what I’m doing. And as good/practiced as I am at critique, I am not sure what an ideal or pure feminist text looks like; I don’t think we can know what that is, not from here.
    As far as the not objectifying quite so lovingly, well… yeah, maybe, that’s one way to go, although I’m not sure what that would look like. And for a show that, to me, seems to be trying to get people to invest in that objectification in order for them to be troubled by it—what you’re calling remedial feminism—yeah, using these tried and true, recognisable techniques is going to be the way to go, and it’s also going to sell it to the networks. I guess I don’t think that engaging in remedial feminism is anti-feminist, or only anti-feminist. And I do appreciate someone who is willing to use pop culture to make feminist issues the audience might think don’t affect them occur (even only for some) as part of their experience of the text (a kind of pedagogy that occurs narratively rather than rationally, as it does in the classroom). It’s a pretty intimate thing.

  68. Oh good lord. Sorry for length, everyone, how appalling. I’ll save whatever else I have to say for the post over at mine. Sorry again.

  69. Well I’m really enjoying the discussion and that was only three paragraphs! In some ways I enjoy good sci fi critique better than the sci fi itself.
    I can haz weekly Dollhouse dissection plz?

  70. Have you noticed how long my paragraphs get, though, Su? 😉
    And ooh, I could create a feature! Weekly dissection! That could be fun…

  71. Helen- oh great now I really want to hit something… nothing makes me angrier then those piles of filth being gleeful about people suffering.
    I really need to vent on something >_<

  72. I’ve been following the Bitch Magazine article on the Dollhouse pilot.
    I sent in a comment on their statement
    ”Unlike the Whedonettes who precede her, Echo isn’t in the Dollhouse against her will. “
    My comment seems to have vanished, but the article has been changed (with no visible indication that it was changed) to:
    ”Unlike the Whedonettes who precede her, Echo chose her situation. “
    All we have on this is the character’s own words, which were “I don’t have any choice”. I don’t think this point should be glossed over. Echo’s consent, such as it can be (consent is not valid if it can’t be withdrawn, of course), is non-existent if she was coerced. And all the information we have so far, including her own words, indicate that she is not there by choice. Who are we to believe if not women themselves? This is a set-up for victim-blaming.
    I think this point is going to need to be key to any feminist analysis of Dollhouse – well, any analysis of Dollhouse. Any thoughts on why even feminists are twisting or glossing over it to say that she “chose” her situation?

  73. I think a lot of folks have something very invested in Joss = Feminist. It’s *nice* to have Joss being all “I’m a feminist, love me!” because it’s nice to have someone who it feels is “on our side” in television. That there is so much praise for Joss’ feminist cred in various circles, but no equally lavish, consistent, and squee-type praise for any other (female) Hollywood feminist, makes me think part of what makes Joss awesome to a lot of folks is that he’s a man who does Feminist-Friendly stuffs.
    So, talking bluntly about how Echo didn’t really consent in the first place, and can’t withdraw consent at any point, makes things uncomfortable – especially when sex gets involved.
    I’m just speculating. I know I didn’t really like the pilot, if it were made by anyone else I wouldn’t have sought it out, and I certainly wouldn’t be wondering what tomorrow’s episode will bring. It’s not like I think I’m immune from “Joss Fangirling”, and a lot of it is because I think his characters, and he himself, has a bit of feminist cred. Although I do think there’s an influence of “And he’s a GUY!”

  74. “makes me think part of what makes Joss awesome to a lot of folks is that he’s a man who does Feminist-Friendly stuffs.”
    I think what makes Joss awesome isn’t that he’s a man, it’s that he writes. The dialogue. So good.

  75. That’s totally bizarre, if you ask me…
    There is a difference between the ‘Whedonettes’ (‘scuse me, threw up a lil in my mouth just then) and Echo. With that much, I agree. Buffy got ‘chosen’, River got sliced and diced, Cordelia got visions from a kiss. These are all depicted as either things that were done to them and are wrong, like with River, or things that kinda… just happened. With Echo, what’s different is that she participates actively in the *discussion* about whether these things should happen to her – and the upshot of this is that we know that she’s pretty obviously *not* consenting (this differs to the other Whedon women). In other words, in Dollhouse, the ‘thing done to the woman’ is situated as something proximate to other forms of consent (i.e., because there’s contract signing etc). This is kinda what I was talking about above: when we think of consent as like a contract, we run into all kinds of troubles, but contemporary culture can’t seem to imagine much beyond economic forms of relating to each other. What Echo’s resistance to signing the contract says to me is that contract and consent CANNOT be equated; indeed, these are the grounds upon which her all-too-literal objectification (the rendering of her as an object) is made troubling: even if she signed a contract, is that consent? It’s almost like a making-live of your claim above that consent is only consent if it can be withdrawn, and that it is precisely that capacity which is removed from Echo; and that fact is clearly the site of anxiety we’re meant to feel along with her ‘minder’ (I keep forgetting his name). And what is interesting about that, in turn, is that a world which objectifies women is not one to which women consent; that to me is what’s up for interrogation, and it’s what I think is promised by the series (with its already-existing ambivalence). And in addition to that, it asks how someone who has been reduced to an object can consent, and thus forces recognition that objectification, including the objectification of women, is fundamentally unethical for that reason. In other words, Echo’s position is, in some sense, the everywoman position; so as the ethics of what has happened to her continues to be queried, so does the misogyny of our world.
    As for why feminist readers are smoothing over this troublingness… I am surprised and taken aback, I’ll be honest. I suspect, though, that this is where the real problem with the feminist cookies for Joss comes in: where people attempt to make Joss always-and-everywhere *depicting* good feminism. He’s not, and he’s not doing that because a simple and straightforward depiction of women who don’t need to have struggled with misogyny (so, for example, if Echo became herself again after each ‘wiping’, and was asked for consent prior to every ‘engagement’ (although even that’s problematic itself, of course)) doesn’t really have a hope in hell of demonstrating the *problems* with misogyny. He is perfectly aware that story requires conflict; the conflict set up here is precisely Echo’s struggle against objectification, where her lack of consent appears not to matter. To me, that centres her struggle as heroic in the narrative, and situates the objectification as the big bad; therein lies in the feminism. This to me is what seems to happen with Joss: people switch off their critical brains, and miss the real point of the story. I can’t switch off my critical brain, and nor would I want to. Besides; Joss believes his audience has critical brains. I just hope they are better engaged as the story unfolds (which I suspect they will be).
    I have to say I’m interested in the whole ‘wiping’ thing. I do think it has the possibility of interrogating our receieved notions of selfhood: that it’s a matter of essence. And to ask whether consent is too fundamentally bound up with a liberal, humanist, economic sense of subjectivity (which has traditionally been imagined through the universalisation of male subjectivity) to do justice to those whose subjectivity deviates from that, and whose consent is, on those grounds, denied. That’s my hope. It might be futile, but fingers crossed…

  76. Oh, and I commented too. Characterising Echo as consenting is really beyond the pale…

  77. The lack of good Joss-type dialog may be the main reason I found the first episode very dull.

  78. And it’s completely true; dialogue was less than sparkling, less than Joss. I am hoping that Joss will pick up as he usually does (although why on earth FOX refused to use ‘Serenity’ the pilot as the first ep, I will never know…)

  79. WP: *applause* Awesome comment.
    Bene has a new post up too: Guys and Dolls.

  80. Wicked good thoughts, WP, though I’m not entirely sure I agree with them in terms of practicality–I don’t think most of the audience has the critical mind necessary to interpret Dollhouse that way (e.g. you picked up some stuff that I didn’t see, and I’m educated in cultural analysis). I think that if your viewpoint is Joss’ reasoning and logic, then he does too much to obscure it. Whether to make it palatable for television or not, it’s like Vaseline smeared over the lens, to me.

  81. Oh, look, these are my thoughts about the ideas at work; it’s not all utterly present in the first ep. But given it’s a first ep… well, I personally think that JW is doing what most creators do at the beginning of the story: getting in the biggest audience. And he’s doing that by investing people in some pretty problematic stuff, but stuff that they’re used to being invested in, so it’s effective. I do think it’s in order to make a bigger point, which of course *can* only be made through the unfolding over a season (the whole lot just couldn’t be in the whole ep; to me this is one of the interesting things about critique of current TV series: it’s a different dynamic to when you know the entire narrative, and is why I’m arguing against people giving up on Dollhouse already/suggesting it’s utterly unfeminist and uninteresting in terms of feminism). My point is basically that getting people to invest in a series on the grounds of, say, objectification, is problematic, but that’s not a simple matter/not the only thing going on, if the series, as it plays out (and there are more than a few suggestions that it will), is precisely designed to query the ethics of that objectification. That, to me, like I tried to say above, looks like a very effective use of TV as a pedagogical tool: it means that when the ‘wiping’ of Echo (was she Caroline before? Did I miss the name, or is that spoilery stuff that made it onto other sites?) is gradually opened out as thoroughly problematic, so too is the investment that all of those audience members had in it in the first place. That’s an intimate challenge, and one, I would suggest, which is probably way more effective than rational discussion (if only because desire is always and everywhere characterised as irrational, and when objectification is made equivalent to desire… [shrug] people exempt it from rational challenge a lot of the time, usually by reference to some caveman we apparently know all about). That’s why I like what JW does with TV, turning it pedagogical without being lecture-y. In other words, he doesn’t expect his audience to have my critical reading skills, I don’t think; because he’s going to be unfolding the kinds of concerns and questions I’ve sketched above THROUGH the narrative, and through the investments we have in individual characters (e.g. investing in Ballard’s concerns about Echo, investing in the teensy bits of Echo’s uncertainty about her wiped state (like the ouchy leg), and through a slow unpicking of the ‘likeable’ Topher’s lack of ethics (I don’t find him likeable, but I can see why others do, and I think he’s designed that way) through Langdon’s anxiety about them (I *really* don’t think that Topher is Joss; nor that Wash ever was. People are weird about wanting to find the author in the text). To prove that something is problematic, you need to engage with it. But of course that will take time to occur.
    And that’s why I’ve been insistent in this thread (sorry if I was overly so; I’ve been more than a little anxious about that)… I want to point out the promise I think the show has. It might not pan out, and if it doesn’t, I’ll be more unhappy than most. But if it does, I think we’re in for some pretty interesting stuff.

  82. Oh jesus, I just can’t shut up, can I? [throws up hands in despair]

  83. WP: I don’t want you to shut up. And it’s MY thread, so ner to anyone who does. Stamp.

  84. Really quick as on this side of the world it is midnight (lovely Fleetwood Mac song, btw: isn’t it midnight, on the other side of the world…):
    I can see your point about needing to wait and development and all that. Though, I disagree about author in the text, I feel that JW goes to lengths to put himself in the text repeatedly; I also disagree about things that seem problematic now working themselves out in the future (what comes to mind first is Firefly’s issues with the American Civil War and Asian cultural appropriation).
    I enjoyed, to a certain extent, Dollhouse, and I will continue to watch, though. So that’s something.
    I will admit that I am quick to condemn JW as I am not all that keen on his motives conceptually and haven’t been for years, so I’m not unbiased and I may be looking for points of contention. That said, ‘Ghost’ (Dollhouse 1×01) was in dire need of a script editor and an additional producer to be television of the caliber everyone knows he can produce, and that really got in the way of my analysis.

  85. I have nothing of substance to contribute to this discussion except to say how much I’m enjoying it and to thank you all for sharing your thoughts.
    I watched the ep and wasn’t thrilled, mostly because of the already mentioned woodenness and lack of scintillating dialogue, but I plan on sticking with it to see where it goes.
    WP I hope you do make a weekly feature of Dollhouse dissection, if you do I’ll be there reading for sure!

  86. FP and I iz developing a plan, mim. (BTW, is now the moment to tell you, in what can only come across as creepy, that I have actually met you? 🙂 Browncoats do indeed get around, do they not? ;-))
    Oh, and Bene, the reason I think that these particular problematic things are going to become less so is that they are the central conflict of the narrative, already, as it’s being set up. (As in, we have someone expressing qualms about the Dolls, someone else expressing anti-social ‘tudes about them, Echo expressing her lack of consent, and someone describing the Dolls as ‘murdered’ and attempting to investigate them. So I think these issues around consent and objectification are central to the story. I don’t get the same sense about Firefly and the civil war, but y’know, I’m not that familiar with American history, so maybe I missed something glaringly obvious about the River storyline. 🙂

  87. WP, I’ve met a lot of Browncoats that’s for sure 🙂 When/where did we meet? (Oh gawd, it wasn’t one of those times I was making theatres full of people sing the Firefly theme song was it?)

  88. [grins] There was one singing episode, I’ll admit. I met you at a picnic in Hyde Park, and then hovered around the edges whilst the preview screenings were happening. I could add more details, but… um… other people start getting involved, and then I feel bad! We’ll probably meet again at a Hoydenizens drinks, and you’ll not remember me at all (for the Browncoats are vast, containing multitudes) 😉


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