Will Bueché

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We're in the Dollhouse

Posted in Personal by Will on Sunday, March 29th, 2009 ~ 10pm

A Whedonesque blogger, Patrick, wrote a good essay about Joss Whedon’s new tv series Dollhouse (watch it!). And although I cannot critique his comments about communism, I liked what he had to say about capitalism, particularly the line “In the U.S., one of the first questions people ask is “What do you do…?” However, I’ve always heard that question fades in importance the less capitalistic a society is. At least until you get into a caste system, which is the other extreme.” I’d welcome that kind of difference, I think.

Here is the essay. It begins with a reference to an earlier comment; just disregard that.

“So… I’d just like to point out as someone who has read “Rossum’s Universal Robots” that the robots in the story:

A) Are never identified as overtly machines in the circuits and gears sense but are simply programmable servants. Like the Dolls.

B) Are a Marxist analogy for the working class. Could Joss be pulling a bit of a bait and switch with this show? The obvious direction of the show, thematically, would suggest that it’s very much about the exploitation of women and builds on Joss’ “feminist cred”. But what if feminism is a red herring for a Marxist message?

In other words, we get drawn in with the idea of women being objectified/exploited. But maybe the mostly female cast is there partly as a red herring and partly because Joss likes writing female characters? The real message is about the exploitation of workers and, in particular, the exemplification of the capitalist/American idea that what you do for a living is who you are.

In the U.S., one of the first questions people ask is “What do you do…?” However, I’ve always heard that question fades in importance the less capitalistic a society is. At least until you get into a caste system, which is the other extreme.

Capitalism as an ideology is all about managing people’s impulses and desires by relationship and status, the idea that people’s ambitions will cause them to play certain roles that, on the whole, create a society of excellence. The spirit of individualism, which comes from the more appealing side of capitalism, pushes people to occupy roles of necessity.

However, the flipside is that in a more collectivist society, if you have a communist government, a theocracy or a tyrannical state, people also wind up occupying prescribed roles out of a kind of necessity.

Basically, any system that governs people forces roles on them. We’re all dolls, just more specialized. We learn skills and facts to do certain jobs and perform certain roles. A cop learns forensics and how to use a gun to be a cop. An artist learns painting and aesthetics and art history to be an artist. Whether by economic or political force, people tend to program themselves or be programmed for jobs or roles.

If the Dollhouse causes us to view this as sinister then maybe what Joss is arguing is basically for the idea of the classical liberal arts education, learning for the sake of learning, experiencing the world for the sake of experiencing it.

The underlying message of the show could well be, “Learn Swahili even if you don’t plan to visit Africa. Learn recipes to cook in your own home, not to get a job or entertain guests but simply to share and enjoy. Learn forensics and physics and astronomy even if you don’t fight crime or build rockets or own a telescope. Useless information is the best kind. Learn and grow for the sake of expanding your mind, not fulfilling some objective that other people or circumstances impose on you.”

Patrick | March 29, 13:25 CET

Here’s a pic from Whedon’s early hit, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This pic is famous for punning on the hammer and sickle logo. But was it only a pun?

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