Monday, March 18, 2013

Dollhouse - Week 8

There are two articles today, and we are well into the middle of the second season. These are critically acclaimed episodes and mark the beginning of the “rush to the end” that seems to occur with this series.

I’ve written a paper that suggests similar things to Deritter’s essay, that masculinity (in particular, that of Topher) is problematized by his continued “flusteredness” (his deteriorating mental state throughout the series). Madness is a feminine characteristic, primarily in the arts.

The author here is right to identify the Supergirl type in Whedon shows, as well as the emasculated (lovable) male (she even identifies Topher here). So, then, what of the crisis of masculinity that occurs in Whedon’s shows?

Does Dollhouse show a different kind of masculinity (a possible option) rather than a failed (conventional) masculinity?

Souza asks, “Why would so many characters and audience members continue to trust in such a man, given all this?” (206) This is supposedly the question after seeing Boyd working for an organization that he seemingly despised every week. The question is ultimately one we could ask of the show as a whole: why did/do we watch it? Who do we root for?

This is, to me, why the show failed. Because it is a hard show.

For PW: The following weeks have a single reading for each week. If it works, we can continue with 2 readings and finish a few weeks early.

1 comment:

Phil Wiebe said...

I'd like to read your paper. I've been watching the videos of pop culture criticand feminist Anita Sarkeesian and her foil internet commentor 'The Amazing Atheist,' so someone it's hard to believe that the hegemony of academia is still publishing essays like the ones in the course text. It seems that every portrayal is somehow a negative, unfair, or sexist portrayal, and that to use the gendered frameworks and codes that have informed the arts is to somehow buckle under to ideology. Art should be judged on its excellence, not by how much it panders to a certain ethics, but that's an aside.

For example, Whedon earns praise as a pro-feminist writer who subverts sexist cliches. However, the Supergirl trope may portray women in a positive light, but it nonetheless subjects them to a 'code' or 'type;' meanwhile, if the 'weak' aspects of the male characters were applied to to female characters they would be 'sexist' or 'offensive'. I think Joss is praised for doing things differently rather than for achieving some kind of gender equilibrium in portrayal.

I'm not familiar enough with Buffy and Angel to provide a critique, but in Firefly and Dollhouse, I'm not sure if you can locate a central crisis of masculinity. Each character had a flaw that either resulted in being too 'manly' or not manly enough.

Mal: impulsive, stubborn (too manly)
Wash: easily controlled, weak (not manly enough)
Jane: violent, ignorant (too manly)
Simon: sexless, dainty (not manly enough)
Book: strict, patriarchal (too manly)

The male characters of Dollhouse are a bit harder to delineate in terms of manliness, since there isn't as much of a 'core cast' through the series and most of the men have both manly and not-manly characteristics.

Topher: awkward, childish (not manly enough) / arrogant, narcissist (too manly)
Boyd: conservative, overprotective (too manly) / passive, sympathetic (not manly enough)
Alpha: violent, manipulative (too manly) / neurotic, affirmation-seeking (not manly enough)
Paul Ballard: relentless, messiah complex (too manly)

I think that Whedon calls into question the very notion of a unified, conventional masculinity by showing that masculine precepts are often contradictory. However, I think we may be able to see that each character's fatal flaw is rooted in their 'maleness' - whether this is deliberate on the behalf of Whedon or an organic feature arising out of there essential status as men is up for debate.

Why did I watch Dollhouse (beyond pragmatic reasons)? Because I wanted to see how it ended. Who did I root for? Honestly, my favourite character was Topher. It was a hard show because there were no good guys, no real redemption, and no happy endings for anyone. We just got to watch the world of the Dollhouse slowly fall apart.