WisCon 34 Panel: Dollhouse: Made of Win or Epic Fail?

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Panel Description: Love it, hate it, love/hate it, Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse definitely has feminist and racial issues worth talking about. What were its good points? Its bad points? Does the good outweigh the bad, or vice versa? Was it canceled too soon or not soon enough?

Panelists: Kater Cheek, Sigrid Ellis, Anastasia Salter, Charlie Jane Anders (moderator), K. Tempest Bradford

Rundown of people’s reasons for being on the panel. Anastasia and Charlie Jane both loved the show, while acknowledging that it had its problems as well. Anastasia was particularly intrigued by the show’s dissociation of identity from body. Kater loved Firefly, but got fed up with Dollhouse and didn’t even watch it to the end. Tempest watched Dollhouse because she was reviewing it for Fantasy Magazine, but she never liked it. Sigrid is mostly in the “liked it” camp, but has quite a few criticisms as well.

Sigrid explains the concept of the “Big Sexy Hospital”, a show that fans watch because they love the actors and want to see them play an essentially similar character with different notes. “Helo’s playing another big dumb hunk of meat, tries to do good and makes bad decisions.”

Someone asks how the professor (from “Belle Chose”) could afford the Dollhouse’s services. Tempest says he’s probably one of those professors who assigns a single text book to all the freshman, and there’s a new edition every year. Audience LOL.

There is a lot of ragging on Eliza Dushku on this panel, which I don’t think is really fair.

Charlie Jane asks: Was the show feminist? Was it trying to be?

Anastasia says yes, and that the treatment of sexuality was usually supposed to be harrowing. Tempest says she doesn’t think Joss Whedon’s feminism is as developed as people say. An audience member points out that Tempest already admitted she hasn’t seen a lot of Joss’s shows, implying that she might not be in a position to make an informed judgment on this question.

Tempest lists three levels of “getting it” regarding racism:

1) Totally racist.
2) I was taught that racism was bad, but it’s still there in my head and I haven’t really examined it.
3) Personal and social examination leading to true ally behavior.

Tempest says the same breakdown applies to sexism, and says she thinks Joss Whedon is at level 2. Others disagree. Charlie Jane relates an account of a conversation with Joss in which he said that we ought to root for Echo and the other dolls because they have been disempowered and are going to get their identities back.

Tempest says that there have already been enough shows that depict female exploitation, and that there is absolutely no reason to do any more. They just aren’t feminist.

A woman in the audience gives an impassioned rant about how Dollhouse doesn’t have to be a female empowerment show to be feminist.

Pretty much everyone agrees that Boyd was screwed over. His character arc didn’t make any sense, and some think his early depiction as one of the few men who isn’t attracted to Echo is kind of racist. Because of course a black man who is attracted to a white woman would be too threatening.

I gave up on trying to take notes. Too many people talking over one another, and too much annoyance at ill-informed opinions.

However, this panel featured my favorite quote of the weekend. In response to an audience member who said that Echo’s empowerment came from a man (Alpha), not from herself, Charlie Jane countered with, “Well, she had midichlorians.” A perfect summary of the show’s muddled concept that tripped it up time and time again.

About the author

Janice Dawley
Janice Dawley

Outdoorsy TV addict, artistic computer geek, loner who loves people.

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