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The Ethics of Dollhouse

nightshade

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Now Ill admit I've never actually watched Dollhouse all the way through, I couldn't get into it, so quickly gave up. Maybe one day!

However this post by @NeonSlayer makes me wonder what you think of how ethical Dollhouse is.

People sign their bodies over to a business in a 5 year contract but have no way of terminating the contract if they change their mind. Their memories are extracted from their bodies causing them to walk around the "dollhouse" with amnesia and when it is time to basically whore them out someone else's memories & fabricated personas are inserted into them. They have zero ability to consent since the inserted personality has control. Except the "dolls" start to become actualized people while amnesiac and the main doll Echo (Eliza Dushku) starts to remember each personality that was inserted so that ALL of the personalities are in her body at once and can't be extracted.
 

NeonSlayer

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For me, it was like watching two seasons of Who Are You. I know a lot of people love that episode but it was full of rape by fraud and walking around & having sex with someone's body without their consent and it being okay because the soul that the body belongs to isn't in it that day even though if it knew how their body was being used it would want control back.

Dollhouse proved that Joss still did not understand consent or autonomy.

Faith using Buffy's body to screw Riley is never called rape on the show and there's never a scene between Faith & Buffy talking about it.

Cordelia almost has sex while possessed by a ghost, it's supposed to be hot instead of being called almost rape.

Cordelia is possessed by Jasmine and screws Connor, it's never called rape.

Angel is possessed by Marcus and almost screws Lilah, it's not called sexual assault.

Darla screwed Angel while he slept, it's not called rape.

Buffy was seconds from having sex with RJ while she's under a love spell and it's supposed to be funny. And that's when she's still suffering flashbacks from Spike trying to rape her.
 
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WillowFromBuffy

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I think Dollhouse is a very ethically nuanced show, especially in S1. In S2, they eventually turn everyone good, but in S1, they invite the viewer to be critical. Even Paul Ballarads motivations are called into question.
 

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The whole point of the show, if you ask me, is to make people question these things. To open up the discussion on ethics, and consent and so on. Or it was certainly a part of what the intent was with the show. There's a reason people say it was ahead of its time, just look at some of the stuff that's on screen today. Dollhouse is basically fluffy in comparison to shows like Game of Thrones, right?

My love of the show isn't me condoning the consent issues, it's me being fascinated by the idea that technology may someday put us, as people, in a similar situation. My love of drama and complex characters, like Topher. I think sometimes someone takes shows like this too seriously when at the end of the day, it's just fiction. Nothing more.

I also don't find that the show in any way glorifies the events of the show. We are clearly not meant to be on Dollhouse's side, here. We are always meant to be against what they are doing to the 'dolls' and the somewhat iffy way they blackmail the people into becoming dolls. And I think that can often be the problem with the show for some people; there are those that want to see a show where black and white is very clearly defined. That just isn't the case here, just as that same line is blurry in real life.

Here's my question, and please don't jump down my throat for asking it; if Caroline knew what she was signing up for (which she did) has she not given consent by signing the contract? Is that not her signing away the rights to have her body be used whichever way they please? It doesn't make it right, but I'm pretty sure consent is very blurry in this show, due to things like that.
 
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WillowFromBuffy

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Here's my question, and please don't jump down my throat for asking it; if Caroline knew what she was signing up for (which she did) has she not given consent by signing the contract? Is that not her signing away the rights to have her body be used whichever way they please? It doesn't make it right, but I'm pretty sure consent is very blurry in this show, due to things like that.
I like Caroline, and I think she is clearly blackmailed into signing up. Sierra is a bit complex. However, November and Victor volunteer, because they need help dealing with their individual trauma. The benign facade of The Dollhouse is its most interesting aspect - DeWitt and Topher's insistent whitewashing of the organisation they work for.

I think the idea of becoming a doll is attractive in many ways. You get to forget yourself and live life as several super humans. The trade-off is that you will be put to work as an agent of a tyrannical conspiracy or you will be made an actor in someone's perverted escapist fantasy.
 
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NeonSlayer

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Marriage is like a contract but it doesn't give your husband the right to have sex with you whenever he wants. You should have the right to say no.

I hated that the guy who put his wife's memories into these women then had sex with them got to live and didn't even feel bad that he just had his way with the bodies of women he'd never met who were forced to be active participants not very different from Katrina in Dead Things. Even when someone broke in to rescue her. He went ahead with it and the next season has a nice little chat with his wife who will forever be trapped in Caroline's body.

I don't need things black & white, just done in a way that doesn't try to justify the unjustifiable. One of my favorite shows is Hannibal and the title character is a mass murdering cannibal. One of my favorite redemption storylines is Dan Scott on One Tree Hill and he shot his brother to death.
 

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I didn't mean to make it sound like I was singling you out, I really wasn't, just making a broad statement.
 
NeonSlayer
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I'm not offended. I mean, I am in that "these other fans don't share my far superior beliefs" way but not in a personal way.
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WillowFromBuffy

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Marriage is like a contract but it doesn't give your husband the right to have sex with you whenever he wants. You should have the right to say no.

I hated that the guy who put his wife's memories into these women then had sex with them got to live and didn't even feel bad that he just had his way with the bodies of women he'd never met who were forced to be active participants not very different from Katrina in Dead Things. Even when someone broke in to rescue her. He went ahead with it and the next season has a nice little chat with his wife who will forever be trapped in Caroline's body.
The way I see it, the viewer has to make that judgement for themselves. If Alpha killed Joel, it could be seen as a validation of Alpha's possessiveness of Echo. If Joel felt remorse, then it would be just another redemption arc that would inevitably trivialise his crimes.

Paul thinks Joel is a rapist. Joel believes what he is doing is harmless and accuses Paul of being a hypocritical white knight. The show presents you with this mess and leaves you to sort it out for yourself.
 
NeonSlayer
NeonSlayer
Would you have liked Dead Things to end like that? With Katrina having sex with the Trio and they just go on with their lives? It being left to the BtVS fandom on whether it was rape or not?
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WillowFromBuffy

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@NeonSlayer Dead Things does end like that. Katrina tells them they are raping her, Warren kills her, dumps her body on Buffy and feels no remorse. By the end, he is more confident and more willing to cause harm than before. Even if Warren does not get his comeuppance ... yet ... it does not mean that he is the hero of the story. Many characters on Dollhouse point out that the Dollhouse itself is abusive. Two rapists are violently killed by their victims. Topher and DeWitt eventually come to despise themselves.

And Joel himself does not die but all the other Joels that paid for time with Echo are killed by Alpha.
 
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GraceK
GraceK
Also, Echo is constantly confronting all the damage that is done to her emotionally by her imprints.

GraceK

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The whole point of Dollhouse is questioning it’s ethics. You have characters like Dewitt who have convinced themselves they are serving a greater good and helping people. You have Topher who is in it purely for the science and doesn’t question any of the morality behind it. Ballard who enters the belly of the beast to fight it from within and wrestles with his own dark impulses.

The audience is never under the impression that Rossum is good or beneficial or benevolent. Clearly they are villainous and what they are doing is heinous and questionable. Priya is the perfect example of the evil of what the Dollhouse represents. The story is seeing the characters come face to face with what they have allowed themselves to be okay with accepting due to power or greed or their own desires. What is identity? What is the soul? What happens when technology gets the hands of the wrong people? That’s what the series is about. It’s meant to make people uncomfortable.

And people fight back and take down the bad guy and there is redemption. That’s the whole point.
 
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WillowFromBuffy
/this

NeonSlayer

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@NeonSlayer Dead Things does end like that. Katrina tells them they are raping her, Warren kills her, dumps her body on Buffy and feels no remorse. By the end, he is more confident and more willing to cause harm than before. Even if Warren does not get his comeuppance ... yet ... it does not mean that he is the hero of the story. Many characters on Dollhouse point out that the Dollhouse itself is abusive. Two rapists are violently killed by their victims. Topher and DeWitt eventually comes to despise themselves.

And Joel himself does not die but all the other Joels that paid for time with Echo is killed by Alpha.
Katrina comes to before the rape can start and calls it rape to their faces. Echo is rescued only to still have the "mind control" on her and they see it as her choosing to go back and Joel gets to rape her and a part of her will always be okay with him because the "mind controlled" part is still in her in the form of his wife's memories who doesn't seem horrified knowing what he did (injecting her into semi prostitutes).

Everyone knows Warren is the bad guy. 100% of the characters & fans. It's not like that with Joel. Warren was on an evil decent. Joel just went on living his life, got to put the whole business behind him.

Sierra's wealthy rapist was killed because he tricked them into turning her into one of the dolls. The guy who was raping Sierra in the dollhouse was seen as bad because they viewed the dolls in their amnesiac state as innocent as children. Had he bought her for the weekend they'd be fine with it. Alpha was unhinged so anyone he targeted was not clear message from the series since he was obsessed and could've as easily killed good guys.

Topher & DeWitt's actions brought on the apocalypse. Had it remained just dozens of sex slaves, would they still despise themselves? Did DeWitt feel guilty whenever she looked at Viktor remembering all the times she forced a persona into him so he'd be her lover?
 
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WillowFromBuffy

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Katrina comes to before the rape can start and calls it rape to their faces.
That's cold comfort, considering what happens next. I am glad we don't have to sit through a full rape scene, but it would not have made Katrina's death any more tragic. Having one's skull cracked open by a wine bottle is a considerable violation of one's bodily integrity, too.
Everyone knows Warren is the bad guy. 100% of the characters & fans.
The good guys are always stalwart and true, the bad guys are easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats, and we always defeat them and save the day.

Warren is a safe portrayal of evil. No one is going to see themselves in Warren. He does not make us uncomfortable in quite the same way as Joel does. Joel is a billionaire who uses his money to control the bodies of desperate women who sold themselves to slavery, but he is also a man who lost his wife in tragic circumstances and now misses her dearly. His story causes a dissonance in our heads that takes a while to sort out. Warren is evil. Warren is unsympathetic. He isn't even suave like Spike or the major.
 
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