I think this is a really interesting area of research, one that I’m beginning to wade into as well. What does "documentary" mean anymore? Consider another example, the animated film Waltz With Bashir, which is very much a documentary despite its form. What does animating it do to it? By the same token, consider another film more in line with The Age of Stupid in terms of its commingling of documentary and science fiction generic forms, the summer sleeper hit District 9. How much of its success is due to a clever marketing campaign that allowed its audience to believe it was being sold a documentary until, suddenly, it wasn’t?
Robert: I like your suggestion about the question of collective memories. I’m not sure how Dollhouse might speak to that since it seems to be fairly preoccupied with the loss of autonomy/self/individuality, which then I suppose leads to a communal loss of something like humanity writ large. It’s definitely worth thinking about. The series also has taken time to assert that these people, as you said, choose to take the pain away - no one is coerced into being a Doll, but it raises interesting questions about whether someone can choose to become a slave.
Chad: There are nods towards Bladerunner, but I would argue that they’re filtered through recent engagements with the posthuman/andriod/AI in a series like Battlestar Galactica. There are a lot of echoes (ha) of Cylon downloading in the Dollhouse process of imprinting. The issue of gender is interesting. The Dollhouse has male dolls, though it tends to focus on female dolls. It attempts to play with the notion of gender as performance. This past episode actually had Victor accidentally imprinted with personality called "Kiki" who was designed to fulfill a professor’s wish to seduce a student. He dances around, flirts with some fraternity boys, and looks absolultely ridiculous performing an over the top video girl feminity. You can see it here in this remixed video - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1h0hYS7e7g
Erika, this is a fascinating post. In some ways, Dollhouse does address universal themes of what it means to be human. The famous line, “‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,” by the 19th century English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, seems appropriate here. Echo would seem to agree, although what do we make of this quote in light of—as you put it very well—technologically-mediated experiences and memories? Robert also makes an interesting point about collective memories. If we synthesize Robert’s idea with your impressions—including your excellent, reflexive reading of Ballard reassuring himself that dolls are just actors in some kind of elaborate TV show—what would we say about Dollhouse’s representations of gendered collective memories? In other words, in addition to the universal or collective human experiences, what does Dollhouse say about contemporary or projected experiences of specific identities? Following the metaphor, could we say that Dollhouse is about females as toys who, like posthuman Pinocchios, just want to be real girls, or, better said, respected and valued women? Maybe we could also think about intertextual readings in relation to both universally human and identity-specific themes. For example, with its representations of blurred lines between androids and humans who both struggle to find their humanity and with the intersections of Asian and Western cultures, gender, and capitalist exploitation, Bladerunner comes to mind.
Robert, This is a very provocative post, and I agree with you that the representations of difference on _The Amazing Race_ are expedient and chimerical. These representations seem to be a fantasy constructed by the producers as part of their commercial strategy. Your point raises interesting questions about the specific kinds of fantasies that we see on the show. One approach might be to consider that producers of reality shows frequently incorporate tokens of difference and try to include idiosyncratic (in relation to competing programs) portrayals of difference (hence, the examples of difference in _The Amazing Race_ that you cite). To those forms of difference, _The Amazing Race_ adds exotic world travel for the vicarious tourism of viewers. But what seems to complicate the matter is that reality shows often play upon the struggle between self-expression of participants (often self-conscious of “being on”) and the manipulation by producers, a struggle always in favor of producers. As you point out, “being on” _The Amazing Race” seems paramount. At the same time (and I confess that I have been only an occasional viewer of the show), I wonder if the participants or the residents of communities that they visit register significant expressions of or debates about difference anyway, and if those expressions are disjunctive with the narrative structure and emotional essence imposed by the producers.
Chad Thomas Beck Indiana University
Thanks for posting on Dollhouse, Erika, a show I’ve yet to delve into but look forward to. Your analysis is engaging and I think the binary of feeling/remembering is a fruitful one in looking at the scene you’ve chosen. Another binary that seems to be at play here - and this is probably related to the other - is being awake versus being asleep. According to Echo, being awake, and therefore subject to the vicissitudes of mediated memory/affect, is preferably to being asleep and spared all that conflictual stimuli. I wonder to what degree this discourse relates to cultural memory. Is Echo/Whedon making a case for engaging with dissonant or difficult collective memories as a mode of emancipation? Is choosing not to feel pain (to be a Doll…such a rich metaphor) tantamount to ignoring those aspects of our (collective) past and present which make us uncomfortable or highlight our shortcomings?
Very interesting post, Amber, not least because now we have some distance on these phenomena and might talk about them more dispassionately than we once might. Chad Beck’s provocations are seconded here, but I also think there are fruitful avenues of inquiry in looking at these videos (and their and your invocation of the "carnival") in terms of their bounded status within the Democratic Party. That is, are these productions a way of being combative within the party without leaving any bruises, a strategy for candidate support that advocates one without damaging the other? Certainly, there was substantial handwringing by party officials, pundits, and the populace alike over the supposed advantage the Hillary/Obama death-match would give the more or less unchallenged Republican nominee, John McCain. Also, I’d be interested to hear thoughts on how these packages based on racial and gender characteristics - which highlight difference even as they ostensibly celebrate the candidate - compare to materials produced around the candidacy of Sarah Palin, the criticism of whom was largely decried by her supporters as sexist.
Amber, This is very interesting post on how the videos, as you argue, express the candidates’ race and sexuality in ways that are, in comparison to mainstream debates, taboo—or at least they provide alternative ways of framing and responding to the candidates. The “Crush on Obama” video contrasts both with Obama’s post-racial candidate persona and with attempts by numerous opponents to position him as “not one of us,” where “us” was code for white, Anglo-Saxon, Christian, Protestant (WASP). In light of your comments, I wonder how we might understand the cultural and political significance of this video in relation to specific ways that Obama was characterized in racial and sexual terms during the election year? In addition to the post-racial stance, I am thinking of Joe Biden’s description of Obama as a clean, articulate black man, references to the Obamas as the Cosbys, contrasts made between Obama and Jesse Jackson, the Rev. Wright scandal, opponents framing Obama as an uppity educated black man, opponents linking him to terrorism, McCain’s playing on fears of black male sexuality by associating Obama with Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, etc.
Chad Thomas Beck, Indiana University
I am struck, in this discussion, with our own (as queer academic fans, loosely defined) continued engagement with the terms of authenticity. It would seem to me that it’s fantasy and not authenticity that is The L Word’s strength. (and it’s why most of us never got very excited about that other lesbian TV show, "Exs and Os"). Why elsewould I board a streetcar in freezing cold right after teaching a 3 hour lecture to get my friend’s place in time for the opening strains of "The L Word"? I certainly wouldn’t do that to watch footage of an authentic butch femme couple eating takeout pizza in their Ikea decorated apartment and arguing over whether the channel stays on football or switches to "Dancing With the Stars".
Seriously, though, I think the constant movement between and across sites of fantasy and authenticity is one of "The L Word’s" unintended strengths. And anyways we all know that subtext is always hotter than metatext. I wonder if the unreadability of butch/femme, even by "The L Word", helps to keep the terminology subculturally intact…
Max, I’m glad to see some ideological critique of HD conversion. As far back as the early 80’s, some pundits suggested that HDTV would provide television audiences with such intense viewing experiences that audience members will want to continue to watch their old standard television set for more relaxing viewing. Those of us who have upgraded to HDTV now know that the promises of unbearable verisimiltude are vastly exaggerated. Indeed, claims of higher quality via HD originated out of a critical defense by broadcasters and corporations against government challenges This discourse of higher reality was constructed, in part out of a need to reduce competition from the Japanese industry, as well as out of a response to the decline of the electronics sector. I haven’t found much critical work regarding Canadian HD conversion so it’s good to have your work out there.
This discussion also ties into the decades-long on broadcasting as a "national" medium that participates in struggles over "national" identity. Over the past few years, Latino households have become increasingly recognized as an important market for broadcasters - I’m thinking specifically of the high ratings for Telemundo, especially during the summer months. Your clip and discussion really illustrates how Spanish-speaking households were addressed by the rhetoric of the digital transition, and reception of the information campaign by these targeted viewers.