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Acting the Part

2009 February 28
by AH

So I will do a post later about my role for Monday’s panel, but I was bored today and after failing to find something to watch, I remembered about the fictional panel and Echo from the Dollhouse. So I just watched the first episode and I tried to keep notes on how Echo’s “blank” personality is portrayed versus her given roles. How does one convey a person without a person-ality anyways? So I’ll just make a little list and try to watch some more of the show this weekend and add onto it as I see it.

I apologize to those who have watched more already. Please remember that I have only seen the first episode. I’m basically just thinking aloud/online. Feel free to add your own observations.

Echo at the Dollhouse: short sentences, generally only consisting of a subject and a simple verb. At the Dollhouse they seem to do only stereotypically peaceful, passive activities such as sleeping, yoga, showering, and going to the doctor. She is serene, blank-looking facially, and hesitant to probe into anything very deeply. The dolls are often described as childlike, blank slates with no worries.

Echo on Assignment: her head moves a lot more, lots of facial expression, uses longer, more complicated sentences, is relatively intelligent if not brilliant, confident, and lively. So far she has done very active activities. I mean active both mentally (mediator in a kidnapping) and physically (motor cycling). She is very much an active agent in her other lives. Her roles are very much made up of her appearance as well as her performance. Most of her roles include very feminized clothing and makeup.

I just think that as this list expands and as other people comment (hopefully) that it might be interesting to compare the “passive” female role to the programmed female role that the clients request. I think that as the series goes on it will be interesting to see how gendered the character is in her performance both in the Dollhouse and out. Even when she has no personality she appears to have a distinct gender identity in her performance. Is gender a part of a person’s personality? What do you think would happen if she was programmed with a male memory set? If gender is such an important aspect of a person’s performance, as it appears to be in this series, could the actress portray a man when her character has been completely wiped of everything?

EDIT: I watched the other two episodes today and I updated my list a bit.

3 Responses
  1. SarahLeia permalink
    March 1, 2009

    Interesting way to look at Dollhouse, AH! I guess one of my main questions for you is, what about her passive self makes you think that her wiped personality is female? When they show her wandering around the Dollhouse, I literally see her as a doll, but nothing about the way she acts screams female to me. The only thing which I guess could show that her doll-self is female is her appearance, and maybe the way she is dressed and walks. Other than that, her passive self just seems to be that of a little kid, with no definite gender indicators (at least, I haven’t been able to pick anything up yet). Also, I know you’ve only seen the first episode, but in the most recent one, they briefly showed a male doll getting his mind wiped. We only saw him briefly in the dollhouse, but I did not notice anything different about his reaction from Echo’s reaction to getting her personality wiped. But I think I will watch future episodes with this in mind, I hadn’t really thought of paying attention to the way she behaves while in the dollhouse.

    As for the second part of your post, where you ask what would happen if she was given a set of male memories, that’s a really interesting question! It’s my understanding that the personalities the dolls are given are an amalgam of different people’s memories and experiences, but I don’t think the gender of those whose memories have been taken has been explored yet. I hope that this is explored in future episodes!

  2. March 1, 2009

    Perhaps it would have been better to say that she appears gendered in the Dollhouse through how others interact with her and how she is made to appear. Although I understand the comparison to a small child, I can’t help but think every time that they mention it in the episodes that children do not act like the dolls at all. They are full people with personalities and are incredibly energetic for bursts of time with a full range of emotions. Even babies express more than the dolls. To me it seems as if there is something very adult about them in their self-possession in the way that they hold themselves and interact even if there is not much to possess within themselves. Feel free to tell me that that makes no sense at all. I can’t quite figure out how I want to express this best.

  3. SarahLeia permalink
    March 1, 2009

    Yeah I see what you mean about using the word child; children are more expressive than the average adult, in my experience. I think the term child is being used to describe them more in that they have no experiences that they can access on their own, and are instead always “discovering” things like children do (only to have that wiped away as well). So while Echo may walk like an adult and speak like an adult, she does not have the memory set that an adult would, which is where the comparison to children is probably coming from.

    Oh now I understand what you mean by her appearance in the dollhouse as being gendered – she is handled as a female, and they do refer to her as “she”. It will be interesting to see whether or not they “cross” the gender line as the show goes on – while I’m not loving this show so far, I plan to keep watching to see how far they go with the show’s main premise. Exploring gender differences would definitely be interesting (and would probably happen if the writers were taking our course right now!)

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