Of Tattoos, Trauma, and the Calm Plastic Face of Dolls

Other than plans in the evening, I didn’t have much of a plan for Saturday. I came home from staying at a friend’s apartment in the late morning, crawled back into bed and continued re-watching Dollhouse episodes on Netflix watch instantly. If anyone hasn’t seen the show, try to get around to watching it. The premise revolves around Eliza Dushku’s character Echo, who is a ‘doll’ in the Los Angeles Dollhouse. The Dollhouse is comprised of people who have consented to five year contracts of service to be used as stand-ins for almost any kind of fantasy, job, or life situation that one can think of. The way it works is simple enough to follow… The in-house genius developed some hyped-up scientific technology to be able to wipe out all aspects of a person’s personality and memories and allow the mind be filled with just about any parameter requested by the client. It draws up images of sex trafficking, gross human rights violations, and other illegal activity, as it should, that’s one thing that Joss Whedon sought to comment on when creating the show but that’s not the part I’m writing about.

All of the ‘actives’/dolls have one thing in common: really difficult, sometimes completely destructive pasts that they simply couldn’t handle any longer. Upon the end of their service, the same technology that turned them into living, breathing fantasies can erase all of their painful memories and give them a new shot at life without the inconvenience of going through the process of dealing with the shit that brought them to the Dollhouse to begin with.

By the middle of season one, it has become apparent that some of the actives are able to remember things about their past and it keeps them from being fully functional dolls while on their designated engagements. The Dollhouse administrative team comes up with simulation to allow the actives to find closure for the memories that keep causing problems in their performance as a doll. They are given their identities back for a short time but not provided with their detailed memories of who they are or how they got to the dollhouse, but are allowed to run free, fight their way out, and find that closure. The idea was to close the problematic loops that keep running through their minds by actually letting them work it out.

During the simulation, Echo, whose closure resides in saving all of the other actives and defeating the corporation that runs The Dollhouse confronts Adele DeWitt, the woman in charge. She accuses DeWitt of kidnapping, human trafficking – all of those hideous things I mentioned in the beginning of this post. But DeWitt responds with the hard truth, that Echo, who is actually named Caroline, signed up to be a doll because she couldn’t handle the consequences of her own life. She’d made some grave mistakes that hurt a lot of people and instead of owning up to them she took the deal to have her memories wiped.

It’s supposed to sound enticing… The prospect of not having to deal with all of the nasty things that may have happened in your life. Or to take responsibility for mistakes made in the past. And just like that, it hit me.

The basis for this episode was to demonstrate that while these actives continuously have their memories wiped, your mind and its relationship to how your identity is constructed is far too powerful to be completely erased. The incomplete loops that caused the actives to remember pieces of their true identities emerged because finding closure is an organic process. You can never be a complete person if there are these gaping holes in your timeline of personal growth.

In so many ways our society is cold, dark, and unforgiving. We are told daily to rush through problems with bullshit like, “shake it off, suck it up”. We are told not to cry because crying is associated with weakness. We are told to ignore pain and suffer through illness to work because that is what hardworking, dedicated people do. We develop subconscious negative attitudes for seeking out counseling (for anything) because we think that only crazy people need therapists. We pop pills in place of alternative healing methods. There are people who are out there emphasizing the necessity of rehabilitation on so many levels of life but the demand to find the quickest way back to health, work, etc is still the strongest sentiment out there.

We rush through everything.

And here it is, on Dollhouse – just a television show, I’m well aware – where you can simply just forget all your pain and start a new life… but not without a price. And even then, there’s no guarantee it’ll work.

For the last few months I have been dealing with some serious shit. I’ve been trying to figure out what the fuck I can do to not want to drink all the time, to cry about things that I’ve suffered through… really fucked up things that I only recently began telling people about. I dropped all but one of my classes, staved off responsibility for practically everything I could. I know this is a spiral heading in the wrong fucking direction but the entire time I’ve also been trying to fight back. To weather the things that have hurt me, to process them and come to a place where I don’t feel so crazy or pressured to be something I’m not. I understood that taking time off from school was the right thing to do but I didn’t quit. I sunk so much of my energy in to writing down what I could say outright and creative projects to visually express the things I couldn’t.

While watching that scene where Echo/Caroline is told that she chose to become some semblance of a robot, a doll, and empty vessel for five years just so she didn’t have to understand and process her own pain… I realized I’ve been doing everything right. Crying, hurting, creating, talking, writing… All of it. By doing these things I’ve been fighting back and getting healthy the only way people really heal. Naturally.

The last four months have been really hard and I know this process I’m going through isn’t over. I have a lot more that I need to get through… but I will be okay.

The moment of realization was one I am not sure I have ever had before… And suddenly I wanted something to remind me of this point in my life where I hit the ground so fucking hard but fought back to come out of it with a better understanding of who I was, who I am, and what kind of person I’m aiming to be. So I called my tattoo shop and a short while later I walked out of it with a tattoo on my right forearm (my dominant hand), marking the process I’ve just finished writing about.

Sorry to continue with spoilers of the show here but it’s important that I point this out… You discover in the next episode that the “fake closure” scenarios didn’t work.

They never do, you know.

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One Response to “Of Tattoos, Trauma, and the Calm Plastic Face of Dolls”

  1. heather says:

    This is a fantastic post. Just thought I’d comment to let you know that. And I miss you, and I’m glad to hear that you’re taking care of yourself.

    I’ve seen Dollhouse, too. That was a good episode. Love the new tat.

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