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  • Cole Delaney

Dollhouse: The Eradication of Female Subjectivity in American Popular Culture (2020)

On Second Thought - Feature

Dollhouse: The Eradication of Female Subjectivity in American Popular Culture is a feature length film directed by Nicole Brending. I was approached by Rock Salt Releasing in July 2020 to watch and honestly review the feature, and I've been chewing on it for quite some time.


The basic premise is in following a child star Junie Spoons through the rise and fall of her career, all the while she is taken advantage of by many of the leeches suckling on her career. I wouldn't call it an animated film by any stretch, it's puppetry rather than stop motion, but that adds an interesting ability to caricature to the same effect animation can.


The impression I got was that at the dark heart of the film is a commentary of people positioning themselves to get what they want from a human being, treating that person only as an object they can gain from and the psychological effects that would have. What’s really key to understand when reading this film is to be aware of how the camera is positioned. There’s always an element of performance from the dolls in their interviews, it’s never a fly on the wall experience because the characters are always aware of the cameras.

I think there's an interesting balance struck here in how abrasively the subject is presented versus the actual reality many child stars have been shown to face.

I just want to step out for a second and say that there are topics here I’m not certain how to discuss yet because I suffer from the privilege of not having a lot of exposure to trans narratives and the surrounding commentary. It’s something I want to understand more, but I feel limited in being able to give a thorough review. Having said that, I do want to briefly touch on the more controversial note of this film.


Questions of Trans Representation


In terms of the portrayal of trans Junie, the narrative I understood from it was that rather than pushing into a feeling of gender dysphoria, Dollhouse steps more into an identity dysphoria in order to continue the idea of capitalising on Junie Spoons success. Having said that, the problematic elements I find here is how insensitive the issue is handled through the blatant commentary of the film maker through the news room puppets as well as some other characters. For example, stating that trans Junie always wins court cases because no one wants to sue her, despite that she has very obviously stolen someone’s identity. What I think is unfortunate is when they use the narrative of compassion currently cultivating in the world, and skew it to imply that society only goes along with acceptance because of fear. It’s a heavy debate from my current research and you can see which side Dollhouse lands on. Thought I will stress, I feel my voice is not one needed to be heard here, instead I’ll listen.


A film like Dollhouse is really important because it offers an unforgiving look at the media culture we feed into, that destroys people’s lives. Bizarrely, because of her choice to use puppets, the caricature allowed me to step back and laugh at absurdity but equally disarmed me and chained me in to pay attention to its message.

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