Post prompted largely by Paul Cornell’s post here
, in which intelligent TV apparently didn’t exist before the current popular shows, and the only reason anyone wouldn’t like Dollhouse
is if they couldn’t handle things not always being perfectly black and white.
So, “moral ambiguity,” also known as “grey areas” is pretty much the internet and media’s favorite thing these days. Well, the internet may still like slash and wank more. I’m not sure.
Anyway, I rather like grey areas, but I also hate how they tend to manifest and get defended.
The thing about moral ambiguity is that, by saying it’s ambiguous, you are saying that there are circumstances in which something is acceptable.
Take downloading material that is not in the public domain. This is illegal, and is theft, but I highly doubt there is anyone reading this who hasn’t done it at some point. However, what if you are downloading with the intent of only completing your consumption if it is something you will legally purchase. You stole, but you stole with the intent of still giving the owner money for it by proper means.
Take the other extreme, which is killing another person. Hopefully, everyone here thinks this is wrong. However, if you killed a person because they were trying to kill you, or someone else, was it still wrong? Either way, a person is killed, the question is if one “deserved” it more than the other, and if the action saved even more lives.
To apply it to media, you have shows* that are, to some degree, built up around the idea of moral ambiguity, or at least actively applying it.
Some of these shows can’t really be exactly compared to the real world and morality as we’re familiar with it, and are called things like Buffy the Vampire Slayer
, and are about humans killing monsters to keep them from killing other humans, or are called something like Farscape
and are about convicts flying across the universe to escape space Nazis. Some of the moral questions have real world allegories, but many can only exist in that particular fictional universe.
But then you have something like, say Remington Steele
, where the core concept is that a female detective was fed up with taking orders from male detectives who weren’t as good as her, and wouldn’t advance her because she was a woman (remember, this was the 80s) so she quit and opened her own agency. Only people didn’t want to hire a female detective, so she created a fictional male boss, and was a success. And then a con artist discovered her scheme and blackmailed her into letting him pretend to be the fictional boss in return for a share of the profits, and she was even more successful. So, she achieved her goals-after a fashion-and her clients got superior service, but she did it by committing fraud and lying through her teeth to almost everyone she ever met.
Which brings me to Dollhouse
is built around the concepts of rape and human trafficking (and, increasingly, the battery of women, though that’s not as much a core concept as it is a steadily increasing trend) and each episode is designed to create some sort of sympathy for a rapist and/or human trafficker, while often glamorizing and fetishizing the actual rape and slavery. (Priya doesn’t have to deal with being drugged into a facsimile of insanity so a rapist can turn her into a fetishized sex toy, and then killing her abuser in self defense, she can remain a mindless slave of the people her abuser sent her to, continue to be sold for sex and various other illegal purposes, and eat banana pancakes. It doesn’t matter that Madeline was raped and deliberately driven to near suicide as a doll, she can think the guy who did that to get closer to the object of his sexual obsession is her savior. It’s ok to come up with multiple excuses to punch a passive Echo who cannot defend herself in the face if it will cure her of technologically induced blindness, or make her switch to an assassin imprint.)
So. Rape. Slavery. Physically abusing women. These are the things considered “morally grey” by Dollhouse
and portraying, and describing, them as such, is saying that there are occasions when these things are acceptable.
There are plenty of things that do not have an exact moral assignation, or to which there can be exceptions. There are also things that, yes, are black and white.
*Not that this is in any way, shape or form the only or even best form of media that explores the subject, but it’s what prompted the post and, uhm, limiting myself to US TV will be better understood by more people than pages and pages on Blade of the Immortal
, Fullmetal Alchemist
, and Basara
(Icon is Robin Hood, and so totally appropriate for the topic!)