Dollhouse Riffs: Riff #6: The Sierra Club; or Human Labor-power, Commodity Fetishism, and Workplace Rape

DH_belonging-party_0036_jpg_595x325_crop_upscale_q85Commodities and human labor-power

Arrows and Aphorisms

“Remember Jamie Leigh Jones, the Halliburton/KBR contractor who alleged she was gang raped by her co-workers in Iraq and then imprisoned in a shipping container after she reported the attack to the company? Well, it looks like she’s finally get to sue the company, in a real courthouse, over her ordeal.

“Her legal saga started after Halliburton failed to take any action against her alleged attackers, and the Justice Department and military also failed to prosecute. Jones then tried to sue the company for failing to protect her. But thanks to an employment contract created during the tenure of former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney, Jones was forced into mandatory binding arbitration, a private forum where Halliburton would hire the arbitrator, all the proceedings would be secret, and she’d have no right to appeal if she lost.”

“Court Okays Halliburton Rape Trial”, Mother Jones, Sept. 16, 2009

“He who was previously the money-owner now strides out in front as a capitalist; the possessor of labour-power follows as his worker.  The one smirks self-importantly and is intent on business; the other is timid and holds back, like someone who has brought his own hide to market and now has nothing else to expect but – a tanning.”

Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy

“Atlas Shrugged follows Dagny Taggart, railroad heiress/author self insertion, on her quest to have sex with (“get raped by”) a series of increasingly powerful men. Also, there’s a minor subplot about the economy collapsing because of a guy called John Galt.”

“Ayn Rand” on

Rape me
Rape me, my friend
Rape me
Rape me again

“Rape Me,” Nirvana

Commodity Fetishism and Labor-power

“A commodity appears at first sight an extremely obvious, trivial thing.  But its analysis brings out that is a very strange thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties.”

Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy

“If we wish to preserve a free society, it is essential that we recognize that the desirability of a particular object is not sufficient justification for the use of coercion.”

Friedrich August von Hayek, The Road to Serfdom

“Belonging,” this week’s episode of Dollhouse, is icky.  Icky in the way it plumbs the depths of human depravity and explores the darkness beneath the organization’s philanthropic veneer.  At its heart, the Dollhouse offers very pretty, very expensive commodities (the Actives) to wealthy clients.  The client spends time with the imprinted Active and the Dollhouse reaps a monetary benefit from “the engagement.”

Amidst all the spending and purchasing, the only participant not immediately benefiting are the Actives.  In “Belle Chose,” November, a former Active, was seen living in material luxury, thanks to the generous payout following her service with the organization.

Sierra (Dichen Lachmann), another Dollhouse Active, entered into the Dollhouse organization under very different circumstances.  Seduced, drugged, institutionalized, and fake “rescued”, Dollhouse comes to her faux salvation.

Sierra, whose real name is Priya, comes to the Dollhouse under false pretenses.  Nolan, a wealthy neuroscientist and Rossum Corporation VIP, engineered these fraudulent circumstances because Priya rejected him.  Hell hath no fury like a man scorned.

Nolan (Clyde Kusatsu) and Topher (Fran Kranz) engage in “commodity fetishism” of Sierra in a similar fashion.  To Topher, Sierra is a “plaything” and to Nolan, she is a manufactured love object.  Unfortunately, Adelle (Olivia Williams) has strong objections to his request.  Adelle states: “I would no sooner allow you near one of our other actives as I would a mad dog near a child… given that you’re a raping scumbag one tick shy of a murderer.”  Fortunately, for Nolan, he has enough corporate pull to brush Adelle’s moral disgust aside.  Nolan is friends with Matthew Harding (Keith Carradine), a Rossum Corporation power broker.  Nolan challenges Adelle to go to the police if the request really disgusts her.

When faced with threats of involuntary termination, Adelle folds to Nolan’s request.  Topher, slowly growing a moral backbone, joins Adelle in his moral indignation.  Since Adelle is subservient to Harding and Topher is subservient to Adelle, the order is followed.

Human Labor-Power; or How Sierra Got Her Groove Back

“In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit.”

Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

“To take something from a person and keep it for oneself: that is robbery. To take something from one person and then turn it over to another in exchange for as much money as you can get: that is business. Robbery is so much more stupid, since it is satisfied with a single, frequently dangerous profit; whereas in business it can be doubled without danger.”

Octave Mirebeau, The Torture Garden

One of the many tensions within the capitalist system is the use of labor-power.  It is not only material objects that are commodities (linen, Bibles, rum, etc.), but also labor-time and the laborer that become commodities.  Not only is the time the Actives spend on their engagements a lucrative commodity, but the Actives themselves.  One the one hand, the business owner has to extract the most labor out of their laborers; on the other hand, the laborer needs to preserve his or her physiology without being worked to death.  What is more important?  Your morality or the bottom line.

Sierra’s exploitation is a concrete example of the abuse of labor-power.  In Season One, Sierra was repeatedly raped by her handler.  Adelle solved that problem by the use of November neutralizing the handler.  The handler, head perched on a nearby coffee table, received a swift kick from November, terminating both his employment with the Dollhouse and his life.  In Season Two, Topher avenges Sierra’s exploitation, this time imprinting her with her original personality (Priya).  The result is Priya repeatedly jabbing a knife in Nolan’s sternum.

This brings us back to the case of Jamie Leigh Jones and Halliburton HBK, a corporation not unlike the Rossum Corporation, with massive profits, political collusion, and workplace rape.  Under current law, it is illegal for Jones to sue her employer for rape.  The recent amendment to the Defense Appropriation Bill would change that, although both parties are working with their corporate beneficiaries to water the legislation down.  When a re-election is on the line, one does not bother with such miniscule moral quibbles as a woman’s gang rape by her co-workers.

“Belonging” proves that Dollhouse can plumb the depths of human evil and explore the moral gray areas.  Action scenes and razor-sharp dialogue also help.

One thought on “Dollhouse Riffs: Riff #6: The Sierra Club; or Human Labor-power, Commodity Fetishism, and Workplace Rape

  1. “Abuse of labor power”–something the Republicans and their Chamber of Commerce cronies would love to see entrenched in the constitution.

    Good one, Karl. Even more glad I picked up the first season of “Dollhouse” as a Christmas gift for my sons. It sounds smart AND provocative…


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