Secrets of the Living Dolls, Channel 4: TV review
A troubling documentaty- not about the masking itself- but about society's obsession with physical perfection and sexual availability
Ellen E Jones
Ellen is The Independent's TV critic. She writes a daily review of Last Night's TV and a weekly 'Inside TV' column for the i paper, as well as a column on general topics for the main paper most Wednesdays. Ellen is a former Hollywood correspondent and a contributing editor to Little White Lies, she's written on TV, film, lifestyle, travel and politics for publications including the Guardian, The Times, The Sunday Times, Esquire and Total Film.
Tuesday 07 January 2014
Rubber doll masking is a subculture in which adult men transform themselves into life-size female dolls by wearing latex body suits, complete with face masks and realistic female genitalia.
In the documentary Secrets of the Living Dolls on Channel 4 (who else?) semi-retired 70-year-old Robert uses the privacy afforded by his California mansion to transform himself into a bouncy blonde called "Sherry".
Closer to home, Joel from Essex likes computer games, medieval re-enactments and masking, which his live-in girlfriend views as just another such geeky pursuit.
Joel said he wouldn't leave the house in the mask, but his admirably blasé friend "Tiff" is much braver. She thinks nothing of getting all dolled up, as it were, and nipping out for a coffee: "I look at this as an extension of amateur dramatics, but maybe I'm just being pretentious."
Therein lies the inherent contradiction of a film like Secrets of the Living Dolls. If, as the film's participants suggested, masking is no big deal and just a hobby like any other, then why make a film about it? And if it's more complicated, then why not take the time to dig deeper and discover what makes it so?
You know me, I'm one of those judge-not-lest-ye-be, let-your-freak-flag-fly sort of degenerates, but I must admit to finding this documentary troubling. Not because of the masking itself – which seems a harmless, if pricey, way to get your kicks – but because of what it says about society's obsession with physical perfection and sexual availability.
These aren't men who identify as transgender. They are men (exclusively, it seems) who, just like the teenage boys in John Hughes's film Weird Science, are motivated by a dissatisfaction with the real-life women available to them. As father of six daughters, John said: "I decided to emulate a sexy female, to basically be what I couldn't have."
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