The above photograph is by artist Jamie Diamond, and portrays a “Reborner,” someone who creates and cares for baby dolls. In many ways, they treat them like real babies: they bathe them, comb their hair, and take them on walks.
This makes me think about the complexities of emotion and attachment. It’s easy for us to dismiss these women as crazy, but I don’t think it’s as clear cut as that. Their emotions toward the dolls is pronounced and specific, but most people have attachments to inanimate objects. For instance, many of us believe on some level that toys have presence. And sentiment keeps our closets, garages, and basements full of boxes and boxes of things we never use but can’t bear to throw away. It’s arguable that the difference between walking a baby doll in a park and hauling around boxes and boxes of useless objects is mere semantics.
There’s also the question of human relationship with art. When we create, we attempt to bring a fictional world to life in our own. The aim of every artist is to stir emotion in the audience. If we make you care, then we’ve done our jobs. I think there’s definitely such a thing as caring too much, of becoming too invested, and I think these ladies are on the far side of that line. It does, however, make me wonder exactly where that line is. When I was in college, a debate society I belonged to once pondered the question of whether it was possible to truly love a fictional character. They don’t really exist, but to what extent do any of us really get at the existence of another person? At most we have our perception, which is always going to be incomplete, because we cannot fully know another person’s interior life. It is arguable that it is impossible to truly know another human being. All we know is a collection of actions and words, which is what we have of fictional characters. A fictional character will never know of our love and will never return it, but one can truly love unrequitedly, even if the object of affection is never aware of it. So we have to ask: if someone can truly love Sherlock Holmes, can they truly love a doll?
(For more images from this project, click on the photograph. I highly recommend doing so. Ms. Diamond has a number of fascinating projects that deal with similar themes of emotion and attachment. The webpage is well worth your time.)
We saw Frozen with my son Kolbe’s cub scout troop this past Saturday. It’s a good movie, and I particularly like the way they handled True Love (I’m trying not to spoil, so that’s intentionally vague). It has gotten me thinking about different kinds of love. Love between friends, love between siblings, and the strong tendency in society (contemporary American society, at least) to sexualize those relationships. It’s deeply unfortunate, because it disregards the strength and importance of those types of love, and makes people shy away from creating, strengthening, and expressing those relationships.
Case in point. There’s a Folgers commercial that gets played a lot during the holidays, one of those commercials you see every year (or until the clothes and hair styles are hopelessly out of date). A man comes home after having been far away for a long time. The door is answered by his sister, and they are obviously overjoyed at seeing each other. They hug, and go inside to the kitchen where coffee is brewing. The brother pulls out a small gift with a shiny stick-on bow in the top and hands it to his sister. She plucks off the bow and puts it on his sweater, and says, “You’re my present this year.”
Sweet and heartwarming, right? Except this year I’ve seen tons of comments online that the brother and sister are obviously boning each other. One person posted the telling quip: “The best part of waking up is incest in your cup.” Because obviously a brother and sister cannot be affectionate with each other without sleeping with each other.
I worry about the affect this can have on our society. I also worry about how this tendency will affect how people perceive my writing. My book Haunted has a close trio of friends. There i a romantic relationship between two of them, but the bond of friendship between all of them survives, and pointedly so on my part. The sequel I’m working on right now (which, if I’m aiming for a series, will probably wind up being book four or five…) puts more emphasis on that friendship, and also introduces a very tight sibling relationship. I’m pretty sure there will be people out there who see a polyamorous relationship between my three leads and an incestuous relationship between the siblings, and the temptation to let that affect the way I wrote those kind of love was admittedly pretty strong. I’m sure the temptation to tone it down in editing will be strong, too. But I’m going to resist, because the world need more depictions of True Love between siblings and friends, more examples that loving each other does not equal having sex.