the doll games
shelley and pamela jackson




S: I remember this question about how much dolls could be treated like humans. Do you remember when we had the theory that dolls tanned? Because we left them outside in the sand box and they got sort of brown and we couldn’t tell if they were dirty or if they got a tan?

P: I don’t remember that!

S: It gave me this spooky feeling that maybe it was something that grown-ups didn’t know*, that dolls were actually like people in some way. I knew it didn’t mean that they were actually literally alive, but I thought that by some mystery process their skin might also darken in the sun. And I also had questions about their hair, like should we condition it.

P: I remember that. And I think that Harvey’s hair was an experiment, putting in the oil*, because definitely we were able to do something more perfect with it than we had imagined. But I think there was probably a time when we realized that some of the grooming we were doing was making him lose his hair—

S: Well that was all part of the fall from grace* I think— Look at his chin. What is that, is that stubble? Did we make that?

P: I was wondering about that. I think it may be crud.

S: Yeah, because it’s also on his ears. I guess we wouldnąt have put stubble on his ears. But anyway, that was the fall from grace, when we had to gradually more and more acknowledge that the dolls were these weird decaying objects whose parts would fall off.

P: Like when we had to stitch* up Jesse’s neck.

S: And then it became something really funny to us, that we had to refer to in our games, which was to us a sign of a loss of innocence about the dolls — the fact that we had to pull off their heads to put their clothes on, and that big Josh would embrace someone and his hands would fall off —

P: But I remember it being a really joyful phase* when the dolls started being able to say things like "Oh, there goes my head, let me go get it!"

S: But didnąt you feel like we were perverting the tradition?

P: I don’t remember whether I thought that at the time, or whether it was just deliciously subversive*.

S: I think it was deliciously subversive, but I know I felt at the same time like it was a sign of doom, a sign that we no longer believed.

P: I don’t know whether I saw it as a sign at the time. I definitely do now, though.

S: That’s a thing we also should analyze, the way we assumed— or I assumed at least — that we had the same thoughts and ambitions about the dolls the whole time, but in fact you thought quite different things sometimes. Or you didn’t always understand what I was getting at.

P: My memories are more inaccessible about a lot of things, too.

S: Well, you were younger the whole time. But the fall from grace — it was fun when they started referring to it, I remember. I think maybe partly because originally we felt sort of creepy about it. It was something that made us uncomfortable.

P: And suddenly we were able to acknowledge it and have it be funny and part of the game instead of a trauma.

S: Instead of it being this break. It wasn’t that it was traumatic because we thought — well, I don’t know, maybe there was even a trace of this sort of horror, like "I’m thinking of this thing as alive and suddenly its head has come off," which is horrible if you continue to think of it as a real thing. So it was a trauma within the world of the game. But then it was also a lapse in our suspension of disbelief.

P: [snapping B*****’s knees] And then also maybe a trauma of having to make a literal break in time, in the continuing narrative, in order to fix someone’s head.

S: So you have to step out of character and outside of the story. Although we did a lot of that, because we were always talking about what should happen next, and that never seemed to hinder us.

P: Yeah, I certainly don’t remember that being a trauma, or even any interruption to the game. I think the trauma must be more about our identification with the dolls as living creatures being disrupted.

S: But I’m wondering whether the shock is: How horrible, some personąs head came off! Or if it’s: Oh, how weird, I’m identifying with something that just revealed itself to be a doll because its head came off.

P: I think the second thing. But maybe the first thing too.

S: Maybe a little of both. But as time went on it stopped being the first one at all, we stopped being horrified by it as if it were real and we started enjoying playing with these characters who so hilariously would lose their limbs but then just keep living*. And then in a weird way we built that back into the illusion, because it became part of the narrative. The dolls were referring to being dolls.