A documentary about "reborn" baby dolls and the people around them has been broadcast by Britain's Channel Four. My Fake Baby can be watched on YouTube (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). It addresses both the love some people feel for these dolls, as well as the creepiness others express in their presence. There isn't much on the craft, nor on cultural resonances.
It's a spooky, sad, cruel show, following several people through their acquisition ("birthing") of new or first dolls ("reborns," "babies"). Ultimately it feels like a portrait of obsession, or part-time delusion, on the part of the owners ("parents"). Each case touches on psychological stress, from one woman obsessed with cleaning each pram's multiple sets of wheels, to the grandmother cheerily confronting her grandson with his infantile doppelganger.
Gendering is sharp and melancholy, with women the sole both producers and consumers, while men are either quietly polite or openly horrified (says one: "[the doll] looks like something on a mortuary slab").
There's a strong class dimension to the film as well. We see one couple spending lavishly on props for their new and old dolls, and households well above working class. The artisans, in contrast, are at far removed socio-economic levels.
I don't mean for My Fake Baby to sound unfunny, because it's very funny. Flagged from the title, signalled by musical choices, satire oozes from some scenes, notably the bizarre one where one "mother" waits in a hotel room for (literally and discursively) delivery. And the final YouTube slice has a great bit with one artisan's children goofing with doll body parts. At one side the thing feels like American daytime tv, in its voyeurism and spectacular cruelty.
But it does offer a long trip through the uncanny valley. There are chills throughout, from tables of doll bits to the uncanny accuracy of the dolls, baby components popped in a microwave to people recoiling in horror from a thing in the pram.
And yet the film's women express such joy and delight in the craft. Their joy shines through satire and sarcasm. One wonders about the intersections of gender or neurology and the uncanny valley.
The MetaFilter post from whence I learned about this video, has a long comments thread that covers a wide range of views.
We've discussed the reborn movement before, and I'd be delighted to hear commentators' reactions to this movie. Those interested in dolls and the uncanny should follow that link to more discussion of other cases.