Filmmakers Drea Cooper & Zackary Canepari have created a short video tour of the Real Doll factory for their project "California is a Place." It's a moving ride straight through the uncanny valley - but it's also strangely touching.
For those who haven't seen the documentary about the toys, Guys and Dolls, do. It's fascinating (and you can watch it here). It takes a look at the $6,000 plastic dolls, which are creepily lifelike, and their owners, who are far more terrifying. While some seem relatively harmless, others make me really, really glad they are not unleashing their aggression on actual women and have found a lifeless, incredibly detailed silicone rubber outlet instead. For many of these men, the dolls aren't simply sex toys - they're companions. Some actually come to view the rubber women as their girlfriends. They provide them with names, outfits, and personal histories. In the past decade, Real Dolls have become a very real presence in the lives of certain socially inept dudes - but they're also become something of a totem for modern messed-up and emotionally-distant sexuality.
In the interview above, Real Doll creator Matt McMullen explains how he discovered his knack for sculpting female flesh and how the company got started. He also touches on the creepy-factor several times. "It's not for everybody," he says. "Number one, not everybody has the care and respect it takes to own one of these dolls." He also admits to testing out the product several times, to make sure they worked properly. "I had to make a vagina in a box... and I had to try it out. That was in that phase where I realized this was going to make me money."
Alright, so it's still creepy. But, as McMullen tells it, it also provides a comfort to certain men, most notably to a man living in Middle-of-Nowhere, Alaska. With no other outlet available, the Real Doll seems less scary and more like a very well designed and incredibly elaborate Fleshlight. While a few of the man interviewed in Guys and Dolls make statements that send up red flags (much along the line of "she can't say no"), there are doubtless dozens of dudes out there who want something more than a disembodied vagina to pump it into. McMullen, who is a little odd himself, remarks: "To me, it's an honor to be able to say 'I made a doll, and this guy, a year ago, he was depressed and lonely and now he's as happy as can be.' And who am I to say - is there something wrong with that? I don't think so."
And for anyone who can't get enough of the Real Dolls, Zackary Canepari has also published a photo essay from his trip inside the factory. Though a few look like stills from a horror movie, they are - in my slasher-film obsessed opinion - weirdly beautiful.