In Dollhouse 1x09 “A Spy in the House of Love”, Sierra is sent to impersonate an NSA agent to retrieve a guarded file. Sierra specifically is used for this mission because she’s Asian and can look like an Asian agent, Saito, who I guess has a predictable train schedule or something. When Sierra moves to tranq Saito, there’s a moment where they sit together, and you can see Sierra’s dressed just like her.
Unfortunately, the two women look nothing alike. At least to my eyes. The difference is like night and day to me.
I initially just looked at this as just a little bit of racism where it was assumed that Sierra would look enough like Saito on a glance, and I didn’t completely tie it in with the stereotype that all Asian people look alike. However, on reflection and a re-watch, I’ve come to better understand what is going on here: They’re supposed to look identical. Not just that she’ll pass as Saito if people who know her don’t look at her closely; they’re supposed to be identical.
When Sierra enters the NSA building, she has to go through a strict security checkpoint. The guard examines an image of Saito, which displays a headshot of Saito’s actress Kae Shimizu (given the incredible credit of “Asian Woman”), and he thinks Sierra is her with a direct comparison. What the frak?
I’d joke about the NSA being so racist that they’ll let in any Asian woman just because one works there, but it’s not the NSA; it’s the Dollhouse TV show. Specifically, I’m going to blame episode director David Solomon.
The weirdest part to me is that… I think… most people, when watching this show, can’t tell them apart. I think I might be the only non-Asian who can see the incredible difference between them at a glance. My prosopagnosia—the mental disorder that usually has me stumbling around in confusion because I can’t recognize people—actually works to my advantage here. I have difficulty recognizing people when they make minor changes to their appearances, meaning I excel at recognizing differences. I speculate that most non-Asian people are like me in my normal experience of prosopagnosia: stumbling around in confusion.
I got into the “Mark Does Stuff" sites, in which Mark Oshiro reads and watches stories of cult appeal and reports his reactions to the existing fandoms. For his Dollhouse-watching, he videoed himself watching the episodes and put it up on Vimeo. Mark is a Latino man adopted by an Asian family; he is a politically vocal liberal concerned about race-representations in the media; and he has specifically criticized Sherlock for being racist toward Asian people. And he apparently couldn’t tell Sierra and Saito apart either. In his reaction video, he appeared genuinely awed as he said “Wow, they look identical.”
Yeah, to me, they look about as identical as the Hands of Blue from Firefly:
I speculate that most people recognize each other through generalizations of the whole of the face. When the subject changes their makeup, they can recognize them because the general patterns remain they same—whereas I struggle. So, when neurotypical people who don’t get a lot of exposure to Asian people look at Asian people, they see a new general pattern on every face and can’t distinguish because they haven’t exercised the skill to pinpoint in on subtlety, the way comes naturally to me. I’m sure it’s not on the level of a disability to them as it is with me, though, as the NSA wouldn’t really let in any old Asian person. They just need to consider it important to learn the subtleties.
With the Hands of Blue, I’m sure every neurotypical American of every race can tell them apart despite their uniform appearance. White people are considered important, so their facial nuances are easily detected. That Sierra and Saito are considered identical by the show and by its watchers indicates just how truly unimportant Asian people are perceived as being in American culture.
This is actually super interesting because I’ve always been known in my family as the only person who can tell people of different races apart and yet have the most severe prosopagnosia. Similarly, spotting differences can be easier since I often have trouble seeing what’s the same. Another thing that helps is that I break faces into lots of little shapes, and this helps with identification of people from any race rather than looking at the face as one whole piece of information.
I mentioned in a post a few days ago that I was currently reading an advanced copy of a book from the author Diane Winger called ‘Faces’. The book features a main character who develops prosopagnosia after a brain injury from a fall whilst rock climbing, and then the plot moves from there into a mystery. I’ve not yet finished the book due to starting a new job, but I’m reading my way through it and want to give you all a part one of a review. Once I’ve finished the book, I’ll post an official review for you all.
At this point in reading the book, I find that the experiences of the main character as she adapts to her prosopagnosia are both familiar and eye-opening. For those of us who have had prosopagnosia since birth (and often have other family members with the disorder), we learn from very early on how to memorise hair, clothing, gait, posture, and location of a person. What we ignore is that these skills are not as easy for those who have prosopagnosia due to fusiform gyrus damage. We’re given a realistic view of the challenges faced by someone who must start from scratch to learn who the people are around her, and I believe that this gives us a better perspective of what is argued to be a more common type of face blindness (or at least better known).
As I read more, I’ll let you all know about the progression of the main character’s adaptation to life with prosopagnosia as well as some more tid bits of information, so stay tuned.
I haven’t had a chance to check in much lately since I just graduated from university and then started a new job. I’m working as a caregiver at an assisted living for those with severe Alzheimer’s, so it’s not only a challenge or learning who my 15 residents are but also making sure that they stay alive and well. It’s an enormous amount of responsibility and time and has been stressing me out a great deal. I’ve talked more about it on my personal blog here, including how prosopagnosia affects my ability to learn about my residents.
Coming up in the future, I’ll be writing a review about a new book I’m reading called Faces by Diane Winger. She was kind enough to send me an advanced copy since the main character has prosopagnosia, so I’ll be telling you folks about it once I’ve finished the book. So look forward to that!
Anyway, I hope you all are doing well. Keep on keepin’ on.
Hi! I got your message but didn’t have a way to reply in private. Concerning your question, yes, I’d be interested in reviewing the book, preferably in paperback. If you’d like a better way to contact me, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hi, I got your message, though because it was on anonymous, it can only be published publicly, and I didn’t know if you were all right with that since it had your name and phone number.
I’d love to be able to help you with the article on prosopagnosia. Unfortunately I don’t have international calling (I’m living in the US), but if you happen to have an email to get in touch, I’d be more than happy to chat there.
Should any of my followers be based in the UK and have prosopagnosia, please let me know if you would be interested in helping give an interview.
Hey guys. As you may or may not know, I am face blind (prosopagnosia). There are several great sites to help explain what this is and why it happens (links below), but the short version is that I cannot easily recognize faces, even those of close relatives. Unless I see you and interact with you on a daily or near daily basis, I will probably not recognize you. It’s nothing personal. My brain just isn’t wired right for some reason, and I don’t even know why.
It’s a very embarrassing and difficult condition. The thing is, nobody knows about prosopagnosia. If they did, I wouldn’t have to preface the post with this. If they did, Firefox’s spell check probably wouldn’t be underlining it as misspelled. But it’s a huge part of my life. I have to study facebook before family events so I can correctly recognize my aunts, uncles, and cousins (and I still mess up). I don’t recognize people outside of where I normally see them, which is problematic for many reasons. Just today, I failed to recognize the people in the elevator as my classmates, and it would have been an extremely awkward ride to the fourth floor if a friend hadn’t bailed me out. It’s just a very uncomfortable existence, because everybody thinks I just don’t care, or I’m avoiding them or ignoring them. I don’t mean to- I just don’t recognize them.
It is socially devastating.
Now, to the point- I recently discovered that an ad agency in New York designed a series of shirts for the face blind. They’re simple, witty, clean, but don’t turn the condition into a joke or something to be ashamed of. These shirts would open up conversation. They would make life a little less stressful in a world full of complete strangers who know my name.
The problem is that the designs were originally made for the benefit of one of the designers’ relatives, and therefore were only produced in a small run. If I want a shirt or multiple shirts from them, it will cost me $25 each to have them specially made, plus shipping. I’m a designer; I know I could go produce something similar for cheaper, but that would be rude and dishonest, and I would love to see this agency eventually produce the shirts on the large scale for other face blind people out there.
But, I’m also kind of poor. So what I would like to do is open up sketch commissions. I would like to make at least $50 to get two shirts, but if I could reach my goal of $90, that should cover three shirts and the shipping.
Is there a good way to apologize to people for being face-blind because fuck.
Apologising with light humour seems to work. Explain that prosopagnosia is totally a real thing, give an example of how it affects you, give an example of things that make your life easier, and just be light about it. Letting people know after meeting them, ‘Hey, I have a lot of trouble recognising faces, so if we meet up again, could you just let me know where we last met and your name?’ I find this works pretty well, too. It excuses you when you bump into them and don’t know that you’ve ever seen them before.
Plus, if your friends all know, they can stick up for you, too. My friends will joke around about it with me, and if I meet someone knew and can’t keep track of who they are, they’ll help me out.
There are actually quite a few artists out there who focus on drawing people even though they have prosopagnosia. It’s certainly made more difficult, but artists will break faces down into small components or shapes in order to get around this. I know that’s what I do for sure, and Chuck Close, a printmaker and painter with prosopagnosia, uses similar grid techniques when creating portraits.
Okay so I haven’t spoken about face blindness in a while, so let’s do this shiz. I looked through the tag and saw talk about attractiveness, so let’s go with that!
I personally can recognize when someone is attractive, but not by their face. People scoff at me when I say physical looks don’t matter to me, but I really mean it. At the most I might focus on a guy’s arms if they’re really nicely sculpted. Mmm. Arms. I also find darker skinned men quite pleasing to look at, because dark skin is just downright beautiful. And don’t even get me started on red hair. Just don’t. That’s really about it, and those things alone are never enough to make me fall for a guy.
I like guys based on how they carry themselves or their voices. The last guy I fell for was in my history class, and dude loved himself some history. He can’t sit still for very long and after a while he would start bouncing his leg a lot, or just sort of slump down looking like he wanted to die. But when he’s interested in something he totally engages and you can tell he’s paying attention even if he’s tapping a hole in the floor with his foot. All this, and I have no fucking idea what he looks like and I see him twice a week. I think he has bushy eyebrows? …maybe? I don’t even know.
Celebrities are a little weird, but generally the same idea. The difference is obviously I’m basing my crush off the image they let the public see. The only almost-physical crush I have would be the Korean pop star TOP. His eyes man. HIS EYES. They’re so intense and when ever he makes eye contact with the camera my ovaries explode. He’s also got this beautiful deep voice. Michael Buble is another crush voice. It’s deep and classic and he makes me swoon, though his head is shaped strangely to me.
So uh. Yeah. Rambling happened there. It’s nearly 5 AM. This post was never destined to be a masterpiece.
For the TLDR; I find people attractive, just for different reasons other than how they look. I would imagine this would be why I rarely/never experience sexual attraction with a crush, but I do not consider myself asexual.
I agree about the hair and clothes. personally I like eyes because if I can’t remember anything else about someone’s face I can memorize their eye color. I actually used a line on my girlfriend about how every time I see her eyes its like the first time;)
That’s really cute and also fairly similar to something that I’ve told my boy-friend. It’s like every time I look at him, I’m shocked because it’s like seeing him for the first time, and it’s kind of amazing. Sure, it’s upsetting when I can only see certain aspects of his face in my mind (mostly the shape of his jaw and eyes), but being there in person to experience that sense of renewal can be neat.
Speaking as someone without prosopagnosia, your friend might just have different standards of attractiveness than the rest of you. I and my friends have wildly differing favourite actors/models.
Very true. Some people are also much more attracted to non-facial characteristics, too. Whether that be someone’s height, build, style, hair, or personality, there are other things that can be used to judge attraction aside from a face.