Welcome back to Pop Pedestal, the series where we pay homage to our favorite characters in pop culture. This week I’d like to take it back to 1996 with Dawn Wiener, the 7th grade martyr from Todd Solondz’ Welcome to the Dollhouse.
Pedestal Profile: In Welcome to the Dollhouse we follow Dawn Wiener, an endearing loner, as she navigates the minefields of life in junior high. Nicknamed “Wienerdog” by her classmates, Dawn spends much of the movie being made fun of mercilessly by her classmates. Besides suffering the miseries of school, at home Dawn is also the black sheep, stuck between a nerdy, driven older brother and a beautiful, charming, ballerina for a little sister. Over the course of the film Dawn experiences an overwhelming crush on her older brother’s hunky friend, the tearing down of her clubhouse for The Special People’s Club, the kidnapping and comic recovery of her little sister, and the aggressive and threatening affections of her first boyfriend.
Admirable Qualities: Welcome to the Dollhouse, though described as a dark comedy, is not a heartwarming, happy film. Nevertheless, Dawn’s endurance and almost painful earnestness makes likable, reminding us all of the pained, naive middle schooler we all used to be and who may still live inside each of us. Perhaps what endears us most to Dawn are her naivete and tendency to make mistakes. Unlike most role models, Dawn is still learning what is right and wrong. She does not always make the right choices or stop the pattern of bullying, but she never gives up on herself or her ability to learn and grow. At one point in the film she “forgets” to tell her sister to get a ride with a neighbor after ballet practice, after which the little sister gets kidnapped. Seeing how the event tears her family apart, Dawn tries to make things right, running away to New York City to search for Missy on the same night that she is found.
Despite how poorly Dawn is treated by others, from her abuse she gains an unwavering loyalty to other outsiders. Throughout the film she constantly defends her best friend Ralphie against abusers. She also turns the tables on her bully, Brandon, offering attention and understanding that eventually leads them to become friends and partners before he runs away from home.
Her Influence: Just as in the film, Dawn is horribly underappreciated in pop culture today. I think her story still has much resonance, especially in regards to bullying in schools. What’s great and comforting about Welcome to the Dollhouse is its no holds barred, realistic portrayal of life in junior high that I think has much to offer that more uplifting, hopeful portrayals do not. There are some fans out there that still remember Dawn though, such as the poster of this YouTube video of Dawn dancing to her older brother’s band as her crush, Steve Rogers, sings the film’s theme.
That’s Not All: Dawn has an outstanding wardrobe and an eclectic, funky fashion sense that expresses her resilient spirit throughout the film. Here is a selection of some of my favorites.
Think of Her When: You saw the head off of your little sister’s Barbie doll or someone turns your last name into a (not so) clever insult. Dawn wouldn’t let it stop her, and neither should you!