Pop Pedestal: Dawn Wiener

Ann-Derrick Gaillot
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I am a freelance writer and reporter who watches a lot of TV. I tweet at @methodann.

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. 

Girl wearing glasses and red lipstick sipping from a straw in a glass filled with bright red liquid

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. 

Girl in purple shirt and pink sweatpants standing next to a bicycle.Bespectacled girl wearing red heart earrings and a floucy blue blouse.Bespectacled girl looking away wearing a flashy knitted sweater.Bespectacled girl wearing a bright pink blouse and holding a lunch tray of food.Bespectacled girl wearing floral, tiered dress.

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!

Previously: Bobby Hill, Two Fat Ladies

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8 Comments Have Been Posted

required viewing

When I was teaching a unit on cliques with an 8th grade class, I planned to show parts of this film to the kids. We ended up watching most of the film -- they didn't want me to turn it off, and not because it was fun to watch a movie or they were getting to hear the f-bomb repeatedly, but because each and every one of them totally identified with one or more characters in the film. The class had amazing discussions afterward and really got to the heart of what it means to be at that awkward age where you are struggling to define yourself in a world that has already done it for you.
Since I hadn't gotten permission from parents beforehand to show this R rated film, I went to the counselor and the principal that afternoon and warned them they might hear something from parents. The counselor said "That film should be required viewing for all middle school kids". And because the film was viewed within the context of a wider lesson and because every single student was engaged with the import of the message, I heard not one peep from parents.
And while the entire unit was amazing, the best moment came not when Weinerdog was in the room, but when we were watching "The Merchants of Cool" and one of the students complained volubly, "Ms Powell, you're ruining MTV for me!" ;-)

Dawn Weiner Forever!

What sort of school do you

What sort of school do you teach at? I'm jealous of your students.

thank you

I have always held Dawn on the highest pedestal. She does remind me of me, at that certain age, insecure and shy, but also rebellious and a fighter. This feature made me think of Havery Weinstein and the whole 'Bully' debacle. He's being a bully, the MPAA have always been a bully, and the whole thing here is suppose to be about not bullying. I think they should all just skip the charade and watch 'Welcome to the Dollhouse'. This is absolutely one of my favorite movies of all time. I can't remember the first time I watched it, but I know I've been watching it over and over for a long time.

Again, thank you!

Dawn and Daria were my middle

Dawn and Daria were my middle school heroes. <3
I'm sad Dawn killed herself. I don't know why Solondz felt the need to do that. I'd prefer if Dawn had grown up to kick ass and take names.

how disappointing

I was unaware the character committed suicide. I looked it up and saw that her funeral opens Solondz's 2004 "Palindromes." How incredibly disappointing. While it is not what I would have wished for the character, I can imagine Dawn suffering from clinical depression and being unable to find adequate help. Nonetheless, it feels like a waste, to cut out so abruptly such a complex character that so many people identified with.

With the 'Bully' documentary

With the 'Bully' documentary just on the horizon, I think 'WttDh' is a great companion piece. It shows how bullies too can be bullied and that yes, there is indeed a cycle. Also, Dawn is a fashion queen. Nuff said.

I love how D. Wiener was so

I love how D. Wiener was so much her own person, despite the shit she took. Look at those photos! She's absolutely workin' it, even with the obvious pain and confusion of her situation floating behind her plastic discount-bin eyeglasses. Red sweat pants and all.

I would love a "ten years later..." (or twenty) follow up to this show. You know - to make all us fellow 'wiener girls' laugh, and relate to the quirky and individualistic path she undoubtedly followed.

Um...she committed suicide.

Um...she committed suicide. Her funeral is the opening to Palindromes.

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