I’ve been watching Westworld on HBO, and I intend to watch it through to the end, but I’m not very satisfied with it. I mean, besides the fact that I’ve always had a huge mental block against sympathizing with robots as characters, as I still basically think they’re always going to just be things, it’s not that fresh a robots-as-people narrative. Basically, they’re gaining sentience as their programming advances, and they’re probably going to make humans pay for the horrific treatment they’ve undergone when utilized as things. I am absolutely sure that will happen if AI ever gets advanced enough in the real world, and we’ve seen it in stories a million times before.
But the thing that gets at me the most is the logic behind the Westworld park itself. It’s appeal is basically presented as a place to indulge your darkest urges free of consequences– specifically, they assume, things that take the form of hurting others. The park is full of robots, not people, so you can hurt or use them in any way you want and it doesn’t matter. And that’s basically the reason why people like to come.
Well. Even leaving aside what a morbidly cynical view of humanity is– I don’t even think that’s all that representative of the way people’s badness manifests. Personal I’d say most of the worst of us manifests not as sadism– the desire to cause or the enjoyment of suffering in others –but rather as selfishness. It’s not so much that you WANT other people to hurt, it’s that you care so much about yourself and your own gratification that the harm you do to others doesn’t matter to you. Sure, causing pain often gives us power over others, which is another thing we’re all susceptible to, but again, I’d argue that you want the feeling of being powerful so much that you don’t worry about causing pain. True psychopaths, who LIKE causing pain in and of itself, exist, but they’re much rarer. Faced with no consequences for our actions, that morbid indifference to the feelings of others in favor of indulging the self is the true danger that is likely to come out of us.
I mean, I can imagine if I were in a scenario like this– leaving aside the other problems with the workings of Westworld, which are beside my point here –I might have fun being the best shot in the West and beating a horde of rampaging gunslingers by being the fastest draw. That appeals to my sense of adventure and excitement, plus the thrill of being the best. I could see conceivably being so selfish that I care so about my enjoyment in that way I don’t care that I subjected a bunch of people to painful death. But it adds nothing to that appeal to see the men I beat twitching and gasping in pain as they die from the bullets I put in them. I could see prioritizing my sense of fun such that I didn’t care that I killed them. But having to witness their suffering is distasteful, such that the imposition of their pain is a consequence that would make my victory less fun. I think it would be to most people.
But even beyond that– the version of the “dark urges” the park is designed to caters to? Is this totally one-note, stereotypically masculine conception. Basically, the form of indulgences it expects its guests to want are all extremely retrograde masculine fantasies, mostly sexual, violent, or a combination of the two. Sure, given how toxic they expect people to want to behave, you’d expect them to appeal to people’s toxic masculinity, but there’s no appeals to any impulse that are not coded masculine. It’s all just about the chances for brutal violence or increasingly outre sexuality.
I can’t figure out if it’s intentional or not. Is it as a statement of how prevalent such fantasies are in people, or even how hypermasculinity encourages it? Or is it because the SHOW can’t imagine dark impulses under any other encoding?
If it’s intentional, there has yet to be any explicit acknowledgment that Westworld is designed under that assumption. I’ve seen no commentary on the problem of that conception. There’s been no connection of the horrors being committed to the idea that they rise from hypermasculinty– in fact, the only suggestion the show gives is that it comes from HUMANITY in general, rather than specifically from males. And I don’t think depicting an idea without any form of critique, in so many words or otherwise, counts as commentary.
On top of that, most of the women characters in the show have been portrayed in really limited ways. The only female guests tend to be either wives supporting the adventures of their husbands, or else having identical dark urges to straight men. (There’s been some portrayal of lesbianism, but it all smacks of “chicks that act like straight guys” rather than women attracted to other women. By contrast, the one bisexual dude’s orgy? A woman riding his dick, another woman making out with him, while the one other guy… rubs his belly. Cowards.) The women host robots fall into a pretty stark virgin-whore dichotomy. Again, if there was some suggestion of critique of this, that women suffer even more when people act like objectification is just okay, then I might see it as a meaningful choice. But again, I’ve seen no sign of this.
So it’s increasingly striking me as unintentional, which is both a staggeringly limited view of humanity– even humanity’s darkness –and also misogynist. I mean, why do women come to Westworld in this universe? Just to support their husbands’ hero hypermasculine-coded hero fantasies, or if they want to indulge in THOSE EXACT SAME HYPERMASCULINE FANTASIES themselves? Is there nothing here to enjoy that’s actually geared toward the interests of women– or even the ways women specifically tend to break down? If nothing else, where are the hot male whores throwing themselves at female guests?
I’m only three episodes in. Maybe they’ll deal with it. But I don’t think it’s been handled well so far.