A post to say how much I enjoyed watching Westworld last week. And I'm not a fan of Westerns by any stretch, even sci-fi versions. But Binged its entirety over two days and found so much to appreciate on many levels. One issue in particular is handed in a great, if not slippery fashion, that of the dehumanization of our stand-ins, the not quite human beings, androids, or “hosts” as Westworld calls them, so they can be subjected to wholesale, unsavory violence in the name of entertainment. The show traffics in this entertainment, much like Walking Dead or Game of Thrones does, yet it is also very concerned with the psychology and morals behind it. A tag line which gets repeated often in the show is “these violent pleasures bring violent ends,” and its intoned as a warning and a truth.
One of my biggest complaints about a show like the Walking Dead is this very thing. It creates a human “other,” a stand-in, like we’ve done for ages in our stories: Indians, Slaves, Aliens, Zombies, then takes much sport in all the ways to do our worst to them: murder, rape, humiliation and countless mutilations in hundreds of grizzly ways to the point where the people who were once people, zombies, etc can be experiments in how far humans will go over various lines, and how much humans (watching) will tolerate. So far, no limit.
Yes, many people like this for a variety of reasons. Some say its a release into fantasy of what we would never actually do, that theres some kind theme park or haunted house thrill about seeing it done so graphically and particularly to “not people,” zombies, or in Westword, androids. Though I begin to wonder about all that killing. Why is it entertaining over and over. It isn’t entertaining to me, nor do I receive any carrhesis or other psychobabblish benefit from watching it. It only disturbs me and gives me less and less hope for humanity. And as many have noted, is probably desensitizing in a bad way.
I don’t feel good about his aspect of entertainment, and I rarely subject myself to it. Yet Westword takes a chunk of its violence out of this “gratuitous” realm and allows it to be fuel for internal debate and moralizing on itself - without getting preachy. Now we have the android’s perspective, and its horrifying.
Of course we never forget that HBO is just as intent on titillating our violent or sexual impulses by having as much nudity, sex and graphic violence on the screen as the story can support. They need the ratings for Westworld just as badly as the fictional Delos Corporation needs the ratings with its baby, Westworld, and they both use the same tools and for the same reasons. So the show self aware and guilty at the same time. And there’s plenty of great narrative to be gained as a result.
Westword then is very “meta,” almost unbearably so. But it is also very small and claustrophobic. It is also very large and sprawling. Just brilliantly done. One of my favorite things about it is a refusal to explain or get bogged down in a lot of technical details. There is deliberate vagueness about: how are the “hosts” constructed, how their brains work, how do they eat or sleep or leave and come back? Where is this park? How advanced is the “real” world” and on and on. We have to - gasp - imagine it, based on small clues. Very little is shown. Dark rooms, flickering lights, a tool that could be anything. I love this kind of construction. I’ve always argued it goes deeper and is more meaningful to us than that which tries to show everything.
That Westworld is far more engaging and interesting than probably any theatrical film I’ve seen in the last year continues the trend of television supplanting film as the premier way of telling a great story. For all the advances in CGI and 3D there is less and less to care about on the big screens. Its also interesting to think of the original ‘70s film Westworld starring Yul Brenner, of which I’m a big fan! Look at how our fears have shifted: from being afraid we’d create robots that would malfunction and kill us; to creating robots so lifelike that we’re now afraid of what we’ll do to them …