Westworld Stages a Consciousness Raising

HBO’s new hit show riffs on one of Second Wave feminism’s signature tactics

At the start of the pilot it was Dolores.  At the start of this weekend’s episode, Maeve.

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Images from Westworld via The Week

These shots of two of Westworld’s central characters waking up help visually underscore the narrative parallels of these two characters. As stereotypes of women they represent the Westworld poles of the madonna/whore dichotomy. Both are attractive to a number of the park’s visitors, though one for her romantic innocence as much as the other for her worldly knowing.

The similar shots of waking also provide us reminders that Westworld is a story in no small part about androids waking up to their circumstances as objects designed for entertainment that are also frequently objects of desire, sex, and violence.

The theme of awakening to the true structure of their reality is also echoed in the script followed by employees performing diagnostic interviews with “hosts” in the corporate laboratory.  In this set-piece, the host in question (often Dolores) answers the question, “Do you know where you are?” with, “Yes, I am in a dream.”

Thus the movement between the real world as dream and the “awake” world of the Westworld theme park takes on irony and existential weight for main characters Dolores and Maeve.

Viewers can expect that as these women awaken to their circumstances, something in the narrative world will change.

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And that expectation feels like a pop cultural legacy of Second Wave feminism to me.   Continue reading Westworld Stages a Consciousness Raising

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The Least Sexy Naked People on Television

It’s not a review of Naked and Afraid… Just my first follow-up on Westworld

In its pilot Westworld provided me early warning to expect smart, unsettling things from by convincing me its numerous naked bodies were not important features in the story. As the gal who still hides behind the locker doors while changing at the gym, no one is more surprised about this than I—which is also why I think this reaction is worth sharing.

When HBO started promoting its new sci-fi meets western project, I was immediately interested in the premise but skeptical I could handle Westworld. An initial teaser includes several actors (mostly shot from the shoulders up) who appear to be both naked and confined to glass holding cells. The voice-over juxtaposes descriptions of the freedom offered visitors of virtual reality Old West vacation with shots of these confined characters, most of which appear dazed and vulnerable.

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One clothing-challenged individual, however, is pictured  horrified as she stumbles, injured, through a corridor lined with glass boxes occupied by other naked bodies. The trailer’s accumulated images triggered memories of Twilight Zone, X-files, and Fringe episodes that dealt with experiments on human test subjects—memories of some of my favorite sci-fi series and of some of their most upsetting tales.

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Their nudity is accompanied by the contrast of darkness with harsh fluorescent lights; their eerie silence interrupted with a few foreboding quotes. (“These violent delights have violent ends.”) HBO primed viewers to feel for these disrobed figures, whether that feeling is curiosity, concern, or dread.  Continue reading The Least Sexy Naked People on Television

Westworld Needs Christian Fans

Christians Have Good Reasons Not to Watch Westworld. Maybe Some of Them Really Should Anyway.

Early this month HBO launched its newest Sunday night drama. Glittering with big screen stars on horizons as vast as any classic Western, Westworld delivers the sort of small screen spectacle only the most generous pay-cable budgets can provide.

As immediately obvious as the size of its budget, however, are the size of Westworld’s ethical questions about the relationship between humanity and technology. Debuting just a few weeks before Playstation4’s new virtual reality head-set, the series asks how later generations of virtual reality technology will force us to recalibrate our ethics. How will creations a few iterations beyond today’s digital entertainments, bioengineering feats, and artificial intelligence confound our moral compasses? Continue reading Westworld Needs Christian Fans