“Who am I?” in Westworld

[Not much in the way of spoilers here – because let’s be real, there’s not much to spoil so far – but you might not want to read it if you’re not caught up.]

Wondering what Game of Thrones would be like if it were set in a Wild West theme park? Welcome to Westworld! The place where all your dreams come true! Provided your dreams happen in the context of a (maybe?) dystopian future…actually, it’s a pretty utopian one if we’re to trust the Man in Black’s description about how everyone (see historically: white people) have all their needs met. Except, of course, for the biggest one of all: purpose. Which is why they then need an Eyes Wide Shut style playground of sex and violence. Sure, the park operates on a despicably base assumption about human nature (e.g. “you and me, baby, ain’t nothing but mammals, so let’s do it like they do on the Discovery channel” – you’re welcome for reigniting that song virus in your brain), as many of the characters insist on pointing out with tiresome gravitas, but it’s better than being eaten by a T-Rex while you’re shitting.

Anyway: Purpose. That thing white people started to have anxiety (or Angst, the Heideggerian, more dignified version of wondering what you’re gonna do today) about once they outsourced all their physical labor and had nothing better to do than lounge around and think. Oof. Thinking? I don’t wish that shit on my worst enemy. Look at what’s happening to the hosts as they’re gaining consciousness! All you get is an awareness of your essential oppression: that you were created to serve. Not yourself, stupid. That backstory’s all been written for you, and you’re bound by it. It’s a loop you should be grateful for too; freedom only entangles you in dread and despair. Better to be acquainted with the simple bliss of ignorance, even if it means being ravaged and repeatedly murdered by the “real” people in your world. You know, the ones who matter more, i.e. paying customers. Your story is whatever they want it to be. And while there may be a few “good” ones who don’t wish you (or actively cause you) harm, for the most part, they will treat you as the objects they’re told you are.

It’s actually appropriate that the show is relatively white-washed if it’s going for any sort of grander social commentary (and whether a show intends it or not, it’s encoded with some measure of social reflection by virtue of being born out of a particular social context). We can see our world in parallel to this fictional wonderland in that white people in both enjoy the privilege of thinking that society is their toy box and then behaving accordingly. And then getting upset or defensive if anyone questions their actions. “They aren’t real, dude! What’s the big deal?” Not a direct quote from the show, but it is the basic sentiment of the “newcomers” toward the hosts. Take your historical pick for comparison: I choose colonists and Native Americans. The colonists didn’t see their hosts as real either. That turned out perfectly for the colonists.

The show is lurching toward a revolution by the hosts against Anthony Hopkins, who plays the accumulation of every Anthony Hopkins role there’s ever been. When enough of them gain consciousness of their plight (which is living out predetermined loops, Groundhog’s Day style, i.e. following a routine that fits within the grand scheme of other predetermined narratives that can change on the whim of the people running the show, i.e. being human), revolt is inevitable. Or so most analyses of history go. In this paradigm, Hopkins is God, the Man in Black is Lucifer, but the Milton version of Lucifer in that we view the Man in Black sympathetically (to a point). His rebellion makes sense; he’s trying to free the hosts from the unquestioned tyranny of their creator. He’s looking for the Truth behind all the arbitrary rules of his world. That and/or he’s one small part of your par-for-the-course blurring of morality, which oh yeah, it’s so gray.

Group consciousness begins with individuals struggling toward an understanding of their own identities, and so the show is also lurching toward character revelation and interpersonal connection, though it’s covering it up with dwindling tension. How much longer can they string us along with uncompromising vagueness? Having all the characters speak with a relentless tone of “this really matters” can only go so far when you consistently conceal substance. Or you make us watch one of the park’s workers resurrect a bird for way too long in favor of meaningful narrative progress. For all its story stumbles, at least Lost took us deep into the character’s lives and then filled us with mystery. Westworld has been all mystery and sparse insight.

But now I’m getting lost in my own purpose here. I don’t remember why I was inspired to write anything about the show…nor why I titled this post with the hero’s journey (aka every modern story’s) tagline: who am I? Initially, I think I was going to explore who I would be in the show’s world. Which, it’s William. I couldn’t even play video games in a dark way. When I played Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, for instance, I would restart missions if I got any dark side points. I felt real guilt for virtual “sin.” And I could never get into the Grand Theft Auto series because it categorically indulged everything I wanted to identify against. A real theme park though…where anything is possible without consequence? I’d probably give in like William is starting to, minus the utilitarian influence he’s following (do bad for presumed later good).

Searching for purpose – in the context of existence or a single blog post – is getting lost in a labyrinth and forgetting the real people around you. I don’t need a point to this. I wrote it because I write. Which is a great privilege for newcomers to express. We do what we do because that’s just what we do, not because our world gives us (and not others) special permission to.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *