Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Westworld Wednesday: Splendor, Natural or Otherwise

Welcome back to Westworld Wednesday, a series of essays/ramblings about the themes & philosophies of Westworld. NOTE: while we deal more with themes here, rather than plot, the emphasis is not on what happened this week; HOWEVER, if you are reading this and wish to avoid spoilers, you should be current on the show.

In both seasons so far in Westworld, a word has popped up in two episodes, repeated in different phrases:

0101: Peter Abernathy: "You headed out to set down some of this natural splendor?"

0202: Delores Abernathy: "Have you seen anything so full of splendor?"

Possibly an innocent detail, possibly something more - most likely, somewhere in the middle. In the first instance, Delores is yet innocent, going out to paint; the latter, gazing over the modern human world. I'm not here to tell you its the key to unlocking all the mysteries of Westworld, or what the next park is, because that's not the purpose of this series.  I'm not trying to puzzle out the ending, so we're not asking trigonometry questions in philosophy class.

But it did nudge something that I keep coming back to, and touched on a little last week, and the most recent episodes are bringing it to the fore. Perception is a funny thing, just as Delores saw splendor in her surroundings at first, or was awed by the human world upon first seeing it, and grew to want to conquer it.

History is a bit that way - Perception changes so much, and the Parks depend upon that. For example, what pops into your head when you hear the phrase "Wild West"? Likely, something very akin to Westworld: Cowboys, whiskey, brothels, homesteads and the like. In reality, those things existed, to be sure, but we tend to gloss over the, shall we say, less savory details.

Put another way, we tend to see the splendor in things.

Those unsavory details are, however, omnipresent in the show, albeit in a very different fashion, in the form of how the hosts are treated, and how the guests act without restraint. The question has been asked of the show how will they handle the racist overtones inherent to, say, Samurai World, where people use cultural stereotypes for their own entertainment? Which, really, is the whole dang point. Westworld (the park) already does this, using the shared revisionist historical notion of the Wild West being some manner of noble/free place, rather than the literal rape, murder and torture of indigenous people and the land upon which they had lived for centuries.

That part doesn't get talked about as much - and when it does, it's in the form of numerous monuments to those who committed those atrocities scattered across the American west. Westworld is consistently referred to as "Fantasy", and that's exactly what it is- Like the other two parks we have had a glimpse of, The Raj and Samurai World. The Raj plays to the exotic notion of the British Empire, where to the citizens of which, it was perfectly natural that those they conquered should serve their 'civilized' ways, and the animals were there to be hunted merely for sport. Those were living, breathing people and animals - why should the hosts be treated any better?

So much ugliness, covered over in the name of entertainment, profit, and the easing of our conscience.

But by glossing over it in-show, by putting forward parks ran by... less-than-savory individuals, people whose conscience is, at best, fungible, but more likely non-existent, the show itself puts a spotlight on how we treat those parts of history, and the humanization of the hosts makes us question how we view and treat others.

Delores path towards awakening involves seeing the ugliness beneath the splendor. It comes at the cost of her innocence, but she perceives a world where one cannot afford to be innocent, and takes action to change it. The violent delights visited upon her and her kinds indeed become violent ends. Maybe one days the ugliness of the real world can end, and we can all enjoy real splendor for a change.


Dean is the author of the 3024AD series of science fiction stories. You can read his other ramblings and musings on a variety of topics (mostly writing) on his blog. When not holed up in his office tweeting obnoxiously writing, he can be found watching or playing sports, or in his natural habitat of a bookstore.