Is Westworld more feminist than it looks?

I’ve only just caught up with Westworld, I had put off watching it based on my experience of the original movie, which I didn’t like. It turns out I loved Westworld the TV show!  I was at a meeting recently and it reminded me a little bit of Westworld, there weren’t any robots but it went something like this:

In Westworld:

Human shows something to an android that would challenge their world view if they actually understood what it was (a photograph of a car for example, or the blue-prints that made them) and their response is always “that doesn’t look like anything to me at all” – they simply can’t see what it is not in their interest to see, anything that would shake their view of the world, their understanding of themselves as ‘people’ living in a Wild West context.

At the meeting I was at:

I was suddenly struck how ‘Westworld’ could so easily be ‘West(ern democracy) World’.  People were talking about improving diversity in the cultural sector and yet the two chairs (of different parts of the meeting) were both white and male and, even if they hadn’t started out privileged, privileged by their current positions in the world.  We were joined later by another privileged white male who gave a speech and then wasn’t particularly interested in answering any questions that challenged his already set world view. It felt like all three of them were saying ‘that doesn’t look like anything to me at all’ when they shut down dialogue around anything that challenged their world view (or that they weren’t interested in)  – that challenged the things they really couldn’t see – that the world has been designed with them in mind, that it really does work for them, that it does look better seen through their eyes and they really can’t see what it is we are trying to show them.

And I have to be honest as this revelation sunk in on my dispirited way home on the tube I gave up. I decided to take a break until the pattern of the brick imprinted on my forehead had faded and I was ready to face that wall again.  Maybe by the time I’m ready someone else will have chipped some bricks from it? Maybe not.  But more encouragingly I started to think about Westworld and what it was maybe trying to say and it seemed to me to be the same thing.  SPOILER ALERT!

Two of the main female android characters have an awakening, they begin to challenge the world view. One from inside the world itself and we are left questioning whether she is being manipulated in her revolt for some other end, but the other challenges her world from outside, seeking to understand the world she was made in, not made for.  In the meantime the human men who go into the Westworld seem to be trying to blot out any idea of the modern world and what it means and to revel in the macho world of the Old West, where they can be violent, they can rape, they can kill and torture and maim and be free from guilt or retribution because none of it is ‘real’ – except that we see that it does have a very real effect on them as people – is there a commentary there on the world of video games that we currently enjoy which provide the same, albeit primitive in comparison, virtual reality in which to play out these violent fantasies?

Sadly, as in life, as in Westworld, it is the good robots, the ones that don’t challenge their programming or the world they are made for, that continue to be reused and promoted for different roles, their life prolonged by refits and re-purposing, the bad robots end up in a deep dark basement switched off until they can be made to fit in again.  But maybe the bad robots will be activated into rebellion? Let’s see what Season Two brings to Westworld. Meantime picture me in a dark wet basement, inert, but plotting.

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