These Violent Delights Have Violent Ends: Disrupting the Angst

By Karalis, Tiffany | English Education, April 2018 | Go to article overview

These Violent Delights Have Violent Ends: Disrupting the Angst


Karalis, Tiffany, English Education


As a graduate student, when someone asks me if I've seen a recently released movie or television series, my response is usually something along the lines of, "Nah, unfortunately I haven't," but my inner monologue is laughing, almost maniacally, at the thought of taking leisure time to watch a two-plus hour movie, let alone an entire television series. It's not that I don't thoroughly enjoy a good binge-watching streak or that I can't shift around my schedule to squeeze in at least an episode or two; it's more about the wave of guilt that washes over me whenever I find myself vegging rather than writing, reading, or grading at the end of the night. But during the fall of 2016, my resistance collapsed, and I simply couldn't take it anymore. Left and right from every Tom, Dick, and Harry1 in my office, classrooms, to out on the streets, I kept hearing the same hyperbolized phrase-"You haven't seen Westworld?"

So, what can I say? I succumbed to the temptation of satisfying my curiosity. Within 72 hours, I'd finished the entire 10-episode series and was left understanding precisely what all the hoopla was about. The show was addictive and introduced a concept that resonated with me far more than I'd expected from what I had assumed to be yet another overhyped HBO series.

Westworld, a technologically advanced amusement park populated by robot hosts who are programmed to cater to the desires of high-paying guests, is designed to fulfill the fantasies of everyone who's willing to pay-regardless of how dark or twisted they may be. Although technically androids, many of the hosts have developed the intellectual acuity to perceive and even experience human emotion, despite the software team's best efforts to thoroughly wipe out their memories and conception of visceral sentiment. In the Wild West-themed park where laws, regulations, and etiquette of a civilized society don't apply, but where the actions of the guests-both positive and negative (but mainly negative)-can be felt by the hosts, it seems reasonable to anticipate a societal collapse.

Throughout the series, the park guests eagerly, and with unsettling delight, participate in physically, mentally, and emotionally abusing the android hosts who are specifically programmed only to cater to the guests' desires-whether that takes the form of compliance or resistance. The guests are even able to execute the hosts, but, despite their valiant attempts to defend themselves, the hosts are not capable of causing any significant harm to the guests and typically concede to passivity. Beyond physical devastation, women hosts are seen as objects and treated as such, men hosts (and guests) are dichotomized as either tough and strong or weak and pathetic based on how much violence and hateful rhetoric they're willing to participate in, and the man running the show with no regard for the concerns of his safety personnel is Robert Ford, the bully of the whole operation. Despite requests from his programming employees to reduce the amount of stress placed on the tormented hosts, Ford's callous and arrogant nature simply dismisses any such plea with a simple assertion of dominance: "Don't get in my way."

As I observed the dynamics between the power-hungry guests and submissive hosts early on in the series, it led me to wonder about what my own world would look like if the rules of civility didn't exist. As it turns out, I didn't have to think very hard since the ongoing incivilities promulgated by Trump and his churlish band of executives aren't a far cry from those that exist in Westworld. Much like the regressive environment depicted in Westworld where the essentially defenseless hosts experience constant psychological torment from the shameless guests, Trump and his administration have intentionally pursued a variety of methods for turning twenty-first-century progressivity on its head. From verbally assaulting individuals and entire communities based on factors such as gender, race, and ethnicity, to name a few, we have truly seen it all-uncensored and uncut. …

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