After some thought...I've decided to plunge into HBO's Westworld even though I do so with a great deal of dread. Ultimately, I'm a SF&F writer, and this show is part of the discussion SF is having about AI and related issues. I can't stay completely away from it and participate in that discussion. I'll just state up front: I do not trust HBO to work with Feminist themes in a way that is thoughful or inclusive. With A Game of Thrones, they've repeatedly demonstrated that they've a strong straight male bias and very little regard for the damage they do regarding the abuse of women. So, consider me a hostile viewer. It's going to take a great deal to win me over. I will not give the show the benefit of a doubt. HBO lost that chance when they did what they did with G.R.R. Martin's work. In addition, I've seen the original 1973 version. (I'm a bit of a Michael Crichton fan.)
I've only seen one episode of the new Westworld so far, and already I'm not impressed. Let's start with that image up there. Now, let's compare it to the original artwork. Shall we?
They've opted for a (sexualized) flayed woman even though the scene from which that image is taken contained a man. The symbolism alone isn't so hot. It also doesn't fit the theme of the series. (Which I assume from what I've seen so far--revolves around the evil that humanity harbors within themselves. A point better made by a skeletal/flayed verson of a man.) So, that's -1, HBO, and we haven't even gotten started.
Now, let's compare the original trailer with the new one.
The original is concerned with the danger the robots represent in addition to the evil humanity brings into the park. The first theme is Human vs Machine and is one of staples of SF. The threat of sexual assault exists in the original, but it isn't front and center, nor is it presented in a titillating manner.
Now, let's check out the new version.
That is a completely different tone. I understand why they wouldn't want to retred the same ground the first did. This is a remake. They want to take the themes into deeper meaning. I get it. However, the threat of sexual assault is right there--right away. And this is why I shied away from the series from the start.
But we'll continue.
Seconds into the opening scene, HBO earns a second negative mark. Dolores is naked and the males around her are clothed--she's naked and covered in streaks of blood with the strong implication that she's an innocent who has been abused. Oh, goodie. Sure. There's one female scientist present. But that doesn't mitigate the implied power distribution. (Worse, the female scientist participates in more abuse--a non-consentual kiss.) Dolores is vulnerable. She is naked. Those with absolute power over her are not. They do not appear to be concerned for her wellbeing. Her mind is being probed--to further the feeling of powerlessness and assault. This is not an auspicious start. Normally, this wouldn't be as bad a problem for me, but go back to that first paragraph. We are not beginning with a blank slate.
Things I found interesting: the concept that the lead android-creator, Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) has decided to permit pieces of the robots' pasts to drift through their programming--thus, replicating a human subconcious--all in what appears to be a fit of hubristic bordeom is cool. I do like that. It isn't new, really. (see BladeRunner) But I do like it.
Things I didn't: the idea that apparently every single human being that enters Westworld is obsessed with being the bad guy--even the women find the bad guy to be sexier. That's horseshit. I've played a lot of roleplaying games over decades. There will always be those who choose to be the hero. This idea that "if all the rules were taken away, human beings would ony choose evil is a disingenuous concete, and it's particularly harmful now.
We'll see where this is headed. I don't have much hope.
is a Science Fiction and Fantasy author living in Texas.