Why I appreciate HBO’s West World

I consider West World to be one of the best television series at least through season one. It has nothing really to do with the over arching story. For me, the power of West World lies in what it says about humanity and technology. In a society where almost everyone is self obsessed taking selfies, this show asks what’s the difference between you and Siri. We tend to consider ourselves as special, unique, and creative because we are conscious and exercise free will. West World pops that bubble by suggesting that there is not much difference between us and technology once it starts to remember. The technology today may not be there yet, but it is easy to fathom a day where Disney no longer hires people but programs machines to interact with tourists.

West World evokes such thoughts because we never know who is a human and who is a machine. Some characters, like Dalores, are obviously machines, but even when we know “what” someone is, the series invites us to imagine and explore the difference in being of humans and machines.

Don’t watch video if you have not made it to the 8th episode and don’t want a plot twist spoiled.

In what ways are we programmed like the machines in West World?

(Warning: Long winded answer where I wander to and fro to make my point.)

Well, from the very start of our lives we adapt and learn from the environment we are raised within. We are programmed to behave a certain way in school, at home, and with friends. We learn that some thoughts, words, or actions are “bad” and come to associate them with shame. Some people never quite learn to do so because their social environment does not induce them to feel shame. If you could get away with anything (which you can in West World) and pay no consequences, why not murder someone who bothers you? That’s a drastic action, but we are programmed in a sense to talk about or avoid certain topics. When first meeting someone, most people probably avoid talking about politics or religion. Why is that? I think one reason is that these two aspects of someone’s identity are deeply ingrained and are difficult to change. How do people arrive at their political or religious beliefs? Is there a true religion? If our religious beliefs are largely a result of what our parents believe and expose us to, are some people just unlucky by being exposed to the wrong religion? There is no true religion. Religion in a sense is like part of our programming. Each comes with a set of rules and guidelines to abide by in order to live a holy life. When we don’t live up to expectations, we feel shame.

Shame is an emotion that we come to associate with being “wrong”. When a teacher called on you in school after you were daydreaming, you likely felt a degree of shame. People who slander or bully homosexuals induce shame in their victims for being homosexuals. Society (and myself) believe the bullies should be the ones who feel shame because sexuality has much to do with experiences one has in life (environment). Despite what some (including my parents) may believe, there is no natural sexuality. For many men, their sexuality isn’t as strict when they are imprisoned. What has changed is their environment. But hetero men don’t go to prison and instantly fancy men. It takes time to adapt and break down the wall that they have spent much of their lives building between hetero and homo sexuality. Prisoners have a difficult time realizing a heterosexual lifestyle in prison and thus adapt.

Take any part of you: gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, occupation, class. With each part of an identity, there are expectations, opportunities, restrictions, biases, and prejudices that are bundled along with it. America is yet to have a woman President of the United States, so being a woman thus far in America has meant that person won’t be President. Over Christmas my family was discussing the election, and my step aunt mentioned her nieces or grand daughters being so excited that Trump was elected. I said that was sad to have girls at such a young age enthusiastic about a sexist being elected and that I would have liked to see Hillary elected because it would be good for girls in this country to see a woman elected so they might believe they could be President one day. A woman my age said that she felt she could be President. I didn’t say this, but I thought how ludicrous.  What fantasy world do you live in after this last election? Any woman growing up hoping to be President has to deal with being labeled a bitch for governing the same way as her male counterparts.

I got off topic there for a minute, but the point I want to make is that categories impact people in ways that we don’t perceive and are taught to see the effects as natural. These categories program us much like the characters in West World. If more people could realize that they are no better than anyone else and that where they are in life is due more to the environments they have been placed in than to hard work and ingenuity, we might be able to solve some problems within our society before its too late.