I absolutely love the hour-long dramas on HBO. For me, the characters in The Sorpranos felt like real people, even friends. When Adriana was killed off, I actually felt like I had lost a friend. Six Feet Under taught me about death. When I had a death in my own family, I remember thinking how the show subtly prepared me to deal with planning the funeral. Though only two seasons long, Rome, in my opinion, is the best TV show of all time. So, naturally, I was excited when Westworld first premiered. The premise sounded fascinating: an amusement park to fulfill your every fantasy. Hell, yeah! I wanted in!
Let’s back up another moment.
As a little girl, I loved watching the sentimental if not downright hokey show Fantasy Island.
It was fun and romantic, but every character seemed to have benign fantasies that could easily be fulfilled in a mere 44 minutes. I was hoping Westworld would be the darker, edgier version of Fantasy Island.
It is. But mostly for men.
I’m used to watching male fantasy-fulfillment shows. Some of them I really enjoyed, like Entourage — I watched all eight seasons. But there was something that disturbed me on a deep level about Westworld. Of course, modern-day or futuristic fantasies involve advanced technology, but when you distill down the fantasies in Westworld, it’s basically men having sex with robots. That led me to ask the question: Do men prefer to have sex with a robot over a living, breathing, thinking woman?
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Let’s go back to the 2013 film Her. In it, the protagonist, Theodor (Joaquin Phoenix), falls in love with a phone app called Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). Samantha is designed to be the perfect companion for Theodor, which is great for him, I guess, but the relationship is completely one-sided. Their “romance” doesn’t involve the complexities, the bonding, the compromise that comes when two sentient beings couple up. I get that relationships, romantic or otherwise, are difficult; they involve risk and vulnerability, but the rewards can be tremendous. Theodor seems perfectly satisfied with the vapid, electronic version of a woman, however. Is this a flaw in Theodor’s character? Or is this a broader statement about men’s desires? Is emotional intimacy just too much?
I’m not saying that Westworld is getting anything wrong when it comes to male fantasy. As a woman, it just makes me feel insignificant. Secondary. Disconnected. The show also explores the Madonna-whore complex, with Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) being the virginal figure with Maeve (Thandie Newton) being the whore. There are some feminist threads here, as each of these robot women struggles to find her independence from men, but again the Madonna-whore dichotomy is entirely a male construct, identified by Sigmund Freud nearly a century ago.
Westworld does push the boundaries of fantasy, revealing the hidden desires many men wish they could fulfill. It also seems the show is looking to give more power to the female robots in Season 2. For me, however, the show creates a world where real women are props, and it’s not a world I want to spend time in. I worry that the future includes real sex robots and a lot more ways for people to disconnect from each other. I prefer to spend my TV hours watching shows where people of all genders share the human experience, as difficult as that may be.