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What's been most interesting about this first season of Westworld has been
the somewhat feminist bent of the thematic elements of the show, whether
through refuting the manic pixie dream girl and the large (and perhaps
unintentional) feminist metaphor in the series arc. Now that we're done
with season one and everyone's written their recaps and first impressions,
it's time to take another look and see if this trend continued. Obviously,
spoilers for season one of Westworld follow after this kick-ass picture of
Dolores.




It's worth a shoutout to two blog articles that really inform the way I'm
looking at the show here.

First, Eli Keel's analysis of season one of iZombie as an allegory for
surviving sexual assault is just amazing. I was already enjoying the show
when I read that article, and seeing the additional layer increased my
appreciation of the show. Second, Katharine Trendacosta wrote a great
article pointing out that the "mysteries" of Westworld aren't really the
point of the show. Instead, she suggests that the themes of the narrative
really are the whole point of the show.

Looking at Westworld with that kind of lens, it's clear that Dolores' story
in particular is informed by being in - and surviving - an abusive
relationship. (John Cheese's article on Cracked about living with abuse is
a useful read here as well; I'm cribbing a few things from it.)

While William starts out as a prototypical (although perhaps
clueless) "nice guy", we saw back in E07 that at some level, he still views
Dolores as a "thing". Then just an episode later, that's reinforced with
his "break down" comment.

All this could simply be written up as the differences between the hosts
and "human" guests, but it's the monologue from The Man In Black (or
present-day William, as we now know) where he says:


She pushed me away, told me that my wife's death was no accident, that she
killed herself because of me. Emily said that every day with me had been
sheer terror. At any point, I could blow up or collapse like some dark
star...
They never saw anything like the man I am in here.
But she knew anyway.
She said if I stacked up all my good deeds, it was just an elegant wall I
built to hide what's inside from everyone, and from myself.
And that's exactly what we see in the season finale.

Because despite the selling point of the park being to "find out who you
really are", William never does. He attributes the change in his
personality to this (where he's talking about himself in the third person:

[William] Didn't have an instinct for it. Not at first.
But now, he had a reason to fight.
He was looking for you.
And somewhere along the way, he found he had a taste for it....
William couldn't find you, Dolores.
But out there, among the dead he found something else himself.

This is what he thinks is his transformation, but once his flashback gets
back to Dolores, we see her back in her loop, dropping her can, greeting a
new guest as William looks on, stunned that she does not acknowledge him.
The MiB says:


You were as beautiful as the day he met you.
Shining with that same light.
And you were nothing if not true.
I really ought to thank you, Dolores.
You helped me find myself.

Here, while the MiB repeats the same dehumanizing thing he said three
episodes earlier, without really acknowledging that this is at the heart of
his change, we have a different - and truer - visual narrative.




It's from this point that William turns from a mostly nice guy (since when
is going to any lengths to save your love a bad thing?) into a hateful
selfish man who buys up as much of the park as possible and, as we saw back
in the first episode, will rape the woman who he professed to love because
she didn't love him back the same way. Nevermind that her memory was
literally wiped clean - something every guest to the park is aware of.

It's at this point that William turns into the petulant entitled child that
embodies the worst part - and the main part - of our patriarchal culture.
All of William's professions of caring, of love, boil down to it all
needing to be about him. His later protestations about wanting the hosts to
have a chance, to be able to win sometimes, have nothing to do with the
well-being of the hosts, and everything to do with William's own ego.

That's exactly what the park - and our patriarchal society - is set up to
do.

There's a quote from an interview with Jimmi Simpson (who played young
William) in Vanity Fair that is very telling:


I feel like William is a man who has seen the rules very clearly. That's a
lot of people's mode of getting through life. When you have nothing, you
have to abide by other people's rules, and play their game, and play it
well. And then they give you a cookie. I think what he saw [during his
Westworld experience] was that playing by the rules to get the cookie
actually hadn't gotten him anywhere.

He goes from following the rules to making the rules, and I think that
happens when your heart breaks. You realize, “Holy shit, I have nothing to
lose. That didn't kill me.” Then you start calling the shots. I really
related to that, being a person who was in a very long-term relationship
and was married and then divorced. There comes a clarity of what's
important. For the narrative, the Man in Black's realization is pretty
dramatic and exciting. But, like mine, it's very much “Oh, that kind of
stuff won't kill me. I can try a little harder. I can go after what I want
more, and I can be myself, and fuck it.”

Simpson's own rationalization here - just like William's - uses emotional
pain as a rationale and justification for wielding power over other people,
and it's revolting.

I've had that kind of pain myself. While I got suicidal, the idea of
lashing out to deliberately hurt the person I cared for never have crossed
my mind. (I also think the use of "get a cookie" by Simpson is particularly
chilling; I hope it's unintentional.)

We repeatedly see the humans in the show acting in ultimately patriarchal
might-makes-right selfish ways. Even Dr. Ford's motivations to uplift the
hosts is less about their well-being and more about both his own desire for
redemption and to strike back at Delos.




In contrast, when the hosts - at least, when not running a loop - exhibit
compassion and caring for each other. Whether it's Armistice's sacrifice,
Bernard's tragic efforts, Dolores' last-second reassurance of Teddy, or
Maeve's getting off the train (thus breaking her own code), they're all
showing concern for others rather than just themselves.

And that concern is not only when it's convenient, but even when it might
cause them personal harm.

It's important to note that Dr. Ford gets something wrong (even as he tries
to make Bernard feel sorry for him while rationalizing away his actions):

Do you want to know why I really gave you the backstory of your son,
Bernard? It was Arnold's key insight, the thing that led the hosts to their
awakening: suffering.
The pain that the world is not as you want it to be.
It was when Arnold died, when I suffered, that I began to understand what
he had found.
But this isn't really right. There is a theory that consciousness is about
conflict, but it's about internal conflict, not conflict with other people
and not conflicts between desires and reality.

You know, like the conflict between your own desires and doing what's good
for someone else.

Or in other words, the hosts are more conscious than the humans ever were.

I think it's no accident that our awoken hosts are portrayed by women and
people of color, as are the two other characters who seem to have concerns
for entities other than themselves: Arnold, and Felix.




And Maeve does mean that as a compliment - and as a slam to the
self-centered might-makes-right selfishness of the patriarchal culture that
humans are swimming in.

[ideatrash] Thank you for your service.

"Thank you for your service."

The phrase has grated on my nerves since I left the Army. Maybe that's because I was in medical units the whole time. But I think it's something bigger than that.

I remember protesting the second Gulf War, not even a year out from being discharged. I remember the young men jeering at me for protesting the war, but having "better" things to do than enlist themselves.

If I'd not been holding a protest sign, I suspect they would have thanked me for my service... but still wouldn't have enlisted.

When it comes to actually taking care of veterans, we've been doing a pretty bad job for two long presidential administrations. 1

For all the hand-wringing over what impact a Twibbon campaign or making your profile picture green might have, for all the whining about clicktavism, it's stunningly shameful to see this in real life example of the same.

Put the flag on your lapel. Thank them for their service. Then you can feel like a good citizen, like you've done something.

And that's bullshit.

Listen to this episode of The Memory Palace: http://thememorypalace.us/2016/08/numbers/. There's a player on the web page, so you don't need anything special. It's maybe ten minutes long. Listen.

If you're old enough, you might remember that night. If you're young enough, really listen. Let the idea of it sink in.

That was when everyone 2 had something at stake.

I don't think going back to a draft would be good, not really. 3

But I wish there was some way to make military service mean more than a cheap lapel pin and empty thanks.

I wish it was real enough that VA programs were funded, that returning troops got treatment for PTSD, that instead of overpriced pork barrel projects, our military members got the equipment they want and need.

Instead, all we get are a quick gesture of thanks and mentally crossed off the "be a good citizen" list.



1 The current VA issues were known to the White House in 2005, for example.
2 Well, most everyone.
3 The general thought for WWI and WWII was that we gave just enough training to civilians, and those who survived would be good soldiers. American casualty rates at the beginnings of hostilities before 1980 were usually quite atrocious.
As much as I like the Voice Rule, a lot of communication these days is via text. And because everyone's got their own brain weasels, small details matter.

You've probably already heard that periods can totally change the tone of your text message (for the worse), but when you strip out all the non-text elements of communication, even something encouraging can sound iffy or worse.

You might think that a small difference in phrasing wouldn't be a big deal, especially when you're trying to be encouraging. That's what I thought too, until I stopped and thought back to some of the times I've really misinterpreted things.





BAD KERMIT!



I've been doing something different with my texting. It's really helped me, and it doesn't require a whole lot of energy or overhead.

I've been leading with positivity.

I'm using "leading" in the sense that one "leads" their shot with a gun - you aim where the target is going to be, not where it is now. Let me use an example.

Bob is one of my favorite co-workers. I enjoy interacting with him, and he's done a lot to make my day job better. But Bob recently saw an opportunity at another company, and texted me. "Would you be upset if I took this job?

I could text "Well, no harm in trying. That job's not a bad thing at all."

On the face of it, that's encouraging. But brain weasels could easily turn that into damning with faint praise. So instead, I replied:

"Dude! That sounds like a perfect job for you! Go for it! Now! Don't text me back, apply now!"

Yeah, I overstated my position a bit. And if I said that out loud, it'd sound kind of silly.

But there was no way Bob's brain weasels could misinterpret that message, and it took far less effort for me to text that way than to clarify things later on.

Give it a shot!
I am really enjoying Westworld. Not because I'm theorizing and trying to
figure out who, what, and so on, but because I'm seeing reflections of some
really feminist topics reflected in this show, both subtly and overtly (and
I'm not seeing others remark upon them, which puzzles me greatly). Last
week's takedown of the manic pixie dream girl trope was pretty overt, but
in S01E08 "Trace Decay", there's several topics that get tied together, and
some of them aren't quite that obvious.

And perhaps most important of all, they don't even have to be there
intentionally.

Spoilers for S01E08 and before follow after the picture of Maeve and
Dorothy!





You kick ass, ladies.


With Dolores' "freakout", Bernard's beginning flashbacks, and Maeve's
blunders this week from resurging memories, it's not too much of a stretch
to see the erasure, implantation, and manipulation of memory as a big
metaphor for gaslighting.

This doesn't take away from Ferrett's analysis of Westworld as a metaphor
for mental illness; in fact, he mentions the gaslighting analogy in that
post. Considering that the point of gaslighting is to get one to question
one's own mental stability, these metaphors can quite easily co-exist.




Which brings us to William. He's oddly calm about Dolores' freakout -
because he's a stand-in for the "well-meaning guy". He started off being
very compassionate and caring - to the point of being ridiculed by Logan
(who is acting as one of many Archie Bunker stand-ins). Over time, though,
we're getting to see that caring doesn't quite go all the way down. Last
week, we saw him try to make Dolores into nothing more than a catalyst for
his own story, and this week we see that despite his assertions of caring,
deep down William still sees Dolores as less-than-human.


William: We gotta get you closer to Sweetwater. This far out, it's like you
You start to break down or something.
The key here is realizing that William does not mean "break down" as
in "get emotionally upset". He means "break down" as in malfunction. This
also explains his lack of emotional response to Dolores' fugue state; she's
suddenly snapped back to being less than a real person to him.

I don't think this is malice, though. William's heard about Westworld for a
long time, and has had it driven home time and time and time again (both
explicitly and implicitly) that the hosts are lesser. That kind of societal
training has an effect.



Another example of that effect is in the revelation from the Man In Black.
While talking to Teddy, the MiB lists off several ways that he is a "good"
man - titan of industry, philanthropist, and so on. Immediately following
that, the MiB tells Teddy and us) about his wife and daughter. It's worth
quoting his monologue:


I'm the good guy, Teddy. Then, last year, my wife took the wrong pills.
Fell asleep in the bath. Tragic accident. 30 years of marriage vanished.
How do you say it? "Like a deep and distant dream."
Then, at the funeral, I tried to console my daughter.
She pushed me away, told me that my wife's death was no accident, that she
killed herself because of me. Emily said that every day with me had been
sheer terror. At any point, I could blow up or collapse like some dark
star...
They never saw anything like the man I am in here.
But she knew anyway.
She said if I stacked up all my good deeds, it was just an elegant wall I
built to hide what's inside from everyone, and from myself.
This reminds me of nothing so much as when I suddenly realized that every
woman in a night class with me checked under their car when heading home
when I never did. It reminds me of when I insulted a woman and didn't
realize it. It reminds me of the other side of the "well meaning guy", who
suddenly realizes that no matter what their intent, they were still
participating in the Monopoly game of structural inequality. The MiB was
suddenly faced with the existential crisis of his self-perception being
completely out of phase with those whose opinions he cared most about.

Sadly, it seems that rather than use that critique as a starting point of
actual self-discovery (and self-improvement!), the MiB instead went
straight to Westworld to see if he (could be) was as bad as his daughter
claimed.

Have you met humans? We can all be pretty damn awful, and there's quite a
bit of research indicating that if we want to (or are encouraged to, as the
park does, Ford's protestations about white-hat storylines
notwithstanding), that any of us can do horrible things.

Especially if everything around us teaches us that some of the people
around us - hosts, women, people of color - are somehow lesser.



Which brings us to Ford and his watered-down nihilism and watered-down
Nietzscheanism. To Ford's machismo.

Yes, machismo.


Ford: And as exquisite as this array of emotions is, even more sublime is
the ability to turn it off.
Ultimately, Ford views this kind of control, this kind of power to be far
more valuable than any other achievement. It may be dressed up in fancy
clothes, but it's raw control - or power, or force - that matters most to
Ford.

It's here that it's important to back out of the story for a moment. The
writers may not have intended these topics and themes at all. But they do
exist in the narrative. This isn't a contradiction at all; we are all
steeped in the society and morés of the culture we're raised in... and the
global West has been a patriarchy for a very, very long time.

Therefore, it's not a stretch to think that these themes and topics have
seeped into the show from the cultural zeitgeist, without any kind of
deliberate intent. And likewise, it's not a stretch to think that the
machismo of the fictional Westworld park likewise stems from the now clear
values of its (fictional) head storyteller and caretaker of the last 30
years, Dr. Ford.

Whether intentional or not, Westworld is highly rooted in the cultural
patriarchal narrative of the current day.

This manifests in obvious ways, like the independent but related struggles
of Dolores and Maeve.

It also manifests is more subtle ways, such as the high female mortality
rate of characters in the series.

Because in the park, in the show, and in our current society at large, it
is literally the system killing women.

You want to know who to root for?

Root for those who want to break the loops and tell their own stories.

Root for those who want to break the system.


#SFWAPRO
Communicating takes effort. As my amour said the other day, "Things were so much easier when I didn't really have any people in my life!" Which is true.

She also quickly added: "But it's so much better with friends and relationships!" Which is also true.

Despite this, humans still have a limited amount of energy. We have a tendency to take shortcuts and make assumptions. Sometimes, that can work out beautifully, and you seem to understand each other without flaw. But even then, I think it's important to be able to expend the extra energy and overhead to do reflective listening and ask for clarification in order to make sure there aren't any translation errors.

In fact, I'd say it's even more important when it seems like you're communicating flawlessly, for two reasons. First, when (yes, when) there's a misunderstanding, it'll seem somehow worse. Second, you won't be looking for it, and it might go on for quite some time before it's realized.

So while it's necessary to expend the extra effort with someone with whom you don't always communicate flawlessly, you still have to take the time to do reflective listening, even with people you think are on the same page.

And definitely don't forget the Voice Rule!
HBO's series Westworld is a pretty trope-heavy show. Not in a lazy way, though. The park - the aforementioned "WestWorld" - is literally a mass of tropes upon tropes upon tropes. Intentional tropes in the fiction of the show, there for the guest's amusements.

The show itself has done a fairly good job of using tropes and then subverting them or twisting them just enough to make them fresh and new. There's a lot of writing about them, but I've not yet seen any explicitly calling out this one quiet, effective scene in episode seven.

Minor spoiler for "Trompe L'Oeil" follows after the picture.





Dolores has been doing a good job going beyond the MPDG trope since episode one, but this simple quiet scene between her and William below utterly demolishes it:




If you can't see the video (or if HBO gets over-feisty with takedowns), here's a GIF of the most relevant part of the scene:



Sure, this is important in the plot. "I am not a key." Gotcha. No foreshadowing there.

But more importantly for us, in a place where the people you fall for literally are there just to serve you and to be tools in your journey of self-discovery... Dolores quickly, efficiently, and unequivocally tears down the whole concept that she is simply the MPDG tool for William's journey of self-discovery.

It is a quiet, simple declaration that echoes the roar across the wasteland:




We Are Not Things

And for us as writers, it is a beautiful example of how writing above and past the tropes, how writing our characters - even the flawed, looping hosts of Westworld - as three dimensional allows us to crush a trope within the plot that we're writing.

It could be done more heavy-handedly (the antagonist from this week's Supergirl comes to mind), but then it's ineffective as either political thought OR as plot. When it serves the plot, as it does in Fury Road or "Trompe L'Oeil" it does not pander to your baser instincts, and when it does show you who you really are, it's because we empathize with the characters, not because of a diatribe.

#SFWAPRO
There's a number of reasons you might not feel safe in public now.

And yes, you should always tell someone else where you're going, and when you're due back. But sometimes plans change, or you might not have someone you can easily tell.

Luckily, if you have a cell phone (even if it's not a smartphone), there are ways to help keep you safe and alert folks in case of an emergency.

Kitestring is a web service that relies on text (SMS) messages. Which means that even my friend with his cheap burner phone will be able to use it. The service checks up on you with a text message, and if you don't respond, will alert your emergency contacts.

https://www.kitestring.io/

When you start looking for smartphone apps, there's a number of them with a variety of options and drawbacks, as well as free and subscription based services. Techlicious has a good roundup (from earlier this year) at http://www.techlicious.com/tip/free-personal-safety-apps/

If you have Tasker (Android only, sorry) I wrote a task that will send a SMS to any number of contacts in a text file with your location and a request for help. It does not require root access. Aside from being free (once you buy Tasker), it has the additional benefit of being able to be tied to any condition, task, shortcut that you like with a little bit of tweaking.

http://tasker.wikidot.com/textice

And if you have the $99 and can wait until 2017, you can preorder Athena now from RoarForGood. Press a button, and there's a loud alarm. Press it a different way, and it'll contact your emergency contacts.
I'm home for the second day in a row feeling nauseated; I really haven't been able to eat much lately (or really wanted to; nausea will do that to you). And while I joke that the weight loss is nice (though I know it's an unhealthy rate), it kind of really sucks.

I'm probably not making it any better by continuing to be engaged with social media. (I know it's not just stress - my normal stress response is to eat, not stop eating.) I'm going to take some anti-nausea meds and try to ignore it all for a little bit.

Which is a luxury I have that so many others do not. 1

As an old friend of mine pointed out yesterday, the things that I see as new and horrible don't really seem new to him.

I kept sharing articles and reports - from people I know - about the harrassment and worse that they experienced over the last few days. He acknowledged that they were real, yes. But he didn't have the same sense of urgency that I did.

Not because they weren't bad things. Not because they weren't bigotry.

They're the things that have been happening every day for a long, long time that I got to miss out on because I'm a straight white male.

I hate it when I forget my own privilege.

So I'm going to do whatever I need to in order to recuperate enough today to make it to a local protest this evening.

It's not because I think it will change the outcome of the election. (While I'd welcome the reverse of 2000, I am definitely not holding my breath.) I'm not an idiot.

It's because I am not okay with discrimination and bigotry.

It's because, even if that discrimination and bigotry isn't anything new, it should never have been okay in the first place.

Regardless of who you voted for, do you feel that bigotry does not belong in our country? Do want to quietly - but powerfully - communicate that sentiment to those you care about?

There's at least two options I'm aware of.



The first is the white rose. I've been advocating this for a while. A primer as to what it is and why, links to resources for allies, a way to add the rose to your social media avatar, place to get buttons of your own (or plans to get/make them elsewhere) are all at http://usawhiterose.com . I've seen other people doing the same thing with other designs; use whatever works well for you.



The second is the Brexit-inspired safety pin. Wear one, carry others. Very simple, ubiquitous, and perhaps less confrontational. If you are worried about retaliation, dress codes, or for whatever reason can't or don't want to wear a button, this is a great option.

Again, this isn't about who you voted for.

I'm choosing to hope that many of those who voted for Trump are as horrified as I am that the KKK and white supremacists view a Trump win as a mandate for their breed of bigotry and hate.

I'm choosing to hope that many of those who voted for Trump are as horrified as I am about the attacks on my friends who are people of color, Muslims, LGBTQ, or other marginalized groups.

And in the meantime, I will be wearing a button, or safety pin, or at a protest.

Not because it will change the outcome of the election.

But to let the others out there who are scared and frightened know that they are not alone.


1 This applies as well if you read this as having the economic ability to take time off work because I'm sick.
There is a difference between being polite to people and being polite about ideas. Too often, calls to be polite about ideas lead to oppression (see here and here). At the same time, civility can provide one of the paths to actually changing someone's mind.

Yes, silence can be read as consent. And we strive to create spaces where all people feel safe enough to speak freely.

But remember: We do NOT have the right to demand why, when, or how someone speaks up about bigotry.

We do not have the right to demand minorities react a specific way about racism. We do not have the right to demand that LGBTQ folks react a specific way about homophobia. We do not have the right to demand that woman react a specific way about sexism or sexual assault.

When we demand that others react the same way we do - especially when we have elements of privilege they may not - we are not helping.

That was true before this election, and it's true afterward.

If you have the resources and energy, be angry. Be vocal. Bear witness.

But do not shame or condemn those who do not have the same resources you do.

(I reserve the right to be wrong about the above; as always, I'm interested in critique if my own privilege is showing.)
I'm reading a hell of a lot of posts from people (including some whom I respect and admire greatly) saying things like "this wasn't about race" or "this wasn't about gender".

They're saying that it's about economics, about the city versus the country.

And it might be those things, sure. That can be part of it.

And the Civil War (or the laughable Southern euphemism of "The War of Northern Aggression") was about state's rights, sure. That was part of the concerns of the people of the time. But that wasn't what was underlying everything. That wasn't the root of the problem.

The Civil War was about slavery, no matter how much some people have liked to pretend otherwise.

This election was about racism and sexism and homophobia, in so, so many different ways - no matter how much some people would like to pretend otherwise.

There's an old joke about Lincoln where he says "everyone has their price".

And for a disappointingly large percentage of people in the USA, racism, homophobia, and sexism are well within their budget.





This isn't just a simple reversal of fortunes. As David Wong wrote in Cracked, "That sick feeling some of you have right now? They've had that for the last eight years."

Which, I guess, is true, if you listened to the right-wing shills who lied and created boogeymen that weren't real. If the things that Obama and Hillary were accused of saying were actually things they'd said? Yeah, that'd be pants-shittingly terrifying.

The way the right's felt during Obama's terms is pretty much I felt during all of Dubya's terms. I thought it was going to be much worse than it was (though it was bad). I had fears based on reading between the lines, not because of what they actually said and did. (Though still bad, I feared it would be much, much worse.)

This time?

This time there doesn't have to be anyone ratcheting up the fear.

This time there doesn't have to be anyone reading between the lines.

My conservative friends (and enemies) were worried about Obama taking away their second amendment rights, even though that was never, ever said. Or the "death panels" that weren't ever really a thing outside the imagination of Fox News anchors.

We are afraid of Trump censoring and jailing reporters, of throwing his political opponents in jail, of persecuting people belonging to a religion because he actually said those things.

That's an important distinction, isn't it?






FSM, I hope I'm wrong. I want to be wrong so badly.

I want to look around over the next few years and see my fellow Americans realize what they've done, the kinds of evil they crawled in bed with, and come to their collective senses, and work with us liberals.

But I'm pretty sure I'm not wrong.

As far as I can see, it still looks like the "compromise" that the right (and the neo-Nazi "alt-right") still wants is for us to stop existing.

It may start slowly, subtly. Perhaps by a Trump supporter going ahead and ranting, but then silencing any opposition by saying it's not appropriate discussion for the venue. (Yeah, I'm talking about you, interacting with me, today, man.)

But it will begin.

You shall know them by their works.

And that is what they actually said and promised they'd do.

Mourn today.

But be vigilant.


There is work to be done.

If you have the funds, start with Amnesty International, the ACLU, and the SPLC.