The Sadistic Pleasure Of HBO’s Westworld

Last night was my introduction to HBO’s Westworld. It also happened to be my introduction to The Walking Dead. In comparison I found West World to be far more sophisticated and interesting than The Walking Dead.

I discovered the latter to be a rather boring morality soap opera with a bunch of Halloween characters (zombies) thrown in for background diversion. Westworld, however, even though its viewer hook is standard sex and violence, posed some rather deep moral and philosophical questions. But first, for those of you unacquainted with Westworld, let me explain the show’s basic premise.

It seems that rich corporate dudes have created what amounts to a western theme park filled with a cast of characters that typically populate old-time cowboy movies — good guys, bad guys, dancehall hookers etc. Except that these characters aren’t technically real. They have in fact been created and programed purely so that wealthy humans may be allowed to exercise their sadistic and pleasurable impulses unabridged.

Now it works out that these artificial frontier characters are theoretically programed so that it is impossible for them to hurt the guests that have paid big bucks for the joy of slaughtering as many of the charters as they care to via shootouts and knife fights, while literally screwing up dancehall girls to their heart’s delight.

As it happens Westworld unfolds for TV viewers in such a way so as they can at first never be sure in specific scenes which of the characters are the customers and which are their synthetic victims. Then, too, there are within the show’s plot the political and personal struggles of the folks creating and running this apparently highly lucrative bit of sadistic entertainment.

The interesting aspect of the show for me is the moral questions that it suggests. For instance if creatures can be created that have virtually the same emotions as human in the realm of joy and fear and can experience pain no less so than humans (after all the point of Westworld is to give the paying customer the ultimate sense of doing really bad things), then why is this brutality inflicted upon the synthetics no less immoral then it would be against “real” humans?

I mean the simple fact that these creatures were of human creation does that give the creators a free pass to do as they please with them. If that be the case then that opens up the terrifying possibility that we are the creation of God merely for his sadistic amusement, as he pits man against man and nature in endless combinations of fear and pain.

But then let’s suppose the creators of Westworld decide to take the basic premise of the show up a notch by giving the humanoid creatures the ability to reproduce themselves the same as humans. Considering the advance technology associated with the theatrical future time of the show, that would seem to be within in easy reach. Does that then finally cause the situation for the synthetics to reach a level whereby there is absolutely no moral separation between them and their original human creators?

Like everything in life Westworld is a double-edged sword. It has the power to desensitize us to violence but also open us up to serious moral questioning of what it means to be human, an always difficult puzzle to take on.

Jim Ridgway, Jr. military writer — author of the American Civil War classic, “Apprentice Killers: The War of Lincoln and Davis.” Christmas gift, yes!

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