Just as the 45th elected president of the United States is about to occupy his throne after an unprecedented campaign, writing a comparison between the artificial world depicted in the HBO series Westworld and the America awakened by Donald J. Trump is just too much fun a task to ignore.
Attention, this post may contain spoilers related to the HBO series Westworld
Allegory in the geographical sense, or the national allegory, as Fredric Jameson called it, has been used in science fiction since the very beginnings of the genre; Mary Shelley’s England in her novels Frankenstein (1818) and The Last Man (1826) mirrored 19th Century England, in an attempt to evoke the Romantic disillusion after Napoleonic Wars; so did Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (1954), as it projected the fears of American citizens towards the Cold War through a post-apocalyptic depiction of Los Angeles.
HBO’s Westworld is no different; the Wild Wild West American looking scenario created by science fiction pioneer Michael Chrichton is unfortunately very similar to the the America to expect in 2017.
The engineers in Chrichton’s Westworld have created the perfect theme park for the bigots and the bullies; this artificial world is in a modern sense a heterotopia of deviation, that is, in Foucauldian terms, a place to which certain individuals can be sent so they can perform deviant actions and follow behaviours otherwise unaccepted/condemned within society. The guests in the theme park are often privileged well-off members of society who can afford a ticket to this simulated world, a space specially designed to satisfy every single one of their desires, no matter how dark their nature.
The result is a make believe scenario in which murder, torture and rape are legitimised by one very simple idea: with the exception of the guests, every other creature in the park is an artificially created being, a robot; a very sophisticated and realistic reproduction of a human being, but a robot still. An object that can be subjected to every form of abuse on a daily basis without the worry of breaking any law or even risk of retribution, as hosts have their thoughts and experiences removed from their memories after every single one of the guests’ visits.
There is nothing new in the way the plot evolves; as other works such as Asimov’s I, Robot or Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell have shown, high levels of sophistication in a cyborg’s consciousness ultimately comes at a price, as some of the androids will ultimately begin to think independently and question their inferior status as robots under human domain. In the case of Westworld, this intellectual defiance begins when some of the hosts begin remembering details of past experiences, despite the fact that they should have, in theory, been completely removed from their artificial brain; interesting notions of memory are invoked through this particular case, but what interest us the most is the hierarchy established between humans and robots.
While Donald J Trump has not (yet) openly claimed that certain minorities in the US are in fact an army of androids sent by China to stop America being great again, his continuous attacks against Mexican immigrants, women or disabled people (to name just a few), indicate that he would easily endorse the idea of establishing a hierarchy of citizens’ rights on the basis of their class, race and gender, and legislate accordingly.
In Trump’s very own Westworld, citizens from Mexican origin are not only defaulted to potential rapists but also forced to build a wall separating their country of origin from the US. Even if late claims indicate that Mexico will not be paying for the construction of that wall themselves, as it was initially promised by Trump, the mere thought of forcing a community to build a wall around them against their will has a clear resonance to notions of slavery.
So Trump paces around this microcosm he has created, riding his horse with a captured Mexican slave tied to his rope, when he happens to find a young attractive girl who is walking towards her family’s ranch alone. With the exact same sense of entitlement as The Man in Black in Westworld (played by Ed Harris) sexually forces Dolores (played by Evan Rachel Wood) on the basis that she is just a robot, Trump grabs this young woman by the pussy on the basis that she is only a woman.
There are of course obvious differences between the Westworld shown by HBO and the America Trump dreams about when he and his toupee lay in bed at night, the first difference being that the former is a work of fiction and the latter is a crude reality we will witness from 2017 on. The second difference is that, while in order to enter Chrichton’s imagined park you have to be a wealthy business man/woman who can afford the price of the entrance, a ticket to Trump’s Westworld is granted to any American, provided he is a white, heterosexual, non-disabled male.
The rest are only robots. Muslim, African-American, Asian, women, members of the LGTBIQ community, or people with disabilities are just hosts subjected to the authority of Trump’s great white men. They are incredibly similar to real human beings, but somewhat inferior, expendable, liable to function as objects in the new United States that apparently belong to the real American people.