Westworld: Revisiting the Slave Narrative

*Okay people, I’m about to get offensive to some of y’all with this post but I’m standing by my observations. (This is of a piece with my other Westworld meta about Dolores and Maeve.) Yeah, robot rebellion movies are also about a lot of other things, but you know what they say, once is an happenstance, twice is coincidence, but three times is enemy action.

 If you’re offended by this post, I don’t need you to come in my inbox telling me how wrong my opinion is, and I’m not particularly interested in arguing  about it, so  comments are off for this one.

White people always seem to be looking for new bullying opportunities. New wars, new slaves, new enemies.

Ava DuVernay on How ’13th’ Reframes American History – The Atlantic

*Slavery lasted roughly 245 years followed by what some like to call “Slavery 2.0″, in which the 13th amendment allowed it to continue, just under a different name. See:”Slavery By Another Name

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Because  not having  Black people as slaves was so incredibly traumatic for them, White people couldn’t simply couldn’t let go of the institution. America is always casting around for its next slave race, its next victim, its next big war against…whoever, and if they can’t enslave and/or bully PoC, well  then they’ll just have to create brand new ones. Yes, White people have been working diligently to create the next race of beings that they hope won’t protest their shoddy treatment.

White people are reliving slavery and  its aftereffects just as much as Black people. But among Whites it takes the form of guilt and/or atonement, and this is often reflected in the entertainments they create. Movies are often a way for a society to collectively deal with traumatic issues. Hollywood has not only created an entire genre of movies, and TV shows, where they have designed robots to be humanity’s servants but, like  the Japanese reliving their trauma around the atomic bomb in endless Godzilla movies, American filmgoers can experience punishment from the hands of their former slaves, in movie after movie. For every feel good movie about Black people during slavery, there’s a corresponding movie about some future slave rebellion, that doesn’t actually have any Black people in it, (The Matrix is exempt from this), because that would probably  be hitting too close to home, I guess. It’s easy for Hollywood to make movies about Black brutalization, but when slaves turn on their masters, that can only be told in allegory. (Note how few movies exist about actual slave rebellions.)

From Metropolis and Bladerunner, to  The Matrix and  Ex Machina, the theme of  karmic retribution for slavery,  is so common, there’s an entire genre centered around it. The HBO show, Westworld, is just the latest example of the slave rebellion narrative. Not only is the plot of the show  an allegory for slavery, its set during a time period when slavery actually existed. The irony of people visiting a theme park that is set during a time period when people regularly committed atrocities, against actual human beings, so they can entertain themselves by  committing atrocities against fake human beings, is not lost on many critics. Not to mention that nowhere on Westworld is slavery ever mentioned, even though it’s set in, or just after that time. The closest we get is the mention of the Confederados, who lost the war.

*The word robot itself comes from the word Robota, the Czech word meaning “forced labor”, or “slavery”, and from a 1920 story by the Czech playwright,  Karel Capek , about a factory of artificial humans who turn on their robot masters.

Rise, O Machines: Why Hollywood’s Best Robot Stories Are About …

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White people don’t want to openly acknowledge slavery,except in the most defensive tones, nevertheless, they keep making endless allegories about it in popular fiction. I think these type of movies are both wish fulfillment and phobia. White people  can see themselves be punished, over and over, and through such punishment, seek to atone for their collective sin, and prepare themselves for the imagined future, in which PoC have the upper hand, and can no longer be dominated by them. You have to wonder, on some level, White people want to be punished, for the atrocities their ancestors committed. In film after film robots want to destroy humanity for past transgressions and maybe some future ones, too.

I must have watched about a couple dozen “bad robot” movies before this idea took hold, but what spurred this particular line of thought now, was watching Westworld, empathisozing with the Hosts, and seeing the level of abuse the Hosts are designed to tolerate at the hands of the Guests, from Dolores’ cyclical victimization, to the blond Host  we saw get shot in the street, her death throes cheered by the Guests. I’ve watched, over the years,  countless numbers of  movies and TV shows where robots have been  misused by humanity, and are rightfully angry.

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In The Matrix, the machines fought a decades long war with humans, managing to subdue them, making humans  incapable of ever harming  them again, by regularly culling their population. Does this movie not echo the exact fears of the Alt-Right, and White Nationalists, who believe there’s a White genocide taking place, and that “those Brown people” will take over, and not just punish White people, but destroy all of Western civilization. Although, ironically, in that very belief,  is the assumption that White people must be punished for something. What are they being punished for? Why is revenge sought? And revenge for what? I’ve had discussions with White people who insist that Black people are really, really, angry about slavery. I’ve also observed that most racist beliefs are little more than projections of racists’ sins onto the backs of others. So, what I hear when White people say such things is: White people are afraid that Black people are angry about slavery, (while never acknowledging the hundred years of abuse that came afterwards.)

All this anxiety about slavery isn’t our burden.

Its theirs.

*’There was trauma and never any treatment or acknowledgment of what the trauma did to those that were enslaved or their progeny. Black people are “profoundly resilient,” posits DeGruy, but the fact is, they have been traumatized … and white people are afraid. Why the fear? Perhaps it is because white people feel like black people will eventually retaliate and heap upon them what they have heaped upon black people. Perhaps it is because they worry they will lose control; white supremacy is, after all, a giant system of social control. Slavery was about control, as is mass incarceration. This government was founded on the need for white people to be in control. To think about losing it is way too scary.’

– Dr. Joy A. DeGruy, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing.

*Rebellion:

“A slave rebellion is an armed uprising by slaves. Slave rebellions have occurred in nearly all societies that practice slavery and are amongst the most feared events for slaveholders.”

https://psmag.com/can-westworld-give-us-new-ways-of-talking-about-slavery-2b921b6a6690#.j9gxqet6t

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In Bladerunner, the Replicants, one of the semi-organic cyborgs used as slaves in “the Outer Colonies”, (oddly Westworld’s Hosts are seemingly the precursor to these beings) are led by Roy Batty, who comes to Earth to find the human who made him. Replicants were banned from Earth after a bloody mutiny in one of the colonies. Zhora and Pris are sex workers, and Leon is a common laborer, (ironically he’s a robot robot). There may have been a bunch of reasons given for banning them from Earth, but that the Replicants might turn on their human masters, had to have been at least one of them.

Roy eventually ends up killing his maker, who says he can’t help Roy extend his lifespan beyond the four years given to all Replicants. Why four years? To keep them from developing emotions linked to having long memories. Four years is also helpful, as the Replicants die before they have an opportunity to build up a decades long list of abuses,  inflicted on them by their makers. Unlike the Hosts of Westworld, Replicants are fully cognizant.They know what they are and what they’re capable of. Rebellions by the Replicants would be a lot more frequent and bloody, if they were allowed to build a huge database of atrocities committed against them. Its also greatly convenient for  humanity that Replicants die before enough of them can organize enough to be successful. In Bladerunner, we saw what just four of them could accomplish in their limited lifespans. Can you imagine how much power they’d have after several decades, to plan their revenge? You’d get  the  basic plot of Battlestar Galactica, and there is a clear through-line from the Hosts, to the Replicants, to the Cylons.

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http://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/did-african-american-slaves-rebel/

One of the primary beliefs of modern White supremacy,( which has changed and evolved over the centuries, as PoC have enjoyed more freedom),  is  that Black and Brown people, having once been the  servants,  are out to get White people for past transgressions. White racists believe if PoC should ever gain enough power, we will do to White people, what they have done to us.

Of course, in order to hold such a belief, such a person, on some level, are well aware of the things they have done to other races, and that what they did was worth being angry about. In order for such a revenge fantasy to exist, there has to be some event that occurred for vengeance to be desired. This has most recently culminated in the backlash that is the Trump campaign, of which one of the overriding fears, is  that Black and Brown people are taking over, gaining too much power, and that White people are now being oppressed, and will soon be destroyed. For some White people this is an idea that has moved beyond just a fear to, in their minds, despite all evidence to the contrary,  a reality.

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White filmmakers have been complicit in reinforcing and  reiterating  this fear, in which the slave turns on its master. Skynet, from the Terminator films, decides to wipe out all of humanity, when humans make the mistake of trying to unplug it. The entire premise of the  TV remake, Battlestar Galactica,  is based on robots wanting to wipe out humanity for past atrocities committed against them. The Daleks of Dr. Who have, rather ironically for robots, an unreasoning hatred of all humanity, and work diligently to wipe us all out.The Borg of Star Trek want to consume humanity. The Matrix wants to keep humanity in submission so it doesn’t continue to commit the atrocities of the past. The Claws from the 1995 movie Screamers, having been created to destroy war enemies, and completed their first mission, found new purpose in destroying everyone else. Hal 9000, wants to kill all humans for reasons known only to himself. And in the latest iteration of this fear, Ultron,  from The Avengers films, attempts to wipe out humanity, because we’re simply no good.

Artificial Intelligence Robot claims it will destroy human race – HackRead

http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2016/11/westworld-theories-world-outside

Future Enemies:

White genocide is a white nationalist conspiracy theory that mass immigration, integration, miscegenation, low fertility rates and abortion are being promoted in predominantly white countries to deliberately turn them minority-white and hence cause white people to become extinct through forced assimilation.

Now tell me this doesn’t sound like the plot of a Star Trek movie, starring the Borg, a conglomeration of alien races that seek to absorb, consume, or forcefully assimilate, all other galactic species,  in an effort to improve its existence. This  also sounds a lot like the projections of a group of people who have done just that throughout history. Throughout the Alt-Right community is the belief in a coming race war, which will put Blacks, gay people, feminists, and everyone else, who isn’t falling in line with White (specifically male) Supremacy, back in their proper places, which is: under the complete control of White men.

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Anytime any racial incident occurs in the US, for example, cries of “race war” erupt from the outer fringes of the American political system. Although not all of the proponents of race war are White, they are the main ones howling for just such a conclusion to America’s racial tensions. They see war (and their inevitable win) as the answer to solving America’s “race problem”. Such people often long for the apocalypse because afterwards they can remake the world into their fantasy images of the past, with PoC, and White women dead or submissive, as they believe such people should be. At their foundation, these fantasies are just  another way to re-establish White supremacy (which has never been lost), or to prop up the flagging manhood of its proponents. Having won this so-called “war”, one need never experience guilt or fear about race ever again, having proven beyond a doubt, that White men are superior to all others.

White Americans are always looking for whatever next great war, that will lead to their power fantasies coming true. So far American Black people have not been cooperative in giving it to them. In their efforts to find it, they cast their net far and wide (Muslims, Gays, Immigrants). One the staples of early films were the swarms of “Othered” Menaces out to destroy White manhood, tand fragile White femininity, a topic approached again and again , not just in the genre of  Science Fiction, but in Action (The Road Warrior) , Horror (Invasion of the Body Snatchers), and War (Birth of a Nation) movies.

Since most filmmakers have  gotten publicly vilified for casting Poc as hostile, screaming hordes, (I’m looking at you No Escape, Daredevil,  Blackhawk Down, and anything produced in the 80s) movies have had to settle for non-human antagonists, which are a  perfect fit: from the endless crowds of robots, (and robot-adjacent Stormtroopers), being mowed down by the heroes in Star Wars, and I Robot, to the  massive swarms of  alien hordes in Independence Day and Star Trek Beyond, to the  giant robot battles in Avengers:Age of Ultron. Yes, these swarms of destroyers of the human race make for some very exciting films but these “Menacing Swarm”  films also weren’t being made in such numbers, until after World War II, when Communism, The Red Menace, became the new threat to American soverignty, and seemed to reach their peak after the fall of Communist Russia and The Berlin Wall, in the 90s. Without the Communists to be afraid of, Hollywood had to cast around for some new enemies, and everybody who wasn’t White, straight, male, and Christian got a chance to audition for the role. (After some major tryouts by all others, for which Hollywood was duly censured, Americans seemed to have settled on Muslims, which is a diffuse enough category to include everyone and no one, since “Muslim”isn’t a race, but does happen to include many non-White people.)

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Machines may have many different reasons for wanting to destroy humanity, but the end result is a war between human and machine, in which there can be only one. Much like their fantasy race wars, there can be no equality, no living together in peaceful harmony, no cooperation. For such  mindsets, life is a zero sum game, where someone  must be in power over the other.

Whites and the Fear Caused by White Supremacy

PoC need White people to acknowledge their past because not only can PoC not be free when White people are feeling terrified, and guilty, but they can’t be free either. They can be easily controlled by their fears, and insecurities, and PoC can’t fix something that’s really only inside them. By not acknowledging and dealing with the  past , White people become easy prey for politicians like Trump, and can be stampeded in any direction, even their own destruction, as we’ve just seen during this election. White people who keep telling us to let go of the past refuse to understand that none of us can let it go, until they let it go. Its long past time for White people to confront their fears, instead of running away,  but then endlessly reliving them, in their entertainments. It’s their inability to acknowledge the past that informs every facet of their lives, from where they live, to how they socialize, to the entertainments they enjoy.

Movies don’t just tell us how to think about the world around us. Since the vast majority of these movies are made by White men, they reflect what these men think about the rest of the world, and one can glean a greater understanding of what White people think about the world based on the entertainments they enjoy, which largely seem to consist of endless violent fantasies about having or being powerful . (Contrast this with the kinds of movies made by PoC and white women.)

 Bad Robot movies: Deadly Friend, Avengers Age of Ultron, I Robot, Bladerunner, Hardware, The Terminator, Ex Machina, 2001, Battlestar Galactica, Westworld, Humans, Metropolis, Saturn 3

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fictional_robots_and_androids

 

 

 

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