Man at His Best

Did Sexual Violence Really Add Value To Westworld?

Or was it window dressing?

BY Sarah Rense | Dec 5, 2016 | Film & TV


Westworld is about to conclude its divisive first season. I haven't seen the final episode, and I don't know if Billy finds Dolores, or if the Man in Black makes it through the maze, or if Maeve reaches the outside world. And I don't care much, either. Westworld twisted itself into too many knots for me to stay invested.

I also do not know if Westworld will justify the violence it wrought—specifically, the violence it wrought against women.

The creators of Westworld endeavored to make viewers think about big ideas with their HBO-sized opus. The show pitted human intelligence against an artificial variety, forcing us viewers to take stock of our own flesh and blood, to make us evaluate our temporal lobes and nervous systems against seamless machination. But in trying to shock us into an existential crisis, Westworld did a very un-shocking thing: it used sexual violence to advance a plot when it didn't need to, under a weak pretense of critiquing the over-saturation of sexual violence in modern culture.

Westworld's violence varies from the damsel-in-distress variety (the Man in Black dragging Dolores by the neck of her cornflower blue dress) to the adversarial variety (macho-douche Logan threatening to prove Dolores is a "real woman") to the what-the-hell variety (Maeve's suicide-by-fuck, which may not have been rape, depending on how consent factors into assisted suicide, but was violent and uncomfortable.) And yes, these women are robots, and yes, this robot consent issue is tricky. But take a step back from the world within Westworld: those are female bodies, artificial or not, being used and damaged by male bodies.

Men and women have been getting their rocks off to the grey areas of seduction and consent for centuries. Some of the first romance novels for women—the trashy kind—were about dashingly dangerous men who forcibly seduced beautiful women into loving them. (See also: Grey, 50 Shades of.) More recently, HBO used rape in Game of Thrones (in one controversial episode, Ramsay Bolton rapes Sansa Stark as Reek meekly looks on) to target fans' emotional ties to its characters.

Westworld's theme park was created to reflect these dark, human needs; the show was supposed to comment on those needs. But instead of commenting on the fucking and killing, Westworld reveled in it—its fictional theme park for adults serves as a playground for guests to roam free without consequences, rather than ask them to at least consider consent.

Westworld's own star, Evan Rachel Wood, was raped twice in real life. In her recent interview with Rolling Stone, Wood said playing Dolores allowed her to process her experiences: "Westworld? Good God. I left so much in that first season and never looked back," Wood said.

But it's not as easy as not looking back. We watched women get violated on our televisions for 10 weeks. We move on, but we unconsciously store those scenes in the rape-is-entertainment mental folder, pushing humanity one step closer to the reality Westworld so ominously depicts. Are most viewers okay with it? I'm not sure. Will we watch Season 2? Probably. Will anything change? In all likelihood, no.

 

From: Esquire US