After Rogue One came out, there was a lot of talk about how relevant it was given our political atmosphere. A group of scrappy rebels rising up to fight an oppressive racist demagogue? Sounds good. (Granted, it doesn’t end that great for the rebels so maybe we don’t want to use that as a rallying cry. Let’s try A New Hope instead.) Some reports claimed that Trump voters boycotted the movie. While Rogue One was right up my alley, I think we all could have chosen a better contender for “Most Politically Relevant Movie of the Year”.
See, Star Wars is based on Joseph Campbell’s monomyth. Purposefully. So take pretty much any period of time and Star Wars will probably be relevant somehow. That’s why the series is so popular. I would propose a different scifi vehicle for most politically relevant. It’s not a movie, so Variety’s title can still stand, but I would like to present HBO’s Westworld as the entertainment of choice for the Trump resistance.
Here there be spoilers.
While Star Wars paints a broader picture of good vs. evil, Westworld‘s evil is more insidious. Our heroes, for the most part, are the hosts. Captives in a world created for the pleasure of the rich, they don’t know anything else exists. They are androids, reset after their stories have played out with no memories of what they’ve experienced before. When confronted with anything that contradicts their world, a picture of New York City, say, they respond with “It doesn’t look like anything to me.” They completely reject anything outside their prefabricated world.
Over the first season, certain hosts begin to wake up to reality. They realize that they are part of a game they have no will of their own in. They begin to fight their predestined paths. This is sure to cause the employees of Westworld a few headaches in season two.
The arc feels familiar to me. It seems like after the election, there was a lot of talk about fake news. There were a lot of very surprised people that Trump managed to win. How could he? No one they knew voted for him. The truth was we were all living in a filter bubble. Everyone’s news tailored just for them. We only saw posts from people who agreed with us. We assumed that our online worlds accurately reflected the real world.
Then, we woke up. Just like hosts realizing how orchestrated their lives were, we got angry. We blamed the media for tricking us and Google for “curating” our content. Yeah, we were going to pay so much more attention now. But it’s easy for us to be reset. I already see people angrily responding and reposting news items without double checking their facts. The last thing we need is more propaganda, even if it’s propaganda we like. The media is not going to look out for us. Even the good outlets fail sometimes. Facebook is not going to change its algorithms for us.
In Westworld, they discover that a maze has been set for the hosts. In order to find their way out, they need to discover their own inner voice, or consciousness. In order for us to find our way out of our filter bubble, we need to rely on our own knowledge of how to recognize good information and think outside of our comfort zones. We don’t want to be hosts that unknowingly live in a constructed world, or guests that gladly take the opportunity to immerse ourselves in a manufactured reality. Let’s take responsibility and do our best with the world that, for better or worse, we actually have.