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To The Wonder: Moments of Sehnsucht

The first time I watched a Terrence Malick film, it was Tree of Life a few years ago and I couldn’t last any longer than 45 minutes. My problem was I didn’t understand how to specifically watch a Terrence Malick film. This is because his movies don’t follow the linear storytelling motif.  To The Wonder doesn’t necessarily feel like a movie, with a plot, rising action, and an eventual climax.  It feels almost like a reflection of life, it feels more like a memory, or how I would perceive my own life if I was sitting at the end of it looking backwards. Impressionistic, visual poetic moments dancing around as if they were stones skipping across a lake. The story jumps around and the scenes aren’t structured in a way that moves the movie along like baby steps.  There are a few times the characters are what appears to be mindlessly wandering around fields with the camera rotating around them.  In my opinion, even though this is literally happening in the movie, this is a far more allegorical presentation of the character’s interactions with one another.  These moments become more intriguing when there’s an emotional struggle that arises between them.

In some scenes, the main characters are narrating the very story that they themselves are present in, but in a mysterious way that conveys their emotions rather than something literally spoken.  It’s almost as if the private feelings that the viewer cannot see are presented in a way for the viewer to be aware of. Some scenes feel almost mystical or as if they’re in a dream state.  However, the film doesn’t shy away from moments of romantic failure. It carries with it what some would call a feeling of cynicism, but I believe that deep down it is an honest vulnerability. Some have suggested that the film is inspired heavily from Malick’s own life and I believe it.  This movie feels more true and honest than many others, but not in the sense to where it focuses on specific events. It’s not really about the specific events that cause a relationship to fail or succeed, but the longing beyond that or the ethos that flow to those events. This is something that connects all the characters, it is best described as Sehnsucht.

Sehnsucht (pronounced Zehn-zoocht) is a unique German word that describes a profoundly deep emotional state. It originates from an ardent longing or deep yearning that feels almost like a lingering illness. However, these descriptions still don’t adequately convey the core meaning that sehnsucht has, it’s difficult to completely translate. Some psychologists have worked to capture the essence of sehnsucht by identifying its many characteristics. By starting with the initial utopian conceptions of the ideal development one has for themselves. Combined with a sense of incompleteness and imperfection that naturally occurs in life while simultaneously focusing on the past, present, and future. It also contains bittersweet emotions, a reflection and evaluation of one’s life, and also a symbolic richness when one dwells on it.

All the characters experience it in the film, even Father Quintana who seems a little out of place in the story.  Even in moments of intimacy with his various partners, Neil (played by Ben Affleck) finds himself with a void where he longs for something different, that something causes him to be indecisive that subsequently ruins his relationships. Marina (played by Olga Kurylenko) is a hopeless romantic, by herself she’s brutally lonely. She ends up chasing romance and intimacy with such fervor that it ends up affecting various aspects of her life, some tragically. Father Quintana (played by Javier Bardem) occasionally interacts with Neil and Marina, but he himself is struggling with his own faith in God.  There’s such a relatable agnostic desperation in his prayers; his faith is weakening, but he’s longing for the strength to continue.

There are so many ways to deconstruct this film, but 1 way that I enjoyed is to view the distance traveled for some of the characters. Not in a geographical sense, but more along the lines of an evolutionary one.  The difference in Marina, being so crippled by loneliness at the beginning of the film that she ends up finding joy by herself by the end of it. Neil finds the ability to settle down, even though that ends up being with someone else.  It almost feels as if this sehnsucht is the force pulling or pushing the characters along. Even in moments of deep intimacy, there’s this unbearable pull toward something beyond. As if they’re hugging, but reaching for something behind their partner. It feels as if the main characters are pursuing something that their partners are standing in the way of and that causes them to think it’s them.  They remind me of passing cars on the highway. Close for an instant, only to end up zipping away from one another to fade off into the distance to somewhere where the sehnsucht is drawing them.

Donald Trump is The Joker for the Republican Party

As you know, madness is like gravity…all it takes is a little push.
-The Joker

We’re witnessing something I don’t believe we’ve ever seen in American Politics. The republican party is eating itself alive and the most surprising part is that this all started a long time ago.

Over the past 20 years, the right wing political machine has continuously fanned the flames of fanatical rhetoric beginning with conservative  talk radio. I know because I was an avid listener of it in the early 2000s. Rush Limbaugh from noon to 3, Sean Hannity from 3 to 6, and if I was ever in the car between 9-11pm, there was Michael Savage. The man who’s viciousness was second only to Alex Jones. There, liberals weren’t just people on the other side of the political aisle, they were specifically the enemy, they were everything that’s wrong with this country.  They had mental disorders,  they were traitors, and some suggested even demonic. Terms like communist and socialist are thrown around without any consideration of their true meaning. Dehumanization was the beginning, but then it was combined with the eschatology found in a majority of Evangelicalism. The President became the Antichrist, liberals are the ones destroying your country, and everything you know and love about America will be gone forever. It ended up becoming an echo chamber of madness where any opposing viewpoints were squashed like bugs. So like how 2+2=5, if you repeat something enough it will eventually be accepted as true and normal.

You wanna know how I got these scars?
-The Joker

In 2002, I started listening to Glenn Beck’s radio program from 9am-12pm. I mostly enjoyed it more for his humor at pop culture in general rather than politics, but things started to change within only a few months.  His show took a hard right turn and became almost entirely political. I followed along where 2004 was a political Rollercoaster and 2008 felt like it was practically the beginning of the tribulation.  I was a tea partier and the rapture was imminent because a socialist, communist, muslim, atheist, terrorist from Kenya who was about to become President and make Christianity illegal in United States.

Yes, and that was only 2008.

The next few years in college, my political beliefs shifted, but if you look at a majority of the right wing following, others haven’t, and some have gotten worse.

Where Obama showed up practically out of nowhere, Hillary Clinton has been in the public eye since 1992, before Fox News even existed.  This has allowed more time to build up a giant case against her.  Some scandals stick and some don’t, I’m not going to walk through every single one individually here, but the point that I’m trying to make is that “Hillary Clinton is the single greatest threat to America” has been a talking point reinforced so much more than Obama even was.  You’ll even hear some pundits occasionally bring up her “landing in Bosnia under sniper fire gaffe.” It doesn’t even matter if the scandal sticks or not, just keep discussing them as legitimate regardless of facts and they reinforce that same point. 2+2=5.

With the proliferation of online platforms, now anyone can have a blog (including myself). This has had a multiplying effect on anything that affects culture.  In comes Conservative Tribune, Young Cons, World Net Daily, Frontpage Mag, and almost an infinite number of other independent,  click bait driven wordpress and blogspot blogs that aren’t held up to any sort of journalistic standard at all. Amazingly, most of the posts are all written by the same man named admin. That’s a joke, but the problem is these small independent internet magazines are often standing on the other side of the line that separates fact based reporting from off the wall conspiracy theories.  For example, look at this World Net Daily Post that claims that President Obama has an Arabic wedding ring that praises Allah. Then compare it with a higher res photo here of the ring to show it’s simply the design of the ring. A lo-res photo doesn’t automatically prompt a giant article combined with photoshops and Arabic translations without some sort of batshit insane element present as well.

I’ve got to get you off the bench and in the game.
-The Joker (Read by Mike Engel)

This has created a perfect set of conditions.  It does not matter who it is, the republican population will elect anyone over Hillary Clinton no matter how absurd they are. It’s almost as if they actually tried to go out of their way to do just that. Where John McCain was too easy and didn’t call Obama a Muslim and Mitt Romney was too soft, both of those failures caused the GOP voters to go back to the drawing board. Perry, Cruz, Kasich, Rubio, they’re all the same, but this Donald Trump fellow, he’s an outsider, he says what he truly believes, you gotta respect that! He’s not politically correct, that’s something that all of these talk radio pundits have claimed is the problem with our society, so lets go all in.

Somewhere along the line, practical things like policies, plans, legislation, and even principles were traded for absolutes such as characteristics, entertainment, appearance of strength, and winning at all costs.  Look at the 2nd Presidential debate for proof, his followers will reference his one liners and insults as proof he won the debate rather than any serious discussion of policy whatsoever.  The bar has been set so low, that even a zinger such as “Because you’d be in Jail” causes his followers to tweet #MicDrop.

Donald Trump could have repeated Pee Wee Herman’s famous line “I know you are but what am I?” to Hillary as a response to her discussions of his temperament and conservatives everywhere would have given each other high fives in celebration.  Are we forgetting that this is about picking the person who is supposed to oversee the almost infinitely complex variables in a system that is our Government?

The constitution used to be the Holy Bible for conservatives and Donald Trump has shown himself to be not just willfully ignorant, but in some ways, in direct opposition to many of the amendments in the constitution. The very thing Donald Trump proposed in the second debate, pledging to jail his opponent was literally one of the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon. It does not matter anymore, because to them, “Hillary Clinton is the single greatest threat to America”. Morality doesn’t matter, because there is a holocaust of unborn babies going on. As long as Donald Trump shows himself to be somewhat pro-life, it is literally a no Brainer in the truest sense of the term.

You squeezed them, you hammered to the point of desperation. And in their desperation, they turned to a man they didn’t fully understand.
-Alfred Pennyworth

Donald Trump says he could shoot someone on tenth avenue in New York City and his follows would continue to support him.  At first, it was considered absurd, but I now actually believe him, because again,”Hillary Clinton is the single greatest threat to America.”

On October 7th, when a tape of Donald was released where he humorously discussed an attempt to seduce a married woman and also how he was able to grab a woman’s genitals without consent, it was only then did the leaders in the GOP finally understand who they are dealing with. A man so reprehensible, that even Hillary Clinton has somehow become a safer choice.

The Joker’s just a mad dog. I want whoever let him off the leash.
-Two-Face 

Donald Trump is not a politician, he doesn’t have any basic understanding of policy or even the legal structure of our government.  He doesn’t have a shred of decency and somehow he’s fine with his own daughter to be referred to as a piece of ass. The one thing he does have however, is the unfailing, and unlimited support of a majority of the GOP base.  Some of the GOP leaders are no starting to panic because they have a moral compass and can actually see the conundrum here.

Paul Ryan is a beautiful example of this. It’s easy to see that he is disgusted by Trump and morally he cannot support him.  However, it’s too late, the GOP base has been radicalized to the point where if he rescinds his endorsement,  he’s risking his own support since a majority of GOP voters desired to stay behind Trump. This was even after the tape was released. Right now, any rescinded endorsement makes him look likes he’s caving to political pressure, when it’s actually his own morals.  He’s actually caving to political pressure right now by not rescinding his endorsement. It’s a fascinating paradox. To break this, Paul has decided to play gymnastics and continue to endorse Trump, but just not defend or campaign with him.

Even Glenn beck, who is part of the extremely small #NeverTrump movement argued that Donald Trump is so morally wrong that even Clinton is a better option. This practically gave me vertigo given that this would be like Bill Maher endorsing George W. Bush. However, the most fascinating thing about all of this is if you read the comments on Glenn Beck’s his own Facebook page. His own listeners and fans, the same people he incited to their current political location are tearing him to pieces. The proles! The proles are rising up!

Now, our operation is small, but there’s a lot of potential for “aggressive” expansion. So, which one of you fine gentlemen would like to join our team? Oh, there’s only one spot open right now, so we’re gonna have…Tryouts.
-Joker

Others have found themselves contributing to the madness. For example, look at Ben Carson and Rudy Giuliani. Rudy claimed on national television that groping a woman’s genitals without consent is normal locker room talk. Ben Carson,  the man who was all pious through the primaries claimed that the outrage is misplaced simply because we just haven’t heard enough men boasting of their sexual conquests. Somehow, we now have politicians claiming that non-consensual sexual conquests are normal.

This is chaos.

Donald Trump is like the Joker in the Dark Knight, he’s simply a wild dog let loose by the fanatical electorate that has been slowly radicalized over the last 20 years by the right wing to the point where the house is on fire and most of all the GOP leaders are now locked inside. The chickens are coming home to roost. If Hillary Clinton’s 11 point lead holds, it’s no stretch of the imagination that she will probably win the election which begs the bigger question. All these people aren’t going to just put down their pitchforks and go home after November, so who’s going to end up being Bane?

The Sincerity of Scott Mescudi

Last week, Scott Mescudi (better known more by his stage name Kid Cudi or Cudi for short) checked into rehab for depression and suicidal urges and did so with a public confession on Facebook. This started what I believe is an important, yet long overdue conversation about mental illness. I was on twitter discussing it with a friend and he tweeted at me, “Kid Cudi changed your life”.  I agreed because Kid Cudi is something far beyond a pleasant sounding combination of samples and tones grouped with poetic set of lyrics.  He has a differing sincerity as an artist that I believe sets him apart from others.

I first got into Kid Cudi in early 2010, Pursuit of Happiness just got released and to be honest I never really considered myself anything more than a lukewarm hip hop fan, my collection was extremely small. I liked 808s and Heartbreak from Kanye West and a small number of other artists such as Eminem, but that was about it. As much as I enjoy those other artists, not much else has emotionally connected with me as a listener like Kid Cudi did and continues to do.  Kid Cudi as an artist has this fascinating ability of making something far off seem oddly close and intimate while also making the unfamiliar, familiar.

The Irony

I first heard Kid Cudi’s 2009 Pursuit of Happiness at a party which can almost be considered prophetic given its meaning. It sounded like a party anthem, and the listening location seemed to relate to it in that way. It was loud, catchy, and fun to dance to, but when I heard the lyrics I was blown away when I realized the self-awareness found within it.  On the surface, the song sounds like it’s glorifying substance abuse, but it’s attempting to actually do the opposite and point out its fleeting nature.

♬I’m on the pursuit of happiness, and I know
Everything that shine ain’t always gonna be gold♬

That’s Shakespearean, and I don’t mean that as a hyperbolic way, that’s actually a well known saying from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. This is wisdom that Qoheleth speaks of in Ecclesiastes, many of the things we think we will find satisfaction in will be empty or meaningless.  It reminds me of an ancient curse, “may you get everything you could ever possibly want.” Anyone who’s ever been unhappy with their lives and has desired happiness to the point where they are willing to risk everything for it can find this song something they can easily relate to.

When I’m singing about driving drunk on “Pursuit of Happiness” on Man on The Moon, you may remember that it was a nightmare. It was meant to be scary, the craziness, the fact that this person chooses to look for happiness in substances; and that’s scary, that’s a terrible combination, that’s a terrible way to go about things.
–Kid Cudi

If you watch the music video directed by Brody Baker, the themes are even more apparent.  The party around Cudi takes place in slow motion, but Cudi remains singing at normal speed. This insinuates a sudden moment of Epiphany and self awareness by contrasting him with his surroundings.  If you watch the megaforce version, Cudi struggles to even get off his couch.  Themes of depression and anxiety are not something you would expect to find in a party anthem.  Cudi struggles to even find the motivation to even embark on his pursuit, and when he does, he finds himself at another party where it all feels like a dream state. The different videos are extrapolated perspectives that view the ethos of the song from different directions. However, In the outro of the song, Cudi brings them both together and repeats the chorus by himself, but changes the lyrics slightly.

♬Pursuit of happiness,
Yeah and if I don’t get it, I’ll be good♬

This is followed by a moment of remorse of how he pursued, this is a profound acceptance of the fact of life that there are some objects that we desire that we will never fully obtain. Given the culture-at-large’s worship and pursuit of wealth, health, satisfaction, and comfort, hearing that acceptance is a thoughtful moment of lucidity. However, my intention with this post isn’t to just break down song lyrics as if I’m back in high school. The roots of Cudi go far deeper than we think.

David Foster Wallace’s essay, E unibus pluram: television and U.S. fiction drove home a very surprising point about how postmodernism (and more specifically, irony) has had a negative impact on our culture. For Wallace, it was plainly apparent in television during his time and even still in much of today. I suggest reading the full essay because my attempt at summarizing it will never do it justice, but in a nutshell, irony used to serve as an effective method of critique that revealed hypocrisies.  However, the problem now is that irony has become normalized to the point where it is essentially self defeating. It becomes an infinitely spinning carousal that leads to nowhere. Using irony to critique a television show was fine, but it was difficult to critique a show that was ironic already in the sense that didn’t take itself serious to begin with. It would be like trying to have a serious conversation with a person who is sarcastic 100% of the time. Referring back to Pursuit of Happiness, Cudi is utilizing irony there, but he doesn’t utilize irony for the sake of being ironic, he’s utilizing ironic in an unique way that leads to something else. It leads to something else which is far deeper and relatable, and that something else is sincerity.

Sincerity

The process for hopping off the irony carousal is to focus the view to someone that the audience can connect with, but in a specifically sincere way.  Now sincerity is not just summarized as being a little more honest, it is a few orders of magnitude different. It requires an almost catastrophic presentation of vulnerability, a flawed, insecure lunge that is surrounded by fear of rejection.  Have you ever been in a situation where you were just about to confess your love for someone and you didn’t know if it would be reciprocated?  Sincerity is life threatening, there have been people all throughout history who have thrown themselves off of precipices in moments of overwhelming despair when that sincerity was taken advantage of.  There are so many times in all of our lives where these moments of sincere vulnerability exist. And in our culture where mental illness has a situational stigma, even the smallest moments of honesty in that conversation are exceptionally vulnerable. This is due to the fact that mental illness is only discussed whenever there is a mass shooting somewhere. Mental illness has been turned into a caricature, varying between a mugshot of someone on the evening news or the homeless guy who shouts at the monsters under the highway. This drives people who struggle with mental illness to dive deeper into the darkness of the cracks and hide rather than open up to those around them, or even for some, to confront it themselves.

Walking through Cudi’s discography from Man On the Moon, there is an increasing progression of this sincerity. A notable example of such is in his most recent album, Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven. Technically speaking, this album is a mess, it’s rough around the edges, some even call it a musical failure and I personally wouldn’t disagree too much on those terms, but I find it to have some of the most brutally sincere moments. Even the name seems to invoke the end one’s life, leaving this world for the next. Now there are skits with Beavis and Butthead littered throughout the album where it does get a little too full of itself, and honestly I cannot stand those moments, but overall, the album does becomes a bridge. Now using dark emotional moments and depression as elements in music is nothing new and I know that, but the way Cudi and a few others present it is a little different. His presentation is not just about exploring all the various struggles with depression and anxiety in general, but it’s specifically his struggles with depression and anxiety. He’s part of the presentation and that inherently requires a level of sincerity on his part.

This album is 100% the purest form of my artistic self
@KidCudi (July 3rd, 2015) 

One of the most difficult part of living with depression or anxiety is that there’s this unique isolation where you feel like no one else understands you.  Sometimes you feel like a puzzle piece that fits nowhere, you almost feel as if there was some sort of mistake in nature which led to your creation.  These are dark emotions, and being honest about them is impossible without experiencing some sort of embarrassment.  Because by default, people don’t desire the broken, people want the shiny and new, the best of the best.  Being sincere that you’re a broken person is like taking the mask off and waving the white flag of surrender that sends all the interested people home early who were initially buying your act. Some people go their whole lives without feeling a mutual understanding of the emotions they have deep down and there are so many moments on this album that speak to that.

Sincerity is also a cultural movement, sometimes called New Sincerity or post-postmodernism.  Many point to the drastic tonal shift that our culture took in 2001, specifically on September 11th. If there was a time in our recent history when people began to look at the people around them and acknowledge the relation that they have with everyone, it was on 9/11. We’ve all had that one conversation, where were you on September 11th?  This moment of pause that we all experienced woke us up from the irony of the 90s. It reminded us of our mortality, shared loss, and it acknowledged the emotional similarity that we all have between one another. That was the beginning of sincerity, it was the beginning of the bridge that began to be built to fill in the gaps between all of us.

Sincerity as an experience has to be achieved with a character or person and in this particular case, you cannot separate the music from the artist. Kid Cudi is a celebrity award-winning musician and has what appears to be the normal celebrity wealth, health, attractiveness, and so on.  Those are some of the same things that many of us pursue in our individual pursuits of happiness, but seeing someone like Cudi, who already has them, be open and honest that he still experiences the same emptiness that we experience in private is profound.  This is like discovering that the wizard of Oz is nothing more than a man behind a curtain.

This is the bridge, the way that Cudi makes the unfamiliar, familiar. By taking the objects we desire, the objects that we feel will bring us this satisfaction and happiness, and show us that they offer the same empty familiar feelings that we already know right now.  As if there was someone telepathic speaks your own thoughts to you, giving you a way to describe the emotions you feel, but somehow lack the ability to describe by yourself. This feeling of unique isolation is broken the moment someone else says, I feel the same. As if we’re on the highway headed to find something and another traveler waves us down to tell us he’s already been there, and adding further that if we stay on this road, we wont find it, because he is also looking for the same.  It makes you feel less alone, and that is what sincerity accomplishes.  This sincerity makes us feel connected to others in a way we’ve never felt before.

By being open and honest about his struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts, Scott Mescudi is challenging the stereotype of the mentally ill by saying, “Look, I’m just like many of you, but I’m also dealing with this.”  As a result, I’ve seen numerous responses pouring out ranging from support to people being open and honest about their personal struggles with mental illness.  He’s also showing there’s very little difference between Kid Cudi the artist and Scott Mescudi the person. By doing that, he’s reaching through sincerity and offering himself as a living, breathing, vulnerable example someone who’s honest about their struggle to maintain their pursuit of happiness. Many of us also reach back because in a way, we feel the same.

 

 

The Grand Mirror of Westworld

This post is written after Episode 2, so it may contain spoilers in the first two episodes.

I’ve immediately latched onto Westworld, but not for the same reasons as some of my peers.  Some mentioned the action, some mentioned the acting, and some mentioned the science fiction, but I think they were all missing the core.  In my opinion, Westworld is (going to be) a show about existentialism that uses robots, and the wild west as simple plot mechanics.  If people think this is only going to be like watching a life like twitch stream of someone playing Red Dead Redemption, they wont be able to see the forest for the trees.

Westworld is essentially a 1880s open world theme park full of robots (called hosts) that are seemingly identical to humans. Guests pay an exorbitant amount of money to visit, and they have completely and total freedom to whatever they please. They can choose to be the main character in some western heroic story line, rob the stagecoach and be a villain, or even get drunk at the saloon and party with the prostitutes.  Being completely open world without punishment means guests can even rape and pillage to their hearts content. Something apparent very early on in the show is that the hosts endure the absolute worst of the worst.

Identity Is Cumulative

The first episode opens with a change in software for the hosts that allows a subtle variance in the host’s display of emotion, but it essentially leads to a glitch that allows gives the hosts access to their past experiences, giving them partial long term memories, which are chock-full of trauma, tragedy, brutality, and, if the host is female, endless rape. The hosts have been protected from the horror only by their ability to forget, which has kept them inhuman but content.

In just the first two episodes, there are numerous times where hosts start to feel a sort of awakening. Awakening is a great way to describe it, because living with no memories and only with these pre-programmed drives is essentially a dream state for the hosts.  As a side note, that’s also why it’s very hard in real life to become lucid in our dreams because nothing such as our past is present to cause us to question the current reality.  In a way, this almost fully encapsulates the phrase ignorance is bliss.  Because these hosts are living so in the moment, they are blissfully unaware of everything that has happened. These moments show a clear stark between the moments of procedure and the existential thought that becomes separate from ourselves.

This drives home a profound point that our Identity is not something inherent, it’s something historical, it’s something cumulative.  It’s a canvas of moments in our lives, added to it by moments of joy, pain, suffering, tragedy, and as many more as there are colors.  Overall, every color adds to it, sometimes we hold the brush and other times we aren’t, but the important point for many of us is to be aware that such a canvas exists when many don’t.

bbb2feef12dc45c1b6cd9e0b9222f7e5

Peter Abernathy (played by Louis Herthum, a man who somehow steals a scene from Anthony Hopkins) is a very simple host with only 3 things that drive his artificial life.  His farm, his wife, and his daughter, Dolores.  In a moment near the end of episode 1, Dr. Ford (played by Anthony Hopkins) attempts to diagnose the glitch in his programming and walks him through the core things that drive him.  When Peter is asked in that moment, he explains them and begins to say, “I wouldn’t have it any other way”, but stops before he can finish.  While his robotic brain churns through possible alternatives is when it clicks. That’s when he begins to look through his memories and he begins to awaken.  In his programming, he runs through older characters he’s played, but it’s not just a simple replication of those old characters in the present moment.  By having access to them, by being aware of them, they change his view of the present and he becomes something different entirely.  Like a swinging pendulum back and forth from two directions to settle on a third in the middle which alters his desire to a simple one, meeting his maker.  It’s very Frankenstein-esque, being angry and desiring to kill his maker for creating him against his will in such a world of anguish.  In frustrated moments of existential angst, I’ve certainly felt as if that’s relatable, but definitely not to that degree.  No one asks for an existential crisis, so it feels like someone else is the cause of their pain.  It’s no stretch of the imagination that if Peter was left by himself, he might attempt to end his life, if that’s what you want to call it.

But where Peter has an awakening in almost an instant, there are other characters who’s awakenings are far slower such as his daughter Dolores.  The constant theme of flies is present throughout the entire first episode where they land on faces of hosts and even crawl along their eyeball without any response from them.  It would make sense that they probably don’t have any programming present to deal with a wildcard such as a fly, but in the final moments of the episode, she kills one on her neck in one quick slap.  Killing the fly seems to suggest that this entire process of becoming self aware requires a historical stimuli.  It begs the question how many other hosts are subtly and slowly becoming aware?

 vlcsnap-2016-10-08-19h15m32s481

Life Inside Is a Piano

Another constant theme I picked up on so much is causality.  In the opening intro, we see a robot’s hands playing the piano, but when the hands lift away, the piano keeps playing.  So it only appeared to be playing the piano, it makes you wonder what other logical assumptions we make about our reality and the one in the show that end up being completely false. David Hume famously pointed out that we can’t actually prove causation, we can only observe what consistently looks like causation. Shots of automated player pianos are scattered thought the first two episodes which make me think if this idea of false causality will end up being a bigger element in the show.  The Man in Black (played by Ed Harris) is a guest of the park who’s been coming for over 30 years. He’s finished almost every story line there is in the world, but he’s trying to find the endgame and is convinced there’s another maze or quest that’s deeper that no one else has finished.

In episode 2, while interrogating one of the hosts, he says, “You know why this beats the real world? The real world is just chaos. It’s an accident. But in here, every detail adds up to something.”  There’s something poetic about that.  While many of the characters on the show are waking up to the chaos of reality, one of the characters enjoys the blissfully false one.  The entire first episode is narrated by Dolores where she speaks about the beauty of order and purpose, it only makes sense that there are some out there outside of it that want in. Don’t get me started on Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), who is the creator of the park and who’s storyline is still mysteriously up in the air given how early on it is.  However, if I were to make a prediction, I would guess he is in the same boat as The Man in Black or is purposefully altering the hosts to become self aware for some deeper reason.  We will see though.

We Are The Robots

I admit, there were many times in the second episode the show tickled a MMORPG sensation in me.  Showing up to a new town, hearing all these open quests proposed by the Hosts/NPCs.  One could even view the show as a sort of moralistic indictment of our deepest and darkest desires when faced with zero retribution.  Back in college, there were a couple research projects I was involved in that explored this profound difference between why people act differently online rather than in person.  Anonymity has always been inherently entwined with freedom from punishment, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth” has always been one of my favorite quotes from Oscar Wilde.

As an avid Grand Theft Auto player, I’ve always nervously pondered philosophically about how I was capable of driving a car through a crowd of digital people and not feel anything about it. In GTA V, there was a first person camera angle where I did the same, but it actually felt a few degrees more realistic since I was viewing through the actual drivers seat.  My reaction was far different, and to be honest, it was a little jarring.  It wasn’t until I dug more into the sliding scale of Anthropomorphism that I noticed how our reaction changes the more realistic a simulation becomes.  In episode 2 of Westworld, William (played by Jimmi Simpson) is a first time guest to Westworld and pertinently asks the concierge if she’s a real person or a robot. Her thought provoking response is, “If you cannot tell, does it matter?”

That angle is interesting and as much as we relate to William’s hesitance with everything because like he, we are new to this universe, Westworld isn’t going to be 10 hours of only “humans are rapists and murderers”.  It’s ascending the stairs of self realization almost immediately. However, we might be mistaken if we look at the guests or the employees of the park are sort of a symbolic identification. If there’s a character or a hero we as the audience are supposed to connect with, it’s the hosts, not the people.

Many might not pick up on it and that’s perfectly fine, I’m not attempting to be an intellectual snob whatsoever, but for people who haven’t done that in their own lives, people who haven’t examined their own reality and pulled themselves out of the bliss of the moment might miss it.  I say I think, because I could be completely wrong about Westworld since only 2 episodes have aired, but I see Westworld as a grand mirror that allows us to look at ourselves and see our reality in a different way and to question it.   By telling a story in which robots question the nature of their reality, Westworld is hoping to get us to begin questioning the nature of our reality.

God as an Abusive Husband

There’s some sort of smokey essence in Christianity that I’ve hated.  There’s this dishonesty that comes with loss and tragedy.  When my grandfather died suddenly of a heart attack in the middle of the night about 15 years ago, our church had a celebration service the next Sunday.  We celebrated, we rejoiced that he was finally “going home.” but such a gesture ignored the various complex emotions that smash on every side of us.  Death isn’t monolithic, even if you believe someone is going to paradise, it doesn’t mean that there’s nothing sad about potentially never seeing them again.  I’ve lost people, both expectedly and unexpectedly.  And when consoling friends tried to quench the sadness by explaining why death is a good thing due to finally getting that mansion in the clouds. I always would explain that these people, my friends, they were people I wanted to grow old with, I expected to learn with and experience joy with for the next 50 years of my life, but that wont happen now.  So even in the Evangelical Tom and Jerry worldview of people ascending an elevator to meet up with St. Peter at the gates, it’s still relatively sad.  And people should express that sadness, because that sadness is the summation of that relationship.

There’s this “keeping up with the Joneses” vein that is as dishonest as people’s social media profiles.  It reminds me of something out of Westworld or The Truman Show, other people are watching, so keep a big smile and tell everyone how awesome your life is because you’re a Christian even though behind the scenes you’re about to have a complete and total breakdown.

But my life is good! Really good! I get to wake up every morning, at 5AM, and make some soup! It’s the best. I love it. I get to lay in a bed, all by myself, all of my life! That’s fantastic!….*eyes well up with tears*- Nacho Libre

You never hear it explicitly, but reading between the lines will cause you to stand face to face with feelings forced upon you such as “You have questions to why God didn’t answer your prayers Sigh, you poor thing.  You should just have more faith, or perhaps a better relationship with God” (like we all do).  It’s a horrifying form of subculture peer pressure. People aren’t honest about God when they need to be, I don’t know, perhaps it’s out of fear. Perhaps they are scared of pissing him off, as if God has the same temperament as Donald Trump on twitter. Many will argue that it’s out of respect or faithfulness, or because they Love God so much they don’t want to speak anything that could even be taken as slightly incendiary.

The muzzling of brutal honesty and lamenting is a hidden horror of fundamentalism in America.  It paints a picture of God as an abusive husband as if we’re his bruised up wives explaining to our friends how it was somehow our fault, or something about how his ways are not our ways.