[-empyre-] Why Westworld?

Murat Nemet-Nejat muratnn at gmail.com
Mon May 22 02:39:55 AEST 2017

Hi Lawrence and others, it seems a much simpler and basic precedent and
analogy seems to be overlooked here: Roman gladiator spectacles,
delectation and frisson for the privileged and circus for the masses to
appease them. By raising their thumbs or not they have the illusion that
they have control over something.

Instead of meeting people's needs, creating spectacles where someone else
is suffering more than they do-- momentarily being at a safe place (in the
galleries of the Coliseum or in front of TV) while someone else is buffeted
with mortal peril.


On Sun, May 21, 2017 at 8:40 AM, Lawrence-Minh Davis <
lawrence.minh.davis at gmail.com> wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Why *Westworld*? Because I work at the Smithsonian, and *Westworld* feels
> all about museums to me.
> We get a theme park in Westworld that epitomizes the interactive, “user
> experience”-centric model of encountering history so prevalent in museums
> today. Helpfully we get to see the park from the participant and the design
> end of things (the management end, too). Added bonus that *Westworld* twins
> the wonder of museums and the violence that always inheres in that
> wonder—the violence the traditional museum endeavors to hide, or at least
> normalize. I mean representational violence, I mean epistemic violence,
> and, of course, I mean real-time physical violence. Museums need them all.
> Westworld the park makes no effort to pretend to be a faithful recounting
> of history. Nor is it even showing us how history is made, wink wink.
> Westworld’s Old West is a ritual, a flashy means of codifying relations,
> reenacting or recreating an imagined past that is, of course, present and
> future as well. Meaning it is playing out collective desires, most
> immediately for white male power, that are not at all past, never past, but
> present, and in tension, therefore in need of continual rehearsal so that
> they might carry into the future. This is pretty much how our museums work
> too.
> Complicating matters in *Westworld* are the hosts, historical props who
> are not static but living, and feeling, and inconveniently fucking up the
> ritual, not all happy to keep playing out the collective desires of park
> visitors and designers.
> Museums of today don’t have hosts…well, see the recent scandal at the 2017
> American Alliance of Museums Expo, when the museum vendor LifeFormations
> exhibited a true-to-scale diorama of a white man selling an enslaved black
> man on an auction block. The mannequins didn’t revolt, but, surprise
> surprise, expo-goers of color did (side note: the theme of this year’s expo
> was “Diversity, Equity, Accessibility: Inclusion in Museums”!)
> The message across spaces is pretty clear: you can’t stage human bodies as
> props, or rather you can, but get ready for violent blowback.
> In the museum world as in *Westworld* we're asking who gets the power to
> tell stories, and the answer is never simple, even as more people from
> marginalized communities make their way up museum hierarchies.
> Watching the show I feel this deep sympathy for Bernard, who as park
> engineer is a kind of curator, trying with conviction and bewilderment at
> once to balance his various imperatives and impulses, trying to be ethical
> and good at his job while figuring out on the fly his limitations, his
> shifting allegiances, his own shifting identity, his relative privilege and
> power, his complicity—feelings I certainly experience, and I would guess
> pretty much all curators of color experience to some degree or another.
> Like Bernard, we get the shock of getting put in our place sometimes. But
> we're also in a time of revolt, and our own season 2 is coming.
> --
> Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis, PhD
> Curator, Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center
> Editor, The Asian American Literary Review
> Adjunct Faculty, University of Maryland Asian American Studies Program
> (443) 878-3796
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu
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