Just finished bingeing on Westworld by Michael Crichton. It makes me think about the idea of consciousness as something we develop as we mature. It’s waking up and staying awake, looking at ourselves in the mirror and understanding where we came from and how we got here. Sadly, some people never really get to this point, unwittingly (or not) trapped in a metaphorical Neverland, which is what Westworld is. An X-Rated Neverland.
A re-make of the 1973 Yul Brynner classic of the same title, Westworld is about an adult theme park designed to resemble the Wild West in the late 17th century. Anthony Hopkins (Dr. Ford) is the creator of lifelike androids made to populate this vast expanse of land with its canyons, farms, saloons, and brothels. In this world, the wealthy play cowboys and Indians, raping and pillaging with impunity. The androids are called hosts, and the humans are the guests. The hosts are unaware of their synthetic physiology, programmed to behave and “think” like humans. They are murdered, abused, and violated by guests and hosts alike, but the next day, their software is reset and they are good as new. Or so, their makers think. The real conflict emerges when some of them start “remembering”and seeing their past, reliving it in their optic memory like traumatized vets and war victims. It brings up questions of accountability and oppression. It reminded me of that unconscious woman sexually assaulted by that entitled college boy, Brock Turner, who probably thought that it was alright to rape her since she wouldn’t remember anyway. And if she doesn’t remember, did it really happen? Would he still be culpable? In the series, hosts are exploited and oppressed, but when they gain consciousness, they fight back.
Watching Westworld also brings up existential angst, which I indulge in every now and then with a favorite friend (Louie P!). Are we like the hosts caught in the loop of a societal storyline, no time or energy to reflect upon our past, so that we are doomed to repeat our mistakes and our parents’ mistakes over and over again? How do we find the courage to break away, wake ourselves up, and create our own narrative?
Right now, I do not care much for my current storyline. It seems like every time I see my doctor or get some kind of medical test, I have a new condition. I’m going back to work after a semester’s sabbatical and I don’t feel quite ready yet. I’m worried, scared, and yes, a bit depressed. I wake up coughing in the middle of the night, pain shooting from muscles, joints, and organs, and my tattooed left elbow is inflamed, as if the inked sun itself has revolted, erupting through my skin, sliver by sliver. I wake up feeling betrayed by this body I have inhabited for 53 years. Maybe, it has always been old and broken. Could I get an upgrade please, Dr. Ford?
I’m getting annoyed with this narrative. I know a woman who got tired of being sick all the time, that she decided to stop breathing. Well, it wasn’t as simple as that, of course; actually, that’s just a theory I came up with knowing how miserable she had been, with her asthma so uncontrollable, and still having to tend to grown children and little grandchildren despite her illness. She grew weary of the routine, going to the emergency whenever she was out of breath, then being sent home each time with some medication, and empty admonitions for bed rest. In the end, she was found to be suffering from a rare respiratory syndrome, but it was too late. Her family was lost without her, but I think she was always lost in her family, an all-too familiar narrative of women who were raised to believe that a woman’s worth should be measured by the depth of her devotion to her family’s well-being. Even at the expense of her own.
My mother, on the other hand, has always created her own narratives. She rebelled against her father in her teens, got pregnant in her early twenties with a married man, and left her small town to become a radio actress at the risk of being branded a “loose woman” and treated like a pariah. She was the architect of her own obsessions and delusions, and I don’t think she ever allowed herself to be trapped in a storyline she didn’t want to be in. As a scriptwriter for radio and TV, she wrote about fearless women and spineless men. Her stereotypical characters seemed like they were written in jest, as if my mother had a score to settle with these women: “Nanay —stereotypical mother; self-sacrificing; devoted housewife; loyal,” or “Elsa – stereotype of a home-wrecker; seductress.” It seemed that her obligatory rendition of these stereotypes in her stories was her compromise for not being one. Today, at 81, my mother insists on working, directing the dubbing of foreign soaps into Tagalog. This, despite the pressure to retire.
Growing up, I admired my mother, but I also resented her — for not always being available, for being different, for not being a housewife like my friends’ mothers were. Now, as a mother and an artist, I am grateful to her for allowing me to see that it is possible to forge my own identity amidst the din of sexist expectations. And whenever I feel exhausted and defeated from being sick all the time, I remember her and think: I better get my shit together!