Why does Westworld ignore half of its audience?
HBO’s Westworld comes too close to home when examining flawed human nature.
We’ve all heard about HBO’s Westworld, the new fantasy series designed to fill the Game of Thrones shaped hole in your life.
I was an avid fan of GoT, and, perhaps because it had been running for so long, I was capable of forgiving its occasional sexist slip up. The instances of sexual violence against women were deemed “realistic” by viewers. Its unapologetic nude scenes, though almost exclusively of women, were forgotten when writers bothered to include a penis here and there. At least, I thought to myself, the female characters have some agency, whether they have to use their sexuality or not. Cersei, the queen of Westeros, was omnipotent. Daenerys freed the slaves. Sansa took down Ramsay. The list goes on. All of these women expressed and fulfilled their desires.
The problem I have with Westworld — so far — is that despite parading itself as a show which delves into the depths of human consciousness, it completely ignores 50% of humanity (its actors and audience included). It not only focuses exclusively on male desire, but refuses to acknowledge the existence of female desire altogether. The only hint of this comes in episode two, a particularly limp and very brief scene in which a female prostitute courts a potential female client, with no success.
The fact that Westworld is supposed to offer the ultimate adult fantasyland is a sinister concept in itself. Sure, the writers are contemplating the darkest of human impulses, but they become snakes eating their own tails in the process. Despite a flurry of brothel scenes in which women serve men repeatedly, there is no male escort service offered. Why not? It baffles me that, excluding the occasional sickly sweet encounter between two old flames, women’s sexual desire is completely ignored. Surely, if women visited Westworld, they would want to seduce and be seduced by droids manufactured for their pleasure too. Am I missing something here, or do women not also have sexual fantasies they want to be fulfilled?
The nudity is another issue. GoT is famously criticised for its excess of nudity. Yet the Westworld writers seem to have glossed over this. Not only are women shown naked and disempowered repeatedly — as they are raped, brutally examined, and solicited for sex — there is virtually no male nudity in sight, apart from the occasional clinical manufacturing scene.
Westworld was created to remark on human needs, but also to secretly pander to them. The flurry of female nudity is realism to an extent, but also included to excite the very real male desire of its audience. So where are women served in this?
Again, the same Hollywood tropes present themselves. The men in Westworld are allowed to be ‘real’ characters, with weathered old cowboy faces, and some actors are cast because of their ‘interesting’ look. The women, however, must all be picture perfect, thin, and well dressed.
Some male friends of mine tried to justify this as: “but Westworld doesn’t pretend to be aimed at anything but a male audience.” I’m not exactly sure what they mean by this. The huge success of GoT was a result of a massive male and female fanbase. Couples, friends, and even (possibly naïve) families watched it together. Because at least between the stripping off, there were women kicking ass, to use a tired cliché.
I hope that Westworld proves me wrong. Perhaps next episode a woman might visit a male prostitute. Daring stuff.