10.21.2016 In Depth Look

WESTWORLD & THE ‘BATTLE FOR CULTURE’ IN AMERICA

http://forward.com/culture/350754/why-westworld-is-a-21st-century-golem-story/

As the social elements of the wider world spin ineluctably toward chaotic mayhem, with the potential eventuality at ever single second of the careening cavalcade for a civilization-ending-event to begin, a beautifully imagined bit of ‘lit-crit-shit’ from The Jewish Daily Forward that examines the new HBO serialization, West World, in the event a contextualization that posits its roots in–or at least congruence with–various ‘Golem’ tales that have characterized Jewish culture for a long time indeed, arguably since the notion of Adam’s creation’s having resulted from a Godly breath on a handful of dust, the upshot of which is to see this new monopoly mediation in terms of servicing a benighted humanity, Jewish and otherwise, in any case a powerful set of ideas for scrappy scribes and stalwart citizens to consider as they position themselves in relation to the hue and cry and wonder and woe of the present pass, in keeping with “A Deeper Look” something that various other outlets also do in one fashion or other—in the first place, via the estimable aggregators at Media REDEF, a Robo Hub essay  that perceives almost a dialectical dance in which the series shifts back and forth between humanizing robotic beings and diminishing the humanity of actual flesh-and-blood creatures such as we are; in the second place, a New Yorker piece that contends that the new set of installments from HBO reveal much about the sociopolitical and sociocultural conundrums that our kind currently face; in the third place, thanks to Rolling Stone, a briefing  that argues that this episodic expression reflects the pathos, pathetic or putrid–or both and more–of male psychic life in the contemporary arena; in the fourth place, from the established, and establishment, compilers at Fortuna’s Corner, a report that looks at the fears and hopes that ‘Artificial Intelligence’ and robotics engender, with a passing mention of WestWorld as exemplary of some of the issues in play; ideas and interpretations of a big-budget cultural phenomenon that smoothly elicit consideration of film and electronic storytelling generally, as for instance World Socialist Website provides  in reportage on just such overall matters in regard to the Toronto Film Festival, or as, for example Extra News Feed offers  in relation to juxtaposing Nate Parker’s life, film-making, Birth of a Nation, and such proposed reforms as ‘restorative justice’ protocols, or as, in another case, New Yorker proffers  in its review of two new movies, one of them Chan-Wook Park’s evocative and provocative rumination , The Handmaiden, or as, in a final example, Dazed Digital makes available in a powerful interview  with Trainspotting’s director and screenwriter, Irvine Welsh; all of which leads to, quite naturally, even a wider consideration of the development of contemporary culture, in such widely disparate musings in that regard as anAtlas Obscura article about the realities of life and death and gender and class and color conjunctions in the experience of Aaron Burr’s daughter Theodosia  insinuations about whom may have contributed to the duel in which the Vice President killed Alexander Hamilton, before he went on to plot, with his daughter’s and inlaws’ support, making off with the Western United States and Mexico with himself as emperor, or as a review essay  from Vice about a recent volume, Future Sex, that has brought forth plenty of commentary from ‘hot’ media properties of late, or as a briefing from Rolling Stone about the darkness that oozes out of Leonard Cohen’s latest collection; the complete aggregate of the sum of which ought to give readers plenty to ponder about troubled times full of despair and opportunity, hope and crucifixion: “”—Jewish Daily Forward
“(The robots of the series, Westworld, challenge the audience to wonder what they are, what humanity is, and whether these robot ‘hosts’ of the vacation ‘program’ are human.  It brings Descartes back to life).  But Descartes proposition isn’t just about thinking, it is about doubt.  He begins with the proposition that the act of doubting itself means that we cannot doubt, at least, our existence.  So we would better understand Descartes’s proposition as dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum: I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am.  If (a main character in the new series), Dolores, is found to be questioning the nature of her reality then that would be evidence for self-awareness and being, according to the Cartesian model.brain head mental psychology creativity inquiy
The robots in Westworld are depicted as falling in love, maintaining strong family bonds, appreciating beauty, and consider the world in philosophical, reflective contexts.  How much of this is merely programming and how much exceeds the limits imposed upon them by their human masters is the key question that the show teases its audience with, I suspect, though certainly, it occupies much of our attention in the first few hours.  But if these moments – described as ‘reveries’ – are in any way genuine moments of creativity, then this is another category, beyond the notion of the cogito, that we might say the robots are becoming ‘alive’.

(This melds well with many sociological, psychological, and other ways of viewing human awareness.  In many ways, the capacity to overcome ‘medication’ and ‘public relations’ and a totalitarian State depends completely on ‘creativity’).  Other perspectives give us a glimpse into the robot’s moments of becoming human.  Peter Abernathy, looking at a picture that offers a peek at the world outside, says: ‘I have a question, a question you’re not supposed to ask.’  This is an allusion to Adam and Eve and the fruit of forbidden knowledge when humankind became self-aware of the difference between right and wrong.  (Peter, after this, is consumed with rage at how he and his daughter have been treated.)  And like Walter, the robot that goes on a psychotic killing spree, pouring milk over his victims, Peter is determined to ‘go off script’ and reclaim for himself a degree of agency and self-determination, acting according to his own, new-found consciousness instead of according to what others have programmed for him.

(In this set-up, people act monstrously.  Their ‘paying customer’ play does not elicit viewer sympathy.  Moreover, the human players’ own creativity is close to nonexistent, appearing in chilling relief that is terrifying to watch).  This fear reflects, too, that as post-Enlightenment humans become more rational, they become more like machines, acting in predictable, programmed ways, having lost the spontaneity and creativity of an earlier age.  The humans of Westworld are exaggerations of the humans of our ‘Western’ world of rationalism, science and alienation.  We don’t have to agree with this Romantic notion, that rationalism and science are negative forces in our world to accept that there is a great deal of anxiety about how rationalism and science are transforming individual human beings and our societies.mind intellect brain
Rational dehumanisation is something personified in the actions of the corporation, which has replaced the mad-scientist as the frequent villain of the sci-fi Frankenstein-robot-twist (more to come on this in a future post) and we see hints in Episode 1 of what is to follow in Westworld, along the lines of film’s such as 2013’s The Machine, where the slightly misguided and naive actions of a scientist are only made monstrous when appropriated by a thoroughly evil, inhumane military-industrial complex.  This theme (also appears incisively) in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, a major influence on the new Westworld, where the Tyrell Corporation boasts that their replicants are‘More Human Than Human.’  And in Blade Runner, too, we see humanoid robots behaving more humanely that the people that ruthlessly, rationally hunt down the machines.  It is unclear, however, from the Tyrell slogan whether the robots are more human than the human because the technology has become so sophisticated, or because humans have fallen so low.”—RoboHub
CC BY-NC-ND by darkwood67
CC BY-NC-ND by darkwood67
        “(In looking at a complex extravaganza such as the Toronto Film Festival, one must use a multifaceted analytical approach).  If, as the Russian Marxist Georgi Plekhanov argued, the development of the world determines the development of art, one is obliged to point to the particular (way that) writing or speaking about the Toronto film festival (draws forth a contradictory dynamic in such a framework).

CC BY-NC-ND by APAAME
CC BY-NC-ND by APAAME

In the first place, the festival is a large commercial undertaking—it is big business.  In some cases, film studios and production companies are seeking to launch expensive products (this year, for instance, The Magnificent Seven, a remake of the 1960 film), which they hope will win awards and earn tens of millions of dollars at the box office.  The fates of companies and careers may be at stake.  A considerable portion of the activity going on behind the scenes in Toronto involves the purchasing and selling of films, many of them nominally ‘independent.’  One festival official notes that ‘hundreds of representatives from theatrical distributors, broadcasters, digital platforms and other acquisition teams will be in town looking for new films to buy.’


(This complicated commercial nexus is anything but ‘fun and games’).  And, moreover, according to Variety (‘Toronto Film Festival to Open Amid Wary Buyers, Smaller Field of Distributors’), the atmosphere is increasingly tense.  The trade publication points to ‘a throb of anxiety and uncertainty undercutting this year’s festival, a nagging feeling that the film industry is in flux, the star system in decline, and the avenues available to push a film into profitability more difficult to navigate than ever before.’…Varietyconcludes: ‘Those who wait for Toronto [to do business] will need endurance and an appetite for taking risks.  It’s a game that plays out in an exhausting swirl of meetings and deal-making, unfolding in hotel lobbies, bars, and suites.’

(T)he problems of criticism and intellectual life today mean that the discussions among the so-called artistic elements are not a great deal more elevated (that this ‘wheeling and dealing’).  (World Socialist Websitereviewers) have been going to the event for 23 years, first for theInternational Workers Bulletin, and subsequently (for WSWS).   In all those years festival officials have not organized any serious, sustained discussions on the state of the world or the state of cinema, or the relation between the two.  To be frank, the general level remains extremely low, pragmatic, shortsighted, narrow.
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The movies that get made and shown in Toronto have had to go through numerous processes, many of them vetting procedures of one sort or another.  Financial considerations, political and social pressures and, unhappily, a good deal of self-censorship… all of this has to be taken into account.  The physical act of assembling a major film still takes time and effort—and money.  Some of the movies have been years and years in the planning (or re-planning) and making.  Of course, there is the not unimportant fact that films are written and directed, for the most part, by a definite, petty bourgeois social layer, which has its own prejudices and historical-intellectual baggage—and these days, very limited knowledge and perspective.  All that notwithstanding, intriguing films do get made, which only underscores the correctness of Plekhanov’s observation.  The development of the world does ultimately determine the development of art.”—World Socialist Website
        “Today, if people know anything about Theodosia (Burr), it is because of the lovely lullaby ‘Dear Theodosia’” sung by the character of Aaron Burr in the sensational musical Hamilton.   But the real-life Theodosia grew from a beloved child into a highly intelligent, complex adult, whose fascinating story is largely unknown and worthy of its very own Broadway smash.
Theodosia Bartow Burr was born in Albany, New York, on June 21, 1783.  Her mother, also called Theodosia, was a brilliant, cultured woman.  She had scandalized New England society, when as a married mother of five, she fell in love with an equally brilliant and much younger blue-blooded lawyer and Revolutionary War soldier—Aaron Burr.  After her first husband’s death, the two were married, and little Theodosia, the couple’s only child to survive, became the center of her parents’—particularly her father’s—world.

(Ms. Burr married into a wealthy plantation family, full of slaves and politics, in South Carolina.  Her first childbirth nearly killed her, and she reverted to living much of the year with her father in the North, a cause of some ‘tongue wagging’).  On July 10, 1804, Aaron sat down at his desk and wrote his Theodosia a letter of goodbye.  ‘I am indebted to you, my dearest Theodosia, for a very great portion of the happiness which I have enjoyed in this life.  You have completely satisfied all that my heart and affections had hoped for or even wished.’  The next day, Aaron—still the Vice President of the United States—would kill Alexander Hamilton in a duel in Weehawken, New Jersey.  Rumors swirled as to the cause of the duel.  Aaron had been incensed by a comment Hamilton had made about ‘still more despicable’ acts.  Some thought Hamilton may have been referring to Aaron and Theodosia’s ‘morbid affection’ for each other, which had led to whispers of incest.

After serving out his term of Vice President, Aaron headed west to establish a new country comprised of western North American territory and Mexico.  He planned to become emperor of said country, with Theodosia succeeding him as empress.  He had the full support of his daughter and son-in-law, (Joseph Alston), who supplied much needed funds.  The Alstons even headed west to help Aaron in his quest.  Theodosia wrote to her half-brother excitedly about ‘the new settlement which I am about to establish.’  But the Burr dynasty was not to be.  The plot was found out, and Burr was taken into custody.  In 1807, he was tried for treason in Richmond, the ever loyal Theodosia at his side.  Amazingly, Aaron was acquitted, and with the help of Theodosia he soon smuggled himself out of the country and headed for Europe.notre dame church paris
(After the death of her only child, bereft at her father’s absence, quite possibly suffering from late-stage uterine cancer, she was at the edge of collapse when, after her husband became South Carolina’s Governor, her father hired a ship and crew to take her North from Charleston again.  After embarking, however, no reliable witness ever again saw or heard of her).  Perhaps the only clue we have as to what really happened to Theodosia is the Nags Head, (Outer Banks) portrait, discovered by (a vacationing) Dr. (William) Pool in 1869.  According to his daughter, Polly Mann told her and her father that her deceased husband, Joseph Tillett, was a ‘wrecker’ who scavenged the ships that washed up on the shores of the Outer Banks.  She claimed that decades before, he and his friends had come upon a scuttled, empty schooner near Kitty Hawk.  In one cabin they found many fine items, including the portrait and dresses, which were now in Polly’s possession. ‘ Also exposed to our view—a vase of wax flowers under a glass globe,’ Anna remembered, ‘and a shell beautifully carved in the shape of a nautilus.’

Polly gave the portrait to Dr. Pool in lieu of payment.  He took it back home to Elizabeth City.  Over the years, he and his cohorts would attempt to get authentication of the portrait from the Burr and Alston families, whose opinions as to whether the likeness was Theodosia varied greatly. …Those who believe in the painting’s authenticity think it proves that Theodosia died off the coast of the North Carolina shore, one way or another.  There were fierce storms on the Outer Banks January 2nd and 3rdin 1812, which caused damage to ships nearby the Patriot’s planned route.  It is most likely that the small ship was simply over-powered by the storm, but who knows?  Perhaps pirates, rouge wreckers, the British, or something else caused the boat’s destruction
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Today the legend of Theodosia lives on. The Nags Head Portrait now hangs in the Lewis Walpole Library at Yale.  Her ghost is said to haunt her plantation The Oaks, (as well as) the Outer Banks, Richmond Hill and Bald Head Island, where it is said her spirit is chased by three headless pirates.  In the late 19th and early 20th century the mystery was spun into several novels and countless magazine articles.  Many little girls were named after her—including Theodosia Burr Goodman, who would become famous as the silent screen vamp Theda Bara.  Her story was a favorite of poets, including Robert Frost, whose poem Kitty Hawk includes the line:
Did I recollect how the wreckers wrecked Theodosia Burr off this very shore? T’was to punish her, but her father more.”—Atlas Obscura