Tonight I stopped watching Westworld.
I’m so massively bummed. It was such a great idea. The script was so unique, so intriguing. I literally couldn’t wait for the next episode.
But then I’m pretty sure it became porn. And I just can’t.
Why, Westworld? Why must you assault me thus? Why in the middle of a really unique compelling story that I am devouring like a bag of kettle corn at the Cumming Fair, do you have to slam a gigantic orgy scene? Do people want to see this? Am I the only prude?
You eased me into it subtly with your show about robots that look remarkably like humans who live in a theme park where real people live out western fantasies. The robots, called hosts, get killed in saloon shoot outs or stage coach robberies over and over again as new guests arrive. When they are repaired, you see them naked on the robot repair table. Ok, I get it, it’s not “real” naked, it’s “robot” naked. I can deal.
They are also naked as they sit on stools having conversations with the park techies for evaluation purposes. Ok, I guess. I mean, I don’t visit my therapist for evaluations naked; I usually have clothes on by then, but fine. Be naked. Even though the entire time I’m watching, I am wondering how Evan Rachel Wood and Thandie Newton FEEL about being naked so constantly, and did they put up a fuss, or are they “true actors” understanding that naked makes you vulnerable yet powerful at the same time! (according to interviews I read with both actresses, the latter is true).
It’s not just the women in this show. The writers were so fair. Lots of full frontal for the men too. About time ya’ll got a taste of your own medicine, but man! Is it just me that has no real desire to view the male genitalia, or have I just been married too long? (Love you, honey!)
I hung in there because it seriously is the most imaginative script I’ve seen in a long, long time. I needed a show. The Gilmore Girls reunion was not available just yet. So Westworld. Awesome.
But tonight, there was a brothel scene that had me like HOLY HAIL, that is a visual image that I do not want to be having. My reaction reminded me how one of my daughters felt when she worked with a kid who would regularly flash pornographic text messages in front of her face. “Hey look!”, he would say, then crack up. My daughter’s response was an exclamation of disgust and arms in front of her face. As it continued, her protests became more vehement, and I should have had the little punk fired 100 times over because this clearly falls under the heading of sexual harassment, a policy which is strictly observed on film and movie sets. They have very intense meetings with cast and crew about it where they word things very seriously with grave faces. Sexual harassment is bad! Never, never do this! And yet, when the characters in their show flash me similar imagery, it’s art.
Or maybe, Westworld, you’re sexually harassing me.
Too sensitive? Legalistic? Was I just not understanding the over arching themes of real humanity here? I didn’t know. So I posted something to this affect on Facebook asking if Westworld was simply porn disguised by a hell of a story line. The reactions were not surprising. 100% of the women that responded agreed with me. I hate that too! So gratuitous! Just gross. Isn’t there a way to create good entertainment without it?
There were three men that responded. One accused me of being hypocritical because previous posts had shown my love for Game of Thrones, which dances along similarly pornographic lines. And also that my daughter had performed on one of the most violent televisions shows in history. True. More on that later.
With the second male responder, I engaged with in a very respectful debate after he said that he was not offended at all (but respected my right to be offended) because in Westworld, a brothel like that would absolutely exist and so it serves the story. I agree to some extent, but felt like there are ways to indicate that sort of world without making us experience it quite so graphically. To bring it closer to home, I asked him if he would be ok with his wife or daughter playing the chick who was face down in some guys crotch? He said that he would if they were ok with it, but that neither of them probably would be, and would not perform such a role themselves.
So herein lies the question that gnaws away at me as an artist.
If your moral and ethical boundaries do not permit you to perform a certain role, should they permit you to view the piece as a whole? After all, if it’s ok to view them, then get out there and perform them. If you’re an actor, that is. Don’t make another artist do all the dirty work. But if you’re saying that it’s not something YOU would do, that tells me that something in your conscience isn’t sitting quite right or as a “true artist” you would do it. And if you won’t do it, why does your conscience permit you to watch it? I suspect it’s because of what guy #3 said: Yeah, it’s so bad, I know! But the story is so good that I just put up with it.
Exactly why I continue to “put up with” Game of Thrones, Rome, Vikings, The Tudors, and White Queen. Clearly, I’m a sucker for period drama. There were many times in all of those shows where I averted my eyes feeling, well, sexually harassed. But the story!! It’s so good! So compelling. I can’t NOT watch, can I?
Another thing that got under my skin is the fact that almost all of the actors in the scene in question were background actors. They get paid a whopping $72 per 8 hours. You may be able to tell me that they knew what they were getting into, but you cannot tell me that 100% of those actors were entirely comfortable. SAG even felt it necessary to send a letter ahead of time to make sure they knew what they were in for.
Could they have said no? Absolutely. But behind every tableaux of graphic sexual encounter, is a girl (or boy) who is just trying to make it. Who moved to Hollywood with a dream. I guarantee you, when that young girl pictures her career it is not pretending to give someone a blow job. She would probably prefer not to be pressed up against a wall with a stranger. But she thinks, this is a start. It’s Westworld! On HBO! If she can just get her foot in the door by painting her naked body gold and draping it across a principal actor who probably doesn’t even speak to her when they call cut, then maybe something better will happen.
After 25 years in this business, let me make something clear. Nothing better will happen. They are paying you $72 a day for this. You don’t even have any lines except maybe to moan louder. No one is paying attention to you in the least. You are a prop. A piece of furniture. This job is not the stepping stone you think it is. So if you are going to pretend to have sex with five people at one time, at least get PAID for it, like Evan and Thandie. You are worth more than $72 a day.
Why are they doing it then? Because there are becoming fewer and fewer benign options. A few months ago, Mackenzie came to us and said, “Mom. Dad. I honestly don’t know how I am going to make a living in this business.” After the cancellation of Under the Dome, she had moved to LA to make a go of it. She had done fairly well, landing a lead in an independent movie, and a short play in less than a year. However, she was severely hampered by the fact that 50% of the auditions she was offered contained one of three scenarios. She either had to be naked, simulate sex, or simulate sex with the same sex. All three made her uncomfortable. It is hard enough to make a living in this business when you are willing to do any and everything. But when you have to pass on 50% of the auditions you are getting, it becomes a pipe dream at best.
To be fair, we have always been a bit more liberal with violence than sexual situations. Maybe that is hypocritical. But when Madison got shot in the head on The Walking Dead, she did not, in fact, actually get shot in the head. However, when you have to press your naked body against someone to simulate the most private act in humanity, you cannot escape pressing your naked body against someone while simulating the most private act in humanity. I know you are not actually having sex, but it is much closer to the real thing than Sophia’s head wound. And the consequences, especially for children, are not something we are willing to risk. (Yes, children get asked to do some pretty astonishing things in this business, too. It would make your hair curl.)
So when is it just too violent and too sexual? When is the price of art just too high? The line is grey. But the more we watch it, the more we put up with it, the more they will make it. We have given them permission. And pretty soon there will be nothing left for anyone with a sense of decency or privacy, or any sort of moral and ethical boundaries to perform. Which makes me sad. And hopeless.
So while it will only be a drop in the bucket, while it will more than likely make no difference in the grand scheme of anything….while HBO and Netflix will flick my concerns off their shoulder like an irritating fly…….I have to stand up in the face of what I THINK…..is straight debauchery. Someone has to say no, I do not want to see your disgusting, pornographic brothel scene.
And that’s why I stopped watching Westworld tonight.