Media

Westworld: the market has bad news for plutocrats

I love this new Westworld trailer:

At 1:17, the piano comes in for a stirring Ramin Djawadi rendition of Sweet Child o’ Mine. It’s the emotional current for a montage of escaped android shenanigans with a familiar headliner: Dolores.

Ah, Dolores. Designed by the Westworld park architects to be convenient for guests to consume. A cliche of cloying womanhood to be plundered or abused. Dead thousands of times at the hands of sadistic park guests and the demands of the market.

Dolores, a rogue AI escaped in the real world, bent on revenge. The score is heroic, swelling to suggest this is all part of a grand adventure. Our sweet child coming of age, leaving principled destruction in her wake. It’s Westworld so of course it all goes off the rails by the end.

Still, HBO is selling a finely tuned narrative distilled from decades of experience selling us culturally-relevant stories. Westworld’s relevant point-of-view:

If people are hurting you, the heroic thing is to try and stop them.

HBO’s alchemy of market research and imagination has brought us an impressive share of culture-leading television, from Sex and the City to The Sopranos to Game of Thrones. They have successfully tracked the pulse of shared imagination since the 90’s.

In the guise of Westworld’s Season 3 trailer, they gave us a stylized premonition of Warren vs. Bloomberg. A world on fire, but we’re bringing the fight to the many corrupt, abusive powers that be.

I’m gonna save the fucking world

With Elizabeth Warren flagging in the first contests of the Democratic nomination, people were ready to count her out. Rumors swirled about fundraising woes. Bloomberg has argued that he and Bernie Sanders should be given the room to slug it out, with everyone else dropping out.

America’s Paypig gets roasted.

After Bloomberg’s first debate, Warren had an enormous fundraising day. Booed by the audience, Bloomberg was later forced to confront his history of paying off ex-employees to prevent public criticism, swearing to stop the practice going forward in cases of sexual misconduct. Warren isn’t even in the big chair and she’s already bringing billionaires to heel.

Popular imagination exploded with enthusiasm for Warren’s open contempt for Bloomberg’s power and record. Writing for The New Republic, Heather Souvaine Horn captures it perfectly:

Warren unsheathed her scimitar, aimed for the trouser break, and proceeded to stack bodies by her lectern like an outdoor cat leaving neighborhood mouse carcasses on progressives’ doormat.

Our culture is ready for people who have been excluded from power to rise up and reclaim it. Our culture is ready to hold people accountable for stepping on people’s necks to make their own lives more comfortable.

Westworld, cloaked in the pageantry of a robot uprising, slakes a thirst for tales fitting this bill. It has worn a contempt for the rich and powerful on its sleeve and been rewarded with three seasons of funding so far. But a presidential debate, where real power is confronted, is even more satisfying. Its ripple effects reach beyond cultural imagination, into policy and even accountability.

Somehow, we don’t need to choose between ideas and practical impact. Both are arriving together.

The invisible hand of the market finally giving us something nice.