This winter break, thanks to Westworld, I think I have found answers for some problems have been on mind since I started studying communication and media studies in . Instead of finding it directly, I got a chance to approach the term “freedom” while watching the drama.
Welcome to “Westworld”
I must admit I’m not a fan of cowboy genre, but I gave this series a try. The reasons I watched it are Sue’s recommendation and my curiosity. Not the whole season that I watched but from just the few first episodes, I could understand why my friend called it “a masterpiece of television drama” . Ww is thought-provoking in an interesting way that can keep the audience awake and focus on serious problems critically. While many people, I believe, may have controversy about the evolution of technology, resulting in the proliferation of robots, that would replace and rule humans one day, my concern is, is West World is the world of freedom we have long yearned for and are heading to?
On the one hand, West World is the ideal sphere of freedom that people want. It promotes a balance between the responsibilities and desires of humans. If people have social etiquettes and manners to follow, which sometimes make them suffocate in the real world, Ww is created to meet the demands of being free from all these ties. In Ww, players can do whatever they want or like, without being questioned about their schemes, their responsibilities or power, because they’re given the power to do so. Some might think this is a good way, as it’s better to dig a hole and bury all those against-human-society-behaviors separately from reality rather than let people go out there and do as they please, or when they can’t hold back anymore. Ww is where people live with their true identities and control not only theirs but others’ fates. This model helps the society remains its standards and rules.
Disagree? I guess in your mind right now, if you have watched it before or at least from what I’m telling you, with your sanest mind, you would say “that’s not freedom, that’s madness”. Beyond “freedom” are “wildness” or madness”, but I think they are still freedom. People use those words to bound themselves tightly to the cultural, social and moral values they share. Thus, let put “freedom” in a more neutral and objective position and accept “wildness” or “madness” as parts of it.
I’m not telling you to accept everything that is “freedom”, but I just want you to accept freedom as something either bad or good, without limitation as freedom itself is free. I don’t think we have a borderline in it, at least a shared one as our human values vary considerably in terms of differences in cultures and perceptions. For example, a serial criminal taking numerous lives might serve capital punishment in some countries, but others just lock them behind the cells. In the previous case, such a crime shouldn’t be forgiven and it’s really unfair for others to pay taxes to feed the wrongdoer; while in the latter, killing someone who kills someone else seems to be an inhumane act and the fact that “killing the same kind” could make people feel that they are no different from the murderer himself.
Now back to West World. On other hand, I believe that the freedom in Ww is not the thing that humans desire. Rather to say, people are just desperate in their illusion to seek power, to deny that their fates aren’t in their hands and to control others. When people think having a separate place to put their dark sides into, so that they could keep their bright sides in society, I think it just makes everything worse.
Such method turns people into “unaware” hypocrites. Well, some people might say, rather to have a place to release the demons in us, we keep living as socially required while not feeling to be forced to do so, and that makes human hypocritical already. In this case, it’s hard to judge whether they’re hypocrites or not. Even if they’re hypocrites, at least they themselves or others around know that but not unawarely. I believe good and bad sides exist in all of us simultaneously and by being unable to be separated, we learn how to be better versions of ourselves.
“You can’t play God without being acquainted with the Devil”.
Robert Fort in Westworld
In Ww, visitors are immortal and the victims here are in fact human-like robots. The visitors don’t feel bad towards their action or the miserableness that the hosts have to suffer because they know the providers would reset those robots at the end of the day. Any way, who cares if robots have feelings or not. They are just robots. They are meant to serve human. Bearing that thought in mind, players continue their orgies endlessly. Some people read up to here, or watch the show, might agree with this and think “Oh, they shouldn’t do that to others. Gladly it is just robots” or “Though the visitors misbehave, and I feel sorry for the robots but they are not the same kind with us! Stop panicking. As long as those people still can distinguish which world and who they can do so, they can do whatever they want to”. I think it is not scary that people question what they want, but rather have a blur notion of things they bother to think of seriously and claim it as someone else’s matter. When people consider they are the superior races or species towards others, it feeds into their big ego and selfishness. Thus, people seeking pleasure promotes a senseless, lack of empathy and irresponsible population.
Unawareness is the most dangerous thing in humans I think. For example, once you’re allowed to do something, such as rape, in Ww, how could you view it not normal in the real one? Eventually, everything, from paedophilia, necrophilia to massacre could become just norms to you. Even the questions I mentioned above have showed the start of compassion fatigue. The more you participate the game, the smaller your heart becomes. You would focus on yourself more than anything else as nothing matters except your desires in Ww. Such extreme individualism (should I say solipsism?) finally would result in a war, like a surviving race on a desert island. The only difference is, on a remote island people fight for their lives as they have nothing, in a place like Ww, people fight when they have everything. So is that living, or existing?
“Since the appearance of visible life on Earth, 380 million years had to elapse in order for a butterfly to learn how to fly; 180 million years to create a rose with no other commitment than to be beautiful; and four geological eras in order for us human beings to be able to sing better than birds, and to be able to die from love”
Gabriel García Márquez in The Cataclysm of Damocles (1986)
All species on Earth have come a long way from existing, but very few succeeded in living and humans is that very few if not say the only one to have lives. Ww offers people to live their lives as wished by being easily free, but the spiral of intensity in players’ “free” behaviors tend to lead us to mere existence (I would use survival but I think existence is more of what I want to refer to) rather than living. Therefore, creating a safe haven to release “acceptable” darkness doesn’t free people. It evolves backwards to human’s development, instead of amelioration, by training both mind and body, it makes us less critical about the definition “freedom” that took years to be known of and understood.
“The mass media, they argue, has contributed to the problem by disseminating works that are too easy, with the result that our critical faculties become enfeebled”
The Frankfurt School in A Dictionary of Critical Theory
I knows this quotes is about the media, but I feel like the latter half of it could fit in any situations. This case of technology and morality is no different than talking about mass media in this era of easy accessibility and the growing demand of “freedom” than ever.
….and Trump on my blog
I have never gave serious thoughts on aspect of “freedom of speech”, as I feel clueless whenever talking about it, so I avoid it. Nevertheless, since March 2017, this issue has been on my mind constantly. This is because while I was writing blog for my assessment, I came to an interesting comment on my post about media ownership:
I tried to answer her at that time immediately with all I could to persuade, but even myself realized that my argument was too weak to say. Though I felt so wrong but it sounded so right, that Trump is bringing the “freedom of speech” to Americans. I felt so wrong because I know that’s not true, yet I said it was right since I couldn’t have anything strong enough to prove my view. It got me wondered that is it because I believe in something so I think it right without any evidence or anything is acceptable considering the “interpretation” aspect.
Despite a short conversation, it’s a long text. Now, I think I know how I felt about the whole chat. At that time, I tend to view things subjectively rather than objectively, in which I just saw the “freedom” from my prism but not others’. It’s hard to accept that things are not what we think of anymore, especially after years of being taught or told so without challenging facts. In this chat, there are 2 things I could make clear of: 1. Freedom means free, including freedom of speech or whatever freedom of something is; 2. Trump doesn’t promote freedom of expression, or rather to say freedom of speech, not because he has “alternative facts”, but simply the problem doesn’t lie in him. If I were to say, I think I have been drown into Ash’s train of thoughts and taken a wrong approach to such matter all the time.
I dig this up because my anxieties and over-thinking ability (as usual) haunted me and tracked me down to do so. Writing this doesn’t mean I try to prove I’m right and she’s wrong or she’s right and I’m wrong, but more about the question she asked, as I felt like it was a fallacy at first but couldn’t tell what was wrong with it. Besides, I believe many others share a similar assumption as hers, which I think people have mistaken regarding who/what brings freedom of speech to people. Before going directly to the matter, I’m going to break down the red-underlined sentence in 3 parts to clarify some points and further, support my response.
Trump’s reluctance to media outlet
More than any politicians and anyone else out there, Trump associates frequently and deeply with the media. I mean, he governs via Twitter and turns himself into a media outlet already by exploiting social media.
What’s about traditional media? All media participates in the world today as they don’t want to be left behind, not to mention that traditional media has a big transformation in the way it delivers news to audience to compete with the media 2.0: they also join in social networking. Back to the point, there are certainly some newsrooms out there support Trump, whether promoting him or the Republican party anyway. For example, Fox News stands out of these (Wiki might not the best source, but it’s a platform to find academic sources from the references).
Moreover, in case some people don’t consider Fox News as “real media”, then I just want to say media today is a wider and more active term than you imagine. If you’re a BCM student, I think you’ve come to these words “Citizen Journalism” (For Gong students, it’s in the BCM112 as far as I know. I read about it on my friends’ blogs but haven’t studied about it yet). Anyone can be a journalist and responsible for disseminating news. Even without Fox News, Trump’s announcements by twitting means news already. Hence, it’s undeniable that Trump doesn’t turn his back to media, as he’s a part of it, like anyone on this planet who would like to raise their voice on any matters. In fact, he just resists whatever is against him.
2. “A less mandated system”
The liberal media evolves with the demand of people for freedom as we are, I believe, are more self-conscious of such matter than ever. We’re now free than ever to express as we please, and this can be freer in the future (a scenario like Westworld?). It’s totally people’s choice to reach out for the news they want to hear from and believe in, unlike the past where they were more of receiving information. The audience is in the centre of news but “followers” like in the past. Such evolution can’t be defined as “mandated” in current context.
3. “Increase the freedom of express” (or speech)
Her question here is hard to answer, as people might: 1) prove that Trump does and 2) Trump just messes things up. My viewpoint on this, like I’ve expressed about freedom above, that freedom is “free”, including freedom of speech and it really depends on the borderlines you draw to limit it to find acceptable. All I can say is, humans invent words for communication purpose. We use different words in different situations to express ourselves and convey messages to others. Such purpose has somehow limited the freedom in the way we communicate already, making us responsible for what we present. However, I don’t think I would get way too far into a debate about that but another question: What if Trump is not the one who enhances the freedom of speech that we’ve argued around that matter?
I think social media today is the one who increases the freedom of speech here rather than Trump. Trump is just smart enough to utilize it more than any politicians before, by twitting by himself rather having an ekip to update his Twitter account daily. It forms a mediapolis for numerous people to participate in, regardless of their age, genders or classes,….etc. A mediapolis, through the glasses of the British scholar, Roger Silverstone, is an the ideal public sphere that Habermas’s proposed, or might be more ideal than that, as Habermas’s modeling excludes some groups and emphasizes on physical locations. Thus, social media promotes the freedom of speech, as “…Nearly anybody who wants to be involved can publish, interact, and debate within an imaginary but nonetheless real communication space…”.
“…the (digital) media transform the world into a global habitat, by acting as agents and central interfaces in the mediation and interpretation of meaning—be it with moral, political, or cultural impact”.
Roger Silverstone in Media and Morality: On the rise of Mediapolis, 2006.
So rather to blame Trump for creating a chaos in the media or praise him for being a pioneer and role model on aspect of “true” freedom of speech, it’s the digital transition in media, resulting in social networkings has enabled people to connect, access and share whatever they want whenever and wherever. Such “freedom” in press is either free or chaotic and wild, based on how much of moral, social and cultural appreciations it challenges.
Honestly, “freedom” is a very problematic term to talk about. I didn’t plan to write about it even though I truly want to understand the freedom of speech and my feelings and mixed thoughts towards that conversation. My initial purpose was to write about self-proclaimed social warriors on the Net but somehow, by some ways, my research on such matter has led me far from the point I began and luckily I found the answers for not only this but also others I have wondered hard. There are a lot of things related to it that I want to write about (I’ll, and should I link them into a series? They’re related but can be separate anyway) but it’s too much to include into a post (even this post’s super long already), so I decided to split them out to write.
In this post, I don’t think I’m trying to define “freedom”, as I think it’s impossible to do so, but to have more objective views over that word. I mainly just want to understand my unclear, clueless thoughts over such issues above, as I feel it wrong or right but incapable of protecting my arguments (and you can’t justify your ideas by saying “I feel so”). You might find my post messy (please tell me if you find it is, though I’m actually sad to see that comment haha but really appreciate if you do) as I put it into the order of my thoughts, like my inner-self debate with arguments back and forth as that was what really happened on my mind exposing to (seldom) related materials. Anyhow, I hope what I write makes sense somehow and less confusing to approach.
P/S: If you’re reading till the very end, I can’t say thankful enough for your time. About Westworld, I do recommend that series to anyone, especially students study under the Law, Humanities and Arts faculty. Another one is Black Mirror, which I think a must-watch to every media student 🙂
Lảm nhảm tí: Thực ra viết xong rồi mình vẫn thấy nó mông lung như 1 trò đùa ahaha =)))