HBO: Humanoid 'Bot Objectified

Season 2 of HBO's Westworld starts this Sunday (April 22). And what better moment to share about my presentation on the first season from last year's Midwest Popular Culture Association's conference in St. Louis.

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Since I gave the same note before my presentation, here it is: spoiler alert for season 1 and trigger warning for topics of sexual assault, violence, and nudity. And what was the topic of my 20 minute presentation: “I’m not a key … I’m just me*” Women as Objects for Male Consumption in HBO’s Westworld. 

Let me backtrack for a second and explain what MPCA conference is, plus what I was doing there. Back in 2012, my friend was working on her Master's, I was interning - out of academia. But she messaged me, and told me she was presenting at an academic conference that covered popular culture. Pretty much any topic could be covered: from the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame's library selection process, Black Christian Romance novels, sexism in The Big Bang Theory, to boar hunting. 

Yep ... these are examples of actual presentations/panels I sat in on. 

I was hesitant to apply for this conference because of one key thing: I wasn't in school anymore. And it seemed like being a current student might be integral to presenting at an academic conference. But my friend convinced me, and somehow MPCA liked my abstract enough to accept me. 

Flash forward to this past fall, when my sister and I were discussing HBO's Westworld. My sister is a PhD psychology candidate; she was remarking how the development of consciousness in the hosts resembles some of the methodology she uses in her practice (an existential approach). 

A couple days later, she sent me sly Gchat message asking if I wanted to co-author a paper for MPCA with her on Westworld. She remembered that I'd presented at the 2012 Columbus conference, and after realizing her schedule would work for 2017, pitched the idea. I agreed, saying that it's be fun and good for her to experience a different set of higher education than she was used to. Plus, they's probably like that she was still in school ... because guess what! I was still not a student anymore.

But she then took it a step forward and offered to co-author an abstract for me. That way, we could both apply -- with the chance that either one or us both would be accepted. And what was the outcome of that decision? We both got into the conference. 

So in October, I gave me gendered analysis of Westworld as part of Gender (and Advertising) panel. I talked about the relationship between nudity and costuming on the show (referencing this interview), as well as the use of the male gaze in the show; particularly in regards to sexual violence:  

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The Man in Black does intervene, making Dolores an inactive prop (as her loop is designed) in this assault. However, he does nothing to save Dolores. Rather he mocks and “kills” her would-be savior Teddy (another Host and male hero figure). The Man in Black then drags Dolores off to the barn to rape her. This scene is shown, not through Dolores’s eyes, but through a reflection in the eye of the 'dying' Teddy.

I will say, most the people presenting at MPCA conferences, are workshopping your thesis, research projects, etc. I'm just dissecting my own personal thoughts on a pop culture (typically TV) topic. I do my part to make sure my abstract and presentation have an analysis.

Meaning that, while I went over some examples of objectification in the show, I commented on the message I think the show is making about those moments. For me, those behind Westworld are using these extreme and unsettling treatments of women to call attention to the objectification and deplorable treatment of women that happens IRL. 

The first season established the pattern of abuse and dehumanization of the (female) Hosts throughout the park. Season 2, from the promos, appears to show the evolution of rage, reflection, and sense of self which evolves from owning your own narrative. 


Check out the 2017 MPCA Conference program for my listing (click here, pg 38). View my presentation by clicking here


  • My sister's 2017 presentation, which I helped co-author (click here, pg 50), "Traveling to the Center of The Maze: An Existential Interpretation of HBO’s Westworld Season One Finale ‘The Bicameral Mind’
  • My college peer + sorority sister, Sarah Eutsler's 2017 presentation (click here, pg 66), “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: Awareness & Gender in The Precarious Girl Musical”
  • My 2012 presentation (click here, pg 46), “The Normative Gendering of Atypical Female Characters in Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • My friend's 2012 presentation (click here, pg 56), “Achievement Unlocked: The Problem of Rationalization in Contemporary Gaming Models”

Images: Screenshot 

*1x07: “Trompe L’Oeil,” 33:00-20