From Westworld to Indianapolis

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but at the end of March I’ll be presenting at the Popular Culture Association annual conference in Indianapolis, discussing the use of (primarily) Shakespearean references in the first season of HBO’s series Westworld, and how the use of these meta-texts help inform the series, its characters, and themes.

It’s been a bit tougher than I thought.

But it’s making me think about possible left-hand turns in this possible presentation.

Let me explain.

The references are definitely there. And there are other pseudo-Shakespearean references–stuff that (because of their diction or syntax) sound like Shakespeare, but aren’t–that would speak to the importance of these Shakespearean meta-texts. For example, one quote comes from the Sherlock Holmes story “A Study in Scarlet,” which seems to imply that the use of these references will be something that needs to be uncovered, decoded, solved. Another comes from Frankenstein, a work about the creation of a new entity from pieces of other existing entities, a wonderful metaphor for meta-texts.

All this seems great.

Only there’s one problem.

The use of the Shakespearean references themselves is all over the map.

Maybe I’m missing something, but I’m not sure there is a greater informing of the series. I may be able to come up with something in the two months between now and when when I present, but, jeez, I just don’t know. I really don’t want to veer off to Room 237 territory.

But there may be something there…only in a different direction.

Back last month, when I was talking about the musical comedy Something Rotten, I wrote about a possible thesis on the commodification of Shakespeare–the man–in popular culture. What this research makes me think about is the cynical commodification of Shakespearean references–the texts–in Westworld, and how the viewer is being manipulated into thinking there is more there when there really isn’t. Maybe Shakespeare is being used to imply greater depth in a cynical attempt to gamify the viewing of the series, to engage the viewer.

I don’t know. I just think to think this through.

Or give it a rest for a few days, and then hit it again fresh.

Comment?