“Boy, Have We Got A Vacation For You!”

"There is no threshold, that makes us greater than the sum of our parts, no inflection point at which we become truly alive..."  - Sir Anthony Hopkins as genius "puppeteer" programmer Robert Ford in Westworld

"Awake, wood inanimate, now you've got a soul!" - guess where this one comes from 😉

Italian novelist Carlo (Collodi) Lorenzini was a volunteer in the Tuscan army before becoming disenchanted with politics, thereby turning to children's literature (wait, what?)

"...every man, whether he is born rich or poor, is obliged to do something in this world...."  

"Never trust anyone who promises to make you rich in a day, they are generally crazy swindlers." 

If you don't recognise the quotes above, it's not your fault. Disney tortures nearly everything to death in the name of children's entertainment (and yet.... can't live with em, can't live without them.... Disney. Not... children.) Let's try another:

‘When the dead person cries, it is a sign that he is on the road to get well,’ said the Crow solemnly. ‘I grieve to contradict my illustrious friend and colleague,’ added the Owl, ‘but for me, when the dead person cries, it is a sign that he is sorry to die.” 

Still no clue? Not surprising, but you'll definitely recognise it after this next excerpt:

“'Are you not afraid of death?'
'I am not in the least afraid!... I would rather die than drink that bitter medicine.'
At that moment the door of the room flew open, and four rabbits as black as ink entered carrying on their shoulders a little bier.
'What do you want with me?' cried Pinocchio, sitting up in bed in a great fright.
'We are come to take you,' said the biggest rabbit.
'To take me?... But I am not yet dead!...'
"....but you have only a few minutes to live, as you have refused the medicine that would have cured you..."
'Oh, Fairy, Fairy!' the puppet then began to scream, 'give me the tumbler at once... be quick, for I will not die--no.....”

Am I the only one who thinks this is just hilarious - Pinocchio makes it his life's goal to be a Real Live Boy. Then he gets sick just like any real boy would. Then like so many other real children out there he refuses to take his bitter-tasting medicine and learns that to be alive is to also feel pain, face sickness and death and well, do stuff you don't always enjoy but is good for you in the long run (like, when did we get to thinking anything we want, covet, comes without a price or consequence?) It's like Newtons' Law Of No Free Lunch For Everything In Life right... 

 

(pics from Greg Hildebrandt art on Pinterest and ebay)

Oh, and I especially liked when the Four Rabbits of Death (what?) come to collect Pinocchio and talking to them so frightens him that he begs to take his bitter medicine. (Seriously, dis is good stuff. WHY would the Disney Powers That Be ever see fit to edit out the Four Rabbits. Like, do they have names like Pestilence, Famine, War etc? Well in Pinocchio they have jobs as undertakers (again - what?) but anyways) - Lemme try that with our own wabbit (whom, disappointingly, HN has named Tarrant (Hightop)) -

Study hard, kids. (Take my word for it, dis issa rabbit)

"B+ Again??  Incredulous

(On an aside, this also why I insist the kids spend some time cleaning up after their pets (though it drives me batsh*t to sometimes have to clean up after them cleaning up after their pets) - to have live pets rather than soft toys is to risk that they can die; to get to feed the pets all kinds of different fruits and veggies, discover the foods they madly love, is to also deal with animal poop; without having to do real work, there is no incentive to find ways to lighten the load.

The joy of a pet loving you is that it's a relationship you have to nurture, like any other real life relationship (except animal relationships tend to be without a "manipulativeness" that practically always comes with being human - humans often overthink, and sometimes it's just nice to have a few simplistic relationships as well) - and to do that is to take time to understand the pet... Which is about when HN learned to not insist her rabbit go out when he doesn't feel like it (usually when he can smell rain in the air, but sometimes Just Because). It's really not always easy to stick to things, but to "cheat", to break these rules, is ultimately to get something less out of the relationship..

Anyway, back to Pinocchio.

"Believe it or not, my introduction to scary literature was Pinocchio. My mother read it to me every day before nap time when I was 3 or 4. The original is terrifying." - R.L. Stine, author of Goosebumps

In the 1880s, Adventures of Pinocchio had a storyline meant as a metaphor on the human condition, and the work still holds the record for Most Translated Non-Religious Book (second only to the Holy Bible), that runs roughly like this:

Celebrated Master Carpenter discovers Block of Talking Pinewood. Freaked out by Talking Block (everyone knows blocks of wood should just shut up and be carved into whatever suits our purposes), he dumps "Problem Block" with Down-On-His-Luck Puppeteer.

Thus begins the journey of self discovery for Pinocchio and his adoptive dad Geppetto - one filled with irony as the puppet pulls the strings, fraught with an exquisite pain of the sort only a parent might know, as penniless craftsman sacrifices repeatedly to provide for his unexpected dependant who grows ever more stubborn and selfish even as he grows more "human" (pics from spiderwebart.com and Pinterest):

 

'The Marionette, as soon as his hunger was appeased, started to grumble and cry that he wanted a new pair of feet.

But Mastro Geppetto, in order to punish him for his mischief, let him alone the whole morning. After dinner he said to him:

"Why should I make your feet over again? To see you run away from home once more?".....

"I promise to go to school every day, to study, and to succeed--"

"Boys always sing that song when they want their own will."

"But I am not like other boys!.....

Geppetto, though trying to look very stern, felt his eyes fill with tears and his heart soften when he saw Pinocchio so unhappy. He said no more, but taking his tools and two pieces of wood, he set to work diligently.

"To show you how grateful I am to you, Father, I'll go to school now. But to go to school I need a suit of clothes."

Geppetto did not have a penny in his pocket (but managed to fashion a satisfactory outfit for the puppet)...

"...in order to go to school, I still need something very important... An A-B-C book."

"And the money?" ...When poverty shows itself, even mischievous boys understand what it means.

"What does it matter, after all?" cried Geppetto all at once, as he jumped up from his chair.....

After a while he returned. In his hands he had the A-B-C book for his son, but the old coat was gone... and the day was cold.

"Where's your coat, Father?"

"I have sold it."

"Why did you sell your coat?"

"It was too warm."'

In the original, Pinocchio eventually dies by hanging, for his many crimes and transgressions. That includes killing Jiminy Cricket with a hammer (OMG!!) And then publishers thought that was "too scary" for little children (no!) and author Collodi was asked to add about 20 chapters of the Fairy With The Turquoise Hair.

pic from wikipedia (but you can also search Collodi on kids.net.au)

This "fairy" grants lonely Geppetto's wish to bring his puppet to life, and appears at critical moments in Pinocchio's transgressions, admonishing him and eventually keeping him from bad or risky behaviour. But along the way are many misguided attempts on both sides, including the fairy in some versions saying "study hard, you are almost ready to become real," and even with blue hair and magic, learning to be good, understanding the consequences of being bad, takes time. 

Just as Pinocchio has been "almost good enough" to get to be real, he runs away to Toy Island and he and his bad friends get turned into donkeys by some kind of child (or donkey) traffickers (CAVEAT - there are several comments on the Transformationi Videos Youtube channel that say this is like the scariest scene in a little kiddie movie ever haha)

 OK - caveat for the rest of this post because of the TV series described bel0w, which carries a strong MA (Mature Audience) rating...

Imagine an amusement park in which for USD 40,000 a day you get to live with no rules, be as cruel and selfish to your fellow man, woman or child, as your hidden heart desires.

In this high-end cowboys-and-indians theme park filled with life-like androids indistinguishable from humans, sits layer upon layer of role-playing story loop. None of the androids can hurt a paying customer, but you, the customer, get to hurt all the inhabitants of this world with no apparent consequences. You get to play Mass Murderer, or Town Hero, as you wish. "Everyone" ultimately chooses Black Hat over White, it's the most exciting game (that turns out to be not really). The clip below is for general audiences, but I did not let the kids watch the actual series, not because of the themes, but because of the visuals:

Now, storylines of malfunctioning robots wreaking havoc AND/OR becoming more human than the humans, are not new. Who they are, what they look like however, is. The choices casting directors and writers make when they create characters, pick the right faces for, is telling, re how our world is changing. 

Decades ago, "malfunctioning killer robots" looked like this (pics from vox.com and hollywoodreporter.com):

The latest AI going rogue (and yes killing people) however, ie what-writers-decided-would-have-a-greater-effect-on-audiences today, looks predominantly like this (pics from Hollywood Reporter and Hello Giggles):

(Also to be contrasted with the female androids in various versions of Stepford Wives (I only watched the not-at-all-meant-to-be-funny 1975 version, not the Nicole Kidman newer version) where husbands decide to replace their real wives with beautiful and compliant robots who never get angry, always dress nice and cook and clean - obviously NOT AI or any 'I' :D):

Also, apparently they can do all that in high heels. Obviously robots 😀 pic from BBC

Someone made a tv series titled Stepford Children too, in which kids "always do their homework" (pic from Wikipedia) 😀

I tried to be fair and put up a Stepford Husbands pic but Googling SH gets you the men who turn everyone else into robots (oops) so instead, how bout Hairy-chested Helicopter Pilot From Inside Out (gif from weheartit.com):

Anyway back to Westworld. I got the pic of Evan Rachel Wood in character (blue dress several pics up) from hellogiggles.com, but I have no idea why they call their website that, her interview is erm, not at all "giggly." She is quoted:

"The greatest lesson I have learned is that there is always more to learn." 

"Don't pretend to know things you don't - just ask. If people give you sh*t, it says more about them than you. You have nothing to prove."

...at which point I should probably put up a pic of her when she's not in character as Babyfaced Android Built To Be Abused By Park Guests, Who Eventually (Maybe) Becomes Sentient in Westworld:

(Y-eah a bit like Captain Marvel's latest look in Endgame) pic frm hellogiggles.com

In real life, Wood has a black belt in taekwondo 🙂 She's also testified at the United States House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations as an abuse survivor and is a single mom of a young boy. (In Westworld she put on such a powerful performance as an android "victim" built for mistreatment that I went to search for where the acting chops could've come from...)

SPOILER ALERT

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A further elaboration on the are-they-aren't-they "sentience" of the robot inhabitants of Westworld - the series teases you not a few times into thinking the "geniuses" of engineering and business acumen have succeeded in creating life - true AI that eventually rebels at their mistreatment - while milking a cash cow of a lucrative business idea for adult entertainment... but then you catch ever more glimpses of saboteurs at work - they actively alter the code that dictates each host/android's ability to rebel, "improvisation" of speech and facial ticks being also programmable conditions in their personality - like, how sarcastic a robot is can be marked on a scale of 1 to 18.

One host appears to go completely rogue, enlisting other hosts in a jailbreak, killing many employees in the labs in the process...... only to be told she was coded to do so. Then right when you think there is no such thing as free will, on the subway ride into the outside world she changes her mind and turns right back into the park she has just escaped, to look for the child host who once played the part of her daughter, back when a VIP customer requested the experience of murdering a mother-and-daughter (Yeah. Gruesome entertainment that shines a spotlight on the desensitising effect of screen/ entertainment violence (you can tell I'm still mad at Deadpool producers, right? Such brilliant wit and humour. Such unneccessary gore and sex)).

One of the most brilliant hosts, in between being programmed and re-programmed and therefore half the time not remembering he isn't human, creates a "maze", metaphorically like a child's educational toy "worthy" hosts are meant to solve, but really a journey of empathy based on life's trials and tribulations, set around the park whereby their artificial minds ultimately achieve sentience if/when they manage to complete it.

In some of the Westworld clips compiled below, major characters with fulfilling work and/or personal relationships appear to kill each other and/or themselves and if you followed the series, you would be absolutely horrified/rivetted/ horrified/rivetted .....it's only later that you'll learn practically everyone killing each other and themselves are androids who can be brought back to life, their memories wiped clean or inserted into other bodies. Most of the time, they don't know it either.

The point is this: When you thought they were real, was it not horrifying..... and then horribly desensitising? Then when you realised they were not real, were you able to turn off how you felt or reacted to watching it just like that <snaps> Your own reactions to this powerful drama should tell you whether such concepts for entertainment should be produced for real. 

Sir Anthony Hopkins plays a master genius programmer and designer who decides to end his own life not with the whimper of being ousted from the Board of Directors due to corporate intrigue, but the bang of being assassinated by one of his greatest robot creations. (Unfortunately, he decides to take most of the Board with him.)

"These violent delights have violent ends....." - originally from Romeo & Juliet

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END SPOILER

 

Sir Hopkins, aged 81, has joyously described how he doesn't understand technology but that he wants to "move out of (his) comfort zone or (he) may as well die". Thus he gleefully merges his considerable acting skill first with the latest developments in CGI (Transformers), and now the layer upon layer of artificial personality and the constant question of what humans really might be able to create, and what is truly beyond us. (And by "really might be able to create" I don't mean simply the ability to do so, but the cost attached..  Y'know, as in there are so many things we already wish we could "un-create".)

At some point in the series you realise there is no such thing. Lack of consequence. 

Supposedly, as long as you can afford the hefty price tag, you are free to perform unnameable acts of violence and cruelty towards "people" who are literally programmed to not be able to defend themselves. They are also coded to believe that the pain, fear, and anything else you choose to inflict on them, is real. It's their realistic suffering that makes your role-playing game vacation come to life.

An army of programmers divided into several corporate teams cross-checking each other, debating the extent to which the artificial intelligence before them are keeping to their storylines/ "loops," whether their diversions are "malfunctions" or acceptable variations their programming has allowed in order to make them more "human," ensures the hosts' are "convincing". (I think they could've added a bit more detail to the discussions between the mainstream programmers and the quality assurance programmers who cross-check the conditions written for each "host" android and the choices said "host" then makes as their story loops unfold with the paying customers, within those constraints. It is a very interesting trade-off - the more autonomy and "freedom" the android is allowed in making decisions, the more life-like they seem to park guests...... and the more risk that the AI's consciousness evolves in ways their corporate "masters" can no longer control.)

This raises all kinds of moral arguments and divides the board of directors and majority shareholders (some of whom would rather not "give (a) life (of suffering)" to AI, believing old fashioned bots to be more than adequate for the park, in the name of not creating every damned thing "just because we can". The existence of and blurring between good and selfish intentions gives rise to corporate intrigue - and then they start reprogramming the robots... The robots also reprogram each other. (If ever there was a verdant playground for scriptwriters, this is SO it. Maybe hissa robot. Maybe shissa robot. Maybe POTUS Donald Trump issa robot...)

Some park hosts learn to hide precious memories and encounters from their programmer keepers, so as not to risk having them deleted, thereby making the cross-checks against malfunction meaningless but for a false sense of security. Some of the most mistreated hosts form alliances. The host searching for her repurposed host "daughter" is theorised to have "awakened" within her conditional programming that allowed improvisation of narrative, because the trauma of having her "daughter" killed in front of her sets off a condition in her permanent coding that eventually causes her to keep recalling her "past life" as an ordinary homesteader mom. Is that true AI consciousness? We are yet to find out...

At some point along the way, you, the vacationing customer, lose your humanity and meaning for your existence. Whether or not robots are "real," the point is we are, and somewhere at the back of all the made-for-screen-entertainment theatrical violence, intrigue and sheer decadence of the entire park project is the overriding message:

We were not meant to live without boundaries and rules. This is a theme that gets revisited over and over by writers through the decades (though not always with malfunctioning robots) - one lo-tech version is Lord of the Flies. We cannot do cruel or decadent things with impunity, without consequence, for our own sanity and wellbeing. 

It was TS Eliot who said "love between human beings" was only explained and made reasonable "by the Higher Love, else is it a mere coupling of animals". You lose your humanity when you stop behaving like a human being.

 

ps: (On an aside, TS Eliot created some powerful literature while struggling in his search for meaning of life and love, writing some graphic poems about horrible encounters of the flesh, sterile and empty spiritual practices...... before he became a Christian. Whereupon I observed somewhere in my A Levels essays (before I became Christian) that he arguably stopped producing anything "good" (ie angsty and tragic) thereafter - if you look at what he wrote in his deepest darkest despair (Hollow Men) vs what he wrote after he accepted Christ - some happy stuff about Cats having 3 Secret Names (FINE so it's in the Cats musical and personally I would much prefer to feel strongly about cats' names than that the world has no hope, but.... Anguished It Iz Not. I mean, I'm happy for Eliot, he found faith, but like Bon Jovi once said, "Like the Roses Need the Raaaaaiiin.... Poets Need Da Pain.... 😀 ) 

 

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About Aileen

I blog about living and raising my son in Hong Kong - where toddlers have entrance interviews, parents keep test score spreadsheets, private school debentures can trade for more than half a million USD. Raising Rockstar's the most important thing I'll ever do. We show our true colors by the choices we make in bringing up our children. My blog is a message to my toddler son, about what the world and his parents are like today - for when he becomes a teenager and knows everything.
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