115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Invisible Communities: Imagining Disability and the Plight of the Other in HBO’s Westworld

Liz Faucett, Brenau University

HBO’s Westworld makes disability visible through its female robot characters, Dolores and Maeve, who suffer from Dissociative Identity Disorder. Westworld visualizes the relationship between non-mentally disabled (humans) and mentally disabled (robots) and depicts the tendency for non-disabled persons to dismiss, de-authenticate, and devalue the experiences of the mentally ill.

Proposal: 

Liz Faucett

Brenau University

lfaucett@brenau.edu

Sight, Visibility, and Disability in American Literature

 

Invisible Communities: Imagining Disability and the Plight of the Other in HBO’s Westworld 

This presentation will examine the ways that HBO’s Westworld makes disability visible through the portrayal of its female robot characters, Dolores and Maeve, who suffer from Disassociate Identity Disorder (DID). I argue that both Dolores and Maeve exhibit the five criteria of DID, including “disruption of identity” and “recurrent gaps” in memory, and due to these symptoms, suffer from “significant distress or impairment in social functioning”( APA qtd. in Schwarz 36). More specifically, Westworld illustrates the complicated relationship between the non-mentally disabled (humans) and the mentally disabled (robots) and depicts the tendency for non-disabled persons to dismiss, de-authenticate, and devalue the experiences of the mentally ill.

In “Dissociative Identity Disorder and Pseudo-Hysteria,” Brad Foote focuses on how disorders such as DID can be mistaken for hysteria due to problems with countertransference “and the reactions they inspire, particularly the reactions of feeling convinced or unconvinced” (Foote 322). In addition, clinical testimonies reveal that visibility plays a crucial role in recognizing and understanding mental illness, but non-disabled people often view the symptoms as unbelievable because of their theatrical exaggeration. Therefore, the non-disabled seldom take the patients’ pain seriously, and thus, they fail to recognize and understand the mentally disabled as an individual who is suffering and in need of their care. Similarly, in Westworld the robots Dolores and Maeve experience profound physical and emotional trauma, which results in DID, but their suffering is never acknowledged by the human (non-disabled) majority.  Ultimately, the mistreatment of the mentally disabled is visualized on screen, and Westworld challenges its viewers to recognize the pain of individuals who belong to different communities (human, robot; non-disabled, disabled). As a show that already has gathered the cult following, Westworld makes otherness imaginable for people who would otherwise be unlikely to consider the full humanity of people with mental illness.

 

 

Works Cited

 

Foote, Brad. “Dissociative Identity Disorder and Pseudo-Hysteria.” American Journal of Psychotherapy Vol. 53, No. 3, 1999. https://web-a-ebscohost-         com.ezproxy.brenau.edu:2040/ehost/detail/detail?vid=0&sid=ff087136-e430-4bf4-85fe-       7c6901cfe02e%40sessionmgr4009&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#AN =10586297&db=mnh. Accessed 16 June 2017.

Schwarz, Heike. Beware of the Other Side(s): Multiple Personality Disorder and   Dissociative      Identity Disorder in American Fiction. Deutsche Nationalbibliothek, 2013.