A couple weeks ago, I posted on the topic of What Is Steampunk?! Now I’d like to present a little case-study-of-sorts by analyzing a new, popular TV show – Westworld – to determine if it’s steampunk or not.
Westworld is a new show on HBO based on a 1973 film by the same name. The program takes place in fictional “Westworld”, a technologically advanced, Western-themed amusement park populated completely by synthetic androids called “hosts”. Westworld caters to high-paying visitors referred to as “newcomers” or “guests”, who can do whatever they wish within the park, without fear of retaliation from the hosts.
In Defense of Calling Westworld Steampunk
Westworld combines a Victorian aesthetic (in this case, the Old American West) with advanced technology (androids, as well as other modern technology). It also takes a hard look at human nature and society, which is a common theme in steampunk. It includes steampunk and Victorian tropes, including anachronistic clothing and trains. Is this enough to call Westworld steampunk?
In Defense of Not Calling Westworld Steampunk
All of the 19th-century elements of the show are a fiction within the park. As such, there are really two worlds: the “real” world, and the amusement park world. The amusement park world is not a steampunk world; it tends to feel more like historical fiction. In particular, the technology within the park is consistent with actual 19th-century technology, rather than re-imagined advanced steampunk technology.
Westworld actually better fits into the mold of cyberpunk, the genre from which steampunk later emerged. As defined by Wikipedia, cyberpunk is “a subgenre of science fiction in a future setting that tends to focus on society as ‘high tech low life’ featuring advanced technological and scientific achievements, such as information technology and cybernetics, juxtaposed with a degree of breakdown or radical change in the social order”. Westworld gives us this advanced technological future, which is juxtaposed with the struggles of the increasingly intelligent androids who become pitted against humans.