Aesthetic > forensic

I’ve been watching Westworld. David Roark writes on a valuable distinction that Westworld raised in his life:

I started paying attention on the internet, only to find a whole series of pieces, big and small, regarding not only fan theories but critical theories on Westworld. It was like Lost all over again. And back then, wasn’t it the fans wrapped up in “theories” who were ultimately disappointed when they found out that Lost wasn’t really concerned with answering the thousands of questions it had raised—that it was less a heady show about theology and science and more an emotional show about its characters and the human experience? …

Examining absurd theories around Mad Men and True Detective, Julia Yost characterizes this phenomenon as a shift from the aesthetic to the forensic: “Everything on screen and soundtrack is a clue, and the viewer’s challenge is to suss out the secrets encoded by the creators’ choices in writing, casting, wardrobe, and art direction. If this is the new way of watching, then every prestige drama is now a detective series—for what reasons, and with what consequences, will soon be seen.”

Given the scientific nature of our modern minds, our engagement with the arts is no longer guided by emotion and imagination, but by reason. It’s why we walk away from a show like Westworld concerned with and moved by logos—“theories”—rather than ethos and pathos. …

This methodical, forensic approach to film, however, no trivial artifact of our times. … In this, we diminish and undercut both the art and the artist. We miss what they want to say and do to us as viewers. We miss transcendence. We miss the mystery.

We miss the whole thing.

I remember watching Lost along with everyone else and thinking along those same forensic lines that Roark criticizes. I still consider the series fascinating, despite (the forensic side of me says) its inconclusive ending. But what I really remember is how it made me feel (this is its aethetic), which was transported to a place of boyish mystery and wonder, and later nightmare, terror, and ultimately back to mystery.

So in talking about Lost today I would talk about the nature and character of the show and its people, not the specific theories of Oceanic 815, the origin of the island, or whatever. We would talk about what it told us about ourselves.

This is why I’m watching Westworld, though it seems to offer nihilism rather than depth.