Taking advantage of the summer season, a little over a month and a half ago HBO premiered The White Lotus, a miniseries that chronicles the vacations of three rich families who spend a few days off in a Hawaiian resort. Although it could be just another series that recounts the privileges of the wealthiest white class, part of its charm lies in the narrative and audiovisual representation of the gap between hotel guests and employees.
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Thus and in the same way as previously done by other titles such as Parasites, Succession or Sorry We Missed You, the HBO series shows that the class inequality that we see between the characters is no coincidence. It does not respond to the fact that the hotel cleaner who goes into labor in the first chapter lives precariously because she has made little effort, but rather clearly shows how her situation is one more consequence of the system in which we live. A model of classes where the opulent life of a few is possible thanks to the exploitation and oppression of the class that serves them.
However, far from being a new genre of social denunciation that emerges to overthrow capitalism and start a rebellion, this type of fiction is born, first, to entertain us and, secondly, with the aim of accumulating large numbers of viewing at the same time. enter fully into one of the most prevalent debates in the culture of social networks: the questioning of our economic, racial or gender privileges.
“The average viewer who does not go on vacation to Hawaii likes to see rich people suffer. Seeing the unhappiness of these rich families in such a resort is a kind of catharsis that makes you feel better when even you have not been able to go to the city. beach this summer, “he says Maria Castejon, historian and author of the book Rebels and dangerous movies.
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If fictions like those mentioned above have something in common, it is that they emerge at a time when even social and governmental agents have recognized that the economic and productive system in which we are immersed is not sustainable.
While Parasites presented the consequences of class inequality to a pre-pandemic world that could receive this story as an exaggeration of job insecurity, the gentrification of cities or even climate change, The White Lotus directs a similar message to a much more awake and disillusioned public after the Covid-19 crisis.
“We might think that The White Lotus, as a rereading of the myth of the lotus eaters, it has been a good way to portray that class that during the pandemic has been able to live on an island of irresponsible pleasure, forgetting all their problems and behaving as if there were no virus. But I don’t know to what extent that would be a legitimate reading of the series. I think the interesting thing is precisely to realize that for the capitalist class the existence of the pandemic has been irrelevant except as a business opportunity. What would a season of Succession in which a pandemic was declared by Covid-19? I imagine the same, except that Kendall Roy would make a fool of himself by investing in pharmaceutical companies instead of technological applications. That is, even though the pandemic has made visible situations of extreme poverty and exclusion, it has not uncovered anything “, reflects the philosopher and journalist Eudald Espluga.
And although indeed none of the previous titles narrates something that we did not know previously, they manage to make us feel ashamed and indignation with many of the axioms raised. Thus, in the same way that rage seized the spectators of Parasites when in the car scene The rich man is disgusted by the smell of the chauffeur, the followers of Succession felt something similar when, in the first chapter, Roman Roy displayed all his cruelty in front of the young son of a Latino working couple, offering him a check for a million dollars if he entertained his family by making a home run.
Part of the success of these fictions lies in the fact that through these uncomfortable moments the less idealized image of the rich is shown. It is as if, suddenly, they take off their masks to show themselves as they are in the private sphere: spoiled children who throw a tantrum when they are bored or do not get what they are looking for. Again, this representation is in force in much of Logan Roy’s children in Succession and especially in the character of Shane in The White Lotus.
“It is unthinkable to portray the exploitation and the consequences of the labor parasitization suffered by the hotel manager in The White Lotus without Shane’s obsession with him. In the same way that we would not identify the precariousness of Belinda, the black woman who works in the spa, without the dependence she develops on the wealthy guest who proposes to finance her own business “, explains María Castejón.
Leaving aside this representation that makes clear the arrogance of the higher classes regarding those who serve them, in turn, these titles function as a confirmation bias that ratifies us that idea that this socioeconomic model only works for a few. Just as the aspirational story helps us fall asleep at night or cope with a hangover Sunday, this type of satire, supported by the crudest realities, makes us feel less alone: ”We are increasingly opting for less aspirational stories because it is the only critical imagination we have of the system we live in. It is what Mark Fisher called “capitalist realism.” On a planet on the brink of collapse, with scarcity of resources and rampant inequality, the representation of our helplessness and nihilism becomes in a form of realism, which reaffirms us in our discomfort and prevents us from imagining alternatives “, develops Eudald Espluga.
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In a society where technology is the means to almost all ends, lacking an internet connection undoubtedly places you in a place of exclusion and socioeconomic vulnerability. However, this does not mean that those who have fiber optics and a shared profile on Netflix are the same middle class from the 80s or 90s. You can have a mobile with 4G and use it to manage the orders that you deliver by bicycle around the city.
For this reason many viewers read Parasites in the key of hyperbole. As if the image of the two brothers standing on the toilet in the bathroom trying to capture the best Wi-Fi signal reflects a dystopia based on another present and not the most bitter side of many people’s lives.
“The ways of representing class have changed. Half jokingly, McKenzie Wark says that the ruling class is not what it used to be, because its signs and styles are no longer bourgeois: instead of cutting ribbons to open factories, now are delivered to mindfulness and they speak of cosmic consciousness. Being emotionally intelligent and caring for indigenous groups is part of the new ethos late capitalist “, details Espluga.
Likewise, the new class paradigm is also presented in terms of freedom and decision-making power. While the guests of The White Lotus They are allowed the license to harass hotel workers because they consider that their happiness depends on their attending to all their whims, workers cannot escape from this obligation. In fact, the hotel manager takes refuge in his addictions in order to cope with a situation from which he feels he cannot escape. Psycho-emotional exhaustion is implicit in their good work as workers. Due to the fact that there are more people imprisoned by this system than others, we could say that we have stopped talking simply about social inequality to start talking about lack of freedom.
“One of the traps he falls into The White Lotus is that it ends up equating almost all the characters under a kind of cynical and hypocritical attitude towards injustices, and as spectators we are left with the feeling that the racialized working-class individuals who only put four tweets against colonialism are exactly the same than the super-rich entrepreneurs who read Frantz Franon, but still enjoy all his privileges. Also, as it happens in Parasites, there is still a terrible asymmetry when it comes to representing violence, since only violence is shown as violence (and it is disruptive) that which is exercised by the dominated (and presented as an action devoid of meaning). For this reason, perhaps we should think of other works that address the question of class (and class violence) from a much less Manichean perspective, such as the documentary by Luis Carrasco The year of discovery“, completes Espluga.
Thus, despite the fact that in the last two years we have alternated viewing dystopias such as Years and Years or Collapse with entertainment that turns the idealization of the rich around, the aspirational story is still present for anyone who prefers to escape from reality and immerse themselves in the sweetened unrealism of series such as Valeria.
Audiovisual consumption options are so wide that when it comes to facing digital platforms, the spectrum of alternatives covers all possible stories. It is as if every night we could choose the type of emotional universe we want to immerse ourselves in and, faced with this situation, no matter how conscious we are, not everyone wants to go to bed after seeing the latest Ken Loach movie about the miserable life of a delivery man who works 16 hours a day. Although this type of fiction works as a confirmation bias that channels our critical consciousness, after returning home from a long working day, there are those who prefer to escape and see Friends until he fell asleep curled up in nostalgia.
Perhaps it is precisely for this reason that the new capitalist realism is catching on so well with viewers. Halfway between social denunciation, entertainment and catharsis, these fictions manage to get us out of our comfort zone enough to share a couple of critical memes on social networks, but not so much as to make us lose sleep by imagining an uninhabitable future like the one you describe Collapse. As it happened with ParasitesWe prefer to look the other way and think that problems will come. We want realism, but just the right dose. The one that leads us to reflect and debate for a while after dinner, but leads us to continue with the same life the next day.
At the end of the day, that is entertainment: a small balm that serves to soothe a wound that sometimes drains.