well, folks, i was going to start this whole post by linking back to the tweet that inspired it. but in a turn of cosmic fate laughing at me, that tweet seems to have disappeared from the twitterverse. so now you get my explanation of that tweet without the exact wording. it went something like this:
"i watched the menu. seems like a bunch of rich movie executives sat around on their private yacht and said 'parasite was big! hating rich people is really hot right now"
and i got, like, weirdly defensive of the movie when i read that? i enjoyed the menu! i enjoy many forms of media which focus on how incredibly awful the rich are. but i'm not just engaging with propoganda...right?
full disclosure, i've never seen parasite. in a perfect world, i would finally get around to watching it before writing this post, but i'm impatient and i want to write it now. so, instead of focusing on that specifically, i want to just talk about various "eat the rich" media and try to identify the flaws of the genre, it's strengths(?), and whether we're all being played by the ~hollywood elite~. please consider this my formal application for the role of wannabe youtube video essayist (without all the research, and WITH all the bias of my life perspective).
spoilers ahead for: the menu (2022), bodies bodies bodies (2022), season 1 of white lotus (2021), marie antoinette (2006)
marie antoinette (2006)
first, i wanna turn my attention to marie antoinette (2006), directed by sofia coppola, starring kirsten dunst, and costume designed by milena canonero. i add that last part because i think the costumes in this movie are incredible, and should always be lauded as such. it's otherwise irrelevant to what i'm saying.
i bring this movie up first because i want to be clear that, while the "eat the rich" mediasphere is definitely peaking right now, it has absolutely existed long before parasite. i think it was just...more complicated. it was kinder to the super rich, because as i see it, the narratives focused more on the characters themselves, while their lives of absurd luxury were a secondary plot. marie antoinette is a great example of this-- the film ABSOLUTELY centers around the personal wins and struggles of marie, and even goes as far as to "debunk" the famous "let them eat cake" statement. marie is...sympathetic. her extreme wealth is almost silly, her lack of care for how she's spending it is naive, but it's not downright criminal in the eyes of the film. the "i want candy" sequence is
(iconic, but that's not the point) the quintessential example of this. marie's spending is silly, absurd, sure, but it's also just ~what any teenage girl with that much wealth would do!~
overall, i think that marie antoinette (2006), much like what i imagine the real marie's life was like, doesn't show her interacting with the common world around her enough to really express how incredibly out of touch she is. it paints her as a sympathetic fool--until the people are closing in on versailles, you don't really understand how bad things are outside of the palace's gilded walls. this film is fun to watch because you feel like you're getting an eye into the world of the super rich and the silly, extravagant way they live.
white lotus season 1 (2021)
i guess i'm going chronologically! white lotus, for those unaware, is a show created by hbo max and directed by mike white. it stars a whole lot of actors that will make you go, "oh yeah! i know that person! what were they in?" and focuses on a week in the life of a variety of people at a hawaiian luxury resort. to be clear, no one here is a normal vacationer. we're talking about the super rich. (and the people who serve them.)
white lotus has a dramatically different tone to marie antoinette. we're not laughing with these rich people--we're laughing at them. we as an audience are enjoying making fun of how absurdly they act, how terrible they are, how un-self aware they are. they're awful people. you hate them. and yet, when i watch this show, in every scene i find myself scrambling to find the underdog to root for.
one of the groups of rich weirdos that i find most important to talk about in this context is The Family. TM. i won't even pretend to remember their names; when i watch this show with my boyfriend i rarely use names for anyone. i just reach over and grab his knee in discomfort every time "The Dad" tries to talk to "The Son" about his sex life. anyways, The Family consists of five people: The Mom (an ultrasuccessful workaholic girlboss who shames her simp husband for being so lame), The Dad (a beta male who resents his wife for being more successful than him and has NO idea how to connect to his children), The Son (a tech addicted teenage white boy verging on incelhood who actually goes through a really nice storyline where he realizes the world is big and beautiful beyond his technology when it washes away on the beach), The Daughter (a pseudo-woke but still enjoying her richness college student who needs more attention than the average instagram influencer), and The Friend (girl who is friends with the daughter and seems to be exactly like her except maybe she comes from a slightly less rich family and has some moral concerns with this vacation).
mostly, here, i care about The Daughter and The Friend, because i think they highlight the worst possible trend to come out of the eat the rich mediasphere: the "woke" rich teenager. these characters exist solely to make fun of "wokeness" for being un-fun and objecting to the behavior of rich people, while making it acceptable to make fun of because it's coming from these super un-self-aware rich girls. i don't know why they're usually girls? i think media just likes making fun of teenage girls for like, anything.
these characters create a space for two things. 1) they comment on the inherent immorality of what is happening around them. the audience can hear them comment on how "totally like, morally bankrupt this vacation is when hawaiian people's land was stolen". we can agree with this, and move on feeling like we've watched something Woke and Good because we know why the things the characters are doing are bad.
2) these characters are made to be laughed at. their moral objections are meaningless when they are Part Of The Problem--they're enjoying the vacation just fine, despite their moral objections. they're so hypocritical! how can they be so stupid! this causes their objections, even when they're literally true, to be nothing more than a punchline. once again, recognizing the objectively wrong things that rich people do is just...funny.
bodies bodies bodies (2022)
how the fuck did this movie only come out last year. anyways. this leads us directly into bodies bodies bodies, directed by halina reijn, which is just the "woke" rich teenager multiplied by like, 6 or 7 or however many of those bitches existed. it's a fun movie, because it's fun to watch a bunch of these characters fight, but it inevitably is the same issue: "wokeness" becomes a punchline, and it's okay to laugh at the legitimate problems the characters bring up because they're being hypocritical about it.
honestly, there's not much more to say about this movie. it's fun, the rich people are pretty fucked up, but ultimately it makes the talking points of activists into punchlines being parroted by the rich and pretty.
the menu (2022)
okay, let's finish this and talk about the original problem. the menu. this movie, directed by mark mylod, centers around a chef gone crazy, the final menu he plans in his weirdo murder-suicide plot, and margot, the escort who has just been brought into all of this against her will.
as the tweet i can't find accuses, this movie does hate on rich people. it's basically a highlight reel of the rich people sins: tax evasion, selling out, not caring about the lives they ruin, being a foodie, etc. each of these things is a reason that someone is a victim of the Evil Chef, whose murder suicide plot seems like it's supposedly validated by the fact that everyone attending the dinner is an awful person.
what this movie does, which the others mentioned in this post sometimes do, is compare the Not Rich person against all the rich people. margot, like that blonde girl in bodies bodies bodies, like the workers in white lotus, is just a regular person who has gotten caught up in all this crazy rich people bullshit. she doesn't deserve to die, she's just in the whirlwind. she's the landing place for the audience to identify with. she's a big of an NLOG, but like, it is what it is.
i think what the menu does well, and how it avoids feeling as meaningless as bodies bodies bodies in the eat the rich mediasphere, is that it's central conflict isn't based around margot vs the rich people. it's margot vs the chef. it's a battle of wits. and she wins, in the end. she plays off of his memories from when he was just a poor burger chef. she knows and understands something that none of these rich people who offer him money, power, etc, ever could about the chef. that is what lets her win.
to be clear, i've enjoyed every one of the pieces of media i've discussed here immensely. i love them all dearly. however, i think they all have successes and failures when it comes to being propoganda.
the concern, of course, is that the ultra-rich are just making stories like this because they sell well in a time where the average person is stressing about rent and groceries while jeff bezos owns more money than god. they appease the starving masses, they satisfy and keep us from turning our attention to the "real" problem.
this is a real concern! but! i think it misses the point of art and stories to some degree. these stories aren't here just because the rich want to appease us and keep us from actually eating them. they're also here because stories have themes which often reflect the real life challenges of the world they were made in. we live in a world where late-stage capitalism is failing us all. to think that this only finds its way into stories because the rich want to appease us is just false. this has been happening forever! right off the top of my head, the english class lit that existed as a way to critique capitalism include the metamorphoses, death of a salesman, the lottery, the mask of the red death. when the mccarthy trials were happening, suspected communist arthur miller wrote the crucible as an INCREDIBLY unsubtle reference to it. we live in a world where unsubtle art that reflects the world around it is accepted and constant. because of course it is!!
the eat the rich mediasphere absolutely verges on doing nothing but ragging on how bad rich people are. however, i do not think the genre is inherently bankrupt of meaning, good stories, etc. and it's certainly not lacking in entertainment. what it can do is unite a large number of people in engaging with and recognizing the many ways that immoral rich people do fuck over our world. media arts, especially the blunt ones, can be a potent way to express cultural ideas in a manner that is easier for people to talk about than the ideas themselves. it's on us to not stop there and keep the conversation going.
i prescribe anyone engaging with the eat the rich mediasphere a healthy dose of critical thinking, and bonus points if you find a buddy with whom you can discuss the media's positive and negative points afterwards.
alright, this is basically an essay and i've spent like two hours writing it so i'm not rereading it or editing it. raw experience of juno microdosing on being in college again. it's probably a rambly mess but it's out of my head so that feels good! <3