These cold winter days got me daydreaming of summertime – sipping cocktails at the beach, itching to feel the fine sand on our toes, salt in our hair, the cool ocean breeze, and the warmth of the sun. Fortunately, one of the hottest shows streaming right now gave us a first-class ticket to the coast of sunny Italia to get a taste of la dolce vita.
HBO’s limited anthology series The White Lotus (2021) is the brainchild of multi-hyphenate filmmaker, Mike White (Chuck & Buck, School of Rock), which gives us a front-row seat into the sex, power, drug-filled, and money-driven world and lifestyle of the ultra-rich.
To say this show is all sorts of bizarre and amusing would be an understatement. This season brought us to the spectacular island of Sicily and introduced us to new eccentric characters and plot lines with shocking twists and turns that get more complex with each episode. Let’s dive into the world of the one percent and attempt to understand the underlying social issues that the series subtly, but brilliantly sheds light on.
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While it’s easy to get absorbed by the mesmerizing views, vibrant skies, and mouthwatering delicacies on the show, the series at its core effectively tackles important social issues such as classism, racism, misogynism, feminism, and capitalism through satire and mystery. Each season follows the guests and employees of the luxurious White Lotus resort where we see how the power struggles between the upper and working class disrupt the status quo and affect the way we co-exist and understand the world we live in.
“Season 2 hits on a lot of the same themes as last season — rich people wallow in their privilege amid beautiful vistas, while the less fortunate scramble to keep them happy…,” via TVLine.
These social issues manifest through its compelling characters and the circumstances that challenge their comfort and (white) privileges.
One of the biggest strengths of this series is its ensemble cast portrayed by the biggest names in the industry. In this season, we see Emmy award-winning actress, Jennifer Coolidge, return as her character Tanya with her husband Greg (Jon Gries). We’re also joined by an entirely new cast comprised of a group of married couples on vacation, Cameron (Theo James) and Daphne (Meghann Fahy), Ethan (Will Sharpe) and Harper (Aubrey Plaza), an Italian-American Di Grasso family (F. Murray Abraham, Michael Imperioli, Adam Di Marco) reconnecting with their Sicilian roots, and sex workers Lucia (Simona Tabasco) and Mia (Beatrice Grannò) among others.
Everyone brings their own personality and quirks that make their characters unique. Furthermore, what’s truly unique about their journeys is that they never change or their fate ends in tragedy – an ironic and humorous way to depict the contradictions of being on vacation where you dream of escaping reality to unwind, relax, and find your center.
At White Lotus, we see its spoiled and wealthy guests go through their so-called first-world problems as they fail to recognize their own privileges, which also makes the audience easily realize that being wealthy doesn’t spare you from misery at all, and the lengths one would go to keep their fortune. But if there’s anything that we should know by now is that money can never buy us genuine happiness.
However, there are also relatable characters that are more attuned to reality and serve as the voice of the people. For instance, Harper’s character might be privileged but she is aware of what’s happening in the world and the circumstances that affect the lives of people outside her social circle. She is not afraid to call out her husband and their friends’ ignorance and toxic masculinity. In addition, Tanya’s assistant, Portia, personifies every millennial’s struggle of being a slave to their bosses and their jobs.
What adds another dimension to the second season is that Mike White equally gave the underprivileged and working-class appropriate representation and a voice. We get to understand their power struggles within their ecosystem and the extent that they would go to please the rich by selling their bodies and illegal substances to make ends meet.
White’s commentary on today’s social and political issues has been spot-on since the series’ inception and has only gotten more profound as it progresses forward. The beauty of this format is the opportunity to explore other social matters from different perspectives and cultures. This is the kind of anthology that we never knew we needed and its breathtaking global destinations are just the perfect cherry on top. Fingers crossed that these kinds of narratives will keep challenging our perspectives and beliefs as well as allow us to be aware of our own privileges and how it affects the people around us. The hope for the show’s future is to move toward the East and explore what other privileges and forms of oppression look like for other cultures on the other side of the world.