Recently, many mainstream media articles strongly imply TV shows and movies such as “The White Lotus” and “Triangle of Sadness” are only popular since they appeal to an envious and resentful middle-class/lower-class audience. Well, as part of the middle-class/lower-class audience, we strongly disagree.
A simple critical perspective and deconstruction of the director and cast's choices in music, imagery, symbology, and dialogue analysis will give a very straightforward answer to the appeal of this recent trend:
- criticizing society and class structures
- great acting
- nice vibe and atmosphere
- puzzles, mind games, figuring things out, theorizing, reading Reddit posts right after the episode ended - to dive into the easter eggs, theories, and hints
- simply and mainly hilarious
The reason “The White Lotus” and “Triangle of Sadness” has gained popularity this year is not because poor people like to see rich people suffer and convince themselves that money does not buy happiness as many mainstream out-of-touch wealthy journalists suggest. Rather, they are trendy for the same reason “American Psycho”, “The Joker”, “Squid Game”, and “Parasite” is. They make you think, question our economic structures, and realize the power imbalances within society. Plus, they are entertaining and include superb performances by cool artists.
The true enemies of art and philosophy in our modern time are the out-of-touch media industries that give writing power to journalists that believe that the only reason a critical show is doing well is because of envy while “The White Lotus” does not only depict people from the upper class but main characters from other classes in society.
Beautiful settings with rich people and things going wrong are popular because of a 100-year-old story trope that has always existed since the beginning of the cultural industry. “The Crown”, “Bridgerton”, “Emily in Paris”, “Succession” and more are about rich people and their problems. Although there is a little bit of side character action of the lower class, their main stories revolve around the wealthy. However, “The White Lotus” is wildly different since it does have main characters that are not upper class. Examples: Valentina, Mia, Portia, Lucia, and Jack.
Furthermore, the ending of the show proves that there was nothing most of the rich people suffered from so this argument is disapproved by the ending itself.
Now, let's discuss some deep theories of "The White Lotus" and our thoughts that go beyond this terrible take (+ Ending Explained). Spoilers ahead x
The Testa di Moro statues
Only in theory
In episode 1, the Testa di Moro statue in Harper and Ethan's bedroom introduces us to what is to come in this season of "The White Lotus". A foreshadowing of the events that will unfold. The Testa di Moro statue was described by the concierge of the hotel as coming from a traditional Sicilian tale about a Moor that seduced a local Sicilian girl. However, she ended up cutting his head off after she found out he was married with children and was not truthful to her. Ethan asks the concierge what it means if one puts the statue outside one's house. Cameron chimes in before the concierge and says “if you come into my house, don’t fuck my wife.” Daphne then says “it’s a warning to husbands, babe. Screw around and you’ll end up buried in the garden.” This dialogue demonstrates the contrasting perspectives of Cameron and Daphne on adultery. Cameron believes the vase is a warning sign to other men to not seduce the women he ‘owns’ and ‘controls’ and Daphne sees the vase as a warning sign to her husband that if he does not get his act right, she will screw him back (which she ends up doing). Cameron’s line of thought also reminds us of Fourth Day, Fifth Story from the well-known and reputable piece of Italian literature: “The Decameron” by Giovanni Boccaccio. The Fourth Day, Fifth Story in “The Decameron” seemingly inspired by the Sicilian tale has the same story. However, there is no adultery involved, the main character, a rich young woman named Lisabetta falls in love with a lower-class young man named Lorenzo who was hired by her three brothers. Her brothers, disagreeing with their relationship kill Lorenzo and bury him. Lisabetta finds the body and not having enough time decapitates Lorenzo’s head and turns it into a vase for a basil plant. The brothers find out about the vase and get rid of it, tragically making Lisabetta cry to death. In the Decameron version, Cameron’s control is similar to that of the brothers, “if you come into my house, don’t fuck my wife.” and his hypocrisy around saying this sentence but participating in adultery himself.
The Testa di Moro statue raises many themes and questions and breaks into pieces in between the passion and lust finally developed between Ethan and Harper. The breaking of the vase symbolizes those old traditions and old perspectives towards marriage, now destroyed. Harper and Ethan, both participating in adultery, no longer need the vase, they’ve accepted their actions, leading them to become the couple they despised. The vase breaking can symbolize these aspects:
The carelessness towards the locals, local values, and disrespect towards Sicilian culture, art, and history. Being in your own world with your own problems. Becoming that which Harper criticized.
Breaking the traditional values of marriage: the notion that infidelity and lying are wrong.
Choosing lust over tradition.
Choosing lust over a healthy relationship and communicative marriage.
Not following what history and art can teach one about marriage and life but rather destroying the warnings of the older tradition.
Jack & Lucia parallel
Only in theory
Jack and Lucia are both sex workers however Lucia acted like she was being exploited by a pimp while Jack is the one actually being exploited. This theory engages us with the notion that traditionally, gender roles will make us assume that Lucia is being exploited while Jack isn’t. Furthermore, Jack seems trapped and in danger if he goes against the plan while Lucia wrote her plan, executed it with confidence, and is free. She makes her own choices and is her own boss. The parallel between the two cannot be ignored since both of them are lustful characters engaging two of the most naive/clueless characters: Albie and Portia under their own/other people’s orders for an end goal. Albie and Portia, tricked and betrayed, reunite with one another at the airport, exchanging numbers, kind of like the perfect match. The ‘nice’ guy who got played after being rejected by the girl he likes and the clueless ‘wounded’ bird that went with the flow and wanted a bad boy/adventure/fun. Both went after their desire and lust, lured by the whispers of Dionysus and their inner beast. However learned their lesson.
Only in theory
Although many theories want to put Albie, his dad, and his grandfather together to show the generational similarities and differences of masculinity, I believe more significantly and less talked about than that is the fact that "The White Lotus" is mainly about women.
Jennifer Coolidge, who plays our beloved Tanya, the most popular and loved character of the show, speaks about the last episode recently:
“This was an episode about women and all that they have to put up with and all their survival techniques that are revealed in this, but everyone’s just trying to survive when all this mean stuff is going on. It’s like how do you handle betrayal? It’s hard to handle betrayal in a normal, well-adjusted way because it’s such a hard thing to process.” (Quote from Jennifer Coolidge speaking in recent Interview with Entertainment Weekly).
In the interview, she opens up about how director Mike White took inspiration for Tanya from Jennifer’s real-life experiences with men and how she was sometimes used for her wealth by "friends". “Naïveté,” is the word she uses as she is describing her love life.
I find it disheartening that mainstream media decides that we enjoy "The White Lotus" because of their depiction of suffering rich people when, in reality, some of the stories are based on real-life experiences. Experiences a woman has felt, has been in pain for, and has had to deal with. Betrayal, heartbreak, torment, things that many of us can relate to. Tanya was lovable due to her closeness to human nature and the naïveté we all fall victim to and have fell victim to constantly.
Aside from Tanya’s storyline, the betrayal towards women in Season 2 of "The White Lotus" is found in other characters as well. For instance, Portia was betrayed by Jack and fell victim to her naïveté, desire for adventure and fun, not realizing that the world is full of bad people (mostly men in this case) that were tormenting her from the beginning. Whether it be her not being able to eat or relax in the restaurant or talk to Albie comfortably as Greg asks Tanya to send her back home or Jack kidnapping her as part of the plan. Portia also has a freeze-like reaction when Jack has her in the car and is taking her to the airport, threatening that she will be in danger if she does not return and steals her phone. There is a scene when Tanya tells Portia she is reminded of a younger self when looking at her showing that despite their class and generational differences, they are both women that fell victim to betrayal. Being used sexually and being physically restrained in two different areas (the car and yacht) and having to fight or flee their way out. So so many mirrors in "The White Lotus"!
Tanya’s final words towards Quentin while he was bleeding out from the gunshot she inflicted were asking if Greg, her husband, was having an affair. Tanya, even in this terrible situation, is concerned with her husband’s affair, because it is what defines her worth as a woman in her eyes. Despite the fact that Tanya is trying to not get murdered by gay men on a yacht at night in the middle of Sicily by the mafia…
The worth of women in Season 2 of "The White Lotus" is a constant theme full of questioning. Examples of this also are seen when:
Ethan sexually arouses himself to porn and cannot participate sexually with his wife, Harper, until he participates in adultery with the wife of his college rival Cameron - the man to who he always felt inferior. Or he might have changed his perspective on Harper while knowing she kissed Cameron and might have gone further, making her more desirable sexually (Madonna-Whore complex identified by Sigmund Freud). Therefore, Harper is reduced to an object to fulfill Ethan's inferiority complex, and he only gives attention to fulfill his own needs and desires.
Daphne’s philosophical advice and conversation with Ethan in the last episode made audiences scream at the Emmys to reward Meghann Fahy for her emotional and impeccable performance. Her speech highlights many issues surrounding women: “you just do whatever you got to do to not feel like a victim”. Her statement depicts a sense of betrayal, she feels both from her husband and her friend who she realized she opened up about her husband’s infidelity. Daphne's way of getting back her power is to do the same as her husband is doing. It shows how far one is willing to go to not ‘lose’ or not be seen as a victim, to be seen as the happy couple, the healthy couple. Women go to extreme lengths, performing and loving and sharing love with others just so they are not the victim of the story. Tanya constantly tries to convince herself she might be wrong or that she is not a victim, not believing until she sees the gun and holds it. The constant need to not be the victim as a woman is exhausting and torture in itself.
Themes of exploitation: Sexual exploitation (Lucia and Mia), financial exploitation (Tanya), emotional exploitation (Portia, Daphne, Harper)
The White Lotus ends with Tanya’s death which was not done by the mafia or Greg or the gays but by herself. A testimony to her naivety but also to her personality and added humor to it all. At the airport, the 3 generations of men look at a beautiful local woman in an objectifying way, Albie joining the team he once strongly criticized (his dad and his grandfather). This might symbolize him growing up and mirroring the past, however, in a different way. Albie and Portia exchange numbers in a cute romantic moment realizing their common dumbness might match better than they think. The couple that judged, Ethan and Harper, now became the couple they judged, Daphne and Cameron. Mirroring one another. Lucia and Mia win as the locals and live their best life as they achieve being the women that know how to play in a man’s world and gain everything from it. Valentina is also happy to hire Mia and excited to delve into dating, blossoming her lesbian love life.
Finally, Mike White did a formidable job with this season, taking away Tanya at her peak and in the most Tanya way possible, loved by an audience she’ll never know or see. We are so excited to see what goes down in Season 3 and who might return as a familiar face! We love and applaud the beautiful performances of the actors and actresses and hope they get recognized as much as they deserve.