Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Delhi South chapter.

This was supposed to be the year we ‘ate the rich’. This year saw the arrival of a glut of TV and movies about rich people suffering, whether it was them retching or being roasted like a s’more. The most talked about show this year was about a bunch of miserable rich people on vacation at a luxury resort that always ends with a body count. Led by Anya-Taylor Joy, The Menu was about a group of ultra-rich paying for an exclusive dining experience that ends with them going up in smoke. One of the most acclaimed movies this year-both commercially and critically- was Glass Onion which again followed a group of extremely rich and equally ridiculous group of people, with the villain being a tech billionaire man-child (sound familiar?) who sees everything he loves and cares for go up in flames.

Whether it is the aspirational glamour of the Great Gatsby or the gluttonous romp of The Private Life of Henry VIII, stories about the rich have always abounded and our reaction to them has ranged from vicarious escapism to morbid fascination. It can be indulgence in the fantasy of what our life could have been like if only we had some money or relief that isn’t (more money, more problems, as they say). But it seems like recently there is more of the latter than the former. People do still look at wealthy people as aspirational. We need only see the number of influencers coming up, what feels like to me, watch day. But there is more schadenfreude now when observing the rich.

A lot of this can be attributed to the economic events in recent years. The pandemic exposed stark inequalities in the lifestyle of the upper class and lower classes. While essential workers on the front lines were saving lives, the rich with their ivory towers amassed a huge sum of wealth, almost twice as much as the rest of the world put together. The tide was already starting to turn after the 2008 financial crisis when shows like MTV Cribs gave way to movies like ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’. The 2019 Oscar picture winner ‘Parasite’ could be credited with starting this trend. 2022 became the year when ‘Eat the rich’ became its own genre.

The irony behind all this is the fact that these stories mock the very people it is usually made by, with some very rare exceptions. They almost seem like pats on their own backs, for calling out their privilege so that they can go back to enjoying it. So they can go back to planning a White Lotus-esque vacation after a glitzy awards night where they celebrated a show like The White Lotus. This also probably explains why many times these movies falter as well. ‘The Menu’, a movie promising to explore a story about greed and exploitation of the service industry workers devolves into a story about a personal grudge. Richard Lawson, writing for Vanity Fair, suggests “The people behind The Menu are pretty well-ensconced in the machine (as is this writer to some extent, to be fair) and thus might not want to disrupt their own comfortable surroundings too drastically. And, on a studio level, there is an aversion to controversy—and to insulting one’s social circle.” Perhaps that’s why one of the best critiques of classism comes from the movie, Parasite, which sits relatively outside the Hollywood machine and whose success a lot of these movies have tried to, rather poorly at times, emulate.

The problem with most stories about the wealthy now is that they have become a trope in themselves. Most of these movies and films follow a formula- a group of dumb and self-centered rich people go to a remote island or resort or cruise and everything descends into chaos, giving a clear and very obviously predictable message- rich people are bad! As Patrick Sproul wrote in the Face, “There’s no valuable political use to this trend of anti-capitalist satire, because these films and TV shows are never trenchant enough to seriously provoke and, frankly, wouldn’t be released if they were. More pressingly, they’re all far too similar.” Although asking Hollywood to provide any sensible class critique is kind of a losing game. As long as they need the backing of the people they seem to mock and criticize, they will always seem too scared to offend them and be wary of trying to question the status quo too much. As Lawson observes in the same Vanity fair piece, “In order to make a movie that strips emperors down to their pathetic nakedness, those same rulers need to be hit up for money.”

Her Campus Placeholder Avatar
Vanshika Ahuja

Delhi South '24

an Economics major at Maitreyi College and an editor/writer at the Neeti Magazine, the annual economics magazine of the college. She is also an avid reader and a movie buff.