The Entertainment of Elitism

Cinematic history has constantly bounded its viewers between the glamour of the wealthy elite, and the mediocrity of the limited economy of the less privileged. We see it in rags to riches stories, in narratives of social cohesion, and the resistance of change. It's affected how we view the world and what we expect from it. Recent television and cinematic history has made a concerted turn to appreciate a more multi-dimensional viewpoint. But why has cinema, and indeed, us as the audience, been so obsessed with monetary superiority?

 

Its appeal is rooted in escapism. Whether locking yourself in the cinema for a few hours, or staring at your home screen for an episode, it provides ample distraction from daily life. We, and especially given recent circumstances, lie in an existence of repeated, mundane tasks, largely sourced from our laptop. Whether we absorb ourselves in the high-flying occurrences of the Manhattan elite in Gossip Girl, or contemplate the business strategies of the Crawley family in Downton Abbey, we have a tendency to immerse ourselves in a reality that does not belong to us. It is not willful ignorance; it's a strategic decision. The ability to warp away from the pressures of everyday can be cathartic. And nothing can be more suitable to this than living in an almost parallel world, filled with outrageously expensive parties, diamond encrusted ball gowns, and witnessing the whispered conversations of secret societies.

 

It is often aligned with the route to higher education. Whether it's through a dedicated Ivy Day or seen as a natural path of progression within the context of the show, prestigious higher education is associated with upper class education. In Elite, the school already housed future global leaders and attending Las Encinas was merely a perquisite to attaining such success. The legal drama Suits addressed the same problem, where attending the world-renowned Harvard Law School was the key to even being considered for a position at Pearson Hardman. A large aspect that defines our futures in this competitive environment is our educational status. While university is a privilege for most, for other characters presented on our screens, it's a mere stepping stone for their preordained destiny of success.

 

Yet, as is often shown, there is an obscenity to all this glamour. Indeed, even in Elite, the antithesis to the wealthier characters proved that senseless elitism promotes an emotional vacuum. Only after the characters move beyond their stifled state of mindless prejudice and hatred for people and classes below them can they improve and, more importantly, grow as human beings. They are educated in the appropriate new currency of self-awareness, not replacing their wealthy origins, but broadening their perspectives to worlds beyond their own. Similarly, Mike Ross' entire character arc is indicative that educational institutions do not define your capabilities for greatness. Perhaps, as an audience, we are entranced by this fantasy because we are increasingly aware of the falsities such shows present. We are understanding that the world is changing and a label of our schools does not seal our chances of contributing to a world we can help to curate.

 

Cinema itself has recognised this defect, clearly showcased in The Riot Club. Centring around the privileged obscenities of a group of Oxford students, this film demonstrates the very definition of how a toxic, patriarchal world has serviced a powerful group of people for so long. Allowing the boys to commit heinous crimes, discriminate against their peers, and only flirt with the possibility of genuine repercussions, it is elitism at its finest. The very fact that the audience is allowed to witness their centuries old society initiations and experiences creates an exciting ride, before we understand the dangers of what this really means. However, it correctly identifies that this is a deflating viewpoint that only plagues a small, narrow-minded group of people. The brutality of decadence is waning and it leaves behind characters who only thrive in the past. The comeuppance of changing societal tides will be an inevitable shock. Again, being exposed to an experience that we would never (or would want to) be privy to can be a distracting and illuminating experience. But it is not truth, and that may be why we are so infatuated: it is an intermingling of fiction with hints of our possible reality.

 

Poster of Schitt's Creek CBC Television

Yet, as shows like Schitt's Creek show us, the capabilities for improvement are met through an intermingled society. While the Rose family are afflicted by poor business decisions and are deprived of their rich comforts, they learn the valuable lesson of self-worth and self-growth. Their unhappiness that festered in their previous life of limoes and almost-reality TV shows is converted into ambition and the desire to seek genuine happiness. By reaching this point of understanding, they translate their real goals into reality, through the form of hard-work, training, and support from a community they would usually never interact with. In turn, they make others around them better, infecting them with the self confidence and self comfort they had from their previous societal hierarchy. Only through this intertwining of different types of people can characters improve themselves and others. It is a refreshing contrast to the beauty of boarding schools and expensive wines. It is a declaration that humanity is at it's best when we are serving purposes and goals that stretch beyond what we are automatically given.

 

Elitism in movies and shows are always entertaining to watch, precisely because of their general lack of attachment to real life. We are entranced and enchanted because it is a separation from our world and, indeed, a separation with what it means to be a fully-functioning and fully-flourished human being.