Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Emerging Cracks In The Woke Elite

By Andrew Sullivan

Some small signs of hope for liberal society.

An unlikely thing happened to me on my two weeks’ off. I watched an HBO Max miniseries that mocked some aspects of wokeness.

Mike White’s “The White Lotus” is a tragicomic exposé of our current moneyed elites and the psychological dysfunction they labor so mightily under. There’s a blithe, unthinking finance jock, with a worked-out bod, an uneasy new wife, and a shitload of money, who can muster misery at the slightest ruffle in perfection. There’s the beta male, married to the mega-rich corporate CEO wife, worried about the condition his balls. There’s the super-uptight gay manager, hanging on to sobriety, as he performs for his clients; the mega-wealthy, overweight lost soul, played by Jennifer Coolidge, whose life is a pampered abyss of emotional desolation; and an aspiring young journalist who reconciles herself to money and indolence over a mindless career of clickbait snark.

The white privilege here is real — and it’s often miserable. And that’s the first clue we’ve moved past 2020. What Mike White is careful to see and understand is the humanness of every individual. They all have a story. They cannot be reduced to a single class, or an ethnic group. Wealth is unjust but it can also be immiserating. Some of the most attractive and sane characters are among the least privileged — such as Belinda, a beleaguered, overworked black woman who runs the spa, or the native Hawaiian men who perform dances for money and go on canoe races across the sea.

And the most repellent characters are two elite-college sophomores, Olivia and Paula, packed to the gills with the fathomlessly entitled smugness that is beginning to typify the first generation re-programmed by critical theory fanatics. You watch as they casually abuse and denigrate their brother — a young man consumed by living online; you see how they mock anyone who doesn’t meet their exacting standards of youth or beauty; you watch them betray and lie to each other; you see them condescend to someone still struggling to pay back student loans (see the clip above); and you witness the co-ed of color, Paula, act out her antiracist principles, with disastrous real world results for a Hawaiian she thinks she is saving from oppression. She leaves her wreckage behind, gliding away, with impunity, to another semester of battling racism.

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