Work Sucks, ‘The White Lotus’ Knows

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The White Lotus, an HBO original, managed to captivate the public’s attention for a total of six weeks. This six-episode series hones in on the visitors in a five-star luxury hotel which is the namesake of the show. At times the hotel residents are notoriously unbearable, whether it’s Shane (Jake Lacy) and his obsession with the Pineapple Suite or Olivia (Sydney Sweeney) and Paula‘s (Brittany O’Grady) rancid performativity. Watching the unruly antics of wealthy vacationers is quite entertaining to say the least, but The White Lotus harbors more than these characters’ emotional ineptness. Unknowingly or not, The White Lotus showcases the complex relationships workers have to capital and how multiple social factors influence these characters’ professional outcomes. 

The bubbly Belinda (Natasha Howell) serves as a wellness specialist at the White Lotus. Almost every day, she provides facials and massages while welding immense amounts of empathy to unresponsive guests. Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge), a grief-stricken woman who lost her mother, seemed different from the rest. Instead of passively receiving Belinda’s treatments, she showed appreciation and gratitude. Belinda’s work impressed Tanya so much to where she wanted to help Belinda establish her own wellness center. For a moment it seemed like the roles were in reverse: Belinda would finally be free of the explosive expectations regulated on care workers, which is to provide surplus amounts of love and care without advocating for yourself, and would no longer carry the burdens of many other professions in the service or personal care industries. However, all these promises Tanya eratically insinuated were ploys to extract words of encouragement and songs of comfort. American society deem Black women as unwavering care workers who will answer to their needs. This one sided expectation carries a unique dehumanization in which Black women are not seen as people with their own hopes, dreams, and aspirations. Tanya views Belinda as a  healer caring for her needs and comforting her when weak. To Tanya, that’s merely what Belinda needs: a helpless fawn, a glorious sense of purpose, and a need to improve every stranger’s lives, not dignity, creative freedom, or leaving the exploitative environment of the White Lotus facility. Tanya’s show of gratitude, an exorbitant amount of cash, pales in comparison to the prospective wellness center Belinda could have run. Ultimately, both Tanya and Belinda’s lives have stayed the same; Tanya will return to the mainland and Belinda will continue her role at the White Lotus center. The difference is that none of the wealth Tanya has will ever flee away while Belinda is left on the White Lotus resort, waiting for the next unruly customer. 

Rachel (Alexandra Daddario), who awkwardly navigates the social circle of rich vacationers at the White Lotus, is a freelance journalist who is married to Shane who is a Cornell-educated real estate agent. Like most college-educated millennials, she has a fancy degree with almost no employment prospects. Marrying Shane is almost like hitting the lottery … until it isn’t. Most of the time spent in the idyllic resort revolves around Shane’s disenchantment with the current room causing him to whine relentlessly while ignoring Rachel’s concerns. His behavior presented a perfect opportunity for Rachel to access the viability of their relationship and her own financial stability without their relationship. Rachel views any commission she gets as a life raft, such as the few hundred dollar piece surrounding Burning Man. It seems like freelancing is her way towards financial independence, giving the courage to leave Shane only to walk it back, seeing the absurdity of her decision. Journalism, like her relationship, can sometimes expect much from its participants while giving them little to nothing. Large portions of the day are spent hounding editors for compensation, crafting pitches which will be promptly rejected, or applying for internships with extensive requirements. Many who manage to attain a high position in Journalism, have financial support from their parents who will gladly pay their living expenses due to an absence of a livable wage in many of these internships or entry level positions.  If a person is lucky enough to get their foot in the door, they are often in a position where they are overworked and underpaid. Clearly, Shane is a rich insufferable brat, but at least their marriage secure her financial future unlike being a journalist which could do quite the opposite.  

Armond (Murray Bartlett), the hotel manager, has built the majority of his identity around the White Lotus resort, though underneath his uptight presentation and flimsy candor, he reeks of discontentment. To repress his displeasure, he plays mind games on the visitors such as double-booking the Pineapple Suite, which got Shane so worked up and takes Olvia and Paula’s backpack filled with medications for his own consumption. From the beginning to the end, Armond choices are centered around his own gratification, causing him to lose sight of the actual pathways of establishing power. A robust union would advocate for the rights and better working conditions for White Lotus staff members. Having a community of people holding bosses and owners accountable seems beneficial to him especially when this job is corrosive and unwilding. But like Armond says to Dillon (Lukas Gage), while frantically slopping a line of coke into his nose, “They exploit me and I exploit you.” Armond’s inability to analyze his own placement further in the White Lotus hierarchy haunts him causing him to spiral into dangerous habits. 

Like many great television shows, The White Lotus thrives in its moral complexity. Armond, Belinda, and Rachel’s predicaments aren’t noteworthy because of their straightforwardness, but because of the glaring wrenches thrown into these characters’ paths. Most of these characters, with the exception of Armond, are in their fields because they have a sense of admiration for their work and believe it gives them a sense of purpose. A lot of us may even relate to this predicament; in the past twenty years, work is not merely for financial stability. Instead it’s become a secular vocation, an occupation that will provide us with otherworldly fulfillment, a different perspective, and all the other virtues absent from broader society. And it may, but at what cost? Our mental and physical health, or our financial stability? Loving your work may provide a sense of euphoria but unfortunately euphoric highs rarely pay the bills.   

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