The Privileged Few
6th September 2021
There Are Too Many ‘Privileged Few’
There’s a simple way to work out how rich you are; count the number of choices you have. Could you choose a new house, a new car, a new career? Most in the poverty trap have no choices. I chose my job out of instinct rather than careful consideration. But if I have to tell people I’m a writer, they often tell me how lucky I am, as if a career change is unimaginable and far out of reach.
As a writer you set out to be the wet patch, the unearthed wire. It’s part of your job description to prove inconvenient and any writer who fails to annoy just a little might as well become a bus conductor. But it can leave you a bit friendless. I sometimes think I’m an exception, a gregarious writer without an agenda. Many authors I know work to a game plan. I always imagine that if Neil Gaiman befriended you it would be because he wanted something.
That’s why I admire Mike White’s work on films like the damning ‘Beatriz at Dinner’ and the limited TV series ‘The White Lotus.’ He’s a rare example of a lone writer of serious intent hitting his marks within the system, in the same way that Emerald Fennel is making a name for herself.
‘The White Lotus’ was apparently written at speed in the lockdown, designed for a bubble cast in one location. Its soapy set-up – rich guests at a Hawaiian resort bullying a Basil Fawlty-esque manager into a meltdown – gets a decent workout and lightly raises issues of class, race and privilege. We’re left with a series of questions, like why did White let some off the hook who deserved to be punished? His world is the opposite of Agatha Christie’s, say, where morality is absolute and the guilty are damned. Now the knowingly guilty press the flesh and laugh their way out of moral censure, or even the arms of the law.
Most of the characters in ‘The White Lotus’ were never going to change. White resists climactic histrionics at the end of the six-parter in favour of something calmer and more considered, although he lets the character of Olivia off a little too lightly, whereas I’d have had her hopes and dreams torn up before her eyes, which would then be gouged out, John Webster-style. And that is what makes him the better writer. Her comeuppance is at the hands of a peer she respects and consists of a single dialogue line, which is subtler and far more damning.
Yasmina Reza’s short play ‘Carnage’ (2011), about parents confronting the emotional damage caused by their children, was memorably filmed by Roman Polanski. Now there are a healthy number of women writers and directors working in the same area of interest; the problems of the burgeoning middle classes. These involve issues of consent, neurosis, peer pressure, gender and oppression, all internalised emotional subjects. Sally Rooney’s ‘Normal People’ is the exemplar of this new navel-gazing fascination (and in my opinion the most annoying), but it will be interesting to see if someone can take such subjects and meld them into more outward-looking stories. Self-absorption does not make for fascinating reading.
Perhaps writers like Mike White and Emerald Fennel will lead the way.