Why we all want to watch rich influencers suffer

Movies such as ‘Triangle of Sadness’, ‘Bodies Bodies Bodies’ and ‘Not Okay’ are a catharsis for our inability to actually eat the rich.

A24 and Halina Reijn’s new slasher movie Bodies Bodies Bodies (2022), based on a story by Cat Person writer Kristen Roupenian, begins with Bee, played by Maria Bakalova, travelling with her girlfriend Sophie (The Hate U Give’s Amandla Stenberg) to meet her friends — a bunch of wealthy kids in their early twenties with big social media presences. “Wow. They’re all so impressive,” Bee laments as she scrolls through their heavily-curated profiles. “They’re not as nihilistic as they look on the internet,” says Sophie, as if they’re not on their way to a house party being thrown in the middle of nowhere during a power-cutting hurricane. 

As it happens, nihilism is the least of Sophie’s friends’ shortcomings and there are many other words that could be used to describe the group – made up of David (manic pixie dream boy Pete Davidson), Jordan (Myha’la Herrold), Emma (Chase Sui-Wonders), Alice (Rachel Sennott) and her new Tinder-matched boyfriend, a handsome Gen Xer named Greg (Lee Pace) —vapid, cold, antagonistic, and way too rich for their own good to name a few. And so, when their deathly party game (a sort-of IRL, in-the-dark version of the mobile game Among Us) starts to become too deadly, and one of the besties is the culprit, we find ourselves actually starting to enjoy watching this group of influencers — the kind who would for sure have all gone to party in Puerto Vallarta while the rest of us were in lockdown — begin to destroy themselves from the inside out. 

Influencer culture is our generation’s Frankenstein’s monster. What started out as lighthearted-fun in shows like The Simple Life and Keeping Up With The Kardashians has since proliferated and crept into almost all aspects of our lives. Influencers are everywhere, whether it’s on our algorithm-directed social feeds or in the trashy TV content we consume. We watch their formation on Love Island, as each summer a new gen of swimwear-clad hopefuls bring the drama in the hopes that they will gain a career-changing number of followers from the experience; finally securing that modelling contract, book deal, or perhaps even becoming creative director of a planet-destroying fast-fashion company. On Selling Sunset, we lap up watching rich people fight to sell even richer people crazily-priced, tackily-decorated homes they’ll probably spend, at most, three weeks of the year actually living in. There’s a reason why we’re all a bit obsessed with that fake picture of Paris Hilton wearing a “stop being poor” T-shirt: the lives of influencers have an undeniable glamour to them that we love to vicariously live through.

But there’s also a limit to our tolerance of that carelessness and ignorance in the well-off, especially as climate change worsens, the economy continues to collapse, and human rights wins of the past few decades are steadily eroded, often due to the choices of the wealthy. As the cost of living crisis makes it harder for many to simply survive, the 1% are only getting richer and many influencers are becoming billionaires — a level of wealth that some say is impossible to achieve without profiting off of financial inequality. Our frustrations with the influencer class can arguably be seen in the sharp rise of the influencer-less, algorithm-less BeReal and its lack of sponsored content or money-making abilities (for now). Or in the way we love to throw around the term “eat the rich”, a hyperbolic expression that harkens back to previous social revolutions with a gory twist. 

Bodies Bodies Bodies is not the only recent movie to pick up on our deep-seated distaste for the rich-and-Instagram-famous. There’s The Menu, a movie where those who are “not the common man” — as the head chef (Ralph Fiennes) says — go to a restaurant for an exclusive, life-changing meal that quickly goes awry.

Then there’s, Triangle of Sadness from Ruben Östlund — winner of the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival — is a dark comedy that can only be described as Below Deck meets Lord of The Flies. It follows celebrity-model power couple Carl and Yaya (played by Harris Dickinson and Charlbi Dean) who have been invited onto a luxury cruise with a number of other wealthy VIPs. The voyage, led by the socialist sea captain Thomas Smith (Woody Harrelson), is an ostensibly glamorous venture until a series of catastrophic events upends the social pecking order on the boat. Suddenly, the pair find themselves in a situation where money and celebrity are obsolete and, as the power dynamics of the group shifts, they are forced to adapt.

This meaningless to fame and influencer culture is exposed throughout the script of Bodies Bodies Bodies too. From the offset it is suggested that Rachel Sennott’s Alice (arguably the most likeable of the group) is also the most vapid and smooth-brained, often agreeing with whoever has the upper hand at any given moment and creating a podcast that seemingly has actually nothing worthwhile to say. When the movie’s first murder happens, the influencers rally around each other at the expense of the less rich outsiders at the party, who they’ve always seen as disposable. But as the bodies pile up, that class safety net disappears and there’s a catharsis in seeing those who wielded all the power terrorised. 

Although a much less gory presentation, Hulu’s satirical comedy Not Okay (2022) also showcases how a seemingly harmless influencer culture can have a deeply negative real-world impact on others. In the movie, Zoey Deutch plays Danni, a zillenial working for a digital magazine in New York with dreams of making it Caroline Calloway-big. But Danni’s desire to be an influencer, beloved by multiple-K followers, leads her to build a social platform by pretending she was a victim of a terrorist attack, not-so bravely speaking out for those who’ve suffered trauma, and manipulating the pain of others. The internet — a place where resharing infographics and instantly tweeting your reaction to political events are often confused with social action — can often blur the meaning of activism. Not Okay seeks to expose the hypocrisy inherent in influencer activism; while similar films of the past may have undermined the seriousness of Danni’s actions by forcing a tidy redemption arc, we instead see her atone for her self-serving and careless actions.

We patiently await the day of the revolution. The day when private jet flights are stopped and we pass Taylor Swift at airport security, being pulled aside because the moisturiser in her hand luggage was over 100ml. When social influencers are eventually entirely replaced in function by Lil Miquela, and James Charles can be found behind the MAC counter at Sephora. But in the meantime, these movies offer us a temporary catharsis for our frustrations over the influencer — in the profession’s increasing wealth and success, but also in its growing meaninglessness. After all, we do all have the same 24 hours in the day as Molly-Mae — why not spend a few watching the rich and famous cannibalise themselves?

‘Triangle of Sadness’ is in US theatres now before it hits UK and international theatres on 28 October 2022. ‘The Menu’ will be released in US theatres on 18 November 2022 with an international release date still to be announced.

Source: I-D

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