The first season of The White Lotus came as a surprise to many. The series blends social commentary with elements of murder mystery, adding a fresh twist to critique white privilege and how it operates in its safe space of a luxury resort. It paid minimal efforts on promotions but ended up getting nominated for several categories in the Prime Time Emmy Awards.
The series made headlines for the much-deserved comeback of Jennifer Coolidge, and stands apart from its sequel for its tongue-in-cheek humor in satirizing the characters’ blind entitlement.
The White Lotus is a social-thriller series that is set in an exotic hotel named The White Lotus and follows the lives of its wealthy guests and its employees. The first season was set in a beach resort in Hawaii and the second in Sicily, Italy. The first season starred Murray Barlett as Armond who manages the incoming guests at the resort and tends to every complaint they have. The show satirizes the spoiled behavior of its characters while contextualizing their mannerisms with the natural and social environment around them.
Mike White, the creator of the series, was inspired by the detachment of vacationing in indigenous communities’ realities, and basing the story in a luxury resort in Hawaii was symbolic of his thought. Several references are made in exploring the irony of enjoying privilege with communities living in harmony with nature, which is done by drawing parallels between wildlife and the lives of the privileged.
What The White Lotus Symbolizes
The resort is presented as a natural habitat of white privilege. The guests in the resort are mostly white, while the lower-rung employees are people of color, establishing a hierarchy within the hotel. Just like animals in their natural habitat, the guests adapt well to their surroundings and feel free to express themselves and their wealth without being judged.
Shane Patton, played by Jake Lacey, is unable to enjoy his holiday only because he got the wrong room even if it is a beautiful one, and is after Armond’s life for his mistake in booking the wrong room. The commercialization of natural habitat and the fragility of privilege in the characters are juxtaposed with each other to denote the collapse of nature and white privilege.
Why There Are Animals During The Opening Credits
The opening credits of the series show a series of wallpapers with nature-inspired motifs on them as exotic music plays with ominous animal noises. The animals shown on the wallpaper are symbolic of the characters and are also borrowed from the indigenous Hawaiian culture. For example, pineapple and hibiscus symbolise hospitality in Hawaiian culture. The wallpapers also show monkeys, a color-changing chameleon, and a snake, which refer to several characters and their motives in the series. With these direct comparisons to wildlife, the show exposes the characters’ primal instincts.
What Animals and the Characters Have in Common
The room occupied by Tanya, played by Jennifer Coolidge, has hibiscus on the wallpaper. The flower represents the spiritual hospitality she seeks from the hotel, as well as the fragility in her demeanor. Tanya is mostly unaware of her presence and thoughts, and is trauma stricken by her mother’s death. Tanya exposes her vulnerabilities as she is unable to keep the promises she makes.
The opening credits of a chameleon changing color denote Nicole Mossbacher’s abrupt changing tone to Rachel played by Alexandra Doddario in the scene when they are talking about supporting women in their careers. Nicole, played by Connie Britton, encouragingly advises Rachel on her career crisis but switches to a dismissive tone when she finds out Rachel had written an article on her that she did not approve of. The chameleon also represents how Paula has to code-switch between talking to Kai and Olivia plaayed by Sydney Sweeney adjusting her race consciousness with her white friend and talking to people outside white privilege.
There is a turtle decor piece in the Mossbacher family’s room, which Nicole moves around to make space in the living area. A turtle also appears as Mark and Quinn Mossbacher take a swim in the ocean. The turtle symbolises the protective nature of the family in their worldview and in the matriarch who tries to keep the family together.
The most obvious reference is that of the monkey, which is a commentary on masculinity and how men juggle their primal instincts and battle misogyny as women demand an equal share in relationships and work. This insecurity is seen in Mark and Shane as they wrestle with their patriarchal instincts as their partners wish to enjoy equal agency in their relationships.
How the Show Exposes the Characters’ Primal Instincts
When Olivia and Paula insult Rachel for marrying a wealthy man, Rachel walks in front of them into a pool in a bikini, making both of them jealous of her beauty. Ominous music plays as Olivia gasps at her slender body, showing the competitive nature of animals. The show does not shy away from showing the characters’ nudity and sexuality in an explicit way.
The sexual activity in the show can be sensational, but it is only metaphoric of the characters being unapologetic and comfortable in their skin in their own comfort zones, like animals in the wild. Moreover, how can anyone ignore the infamous pooping scene? The show not only bares the characters of their motives, but also in their blood, tears, and feces.
In several ways, the show reduces the characters to animals and resort to a concrete jungle. The second season of the show is void of wildlife-inspired references and is instead replaced by mythical lore of Italy in characterizing the pathos of the show. Even when the themes of the series remain the same, the metaphoric contextualization of the characters with the location of the hotel makes The White Lotus an irresistible pleasure to watch.