The White Lotus and the Abject Villainy of Entitlement
Gather round, everyone, I have to share some painful memories with you. Yes, hold my hand and gently rub the small of my back, that’s right: okay, I’m ready. Deep breaths. I spent a decent portion of my teenage years…working in tourism.
Where I grew up, tourism was pretty much the biggest industry available if you didn’t want to hunt deer for a living, and I needed money to buy stripy jeans and MCR t-shirts, so I bit the bullet and got a series of jobs in the industry. It’s the reason why I start foaming at the mouth when I see tour guides out in public, and why I enter into a small cocoon when I catch sight of an approaching cruise ship. I think working in any kind of customer service is going to put you in contact with some difficult customers, but there’s something unique about tourism that brings out the utter worst in people already inclined to such nastiness: they are on holiday, they are there to have a good time, and heaven forfend that anyone or anything get in the way of that. Especially a sixteen-year-old with purple hair who doesn’t know to hand what your born-and-raised in Illinois family’s tartan should be.
Anyway. All this to say, I watched the first season of The White Lotus recently, and I think it’s probably my absolute favourite depiction of the hell of working in tourism that I’ve ever seen. A murder-mystery-ish dramedy of manners, it’s rightly already earned a second season and a slew of Emmy nominations for pretty much every aspect of it’s production.
But what I love the most about The White Lotus is Shane. Shane (played by the truly fucking fantastic Ryan Lacy) is a man who, by most measures, has it all: he’s a straight, white, American man, from a wealthy family, freshly married to a seemingly-perfect woman, on holiday in a ridiculously fancy Hawaiian resort arranged by his beloved mother. But one thing he doesn’t have? Is the right suite.
Shane discovers, much to his chagrin, that the enormous, ridiculous suite promised to him has accidentally been double-booked. The room he has is still abjectly gorgeous; the level of luxury is still off the charts. Everything else is still perfect. But for Shane, it’s not quite enough. And so begins his battle of attrition with Armond (Murray Bartlett), resort manager and soon-to-be mortal enemy.
What makes Shane such a sensational villain (and Armond, at least in this plot, the hero of the common people by comparison) is that he’s utterly justified in his actions, at least at first. He did get a bit screwed over by the resort. He deserves to get that fixed, doesn’t he? His first few encounters with Armond, his demands almost make sense, even if he’s a little smug in delivering them.
But it’s his commitment to his belief that he doesn’t just deserve this – it’s his deep, profound, and overriding right to have everything just the way he wants it, and he will take down anyone who gets in his way (in the most pathetic, slithery way possible) to get it. His entitlement is what turns him into a full-blown villain. Lacy’s performance unfolds this character from vaguely unlikable but justified jerk to a towering, repulsive, repugnant, and utterly vile antagonist, a perfect distillation of every bad guest you’ve ever dealt with in tourism turned up to eleven.
He moves within the system that has worked so hard to uplift his mediocrity to cause trouble beyond anything he will ever have to face. He’s never bold enough to step out on his own to fight his cause, but hides behind his mother, calls to the manager, booking emails, and passive-aggressive snide remarks to get his way. He relies on other people to put together romantic getaways for him and his wife. He is utterly entitled to the hard work of everyone around him, but also completely oblivious to his entitlement in that aspect of his life – which is what allows his villainy to flourish so completely
Because that’s what he’s always done, and it’s always worked for him, so why wouldn’t he? Shane is a man who leaves a trail of nightmarish mess behind him for the people he basically views as non-human, because everything and everyone in his life is centred around making sure he can. He’s not asking for any more than he’s already gotten his entire life – but he’s never had to realise how much he’s taken from so many other people around him on his way to get there.
Shane is such a well-concieved character, and the slow build of his arc towards the insane but perfectly in-line with his character ending is probably the best thing about The White Lotus. Even with the murder, it’s a slightly rose-tinted view of the tourism industry. But Shane is a perfect encapsulation of every terrible person you’ve ever had to deal with in the customer service industry, and it’s one of The White Lotus’ most impressive triumphs.
(header image via Uproxx)