Bling Empire: more fools gold than a diamond in the rough

Three young people stand in front of a sports car. The backdrop is an LA sunset. They are rich, young, and hot.
Bling Empire — Image from Netflix

During the last global pandemic, I feel pretty confident in saying that the world didn’t turn to Netflix for binge watching comfort, not least because the internet hadn’t been invented yet.

So it’s hard to measure our coping mechanisms against any historical baseline. What I’m trying to say is there’s literally no way of knowing if re-watching all 7 seasons of Gilmore Girls in two months is healthy coping behaviour to a global pandemic or not.

But it’s undoubtedly a fact that TV has been a comfort to many, many people during these unprecedented times. From classic Office hijinks to new favourite belles of the season, everybody and their Mam has been putting in the hours in front of the small screen.

When Netflix announced a new reality show following the trials and tribulations of disgustingly wealthy young asian folk living in LA, I was all in. What offered better escapism than an aspirational life I had no access to. I binge watched Selling Sunset, I’m obsessed with Made in Chelsea. I love rich people problems.

But the problems these rich people were facing were all a little too real to make this show a diamond for me.

Between the loosely explained concept (rich asians…. but also high jewelry? maybe fashion? one is a DJ and another is “poor” but a model? they’re all different wildly ages but only hang out with each other?), and the lack of superficialness the show was a bit of a miss for me.

When I sit down to watch Rich People Problems I don’t want any real problems. I don’t want adoption and paternity and the patriarchy and female shame. I want a diamond earring lost to the sea, a late attendance to a dinner party on purpose, a dramatic on screen break up.

By bringing actual humanity to the mega rich it’s difficult to enjoy the escapism the super rich normally offer. Especially during a pandemic.

So bogged down by daily decisions about life and death and health and wealth, living in increasingly restrictive but baffling rules under a government who would rather literally starve children so that a single undeserving person doesn’t receive undue help, consumed by the fact there won’t be an NHS or a pension or dependable housing, my empathy well is running low.

And whilst I can reach deep down into the well and find money and space for a black man who was killed by the police in Cardiff whos family have very little resources to fight his battle, it’s much more difficult to find space for somebody who is able to access the worlds best medical care without batting an eyelid.

Struggle isn’t a race to the bottom, but it’s certainly not a fair fight.

And when Rich People Problems become real, the show that I thought would be escapism shifts the balance into real life.

That’s not to say there weren’t moments of lightness that I genuinely enjoyed. Anna is an utter delight and I want her to be my best friend. Kevin is hilarious and pure. Kane is a wonderful person and I genuinely learnt a lot about Buddhism from him. You can feel all of these characters as individuals and how deeply they care about each other. This is not at all a criticism of them. This isn’t even a criticism of the show, the characters have a real humanity and a real chemistry and I can see why this show was commissioned.

They were just too three dimensional for reality TV.

Rich people have real problems too, Asian Americans have problems I could never even dream of. But I’m tired. I’m so tired. I don’t have room inside of me to learn that rich people lead complex inner lives too. I just want them to sell multi million dollar houses and throw dinner parties and fill the small little hole in my brain with a whole other theoretical world, sheltered from real life, that I can escape to once my day is done.