I’ve been watching some shallow stuff on Netflix lately, and enjoying the heck out of it. I don’t like warm weather, and my allergies flare up, so since my seasonal affective issues are kicking in, I take comfort in shutting out the elements and tending to my spirit.
The first show I want to talk about is Bling Empire, which is not a terribly recent production, but I always take a while to get to stuff, or even hear about it. If you don’t know, it is about wealthy Asian Americans being all reality show-esque, and wearing lots of designer labels while being dramatic and overly mutually enmeshed. So fun. There are three seasons set in LA, and one set in New York.
The LA one has an alarming number of people with K names; it can take a while to tell them apart. There is also an intimidating and manipulative older lady named Anna, whose family wealth comes from arms dealing, and who is surrounded by enormous dogs and beefy security guys. She is in a constant state of feuding with Christine, a doctor’s wife, who tries to be happy, but they both fudge the truth so hard, they actually believe that their lofty pedestals are made from facts.
With the caveat that I know how contrived reality tv is, I was fascinated by how I could think of several real life people who were eerily similar to the characters. So even if that’s not who these people are in their actual lives, the way they are written has parallels to people I’ve interacted with, and I found myself reliving some memories I would rather not have. Argh. 😉
The main thing I wanted to say here is how I felt metaphorically smacked on the head because autism life has made me forget so much about Before. But I dimly recalled! The show made me remember how dodgy people can be about how they treat people, then squirm and shape shift when asked to explain themselves. I saw how casual meanness is so much a part of being in community, and thought Huh, why do I miss it. Haha. And I noted how familiar it seemed when characters placed huge symbolic meaning onto the barest minimum interaction, excusing terrible behavior so they didn’t have to be friendless.
The most unworldly, least wealthy characters are always pulled into situations they’re not brought up to handle. So mean. The show must be paying them enough to make the messiness worth it, otherwise I don’t know who would put themselves through such cruelty. Then their honest, shocked reactions to said cruelty are mocked, and the rich folks gang up on that person and shame them for wanting an explanation, or even for wanting to be treated with respect.
Images of my experiences in autism related non profit work are coming up for me. How, after being manipulated into a situation that is heinous, I have been shamed for having anything but a fake smile as my reaction. And then someone would be assigned to lecture me about the need to genuflect before my betters. The bigger the donor, the more of my tongue should be licking their boots, apparently (Fuck off). And when I refused to play along, the communal shunning that followed was meant to feel brutal. In the name of Good Deeds, a lot of awful character is revealed.
And another thing that felt familiar: if someone on the show was having a conflict with someone else, and they were pulled into talking to a third party about it, the third party would say “I don’t think you should talk like that about them. They’ve always been super nice to me.” I cannot tell you how many times I have heard this. Completely ignoring how, if you have no social currency, you don’t see that Super Nice side. Some of us are not having these cream cake experiences you are having of these luminaries, I don’t know what to tell you. This is actually literally why you should believe the peripheral people when they tell you the truth about people whom you are not experiencing as problematic. And even if you still want to be friends with the fancy folks, the fact that you don’t even dare call them out should tell you your own position in their nauseating hierarchies. And if I have to suck up to them so they’ll “forgive” me, I don’t want to be in your high school dynamics at all.
I’ll focus on Kane, the Singaporean guy. His character on the show is insecure and has no boundaries. But great pains are taken to make him seem like a sweet puppy. One can be both. But since my family has so many marginalized identities, I will stand my ground on the idea that how you treat people who have no ladder for you to climb socially or financially or whatever–that’s who you are really coming across as.
So again: I know it’s a contrived plot. But Kane gets in the middle of Anna and Christine’s fight. And also interferes in a sad attempt at romance between Kevin and Kim (don’t ask). When both sets of people try to pin him down for an accurate explanation, he says “ANYWAY…” and changes the subject. And they let him. I have experienced this too…. If you persist and say “please don’t change the subject,” well, you become responsible for the tears and taunts and threats that follow.
I was so happy that a reality show about Asians actually tackled the issue of indirect social warfare, and evasive communication, not to mention the honest interactions that turn out to be manipulations. Super relevant to any of us who have been schooled in such ways. In the show, if X is pissed at Y, Y will drop in on X and bring a gift, cry a little about their sad past, promise to give entry to some socially restrictive glam world, and then next scene will be X facing the camera and saying “I’ve always felt close to Y.” LMAO.
What does any of this have to do with autism? Nothing really. Except that I’m so grateful that we no longer have much to do with meanness like this, and I really only like being around thoughtful, vulnerable, upfront people who are working on their own traumas and not forcing the rest of us to carry them. Also, I deeply cherish how this kind of parenting makes me purify my own intentions.
And finally, I don’t always have to be profound, and it’s okay for me to watch a silly show and have thoughts about it. I’ve gone on for a while, so I’ll muse about another show in the next blog post. Anyway…