White Lotus Season 2: Why do we love terrible characters? +2023

Image credits: HBO and illustration by Aly Lim

White Lotus creator Mike White has a knack for upsetting people. The first season of the HBO series, which aired last year and focused on the privileged (and mostly white) guests of the eponymous five-star Hawaii resort and the more diverse staff who served them, sparked heated debates online about classism , Imperialism, and the Physics of Suitcase Emptying. Season two, which airs its finale on December 11, offers viewers another chilling stay at the posh hotel – this time in the Italian city of Taormina, Sicily – and a chance to spend time with a sliding scale of eligible vacationers who are from starring the likes of Aubrey Plaza, Michael Imperioli and Jennifer Coolidge, who reprise their roles as Tanya McQuoid, the likeable or insufferable socialite, depending on the day.

That’s the thing about The White Lotus: we love to watch her, although we find something to hate in every single character. The malicious condemnation of these one percent players on social media might be chalked up to good old-fashioned gloating, but there are several psychological explanations for why we hate the White Lotus characters so much.

Clinical Psychologist and YouTuber (and “White Lotus” fan) dr Ali Mattu believes that viewers of “White Lotus” — as well as other shows like “Succession”, another good series about mostly “bad” people – form intense imaginary bonds with these characters, so-called parasocial relationships.

“It’s a one-sided relationship, but it feels very real to us,” Mattu explains. “The more you identify with a character, the stronger that relationship can be.”

They aren’t heroes or villains, but somewhere in between, like most people.

In recent years, the term parasocial relationship has become shorthand for a fandom’s toxic association with a celebrity. Most notably, it was used to explain the heavy criticism comedian John Mulaney received after divorcing his wife, Anne Marie Tendler, of almost seven years. But not all parasocial relationships are negative. They can be a psychologically healthy way for someone to build a community.

As Mattu explains, “It’s a lot easier to talk to someone about Tanya [on ‘White Lotus’] and all that she has to do other than talk about the tanyas we have in our own lives.” And that’s especially true for people trying to connect after years of pandemic isolation.

This need for connection can lead people to form strong bonds with characters who are objectively awful but whose awfulness feels relatable. You might even see the character as a kindred spirit, another complicated character who deserves forgiveness for their mistakes, no matter the size. You see yourself in these questionable characters and feel compelled to protect them. Where things can get tricky when love for one character leads to intense hatred for another. The viewer could get “a certain sense of justice” when a character they brood against gets their comeuppance, says Mattu: “It might feel like proof that money doesn’t solve everything. That even though these characters are in this beautiful place, their problems continue to plague them.”

But he warns that the more you learn about each character, the harder it is to delight in their misery. “You might find that you have more in common with them than you thought,” he says. “You might actually realize that you sympathize with the character” you once thought you despised.

Still, hating these problematic characters can help boost our ego, the psychologist explains dr Hayley Robertswho hosts the mental health podcast “Pop Psyche 101‘ with Licensed Clinical Social Worker Ryan Engelstad. “You find those things that you don’t really like about this person,” says Roberts. “And you’re like, ‘Well, I might not be that glamorous, but at least I’m not like that. I’m not as bad as that person!'”

Sharing our feelings about these characters on social media can also create distance between us and their perceived problematic behavior. The fan “can choose sides and explain why they think that person was right or wrong,” she says. “It almost gives them a sense of control over their own thoughts and feelings about what’s happening on the show but also in their own lives.”

“The White Lotus” encourages viewers to play not only the armchair psychologist, but also the armchair detective. This season, like its predecessor, is a crime thriller that begins with the revelation that several guests have died while staying at the Italian resort. From that moment on, every character is either a victim or a suspect, but White tries his best to keep viewers on their toes by writing frustratingly complex, flawed people who are so rich they can’t remember if they were at voted or not in a recent election. (It’s honestly hard not to simultaneously admire and be absolutely appalled by the laissez-faire attitude Daphne, played by Meghann Fahy, has towards extramarital affairs and reading the news.)

They aren’t heroes or villains, but rather somewhere in between like most humans, making this puzzle difficult to solve. “We try very hard not to judge, but the truth is, it’s a natural part of being human,” says Hannah Espinoza, a Licensed Clinical Consultant (LCPC) and co-host of the podcast.Popcorn Psychology‘, which explores the psychology of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters. While we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, Espinoza says that “part of surviving is comparing, and comparing is judging.”

Espinoza, who lives in Illinois, says that in the Midwest, “there’s no way in hell you really tell someone you don’t like them. You’ll just be friends with him on Facebook until you’re both dead and no one will ever say anything about why you’re mad at each other.” Being honest about how much you hate a character feels cathartic, but it can do you also encourage trusting your instincts when it comes to people in your own life.

Expressing your dislike for the White Lotus characters online could lead to more meaningful conversations about the show’s larger themes, including toxic masculinity. “The patriarchy doesn’t give a fuck about gossip, so we don’t really appreciate the societal benefits of gossip,” says Brittney Brownfield, co-host of Espinoza’s “Popcorn Psychology.”. “It’s community building, and for women, it can be used to protect themselves and others.” That’s why Brownfield, an LCPC specializing in singles and children’s counseling, thinks shy investment bro Cameron (Theo James) has drawn such negative reactions from viewers.

“I feel like a lot of women have met someone like him who’s very raunchy,” she says. “He’s always doing little things to push boundaries that could also be explained away as no bad intentions.” It’s clear that his actions are having serious consequences for Harper (Plaza) and her husband Ethan (Will Sharpe), who are threatening their past Ignoring concerns about Cam’s cross-border behavior.

Ultimately, the advantage of tweeting about fictional people instead of real ones is that “there’s no real risk,” Brownfield explains. “It’s a way of making a statement in a safer way. They don’t call directly someone off but you still call some out.” Her “Popcorn Psychology” co-host Ben Stover, an LCPC who specializes in trauma work, says viewers who find themselves hateful from “The White Lotus” should take the time to figure out what she bothers and why.

“We never know what’s going to open what I like to call ‘a box full of monsters in your head,'” he says. “All behavior has a purpose. So if you’re stuck with it in any way, it has meaning. Don’t ignore it.”

Image credit: HBO and illustration by Aly Lim

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