January 29, 2024

GATHER | Jia Tolentino x "Who's Afraid of Eating the Rich?" x UBC

"Capitalism is a machine for capturing descent."
Jia Tolentino Sarah Silverman | The Daily Show
Photo credit | Justin Man
UBC—(January 25, 2024) Toronto-born, Brooklyn-based culture critic and The New Yorker staff writer Jia Tolentino paid a visit to the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts as part of The Phil Lind Initiative's speaker series discussing political life through pop culture. Her half-hour talk, "Who's Afraid of Eating the Rich?" dissected our cultural obsession with the trend of popular entertainment dramatizing the sad depravity of being ultra-rich (think Succession and the like).

Tolentino's 2019 non-fiction book of essays, Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion, remains an essential read for its insightful observances of millenial life through the lens of toxic internet culture and reality television. In this new essay read aloud in front of an adoring audience of spectators eager to hear her observations, she made a dramatic centre stage entrance repurposing UBC Opera's lavish set for Cendrillon (Cinderella in French) while acknowledging she was about to decry the existence of billionaires while being paid to speak by a fund setup from a wealthy donor that bears their name.

Moderated by English Professor Dr. Kimberly Bain, much of the discussion related to how popular media like Knives Out, its more opulent sequel Glass Onion, and both seasons of The White Lotus spotlighted "beautiful settings and dumbass problems!" or how seemingly bad rich people are at having fun. Our enjoyment and delight in the lows of high living only further twist a harmful relationship to a concentration of power through income equality while we further voluntarily give up our privacy for daily conveniences and some semblance of connection to others.

Jia Tolentino Sarah Silverman | The Daily Show
The Daily Show / Sarah Silverman
How Tolentino engages our existence of interlocking contradictions through cultural touchstones makes her writing so clear-headed yet deeply entangled in messiness. Her pivot to wealth, its depictions, and our relationship to it reveals so much about our inner rot and depression. Even defining who exactly "rich" or not is unclear when measured relatively against others on a global reach.

Despite the depressing nature of her thoughts and explorations, Tolentino's joyous demeanour frames the actual genuine human experiences we're still able to enjoy make us seem all the richer. That her thoughts and writing are able express this is a true achievement.

"Who's Afraid of Eating the Rich?" was the first in UBC School of Public Policy and Global Affairs' free Pop Politics: Pop Culture and Political Life in the United States speaker series. See what's next.

More | YVArcade / 2019 / NPR / Straight

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