In 2021, even the fictitious vacation is hell

By now, you should have been in exile on an island without WiFi to avoid the buzz surrounding HBO’s surprise summer hit. the White lotus. Set in a lavish Hawaiian resort, the delightfully mischievous show portrays a privileged, oblivious, mostly white group of guests and frustrated staff members trying to make their stay perfect. Yet nothing – neither the “romantic” boat ride for the honeymooners, nor the traditional luau dinner show for families – goes as planned. As the episodes peel away the seemingly quaint oceanfront vacation layers, some truly dark debris floats to the surface.

Shot in a few months at the end of 2020, the White lotus has the veneer of escape. He promises what the holidays are Assumed to promise: luxury, relaxation and a hard fulcrum from the bite of reality. But, instead of such restless feelings, The white lotus causes anxious chills and uncomfortable laughter. The show isn’t the only one to describe the holidays as a hellish and absurd path to self-discovery. In 2021, you will find plenty of evidence that fictitious vacations are not what they used to be.

the white lotus


Mario Perez / HBO

On August 18, Hulu will be released Nine Perfect Strangers, her most ambitious project to date, in which Nicole Kidman’s wellness guru welcomes nine guests in various states of distress into a smooth-looking self-improvement retreat; things get weird, fast.

Also on Hulu, August 27, is Holiday friends, starring Yvonne Orji, John Cena, Lil Rel Howery, and Meredith Hagner, in a comedy about a ‘nice’ couple whose wild and inappropriate Mexican adventures with another pair of drug addicted vacationers and revelers – presumably left in the past and forgotten, threatening to ruin their wedding weekend.

Maybe you could try to escape to a relaxing read on the beach? No luck there either. From Emily Henry’s bestseller, bittersweet The people we meet on vacation future Guilt trip, Sandie Jones’ thriller-meets-destination-wedding, the summer books use vacations as a setting for conflict, emotional turmoil, self-exploration, and even self-immolation. The main source of all this is not the place itself, nor some foreign evil, Location. No, in this new generation of pop culture products, the trouble on vacation comes from the vacationers themselves.

“The problems on vacation come from the vacationers themselves.”

As consumers of pop culture, we’ve never been so equipped for this plot; the pandemic has reshaped the way we work, shop and go out, so why not the way we take our vacations?


“During the pandemic, I thought at first it would be nice to have a downtime, but I started to have a lot of angst,” explains White lotus creator Mike White. “Sometimes I feel like on vacation you slip away from some of your immediate problems, but the bigger, macro, low-frequency questions about what you do with your life can start to creep in. It seemed like show-ripe vanity. “

It’s quite possible that during the pandemic – a long and tedious detour from normalcy – we have come to realize that the true escape is a futile exercise, no matter how beautiful the destination is. “The pandemic is definitely playing [it]White says. The white lotus the characters are constantly grappling with the reality that ruins their free time: one deals with a possible cancer diagnosis. Another looks back on her marriage of convenience. And another delves into her deepest insecurities, while trying – unsuccessfully – to get rid of her late mother’s ashes. All of this hustle and bustle is stirred by the resort’s alluring interiors, picturesque sunsets, and candlelit dinners.

On Nine Perfect Strangers, partially shot in a true wellness retreat in Australia, the very idea of ​​traveling to disconnect and mend your life is turned upside down. Based on a 2018 book by Big little lies Author Liane Moriarty, the show, says director Jonathan Levine, feels remarkably timely. “Retirement creates a bit of anxiety in our characters, and it resonates even more in this world. [now] than when Liane wrote the book, ”says Levine. “It is this concept that the perfect is dangerous, that there are no more safe spaces. All these new realities of the COVID world. It’s a little scary when a lack of security starts to take over your free time.

Nine Perfect Strangers Episode 4

Vince valitutti

Even more timeless is the way Nine Perfect Strangers disrupts the idea of ​​travel as self-care, from “messing around with some wellness industry tropes” to the fact that retirement is organized “like an Agatha Christie or a movie of horror. There is something sinister behind this quest for perfection, and a little sad.

Both White lotus and Nine Perfect Strangers highlight how the notion of pampering, titled ‘hobbies’, can be existentially difficult and problematic, but also just how spending time with others – a treasured dream we all harbored during pandemic lockdowns – is not as ideal as we may remember it.

“When you travel with someone, you have the chance to see them under duress. You see them at their worst and at their best, ”says Emily Henry, author of The people we meet on vacation, in which a close friendship turns into love over the course of many awkward summer trips, are we or are we not. “Some of the best jokes and stories you tell at parties come from trips that have taken place very wrong and what you have learned about yourself and your companions, deep within it. “

Are we finally ready to admit that dream vacations and idyllic retreats with well behaved people are overrated? “I think these stories have always been around, but we’re in a perfect time for them as an audience,” Henry said. “Maybe it’s because the tale of the journey from hell isn’t that intimidating if you don’t travel – or maybe we’re all so desperate by this feeling of newness that even the travel scenarios the nightmarish ones have a bit of an appeal right now.

“There are no more safe spaces.”

Maybe there is something newly appealing, even about a nightmarish vacation. After all, at least it’s a change of pace. These “vacation is hell” moments seem personal, impactful, transformational in one way or another. As the borders slowly reopened, many women, in particular, have turned to travel for a hard reset. They approached the holidays with a new set of expectations. No one knows this better than Meg Jerrard, the co-founder of Single travelers, a Facebook group with over 100,000 members worldwide.

“The pandemic has lifted the veil on our previous notions that everything has to be ‘perfect’,” she said. “We realized that nothing in life is perfect, not even the holidays. Now, the kind of vacation people dream of is less of a perfect image that they can share on social media as everyone stays home envies, and more of a transformational experience for themselves, where, even. if things go wrong along the way, or the trip doesn’t like the shining picture that travel brochures give, they can rediscover themselves. Messages about the group, from only the past few months, would make for a gripping television plot; everything from being stuck on a group tour with a racist misogynist or dealing with a sudden break up while hiking and dining abroad is fair game.

We all still want – and maybe even need – a vacation. “We’re all masked and scared of each other, and you might have been on a road trip or a holiday,” White says, “but I feel like there’s a hunger to feel that you really are life. “And living, while on vacation in 2021, might just feel like a searing mess: doing stupid things with uncontrollable travel companions; experiencing extreme loneliness; crying hysterically while kissing; maybe even letting go. to weird self-help techniques delivered by a dubious Nicole Kidman. Holidays don’t have to be perfect, escape is a scam. As viewers and readers, we’re ready to accept that in fiction, maybe it’s time we accepted it in real life too.

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