This article contains spoilers for The White Lotus season 2 episode 3.
Films and television shows create characters who represent ideal illusions of sex symbols, people we crave to be with but have no chance to meet so we can actualize our dreams. The ironic thing about TV crushes is that there are over 7 billion humans on this planet, yet we think the people behind the screen have something that others don’t. The beautiful smiles, chiseled bodies, and flipped-back hairstyles of these performers are accentuated by the characteristics of the people they’re portraying. Exterior charms are often subconsciously and superfluously enhanced by other identifiers such as wealth, place of birth, or racial power within society.
The White Lotus has daringly taken on the bulk of the discourse around why we idolize and sexualize the actors and characters we enjoy watching on a daily basis. The story, symbolism, humor, and acting in the Emmy-winning hit is a fraction of what social media is abuzz with every Sunday night after an episode airs. Ethan Spiller (Will Sharpe) getting caught masturbating and then hiding his erection behind his underwear is often more exciting than talking about the marital struggles that cause such a rich man to need self-satisfaction on a vacation that his wife accompanied him on.
Albie Di Grasso (Adam DiMarco) showing off at the swimming pool is better eye-candy than toxic masculinity is brain-food. And finally, there’s Cameron Sullivan, the character played by Theo James that took the entire spotlight with one weiner-reveal (that might have been a prosthetic).
James’s character is pompous, entitled, and fully-aware that he’s the hottest thing in the room every time he enters it. In a show full of lookers, he’s the grand prize. Cameron recently used his sexual sway more than ever before when he lured Lucia and Mia (Simona Tabasco and Beatrice Grannò) to his room at the end of the third episode of the season, “Bull Elephants” for a trist while the wives are away. This plot decision by the writers almost feels like a wink-wink to the audience, letting us know that they’re aware we’re obsessed with James and the aura he exudes. But what is it about him that has the internet so up in arms? Is it really only his body? Or is it that he has become a symbol of beautiful male wealth within the show’s universe?
As was already mentioned, this season’s themes have been more associated with relationships, the wedges that are placed between men and women, and the sexual desires of the rich and powerful. This is in juxtaposition to the first season, which focused a lot on the ways wealthy people bully those who are lower than them on the social hierarchy. The brilliant thing about this is the two contrasting styles have a lot more in common than you might think.
Theo James’s character is an extension of Jake Lacy’s Shane from the first season. They both trot around with their chests poised and lips curled with defiance. Shane thought he ruled the world because of his matriarchal inheritance, incessantly reminding anybody who would listen that his mother paid for the suite he didn’t get. Cameron thinks he’s in charge because of his inherent charisma, and the money is a byproduct of the entire package. For both characters, their wealth gives them an extra rung on the societal ladder, but Cameron’s attractiveness gives him several additional bars. This symbiotic relationship between looks and money is a well-researched one. Many studies have claimed that men who bring home a lot of bacon are more likely to be ranked as attractive compared to similar looking counterparts.
Whether we’re gawking at a striking normal Joe on the street, or perving out to a well-endowed celebrity on HBO, there’s something about the extra zeros on the end of a man’s bank statement that increases their attractiveness. Someone who looks like Theo James could potentially pull whoever he wants without any fame, but the fortune that his character possesses makes viewers stop and stare without any hesitation.
The writers behind the screen seem to be headed more in this direction as the season goes on. Gold coins and million-dollar beaming smiles have nothing to do with what makes a man, rather they’re both hollow reminders of how far from reality the elite really are. Cameron is the most ethically cardboard person on the show, yet he’s the most obsessed about every single week we tune in. Audiences want him, but they don’t want to be him. Just like the riches that ooze out his pockets, his aesthetic value is better left to be admired from behind the TV. The White Lotus knows better than we do that beautiful male wealth fetters the soul.
New episodes of The White Lotus season 2 premiere Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Max.