My attitude towards shows like that can be summed up by that one Good Charlotte song. I didn’t get a Netflix subscription to be fed real-life displays of decadence, narcissism and unchecked privilege branded as entertainment. I have Instagram for that.
And let’s not forget how boring those shows are. Here’s an idea: Take a shot every time you see a lavish party, a six-course meal, a diamond necklace, or a luxurious pool. Double shots if someone gambles, flirts or fights. It’s almost like rich people, at least on screen, are permanently living on a cruise ship — but not quite in the same way that crew members have been forced to, some of them to their deaths, during the pandemic.
That reminds me: We’re living in the worst of times. The Doomsday Clock is closer to midnight than ever before. Floods and fires are already coming for the world’s poorest populations, never mind that they’re stuck in a chokehold of hunger and warfare. Whether those are signs of climate change or the Biblical apocalypse is up to you, but with totalitarianism on the rise around the world, your opinion might not matter for long. Speaking of, in America, where Bling Empire is filmed, COVID-19 cases are at an all-time high. And if you’re not sick or poor, you’re probably unemployed.
Yet here I am, telling you to watch Bling Empire.
It’s not anything like Keeping Up With The Kardashians. Sure, both shows are produced by the same guy, but Bling Empire is different. For one, it has Asians. Or Crazy Rich Asians, as everyone calls them now. Like the 2018 hit movie, Bling Empire features only some of them, mostly from Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese backgrounds. (If you can live with the fact that that is most people’s idea of “Asian”, then your viewing experience will be infinitely improved.)
In one scene, billionaire heiress Anna Shay whispers, “I don’t get impressed by things, but people and who they are.” She was making a statement, by the way. In low, measured tones is just how the Japanese-Russian socialite doles out her pearls of wisdom.
Anna has cultivated quite a few of them, having gone through four marriages and divorces in all the speculated six decades that make up her lifetime. “I think it’s how you look at it,” she muses in another scene, “that people come to each other’s lives to have an experience and move on to the next chapter.”
She was talking about relationships, but her words could serve as a balm for anyone in mourning — like fellow cast member Cherie Chan. The heiress to a denim empire deals with the loss of her mother during the series. We see her in the bargaining stage: She reaches out to “Hollywood Medium” Tyler Henry to communicate with her parent, whom she later believes has been reincarnated as her newborn son.
Unlike her husband, Cherie’s friend Kane Lim does not dismiss her beliefs. Instead, the Singaporean millionaire shows her compassion. He even chants alongside Cherie in a Buddhist prayer ritual for her mother. In a time when so much as differing beliefs can spark wars and genocide, it’s heartening to see religion serve its true purpose of bringing people together.
In fact, Bling Empire is something of a Trojan Horse: You thought you were streaming a show celebrating materialism, but the narrative is actually permeated with spirituality. Maybe it’s because it’s set in Los Angeles, home of the hippies, but the show featured more than a handful of spiritual, sometimes sketchy, practises, such as hypnotherapy and shamanism.
After all, there is a whole lot of healing to be done on the show. Kane’s model friend, Kevin Kreider, is the only one who isn’t rich, but his unhappiness ultimately stems from being abandoned by his birth parents. Kim Lee, one of the world’s hottest DJs, feels a lingering void because she never knew her father. And then there’s Bling Empire producer Kelly Mi Li who, in a struggle to build up her self-worth as readily as her net worth, finds herself going back again and again to an abusive boyfriend.
You already know how these stories go. Love, pain, family, friendship, regret, death — they’re the stuff of the human condition. No amount of money can cocoon you from them; life gets its slippery fingers on even the richest of us. In fact, Bling Empire plays out like the narratives in Chicken Soup For The Soul — except that this chicken soup is served in a five-star restaurant, of course. The warm aftertaste is the same. Sure, you can aspire to the cast’s lavish lifestyles all you want, but the series’ everyman Kevin show us that you probably already have what you need.
That alone is why we should not succumb to numbness, even as the Doomsday Clock keeps ticking. As the sagely Anna Shay often reminds her friends: “You have one life, it’s not a dress rehearsal.”
Header photo credit: Netflix