At all levels of mass culture, our enduring obsession with the lives and tastes of the super-rich pervades. There are many reasons why the lives of the rich continue to fascinate. Some of those reasons are aspirational, with many of us looking to the lives of the upper-crust in the hopes that we too may inhabit that world one day.
For others, a look at the lives of the rich can tell us that our own lives aren’t too bad, given the myriad stresses and petty dramas that the rich seem to undergo in movies and television. Whatever the reason, it seems that our cultural fascination with how the other half live is reaching new heights. There has been a huge outpouring of depictions of this rarefied cohort in recent months.
As this BBC article explains, our appetite for this content may be reaching a new zenith. Succession, Billions, The White Lotus, Nine Perfect Strangers, and And Just Like That are just a few examples in the past few months alone which testify to this.
One of the most important ways that the stories of the rich are told to us is through architecture, especially the homes that the rich inhabit. Let’s take a closer look at how the homes of the rich are portrayed in popular culture today.
The minimalist rich
One particular trend we have seen in cultural depictions of the rich is the ever-increasing use of minimalist architecture and design, which often serves as an important backdrop to the lives of the 1%. Minimalism as a lifestyle choice has increasingly become de riguer for the rich, as this listicle demonstrates aptly.
This trend is abundant in cultural depictions of the architecture of the wealthy. One might first think of the spaceship-style modernist bungalows that feature heavily in the reality TV series Selling Sunset, where the cast and their clients seem to exclusively inhabit sparsely decorated capsules nestled in the Hollywood Hills and other high-end regions of Los Angeles
Others might think of the homes featured in the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy or the Iron Man films, which are all about plate glass windows, all-white furnishings, and nary a personal item to be seen within their sparkling-clean interiors. Such depictions work as storytelling devices, as they speak to the untouchability of the rich, and the luxury of choosing to live with less.
The McMansion is a much-beloved trope in countless depictions of the rich. These are often maximalist homes that constitute a gaudy pastiche, a simulacrum of the gilded age homes of another time. The reason why these types of buildings – which architects in particular, seem to loathe – are so common in portrayals of the rich is often because they make us normal people feel better about our own tastes.
When we see the brash rich living it up in a gaudy McMansion, we can comfort ourselves with our supposedly superior tastes even if we don’t quite have the bank balance to make up for it. The depictions of McMansions can be seen in countless pop culture depictions of the rich.
In video games, titles such as Grand Theft Auto V and Hitman position the McMansion as an emblem of excess. In TV, one only has to think of TV shows that make fun of the idle rich, such as Arrested Development, Dynasty, Dallas, or The Sopranos.
Even in online casino titles such as real money slots, the McMansion serves as a recurring theme. For example, the slots Betway features multiple titles in which the McMansion is the sole aesthetic theme of the game. Popular online slots such as Piggy Riches, Life of Riches, and The Finer Reels of Life all use images of McMansions to denote the cash prizes available to lucky players.
In film, one can look to cultural touchstones such as The Wolf of Wall Street or Mean Girls to see the role that these homes play in our cultural consciousness. Although we make fun of McMansions, they remain a powerful and effective symbol of modern wealth.
As you can see, the homes of the rich are portrayed in two completely different manners, but they continue to be an object of cultural fascination.