We should not be surprised by #RichKids of Beverly Hills. It was completely inevitable. If anything, we should be surprised that it didn’t happen a long time ago. The existence of this reality show tells us everything we need to know about ourselves. #RichKids of Beverly Hills is a cipher. #RichKids of Beverly Hills is a dispensation. #RichKids of Beverly Hills is a gift.
Eleven years ago, Disney released Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Previously in American film history, all sorts of stories had inspired those who write for the silver screen, from ancient epics to Bible stories to war tales. Inspiration had come from all corners. One might have thought the well had run dry. One would have been wrong. In 2003, the president received congressional authorization to invade Iraq, the Supreme Court declared sodomy laws unconstitutional, the Human Genome Project was completed, and Disney released a film based on an amusement-park ride. An amusement-park ride!
Eleven years later, this sounds old hat. When all the ideas are gone — when every retold Old Testament tale has been again retold, when every superhero laid peacefully to rest has been unceremoniously exhumed for the screen, when not a single theme-park ride has gone unpillaged for potential film narratives — there will be Instagram. The pox is gone; Great Pan is dead; we never have to be bored again.
• It’s not based on the “Rich Kids of Instagram” Tumblr blog but, well, “inspired by” it. The blog in turn was inspired by the Instagram accounts where countless wealthy youths post pictures of their private jets, five-figure shopping receipts, etc.
• One of its young stars says she believes homophobia exists only in Kentucky.
• Another gives this surprisingly compelling explanation of why she wants to take her friends to Cabo, a resort on the southern tip of Baja California: “I feel like it’s, you know, a party city. It’s somewhere where you go with a group of people and you get drunk for four days and you never want to go back or have any guacamole again.”
I think that last bit kind of gets at what makes this show simultaneously baffling and impressive. At first blush its protagonists seem like idiots; they snap selfies incessantly, fight over whether or not blood drives are homophobic, and bicker with their enormously wealthy and enabling parents. They all seem terrible.
At the same time, though, the fact that this show exists at all is a little marvelous. It has an existential brashness that you can’t not be jealous of. It is completely without scruple — its name is a hashtag, for goodness’ sake! Most other reality shows, all of comparable entertainment value, have a raison d’être. America’s Next Top Model promises to make someone famous. (NB: A significant number of its contestants end up modeling for knitting magazines, which I think is amazing.) The Bachelor and The Bachelorette angle to help gorgeous, successful people find love. The Real World was (I guess) supposed to be some sort of sociological study, maybe, though that’s probably giving it too much credit. You get the point, though: For these shows, there’s always an m.o. or an endgame or something.
#RichKids of Beverly Hills doesn’t waste time on any of that nonsense. You know how people always complain about the Kardashians being famous for doing nothing? This show is completely aboveboard about that. Any pretensions of social worth or cultural value are completely absent. It is exactly what it advertises itself to be: a lot of privileged kids who live in Beverly Hills and spend tons of money and engage in other kinds of behavior you’d expect from their demographic.
It’s the only reality show we need. It is the lowest common denominator of all this other nonsense, and it embraces that. It doesn’t make any excuses. I think all reality TV is terrible. I almost think it should be illegal. But that’s not the world we live in. I can’t ban #RichKids of Beverly Hills. So I’ll respect it.
— Betsy Woodruff is a William F. Buckley fellow at the National Review Institute.