The White Lotus Sicily is ultimately a commentary on the performative aspect of modern travel. Like when Daphne (Megann Fahy) sees a palazzo in Noto on the internet and consequently hires the entire mansion for a night. Just because she can. Or the way Tanya, in episode two, describes her fantasy as a day spent dressing like Monica Vitti, riding a Vespa with a man in a “very slim fitting suit who comes over and lights my cigarette,” drinking aperitivos, eating big plates of pasta by the sea at sunset, and just generally being “very chic and happy and beautiful.” In reality, her husband Greg (John Gries) can barely keep the bike upright and she spends the entire trip with a mouthful of bugs.
This overly romanticized, unrealistic expectation of an international “dream day” is common among travelers. Paris Syndrome is probably the best example. Over the years, there have been so many people acutely disappointed by the City of Love that it’s become a bonafide condition, recognized by experts. Paris Syndrome is described as a sense of extreme disappointment, a certain type of culture shock. And that’s what Portia, by varying degrees, is experiencing—she comes to Sicily expecting it to cure her existential lethargy, but instead, her romanticization of Sicily works against her.
Later in the season, Portia is sitting on a beach in Palermo with Jack (Leo Woodall), the cheeky Brit she’s sleeping with, and they’re eating gelato. According to Instagram, this is the perfect picture—international man, pristine coastline, ice cream. And yet, much like a lot of social media, the moment feels devoid of meaning. Perhaps it’s because she’s placed too much significance on curated travel moments or maybe it’s because Jack is, indeed, scamming her. Who knows.
At the end of the day, and season, what The White Lotus does so well is make us question our own travel styles and ethics. Do we value authenticity or are we trying to be Monica Vitti? How much does social media impact our itineraries? Or even worse, are we—gulp—an ugly Western tourist?