‘Wipeout’ Contestant Dies After Completing Course

5SimpleThings
10 min readNov 21, 2020

Growing up, I was always comforted by the idea that my conservative family members weren’t that bad. Yes, they’d always voted Republican, but they were reasonable Republicans, the type that simply had a different way of understanding the world. They liked the idea of universal health care, but they didn’t trust the government’s ability to effectively carry the policy out. They didn’t like the idea of poverty, but they figured raising the minimum wage too much would cause inflation and higher unemployment rates, and would end up harming the poor more than it helped.

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Knives Out is a 2019 film about a caretaker named Marta who finds herself at the center of a murder conspiracy surrounding the death of Harlan Thrombey, an old billionaire whose offspring can’t wait to inherit his fortune. The movie is, at its core, a movie about class. The Thrombey family may constantly insult and scheme against each other, but the moment their wealth is threatened, all those differences seem to melt away.

The message of the movie is pretty clear: These characters have all been born into a life of wealth and privilege, and all that matters is keeping their place at the top of society.

For instance, some of the family members are liberal and some of them are full-on Donald Trump supporters. In the first half, the movie tricks its audience into thinking the liberal members of the family might be genuinely nice people. The character of Meg Thrombey (played by Katherine Langford) seems like a cool person who actually cares about Marta. They hang out, they smoke pot together, and Meg certainly seems to be more grounded and compassionate than the other members of her family.

Once it’s announced that all of Harlan’s fortune will go to Marta, however, Meg ends up being the one to let the other family members know about Marta’s mother’s undocumented status, knowingly giving them a weapon with which to intimidate Marta into giving back their money. Meg apologizes for this in the end, but it’s a hollow apology, one where she completely fails to take responsibility for the sheer knowing cruelty of what she’s done. The message of the movie is pretty clear: These characters have all been born into a life of wealth and privilege, and all that matters is keeping their place at the top of society.

My extended family is not as well off as the Thrombeys, although we are pretty well off. We have no mansions, but everyone’s got a nice house and every kid knows they’ll be going to college.

The fact we’re a bunch of well-off white people often makes political conversations feel somewhat pointless because the real-world stakes for my family were so much lower. I would argue a liberal point of view, they’d argue a conservative point of view, and regardless of how it went, we could always hit that off switch and talk about something else.

Politics is, for the most part, just a thought exercise in my family. We argue about Black Lives Matter with the implicit knowledge that none of us will probably ever be harmed by the police. We talk about poverty with the knowledge that none of us are likely to ever be living on the streets. There’s a certain detachment in the way we discuss the issues, and I’d often imagine someone like Marta listening in on these conversations and wonder if she’d find it all as hollow as I do.

As Knives Out shows, class and the privilege that comes with it is probably the single biggest influence on the way you see the world or the type of person you end up being. Out of all the political subtext in the movie, however, the class commentary was not the aspect that impressed me the most. The storyline that really rang true to me was the characterization of Jacob Thrombey.

Even the openly conservative members of the family think young Jacob Thrombey is a Nazi. The characters speculate he’s been “radicalized by 4chan” and treat him as the black sheep of the family. He’s an anomaly, they say. The family may have its problems, but even they don’t know how this kid ended up spending his free time as an alt-right #MAGA troll.

At least, that’s the impression the audience gets in the first half of the film before the characters realize they’re about to be cut off from their wealth. Jacob’s still a racist troll, but he’s not the one leading the campaign to sabotage Marta’s life. He’s complicit in it, sure, but he’s still in the background. It’s the other family members — the liberals, conservatives, the apparently apolitical — that aren’t hesitating to destroy this immigrant woman’s life, even after she’s made it clear that she’s perfectly willing to send them money whenever they need it. It’s not that they need the money to pay their bills; it’s more that they want the power the money provides. The idea of having to ask Marta for money is insulting to them. It’s supposed to be the other way around.

Once their wealth is threatened, it quickly becomes clear that Jacob’s extremism is not a rare trait in their family. His racism, his contempt for the poor, for immigrants — once the polite veneer shatters, everyone else in the family is revealed to share the same traits. He wasn’t radicalized by 4chan; he was simply internalizing the ideas his family already believed. Unlike him, however, his family understood that these ideas weren’t polite. They were smart enough to keep their true opinions hidden.

The way Jacob’s spoken of throughout the movie reminds me of someone in my own family, who my cousins and I would often refer to as our Crazy Racist Aunt.

My Crazy Racist Aunt was, and still is, a far-right lunatic who will frequently ruin family gatherings by going on angry rants filled with thinly veiled racism and homophobia. Coming of age during the Obama presidency, I would often hear her complaining about the radical Muslim socialist in the White House, arguing that Obama was racist against white people and trying to turn this country into communist Russia.

I didn’t take my Crazy Racist Aunt seriously throughout my teenage years, mainly because she was clearly an anomaly among my own family. When she went on these rants, other family members would roll their eyes, make their jokes, argue back a little. Nobody appeared to take her seriously. The fact that my Crazy Racist Aunt voted for Trump was no surprise to me. What did surprise me, and what made me realize early on that Trump definitely had a shot at winning the White House, was the fact that most of my other family members voted for Trump as well.

They were never making fun of my Crazy Racist Aunt because of her racism or homophobia; they were making fun of her because she was open about it.

I knew most of my family members were conservative, but I assumed they were one of those “reasonable conservatives” who understood how uniquely toxic this candidate was. Surely, they’d be the type to make an exception to their usual tendency to vote Republican, just this once. Nope.

This led to a lot of arguments, and in the end, my family’s arguments boiled down to this idea: “Trump is bad, but Hillary Clinton is way worse.” Sure, they didn’t want to vote for Trump, but Clinton was so corrupt and evil that they didn’t think they had any other choice.

I could understand this perspective. I think it’s a stupid perspective, but I can understand it nonetheless. It stung to see them vote for such a toxic candidate, but I still considered them to be in a separate category from my Crazy Racist Aunt. They may have voted for the same guy as her, but because they still rolled their eyes at her unhinged rants, I assumed that they were not on her side.

The big turning point in Knives Out was the scene where the family read Harlan Thrombey’s will — that was the moment they dropped their polite pretenses and we got to see exactly who they really were. Wealth allowed them to be nice, but now for the first time in their lives, the advantages they’d always taken for granted were now at risk, and it brought out the absolute worst in them.

I find it fitting that I did not watch this movie in the theaters when it first came out. I watched it in June of this year when we were still in that first wave of Covid-19 infections. Throughout the course of the pandemic, we’ve seen videos go viral showing an angry white person throwing a fit because they couldn’t go into a store without a mask on, or because their favorite restaurant only accepts takeout, or because they can’t go on vacation.

For a lot of well-off white people, 2020 was the first time politics has ever had a direct effect on their lives.

Well-off white people are not the only people who’ve been impacted by the pandemic. In fact, they are the group of people who’ve generally been affected the least. They’re less likely to be working essential jobs that force them to interact with hundreds of potentially contagious people every day, and they are less likely to have lost their jobs at all. And yet, somehow, it mainly seems to be well-off white people who’ve been showing up in viral videos coughing on strangers and throwing tantrums in convenience stores. This pandemic has been very hard on everyone, but only one group of people seems to be handling it in such an obnoxious manner.

The reason for this is pretty simple: For a lot of well-off white people, 2020 was the first time politics has ever had a direct effect on their lives. As a direct result of decisions people in the government were making, these people were denied the privileges they’ve spent their whole lives enjoying. They couldn’t go out to eat, they couldn’t go to the movies, they couldn’t throw parties or go on vacations.

And just like the will reading scene in Knives Out brought out the worst in the Thrombeys, the sheer inconvenience of the pandemic brought out the worst in the well-off white people.

Fast forward a few weeks after watching this movie, and I was visiting some relatives at their beach house in Long Beach Island, New Jersey — a deeply pro-Trump area. It’s one of those places where you could ride your boat around with a TRUMP 2020 flag on the back of it, and the strangers on the other boats will cheer for you as you ride past them.

This was the first time I’d seen them since before the pandemic, and I knew things had changed from the moment I pulled into the driveway. They had a Blue Lives Matter flag strung proudly on their front porch. When I mentioned it to my aunt, she waxed poetically about how there has never been a harder time to be a police officer in America. Later on, when talking about how a lot of schools were going all online, my uncle remarked how “it’s a shame these teachers aren’t stepping up to the plate.” When the election came up, the general sentiment was that Biden was “okay,” but he was “surrounding himself with people who hate America,” and because of that they’d be voting for Trump again.

The whole experience stung because they all sounded exactly like the Crazy Racist Aunt they all used to make fun of, but my Crazy Racist Aunt wasn’t even there that day. That’s when it hit me: They were never making fun of my Crazy Racist Aunt because of her political views, or her racism, or her homophobia, or anything else; they were making fun of her because she was open about it. From an actual policy standpoint, there was no difference between what she believed and what the rest of my family believed. They simply knew better than to say it out loud. At least, they used to know better.

I’m not surprised that Trump won so many votes in the 2020 election. While the pandemic may have hurt Trump overall, and the Black Lives Matter protests may have led to a spike in Democratic voter registrations, this past year has led to a situation in which many well-off white people — even the normal, seemingly sensible ones — feel genuinely, materially threatened for the first time in their lives. And much like the Thrombeys, it’s turned them into the absolute worst versions of themselves.

Trumpism isn’t defeated yet, and it’s tough to say whether it’ll die down any time soon. To those who are terrified of the further damage these people could do, to those who don’t know how to handle them going forward, Knives Out presents a clear solution: Kick them out of your house, and don’t let them back in.

Ana de Armas as Marta in Knives Out. Photo: Lionsgate

The final shot of the movie shows Marta standing on the mansion’s balcony, drinking out of Harlan’s coffee cup that reads, “My house, my rules, my coffee!!” as the rest of the Thrombeys get ready to head home. Throughout the movie, Marta has tried to be nice and patient with them, and every time they’ve lied and betrayed her in return. Knives Out ends with the kind-hearted Marta choosing to cut them out of their lives, to no longer tolerate their bullshit.

The Thrombeys will be perfectly fine. The absolute worst-case scenario is that they might have to sell their expensive homes and cars, and settle for a slightly less glamorous lifestyle. Likewise, the political figures pushing Trumpism are going to be fine. Trump’s probably got a 2024 campaign to prepare for, and most of his enablers still have stable jobs in Congress.

As for your Trump-supporting family members? You don’t have to cut them out of your life, but when Trump leaves and the pandemic’s over and things start to go back to normal, don’t forget the side of them you saw these past few years. Remember what’s beneath that polite, sensible facade, and when the next Trump-esque candidate comes along, don’t be surprised when that side of them comes out again.

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