Somewhere in the promotional copy/preview whirlwind for Eat the Rich #1 was a line comparing the book to 2017’s seminal horror film Get Out, a film in which a young Black man goes to meet his white girlfriend’s affluent family for the first time. No spoilers, but some seriously bad stuff goes down. A quasi-coded commentary on race relations in the United States, the film stands out as a truly innovative and jarring statement, one with genre-redefining attributes that have gone on to inspire the medium.
The comparison of Eat the Rich to Get Out is an apt — if unfortunate — one, as issue #1 of the series follows the setup in the first reel of that film almost directly, with one marked difference: nowhere in Eat the Rich is there an underlying social justice layer.
One could argue, of course, that Eat the Rich takes aim at a glaring, horrifying chasm between economic classes, introducing us to Joey, a smart young woman who explains midway through the issue that she worked as a nanny to get herself through school. Joey is a foil to the One Percent, Richie Rich community of Crestfall Bluffs, most of whom have never worked a day in their lives. Certainly, one might say, this monumental disparity implies a Big Picture mentality, an honest if not revolt-inspiring attempt to illustrate the monstrous implications of capitalist disillusionment.
To that, I would say, sure. But I would also point out that Get Out already has that grim class discrepancy hard-wired into its makeup. The film also takes aim at the One Percent, but doubles down on social relevance by alluding to the class structure’s systemic oppression of people of color. It provides a specific group of people a viscerally familiar (if coded) brand of horror while using the larger cultural context to support its narrative assumptions.
So what, then, does Eat the Rich bring to the table that the very similar film does not? In the first issue, I suppose the implication that the villainous rich are cannibals, and that any one of their servants, upon retirement, might very well be rewarded for their service by becoming a ceremonious feast for their employers. Sure, that’s a narrative wrinkle not present in Get Out — I can’t remember there being talk of cannibalistic overtures in either the film or the critical discourse that surrounded it. It implies an otherness to the wealthy, cocktail-sipping ghouls.
The problem, of course, is that where the humanity-denying crimes of Get Out—the switching of brains between the elderly rich white people and the young Black people to extend their lives in a fetishized body, a supernatural body theft standing in a brilliant allegory for the physical body theft of the slave trade — has a direct purpose, as well as an intended community for whom the story will resonate.
Eat the Rich, in its stripping away of that allegorical shell, has presented a humanity-denying crime that might apply to anyone, an otherness to the villains which has no pointed audience for whom the story might mean something. This is a pretty blatant homogenization of the better artwork’s intent, a literal whitewashing of its victims and intended audience. It’s almost as if the creative crew behind Eat the Rich thought to themselves, “well, yeah, that’s scary for African Americans, but how do we make it scary to literally anyone.”
The result is a watery, colorless copy of a story that is ironically robbed of its teeth. It’s a story of the villainous upper classes, of the dehumanization of the lower classes. It’s a worse, whitewashed Get Out, one stripped of its cultural power by way of homogenization.
Those are just the crimes of the book against its very obvious inspiration; there are further issues with the book and its cast. Joey, a weedily flat avatar for any reader of any color, is further made somehow pathetic in her relationship with boyfriend Astor — a slab of blonde that might as well be named Chad or Chip or Thad — whose lone attractive attribute is that he’s breathing. Nearly every encounter between the two characters illustrates Astor’s toxic self-centeredness and callous disregard for Joey’s concerns. While this is meant to illustrate how selfish the upper crust is, as a whole, it nonetheless makes us wonder how the two of them got this far in their relationship.
Further aspects of the story — most notably Joey’s inability to notice the prop of a human jawbone as a toddler gums at it — shrink our regard for her further. Her own internal monologue is as self-entitled as her beef shoulder of a boyfriend’s might be, and her bumbling attempts to relate to the nanny, meant to humanize her to the reader, comes off sounding condescending. That said nanny is the lone person of color given any dialogue in the comic telegraphs the very real probability that the Outer Limits twist of the whole miniseries will be that Joey is just as bad as the rest of them.
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