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Emily in Paris: A Tragic Social Commentary Made to Look Pretty

Written by Ann Burns

January 24, 2022

Image Credit Netflix

The Netflix TV show Emily in Paris sucked me in. It has a lot going for it: a vibrant color palette, location (you have no idea how badly this show made me miss France—despite the painful stereotypes), and the luscious tribute to clothes and French cooking. Yummmm.

I stayed committed through the first two seasons because, like a train wreck, it was hard to look away. What a sight! Especially a train wreck that is glammed up with macaroons and wine. (I love macaroons and wine.)

However, if we removed all of the pretty excess of the show, and I can’t lie, there was a lot, an unbelievably depressing take on the shallow, screwed-up dating culture is what we’d see.

Where to even begin?

First, Emily is a mediocre protagonist at best. She enters the scene with all the arrogance that once dubbed American tourists ugly. Emily is an exceptionally self-consumed character. What makes her alright is her colorful wardrobe (although how she affords it made no sense), vivacity, and the occasional Audrey Hepburn allusion her ensembles evoke.

She possesses an externalized femininity. She looks exceptionally feminine, with perfectly done hair, heels, and skirts, but she fails to have any of the receptivity or generosity of femininity.

Emily has poor boundaries, yet for whatever reason, everyone believes she’s helped them out, been a great friend, and is, all in all, an amazing young woman. She is perpetually asking people for grandiose last-minute favors. And she doesn’t let them refuse.

But how does this self-consumed nature/lack of boundaries impact her love life?

The show’s outlook on love is even more icy and dismal than any of the horrors mentioned above. Still, unfortunately, as a social commentary, it has a lot to say about where we are on the romantic front.

(Mild spoilers)

Emily is infatuated with her Adonis neighbor, Gabriel. As their chemistry builds, Emily can no longer restrain herself and, being a modern woman, thrusts herself into his arms for some passionate making out. Gabriel is noticeably okay with this.

A few scenes later, Gabriel’s girlfriend, Camille, is introduced. Mentioning her existence had just slipped his mind. This little faux pas creates a “complicated” love triangle. Gabriel and Emily seem to be starstruck lovers, and Camille is just “so nice” no one wants to hurt her feelings.

The show attempts to make Gabriel a compelling character. I think you’re even supposed to root for him a little bit. I know, crazy. However, he’s suave, funny, handsome, besotted with Emily, and it’s obvious he genuinely supports her. He’s just also half-heartedly pursuing his girlfriend, Camille.

But since he’s “hot,” we’re supposed to overlook it. Right?

This messy love triangle lingers as the show continues through the second season.

Emily proceeds to get entangled in other romances, and some are more “promising” than others —or so she thinks. Her method for finding a good guy is:

1) hook up (or lead him on)
2) freak out if he doesn’t text you back
3) hang out (or continue to lead him on)
4) think about Gabriel and long after him
5) attempt to stay with the new guy and hope thoughts of Gabriel will go away

?

From a romantic point of view, the entire show is a dumpster fire.

But what makes it all the more problematic is the show’s narrative of Emily. Emily is an innocent, almost prude-like American. She is a “good girl.” She is the one who believes in true love and wants a knight in shining armor. Emily has hope for the fairy-tale, but her means of attaining the fairy-tale contradicts this script.

Is she really an innocent good girl?

For example, Gabriel and Emily hook up at one point (at this point, he and Camille have split). However, Emily is more guilt-ridden over this than when she made out with him while he was dating. Her guilt is a convoluted mess; she believed that hooking up would be a once-and-done act, and they could move on and forget about it. In other words, Emily felt that spending the night with Gabriel would be consequence-free. When she realizes that is not how life works, she thinks it is her moral obligation to get Camille and Gabriel back together. She even goes so far as to beg Gabriel to lie to Camille.

Sounds healthy, right?

The show provides an almost incestuous tone as multiple characters engage in romantic flings. Instead of addressing the issue, implementing healthy boundaries, and attempting to grow and learn to be on their own or a bit, they try to “stay friends” and act as nothing happened.

I wish I could say, “well, that was just a messy show dressed up to look pretty,” but in truth, I think Emily in Paris struck a chord when it comes to modern dating.

Emily’s dating life is selfish. She has arbitrary rules and standards that ultimately fail her. For example, Emily’s obsessive need to ensure that Gabriel will get back together with Camille is her way of proving that the mistakes she made with Gabriel have no consequences.

She refuses to live in reality.

She isn’t acting out of love and reverence, but selfishness disguised as a virtue.

As the show progresses, we see that Gabriel acknowledges his lack of honesty. It’s evident that he’s still smitten with Emily, but he fails to create good boundaries and find healing in his own heart.

How do we know this? He maintains a complicated “friendship” with Emily and flirts with Camille as he entertains the idea of getting back together with her. Um. I, for one, am not convinced he is in love with Camille (I don’t think anyone is), so again, are we supposed to believe he’s an honorable character?

It seems he is doing what’s convenient rather than what’s right.

It’s almost like, when it comes to their emotional and spiritual wellbeing, all of the characters are determined to commit harakiri.

But if we look around at the modern dating culture, we see that something about these characters ring true. Dating culture shoves itself down our throats, so much so that many people are unable to be alone. And are so wounded, they don’t know how to foster healthy boundaries.

We’ve created a dangerous need to have somebody at all times. Someone to text, talk to, and take an interest in us. We may believe we’re seeking love, but in truth, we’re stunting our emotional growth and seeking vainglory — the very opposite of love.

To foster a healthy relationship, we need to first be okay with being on our own. We need to cultivate emotional chastity, not just physical purity. Our love for another should stem from delighting in the other. We should see the beauty in which he was created and will his good.

We need reverence to love, for as Dietrich von Hildebrand explains:

The basic attitude of reverence is the presupposition for every true love, above all, the love of neighbor, because it alone opens our eyes to the value of men as spiritual persons, and because, without this awareness, no love is possible.

Reverence allows us to see our value and the inherent value of another, therefore driving out any sense of using another person, deceiving, tricking, or manipulating — which are popular themes in Emily in Paris.

Emily in Paris is a tragic show made to look enticing. It’s sad because we follow the lives of stunted, selfish characters who desperately want to love but have no idea how to love.

Deep down, they know they’re made for love— we see them seek it out ardently, but they’re only capable of finding a perverse mockery of love.

They’re unwilling to carry the cross that comes with love. They want fun, instant gratification, and somebody to talk to; as a result, underneath their pretty faces and pretty clothes, it’s pretty apparent that these characters are deeply wounded and starved for goodness.

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