ZERO ANTHROPOLOGY

Risk, Trust, and Fulfilment: Reality Tourism, Continued

The story of the Razor’s Edge company continues to unfold with the latest release of one of their private videos, the kind which have normally been distributed to prospective clients in person, until now. This is the third in a series. Sources close to the company confirm that what is presented below is a draft of a marketing video, in documentary style, featuring the truly remarkable experience of Kate Winslet. What we also see is evidence of how this highly secretive company has become a truly insidious operation, capitalizing on its extensive Hollywood contacts to the point where clips from its productions have been spliced into mainstream Hollywood movies, as if to subliminally market the “Razor’s Edge experience” among its preferred target audience: extremely rich celebrities. That’s not the story here however.

It might be difficult to understand what is happening here if this is your first encounter with Razor’s Edge and “reality tourism”. Background information is available here.

Kate Winslet’s experience, and her telling of it, revives familiar themes of risk and trust in globalized society. It also opens up particular questions as to what really happened during her foreign work adventure, and what Winslet may be hiding. What fantasies might have taken hold? Was the reality of the people she worked with merely an amusement that her money had purchased? The story seems a little murky, and the investigation sounds like it was rushed to a conclusion, probably pushed by an avalanche of dollars.

As outlined previously, Razor’s Edge was created to provide members of the elite 1% with deep immersive experiences in the hard grind realities of everyday life around the world. The company calls this “reality tourism,” and it was partly inspired by the work of anthropologists and the novel by Somerset Maugham, from which the company derived its name. Combining work, survival, and sometimes learning some leadership skills, the idea is that life is enriched by moving outside one’s secluded bubble of comfort. Few in the cocktail circuit will be able to speak with sensitivity about global realities, based on personal experience, like Razor’s Edge clients can. Never again will the elites be taken by surprise, as by Trump and Brexit—as Razor’s Edge executives tell prospective clients, according to sources: “ground level realities will no longer be a mystery to you, or something you long forgot. You will get up close and personal with what our class usually ignores (often for good reason)”.

Like a new age capitalist vision quest, the Razor’s Edge experience has become a highly prized badge among certain members of the Hollywood elite in particular, proving their worth as actors in every sense of the word, and increasing their brand value. At least this is part of how Razor’s Edge sells its product, according to sources close to the company and those familiar with its operations who spoke off the record. In fact, it’s not difficult to predict that we are closer to the day that “anthropology” will become exclusively a commodity that is sold and traded among powerful political, financial, and media elites.

There are downsides and contradictions. First, there are considerable risks, as attested to in the earlier interview with Sean Penn, one of the first clients of Razor’s Edge in the late 1990s, who was abducted by a gang while working at an automobile chop shop in Mexico. The ambiguous, contradictory, and mildly sarcastic responses of Robert DeNiro, another client, show that the thickness of elite skin is sometimes not punctured by even disturbing real world work experiences, a fact that goes against the preferred narrative of transformation pitched by Razor’s Edge. In some cases, there is even outright denial of the reality of everything that was experienced abroad, even when the person offering the denial is clearly shaken by her experience and has difficulty coping with return to “normal” life. Then there are questions about the competence of staff at Razor’s Edge, that can expose clients to unnecessary risk, sources say. To the company’s credit, some of these more negative aspects do come out clearly in their interviews, perhaps not so much honesty as a cover, a means of limiting liability and thus seeking to ensure—for insurance purposes—that informed consent is obtained from current and future clients. Corporate ethics are not that far removed from anthropological ones, after all.

One of the facets that is common to all three videos is that each of the elite clients of Razor’s Edge has clearly been traumatized by what was witnessed and experienced abroad. To different extents, each shows signs of PTSD, and an inability to process what encountered and changed them.

Finally, for me the key passage in this short film consisted of the following words spoken by the interviewer, Sir Jeremy Fullerton, vice-president at Razor’s Edge—the words have a familiar ring to them that I cannot quite place:

“You took up your burden in the most impressive way, Kate, when you signed on with Razor’s Edge. You left your childish days behind. Gone were the days of easy praise to which you were accustomed, of awards given for trivial endeavours. You grew into a new, real role. You became cold and edged with dearly-bought wisdom. The judgment of your peers is a fine testament to that”.

Without further delay, here is the latest video installment from Razor’s Edge: