With differing levels of candor, schmaltz
and frivolity there is currently a fixation on the analysis and
deconstruction of the wealthy. Dispersed mainly between three
shows, with more surely to follow, the public eye is on the wealthy
like never before.

Mira Levitan

What is being eschewed here is the principle of the old money
traditionally remaining anonymous. How many people from the Forbes
400 list can be named by picture? This all comes at an interesting
time when the American median salary continues to decrease as does
the number of Americans living below an antiquated poverty
line.

The first is MTV’s superbly vapid show “Rich
Girls” which is an empty dance through two young trust fund
babies lives as they espouse such philosophies as “I think
clothes should be free, because they are like a basic necessity,
like water.” Water is not free, sweetie. While showing the
undeniable privilege of such a life, the stupidity that seems to
come with it cannot be ignored.

The upcoming Fox show “The Simple Life” focuses on
the eternally understated Paris Hilton of Hilton Hotel fame and
Nicole Richie, daughter of Lionel Richie, who are lessened to the
point of living in Westbubblefuck, Ark., a far cry from
Chelsea’s chic Lot 61. The lesson here is how all that
naughty money disconnected them from basic intelligence and the
knowledge of the simple life.

Then there is “Born Rich,” an HBO documentary by
fellow rich boy Jamie Johnson, heir to the Johnson and Johnson
fortune, who decided to break tradition and examine what he calls
the “voodoo of inherited wealth.” This phenomena is
what he describes as the inability of those with money to openly
complain of the problems their status causes. His show is the most
candid of all, as he and his fellow jet-set crew share their fears
of family severance and marital pressures in social scenes that
don’t look all that removed from many here at this school.
While his purpose could be opening the door for upper-class
catharsis, it sure is pretty sexy to say you are a documentarian.
It gives you that artsy spin.

The most important question to be asked is why. Why is the
status and invulnerability of this lifestyle being challenged? A
lot of these kids want to combine entertainment fame with their
wealth — Ally Hilfiger and Jaime Gleicher are each listed as
producers of their show “Rich Girls.” Paris
Hilton’s initial forays into acting have only resulted with
her portrayal as a burgeoning porn star. Nicole Richie’s
description as an “aspiring actress, singer and
dancer,” is marred by her accomplished heroin addiction.

This marks an ostensible change in the American perception of
true wealth and celebrity where pandering for publicity and
appearances on “Fear Factor” or “Leno” are
generally frowned upon because their wealth is prided on its
self-generating nature.

These shows seem to be a combination of teasing taunting and
condemnation, but when closely examined the “who”
becomes murkier. There is a degree of moralizing involved to
mitigate the hatred the peons have for the haves. The parable of
“The rich are bad and stupid,” is followed by the
“Gee, oh boy I’m glad I don’t have money.”
The growing class disparity and disappearance of social
mobilization are good enough reasons to phase out the glory of
money.

In no way is this a socialist diatribe because I sure as hell
don’t want to work much past the age of 25 and have no desire
to share farm plots with my fellow comrades. Rather it is an
observation of the fortuitous timing between the increase of the
poor and the demystification of the rich.

“This contempt of money is just another trick by the rich
to keep the poor without,” said Michael Corleone, and it
never rings more true than today. Maybe the doctrine of old money
is no longer valid as our generation can no longer be content with
the silent affluence of the previous centuries. With the glamour
and lure of the red carpet from MTV award shows and repeats of
“Cribs” the baby bluebloods are taking a page from the
nouveau riche and the poor and combining shameless self-promotion
with the coolness of being oppressed. Pity them, it’s hard to
be rich.

Rahim can be reached at
“mailto:hrahim@umich.edu”>hrahim@umich.edu.

 

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