The unreality of the rich

I like nice things. And, like most people in our capitalist society, I believe that those of us who have done well enough to indulge themselves by acquiring nice things as a reward for their hard work and good fortune are entitled—to a point.
The old joke that there are 500 different channels to watch on TV nowadays but nothing’s on is sort of true, but I know that a lot of what is on is “reality” programming that is anything but real.
Flip on any number of shows and you will subjected to “Housewives”, “Bridezillas”, “Extreme Homes”, Wealth TV, people buying their won private islands—on and on. A common thread for many of these programs is ego-driven self indulgence where money is seemingly no object.
One program I happened to catch a family member watching one day was recounting a bedroom closet remodel for twin teenage girls. The closet remodel cost over $500,000! This was important because they needed proper storage for their clothing, which included belts that in some cases cost over $2,000 apiece. For fourteen year-old girls.
Another recent program was an installment in a series that is chronicling the construction of the new penthouse manse for Aaron Spelling’s widow, Candy Spelling in Los Angeles. Everyone knows real estate in LA can be expensive. You can imagine the two-story, 41st-floor highrise penthouse would be pretty spectacularly priced, and that since she sold her last home for what had been at the time supposedly the highest price ever paid for a private home in the U.S.—rumored to be $150 million.
Mrs. Spelling’s television program goes to great lengths to show how laboriously she pains over even the tiniest detail and in the episode I stumbled upon, shows her winging her way to New York so she could select handmade cabinet knobs, doorknobs, and hinges for her home. The price for this kind of quality craftsmanship? Anywhere from $1,000 to $20,000—each.
I don’t care who you are—except maybe the guy who makes knobs for a living—there is no way anyone is going to know the difference between a $1,000 cabinet knob and, say, a $100 knob. Unless you tell them.
Which of course is the idea.
I guess my point is I understand liking nice things but, if you have to point out to people why they’re nice, isn’t it maybe a little excessive?
If you have to wear clothes or accessories that have the designer’s label on them so people know they’re expensive are they really all that special?
Is it really any surprise why so many people in the poorest regions of the world have a hatred of the west?
I know, you hear it all the time—and it is true—people from these poorest parts of the world (the ones brave enough, the ones who can) do all they can to come here for the opportunity. That doesn’t erase the resentment they feel in this Information Age when they see television programs like the ones I’ve described or hear stories of the latest escapades of spoiled do-nothing celebrity rich kids from Hollywood or elsewhere while they try to figure out how to feed themselves or their children tomorrow.
Unlike those on the left side of the political aisle, I do not believe it is right or proper for government to determine how much, if any, of an individual’s wealth they should be entitled to keep, and how much they should consider dedicate to people and causes whose need is greater than their own. It should remain an individual decision—every case is different, and I think if people were left to make up there own minds more often, the results might truly surprise people.
It would be a welcome change, however, if people had as an entertainment option to these train-wrecks of opulence and excess some programming that championed the spirit of giving and a humbler life.

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3 thoughts on “The unreality of the rich

  1. I often feel the same as you about excess in America. I could probably be considered one of those from “the left side of the political aisle,” though, so I disagree that government should have no control over how much wealth an individual should keep. That is, I believe an equitable tax system, as distasteful as taxes are, is essential to a healthy society. Do you really believe that, if donation of personal income were strictly an individual decision, we would be “surprised” at how generous people are? That the level of philanthropy would rise? I really doubt it. Other than this, I really like your article.

    • It has been reported on numerous occasions that Americans are the most generous givers to charity on the planet…including the “One Percenters.” I genuinely believe if more (any) “entertainment” programming were given over to the glorification of giving on the order of what is given to the likes of that which is given to the Kardashians, “Housewives”, et al, we would see a considerable shift in the attitude toward excess.

      Besides, there is no such thing as an “equitable tax system.” Someone always loses. The fairest system is a flat tax, but advocates for the poor argue it affects the poor the most. Mathematically this is true. But I don’t understand the logic behind the argument that because someone has had the ability through hard work, good fortune, etc. to make a great deal of money, the government…we…have the right to take an arbitrarily disproportionate amount of it in support of various government programs that might just as well be handled more efficiently by private charities, among other things.

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