[Marxism] Depravity of capitalism, tip of the iceberg.

Chris Brady cdbrady at sbcglobal.net
Sun Nov 23 11:39:18 MST 2003

{this writer has an ironic name

When You Got It, Flaunt It

New York Times, November 23, 2003

If it’s sex you’re looking for, America’s two most widely viewed porn
videos of the year, starring Paris Hilton and L. Dennis    Kozlowski,
are nothing if not limp. Ms. Hilton’s unimaginative exhibition, still
playing on an Internet site near you, is as darkly lighted as a faded
stag reel from the silent era. The hot parts of Mr. Kozlowski’s $2
million toga party in Sardinia — so risible they were edited out of the
version shown to jurors at his fraud trial — include a guest “mooning”
the camera, an ice sculpture of Michelangelo’s “David” urinating Stoli,
and a life-size woman-shaped cake with sparklers protruding from her
breasts. Low camp hasn’t had this high a budget since Bob Guccione made
his movie of “Caligula.”

But of course we want to see these videos anyway. Their real pull has to
do with capital, not carnality. Money remains the last guilty pleasure
in America. The obscenely rich engaging in conspicuous consumption or
conspicuously idiotic behavior is the only excess that hasn’t lost its
power to amuse, titillate and shock. People watch Paris Hilton make a
fool of herself because she’s an heir to the $300 million Hilton hotel
fortune, not because her wares top the thousands of competitors in this
country’s overstocked erotic supermarket. We watch Mr. Kozlowski’s
bacchanal not because we want to see his parade of go-go boys in Speedos
but because he has been charged with helping loot Tyco of more money
than the Hiltons may possess. It’s more fun to watch someone caught in
the act of being rich than caught having sex. Could Koz, as he’s known
in the tabs, possibly top that $6,000 shower curtain, that $15,000
umbrella stand? His bash — a San Simeon reverie as it might have been
juiced up by Siegfried and Roy — did exactly that.

Our conflicted attitude about money, old and new, runs deep. There is
nothing more American than piling up wealth, and yet nothing more
un-American than showing it off. “When you got it, flaunt it!” roars Max
Bialystock in “The Producers.” But when you advertise your riches in
America, you are setting yourself up as a clown. MTV’s new reality show
“Rich Girls” and Fox’s coming Paris Hilton series, “The Simple Life,”
both bank on the premise that there’s a large audience that wants a
bigger helping of what Mr. Kozlowski and Ms. Hilton have teased us with
this fall: the unexpurgated spectacle of the filthy rich behaving like

In keeping with the general hypocrisy about the upper class, these shows
have already whipped up some moral outrage. In “Rich Girls,” Ally
Hilfiger, daughter of Tommy, and a less attractive sidekick are shown
doing “damage” in Prada and expressing their patronizing concern for
plebian New Yorkers, notably Prada salespeople and “garbage men.” In
“The Simple Life,” which has its premiere on Dec. 2, Ms. Hilton and her
own less attractive sidekick are airlifted from 90210 to the Ozarks for
a monthlong live-in with a farm family. The gags fly when they pluck
chickens, drive a pick-up and tease locals who don’t know the term

Coarse? Usually. Silly? Always. But the zeal with which all four rich
girls throw themselves into their shows may be some kind of breakthrough
— a step toward candor in our national nonconversation about wealth.
They are not pretending to be what they’re not. They’ve got it, God
knows, and no one’s going to stop them from flaunting it. This
guilt-free hedonism is a refreshing break from the norm in our
post-bubble culture, where faux populism has become de rigueur among the
wealthy in the public eye. We are awash in ambitious rich people, from
the political arena on down, who play up their humble roots and
down-home habits, however few or fictional in reality, to sell us
products or themselves.

This phenomenon was typified by Martha Stewart as she tried to salvage
her image and business in an interview with Barbara Walters two weeks
ago. The doyenne of East Hampton and, until last year, the New York
Stock Exchange is now repositioning herself as a direct descendant of Ma
Kettle, if not Ma Joad. We were reminded that her maiden name is Polish
and that she grew up without “a silver spoon in her mouth” in a
“working-class town” (Nutley, N.J.) where her household had six kids and
one bathroom. Soon came the tender tableau of the present-day Ms.
Stewart rising at dawn to feed her chickens. Ms. Stewart seemed unaware
that she was coming off as Marie Antoinette — a humorless contrast to
Ms. Hilton, who on “The Simple Life” treats her similar encounters with
livestock as a joke and knows that she’s the punch line. Ms. Stewart
also reminisced about riding up Madison Avenue on that celebratory day
in 1999 when she rang the bell to open the stock exchange. “I could
actually buy pretty much anything in these shops,” she remembered
thinking. “But I didn’t.” Had she owned up to doing damage at Prada, or
even Barneys, she might not have inspired laughter when reassuring us
that the money saved on that ImClone trade amounted to a mere “.006
percent” of her net worth.

The perfect bookend to Ms. Stewart is Bill O’Reilly, another fabulously
wealthy American entertainer who has burnished his humble roots to flog
his product line. In his first book he wrote that he had grown up in
lower middle-class Levittown, N.Y. — only to be corrected by Newsday,
which reported that Mr. No Spin Zone grew up in Westbury, a middle-class
suburb near Levittown. Mr. O’Reilly went ballistic over being stripped
of his blue collar. He defends his original poor-mouthing by saying that
his family’s house was built by Levitt and that his parents lived so
modestly that they had to buy used cars. It’s touching, really.

But Ms. Stewart and Mr. O’Reilly only aspire to hustle their omnimedia.
When this kind of posturing comes from politicians vying for our vote in
an election year, it’s harder to laugh. At a minimum it makes one
nostalgic for the day when Roosevelts and Kennedys didn’t pretend to be
anything other than the fat cats they were.

The reigning bogus good ole boy in public life remains our blue-blood
president, an heir to large and aristocratic American fortunes on both
the Bush and Walker sides of his family. Unlike his father, he is not
about to be caught asking for “a splash more coffee.” On the eve of his
visit to London this week, he hit a characteristically phony note when
he told an interviewer, “I never dreamt when I was living in Midland,
Texas, that I would be staying in Buckingham Palace.” Mr. Bush, who was
born in New Haven, lived in Midland until only the age of 15 before
moving on to such hick venues as Andover, Yale and Harvard when not
vacationing in family compounds in Kennebunkport, Me., or Jupiter
Island, a tony neighbor of Palm Beach.

Rich Democrats vying to replace him are merely less effective purveyors
of the same aw-shucks nonsense. John Kerry is a Boston Brahmin (Mother
was a Forbes) and a multi-millionaire in his own right before marrying a
half-a-billionaire. Like the president, he’s a Yalie (via St. Paul’s in
his case). But in his desperation to save a campaign whose poll numbers
are floundering as much as Martha Stewart’s stock price, he has taken to
shooting game and playing hockey with firemen in Iowa. He has traded in
his Turnbull & Asser shirts for denim and his effete Ducati motorcycle
for a Harley-Davidson like the one he rode onstage to the Leno show just
as his top campaign executives fled. “I don’t intend to challenge
President Bush to a contest of who’s a more regular guy,” Mr. Kerry
writes in his new campaign autobiography, “A Call to Service,” even as
he does so. In the same book, he boasts that he’s “the son of a public
employee” (in the diplomatic service) and “a charter member of one of
the most selective but fastest-growing sports clubs in the world: the
Nascar fans of Massachusetts.”

Howard Dean is more forthright about his Yale (via St. George’s) and
Park Avenue pedigree — up to a point. On his Web site, a gathering place
for smaller donors, his privileged upbringing goes unmentioned, and in
the recent “Rock the Vote” debate on CNN he said he had gone to “a
college in New Haven, Connecticut.” But in his own campaign manifesto,
“Winning Back America,” he does own up to privilege before moving on to
describe his youthful playground of East Hampton as a veritable
Levittown with “people of every background living there throughout the
year.” In Dr. Dean’s deft literary hands, months spent skiing in Aspen
after winning a 1-Y deferment from Vietnam for a bad back becomes a
“sojourn in the mountains,” a quasi-spiritual quest tantamount to a
stint in the Peace Corps, if not an ashram.

The sheer dishonesty of our wealthy politicians only increases my
admiration for Jamie Johnson, the 24-year-old heir to the Johnson &
Johnson fortune whose justly praised documentary “Born Rich” has its
final HBO showing tonight. Mr. Johnson did something no one had done
before: he got his rich contemporaries, from families with names like
Trump, Newhouse, Bloomberg, Vanderbilt and Whitney, to let a camera into
their closed world, embarrassing excesses and all. There’s never been an
inside look at the wealthy quite like it on screen. What drove him to do
it? “Being afraid to talk about money in a wealth-driven society is a
strange paradox,” Mr. Johnson said in an interview. “Why not face the
realities of your culture honestly and fairly?”

His movie casts our disingenuousness about wealth in a new light, but
then again, so do Ms. Hilton’s misadventures in the Ozarks. Are her
exhibitionist efforts to go native on an Arkansas farm any less
ridiculous than those of rich men purporting to be hayseeds while
campaigning for president among the livestock in Iowa? At least Paris
Hilton doesn’t want to run the country — not yet, anyway.

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