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Monday, January 19, 2004
By Paul Ford
How the other 0.1% lives.
“You talk a lot about class,” said a friend of mine. “It seems like something that matters to you.”
I do talk about it. It's not simply who has more money or less—that's a rich person's game—but the fact that America seems to be going backwards. Paris Hilton is the best example: suddenly, it's okay to be fascinated with society again, with people whose only notable quality is that they are rich, and dedicated to the pursuit of folly. Of course, this being a modern era, we've leavened our society columns with eye-rolling irony—it's fun to feel superior to someone who has such a remarkable life, all that privilege and sex, the constant pursuit by photographers, the ability to do whatever she wants, a woman who has never sat in a cubicle. We can all laugh together: put Paris and her heroin-addicted pal in with lower middle-class people, and watch the fun.
Rich kids went out and got publicists, and now we're treated to deep insight into the lives of the wealthy, all available on a far more regular basis in documentary and televised form than at any point during my 29 years. And it comes on the tail of endless reports of growing wage disparity between the rich and everyone else. It's everywhere; the government has shifted from Clinton's Horatio Alger story to the Prodigal Son Bush Administration. The dollar is weak, good in the short term, but borrowing against the future. We're going to have a boom at any cost. No one complains, no one legislates.
Meanwhile society has returned, and goes by on litters. It's a different mix than the old-school protocols of The House of Mirth, and the names are (mostly) changed; Vanderbilts abide, but Astors are faded away. And they're ascendant: dozens of rich kids are staring in jealousy at Paris and wondering how they too can turn their trust funds into international celebrity (the only currency really worth something). More are coming, I'm sure, trading a look at their privilege in for fame. But just a look.
My good lefty friends tell me that they're ready to leave America if Bush gets re-elected, and while I know it's mostly rhetoric, all I can think is, for shame, you fair-weather bastards, Martin Luther King didn't leave, Malcolm X didn't leave, Harriet Tubman didn't leave, Susan B. Anthony didn't leave, Samuel Gompers didn't leave, Frederick Douglass didn't leave. The reason the country is worth a tinker's damn, the reason it is still a great country, is that people stayed, whined, yelled, and voted.
I sit around feeling that we are truly and deeply fucked, fucked by glitter. On the plus side, demonstrations against the Republican National Convention have already started in Manhattan. I missed the first one, but the next one is an option. Nothing makes me feel better than staying, whining, yelling, and voting.