All Hail The Dead Presidents
America has a class system based on wealth not hereditary title, which unlike other cultures, allows us to worship wealth, if not the wealthy.
By David Todd McCarty | Wednesday, August 27, 2020
“Americans do not hate the rich. Every American believes that they are the impending rich.”Fran Lebowitz
You’re sitting alone at an airport. A well put-together older man sits down next to you and makes a little polite small talk. He is charming, in that effortless way that exudes confidence without implying swagger. You engage politely before turning back to your book. He doesn’t really register, other than maybe a certain air of privilege, a slight accent you can’t quite place, but nothing overtly memorable. You are busy with your own thoughts, your own plans, and the characters in your book. The gentleman is not on your radar. You get up to get a bottle of water from a nearby kiosk and overhear someone talking about the man sitting next to you. He is, you learn, one of the richest men in the country. You’ve never heard of him. Never seen him before. He’s not famous. But suddenly, you are interested. Very interested.
When we speak of America’s royalty, you might be tempted to think of various celebrities, such as the Kardashians, LeBron James, Bruce Springsteen, Michelle Obama, Beyonce, or Tom Hanks. But while celebrities may be considered among our royalty, many are just famous. Just as there is a difference between a famous actor, and a movie star.
“The difference between a movie star and a movie actor is a movie star will say, ‘How can I change the script to suit me?’” explained the British actor Michael Caine. “While an actor will say, ‘How can I change me to suit the script?’”
Willem Defoe is a famous actor. Robert De Nero is a movie star.
Both those examples are men, this is true. That’s because in America, Adam Sandler is paid more than the highest paid female actor, and he’s only seventh. Scarlett Johansson is both an actor and a movie star, but she’s still paid less than the guy who played the lead in The Waterboy.
In America, it is said, that we worship celebrity and that is most certainly true, but so do most modern cultures. In the era of digital media, it is nearly impossible not to be affected by celebrity culture. But the example above, of the wealthy man in the airport, is an illustration of something much deeper in our collective psyche. Our fascination with wealth.
In Lauren Greenfield’s “Generation Wealth” project, a multi-platform the author and artist has been working on since 2008, she called it “the influence of affluence.”
Our national obsession with wealth, and the status that it brings, has fed into this existential angst about everything from our feelings of inadequacies in our Instagram feed, to electing a showboating, faux-rich, reality television star to the most powerful public office in the world.
In the scenario with the wealthy man in the airport. Why are we drawn to them? Do we really believe that they will find us so fascinating that they will decide to bankroll our latest fantasy project, or invite us to dinner with other fancy guests? Yes. That’s what we believe.
We might not believe it’s the most likely scenario, but we definitely believe there is at least an outside chance. It’s a bit like playing the lottery. We don’t actually think we will win, but we don’t believe we can’t either. It’s reminiscent of the scene in Dumb and Dumber, when Mary tells Lloyd that the chances of them getting together are a million to one, and he responds, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance.”
All you have to do is look at the Republican Party, with their carnival barker president and mail-order bride, to understand that the conservative movement in America has traded in their pretense of faith in God for that of wealth. Capitalism has long been the prayerbook from which they preached, but now they’ve turned from a casual affair with greed to mainlining it straight from the source. They’ve taken their long-held principles of small government, free trade and deregulation and stripped it down to a bank heist. Even the once pious Evangelical Christian community has turned the offering plate into a tax-haven for the morally craven.
Liberals are just as captivated with the idea of wealth, but are far better at masking their desire for untold riches. They may not be the hoarders that Conservatives are, but they would love nothing more than to be able to buy their own self-righteousness with an endless supply of dirty money.
It’s not actually a political affectation, but a cultural one. Let’s face it, Americans are whores.
We are painfully loud, unapologetically brash, unabashedly proud, morally flexible, sexually deviant, shamelessly prurient and and yet somehow prudishly pious. We are not the sophisticated Euro-trash call girl, we’re more like the whore next door, just off the bus from Kansas, ready and willing to please, but a little embarrassed to be here at all.
The truth is, America has lost whatever moral compass we once had as a nation. We are not simply divided as a country ideologically from a political point of view. We are inherently divided culturally, with a chasm so great, it’s hard to imagine anything that could bring us back together.
This isn’t because we are actually all that different from one another, but because there is simply too much money to be made from fanning the flames of social strife. America’s tribalism is a billion dollar industry and the people getting rich are not about to let the fight die.
The only hope for the future of American democracy, is to get corporate money out of politics, and get back to some semblance of representative government, where our public servants, serve the people and the ideals of democracy, and not the profits of greedy corporations.
The problem is that when you bring up the idea of making the rich pay, a significant portion of the population balks, not because they are rich, but because they hope to one day be rich. America’s collective psychosis isn’t logical, it’s dissociative from reality.
Most of us will never be rich, no matter what, so why support proposals that only benefit the rich? It’s like making dinner reservations at a fancy restaurant you can’t afford, based on the off chance that somehow before dinner, you might actually end up filthy rich.
Follow David Todd McCarty on Twitter @davidtmccarty and The Standard @capemaystandard