The Subtle Domestic Tension of the Netflix Queue
Two or three years ago, Brian asked me to add movies I want to see to our (then quite short) Netflix queue. So I sat down and thought of all the movies I want to see and added about 20 movies. One of them was a film that I was really interested in seeing, called "Born Rich": it's a documentary by Jamie Johnson, one of the heirs to the Johnson&Johnson fortune. When I put it on the queue, I probably set it at about #3. But mysteriously, over the years, "Born Rich" kept sliding down, while movies like "Remo Williams the Adventure Begins" somehow slithered up to the top, and into my mailbox, and into my DVD player, and out the speakers, so I had to hide in the other room until it was quite done with itself. (At least Remo made his way in and out of our house in few days... The record-holder for squatting was "The Last King of Scotland," which arrived by post about five months ago, and which we finally watched two nights ago.)
But as I am beginning my second (okay, 5th, but the first three don't count, they were practice) novel before I am even done with my first (4th), and that novel concerns itself with rich kids (a subject I have more experience with than I should), the film finally reached the status of legitimate research for my vocation (vox, vocis - L. voice), and I demanded it be put at the top of the queue, and even ran it on the DVD player against objections, which is a complete first, by the way.
The film feels a little amateurish, which isn't surprising since Jamie Johnson had never made a film before, and since he had very few people to work with, very few people willing to talk about themselves, their families, and their wealth. (It's just "tacky," as at least one of them said.) But it still has its interesting moments -- like Trump's daughter recounting how, when her father was billions in debt, he showed her a homeless man and told her that that man has billions more than him. Head high she said that is why she is so proud to be his daughter, because he came back from that. Later, she has a fit because someone once asked her "what's it like to be rich and not have any problems?" -- "How could anyone be so stupid and so ignorant?!" she spat. Indeed.
Contrasted with moments like that (and worse) are things like the absolute alienation the heir to the Conde Nast fortune feels from his entire family, his constant fear of being "cut off" for wearing the wrong shoes, and his diligent attempts to live the normal life of a normal college student. Or the lifelong disorientation of the heir to the Vanderbilt/Whitney fortune, who is still angry that, at a young age, one of his uncles took him around New York and showed him all the things that were "his" -- like Grand Central Station. "How could you do that to a child?" he asks -- then recounts the two best years of his life, working with roughnecks on a Texas oil drill (where he was, he admitted, an odd fish -- but liked).
What the movie reminded me most of, though, was a story I heard a long, long time ago about a very handsome actor who nonetheless tended to date people who were not good-looking but who were interesting -- because, his friends said, being good-looking came so easily to him, that he knew it didn't mean anything, he knew you either lucked into it or didn't. He was looking for people who'd actually worked on themselves.
Some of these rich kids have the same perspective on being rich: they know it doesn't mean anything, and they seem almost to run away from it a little. But others are exactly what you'd expect of a "beautiful person" who only wants to be around other "beautiful people": remorseless snobs who see their wealth as a sign of inherent superiority. They seem to either feel sad or be sad. And, as Happy Bunny would say, that's sad.
It is the best argument for the Estate Tax I've ever seen.