Greed and Hustle Have Become Virtues: While many of us believe in honest work, we also see that wealth is mostly acquired via hustles and scams, and so we relate to stories that validate this

Why We Like to Watch Rich People

INTRODUCTION

Several Academy Award contenders like “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “American Hustle” glorify white-collar criminals and scammers, and many reality TV shows embrace the wealthy, too. A new series, “#RichKids of Beverly Hills,” is the latest example of our enthusiasm for “ogling the filthy rich.” Why are we so obsessed with watching the antics of the 1 percent?

Greed and Hustle Have Become Virtues

Bruce E. Levine is a clinical psychologist who writes and speaks on how society, culture, politics and psychology intersect. His most recent book is “Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated and Battling the Corporate Elite.”

UPDATED JANUARY 16, 2014, 8:48 PM

The lives of the outlandishly rich are so unreal and so bizarre for most of us that watching their self-indulgence, careless spending and decadence can be an escape from the unpleasant reality of our own constant money worries.And while many of us believe that the American Dream of rags to riches through honest hard work still exists, our experience tells us that far more common is wealth acquired via hustles and scams — both illegal ones and legal — and so we relate to stories that validate our experience.

While many of us believe in honest work, we also see that wealth is mostly acquired via hustles and scams, and so we relate to stories that validate this.

Greed is now normal in our increasingly “money-centric” society, one in which money is at the center of virtually all thoughts, decisions and activities. While money has always been a big deal in America, greed was once seen as the practice of the spiritually sick — such as Mr. Potter from “It’s a Wonderful Life.” But today, greed is seen as both normal and acceptable by the mass media and mainstream politicians.

The novelist Ayn Rand

championed money-centrism, selfishness and greed; and at her funeral, in accordance with her request, a six-foot floral arrangement in the shape of a dollar sign was placed near her casket. Rand’s admirers include Alan Greenspan, Clarence Thomas, Paul Ryan and many other elected officials.

And greed is acceptable not just for Republicans. In 2010, when asked about Goldman Sachs C.E.O. Lloyd Blankfein’s $9 million bonus and JPMorgan Chase C.E.O. Jamie Dimon’s $17 million bonus, President Obama responded: “First of all, I know both those guys. They’re very savvy businessmen. And I, like most of the American people, don’t begrudge people success or wealth.”

Having a president who is unembarrassed to “know both those guys” makes it even easier for Americans to feel unembarrassed for being obsessed by wealthy hustlers.

Schadenfreude TV

Alyssa Rosenberg is a features editor and critic for ThinkProgress and the television columnist for “Women and Hollywood.”

UPDATED JANUARY 16, 2014, 8:48 PM

America’s fascination with the ill-behaved rich, expressed in both reality television and this year in many movies that are contending for major awards, isn’t limited to the current recession. But the particular incarnation of our fascination seems intended to do something very specific: help us manage our covetousness, at a time when even basic financial security feels out of reach for many people.

It’s been fascinating to watch Bravo, which more than any other network drove the idea that programming should be “aspirational,” shift its brand from shows like “Project Runway” and “Top Chef,” which taught viewers about fashion and food, toward reality programming about the rich.

The purchasing power of the people who appear on the “Real Housewives” franchise may be enviable. But part of the appeal of those shows is the opportunity to judge their casts’ consumption choices and their conduct. If we had their money, we think, we wouldn’t spend it on hideous hotel suites and closets full of wigs. And when it turns out that Teresa Giudice, a star on “The Real Housewives of New Jersey,” is financing her lifestyle on debt and fraud, we can congratulate ourselves for not sharing her desperation to appear wealthy.

When rich people we actually envy turn out to be criminals, the idea that wealth is inherently corrupting helps take the sting out of our envy. Gordon Gekko may have declared that “greed is good” in the movie “Wall Street,” but by chasing his example, Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen’s character in the film) contributes to his father’s heart attack and earns himself a prison sentence, examples that help us map the limits of what we’d do for more money. We tell ourselves that we’d never be as pathetic or myopic as the heroine of “Blue Jasmine,” who ruins her own life by marrying a scammer. And we’d never be so foolish, as the titular hero of “The Great Gatsby,” remade again this summer by Baz Luhrmann, to think that wealth, no matter how it’s acquired, can purchase class, or ease, or revise personal history.

We may never stop wanting money, the worries it eliminates and the ease it can bring. But pop culture can issue very effective reminders that we value things like our freedom and our self-respect just as much.

A Fictional Barrier Is Healthier

Farnoosh Torabi is a personal finance expert and television personality. She is also the author of “Psych Yourself Rich” and the forthcoming “When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women.” She is on Twitter.

UPDATED JANUARY 16, 2014, 8:48 PM

Long before reality TV, I remember watching the fiercely decorated women of “Dynasty” plot and prance around their big, fancy mansions. Later in my tween and teenage years, my interest turned to soap operas. My favorite: the chic, sun-kissed cast of “Santa Barbara.” Soaps offered an entertaining escape to where budgeting constraints and bad hair days didn’t exist, where we could see how the “rich” lived, and experience — even if just for an hour a day — a part of their fictional lives that seemed vastly more exciting than our own. I, along with millions of other devoted viewers, aspired to emulate their lives in minor ways via shoulder pads and tanning, but did the programs really shape our perceptions of true wealth and success? Not really. After all, these shows were just make-believe.

Years later, reality hits like Bravo’s “Real Housewives” series and E’s “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” continue to capitalize on our curiosity for wealthy living but with a potentially troublesome twist: presenting “real” people and their V.I.P. lives that seem filled with designer labels, exclusive vacations and personal chefs.

It’s extreme and all for show, but I fear some viewers are falsely making the connection between the materialism and trivial plot lines and what it really means to be and act wealthy. Without a clear fictional barrier, like the one I had in Krystle Carrington (played by the singular Linda Evans), viewer aspirations could become misguided and even delusional. In today’s age of YouTube success and overnight stardom, it’s easy for many of us to feel, more than ever, that it is possible to become “just like them.” This aspiration fuels the billion-dollar market of reality star merchandise sold every year. From magazines to books, perfumes, clothing, vodkas and even ready-made cocktail lines, reality stars are cashing in on their believing fans.

Especially at risk are the impressionable 18- to 29-year-olds who are largely tuning in and spending whatever time and little money they have to feel more aligned with their favorite reality stars. Many young adults are watching from their parents’ living rooms or basements, longing for the day they can live independently. This group is struggling to find work or, perhaps, stringing together a few part-time jobs to make ends meet. Others are saddled with insurmountable debt. Taking a break to watch the Kardashian sisters fight over, say, a missing Birkin bag from Kim’s closet, is at best, some escapism. At worst, it sends the message that when you’re rich, you, too, can afford to be neglectful of a $25,000 handbag. Isn’t wealth fun?

When it comes to achieving and maintaining true wealth, we need to work better on the message we send to the world, especially young adults. Being truly rich is not that sexy, at least not all the time, as these produced and edited shows would like us to believe. Instead, real wealth takes hard, hard work. It is being and feeling financially secure, having ample savings to support your family in good times and in bad. It means investing wisely and delaying gratification. It means being comfortable with who you are and making efforts to give back to the world. In the end, I suppose true wealth entails a lot of boring stuff that wouldn’t score high in the ratings, but nevertheless, it is what’s important and real.

Wealthy Reality Stars Humanize Black Women

Evette Dionne tells stories about race, fashion and culture at Bustle, The Root,theGrio and other publications.

UPDATED JANUARY 16, 2014, 8:48 PM

Black women are a cash cow for cable networks. Millions of us tune in to Bravo, VH1, WE TV and the other networks that have invested in reality television franchises. It is a mutually beneficial relationship. We drive ratings, and in exchange, the networks give us a rare chance to see black women humanized in the media.

Yandy Smith, star of “Love & Hip-Hop New York,” is a prime example. Her son’s father is incarcerated in federal prison. It’s an all-too-familiar situation for themore than 800,000 prisoners who’ve left behind children under the age of 18. Smith is attempting to balance single motherhood, a booming career, her fiancée’s imprisonment and her own well-being. Black women see Smith as a superwoman under duress, and many of us empathize with her because we are her.

Yet, the luxurious lifestyles displayed on reality television are in stark contrast to the average black woman’s life. Outside of Oprah Winfrey, Beyonce Knowles-Carter and Michelle Obama, there are few black women in the 1 percent. In fact, there are only 35,000 black millionaires in the United States and only six black billionaires in the world, according to Dennis Kimbro’s book on the subject, “The Wealth Choice: Success Secrets of Black Millionaires.”

Reality television starlets present a different side of the economic coin with their million-dollar homes and expensive handbags. However, many of these women are struggling to maintain their lifestyles in a sluggish economic recovery. Porsha Williams (formerly Stewart), star of “Real Housewives of Atlanta,” is struggling after a divorce from Kordell Stewart, a retired N.F.L. player. In a recent episode, Williams spent $3,500 on one pair of fabulous pumps. There’s nothing wrong with splurging, except Williams was living with her mother and her sole income was a monthly $5,000 alimony check. Multitudes of black women can relate. However, the luck and pluck of some reality television stars can give us hope that our current financial realities aren’t always permanent. Meeting the right casting director at the right time can elevate our tax bracket, like it did for Nene Leakes, another Atlanta housewife.

The average black woman can live vicariously through the housewives of Atlanta, basketball wives of Miami and hip-hop lovers of New York. Reality television lets us see the humanity of other women of color, even if their fancy lives will never be ours.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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