Yeah, maybe. But it’s not, we assume. We live in Australia. When it comes to the ostentatious rich we assume the very worst.
I’d just like him to be able to overhear the thought-bubbles that float through the air as he drives along Parramatta Road. “Inspiring young scientist”? Unlikely.
Maybe it’s different elsewhere. The latest fad on the internet is the #FallingStars meme, in which rich young people take photographs of themselves as if they have just fallen out of an expensive car, or plane, or boat. Their luxury possessions spill from their pockets or their handbag as they land. It’s become popular in a handful of countries – Russia, China, Singapore, the US.
The young rich kids end up lying in a sea of artfully displayed expensive items. Here is a wad of cash; here a Hermes handbag; here some Jimmy Choo shoes. The photos, it should be said, look fantastic: colourful, beguiling, sexy even.
The idea is to embrace your wealth. Show it off. Be Rich and Proud. It’s an explicit rejection of the traditional idea that if people are well off, the least they can do is to be discreet about it.
I’ve certainly seen that old money culture in action. A few decades back, I was the Herald’s correspondent in London. Occasionally, a story would require me to interview a member of the British aristocracy, or at very least the landed gentry.
I loved the way their carpet was often threadbare and – despite living in some huge mansion – their kitchen would be equipped with the second-cheapest brand in every category. It was common to see a bottle of “home brand” pickle sitting atop a 15th century oak cabinet, or some cheap flagon wine nestled beneath a Gainsborough painting.
In one of my pieces for the Herald, I called it the “threadbare carpet index” – claiming I could accurately plot someone’s aristocratic pedigree from the degree of wear and tear on the hall runner. The more tragic the carpet, the longer the aristocratic lineage.
The more tragic the carpet, the longer the aristocratic lineage.
Sometimes, I’d note with glee, they even sported leather patches on the elbows of their jackets, as if life were a daily choice between new clothes and the plumbing in the west wing.
Some will say that attitude contained its own pretension, its own ridiculousness. If you have millions, why stint on the pickle? Why patch your jacket? Perhaps it was ridiculous. But I preferred it.
The new meme – #FallingStars – is the opposite idea. It’s the notion that the correct use of wealth is as a stick to beat others. To me, its emergence seems to me like a rallying cry for revolution. Bring out the tumbrils.
It reminded me of Jerry Seinfeld’s routine about first class air travellers. He imagined the flight crew flipping the little curtain back and making an announcement to the people in economy: “Maybe if you had tried a little harder …”.
I was never sure about Seinfeld and his politics, but for me the joke was this: few people acknowledge how much luck was involved in their accumulation of wealth.
America has a president who presents himself as a self-made man, even though – as The New York Times recently proved – his father bank-rolled him into success. In Australia, people in top positions often come from families accustomed to top positions.
Even those whose success is based on nothing more than hard work, intelligence and good values never seem to acknowledge that even these are based on luck – the happy combination of good genes, intelligence, a loving family.
The self-made man, as someone said, always worships his creator.
Those UK aristocrats, in whose kitchens I sat, fiddling with a packet of “no label” salt, may be comical to some. I still believe they were better than a spoilt rich kid, sprawled on the ground, their family’s money on display.
Not only do I prefer the British aristos. I follow their example each time I go to the supermarket. In every category, I choose the second cheapest, because “I’m worth it”.
Except for the car. Most of the time, on Parramatta Road, it really is the cheapest.
Richard Glover is the author of 12 books, including the prize-winning memoir “Flesh Wounds”. He presents “Drive” on 702 ABC Sydney and the comedy program “Thank God It’s Friday” on ABC local radio. For more: www.richardglover.com.au