Rich is the new asshole
I’m confessing my TV shame: I like, nay, I kind of actually love, the show Revenge. Some of it is Emily VanCamp—I’ve always liked her. But mostly it’s that Revenge is campy, soapy fun, and it airs on Wednesdays so it’s perfect mid-week escapism. Also, it’s about rich people getting screwed which is now the #1 fantasy of all people everywhere.
Revenge follows Emily Thorne, a young woman—herself ludicrously privileged—exacting revenge on the Hamptons set that falsely accused her father and wrecked her family (very loosely based on The Count of Monte Cristo). That Emily is part of this jet-set crew doesn’t seem to matter—Revenge is one of the better debuts this fall and a lot of people are attributing it to average Americans getting a kick out of watching rich people get ruined on a weekly basis.
(Sidebar: Revenge, though filmed in North Carolina, is set during a Hamptons summer replete with polo matches and scenic yacht harbors, and I asked my friend JJ, who is Monopoly rich, if his family vacations in the Hamptons. He got this look on his face like he smelled spoiled milk and said, with complete and hilarious seriousness, “Only new money goes to the Hamptons.”)
There’s definitely a trend in entertainment these days that the rich have become the new short-hand for “villain”. Revenge, the sitcom 2 Broke Girls, in which one of the broke girls is the disenfranchised daughter of a Madoff-type, and the upcoming Tower Heist with Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy, all use this uniquely post-economic-meltdown language. I think the rich have always been an easy target, but lately there’s a sort of shorthand that’s developed for these characters. Words like “hedge fund” and “bailout” get tossed around with no exposition because we all know what they mean. Tell me a character works on Wall Street and I’m assuming s/he is a greedy asshole and the villain of the piece.
There’s always been a bad guy vernacular—first it was the Nazis, next the Russians, then terrorists—but this trend has an edge of schadenfreude I’ve not noticed before. Revenge is about watching a different rich person eat it every week. 2 Broke Girls draws humor from watching a spoiled daughter of privilege learn to do things like ride the subway and wait tables. And Tower Heist is about employees ripped off by their retirement fund money manager stealing their money back. It doesn’t take a genius to see where this is coming from. People are suffering—if you yourself haven’t been touched by the economic crisis then someone you know has—and there’s no real relief on the horizon. The best we’ve got is an upcoming election starring a bunch of, well, rich people. The anger is increasingly palpable and it’s beginning to seep into every facet of daily life. First it dominates the news, then the dinner table, now it’s in our movies and on TV.
Saying the rich are the bad guys isn’t enough anymore. No, we must see them suffer for our entertainment. And I don’t see that ending any time soon.