New York Times “Room for Debate Question”: “Why We Like to Watch Rich People: Why do American television and movie audiences like to watch the antics and questionable behavior of the 1 percent?”
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 resonate 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 resonate 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.