Mick Jagger, Rolling Stones, Macau
Mick Jagger performing with the Rolling Stones in Macau. Photo credit: Orient´Adicta / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

If You’ve Got It, Flaunt It — and F*** the Planet!

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A recent piece in The New Yorker detailed how famous musicians are willing to play at any corporate event, birthday, or bar mitzvah, as long as the money is right.

This is quite a turnaround from the days of anti-establishment rockers thumbing their noses at their corporate bosses. Now they kiss the hands that feed them, and swallow their pride along with the lobster and sushi in the green room. The holdouts are the exceptions to the rule: Bruce Springsteen, Taylor Swift, and AC/DC are mentioned. But the Rolling Stones are available for your corporate shindig or engagement party, and Beyoncé recently performed an exclusive gig at a Saudi hotel for a reported $24 million.

The Saudis have also co-opted the golf world, snapping up the PGA instead of fighting it (or rather, the PGA took the money instead of fighting the Saudis). Manchester City recently won both the FA Cup and UEFA League Championship. It’s amazing what a little soccer team can do when Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan puts $1.8 billion into it.

Online influencers flout their coin. Not long ago Kylie Jenner posted a photo of her kissing her boyfriend Travis on a tarmac between two large private jets. The caption read, “You wanna take mine or yours?” The post was liked over 7 million times.

Conspicuous wealth has become something of a cultural touchstone. I remember this happening in the ’80s when Reagan heralded a decade of conspicuous gaudy flamboyance, with Donald Trump as its team mascot, but this is in-your-face avarice on steroids. As the late Christopher Hitchens once said, “Nobody is more covetous or greedy than those who have far too much.”

When I was a kid in the late ’60s, it was people like Henry David Thoreau who were revered for teaching us how to live “deliberately.” Crosby, Stills and Nash told us “we got to get ourselves back to the garden” and Joni Mitchell famously lamented that they’d “paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” Now Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, and Adam Carolla all have their own personal parking garages, and John Travolta has a private runway for his seven jets.

But with the humbling of the planet, when we’re all supposed to be aware of our carbon footprint and get back on our bikes (if not to the garden), what’s with all the new ringa-ding-bling?

Even the supposed “environmental activist” Leonardo DiCaprio has five homes, two condos, and an island. He likes to travel on other people’s private jets and yachts (though he made a point of flying commercial to the COP26).

People aren’t apologizing for their money anymore.

The GOP presidential contenders include at least three megamillionaires. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, who recently announced his White House bid, built a software company that he sold for over $1 billion, though he doesn’t like being called a billionaire. Trump likes being called one, despite probably not actually being one. Vivek Ramaswamy is reportedly worth upwards of $600 million.

Until his purchase of Twitter exposed him as a right-wing crank, Elon Musk was largely considered some kind of radical billionaire pirate, a real-life Tony Stark. But the man who wants to save the planet with electric cars owns two Gulfstream jets and has an LA property portfolio worth $70 million.

Please Donate to WhoWhatWhyCrypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried was the face of effective altruism (EA) before he was arrested for bank fraud. He’d claimed that he’d been “thinking a lot about, you know, bed nets and malaria, about, you know, saving people from diseases no one should die from.”

Part of his success at getting people to invest in his cryptocurrency exchange FTX (once valued at $32 billion) was the promise that they were helping you do good along with making you piles of cash, essentially selling you a clean capitalist conscience. Of course it turned out to be a total con, like the ritzy fundraiser that seems to send more money to the tent rental company than the charity it’s supposedly supporting.

But it’s not just their bank accounts that some people want scrubbed of perceived imperfections, it’s their young faces too.

The Washington Post has reported that people in their 20s are having cosmetic surgery and then boasting about it on TikTok — the Posting of the Vanities. Botox, cheek fillers, breast augmentation — being naturally young isn’t good enough for them, they want to be artificially enhanced and then prolong their prefab youth.

I’ve previously written about how billionaires want to live forever — the literal last word in flaunting wealth — but young people worrying about aging is a new development. And though teenagers have always had anxieties about their looks, they haven’t previously insisted on parading their supposed beauty to thousands of complete strangers.

Is this pervasive first-world decadence a reaction to — and rejection of — the planet’s ills? A lot of people may appreciate Greta Thunberg’s demands to combat climate change, but the top three Google searches for her are: “Is Greta Thunberg a billionaire?,” “How much does Greta Thunberg make in a year?,” and “Does Greta Thunberg drive a car?”

That’s like wanting to know if Mahatma Gandhi owned a sitar-shaped swimming pool.

It’s bad enough flaunting your own wealth, but assuming that anyone else with a high profile is only in it for the Benjamins is, as the saying goes, a bit rich.

Nero supposedly fiddled while Rome burned, but Sir Rod Stewart is available to warble for you and your mates while the whole planet sizzles. To paraphrase R.E.M., it’s the end of the world as we know it, and certain people want you to know that they’re feeling just fine. 


J.B. Miller is an American writer living in England, and is the author of My Life in Action Painting and The Satanic Nurses and Other Literary Parodies.


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