Virtue-signaling texts from your $100 million yacht no longer impress, they enrage.
For the past five decades, celebrities and other wealthy folks have sought conventional status signifiers / symbols: a couple hundred thousand acres of ranchland, a luxe bug-out bunker in New Zealand, a private islet in the Caribbean, a winery, a mega-million dollar yacht, a hip bistro in Manhattan or Santa Monica, a sprawling mansion, and so on.
The more civic-minded mega-millionaires donated enough dough to a university to get a building named after them (modesty is my middle name, etc.), funded a children’s hospital or donated some of their couple hundred thousand acres of land to the Nature Conservancy or equivalent mainstream environmental group.
Now that the bogus “prosperity” of past 20 years has imploded, the nation is slip-sliding into the Greater Depression, and one consequence is that all these signifiers of obscene narcissism and ahem, privilege, will increasingly be viewed with extreme prejudice. (Look it up, along with the film Apocalypse Now.)
Put another way, all these signifiers of obscene narcissism will be, at a minimum, dÃ©classÃ©, veering perilously close to gauche embarrassment.
Those $100 plates at the celeb’s bistro and $90 bottles of wine at the celeb’s winery may be chump-change to the top-5-percenter customers anxious to be seen in your establishment, but they’re a whole day’s pay or more to those with real jobs in the real American economy.
In the Great Depression, fantasy films about debonair, witty millionaires were viewed as escapist fare. (For example, The Thin Man who-dunnits). In the far more brittle and polarized Greater Depression we’re entering, extremes of wealth and privilege will be more likely to spark outrage.
Once the tone-deaf celebs and super-wealthy awaken to this change in the zeitgeist, they will stage a land-rush into socially approved signifiers that will be designed to win the praise of social-media influencers while subtly distancing the celebs and super-wealthy from merely wealthy wannabe’s. (Creating that class distinction is of course the entire point of status symbols: only the truly wealthy can afford it.
Merely donating cash or land and showing up once a year to fake participation will no longer cut it. Celebs and the wealthy who want to score status points are going to have to actually get involved, not to run the world or generate philanthro-capitalist propaganda, but actually do something real that locals appreciate as genuine.
In other words, ditch the winery, private island and the named campus building and start running a homeless hotel, upscale soup kitchen, etc., where regular people will see you doing something useful, not once a year but regularly and with sincerity.
The ante will go up to set oneself apart from the run-of-the-mill narcissistic wealthy. Virtue-signaling texts from your $100 million yacht no longer impress, they enrage.