A $300,000 ring. Every woman’s dream, right?
Then I did. Maybe it was a bad call.
I was hoping for a little Housewife action. (Hey. It’s relaxing.)
But no dice.
Cue the $340,000 ring discussion, courtesy of Shahs of Sunset, which I don’t follow.
Apparently, one of the characters was saddened that he couldn’t afford a $340,000 engagement ring for his woman, and he was dismayed that he had to choose an offering in the $25,000 range.
When More is Never Enough
Not long after, as I was puttering in the kitchen, I hear him comparing what he doesn’t have – materially – to what his buddies do: their big houses, cars, and expensive lifestyle.
He needed to “get going.” He needed “more.”
More. It’s an interesting concept in American culture. Is there ever enough “more?” Enough bling? Enough square footage? Enough cars? Just how much money does it take to feel rich?
Hey, I love my shoes and my books and my pretty pencil skirts, but I know when “more” is too much! How is it that a man looking at $25,000 diamond rings to pop the question is feeling distressed over his circumstances?
I don’t live in Los Angeles, home of the Shahs of Sunset. I am fully aware that the cost of living is sky high compared to most of the rest of the country. Ditto on Manhattan, where I also don’t reside. This show – like everything else on Reality TV – is not reflective of the reality that most of us live with. And yet… the issue of more, always more, and never enough is a running theme that seems to fascinate us.
Remember “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous?” Reality TV is Robin Leach cloned and on steroids, with all of us increasingly affected by measurement of “self” against a yardstick of “stuff.”
Keeping Up with the Joneses… and the Kardashians… and
I can’t say that I never cared about keeping up with the Joneses, but I do care about education, about health, about books and art. I care about travel, conversation – experiences.
I care about the people I love and the way I parent. I don’t need to keep up with the Joneses or the Kardashians or the Shahs of Sunset – or anyone else.
I don’t need more. I don’t want more. And I know what “enough” consists of: paying my bills, having good medical care (that I can afford), a little in the bank, my sons well and able to pursue what they care about.
I want less stuff – and more time. Time with friends, time to read, time to write, time to walk, time to travel, time to sleep!
Sure, I’m not at the acquisitional stage, and I once was. I think of it as the thirties and early forties. We’re building, we feel like we’re building, and to a degree, we’re defining ourselves in the process. 10 years later? Especially if our kids are out of the nest? We just may realize that “stuff” can tie us down and hold us back, when we really crave freedom, experiences and achievements with meaning.
Cultural Values, Vicious Cycles, the Income Gap
A recent article in the New York Times Business Section gives us another perspective on our preoccupation with accumulation.
In “The Vicious Cycle of Income Equality,” Cornell professor of Economics Robert H. Frank provides a societal view of income inequality that I find fascinating. He reminds us that the proverbial “rags to riches” story frequently cycles back to rags again, over the course of three generations.
The first (often immigrant) generation builds, the second may reinforce wealth further or simply sit on it, and the third tends to squander it or allow its value to seep away. New endeavors are begun (by new entrants into the economy); they in turn create value and thus, wealth – theoretically – doesn’t remain in the same hands forever.
However, according to Professor Frank, over the past 40 years:
… new forces are causing inequality to feed on itself…
… the higher incomes of top earners have been shifting consumer demand in favor of goods whose value stems from the talents of other top earners… Wealthy people don’t choose just any architects, artists, lawyers, plastic surgeons, heart specialists or cosmetic dentists. They seek out the best, and the most expensive, practitioners in each category… So as the rich get richer, the talented people they patronize get richer, too. Their spending, in turn, increases the incomes of other elite practitioners, and so on.
Reality TV Meets Economic Influence?
As Professor Frank speaks to the dwindling middle class and “rags to riches” leaving more Americans in rags, I consider the cultural values reflected in my glimpses of Reality TV. I’m reminded of driving through the many neighborhoods in my area once filled with charm, as I eye the McMansions, the shiny new cars, or overhear the discussion of two women at the next table in Starbucks, as I ponder the rocks on their fingers that are either fakes – or cost what I spend on my mortgage… over the course of three or four years.
We are capable of saying “this is enough.” Sure, we’d like to know our kids are taken care of and maybe have a little something after we’re gone to set them up. What we can leave behind – and model while we’re here – is a legacy of caring, of contributing, and yes, of building. That includes enterprise and wealth, but enterprise and wealth needn’t dehumanize 99% of the population or 80% of the population or 46% of the population or any percent of the population.
More Common Sense?
There will always be differences – gaps, if you will. We get that. It’s logical. What isn’t logical is the gargantuan scale we see today, as these gaps in opportunity, income and lifestyle continue to grow at an inconceivable pace.
Last evening, I turned the television off. I did a little work. I had a meeting in another time zone. I was grateful for my technology.
Then I read emails from my younger son, now overseas for a semester of study. Getting him to his destination and affording this program – coming up with the extra dollars (beyond his scholarship and loans) – was a challenge. We’re finding a way to manage it, because this is his wealth that I can help to pass along.
More experience. More learning. More common sense.
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