Recently, comedian Eddie Griffin wrecked a Ferrari during a charity event. He didn’t wreck it in the politely-exchange-insurance, call-you-at-the-office manner; rather, it was in a full-fledged, grade A class 1 totaling beyond repair manner. He walked away without a scratch, thank goodness. This rather unfortunate even would perhaps only merit a vague mention in two months’ time in the Celebrity Poop inside jacket column in the Sunday supplement, except that this particular make of Ferrari was worth $1.5 million dollars. Perhaps I should have bolded that. $1.5 million dollars. Three things should be apparent at this point:
1) A rich person’s idea of charity is to race cars worth over a million dollars, despite the overwhelming evidence that the only point in racing cars is hoping that at some point someone is going to wreck.
2) The charity was in the form of a car race, since car races are a traditional form of fundraising, oh, and, by the way, Redline, a movie about rich men who race expensive cars for kicks and wagers, starring Eddie Griffin, comes out April 13th.
3) The car was being driven by someone whose sole experience in racing is limited to driving Undercover Brother to the cheap bin at the Wal Mart.
The entire episode is strangely ingratiating. The movie they were promoting was about bored rich billionaires who race their expensive cars around, and there was a wreck because…a bunch of bored billionaires were racing their cars around. It’s life imitating art, though in this case it’s more like staged Hollywood produced media event imitating a staged Hollywood produced media event. Though in real life, I’m assuming Nadia Bjorlin went home alone that night.
Charity or no, there is something fetchingly alarming about rich people pissing their money away. Now, I fancy myself a pretty hardcore off-the-chart free marketeer, one who equates the celestial paradise somewhere along the lines of a rather sadomasochistic Ayn Randian eBaying of commerce and government services. What people do with the money they earn is of no business of mine. But some days, surveying what rich people do with their money makes me want to rally the masses, grab a Spanish double-loaded rifle, and march the proletariat straight to Tiananmen Square, with me in the tank sitting on a crate full of little red books and bread vouchers.
Stories of the nouveau riche’s pecuniary excesses are hardly a new phenomenon. Tales of ancient Rome are rife with decadent Senators, libertines, and future members of Harvard School of Business. And the media absolutely loves to report on these stories because people love to listen to them, and think, “Yeah, I might not make the mortgage payment this month, and I may be doing a criminally negligent job saving for my daughter’s college education, but at least I didn’t spend eight thousand dollars on a Hungarian swan display for my nephew’s bar mitzvah.”
Recent displays of conspicuous consumption aren’t all that hard to find. Probably the most recent tale of excess was that of convicted Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowki. He was convicted, in part, due to his wife’s week-long birthday party, cleverly disguised as a “shareholder meeting.” Among an embarrassingly long list of crimes, one of them was somehow hornswaggling the company into paying for half of what can charitably be called the single greatest depraved orgy even organized by mankind in the last ten centuries. The party itself was an almost picture perfect demonstration of decadence at its best, rife with hired oily gladiators, ice sculptures peeing vodka, cakes formed into the shape of a set of breasts (along with a festive set of strategically placed sparklers!), and a rather cavalier attitude towards the Greek jurisdictional interpretation of adultery. (I got a $20 gift certificate to the Eat ‘N’ Park on my birthday, by the way.)
There doesn’t seem to be a considerable difference in the behavior of businessmen versus celebrities in this particular regard. One might plausibly expect celebrities to acquire money, then find new and creative ways to blow it out their honeyhole. Businessmen, on the other hand, tend to at least pick up some of the financial lessons necessary to get rich in the first place, such as “buying pastries in the shape of barnyard animals may be a fun diversion, but if the markup is 60,000%, perhaps there is a better allocation of funds to be found.” But apparently not necessarily. For every Michael Jackson who buys giraffes like most people buy DVDs, there’s a package on the doorstep of Tyco International with a $6,000 shower curtain in it.
Sometimes, the amount of wealth wasted is subtler. Or, rather, they waste it with “good intentions,” which is code words for “they don’t know what the hell they’re doing.” Donald Trump routinely throws money away every few years in an established money trap known as “marriage.” And George Soros’s own extravagance should not go passed unnoticed, since he contributed around $23 million in the political equivalent of a fantasy sports league.
Griffin’s limited foray into expensive waste seems doubly distressing. His wealth is closer to the Andy Richter There-By-the-Grace-of-God-Go-I end of the scale as opposed to the Warren Buffet end. But one has to think about the super rich in this world. If someone of Griffin’s modest wealth is out wrecking million dollar cars…what exactly are they going to destroy?