July 06, 2007

The Confidence Trick

AS LOYAL RANT READERS KNOW, I devote a good portion of my energy here on the site to discussing issues related to business, wealth and class issues. In large part, it is because I enjoy the thrill of the hunt. There's something I find deeply inspiring about the athletes who struggle for a shot at the big time, the businessmen who produce new ideas and new products, and the investors who seek profit in places seemingly incapable of supporting growth. Perhaps the best part about this is that, as a writer, I get to chronicle all these things without actually having to shoulder the responsibilities that go along with those efforts. After all, things can and do go wrong, and when they do they often turn out badly.

Of course, as with any human endeavor, there is an ugly side to this as well as a beautiful one. The unfortunate reality of life is that for every hundred businessmen who work hard at building their companies, there is one who turns out to be a rotten apple. For every hundred athletes striving for the big time, there is one who arrogantly collects a seven-figure paycheck whilst underperforming. And for every hundred success stories -- or at least every ten or twelve -- there is one rotten miscreant who spits in the punch bowl, ruining things for everyone.

This helps explain why The Rant holds such contempt and disdain for people like the Hilton family, whose inexcusable public behavior only serves to make things difficult for everyone else. But I can assure readers the Hiltons are not the only target of scorn and ridicule here. Oh, no. Every clown with more money than sense, and every wealthy spendthrift, and every gauche, inarticulate, half-educated pus-for-brains is equally as deserving of righteous condemnation.

It is in that spirit that I would note with disapproval a forthcoming book that hopes to capitalize on Americans' latest obsession: the moneyed but useless twit. This book, "The Official Filthy Rich Handbook," seeks to give readers advice on emulating the wretched dolts who flaunt their money in public, and thus guide them in how to act just like the people nobody else can stand. As if that wasn't enough, the publisher wants $10.95 for the bloody thing.

This, my friends, is an insult that cannot be borne.

So I daresay it would be a good idea to look at what exactly the book promises to explain in its description, and tell the entire Internet about it, in the hopes it will save someone somewhere their hard-earned $11. Before we begin, though, let's look at the book description from the publisher, the ironically-named Workman Publishing Co.:

In the spirit of The Official Preppy Handbook—the 1.3 million-copy bestseller that taught us all how to be top drawer—here is a dead-on, deadpan guide to living large in the land of plenty. Packed with wry insight and savvy, The Official Filthy Rich Handbook yanks the monogrammed pashmina off a world few mortals get to see. An actual instruction manual, this nuts-and-bolts guide (phone numbers included) feeds our endless fascination with the world of the loaded while offering practical instruction for those who aspire to join them.

The difference between a majordomo and a butler. The proper way to name your houses. Acceptable Privet Height: A Cautionary Tale. Meet your new peers in the Plutocrat Primer—including The Speculator, The Thrillionaire, The Moguless, The Heirhead—and the mooches and scoundrels to know and avoid. Cosmetic procedures for you and your children. The right spots to party in Sardinia, Aspen, Napa, St. Barts. Bodyguards—ex-Mossad vs. ex-NYPD. The Top 10 Charities. Why the Filthy Rich swim nude. The Official Filthy Rich–Approved List of Rehab Centers. Why it's so hard to break into the art market (and how to do it). Fun gadgets: La Cimballi M3 Cappucino Station, the Toto Washlet S300 no-paper toilet. Colleges you'll want your kids to drop out of. What to wear when interviewing with the co-op board. And much, much more.

Oh, dear.

As much as it pains me to write this, I am afraid the book in question will impart about as much class as wearing a clearly-borrowed dinner jacket when one's out at a fancy restaurant, but wasn't told in advance the establishment had a dress code. In fact, to be perfectly blunt, people who read this book and then follow its advice will almost certainly be called out as parvenus and climbers. However, devoted as I am to the free flow of information, I'm going to answer some of these questions so no one will have to waste their $11. So, here we go!

The difference between a majordomo and a butler.

A butler is the head servant in a household, who oversees the other servants and makes sure everything works well. A majordomo is responsible for an estate's financial and managerial concerns, and outranks the butler.

The proper way to name your houses.

A while back, I had a great conversation with my dear friend Simon From Jersey about the proper convention for naming one's homes. We agreed it would be clever to adopt chi chi-sounding names that were actually giant inside jokes or unfortunate happenstances. (Simon's perfect house name, as I recall, was "Nutwich.")

If one must be pretentious enough to name one's home, one may as well pick something that sounds refined but not cutesy or twee. However, if I ever have more than one home, I will not have a public name for my residences. Instead, I'll refer to them in corporate style, in which the name of the home corresponds to the city or town where it is located. This might mean I have a condo named "Secaucus" someday, but I don't care.

Acceptable Privet Height: A Cautionary Tale.

A privet is a type of hedge. That said, you don't need to know how tall the hedges should be, because if you are really filthy rich than you'll have a gardener to handle that for you.

Cosmetic procedures for you and your children.

It's not cricket to give your children cosmetic surgery, because it makes you look vain and them look spoiled. If they must have cosmetic surgery, wait until they're a reasonable age -- like 25 or something -- and then keep it quiet.

The right spots to party in Sardinia, Aspen, Napa, St. Barts.

This chapter, I take it, is for those who want to want to learn intimately that the trouble with being rich is that you have to hang out with rich people. That said, Saint-Barthélemy has been a "hip" and "go-to" place for ... Gawd, years. If you really want to impress people, go relax on Saba for a week. Here's an even better idea: go someplace you really want to go and hang what everyone else thinks.

The Top 10 Charities

Nothing says class like openly and publicly giving a wad of money to an established charity, particularly if it is for some trendy cause, or better yet, one in which you're helping rocks and trees and chipmunks as opposed to your fellow man.

The Official Filthy Rich–Approved List of Rehab Centers.

Uh, last time I checked, you weren't supposed to talk about such things in public company.

Why it's so hard to break into the art market (and how to do it).

Now this actually might be something rather useful -- after all, investing in art can be lucrative and enjoyable. Of course, it can also be costly and miserable, with the added down side of having people encourage you to buy hideous modern art. But hey -- there's always classic car collecting.

Fun gadgets: La Cimballi M3 Cappucino Station, the Toto Washlet S300 no-paper toilet.

OK, so one makes coffee and the other has a bidet and a dryer! Gee, and here I thought I'd arrived when I stayed at a hotel with a telephone in the bathroom.

Colleges you'll want your kids to drop out of.

You don't want your kids to drop out of college. If they did, it would signal that worst of all fates: downward social mobility. That's because unless wealth is carefully managed, it dissipates throughout the generations. The best bet is to ensure your kids go to a top-ranked but non-snobby school, such as The University of Michigan.

What to wear when interviewing with the co-op board.

This may reflect my roots as a Midwesterner, but the idea of having to go hat in hand to a panel of judges for the privilege of buying an expensive apartment is downright horrifying. Here's a better idea: go get a nice detached place with a yard and a garage where you can actually do what you want within your property lines and the covenants of your local homeowner's association.

Well! That was easy! Hopefully that saved somebody out there $11 (plus tax, if applicable).

Of course, I must stress that I am not in fact a member of the "moneyed overclass," as the book calls those with more than $30 million. Indeed, I am but a member of the upper middle lower class and as such undoubtedly have no business talking about this at all. Still, in the event there were people out there who really wanted to act "rich," here are my suggestions:

1. Be nice to people. Be particularly nice to people not as fortunate as you.
2. Never openly express anger at people who aren't as fortunate as you, who haven't had the same opportunities, or who are your direct subordinates.
3. Don't care about what the neighbors think. But don't give the neighbors anything to think about.
4. As Andy Tobias once wrote in a similar list: Do not buy a boat.
5. Be confident and be yourself. No, really. Be yourself! Enjoy life, take things easy.

I would submit that through following these simple steps, one can live a happy and productive life without trying to ape what the von Joneses down the street are doing. Even better, these things are all free -- no expensive trips, shopping sprees or other extravagance required. All it takes is a bit of self-confidence and the occasional helping of chutzpah, and you're all set.

(via Gawker)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at July 6, 2007 06:22 PM | TrackBack
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