Once upon a time, in the early 2000s, Juicy Couture swimsuits could be purchased in every color, having a sidekick gave you bragging rights, and CDs were steadily growing irrelevant, as mp3 players took over. During this era of innovation and growth, showing off your wealth, or more like what your wealth could buy, was a part of life.
Shows like MTV Cribs and Pimp My Ride, and celebrities like Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie showed us the extravagance money could buy, and most of us desperately wanted to take part in the extravagance.
“Special” individuals monopolizing copious amounts of money was nothing new. Nearly every human civilization studied in grade school features the wealthy and royal on top, living lives of extreme abundance, all the while looking down upon peasants fighting each other for just one meal.
This paradigm changed in the late 2000’s. The shift came when the modern form of villagers and peasants, the middle and lower classes, were bombarded more than ever before with spectacles of this wealth, thanks to television and the internet. We were absorbed in spectacles that told us money was the ultimate goal. All one had to do was turn on the TV and see celebrities and millionaires showing off their fortunes and shiny new toys. The “American Dream” wasn’t just to “make it on your own” anymore, but to make enough money to stop working all-together by the age of 30.
Why buy a boat, when you can buy a three floor yacht with its own movie theater? Why buy one car, when you can buy four? Why stop at a gold watch when you can buy the necklace, bracelets, and earrings to match?
This wealth lead to a whole, falsified world of “luxury”, a word that has been placed before hotels, cars, vacations, houses, yachts, and clothes to make people more aware of the money necessary to enter this world. Paris Hilton faded and made room for the Kardashian lifestyle, what was considered extravagant is now a necessity, and being able to display wealth became more important than the wealth, itself.
And then, late stage capitalism checked in at the same time as social media and we were allowed to see, and more importantly discuss, what happens when a few own a lot. Attitudes about the rich and famous, the top 10 percent and 1 percent, have changed, and things that used to make us want to be millionaires now just remind us of how little everyone else has in comparison. Although there are still people obsessed with the aesthetics of luxury and fame, another camp has bred resentment for this luxurious lifestyle and its steady consequences. The old reaction towards this may have been inspiration, jealousy, resentment, but now all that some of us can feel is judgment and even disgust.
Late-stage capitalism, defined in an article from The Atlantic in 2017, is “a catchall phrase for the indignities and absurdities of our contemporary economy”, and it is not a new concept. Originally a theory coined by Karl Marx and his followers, this stage began after WWII with the emergence of multinational corporations, mass communication, and international finance. While this economic boom helped build up the middle class in the years following, seventy years later, the effects of this free-market economy are an unbalanced society.
In these past few years, we have seen a man elected to office with money as his only qualification, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos become the richest man in modern history, and a rapidly increasing awareness of what capitalism has done to the planet. At the same, we’ve time witnessed ideological challenges. The gap between the 1% and the rest of the world continues to expand, cities like Flint, Michigan are ignored, while the government dumps more money into the military, and school districts withhold lunch from students without money to pay. These factors and more have been thrown into people’s faces via the internet, making them hard to ignore.
With the internet being at the center of everything now, this burgeoning aversion towards the rich has spawned twitter accounts, hashtags, memes and even a reddit community full of memes and comments about the atrocities of late stage capitalism. Twitter account @HasBezosDecided started the hashtag #EndWorldHungerBezos, which acknowledges that the billionaire could theoretically end world hunger with his fortune and still be the richest man in the world. The account also focuses on climate change, constantly pointing out how nothing will change unless billion dollar corporations and their owners choose to make serious changes.
I’m not sure where we, as a generation, will go from here. Will we go full on French Revolution, or will we “grow up” and follow the model of putting our own wants before other people’s needs?
I do believe that this growing disapproval of the luxurious lifestyle is the start of a change. The government has made some growth, with the increase of minimum wages and congress members like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez making corporations acknowledge their injustices. However, the real motivation for change will come from the citizens this unbalanced system disregards, especially those whose lives are still in the future. I can only hope that there is a shift somewhere down the road that will make giving more important than receiving.