Let’s Watch A Documentary About The Super Rich
If you can stomach it.
Here is a fun thing to watch if you want to think about old money, new money, Ivanka Trump and what it means to be so obscenely wealthy that you have no concept of what it means to be without.
In 2003, Jamie Johnson — the heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune — turned 21 and came into his vast inheritance. He then decided to turn an eye towards his own kind — the “Superclass.” Here are some of the people he talks to: Josiah Hornblower, heir to the Vanderbilt and Whitney fortunes, S.I. Newhouse IV, Ivanka Trump(hey, girl), and Micheal Bloomberg’s daughter, Georgianna.
What you will see is a bunch of extremely wealthy young people discussing the implications of their wealth very uncomfortably. For what it’s worth, watching these teens grapple with their massive amounts of wealth is entertaining only because their sheer worth is more than most of us will encounter in their lifetime. If you want, you can watch Josiah Hornblower take the subway while discussing how the Whitney daily privatized the subway, shirt rakishly unbuttoned farther past his clavicle than is comfortable.
The most fascinating bit here for me is Johnson’s story. “I never knew I was rich,” he says, before recounting a story about how his friends at his private elementary school discovered his father’s name in Forbes. S.I Newhouse IV realized he was wealthy when his classmates realized that he was and beat him up. Ivanka realized that she was wealthy when people treated her differently. “I couldn’t give them my parent’s money, so I didn’t think that was a reason for them to treat me a different way,” she says with a laugh. Josiah Hornblower says his uncle took him for a quiet jaunt around New York when he was nine, pointing out various landmarks and whispering, “This is yours.”
Carlo von Zeitschel, the great-grandson of Kaiser Wilhelm II is a German baron and an Italian viscount, the latter of which I had to look up. Watching him casually smoke a cigarette while discussing the various unspoken markers that separate new money from old money incites a particular sort of rage that’s hard to pinpoint but feels righteous nonetheless.
Still, you can’t fault these children for being born as rich as Croesus. What you can fault them for, however, is being jerks.
A particularly nasty bit of work is Luke Weil, the son of a gambling and lottery software CEO, who uses his talking-head segment to brag about doing LSD in the summer between sixth and seventh grade and talk about how he barely went to class when he was at Brown, but they never kicked him out because of how rich his father was. Not surprisingly, he sued Johnson, maybe because he realized that he sounded like a terrible person. From the New York Times:
After hearing early reports about the film, Mr. Weil filed a lawsuit against Mr. Johnson and the filmmakers demanding that his scenes be cut. For his part, Mr. Johnson retaliated by featuring the lawsuit in the film as an example of what happens when rich people talk about money. Last fall, a New York State Supreme Court justice ruled in favor of Mr. Johnson in the case.
I thought watching the documentary would make me angry, but that kind of wealth is not in my future. It will never be in my grasp; this is less a portrait of any sort of reality and more of an anthropological study of peak Gossip Girl New York, and a clear picture of how money affects people. For that, it is fascintating. Watch it and cry or laugh or throw things. You’ll feel better afterwards. I promise.
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