In medieval times, there were three general classes of people: those who fought, those who prayed, and those who worked. This was a part of the immutable “chain of being” that provided no room for social mobility. Those who fought and those who prayed were amongst the privileged people, living lavish lifestyles that proved almost incomprehensible to the working class. In response, the working class would take advantage of holidays and “carnivals” where they got to party and turn the social norms on their heads.
The philosopher and scholar Mikhail Bakhtin coined the phrase “carnivalesque,” meaning the reversal of societal norms. During carnivals, the peasants would dress up and engage in lewd, uninhibited behavior, having interesting artwork and themes, such as children yelling at parents, criminals chasing law enforcement, and wives beating husbands. In these moments, the peasants could escape their lives where agriculture, pestilence, and hunger awaited them.
Today, the economic divide still exists. There are people who seem to have more dollars than there are grains of sand on every beach on earth and then those who barely have a grain of sand. The idea of fair seems to be seven billion basketball courts away (Yeah, I’m watching the NBA conference finals as I write this) away.
I was recently looking at some articles about the jejune offspring of the wealthiest people of the world. This is not rich from where I come from, which meant having a nice car, sometimes relatively top of the line, or a flashy, name brand watch. This is the type of rich where you get two Rolexes, a Ghost, Lambo, and Bugatti, and drink water that costs hundreds of dollars. And it’s not even the people who have the money buying these things — it’s their children.
Reading articles like this one about a girl who wasn’t distraught over having her $5k allowance cut back to $1k, or this one about the Richest Kids of Snapchat, one can’t help but notice the sarcasm and disdain that drips off the pages. The concept of carnival and the desire to see the reversal of societal norms resonates throughout these articles, especially in the title “15 Rich Teenagers We Want to See Go Broke,” as the writers desire for these teenagers to be stripped of their wealth. The desire for karmic resolution runs deep through most people. That desire to get even or see the comeuppance of injustice is almost universal.
However, for me personally, it doesn’t bother me as much. Is their arrogance and constant flexing unbecoming and insensitive? Yes. The entitlement is so baffling. I don’t begrudge them their possessions, though. The fact that their parents have the money to give them cars, watches, and technology isn’t the core problem. Good parents want to give their children the best that they can, whatever that is within their means, sometimes beyond it. For some, that’s paying for a ticket to see a movie, for others it’s a Bentley. There’s great disparity apparent, and the fact that some people can go hungry while others are complaining that they got a Rolex instead of yacht is appalling.
Putting aside necessities and focusing on wants and desires, the central issue lies in the parents’ inability to teach their children about being responsible and not flaunting their wealth. I don’t care if you’re driving in a Rolls and I must calculate if I have enough money to call an Uber or possibly have to walk home through a dangerous neighborhood. Every person’s situation is different.
I started out an orphan who got fed a spoonful or two of rice a day. Even though I was adopted by wonderful parents, we weren’t always financially stable. My dad was laid off in 2008, and already being in his 60s, he didn’t have many options for work. He was overqualified for most jobs, but too old for ones he was qualified for. I knew not to ask for most things I wanted. My parents sacrificed everything, from their own desires, furnishing our house, and cutting back on luxuries, just so I could go to private school. We literally lived with only a kitchen table and beds as our main furniture for years.
However, I still felt privileged. I went to a private school. I was never hungry or required to get a job. I had a phone and was given the chance to focus on what I cared about most, my grades. I knew I could have stayed in that orphanage and lived on significantly fewer resources than I had.
I’m grateful that in their own way, my parents gave me as much as they could. However, the important things they always imparted upon me were the notions to be frugal, always living below your means, and working hard. When I was in high school, they gave me an allowance for the year, which I had to keep track of and allocate however I chose. If I ran out, I ran out and there wouldn’t be anymore. I always kept strict track of my books and came under budget every time.
Now that I’m in college, I work a minimum of 20 hours a week, sometimes up to 35 hours a week, balance 18 to 20 credits a semester, and sometimes have a social life (okay not that much, but that’s more of a personal preference and my inherent awkwardness at play). Since I’ve been there, I’ve seen people who don’t have to lift a finger and their parents pay for everything, from their tuition to food to their recreation. I’m not angry at the ones who don’t have to pay anything. If I didn’t have to pay or had the option to have a bit of help, I’d take it. On the other end of the spectrum, some of my friends barely make ends meet, must work for everything they own, and float paycheck to paycheck, with only $5 remaining in their accounts.
I’m luckily in between those two extremes. I pay for everything I own, including rent, food, tuition, insurance, and a phone bill (and trust me, even living frugally in a cheap house can cost close to $1k a month). Everything comes out of my part-time job. And even then, I have some money in my savings for some recreation like a movie here and there. I find it so satisfying to be able to pay off my credit card bill or know that my phone is mine. It was funny to me. When I went to the phone store to take over my line, I remember they told me to tell the phone company that I was “assuming liability of my line.” And that’s basically what I’m doing, and what everyone else must do once they become an adult. You “assume liability” of yourself. It’s all up to you. For me, I’m blessed that I have parents who will also be there to catch me a bit if I falter, but I make damn sure that I never falter. I haven’t yet and I’m halfway through college.
I was talking to my one friend and I was showing him my budget, which lists all my expenses and income for the entire year, and he was telling me how I was one of the most well-adjusted, prepared people he’s met. I never really saw it as being well-adjusted or prepared. Being money conscious was just a way of life. It’s what my parents always lived by, so why shouldn’t I?
My past two years in college have taught me that it’s always possible to make money, live from it, and balance school work. Sometimes, it’s going to be harder than others, and that may have nothing to do with how hard you work. But the possibility is there, and it can be a goal. The idea that I’m able to support myself entirely makes me feel so accomplished.
So yes, rich kids can continue getting personal helicopters and enough iPads to make a dining set. They can make fun of the “peasants,” and probably be unfazed by anyone who criticizes them, unless those criticisms also come with the words “0 balance remaining in your account.” I don’t wish them to go broke. I don’t begrudge them their money. I am categorically opposed to their attitudes, which angers me at times, but that’s the one thing that their parents can’t buy them. Many will probably not have to face a day of “reality” ever and that’s their situation and prerogative.
For me, I’m glad I learned the value of money and can support myself. I’ll take pride in my work ethic and the money I’ve earned thus far, and they can take pride in their Benz and whatever other name brand luxury good I can’t recall at this point in time. Let them eat cake and laugh at the peasantry, I’m happy with my own version.