The Tories have long been considered the party of the rich and, now they have power, they’re doing an awful lot to help their rich chums – repealing the fox-hunting ban (a sport only really enjoyed by a few), reducing union and employment rights (so big business owners won’t face as much threat from their workers) and continuing to turn a blind eye to tax avoidance (a pursuit the wealthy enjoy even more than hunting). With poverty, inequality and income disparity on the rise it really does seem as if all the rich are doing is getting richer.
However, despite this depressing trend it still seems as if we are enamoured of the rich – why else would we spend so much time watching them. They’re on television – Downton Abbey, Mr Selfridge, 90210, Gossip Girl, Revenge, The Kardashians, Made in Chelsea, they’re in film – A Little Chaos, The Great Gatsby, Match Point, The Aviator, The Riot Club, The Queen, they’re in books – Brideshead Revisited, The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street and they’re on stage – Arcadia, Hay Fever, Posh, The Audience. It seems that despite the rich undermining the social fabric of our society by putting wealth before morality we do quite enjoy watching them do it.
This contradictory and voyeuristic behaviour is easily explained. On the one hand the rich tend to bank roll culture – they’re the ones that can afford West End ticket prices and they like nothing better than having themselves portrayed on stage. The plays may well be a little satirical but they are always disappointingly harmless as tools for social change, here may I refer you to Acykborn, Bennett, Stoppard and the like. Also, the rhetoric of social advancement is deeply embedded in British society. There is a steady stream of messaging that vilifies working class people and people on low-income – Benefit Streets, Little Britain, the Conservative Party election campaign to name but a few. We’re encouraged to despise and ridicule ‘chavs’ and do all that we can to ascend the social ranks. Of course, what they don’t tell you is that there are limited seats at top table and however hard one aspires the likelihood of becoming one of the ‘rich’ is slim.
So, as desperate as we are to get rich the reality is that this is very hard and it’s far easier just to watch them on telly. There’s something quite fascinating in watching the lives of those who live without consequences, where money really is no object. To be able to eat baby octopi off a bed of diamonds whilst blowing up yachts off the coast of Barbados – why not. It’s an odd social contract but so long as money is king, and it will be until we better understand how to take the -ism out of capitalism, we will have to settle for being rich vicariously.
My addition to this rich tradition of richness is The Wellington Boot Club – a murder mystery comedy showing at the Burton Taylor Studio in Oxford from 26th – 30th May, 7.30pm. Get your tickets here! A whodunnit that sees Esther Jones, a psychology student at Oxford University, turn detective when one of the members of The Wellington Boot Club – an all male drinking society – is bashed to death during an initiation ceremony. The play explores the ‘laddish’ and misogynistic drinking culture at Oxford University that can often result in criminal behaviour. So expect another play that pokes at the rich and tries to baffle the audience with a slew of red herrings.
It’s obvious what we need to do – we need to stop encouraging the rich and stop watching them. We don’t need to constantly compare ourselves because there will always be someone wealthier and our lives are important and meaningful without bottomless bank accounts. The trouble is the rich are very reliable for behaving ridiculously (they can afford to) which makes them sitting ducks for parody. So it looks like we’re caught somewhere between a trust fund and an offshore bank account.