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Mar 24th 2016

Why do we like to watch rich people on TV?

Your tutor raised an eyebrow when you thought the topic was too silly for you. The module was about American Cinema, so a few essays on pop culture didn't surprise you. But a TV show on rich people did.

Before "Keeping Up with the Kardashians", there was "The Simple Life". You didn't watch a single episode, but you knew Paris Hilton. A bit too well perhaps. She was a ubiquitous personality, and the show made you wonder if there weren't enough First World problems for the likes of her. Your mother looked at you. (She never saw that side of your personality coming.) And you were intrigued when you found out that Paris and Kim used to be friends. You were defensive after you told your housemate about it, as she never expected a heavy reader of literary classics would be interested in reality TV stars. But you knew the Carrington family once ruled Primetime TV.

Your mother was a huge fan of "Dynasty", about a wealthy family based in Denver, Colorado. They have everything, but money didn't bring them bliss. You thought it was strange of her to look forward to a catfight between Krystle Carrington and Alexis Colby. (You haven't seen that episode, but you could imagine the rating reaching an all-time high.) What was wrong with viewers? Could this be a syndrome? Perhaps you were mistaken to assume that there was no value in this kind of show.

You didn't want to sound polite in your writing, as fascination at rich people on TV would go back to the era of disco and tacky outfit. Three things would stand out:

We are living in a material world. If covetousness is a virtue, then Madonna would be the goddess of it. This alarmed you, as you thought America wasn't out of the woods (as far as the economy was concerned). It reminded you of your volunteering in India a few summers ago. The poverty was a culture shock, and you had a hard time picturing Taj Mahal with beggars. It was an eye opener, but your friends didn't believe you. (You have an addictive personality, and you couldn't control your urge in buying toys. You haven't outgrown it, but this would be another story.) If this is the downside of capitalism, then you don't know what the future will turn out.

It pays to be greedy. You didn't like "The Wolf of Wall Street" at all. It was a Martin Scorsese picture, a filmmaker whom you admired. And you thought Leonardo DiCaprio did a great job in portraying Jordan Belfort. But you didn't like what this man stood for. He was unrepentant in how he accumulated his millions. You believed he would continue breaking the law if he wasn't caught. He did, and he managed to write about it. The book became a bestseller. A fine director like Scorsese became interested in it. Mr. Potter would come to mind. He owned half of Bedford Falls. He was the bad guy in "It's a Wonderful Life". He was born at the wrong place at the wrong time.

You won't be rich. Those who like to watch rich people on TV can only dream of affluence. Your mother didn't seem to like it, but she pretended not to hear your remark. What could be another reason? This might be the same feeling of NBA fans. (Tales of moneyed players ending up broke wasn't uncommon.) Your travel history was a comforting thought, but you wondered what first class accommodation in another country would be like.

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