Richistan by Robert Frank

January 15th, 2008 at 4:51 pm

The first thing I noticed about this book is that it is about a half
inch narrower in its width than typical hardcovers. The editor,
like a desperate, talentless high school student, changed the margins a bit in
order to extend the content into a more respectable book-appropriate
length. The size manipulations notwithstanding, Robert Frank’s
Richistan is another decent non-fiction book illuminating another
fascinating American subculture.

Don’t confuse it with
Absurdistan, which also could have been the title of Richistan, which
is subtitled, A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich.
It’s a journey that turns out to be a pretty absurd ordeal. Too many
times I read books on topics and wish Hunter S. Thompson was around to
give them his treatment. Drugs are the perfect metaphor for these
American Times. Like watching network television sober; you must be an
idiot or high if you think it’s funny. And only rip-roaring drunk and
hopped up on uppers with downers close at hand for when the going gets
really rough are you prepared for the outlandish pomp and perverse
entertainment that is a Presidential Election.
Why are we celebrating and worshiping these people like rock bands and
gods? They should be pandering to our whims and fancies, they work for us! They’re public servants!

Depending on your perspective, Richistan is either a really interesting
and motivating book or a very, very depressing tribulation. Or maybe both. “Rich” is
defined in Richistan as a net worth of 10 million or more, acknowledging that a mere
one million is now a relative bare pittance in the skewed, perverse
world of the New Rich, those fuckers. Richistan widely acknowledges
that the rich are getting richer at increasingly fast and lucrative
paces. The lower and middle classes are being fucked in our own
ignorant way. Richistan speaks of great inequality between the
have-most and the have-littles.
The social fabric is looking like it has been wrapped around an hour
glass. The rich are getting richer. The rest of us are getting poorer.
This is a bloody torment of a book and I resent it for being so
fascinating. Why are we obsessed with celebrities and rich people?
Frank’s examination into this particular group provides an adequate
frame with which to do some very interesting and worthwhile
observations on the state of class, wealth, happiness, and lifestyle in America. And ultimately, with all the talk of Old Money, New Money, More
Money, and thusly, No Money (that ignored drunk cousin in the corner
and on the floor), you realize there is more: sophistication, civilization, ethics, happiness, values, and more. Much more.

is full of fascinating, absurd characters that engage you in a way that
is much like watching Britney Spears recent public field trips. You are
both horrified and captivated at the same time:

Meet Ed Bazinet, the founder of Department 56, the company that has
sold you and your family all those cute little ceramic hamlets of tiny
snow-capped cottages and innocent figurine villagers on his way to
becoming an exorbitantly wealthy multi-millionaire.

Meet the
couple who’s bed came from the archbishop of Milan’s quarters and has a
carved Jesus on one side (his) and a Mary on the other (hers). Yeah,
cause that’s what I’d do with my money. And do the creepy, incestuous undertones of that bed freak anyone else out?
It’s not a His and Hers bed!!! It’s a Father and Daughter bed! Boo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

the billionaire who says, “It’s true what they say – the first billion
is the hardest. The second one was pretty easy.” Oh okay. Let me get
right on the first billion.

Meet the 72-year-old billionaire with the 34-year-old girlfriend.
Because that is actually what I would do if I was rich.

the billionaire who lost his fortune and now sits with his arthritic
golden retriever in the living room and stares at the twinkling lights
on his Christmas tree in May because it cheers him up. Like some
twisted sequel to Grey Gardens

Meet the Richistani who has a solid-gold straw for drinking champagne.

entirely new levels of consumption in Richistan, waste and excess are
necessary to show rank and social class. Larry Ellison, chief of
Oracle, received his 454 foot yacht that cost more than $200 million
and observed, “Well, I do think it’s excessive. It is absolutely
excessive. No question about it. But it’s amazing what you can get used

out all you slackers, you 30,000aires, the Old Money of Idle Rich
are being replaced by this New Money, and this Richistani crowd are the
Workaholic Wealthy. In Richistan, there is an increased influence in Philanthropy
and Politics. But it is not a passive involvement in either arenas for
these new gladiators. The Richistani are not content to give a fish or even to
teach fishing. They must revolutionize the fishing industry.

There are Rich People Support Groups. There are summercamps
for 23-year-old rich kids on how to not squander their family’s fortune
and how to ask for a prenuptial agreement.

And basically, all of this was wildly entertaining to me in a
dark, paranoid way. It’s a sick, demented world but one that seems to
be excessively comfortable if you made it that way.

After Richistan, I’m ready for a heaping spoonful of William T. Vollmann’s Poor People.

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