RICHsplaining: Why we shouldn’t bother listening to rich celebrities talking about success
By E.F Nicholson
I could break my Facebook feed into a number of categories: friends posting about kids, pets, food, or scenic landscapes; funny/cute memes, be it 90s nostalgia or cats and cucumbers. Then I get my left leaning newsfeed via friends, journalists I follow, etc, then the inspiring meme/inspiration videos category. Some are great and I value and like a lot. Yet, somewhere in the mix of inspirational talks and memes, there is always some celebrity sharing the secret of their success or some kind of valuable life lesson. A recent one that is doing the rounds is Will Smith talking about how everything you want is on the other side of your fears (unless that fear is fighting a grizzly bear, then the only thing you face is your intestines spilling out on to the ground).
The content of the talk isn’t bad, it’s nothing ground-breaking or never heard of before, so I’m sure it may motivate a few people. There are hundreds of other talks like it: Jim Carey talking about how to be happy, a host of celebrities talking about the power of meditation. This is often followed with books and TV shows all centred around the question of “How I did it?” Yet, it’s interesting to ask why we care what Will Smith, Richard Branson, or Oprah think about anything.
The reason seems obvious; they are most often obscenely rich and are considered successful in their career. Yet, we all know you can be successful at something without being rich. Nevertheless, the type of success worshiped in today’s society brings wealth and fame. When they talk, we listen, because we are informed via an endless and inescapable loop that we want what they have, despite it isn’t actually possible for everyone, though our media and advertising allow us to vicariously live through others. As our focus isn’t directed on changing unfair systems, but rather to fantasise about joining upper echelons success, it remains a fantasy. As Laura K Kerr points out:
Rather than challenging a fundamentally unequal system, more often efforts are spent imagining how to experience the spoils of wealth, including the sense of power that wealth brings. Although there are rumblings about the death of the American Dream, the current round of globalization succeeds because people can easily use the Internet and other forms of media as fodder for fantasizing about being the exception to the rule. However, when we fill ourselves with fantasies of a perfect self and ideal life, we risk becoming what Francis Moore Lappé called “selfish little accumulators,” chiseling away at Earth’s precious resources as well as our own limited financial capital and time.
But many cannot afford to shop for the coveted self-image or lifestyle, which often is really about acquiring emotional states, such as a sense of superiority, or the avoidance of painful emotions such as envy. Superiority and envy are two emotions commonly stirred by hierarchical societies, along with feelings of shame for not attaining greater status. And I think that when a person is plagued by these emotions, and pursues fantasies of perfection, it’s a sign of emotional dependency on the capitalistic system.
The veneration of fame and riches we experience is a modern phenomenon. Yet, its creation isn’t by chance; it’s part of wider message of capitalism and consumption, which requires people to emotionally focus on both the future and realm of the external. Who they are is what they acquire and own. Though we may be unable to have Christina Rolando’s success and money, we can own his shoes, sunglasses, and aftershave. The new metamorphous of fame is the personal brand that a person can be branded by. Which of course isn’t the person, rather a polished two-dimensional image; when a flaw or humanity emerges, the brand becomes tarnishes: like Tiger Woods losing his advertising contracts when his infidelity damaged his brand.
All of this bizarre and shiny dystopia just continues to take people’s attention away from the most basic truths of life, which is the value of relationships surrounding us with our kids, friends and family, as well as with nature and ultimately the more silent and intimate parts of ourselves. The value, connection, and closeness of these relationships are not commodities. They can’t be sold, brokered, or monetized. But, in today’s world, our attention is constantly diverted into directions that ensure our continued consumption in service of this massive unquestioned commerce.
The continued message pumped out via “richsplaining”, like mansplaining (see Mike Figueredo’s humanist report) is from rich people who share and explain how they got where they go and dispense advice on any subject they want. More often than not, they lecture us peasants how to live life better. In a nutshell, the message is anyone can do it; if you work hard enough and believe in your dream then anything and everything is possible. But, this message promotes two distinct fallacies. Firstly, many people have all it takes and do everything they meant to do and remain oppressed by the violence and injustice of their environments. If you are prisoner in the world’s largest open air prison, Gaza, there are definitive limits on what you can and cannot do, no matter how big your dream is or how determined you may be. Secondly, being successful in the way our society currently measures it is something worth obtaining when in reality, wealth, fame, and celebrity are completely meaningless and empty outcomes, especially when pursued as things in and of themselves. How we feel and relate to the world and ourselves in creative, kind, and compassionate ways is what we should actively focus on and have been shown to bring the most rewards and a greater sense of meaning and happiness. There is nothing we need to envy, covet, or wish for that celebrity and rich people possess. Like the famous psychologist,
Erich Fromm, points out:
“Human beings had two basic orientations: HAVING and BEING
HAVING: seeks to acquire, posses things even people
BEING: focuses on the experience; exchanging, engaging, sharing with other people”
Yet, it’s hard to remain anchored in a sense of being rather than of having. When you’re in tough financial times or you’re struggling for one reason other another, it’s tempting to want things to be just a little easier financially. And, while there is definite point of financial security that does take away some basic level of worry, most of us often pass it or change the goal posts to the point of “enough” is “never enough”.
The seduction of “I would feel better if I had this or that” is hard to dismiss when we are immersed in the relentless messaging from the likes of Will Smith and Richard Branson. I think we have to consciously draw our energy back from these distractions and cultural myths that rob us of time and the things that truly matter. We are surrounded by people worthy of listening to: our kids, friends, and family. There is no prize for a lifetime of focus and pursuit that is offered by our valued system served to us via X-factor, BBC news, and The Apprentice. We don’t need rich people to tell us how to get rich or famous people telling us how to attract fame. We just need be loving people willing to give, kind people willing to understand, and creative people willing to share. That perspective may not grease the wheels of consumption, but it will make our lives and our world a more loving place.