Mirror, mirror on the wall
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I went to a big book store the other day -- the kind that has rack after rack of magazines. I didn't do a hard count, but I eyeballed that there are roughly 250 out there that I find to be ghastly commercial enterprises, demeaning to millions -- magazines that would be best glossed and coated with a thick sheet of nuclear glass.
But there's one I have it out for in particular: The Robb Report . For the uninitiated, it's a magazine soaked in language of wealth worship, offering narratives for the rich to justify how they made their money, and above all, offers ideas on how to should spend all that money. Here's one article, "The Privileges Are Many, But Only For The Few" -- it's a promo for a new luxury housing development off the coast of Georgia:
"Located half way between Savannah and Sea Island, and accessible only by a one-lane bridge, is the last vestige of untouched southeastern coastline, the 4,000-acre jewel known as Hampton Island. A natural treasure of live oaks, wild palms and pine that will only offer 134 home sites and 300 memberships."
Good thing the developers got the last vestige. Here are some of the island's many amenities: "David Nowicki, who directs the Equestrian Center, focuses upon honoring the South's equestrian legacy which has thrived for hundreds of years. Among the center's offerings are a covered arena, a barn with board and care, and modern, fully equipped stables, courses for jumpers, bridle paths, as well as private and group riding lessons. Furthering the horse culture on the island, an old-fashioned surrey carriage and iron-wheeled hay wagon, act as Hampton Island Preserve's version of mass transit, pulled by two beautiful prize Percherons."
The Robb Report 's masthead doesn't employ the typical editorial hierarchy -- they adopted the corporate model. So Brett Anderson, the guy who at most other magazines would have the title of deputy editor, is "Senior Vice President, Editorial." I have kept with me an essay Brett wrote in May of last year. Titled, "Sumptuous Sin," it's the summation of something so vile, so horrific, I just had to tear it out of the magazine and keep it in my files. Brett's problem is that it was more fun to be wealthy when there were social taboos and sumptuary laws. "Our present age, by contrast, offers few barriers of title or class to bar the individual from the object of desire, other than the cold currency required to purchase it. As a result, one feels that perhaps we may have forfeited some of the subtler joys to be gained from the gentle mutinies of luxury of which previous deliquent generations have partaken. .... [O]ne is left to wonder if the potential delight inherent in the vast wealth at modern society's disposal would not be so sweetened by the promise of a few sumptuary taboos to violate: a Lex Americana, at the very least, mandating a certain number of asses to be invited to a dinner party."
In my spare time, I've been working on a kind of language that would make people like Brett Anderson run as fast as they can from their editorial offices, make the people Brett is writing for flee from their lifestyles and money. Make them cry and feel worthless and panicked. Language that once a person like Brett encounters it, life is never the same. As you might have guessed, I don't quite have it yet. The Robb Report continues to churn out new issues. But I've made inroads...
Jan Frel is an AlterNet staff writer.