Generation Wealth: Will America Ever Cure Its Obsession With Bling, and Celebrity and Narcissism?

“The American Dream had really become corrupted, going from values of hard work and frugality and discipline—that being a means of social mobility that was accessible to anyone—to a culture that elevated bling, and celebrity and narcissism.”

Photographer and filmmaker Lauren Greenfield is an expert in Americans’ yearning for material wealth. Since the early ’90s, her work has documented our hunger for it in photography books, multiple traveling exhibitions, short films and four documentary features, notably 2012’s “The Queen of Versailles,” the story of one Florida woman’s quest to build a replica of King Louis XIV’s home.

Greenfield’s latest feature, “Generation Wealth,” involves multiple stories, giving viewers a wide view of the cultural and social forces that drive Americans to covet becoming rich above all other goals. As Greenfield explains in an interview with Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer, our wealth addiction has intensified in the last few decades, influencing everything from our spending habits to whom we elect president.

“America has undergone a monumental shift in the last 25 years,” Greenfield explains in the latest edition of “Scheer Intelligence.” “The American Dream,” she says, “had really become corrupted, going from values of hard work and frugality and discipline—that being a means of social mobility that was accessible to anyone—to a culture that elevated bling, and celebrity and narcissism.”

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Unfortunately, as Greenfield has discovered, the desire continues to grow. She starts the film with the stories of wealthy individuals in Los Angeles, including scenes from a bar mitzvah in a giant L.A. club with strippers, then moves across the country, then the world. She includes interviews with hedge fund managers, bankers, heirs to family fortunes and entrepreneurs, providing context for how we got here, and whether we can change.

Scheer and Greenfield discuss the decline of America’s meritocracy, the impact of venerating wealth as a positive value and how our wealth obsession led to the election of Donald Trump. Greenfield also explains what she calls “the influence of affluence, the aspiration, and, in a way, the kind of aspirational hunger, kind of disease, kind of perpetual dissatisfaction, that we really see among so many people.”

Listen to the episode below.

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Robert Scheer is the editor-in-chief of Truthdig, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and co-host of the weekly syndicated radio show Left, Right & Center.