Chris Lehman has written for a number of well known publications, including New York magazine. While there, he saw from the inside what the demographic, and rock-solid editorial stance was. A rag for the moneyed, to reassure and affirm the belief that their position at the top of the heap is not only correct, but their God-given right. As it turns out, he was a bit of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, although this was not exactly why he took the job. As he explains in the introduction, the initial impetus was not high-minded at all. He just needed work.
The essays Lehmann wrote that make up the recent book Rich People Things: Real-Life Secrets of the Predator Class were written for the Awl website, run by some of his friends. When initially approached, he was reluctant, as it was a non-paying gig. After reading a cover story in New York that pissed him off though, he decided to rebut it on Awl. Thus began the “Rich People Things” series of articles.
To me, Rich People Things is a pretty funny title, made all the more so because Lehmann was presented with it as sort of a fait accompli. As it turns out, an editor thought Rich would make a good header for the essay, and Lehmann went along. Think of “rich people things” the way we hear slang terms such as “it’s a chick thing,” or “it’s a white-guy thing.“ Rich just turns the tables a bit on those sanctimonious sacred cows.
Although Lehmann himself did not come up with the title, his pieces expose the de facto class system of the United States. The author has a way of getting to the crux of the matter with the precision of a scalpel. It was almost embarrassing for me to read these essays, thanks to my own ego. The points he makes are so spot-on, and so obvious, I kept thinking “Why did I not make these connections before?”
The rather difficult fact I had to face is that I have fallen prey to the great American myth of “the land of opportunity.” There is something deep down in all of us that wants to believe this. And before I begin sounding as if I have drank Lehmann’s own particular brand of Kool-Aid, let me assure you that I have not. I am well aware that we as a nation live much better than most of the world. And as a lifelong resident of the Seattle area, I have seen with my own eyes people who have boot-strapped themselves into wealth. And I’m not talking about Bill Gates or Howard Schultz, I am talking about guys (mostly in the music industry) who started out with literally nothing, and “made it.”
But we are getting off topic here. I just wanted to point out that there is still plenty of room for debate, before delving into the various subjects of the book. Having looked at the wide scope of his thesis, the real fun comes with the topics he has chosen. Rich contains essays on 19 subjects, each of which have a particular “rich people“ appeal.
In dissecting the Rich, I mentioned that the author is so precise as to use a scalpel. The scope is broad, and as a metaphor, a “shotgun approach” might be the more appropriate term. Believe me, he is “loaded for bear,” aiming both barrels at the heart of what citizens of the US hold most dear. The first chapter is “The U.S. Constitution.”
Lehmann is not exactly pulling his punches. Calling (but certainly not dismissing) the Constitution a “rich person’s thing” takes some balls. And the points he makes are a matter of historical record. The fact that a slave was considered “three-fifths” of a person is indefensible. What makes this a “rich person thing?” Well gee, the fact that having slaves is a Constitutional right might be something to consider. But beyond that, why were slaves considered “people” at all? It’s like making your horse a person.
The meat on the bone is that the more slaves one owned, the more governmental representation the owner had. Set aside the whole issue of slavery for a moment (if possible) and look at this as the first official step in creating an undeclared class system. Even in this “holy” document, the intent is to legally sanction the wealthy from the poor. It is a provocative piece to be sure, but one that is hard to argue with.