Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Lifestyles of the Rich and Boring

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What I intended to do on the blog today was to finish the #bookadaychallenge–to do the second half of the month.  I’ve been sick for a week and I’m still very draggy today, and I thought it would be an easier and gentler way of doing the blog when what I really want to do is sleep.

Unfortunately, when I went to Twitter to find the list of questions, it seemed to have disappeared.  I have no idea if it’s actually disappeared of if I’m just so stupid about Twitter that I can’t find it, but one way or the other I can’t get it, and so I can’t answer the second half of the month’s questions.

What I’ve decided to do instead is to talk about the week, which, being a week when I could make no sense about anything, was also a week when I was watching a lot of television.

Well, not exactly television.  Or rather, television, but not as ordinarily watched.

Here’s what happened:  a couple of years ago, on the recommendation of several of my friends, I started to watch a British production of a thing called Downton Abbey. This is a modern version of Upstairs, Downstairs, a sort of high class soap opera about aristocratic Brits and their servants.

Downton Abbey added a little interest by tying its story to the events of the period, so that the first episode takes place just as the world has received news of the sinking of the Titanic. 

And one of the people who dies on the Titanic is the heir presumptive of the Earl of Grantham, lord of Downtown Abbey and possessed of three daughters and no sons.

If you’ve ever watched this kind of thing, the progress of the plot will be largely predictable. 

Lord Grantham’s daughters are about as well able to handle their affairs as you’d expect, and they get into one great mess after another.

The writers of the show, though, have a remarkable attachment to the idea of killing people off.  The body count on this thing rivals that of Cabot Cove, although not always from murder.

Although there is a murder at one point.

There is also WWI, financial ruin, social ruin, and a one night stand dead of heart failure in an unmarried woman’s bed.  Plus death in childbirth and a car accident.  Plus…

You get the picture.

I started to watch this and then, for no reason I could tell, our local PBS stations stopped putting it up on their FOD.  The show aired at ten o’clock at night, and I almost never stay up until ten, so I was relying on the FOD encores to enable me to see the thing.  For a while this worked well.  Then the episodes became sporadic.  Then they disappeared altogether.

I have no idea why this happened.  It’s entirely possible that PBS stations just stopped showing the thing, although that’s unlikely, since it was having quite a vogue.

Whatever the reason, I couldn’t get the thing any more at all, and I’d missed a whole line of episodes at the beginning of one of the seasons because those hadn’t been put up either.

Just to make everything even more annoying, the program wasn’t available on any of the other platforms that carry this kind of thing, like Netflix or Hulu.

I would go looking for the thing.  My sons would go looking for it.  Nothing.

About the time the being-sick thing got to the point that it was obvious that a) it was going to last a while and b) it was going to make it extremely difficult for me to read while it was going on, one of the boys tried one more time, and there it was.

Not only was it up for free, it was up in its entirety, mostly in the “original British” versions, and that meant I could start at the beinning with Season 1, Episode 1, and go right on to the end of what’s been filmed to date.

I’ve done this with a couple of television shows now–the HBO series The Newsroom for one–and I much prefer it to the usual stop in every week, see each episode separately method.

It’s rare that television shows these days are made as they were in the 50s, where each episode is discreet and isolated from the rest and where there is no overarching narrative about the main characters.

So there I was, with the show back in my orbit, so to speak, and just the way I like it, and all I had to do was conk out on the love seat in the afternoons after work, let the fever rage, and watch the world of Downton Abbey go by.

And that is when the trouble started.

Maybe I was just sick and out of sorts, or something.  Maybe it’s just that the difference between watching something episodically and watching it whole is fundamental to the way you react to the characters.

Whatever it was, I was increasingly annoyed the longer I paid attention, and more and more impatient the better I felt and the better I could pay attention.

Part of it was particular to the series.  There are a tremendous number of really unappetizing characters in this thing, both in the upper class and the servant class.  One sister ruins the reputation of another out of jealousy and spite.  A lady’s maid engineers an accident she expects to cause a miscarriage in her mistress, and it does.  A footman spends all his time trying to sabotage every other servant in the house and manages half the time.  A nanny tries to get one of the Downtown grandchildren to hate the other.

A lot of what goes on is trivial enough, but a lot of it is first class nasty, and none of what is first class nasty ever seems to result in any actual comeuppance. 

I’m not the kind of reader (or viewer) who needs to have everything tied up tidily, to have evil always punished and virtue always rewarded.  The world is not like that, and I do not go to fiction to escape from reality.

The sheer unrelievedness of it all got very oppressive very fast, though.  I continued watching it–I’ll finish up today–but I’ve been carping at it now for a couple of days.

But I think there’s something bigger going on here.

I know that shows like this–and books about the same or similar milieus–are very popular.  I even know that they’re especially popular with people who love PBS, and who tend to be both politically progressive and terribly worried about “income inequality.”

Before I ever watched a single episode of the show, I read a number of different articles in respectably progressive venues about why this might be so.

But for me, I think the bottom line is that I don’t find the heritidary rich all that interesting.

I sometimes find the self-made rich very interesting indeed, depending on how they made their money.   You have to have an unusual kind of mind to get rich honestly, and especially by making something new, and that I can play with all day.

But your ordinary person who inherits a ton of money shallow, clueless and almost patholically insecure. 

I sometimes find it odd that so many people are so entranced by servants and expensive clothes and cars with drivers that they’re willing to put up with all the whining.

And there is always whining.  Sometimes it seems to me as if the born rich do nothing but whine.  What should be the glorious opportunity to do anything–write, paint, work in the ghetto, invent things–ends up being nothing more than an invitation to prove how important you are by proving how miserable you are.

And that description applies as well to even the people counted relatively poor in most of the rich countries.  \

I’m not saying that poverty doesn’t exist in rich countries like the US or France or Sweden, although it’s almost always relative poverty next to what “poor” means in countries worldwide.

I am saying that so many of us in the rich countries are rich enough that we spend our lives bemoaning all the ways in which we feel slighted, ignored, and put upon.

We’ve taken a strong word like “oppressed,” which used to mean being put to death for your religion or not allowed to get an education because of your sex, and applied it to things like people coming up to you and complimenting you on how beautiful your sari is.   In doing that, you see, they mark you out as different, exotice, The Other. 

And anybody who expects you to be able to get a graduate degree or succeed in something competitive in the face of that is part of the problem, because he’s upholding cultural and structural oppression.

Okay, I’ll admit it.

I’m having one of those days.

And it probably means I should stop watching Downton Abbey.

But I won’t.

Written by janeh

July 5th, 2014 at 10:49 am

Posted in Uncategorized

11 Responses to 'Lifestyles of the Rich and Boring'

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  1. Well, I’ll take your word on DOWNTON ABBEY, because I have no intention of watching it–and, yes, I’d noticed for myself the progressive obsession with a world of masters and servants. A story in people get by on their own efforts plays hob with their view of the world.

    But on the whiney hereditary rich, I’m not convinced–and if it’s true here and now, it may be the times and not the condition. Military history is full of people who didn’t have to do anything and joined the army instead of becoming Peter Arno characters.

    I used to have one for a brigade commander. He could have bought his own brigade. Instead, he went through West Point, Airborne School and Ranger School so he could sleep in the mud and rain, eat MREs and sometimes get shot at. He may have been nuts, but he seemed happy.
    The British Army always seems to have a few of the Percy family around, and they haven’t had to draw wages since before the Wars of the Roses. Sometimes they’ve even raised their own army. (“Percy Tenantry Volunteers” anyone?)
    Or sometimes they pull a Lady Hester Stanhope and go native somewhere, a Lord Carnarvon and sponsor archeological expeditions, or a Friedrich Engels and sponsor some whacko new idea. Think of Graf Zeppelin happily sinking the family fortune in building experimental rigid airships. These are all hands-on people, too: they aren’t just writing checks. I’m trying to remember the real English aristo who was the model for Sir Percy Blakney, and I certainly remember Count Fulk Bernadotte. (Someone else gets to do patronage of the arts.)

    So OK, they CAN sit in the mansion and whine. But they don’t have to and they don’t all.

    I keep thinking of H. Beam Piper:
    “But what do the masters DO?”
    “Masterly things: they sue each other and sleep with each other’s wives.” (“A Slave is a Slave.”)
    “You’ve got an aristocracy which shirks its duties and is ashamed of its privileges.” (SPACE VIKING)
    But those were deliberate pictures of societies in deep decline. A lot of Piper characters were working aristocrats. I’d say when those two quotes sound about right, the society and not just the aristocracy have serious trouble ahead.


    5 Jul 14 at 5:45 pm

  2. There is an entire TV show that seems to be devoted to the whining of the born-rich. http://www.eonline.com/shows/rich_kids_of_beverly_hills

    I’ve never watched it, but have seen a few clips on The Soup. Talk about your First World Problems…these are the 1/10th of the 1% world problems. Whine, whine.

    What does it say about the decline of the republic that we choose to make (and some of us watch) a show about the USELESS idle rich, and not those who are actually using their money for good?


    5 Jul 14 at 6:36 pm

  3. I did watch some episodes of Downton Abbey but gave it up after too many unlikely subplots. I just could not keep track of what was happening.

    Hijack alert. Could someone explain the fuss over Hobby Lobby? As I understand it, the Federal government required health insurance to cover 20 types of contraceptives. HL was willing to cover 16 of those and employees who wanted to use one of the other 4 are free to spend their own money. Hardly world shaking.

    I found a posting in Facebook “Scientists accidently discover the brain’s consciousness off switch” followed by a user comment
    “Wonder how long it will take Red States to use this to turn pregnant women into “incubators”, for their convenience?”

    I don’t understand the hysteria implies by the comment.


    5 Jul 14 at 7:01 pm

  4. I haven’t watched Downton Abbey, although I’ve certainly read lots of books which have characters who have inherited wealth. I even know some people who, although hardly super-rich or lords, have a lot more money than I’ve ever had (not that that’s been hard for most of my life). The local culture tends to encourage low-key socializing, hard work, bringing the kids up to be useful etc in the local elite.

    Of course, you get the whiny and malicious types anyway, but naturally, a lot of them seem to come from the much more numerous middle classes, who these days aren’t all that noted for inherited wealth, especially with the encouragement to live up to and past ones means rather than scrimp to help out the children.

    A lot of people do seem to like watching TV shows in which the characters are just nasty and rude and spiteful. I just don’t understand the attraction.


    5 Jul 14 at 7:07 pm

  5. jd, it’s not the specifics of Hobby Lobby, it’s the extension of the decision that’s terrifying.

    The SC has granted corporate persons the presumption of “religious conscience” and the right not to contribute to insurance plans that pay for things they find religiously objectionable. HL said that the four types of birth control they object to are abortifacients. They are wrong, scientifically, but that doesn’t matter to the decision.

    Their female employees can still obtain such BC, but only at their own expense. So if a woman’s doctor says an IUD is her best form of BC, she must spend $1000 of her own money, or elect something cheaper and less effective, or more harmful to her.

    The NEXT DAY after the decision, another “christian” corporation sued not to provide any BC at all. There is the fear that there will be a tremendous movement of all sorts of corporations having religious objections to covering things like blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses), medical products derived from pigs (Muslim or Jewish), or any kind of medical intervention at all (Christian Scientists).

    The majority judges (all men) said the decision was limited to “closely held” corporations whose “conscience” can be presumed to be identical to the persons or family that owns it. The dissenting judges say that it cannot be so narrowly construed and will without question be extended to publicly traded corporations, as there are not two types of corporate personhood, and it comes desperately close to establishing a state-approved religion, since the objections are couched in Christian terms alone.

    This article http://mediamatters.org/blog/2014/07/01/fox-news-ignores-current-legal-challenges-that/199960 says that up to 90% of all corporations are “closely held” and that not all of them are small. Many are quite large, in fact.

    It’s a friggin’ mess, jd, and was foreseeable since the SC decided corporate persons were permitted political speech and that speech = money. Pretty soon corporate persons will have more rights than actual ones. Currently they only have more rights than women, but we all know that woman aren’t people.


    5 Jul 14 at 7:52 pm

  6. Lymaree, it’s been foreseeable since employers first used health insurance coverage to attract and retain their workforces. While that system prevails, there’ll be no end in sight. When women are free to shop around for their coverage, using the money they have hitherto sacrificed for employer coverage, their market power will have the insurance companies falling over themselves on the path to their doors.


    5 Jul 14 at 10:01 pm

  7. I swore up, down and center that I was not going to discuss Hobby Lobby on this blog, but now we’re here, so let me get to it.

    Notice that I’m doing this as a comment and not as a post. In that way, I’m hoping I can keep this from becoming the kind of screaming bucket of nonsense it is elsewhere on the web.

    On the other hand, I’m not really that much of an optimist.

    I think the HL case was RIGHTLY decided.

    In fact, I think it’s the best news I’ve had out of SCOTUS for years.

    The Constitution of the United States tells me I have a) a right to be free of all establishments of religion and b) a right to the free exercise of my religion.

    In practical reality, “religion” has been largely assumed to mean “conscience”–that is that the right is to the free exercise of my conscience whether I base that conscience on God or kumquats or my own sweet whimsy.

    Free exercise does not mean that I am allowed to go sit in a room somewhere where other people who believe as I do “believe” things together or go through rituals.

    It means that I have a right–under VERY broad parameters–to LIVE that conscience, day by day, in my actions, in my words.

    And yes, in the conduct of every aspect of my life, including my career, including whatever business I may found.

    I do not have a right to go into your business and impose my values on you–but no more do you have a right to go into my business and impose your values on me.

    Does that mean that it’s possible that Christian Scientists may decide that they shouldn’t offer health care insurance to their employees at all or that they should only offer insurance that covers CS practitioners?

    Yep. That’s exactly what that means. And that’s exactly the way it should be.


    Rights under this Constitution are NEGATIVE ONLY and they apply TO THE GOVERNMENT ONLY.

    They are restrictions on government power, period. That’s all they are.

    They are statements of areas in which the government MAY NOT restrain your actions.

    Or otherwise coerce you.

    And the government may not impose an Official State Moral Code on the rest of us, either–and that is what the contraceptive mandate was.

    Let’s not even bother to go into the fact that the mandate was not passed as law but issued by HHS as a fiat, as if Sebelius had inherited the divine right of kings.

    The simple fact is that contraception may be based on science, but the ACCEPTANCE of contraception as morally licit is not.

    It’s a moral opinion, pure and simple, and the government may not impose it on the nation in contravention of the many millions of citizens who do not agree.

    What’s more, you have NO “right” to contraception except in the sense that you have the right to be free of government interference in your attempts to access and use it.

    That “right to be let alone” is the extent of your rights in this matter.

    The HL decision does NOT violate your rights in any way.


    Does that mean that some women, working for companies that do not offer contraceptive coverage as part of their benefits packages, may have trouble affording the most expensive of contraceptive methods?

    Yes. So what? Most of us have trouble affording Cadillacs. That doesn’t mean we’ve lost access to cars.

    Anybody working for HL or any other company that does not offer contraceptive coverage can 1) use the employer sponsored health insurance to see her ob/gyn and b) have anything that is said or that occurs in that or any other health care visit kept completely confidential without her employer knowing anything about it and c) get a prescription for any kind of birth control she wants.

    The birth control methods will be available in pharmacies and on the Internet.

    The ONLY difference between her experience with birth control and that of somebody working for HHS is that she’ll have to take out her wallet and pay for it herself.

    What was really at issue in HL was not women’s “access” to birth control. They had that before the ACA and they have that after the HL decision.

    What’s at issue is whether or not the federal government will be allowed to establish a state religion if only they call it “science” or “medicine” and insist that they have “a compelling government interest.”

    I’m hoping to see a lot more rollback of the attempt to force citizens to aid and abet a moral code that is not their own and that they do not accept.

    I’ve got a list.


    6 Jul 14 at 8:55 am

  8. Oh, and please note. In no way is HL “imposing” its religion on anybody.

    “He won’t pay for it” is NOT the equivalent of “he won’t let me do it!”

    Not even close.


    6 Jul 14 at 9:10 am

  9. Oh, nonsense. The federal government has been telling what’s moral and immoral since Prohibition–or, really, since they passed the Pure Food and Drug Act, closed the opium dens and started jailing people for marijuana. It’s a process that went into high gear with “anti-discrimination” and “hate crime” laws, and it’s the hallmark of progressivism. How can we decide what’s moral or immoral without our wise and VERY moral politicians doing it for us? Would we be expected to DECIDE FOR OURSELVES? What sort of free society would that be?

    For those who have a little trouble with irony (not naming names this time) Jane’s got this one exactly right, and it has nothing to do with whether Hobby Lobby is morally right. The whole point of being free is being allowed to do things other people disapprove of–and that includes not doing things other people think you should. The government does sometimes have to intervene to protect children and imbeciles, to maintain public order, and to provide for the common defense. When it starts telling adults of sound mind to violate their own consciences because “it’s the right thing to do” or, in this case, because they couldn’t get a single payer plan through Congress, you have a government which has seriously overstepped its bounds. The interesting thing is how few of our ruling class even seem to have noticed what they’ve done. Their belief that there is only one moral standard and only they get to decide what it is and enforce it should worry even the people who agree with most of it.


    6 Jul 14 at 12:47 pm

  10. The use of the word “right” is interesting in this case. In the original decision (Wade vs Roe, the Court decided that the states could not pass laws preventing women from getting an abortion. That was a negative right.

    Listening to the screams about HL, I gather that the right is now seen as positive, Doctors must perform abortions, pharmacists must stock morning after pills, and employers must provide insurance that covers it. None of that comes from Wade vs Roe.

    I’m with Jane that the HL decision was correct. There are good reasons why corporations are considered persons. But a closely held corporation is not like Microsoft or Intel or Amazon. The moral views of the owners of a closely held corporation should be considered.


    6 Jul 14 at 2:56 pm

  11. Mini-hijack alert.

    I just came across this today: http://catallaxyfiles.com/2014/07/07/parliamentary-systems-are-better-than-republics-much-better/

    Kates is a conservative, more likely a libertarian, economist at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Whatever his views as an economist, he seems to have spotted a very interesting book – “The Once and Future King: The Rise of Crown Government in America”

    I’ve downloaded the Kindle version from Amazon and have started to read it. So far, very interesting. He’s basically saying that the US has moved through four different constitutions with the last one little different from an absolute monarchy.


    7 Jul 14 at 2:14 am

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