At first glance, the quote reads like the words of one of Marc Shapiro’s rich friends: “Most people would think it was ridiculous to aspire to be rich.”
But in fact, this is the motivation for working at The Observer (for about three years), a local newspaper that has for decades been a counterweight to City Hall and the New York establishment. Over the summer, I wrote a story about seeing rich people getting offended at the idea of writing about being rich; it goes up on your Facebook feed and is retweeted 1,000 times.
It began because The Observer is forever reviewing parties and events around town. This week, for example, the paper is currently covering the annual Industry Nightclub launch, which brings together many of the biggest names in the nightclub scene. I did a story about the gilded debut of Perfect Palette Eyewear, which hosted an “empty seats” initiative — meaning I interviewed a handful of attendees who had to drink from empty vessels — because that is what I’m paid to do.
My publisher, Scott Raab, convinced me to try it, and it was my first essay I ever wrote as a freelancer. Though I tried not to mention the words “pork,” “brunch” or “bourbon,” I went so far as to describe the next invite as “a disgusting bazaar of shit posies,” an apparent reference to the title of what was going on inside the club (yet another entry on the upskirt account for the year). They were angry and wanted to make sure it got out: They even sued me for a single word I used in this essay, though I stand by the whole thing.
The comments section of that story and other of my pieces quickly filled with insults about working in rich neighborhoods. The denizens of wealthy neighborhoods often hate anything and everything about the places they inhabit. They ridicule other residents and revel in their exclusivity. Everything about them — the varieties of raspberry and spearmint juleps (Manhattan), the pastry menu (Ballston Spa), the prices of lobster claws (East Hampton). Everything.
To work at The Observer was to experience it first-hand. Every time a party was held at a new venue, another rude commenter shouted, “Going to the partiers tonight?” and another said, “Enjoy this darling,” as the site did with this one. And then there was “Where was you on the night of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack?” in regard to a story about one of our internships.
During a Fashion Week party I once attended, a person asked me why it was not ridiculous for me to write about being rich. “The Observer covers the rich,” she explained, “so why do you write for The New York Times?”
We were the exceptions in The Observer’s coverage of billionaires.
The way money is used is pure jujitsu. Ever notice how Hollywood, Wall Street and most D.C. journalism reflects the rhetoric of the powerful elite in America? It is always cloaked in modesty and honor. And yet, the lines we stand on are not so much admirable as usual.
I suppose it’s possible to be too rich.