The White House hosts “next generation” philanthropists about to step into billions.
Yes, what you see above is an actual headline from the New York Times Style Section. And the article it links to stands as the latest illustration of the Style Section’s core competence: Fellating the rich. Skillfully, lovingly, and, above all, persistently. And fellating even — no: especially — rich people who can boast no claim to distinction other than having money. Or, in the case of this particular article, having sprung from the loins of people who have money.
Which gets to a broader point. You might think, if you are but a casual reader of the New York Times Style Section, that what the Times permits to be published, in pages made up mostly of ads for zillion dollar cocktail dresses and shoes and watches and handbags and eyeshadow, is just fluff. And that the Style Section is just a re-badged Society Page that has no ideology and serves no purpose other than to gather in ad revenue and run wedding announcements.
Oh, you would be soooooooooooooo wrong. For the New York Times Style Section is in fact in the business of relentlessly pushing a single idea. An idea that the Times already has sacrificed approximately 1/3rd of the planet’s boreal forest to advance. The idea is simply this: That rich people are good.
And this is why the Style Section is lavishing precious column inches today on an article which, let’s face it, is really about a White House effort to con a bunch of impressionable brats into throwing some of their current or soon-to-be zillions at causes that the White House cannot get the government to fund from the public fisc. And why does the White House need to shake the begging bowl? Because (1) we have an economy built to spectacularly enrich a few — aka, the parents of the kids featured in the Style Section’s article — and allow the rest either to just stay afloat or sink beneath the waves. And (2) we do not collect remotely enough money in taxes from the ultra-wealthy class our economic policies have birthed to deal with the many many dysfunctions caused in large part by the very same economic policies.
One way to deal with this would be to have a real inheritance tax. Think for a moment about what it means to inherit a billion dollars. According to some research I did for this post, a billion dollars is a thousand million dollars. Which means that the government could easily take $950 million of a billion-dollar estate and still leave the heirs with more money than any person or small group of people could reasonably need or even use in their lifetimes.
And so why don’t we do that? It’s not like there’s any real value to allowing people to become billionaires by inheritance. Rather, it creates a class of idle rich people. Or, even worse, idle rich people with ideas.
These people engage in philanthropy. Which sounds like a good thing, and, in modest measure, is. But we cannot rely on philanthropy as our principal approach to tackling poverty, education gaps, disease, or any other significant social problem. In part because philanthropical efforts are piecemeal and small (even collectively). Which is why philanthropy didn’t wipe out widespread poverty among the elderly — Social Security did. But it’s more than that. Philanthropy is also sort of random. Your favorite uncle died of some rare and awful disease? Give $100MM to your alma mater to study it! It may be that the money would be better spent researching the cause of some other disease that kills a lot of people. And it may be that there are a lot of places better situated than your alma mater to do the research. But it’s your money, so it’s your call.
Also, a lot of philanthropy goes to things that mostly rich people like. Like opera. And elite universities. Especially those. The true measure of a good tax system would be that it reduces charitable contributions to Harvard by at least 97%. Harvard has an endowment of $32 billion. It does not need anyone’s money.
Sorry to keep at this point, but why do we allow rich people to take tax deductions for money they heedlessly fling onto the top of Harvard’s enormous pile? And more broadly, why do we tolerate such a loose rule about charitable deductions generally? Rich people can give up to 50% of their AGI and deduct it. These people get a huge tax benefit. But for the 70% of Americans who don’t itemize deductions, there is no tax benefit whatsoever from charitable contributions. And there is a cost to all of us. The government needs to collect a certain amount of money to pay our soldiers (and take care of them when they are hurt doing our bidding), keep our interstate highways and airports open, send checks to ensure that old people are not reduced to eating cat food, and maybe even provide some healthcare and nutrition services so that poor kids can go to school well-fed and without a toothache.
If you think even for a moment about the logic of this situation, you’ll realize that allowing a rich dude to deduct from his taxes the amount he gives to Harvard means that some poor schmoe — and by “poor” I mean poorer than the guy who got the tax deduction — has to pay more in taxes than he otherwise would if the government’s going to be able to do its job. Or, alternatively, we could borrow more money from the Chinese.
The Style Section isn’t interested in any of this complexity. The message of the story is simple: Rich people are good! Philanthropy is something to be celebrated, full stop. Never mind that these kids are getting an early taste of what their wealth will bring them throughout their lives — access to and influence over supposedly democratic government. And never mind that there is something weird and degrading about a society where we create this class of 0.01%ers that has ever less in common with regular Americans, and we then rely on them to take care of us. As far as the Style Section is concerned, the influence, the inequality, the icky interplay of politics and dynastic wealth — all good!
But if you want one fact that distills how the difficulties that great wealth create are absolutely invisible to the Style Section, consider this: The reporter here, Jamie Johnson, isn’t really a reporter at all. He’s one of the heirs to the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical fortune, and was at the White House meeting as an invited guest.
She takes pride in her many roles: writer, musician, model and more.
Like, duh? If your publicist is worth the four figures your agent is paying her, she immediately calls the NY Times Style Section. Which, because the client has an angular face and pouty lips, immediately dispatches a reporter. In this case, the reporter is Marisa Meltzer, heretofore notable chiefly for penning a relentlessly mocked trend piece on the return of pubic hair. No additional punchline necessary.
So what’s the article about? Well, from the perspective of Sky Ferreira’s publicist, it’s about reminding the world that Sky Ferreira does a lot of stuff other than take ecstasy and get arrested. Because Sky Ferreira is, above anything else, an early-stage business model based on the prospect of endorsement deals. No one ever threatened to cancel an endorsement contract with drunk, drug-addled Kate Moss. But as Sky Ferreira’s publicist reminds herself every morning as she grimaces at her reflection in the bathroom mirror, Sky Ferreira is no Kate Moss.
What does the Style Section get out of this? I admit to being mystified. Maybe the Times respects Sky Ferreira’s accomplishments? Mmmm … possible, I suppose. But much more likely if Sky Ferreira was actually good at any of the “many roles” named in the Times article.
Sky Ferreira is indeed a musician, with the voice of a modestly talented 15-year-old. And she shares co-writing credit on a number of the songs she’s recorded. Here are the lyrics from "One", which stand as some of her best work to date:
You don’t know just how to start me up, don’t know how to get me going now. (now, now, now, now, now, now, now, now)
Something’s wrong between the two of us, I’m not a robot but I feel like one. (one, one, one, one, one, one, one, one, one, one, one, one, one, one, one, one) One, two, three, four -
We learn from these lyrics that Sky Ferreira is not a robot, and therefore she does not have a easily-accessible “ON” button. Also that she can count to four — although she does appear to have some trouble remembering the number that comes after one.
Which brings us to Sky Ferreira’s principal occupation — modeling. We learn from the Times piece that Ferreira has emerged as a “kind of muse” to Yves St. Laurent design chief Hedi Slimane. A “kind of muse”? The business of musing doesn’t work that way. One either muses or one does not. And my bet, for what it’s worth, is that Sky Ferreira is not in fact a muse, or likely to become one. To be a muse, one must be either deeply interesting (see, e.g., Jean Seberg) or lovely to gaze upon but utterly blank (Kate Moss, again). Sky Ferreira is just interesting enough to be boring. I mean just.
So forget the muse nonsense and focus on the modeling part. I admit to spending a few long minutes watching video of Sky Ferreira on the catwalk. And I’ve concluded that indeed she does not suck at modeling. But when you come out of the womb shaped like Sky Ferreira, and assuming you’re generally coordinated enough to walk in a straight line after a good snootfull of quality cocaine, then it’s hard, actually, to suck as a model.
The question remains — why is the NY Times Style Section lavishing column inches on Sky Ferreira? Just a guess, but I’d bet someone at the Times owes Ferreira’s publicist a favor. And that’s the real story.
The midweek party at Gilded Lily in Chelsea, where the hosts are fashionable and glamorous.
The Style Section runs another installment in its ongoing “Boite” series of articles about places to drink in NYC. This time it’s the Gilded Lily, a new club on West 15th St. in Chelsea.
The problem with this series isn’t that it’s about places to drink — I’m enthusiastically pro-drinking, and guiding people to great NYC watering holes is a public service. The problem with the Style Section’s “Boite” series is that it’s really about great places for assholes to drink. That much is evident from the first line of the Gilded Lily piece. To wit:
Hedge-funders and scions may keep the extravagant bar tabs afloat, but the bottle-service universe always expands toward downtown for cool points.
I’m pretty sure I don’t know what that sentence means. But it does mention bottle service. And suggests that the Gilded Lily is part of the “bottle-service universe”.
Oh dear God. Everyone please repeat after me: Bottle service isn’t drinking. Bottle service is a way that rich dudes employ expensive booze as a metaphorical penis.
The Gilded Lily piece gets at this indirectly: it notes that the bar will sell you a bottle of 1985 Dom Pérignon Oenothèque Brut for a cool $2,925. Think of what motivates the hedge fund or trust fund guy who shells out nearly $3k for said bottle. He wants to cause a stir. He wants the spectacle of having the bottle delivered to his table, and the waitstaff making a huge fuss over him. And then having the bottle sitting on his table. And all the girls appraising him with sidelong glances … because in the pit of endless expenditure that is New York City, a guy who can drop $3k on a bottle of doubly-overpriced champagne just … because … is a valuable commodity. $3k is like a month’s rent on a shitty East Village fifth-floor walkup one-bedroom with no sink in the bathroom.
Again, bottle service isn’t drinking. It’s douchery. And so the Style Section’s Boite series is really about places to be douchey while drinking. What’s the French word for that?
Nicole Hanley Mellon and Matthew Mellon decided early on in their relationship that they would collaborate on clothing, adding to their collective history in fashion.
Here’s the story: The heir to the Mellon banking/industrial fortune meets a woman at a wedding in Palm Beach, FL. He experiences a “metaphysical overtaking” and proposes marriage. She says yes; they move into a grand apartment in NYC’s Pierre Hotel; have two kids (including a son improbably named “Force”); and then decide to take a break from being merely moneyed to become moneyed entrants to the fashion industry.
The fruit of their labors will be a small line of clothing for 0.1%ers, each article named after a city in which that crowd tends to congregate. So don’t look for a “Cleveland” crop-top or a “Schenectady” A-line dress. Inevitably the NY Times, which pays attention to labor issues only episodically but does obsessively cover the doings of the haute monde, is there with a fawning interview.
There are so many precious 1%er moments in this article. But it’s Ms. Hanley-Mellon’s musings on her “affinity for Africa” that win top honors: “I’ve never been to Africa, but I feel like I have this deep affinity for it,” Ms. Hanley Mellon said. “I’ve read every Hemingway, we collect Peter Beard, I’ve watched ‘Out of Africa.’ It touches your soul to visit and smell the smells, and you can’t recreate the experience without immersing yourself.”
It’s hard to beat this paragraph for sheer density of unawareness. The reference points that Hanley-Mellon uses are (1) a guy who wrote about Africa mostly as a place to shoot animals; (2) a photographer distinguished for his fairly exploitative pictures of naked African women and his 5-year marriage to Cheryl Tiegs; and (3) a movie about a Danish aristocrat who liked Africa because the Africans who worked for her treated her like an aristocrat.