Category Archives: Lifestyle Economics

dan savage cleans up billionaire mark cuban’s mess

There was an interesting spontaneous moment on a recent Real Time with Bill Maher that speaks to the complication of class relations.

While making a comment, Dallas Mavericks billionaire owner Mark Cuban accidentally knocked over the water of fellow panelist Christia Freeland. He apologized and continued with his thoughts. As he was speaking, someone off-camera put a towel on the table, so the water could be discreetly wiped up. As it turned out, it ended up being the third panelist, gay rights activist and sex columnist Dan Savage, who took care of the spilled water, pointedly saying as he did so, “Here’s the working class Irish guy, cleaning up after the billionaire.”

Upon first watching, I was immediately struck that the moment represented a central problem with the uber-wealthy: lack of awareness, and the expectation of others to deal with the mess you create. Cuban accidentally knocked over the water, nicely apologized, and then went on with things, paying no mind to the effects of his accident. And furthermore, it was tended to by Savage, reared in a working class household, who has been taught to do just the opposite.

But after a little reflection, it seems the class influences at work in this brief exchange between Savage and Cuban are a bit more complex.

Savage is an extremely successful columnist, radio host, published author, activist, and regularly-featured national commentator. He might not be a billionaire, but he’s more comfortable financially than most people. Of course, as he was brought up working class, maybe he still identifies with that reality, as is no doubt the case with many folks: being molded foremost by the class experiences of their childhood. But Cuban, too, was brought up working class. The grandson of Russian immigrants who were processed at Ellis Island, he sold garbage bags when he was twelve to pay for a pair of sneakers, and so forth.

So if Savage was still identifying as working class, then it seems a little unfair to negatively label Cuban as “the billionaire.”

Maybe this incident is not significant of any larger issues, class or otherwise? Maybe it was indeed an example of a class microaggression?

What to make of it?


Leave a comment

Filed under Accountable Wealth, Class, Lifestyle Economics

meet tom shadyac: mobile-home-living multi-millionaire

Once upon a time, a burgeoning young Hollywood director bought an 8,000 square foot Beverly Hills mansion. Only to immediately realize that he had made a huge mistake.

“There I was, standing in my house that my culture had taught me was the measure of the good life, standing alone in the entrance foyer after the movers had just left, and I was struck with one very clear, very strange feeling: I was no happier.”

Which, not surprisingly, he found quite puzzling.

This director of several successful comedies, including Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Nutty Professor, Tom Shadyac went on to buy another mansion (this one at 17,000 square feet), before seriously downsizing, and moving into a mobile home (albeit the nicest mobile home I’ve ever seen).

Shadyac has a new movie out, a documentary called I Am, about his search for a meaningful life. And last month he spoke with Oprah about his journey navigating our consumer culture. (Click on link below.)

“It’s a conversation I know you all are having,” suggested Oprah. “Has the world gone mad? … It’s like we’re in this envious race to get more and more and more and are still feeling emptier and lonelier and more disconnected.”  Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Advertising, American Dream, Lifestyle Economics

a house is more than a home: gatsby mansion destroyed

Earlier this month, an old mansion that is believed to have been the inspiration behind F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic literary portrayal of the opulent Jazz Age The Great Gatsby, was razed to the ground. The 25-room mansion, known as Land’s End, was emblematic of the famed Gold Coast on Long Island.

“This [area] represented the epitome of everything you could strive for, everything you could want,” explains Ruth Prigozy, Executive Director of the F. Scott Fitzgerald Society. “You had optimism. You had a sense of what America was. The possibility of America. And you had it embedded in one place.”

According to literary legend, Fitzgerald would sit at night on the porch of his house in Great Neck, and stare across the bay at the Land’s End mansion, contemplating the themes that would form Gatsby, a novel which does a better job than most of honestly exploring the promises and perils of the American Dream.

“The home was one of the few remaining relics harkening back to Fitzgerald’s time on Long Island,” Serena Altschul reports for CBS Sunday Morning.

  Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under American Dream, Class, Lifestyle Economics

the rich just ain’t what they used to be

Remember Robin Leach, the host of the television show Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous who charmed us with “champagne wishes and caviar dreams”? Well, two decades later, it seems we’re all still hungover from the uber-affluent-extravaganza buzz we collectively endured. Celebrity gossip. The Fortune 500. Beltway politics. Who can sort through such porous distinctions anymore?

So is it really surprising that Donald Trump is deciding to run for President? He already has a tower, a board (bored) game, and a TV show. Is he supposed to just ride off into the sunset on his yacht, lounge on the beach of his own private island paradise, telling his martini cocktails they’re fired, never to be heard from again?

If only.

The uber-wealthy. Seems the more they get, the more they get in everyone’s face.

It’s tempting to reason that it has always been like this. “We seem to be made to suffer,” fatalist philosopher C-3PO reasons. “It’s our lot in life.”

But the reality is that today’s insane-ly rich have become even more brash than their power-wielding forbearers of yesteryear. (If that’s even possible. Which, unfortunately, it seems to be.) Commie-red rose-colored glasses aside, the rich just ain’t what they used to be. And an intriguing new study by (former Barnard College history professor) Thaddeus Russell, A Renegade History of the United States, makes that abundantly clear.  Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Accountable Wealth, Class, Fair Taxation, Lifestyle Economics, Philanthropy

quote of the intermittent time period V

From Stephen Duncombe’s Notes From Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture:

“The history of all rebellious cultural and political movements is the history of the unavoidable contradiction of staking out new ground within and through the landscape of the past. But today this laying of claims may be harder than ever. No longer is there a staid bourgeoisie to confront with avant-garde art or a square America to shock with countercultural values; instead there is a sophisticated marketing machine which gobbles up anything novel and recreates it as product for a niche market … The underground is discovered and cannibalized almost before it exists.” – Stephen Duncombe

Leave a comment

Filed under Advertising, Consumerism, Lifestyle Economics

really simple?

I have a confession: I’m addicted to simplification. The allure of getting rid of what you don’t need, using everything you have, and (of course, the big one, the condition that separates the practice of simplification from the reality of impoverishment) having everything you need.

It’s like that old Nissan XTerra commercial: “Everything you need. Nothing you don’t.”

How fabulous. How enticing. The illusion of simplification. The oversimplification of simplify.

But simple ideas can come in complicated packages. Not unlike a Nissan XTerra, or its advertising budget. Or Real Simple, a monthly publication devoted to a “life made easier” (their tagline), while being printed on nearly 200 pages, and having a masthead that lists over 100 people. Sort of not that simple, really.

Still, the girth of Real Simple notwithstanding, each issue usually contains an article, or list, or suggestion or quote, about simplifying, that is worth pondering for a bit. This month’s cover teases we wannabe simplifiers with a piece advertised as “the clutter cure: expert advice for pairing down.” So I immediately turned to page 124 and began reading away, eager to breathe easier, be more relaxed, and live more simply.  Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Consumerism, Economic Opportunity, Lifestyle Economics

profit-masters of sport: dave zirin’s bad sports

Worried about the impending NFL lock-out that lies unresolved amidst the uber media-hype leading up to Super Bowl Sunday? Tired of millionaire athletes wanting more money, and billionaire owners refusing to budge an inch?

Here’s my review of Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love, Dave Zirin’s thorough breakdown of everything you’ve ever wanted to know about professional sports ownership, but are (rightfully) afraid to ask.

My review in the current issue of the International Socialist Review, though not on their website.


Cage-dancing cheerleaders. Beer you can buy in the bathroom. Stadium security guards who prevent fans from leaving their seats during the Seventh Inning Stretch. American flags branded by Lockheed Martin that are handed out at the ballpark in celebration of July 4th. A 73-year-old grandmother and lifetime season-ticket holder who is sued by the team she adores. Welcome to the world of sports, early 21st-century style. We’ve come a long way since the naive, simple-minded days of Dr. James Naismith and Abner Doubleday.  Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Accountable Wealth, Class, Consumerism, Lifestyle Economics