On a recent flight to Italy, my only source of entertainment was to watch reruns of the MTV shows The Hills and The City. This completely frivolous form of drivel served its purpose as a temporary pastime, and I watched Whitney, Kristin, Heidi, Brody and company frolic around Los Angeles and New York City with their Chanel bags, Malibu beachfront homes, and Lamberginis.
When I later had time to ponder the amount of material wealth that was represented in the “intervention” scene with Heidi, Holly and Stephanie, I realized something. This is a group of rich kids. Okay, obviously. Everyone in the world knows these are rich kids who get even richer by having camera crews follow them around and chronicle their oh-so-dramatic lives. But when you look closer, you realize this is a group of nouveau riche kids. They have money and material wealth in the form of flashy cars and clothes and shoes, but they lack something worth far more: class.
Watching Whitney introduce so-and-so to another equally nonimportant so-and-so made my stomach turn. At a fashion (of course) industry event, surrounded by couture and thousands of dollars worth of handbags, while rubbing elbows with notable fashion directors, magazine editors, photographers and stylists, she simply points to each person and states the name of the person she’s introducing them to. You don’t have to have attended etiquette school to know that that form of introduction is tacky to say the least, and not really acceptable in the real world for someone over the age of fifteen.
In Titanic, an elderly Rose Dewitt Buckater when describing Molly Brown, uses the phrase “new money”. While this concept is not elaborated upon in the film, its consequences are certainly made clear when Rose’s mother and other “society ladies” try to steer clear of Molly Brown as much as they can, calling her “that dreadful Brown woman” and leaving their tea table so she won’t sit with them. Those from “old money” have always looked down upon self-made, hardworking people not born into money, but who earn it or come across it later in life, those nouveau riche people.
The nouveau riche appeared at the turn of the 20th century, when the so-called “working class” or bourgeoisie was exploding and coming into money during the Industrial Revolutions of the United States, England and France. Thanks to machinery and changes in class structures, more people could afford more and better luxury items-i.e. clothing and accessories. But the profession of stylists also emerged during this time to teach these newly anointed clients how to wear the latest styles and how to use accessories such as canes, hats, gloves and ties to best show off their new status. Those who had come from “old money” from generations, or even centuries, of wealth, had grown up learning how to tie neckties and lace corsets and which hat goes with which outfit. The phenomenon of coming into money created a whole sect of people who had access to the latest trends and wanted to be seen as stylish, but had no idea how to go about it.
But now, these nouveau riche are setting the trends on MTV. Whitney clearly doesn’t know politeness 101 or even how to introduce a friend to an important colleague, because she wasn’t bred that way. She wasn’t brought up to be gentile and gracious at society functions or in social situations. Nowadays, children are taught to be bold and to “go for it” and to make something of themselves. The world has lost a bit of that sophistication and class that comes with the breeding of those from money.
The opposite is also true: you don’t need to be from money, or even have a great deal of money, to have class. Having money isn’t what makes you rich or sophisticated or glamorous, as Whitney and most especially Kristin Cavallieri have so colorfully demonstrated. These 22-year old millionaires have no idea what to do with themselves. You can show up at the airport in a Ferrari, with a first class ticket tucked away in your Louis Vuitton handbag, walking around in Prada shoes and still be the tackiest, least classy person there.