For example, consider these tidbits gleaned from Jim Winokur's book The Rich Are Different:
* When Christina Onassis got thirsty, she ordered Diet Coke... to be flown to her by private jet.
* Ivana Trump hated to see footprints on the carpet in her house. In fact, she hated it so much, she wouldn't even enter a room unless the rug was freshly vacuumed.
* The Sultan of Brunei flew the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to London for his son's ninth birthday. The cost? A cool million bucks.
* Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton was often carried around by a hunky attendant. When asked why, she said, "Why should I walk when I can hire someone to do it for me?"
* When one-time Time Warner boss Steve Ross flew his wife and two other couples to Mexico for Christmas, the trip required two corporate planes... one for the people, and one for the gifts.
* Donald Trump's 727 had 24-carat gold belt buckles.
Having more money doesn't make you happier. I have fifty million dollars, but I'm just as happy as I was when I had forty-eight million. [Arnold Schwarzenegger]
When I was in elementary school, our principal would often pop into our classroom, and when he did, he usually told us a silly joke. One of those jokes was about a pet parrot named Enza. The family was very distraught because their beloved parrot had escaped through an open window, but the punch line delivered a happy... and corny... ending. When they left the window open again... In Flew Enza. Okay, so he wasn't the world's best comedian, but it's gotta mean something that I can still remember that punch line after all these years.
Well, ya know what you get when you combine influenza with affluence? You get a whole new word to describe an affliction that strikes only the wealthy: affluenza.
That word burst into my consciousness this past December, but it actually isn't a new concept. In fact, the term may have been coined as far back as 1954, and PBS ran a special by that name in 1997. British psychologist Oliver James defined the term several years ago as placing a high value on money, possessions, appearances, and fame. In their 2006 book, called Affluenza: When Too Much is Never Enough, Australian psychologists Clive Hamilton and Richard Denniss concluded that wealth causes over-consumption and materialism, and inevitably leads those poor little rich kids to self-medicate with booze and drugs.
Some people made a teensy bit of fun at the idea of affluenza:
But this past December, the unthinkable happened. It was used as a defense in a criminal trial.
The case: Sixteen-year-old Texan Ethan Couch and seven of his friends stole and drank two cases of beer. The other boys allegedly begged Couch to slow down, but he was still driving the pickup truck thirty MPH over the speed limit when he plowed into four people at the side of the road. And killed them. Eleven others were injured. Two of his friends were thrown from the bed of the truck, one of whom will be paralyzed for the rest of his life. Couch? He fled on foot, yelling, "I'm Ethan Couch! We'll get out of this." Three hours after the accident, his blood alcohol level still measured three times the legal limit, and a trace of valium lingered in his blood.
Bottom line, he was right. He did get out of it. This wasn't his first run-in with the law, either. He'd already been charged with underage drinking before, and he was found with an unconscious, undressed fourteen year-old girl in his truck, too. The consequences? Nuttin, honey.
It's all about the affluenza. His lawyer said he suffers from it, and needed rehabilitation, not prison. G. Dick Miller, a psychologist hired by the family, said the boy was a product of affluenza, and thus, unable to link his bad behavior with consequences because he had been raised to believe wealth buys privilege.
I'm not buying it, but evidently the judge did. She sentenced him to alcohol rehabilitation and ten years' probation. The posh California rehab center looks like a resort... and will cost the family almost half a million dollars a year.
So, I ask you, if his so-called affliction was caused by a lack of consequences, how exactly does shielding him yet again from the consequences of his behavior cure that affliction? Talk about the ultimate irony. How will getting out of it change his behavior?
And if essentially what is an innocent by reason of wealth is a valid defense, shouldn't innocent by reason of poverty be a valid plea as well? If a kid can get a slap on the wrist for being over-privileged, doesn't an under-privileged kid deserve the same consideration?
Lawyers believe a man is innocent until proven broke. [Robin Hall]
Yeah, right. I wouldn't give a plug nickel's chance of that ever working. Matter of fact, in 2012, the same judge who sentenced Couch to rehab and probation sentenced another fourteen-year-old to ten years in juvenile detention. He punched a man, and the man fell, hit his head, and died. That young man was black. Okay, so that may not have had anything to do with the ruling, but let's just say... he wasn't named Ethan Couch. And I doubt very seriously if he or his family were troubled with an overabundance of funds.
And so it goes.
So what do you think...?
Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.