Those of you who have read my work for a while know that I have a paradoxical attitude which is not unique among Slopers; that is: loving America and really disliking Americans. Or at least disliking a lot of what constitutes American culture.
I came face to face with this not long ago when I did something I hardly ever do, which is fire up the television (ever since the series 24 went off the air, there's really nothing in particular I watch, although I dutifully pay my cable bill month after month). The show that was on was The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
Now, although you're not going to find me curled up on the sofa reading Cosmo anytime soon, I am pretty good at knowing the basics of what's going on in the world of our nation's culture – even trash culture. I have a vague awareness that there's an entire franchise of "Real Housewives" shows based in various cities of the country and, now, abroad.
The premise of the show is that following the real-life doings of upper-middle or upper-class people who lead ostensibly interesting lives is the kind of drama that America craves, and one can't argue with the success of the production. I quickly ascertained from the episode that was playing when I flicked on the TV that this woman – Taylor Armstrong– was putting on an elaborate $50,000 birthday party for her 4-year old daughter.
It was immediately clear from Ms. Armstrong's behavior that she was vain, histrionic, and shallow. In a world of seven billion people with seven billion different sets of problems – many of them heart-wrenching and tragic – you can now have the privilege of watching this bimbo scamper around having a shit-fit that the child-sized tables hadn't shown up on time for her kid's party.
Once the aforementioned tables arrived (at which time she leaped into the delivery man's arms, wrapping her legs tightly around him in joyful embrace), there was time to capture a picture of her with daughter and husband.
Now take a good look at that "smile." I don't particularly like hanging around people engaging in chit-chat, but I am able to read people really well. Try to find a trace of genuine happiness in that smile. You can't, because there isn't any. This is the strained visage of a woman who spends every waking hour concerned about one thing: how she appears to the outside world. It begins and ends there.
Even a passing glance at this show – – and I've invested fewer than ten minutes of my life in the exercise – – will also convince you that every female in Beverly Hills has had duck lip surgery. I suppose it's largely environmental, because if every single peer you encounter has duck lips, bleached hair, and big fake boobs, it's easy to understand why an individual would feel pressured to follow along. Of course, as they say, beauty – if you want to call it that – is only skin-deep.
What I was more curious about was her husband. What sort of man would be married to this superficial dimwit? What sort of man would allow his family to be gawked at by millions of viewers every day for countless years of syndicated voyeurism? Well, his name was Russell Armstrong, and he's shown below with the same smug countenance as revealed above, next to ol' duck-lips.
I ask you again to find the joy in either of these faces – or even a soul, if you want a real challenge. You are looking at some of the worst of what America has become.
But why did I say his name was Russell Armstrong? That's right. Observe:
The strain of things like $50,000 birthday parties for four-year old kids might not break someone like Bill Gates, but it's not something an upper-middle class wage-slave is going to be able to sustain for long. The constant demands of trying to impress the world by way of this program broke his bank account and his spirit. One can only imagine what was going through his head as he looped the electrical cord around his neck three times and jumped off the desk. We are all born innocent, and we all grow up hopeful of good lives. It's easy to conjure up the despair he must have felt as he dangled for the several minutes it took for his life to leave his body.
It gets more interesting, though. Within twenty-four hours, Armstrong's business partner in his hedge fund, Alan Schram, pointed a gun at himself and blew his head away. One can only suppose that if two men running a hedge fund decided independently that they would both take their own lives, there was something not-so-good happening with the fund. Just to show what a small world it is, Mr. Schram even wrote financial blog entries for the Huffington Post.
One oddity of the age we live in is that our virtual selves live on, even when our natural selves are dead (by natural means or otherwise). Mssrs. Armstrong and Schram still have a web site proudly touting the merits of their hedge fund, and you can try to "link in" to Russell Armstrong even now, although a confirmation should probably be viewed with some suspicion.
So what's the point of this sad tale? Some of you might be thinking I'm having a Nelson Muntz-like moment at the expense of these people. That isn't the case. My heart is usually filled more with disappointment than schadenfreude at any given time.
It's the juxtaposition that stays with me. What, apparently, did the woman want? To be married to someone rich who could fund her vanities.
What did the man want? To be married to an (ostensibly) beautiful woman whom he could flaunt to show the benefits of his success.
And what did they get? Ruinous finances and a dangling corpse.
A lot of people simply cannot see past the facade, and the most sickening irony of all is that the first word in the title of this international television empire – "Real" – is the farthest thing from the truth.
Shun fakery. Embrace reality. Be honest with yourself and honest with those around you. This world has got more than its fair share of scams, glitter, and avarice. You can be better than that. Be that way, and do so quietly. You'll be happier for it in the end.