If you went to the Sunday, Feb. 15 “HOME” page at The Houston Chronicle’s no-pay, on-line edition, you saw that the big “lead story” on what amounts to a front page was one headlined:
“Ultra-rich kids show off toys”
It was a story about rich “kids”–twenty-something darlings, actually–who share social media selfies and other pictures of their fabulous adventures in glamorous hot-spots around the world, complete with pictures of the extravagant “toys” they buy along the way.
The Chronicle’s blurb beneath the Instagram pictures snapped by these fabulously wealthy young folks was:
“These ‘Richstagramers’ have a message: Their winter is better than yours. With their parents’ money to burn, they jet-set around the globe, and promptly post their exploits on social media for the world to see. Enjoy.”
[NOTE TO AMERICA’S HOMELESS KIDS: Yes, their winter is way better than yours, homeless kids on the frigid streets of America! Get a job!]
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Once you had “enjoyed” this kind of news(?) on the Chronicle’s digital front page–this at a time when Houston’s biggest industry, which is oil, is slashing jobs every day–you could click on to one of these stories right beneath that lead story:
The ridiculous stuff wealthy people buy
(True to the headline’s word, wealthy people pay ridiculous money for ridiculous stuff; but then, we’ve known that for many years thanks to the Neiman Marcus Christmas Catalogue.)
Check out Houston celebrity selfies
10 lessons to learn from the rich
Mind you, this was the dominant “news” package on Sunday afternoon, when news was breaking that some seriously nasty people had beheaded 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya, a “hot-spot” of a way different kind.
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Look, news feature stories have their place. That place is just not on the front page of a major newspaper that is the only one in town in one of the biggest, oil-rich cities in the free world. And it’s sure not supposed to be a newspaper’s role to lift up a slacker of a “kid” with too much of daddy’s money to burn as somebody to aspire to be.
The Chronicle, a paper where I enjoyed much of a rewarding and I dare say somewhat successful career in print journalism, does do a lot of solid, professional reporting, when it’s not glorifying the Houston Rich and the Rich of The World, the class that gave us the so-called “Masters of the Universe” on Wall Street, who helped to create a lot of new wealth, only to create some disastrous new poverty.
And in the interest of fair and balanced blogging, I’ll acknowledge that the best papers in the word—-perhaps the socially conscious New York Times more than most–have a long history of glorifying wealth, fame, extravagance and celebrity. They just don’t do it almost daily on the front pages of any digital editions, as The Chronicle has taken to doing.
I must say once more for the record that there’s nothing wrong with being rich, even “ultra-rich,” since it’s not money that is the root of all evil, but greed and lust for money and the power of it to corrupt even, say, preachers who start out with little money and a lot of Christian humility, only to lose their way when the offering plates overflow and the books and videos turn some serious money. And then there’s priests who take vows of poverty and run with the rich while living like the rich. (Bless you, Pope Francis, for being a reformist who could be an example for a lot of preachers in tall-steeple churches in my own beloved Protestant denomination.)
I’ve always maintained that I want to be rich, even “ultra-rich,” because I like to think I’m an incorruptible preacher, knowing good and well that nobody on this side of the Kingdom is incorruptible.
Still, I like to think I could live a more comfortable and convenient life and ensure a better life for my kids and grandkids while putting my wealth to work making the world more comfortable, convenient and just for a lot of people who don’t have the means for comfort and conveniences in life.
Conveniences like clean water as opposed to the kind that kills, or creature comforts like food or a roof. I’m talking about the kind of “comfort food” that can relieve “food insecurity” in America and reduce starvation rates in places like Haiti, where “mud pies” made of dirt and shortening are ingested by children to mimic what feels like somewhat of a fuller stomach.
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So I don’t hate the rich, which ain’t to say I won’t rap them (and newspapers) every chance I get for excesses at the expense of the poor and powerless. Hating on the rich usually stems from the sin of conscious or unconscious envy or reverse snobbery anyway.
And I’m not a fuddy-duddy killjoy. I watch my share of TV shows and read or follow stories about the rich and famous myself. Like most news and information consumers, I get a certain pleasure from following news from the celebrity- and glamour-related media. I’ll be tuning in to the Oscars next week to be dazzled like a billion viewers, rich and poor, in far-flung places around the world, by Hollywood’s “beautiful people.”
But come on, Houston Chronicle and so many others in the media. The excessive coverage of people living ostentatious lives is excessively poor form.
And yet, as a philosophical and theological matter, I wonder what the reaction would be from we the American people if we were inundated–day in and day out–with serious, meaningful, illuminating media coverage and “lifestyle” stories about people in our own America who are barely scraping by, if not living so far down in the socio-economic scale that they don’t have a home?
What if the Houston media dominated the front page and TV news broadcasts with as much or more focus on Houston’s poor, and on social ills stemming directly from poverty, as it focuses on meaningless drivel about the rich?
How about stories about the daily lives of busboys or dishwashers at work in the 5-star banquet rooms of hotels where politicians raise billions of dollars for thoroughly corruptible politicians on the left and right alike?
How about mixing things up with stories about sweatshops in poverty-plagued countries that keep the prices of consumer goods in America affordable? Where are those stories played up to an excessive extent on the front pages and the media in general?
Obviously, there’s more public interest–the public being you and me–in the mindless escapism of reading or watching news about the rich and famous, complete with so much juicy gossip.
And oh yeah–how we love to see the rich and famous fall from grace while the media pile on like 300-pound defensive lineman.
The preacher in me has to say this: We have seen the enemy, Pogo, and it’s the season for Christians (Lent) to confess and turn and think about what Jesus and the great Jewish prophets who were his predecessors would have to say about the State of the Union as portrayed in the media.
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The old newspaper scribe in me is “old school” and idealistic enough to believe that a newspaper’s primary mission comports perfectly with the prophetic tradition in the Judean-Christian tradition: to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. That entails the constant revealing and speaking of truth to power. And it so happens that “powerful” and “rich” are typically synonymous.
A newspaper or news agency is supposed to be the watchdog that keeps the rich and powerful as well as government in check, lest they run over the powerless poor and marginalized and weak among us—what Jesus described as “the least.”
If we’re honest, we all have to confess that we don’t like too much serious news anyway, and least of all news about the poor and marginalized and all that riff-raff on the perennial “other side of the tracks.” So the media give us what we want—a lot of puff stuff and drivel like stories about narcissistic kids who grew up in gated mansions and who have too much time and too much of daddy’s money to burn, or stories about “10 lessons we can learn from the rich,” including many of the rich who wear diamond crosses around their necks.
The cross of Christ does make for some nice jewelry, and never mind that the real cross was soaked in the blood of a young man born in a barnyard to a humble and poor mom and dad who promptly had to illegally cross borders lest they had their heads chopped off and quite possibly served on silver platters.
As a reporter-turned-preacher, I wonder what Jesus–the great “Afflicter” and thorn in the side of the corruptible or corrupted rich and powerful–might make of all this?
Or the Apostle James–who grew up with Jesus–who wrote in his short but powerful epistle:
“My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really
believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Have a seat here, please’, while to the one who is poor you say, ‘Stand there’, or, ‘Sit at my feet,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6But you have dishonoured the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?
— James 2: 1-7