This month, New York advertising man and chronicler of the wealthy set Richard Kirshenbaum (pictured) published a new book, “Isn’t That Rich? Life Among the 1%.” We tried to interview him about it. It did not work out.
Kirshenbaum’s book first came to my attention in early June with the appearance of a goading New York Post story [headline: “You should thank the one percent, you ingrate”] based on the book, which extolled the many benefits of trickle-down economics, concluding that “NYC would still be a dump” without its ample and growing supply of zillionaires.
“This sounds like a provocative defender of the rich who would make for an interesting and contentious interview subject,” I thought to myself.
On June 10, I emailed Kirshenbaum’s publisher about setting up a Q&A. I heard back immediately from his publicist, who was enthusiastic about the idea. I asked for a review copy of the book, and she agreed to send one over.
On June 18, the publicist emailed me again asking about the interview. I told her I’d never gotten the book. She agreed to send another one. Still very enthusiastic! That same day, coincidentally, my copy of the book arrived.
On June 24, the publicist emailed me again. “Just checking in to see if you had a chance to crack open the book,” she wrote. “I’d love to get your questions over to Richard ASAP. He is leaving for vacation soon and I want to make sure I get to him beforehand.”
As it happened, I was just finishing up my speed-read of the book. We’d agreed on an email Q&A, so I sent her the following five questions to pass on to Kirshenbaum (bold added later, for reasons the astute reader will see in a moment!):
- In your book, “old money” is constantly haranguing “new money” over a perceived lack of taste. Their distaste seems to be rooted in a desire to be recognized as having a higher social status than “new money.” Are either of these groups really better than the other?
- The very rich people you write about seem to use money primarily as a tool to measure status. Does money ever bring happiness by itself, or does it simply lead to an endless game of unsatisfying status-seeking?
- You write about rich art collectors who don’t really care about art; rich couples who don’t really love each other; rich parents who don’t spend time with their own kids; rich people who have to buy friends; and rich kids who are too spoiled to work a real job. What is the point of being rich? Do you think that most of the rich people you know are happy?
- Do you think that the incredibly wealthy New Yorkers that you’ve known have a true appreciation of how lucky they are, relative to other Americans and people of the world? Or does wealth warp perception so much that true perspective is impossible?
- Based on your writing, the life of the very rich seems to be composed of luxury vacations, parties, work, and various forms of conspicuous consumption, all taking place within an insular bubble of other very wealthy people. The great wealth and consequent power of this relatively tiny group of people has reshapen much of New York City into an unaffordable playground for the rich. You’ve said that New Yorkers should be grateful for the trickle down economic benefits of the rich. But all things considered, wouldn’t this city be a better place if they were all dropped into the deepest ocean?
Three hours later, the publicist replied to me (bold, again, mine).
Thank you so much for getting back to me so quickly! I really appreciate it. I’m wondering if there is a way to rephrase these last two questions to the below:
- As someone who has worked his way to the top, do you think that the incredibly wealthy New Yorkers that you’ve known have a true appreciation of how lucky they are, relative to other Americans and people of the world?
- Based on your writing, the life of the very rich seems to be composed of luxury vacations, parties, work, and various forms of conspicuous consumption, all taking place within an insular bubble of other very wealthy people. The great wealth and consequent power of this relatively tiny group of people has reshapen much of New York City into a playground for the rich, unaffordable to most everyone else. How do you suggest that the 1% and the rest of us can live together more harmoniously?
You may notice, dear reader, that the publicist proposed to alter not just the tone but also the fundamental point of my questions, in ways that made them rather more flattering to the personal ego of Richard Kirshenbaum. I replied to the publicist that no, I would not like my questions to be rephrased. Two days later, I received another email from her.
“Hi Hamilton, Thank you so much for your interest in ISN’T THAT RICH and drafting email questions for Richard. I know you hardly ever send questions ahead of time and I appreciate you taking the time to do that. Sadly, something came up in Richard’s schedule and he will no longer be able to participate in the interview.”
Sadly, Richard Kirshenbaum appears to be a cowering thin-skinned apologist for the world’s worst people. Whether he is, we shall never know.