These days it’s not enough simply to have privilege: you have to spread it about
Our strange political moment has a new saint. Forget Portland Athena: the daughter of the president of ExxonMobil Chemical has embraced socialism, and is now giving away her parents’ money.
In one mesmerising thread, she first declares her membership of the super-rich, lists the moral failings of her fellow rich students, inveighs against the moral depravity of wealth and privilege, re-affirms her commitment to ‘unlearning all the elitist shit my brain normalised’ and calls on her ‘fellow rich kids’ to stop pretending they aren’t rich.
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The internet responded by sending her Venmo (electronic payment) details: requests for money to help with rent, top surgery fundraisers, or just ‘reparations’. She appears to have sent cash to many of these, before calling again on ‘fellow rich kids’ to ‘do your part’.
Her parents should congratulate her. She’s putting into practice every lesson it’s possible to learn today at an elite American college about how to succeed at the pinnacle of America’s new class structure.
It’s unlikely that she’d be as generous with the contents of her bank balance if she’d earned it herself waiting tables. But to make this observation is to miss the point: the capacity to give away her entire bank balance to strangers, via Venmo, in the name of renouncing ‘privilege’ is today a quintessential marker of that privilege.
It’s not enough, today, simply to have privilege: to be truly at the top of the pile, you have to have so much of the stuff that you can spray it around in total confidence that whatever happens, you’re still never going to starve.
Back in 1995, Jarvis Cocker had no time for the rich girl playing poverty tourism. No matter how many of the trappings you adopt of a class you don’t belong to, he sang, you’ll never actually ‘live like common people’.
What’s striking about Exxon Girl, though, is that she isn’t even trying to posture as poor. In fact, she’s enjoining her ‘fellow rich kids’ to stop doing that and instead ‘stay honest about your lived experience’. She has thus comprehensively owned the rich Greek poverty-tourist of Pulp’s indie classic in ostentatious inverted snobbery, and in sophisticated class signalling too. Her renunciation of her own privilege paradoxically serves to confirm it.