Written By Taylor Tash
I recently watched The Queen of Versailles, a documentary about the Siegels, a wealthy family whose patriarch made his fortune in the timeshare business, and their quest to build the largest and most expensive house in America. The Siegels planned to model it after the palace of Versailles and while the documentarians were chronicling the garish mansion’s construction, the 2008 financial crisis hit. The tourism industry changed overnight, and David Siegel’s company, Westgate, quickly lost millions of dollars. Construction halted immediately on Versailles, and it now currently sits empty and unfinished.
The documentary portrays David’s wife Jackie as a faded trophy wife whose dreams have been shattered and although her problems, ranging from being forced to suddenly clean her own house to shopping at Wal-Mart, are so first world they don’t deserve to be considered problems, she’s presented in a sympathetic light. The rise and fall of the hapless wife does in fact seem like a far less extreme version of Marie Antoinette’s, and it’s a whimsically masochistic coincidence that she decided to model her own home after the tragic monarch’s. It’s fitting that the Siegels chose a pre-Revolutionary French theme for their doomed dream house, since the financial meltdown that impeded its completion brought upon a social stratification comparable to the one permeating the heyday of the real Versailles. But now that Versailles has quite literally fallen once again, why hasn’t the revolution started? The Occupy movement attempted to be the revolution we need to bring upon a more even distribution of wealth and making the American Dream more accessible again. The movement was presented in the media as disorganized and lacking focus, and within a few months the Occupy Wall Street division seen on TV looked more like Burning Man than a protest. But the spirit of Occupy lives on, albeit in less bombastic ways, and there still lurks a real sense of unrest amongst the common people of America.
From the start, the media portrayed the Occupy movement unfairly and unsympathetically. It even went so far as to supply inspiration for the villain’s plot to take over Gotham City in The Dark Knight Rises, one of last summer’s biggest blockbusters, since Bane’s plan to take back the city from the rich was far too similar to be hapenstance. But instead of portraying Bane and his followers as underdogs and everymen, they are presented as terrorists who are ultimately defeated by Batman, a beloved icon of American pop culture who also happens to be a billionaire.
One weapon the modern ruling elite has which past generations lacked is the proliferation of mass media. Everything that’s force fed to us is done so through a filter of how they want it portrayed. Therefore, we’re supposed to feel sorry for Jackie Siegel that she has to fire her maids and take her kids to McDonald’s, since she’s suddenly losing the extravagance that the rest of us supposedly desire. There’s an extreme cognitive dissonance in our collective bitching about wealth inequality while simultaneously idolizing and buying into it. We tag up bathroom stalls with ‘We are the 99%’ and then return to the bar to talk about how great it is that Lady Gaga bought a solid gold wheelchair to use while convalescing from surgery. We feel that re-posting viral YouTube videos about wealth distribution is enough to be making a statement, then check our favorite gossip blogs for the latest updates about which celebrities are currently boning each other. If we get hit by a bus and survive it we won’t be able to pay off the debt we’ll owe to the hospital, but why should we care about that if all the needed recovery time would permit us to catch up on all the episodes of ‘Keeping Up with the Kardashians’ we have saved on our DVRs?
Not everybody’s completely brainwashed and apathetic, however, since there are definitely some revolutionary spirits among us who are really trying their damnedest to make this world a better place for the rest of us. But there don’t seem to be any signs of the media curtailing its policy of extolling flagrant extravagance. In fact, it’s probably only going to get worse, and the majority of us will most likely never realize how absurd, unnecessary, and altogether disgusting it is. Maybe comparing eighteenth-century France to the modern day is a bit of a stretch, and perhaps I just got excited about spotting the overt coincidence in The Queen of Versailles. We’re not exactly all dying in the streets from starvation the way the lower classes were in the days of pre-revolutionary France and with all things considered, we’re still so much better off than the majority of the world. But I think what’s really stopping us all from truly making some kind of change is simply how goddamned distracted we are as a whole. But maybe one day we’ll get so disgusted with how life has progressed for us ninety-nine percenters that we’ll finally decide it’s time to rise up. Maybe then we’ll start grabbing the pitchforks and lighting the torches, but not until we’ve updated our Facebook profile pics and watched the lastest episode of ‘Snooki and Jwoww,’ of course.