“Don’t make me look like a jerk,” she told a reporter, “but I cannot bring myself to buy my children’s clothes at Wal-Mart.”Perhaps you saw this line? Perhaps it made you pause too?
Here we have what appears to be an epic first world problem: pampered rich women who can't handle their husbands' coup de grace(s?). They ooze so much entitlement that they become puddles of self-pity under the slightest pressure--“My job was to run the household and the children’s lives. His job is to provide us with a nice lifestyle...I’m still doing my job.” Now the nice lifestyle is threatened, and the poor darlings cannot bring themselves to shop the discount chains along with the Great Unwashed, those benighted many who wear Jeans with Elastic Waistbands. This article, with its insinuations of divorce for money and marriage as a "risk-management strategy," even borders on the sordid. Aren't we so morally upright compared to such conceited, scheming twits? Down to earth, unprepossessing, middle-class readers of the NY Times who, ok, maybe don't exactly shop at Wal-Mart (because there isn't one in the city! seriously, that's why!), but we get a few things from Target now and then, unite!
For some time now, I have been telling anyone who will listen that the entire Styles section is a set-up. Not a conspiracy or anything, mind you, but a running gag for the reporters. My completely speculative history of the section goes as follows: Styles exists because the paper wasn't generating enough ad revenue from its traditional reporting, so it decided to add a luxury lifestyles component which seems to have worked for Conde Nast, who is keeping The New Yorker afloat by selling 80 bazillion copies of each issue of Glamour and Golf Digest. But while Conde Nast could afford to maintain a stable of writers as vapid as the people they write about (primarily by hiring disproportionately from among those people's offsping), the NY Times had to send their own reporters to write about the Great Espresso Machine Placement Crisis of 2007.
This presents a problem because the reporters themselves, who are merely decently affluent and extremely resentful but not extremely rich, cannot "relate" to the problems of the extremely rich on as personal a level as Conde Nast's writers, and so tend to find these people exasperating and ridiculous. But what to do? The paper's "real" reporting depends on the ad-generating fluff of the Styles section, so it becomes necessary to take one for the team, so to speak. But the tedium of such reporting is surely understandable, and so they came up with a game to make the time go by faster--corner the subjects into complaining about the most absurd possible thing on the record--the First World Problem--and then print it. The tactic made the extremely rich as ridiculous to the reader as the assignment was to the reporter, while flying just under the radar of the class it portrayed, who apparently saw in it only the sincere airing of their very serious grievances about the quality of the first grade art classes in Westchester County. And, let's admit it, it was pretty clever. One has to admire the social deftness required to extract such winning lines.
So the whole game of First World Problems hinges on the obliviousness of the whiner to the rest of the world's desire to have his problems--to which elite private school should I send my child?--instead of theirs--where can I get clean water today? Of course, it relies on some posturing on the part of the reporter and reader too, since they must pretend to "know" and care deeply about the suffering of starving Ugandans or persecuted Hmong fishermen or whomever in order to cast themselves against the oblivious rich. This is kind of hard, since they're mostly people like me--college-educated professionals who can afford to rent a nice house in Arlington and who are more centrally interested in staking a moral claim against the rich than in feeding Ugandans. But what if the havers of First World Problems actually are not oblivious to this game? What if they say, as this week's victim did, "Don't make me look like a jerk?" because they know that's what the Styles section is about--making the people we envy look like jerks so that we might pat ourselves on the back for being the salt of the earth? If they're just as knowing as us, and wealthier on top of it, what have we got left? Maybe we have to acknowledge that we no different from them and actually sympathize?
In short, doesn't this quote basically tear down the entire Styles section?