Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Exchanging Boughs

Anyone familiar with casino advertising knows the general theme: exuberant "regular" person jumping for joy, often waving handfuls of cash, along with an exclamation in bold print, "I won $50,000!!!"  Of course we realize this is false advertising, in the sense that odds are you will not be winning anything at all, but rather losing most of what you spend.  Yet nonetheless, it is an attractive concept.  Witness the $10 billion + market in the US alone

Yet would we go as far as devoting entire sections of our newspapers to covering the rare gamblers that find themselves beating the odds, and getting lucky enough to win big?  Or further still, would we publish stories about their lives that never mention the fact that their success was entirely due to luck, and celebrate instead their current status and accomplishments, with a brief mention of which casino they frequented.

This thought occurred to me as I turned to the Weddings/Celebrations section of the Sunday New York Times.  Wedged in-between coverage of some or another bourgeois cocktail party and a spread of the latest upscale fashions, there lie the dozens of marriage announcements.  Upon further inspection, these announcements (pronouncements?) nearly all detail what could easily be described as the lineage of wealth and privilege.  A modern day family tree of minor royalty. 

The wedded couples, almost always successful and well-bred, generally combine into astonishingly powerful arrangements:
 - A "management consultant in the Washington office of the Boston Consulting Group", marries an "adjunct law professor at the Georgetown Law Center and next month will begin working in the Washington office of the Council on Foreign Relations as the senior fellow for global health, economics and development".  He " graduated from Columbia and received a law degree from Stanford", she "received an M.B.A. from Georgetown University".
- A "a fourth-grade teacher" at a school in the 99th percentile, marries "the founder and chairman of Libertad Bank".  He "graduated from Princeton and received an M.B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin", she "graduated cum laude from Colgate and received a master’s in childhood education from Fordham."
And those were simply the first two couples. So, you might say, these are incredibly bright and high-achieving individuals.  Good for them.  We should all be so ambitious.

Well, we should all be winners at casinos as well.  Because the thing about wedding announcements, is that they always mention the parents.  And almost without fail, the parents too were incredibly bright, high achieving individuals.
- Of the first couple, her mother was an ER nurse and ethics consultant, her father a judge on the Vermont Superior Court.  His mother the "executive director of the North and South American chapter of the International Ozone Association, an educational and scientific organization,", his father "a chemical engineer, is an environmental engineering consultant in Stamford."
- Of the second couple, her mother taught English as a second language at a poor middle school, her father was "the executive editor of USA Today".  His father " the senior partner of J. C. Bradford & Company, a stock brokerage in Nashville" (founded by his grandfather in 1927).
The obvious take-away here is that, just like money doesn't grow on trees, neither does success.  Unless of course, you're talking about family trees, in which case it most certainly does.

So what are we celebrating in these young, successful and promising couples?  Surely we can be happy for them.  We can gaze upon them from afar, pondering what it must be like to live upon such gilded limbs.  Of course, all of our limbs are gilded to various degrees - some of ours more than others.  Yet let us not forget, as their magnificence, their "royalty" is offered to us from the pages of newspapers of record, that these vignettes are as rarefied and fortune-borne as anything glimmering down upon us from roadside billboards pointing the way to the nearest casino. 

Yet, instead of cash, the capital being teased is privilege, in many ways a jackpot more precious than gold.

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