By Raina Lipsitz

From granular coverage of the career triumphs of nepo babies and the goings-on at elite universities, to deep dives about luxury real estate and ritzy goods and services most people have never heard of, it’s clear that the New York Times’ most cherished subject is the One Percent.

This is driven by prurient fascination with the lives of the rich and powerful, mixed with a priggish desire to shame them for individual consumer choices. (“Owning or operating a superyacht is probably the most harmful thing an individual can do to the climate”—4/10/23.) This reflects the class and educational background of Times staffers, many of whom are status-obsessed graduates of elite institutions whose personal wealth and privilege, or proximity to it, skews their worldview.

NYT: Looking for ‘a Different Kind of Wow’: Next Level Hotel Experiences

The New York Times (5/14/24) reports on how luxury hotels are offering “ever-more-lavish activities for guests,” including a “personalized shopping extravaganza”($2,860), an “Enlightenment Retreat” with “four days of holistic treatments ($5,745) or an “invitation to an artist’s private studio to learn about their process” ($7,500).

Here is the Times (5/4/24) on Dylan Lauren, the paradoxically svelte “candy queen of New York City” and empress of the boutique candy store chain Dylan’s Candy Bar:

Ms. Lauren, who is the daughter of the fashion designer Ralph Lauren, lives on the Upper East Side and in Bedford, N.Y., with her husband of nearly 13 years, Paul Arrouet, 53, who is a managing partner at a private equity firm, and their 9-year-old fraternal twins Cooper Blue and Kingsley Rainbow.

Yachts, butlers and “next-level” hotels are of keen and constant interest. The paper (4/10/23) declared last year:

If you’re a billionaire with a palatial boat, there’s only one thing to do in mid-May: Chart your course for Istanbul and join your fellow elites for an Oscars-style ceremony honoring the builders, designers and owners of the world’s most luxurious vessels.

This May alone, the Times ran stories on multimillion-dollar designer “eco-yachts” (“‘silent luxury’ is fast displacing opulence”—5/10/24), luxury hotel experiences (“From cooking with a Michelin-star chef to taking a chauffeured shopping spree in Singapore, hotels and resorts are offering ever-more-lavish activities for guests”—5/14/24), and a new breed of butler employed by “the One Percent of the One Percent” (“The modern butler…is no longer a grandfatherly type in morning trousers that stays in the background, if not out of sight”—5/14/24).

‘Affluent social cohort’

NYT: The Betches Got Rich. So What Next?

The founders of Betches Media have “the chance to make another $30 million if the company can reach certain revenue and profit targets by 2026” (New York Times, 5/11/24).

The paper finds much to admire in buzzy businesses founded by millennial and Gen Z entrepreneurs. Take Betches Media, a women’s humor company that satirizes the “affluent social cohort” of young women who grew up in the “well-to-do” Long Island suburb of Roslyn, and joined sororities while undergrads at Cornell University. Industry watchers “took notice” last fall when the company’s founders sold it to LBG Media for $24 million, the Times (5/11/24) reported. (The term “betch” is  meant to “mock the preferences of a type of shallow, higher-income, college-educated woman,” who is also most likely white.) The sale netted the three founders around $8 million apiece. One told the Times she had treated herself to a gold Cartier watch; another said she had refreshed her wardrobe.

Several former Betches employees complained that many of the rank-and-file workers were underpaid, with some earning around $50,000 a year to churn out the content that made the business a success. Yet the focus on the more-affluent-than-ever founders suggests that the Times is more interested in winners who can afford Cartier watches than in the grumbling of those left behind.

The fact that the Betches Media founders attended Cornell is not an incidental detail. The Times’ coverage of Ivy League schools and their alumni sometimes suggests that if a phenomenon didn’t happen at an elite university, it didn’t really happen at all.

A 2021 story (6/7/21) on a Yale Law School kerfuffle dubbed “Dinner Party-gate” claimed that the episode exposed a culture that pitted “student against student” and “professor against professor,” forcing the school to confront a “venomous divide.” Far from being a tempest in a teapot, this was indicative of a broader cultural shift: Students at Yale Law now “regularly attack their professors, and one another, for their scholarship, professional choices and perceived political views.” In a place “awash in rumor and anonymous accusations,” the paper breathlessly continued, “almost no one would speak on the record.”

What exactly was “Dinner Party–gate,” and why did the Times consider it a story of compelling national interest? A group of students alleged that Amy Chua, a “popular but polarizing” professor, had been hosting drunken dinner parties with other students, and possibly federal judges, during the pandemic. Five paragraphs in, and after “more than two dozen interviews with students, professors and administrators,” the Times doggedly reported, “possibly the only sure thing in the murky saga is this: There is no hard proof that Ms. Chua is guilty of what she was originally accused of doing.” Nevertheless, the story persisted for an astonishing 36 paragraphs.

‘We’re not oligarchs’

NYT: They Found the Harbor for Their Hearts

A New York Times (11/3/17) love story: “When the night was over, they departed to their separate yachts.”

In addition to small private parties that may or may not have taken place at Yale Law School, the Times is always on hand to cover larger and more luxurious private parties. The principals of a 2017 wedding chronicled by the Times (11/3/17) met on a yachting excursion off the coast of Croatia. After the ceremony, “guests were greeted by two trumpeters in medieval attire at the Metropolitan Club on 60th Street,” and the bridal couple, who “created their own family crest” for their wedding invitations, menus, wax seals, programs, napkins and cake, departed the venue atop a white carriage drawn by two white Percherons.

In 2019, the Times (2/22/19) covered the union of law firm associate Yelena Ambartsumian and engineer and executive Miroslav Grajewski. Both are avid art collectors whose romance was fueled by “robust curiosity” and “the desire to build a legacy.” The art they’ve acquired includes pieces “priced in the tens of thousands or more.” (High-end art notwithstanding, the bride assured the Times, “We’re not oligarchs.”)

The couple married at St. Illuminator’s Armenian Apostolic Cathedral in Manhattan, and held their reception at Eleven Madison Park, a Manhattan restaurant the Michelin guide describes as a “temple of modern elegance” where “nothing is out of place and everything is custom made, from the staff’s suits to the handblown water vases.” Dinner for two, with wine, now costs $1,314.

Toward the end of the ceremony, the Times reported, the officiant “placed gilded coronets on the heads of the bride and groom, an Armenian tradition anointing the couple as the rulers of their domestic kingdom.”

It’s not just parties and weddings, but the luxury goods and services purchased for them, that catch the Times’ eye. In April, the paper (4/13/24) wrote about the cake designer Bastien Blanc-Tailleur, who creates “opulent confections” for “high-profile clients,” including European aristocrats, movie stars, fashion designers, and Saudi and Bahraini royals. Blanc-Tailleur’s wedding cakes start at 7,500 euros, or around $8,100, while simpler cakes, which start at roughly $3,700, are “relatively more affordable.”

‘Go broke or go home’

NYT: Go Broke or Go Home Bachelorette Parties

“People now look at pictures of others who might have incomes 10 to 100 times what we have,” a New York Times article (​​7/16/19) observes—referring to social media, though it could be talking about its own lifestyle coverage.

As fascinated as the Times is by the lifestyles of the rich and famous, it takes care to note that the luxe life is not for everyone. In a 2019 essay (​​7/16/19) on “Go Broke or Go Home Bachelorette Parties,” the paper tackled tough questions like, “What happens when friends are consumed by wanting their bachelorette parties to be picture perfect at any cost?” (Answer: “Credit cards are maxed out and debt rises.”)

Yet even essays warning against mindless excess tend to glamorize it at the same time. “The cost of bachelorette parties is ever growing, with weekend wedding festivities at destination locales now the norm,” the author noted, adding that millennials like her are “going broke” to attend. She then described a bachelorette outing she was invited to: “a long weekend in Spain from my home in Clifton, England, with an itinerary packed with VIP yacht trips, exclusive booths in glamorous nightclubs, a luxury villa and afternoon teas at high-end restaurants.” Suddenly racking up a little credit card debt doesn’t sound so bad!

Attraction to the sweet life is part of our culture. But readers would be better served by a newspaper that scrutinized rather than fetishized wealth and consumption.

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Filed under: Inequality, New York Times

Raina Lipsitz

Raina Lipsitz lives in Brooklyn and writes about politics and culture. Her work has appeared in Al Jazeera America, The Nation, Appeal, Atlantic and New Republic, among other publications.

article courtesy of FAIR

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photo (top) Oprah Winfrey’s place — photo selected and posted by These Green Times