It’s hiding, yet in plain sight — a refrain that artists, entertainers and the wealthy have been repeating for years. They all want you to know that they don’t do their jobs for money, that greed is not a factor in their career choice or that greed is bad and should be avoided if you don’t want there to be dire consequences.
It’s everywhere in pop culture. “Breaking Bad” depicts Walter White’s turn to evil as he lusts for money and power; “The Wolf of Wall Street” would have you believe that starting a brokerage firm leads to a life of excessive consumption and misogyny; Imagine Dragons want you to know that becoming famous makes people think you can do no wrong in “Gold”; Lorde declares in “Royals” that she and her generation (ours) have no interest in money and Sam Smith, in “Money on My Mind,” wants you to know that he does his job for love, not money.
Why is this? What’s up with this reassurance that famous people aren’t greedy? Why are we told, over and over, that wealth and success are bad? I don’t think it has anything to do with truth or lies. Instead, I think it’s a reflection of the system behind our economy and class structure.
It’s difficult to apply a sweeping generalization across all pop culture in this fashion, yet I feel like there’s something more sinister at work here because it’s so common. The promotion of becoming wealthy and successful is rare at best in pop culture, as if to say that success is to be frowned upon. So what happened to the American Dream, or more broadly (for Lorde and Sam Smith), the theory that hard work and determination can lead to success? Why are the class gaps widening in the first place?
Here’s the underlying problem I see: if all we hear on the radio is that wealth and success is bad, we lose any drive to be wealthy and successful. Not that the people behind all of this pop culture are specifically trying to drag us all down (hopefully). But would a message about success do as well on the radio or at the box office? Would record labels and Hollywood even allow such texts to exist, for fear of them not making as much money because it’s not ingrained in our culture like fearing wealth is?
Here, fellow students, is the crux of the issue. If we are told to fear success, we will fear it. Pop culture has a grip on us that it has never had before because our society is now run through information, advertising and consumerism. And what happens if we fear the notion of handling lots of money, of running a business or of being famous? We don’t strive for it. And thus we stay right where we are, buying houses, cars and college tuition with money we don’t have, not bothering to acquire more wealth to pay our debts and paying twice as much on these things through interest charges in the process.
Therefore, I say that we stop listening to these messages that the wealthy tell the poor. I say we strive for success, pay our bills with earned money instead of borrowed loans and stop fearing wealth because we’re told it’s greedy, when in fact it’ll make that looming fear of college loans go away, pay mortgages and car payments and start families — and build our futures — without the help of a bank.