Humans are envious by nature, and there is a strong tendency in our society to take advantage of this reality for the sake of financial gain. Your typical American citizen is bombarded daily with images of what appear to be impossibly excellent people living impossibly excellent lives, and subsequently encouraged to get as close to that ideal as possible by spending all that they can.
This consumerist ruse is effective, and that is understandable: I know a good hustle when I see one, and I can’t knock it too much. Here at ROK, however, we’re in the business of looking behind the ruse. That means looking for the truth behind the facades that drive our consumer culture, and using that reality you discover to form your own understanding of society as it really is.
L’Wren Scott’s recent tragedy has provided some recent insights into the reality behind the image you’re sold.
To look at her carefully curated Instagram feed, designer L’Wren Scott was a 1-percenter, a gold-plated member of the international elite: There she was on vacation in India with boyfriend Mick Jagger; at his retreat on the island of Mustique; about to board a chartered helicopter; lounging poolside in gold jewelry and designer sunglasses; stretched out on a private plane, using her $5,000 Louis Vuitton handbag as a footrest.
“I always say luxury is a state of mind,” Scott told The Sunday Times of London last November. “Because for me, it really is. It’s legroom, it’s a beautiful view, it’s great food at a great restaurant you’ve discovered because you obsessively read Zagat, as I do.”
And then, last Monday, she committed suicide, hanging herself in a $5.6 million Chelsea apartment that likely did not belong to her. Within hours, Scott’s life was revealed to have become an elaborate facade — her business at least $6 million in debt, her fashion-world friends and celebrity clientele unaware of her despair.
“Ironically, last week I said to three different people, ‘I wish I had her life, look at her life — she’s always somewhere fabulous and fancy,’ ” stylist Philip Bloch told WWD. “You think, here’s someone who has it all. You just never know.”
Though it turns out that Scott may have actually owned the apartment, she was indeed in a pretty poor financial position. Her seemingly glamorous company was on the verge of collapse, she was being forced to cancel appearances at London Fashion week and her tab to creditors totaled nearly $8 million. She was married to a very rich and successful man, but was a colossal professional failure in her own right. The dream she’d spent a lifetime working to create had, for all of the glitz and glamour on its surface, amounted to nothing but a financial catastrophe.
Scott’s story has gotten the conversation about false displays of success and opulence going in the mainstream media, but hers was far from the first warning of its kind. People don’t realize how many of our society’s most envied are really just fronting. Take typical comments like the following:
“Oh my god, look at that dress she wore on the red carpet! so beautiful! she must be so rich to be able to afford that! I need to be her!”
Reality: dress is a loaner for promotional purposes, designer gets it back after the awards. Same goes for the jewelry, by the way.
“Man, Justin Bieber got arrested! but look at that Lambo he was driving, that shit was fly. I’m gonna get it like that someday or die tryin’!”
Reality: Justin Bieber rented the car, it doesn’t belong to him. This is a common practice in the entertainment industry – many of the famous stars who talk about the fast cars they have don’t actually own (or even lease) them; they rent them for short terms or get them loaned from labels. For all you know, your favorite entertainer can’t even really afford as much as you think: he or she may be pulling in millions, but you can bet that they’re often spending millions too. They live expensive lifestyles that necessitate that high income. And when that income declines, few are ready to deal with it.
“Yo, look at [insert name of well known pro athlete here]’s house! And those whips! Dude is ballin’ so hard!”
Reality: dude has a mortgage on that place and many others, he doesn’t own them and probably never will. His monthly expenses are astronomical. He lives paycheck to paycheck despite having a seven figure contract. The sick cars you see in front of his house are probably leased and, in some cases, are loaners given for promotional purposes in return for meeting certain advertising obligations (which many athletes often fail to meet, often getting their cars taken back). The majority of NBA and NFL athletes you see will be broke or close to it soon after they finish playing.
When former NBA guard Kenny Anderson filed for bankruptcy in October 2005, he detailed how the estimated $60 million he earned in the league had dwindled to nothing. He bought eight cars and rang up monthly expenses of $41,000, including outlays for child support, his mother’s mortgage and his own five-bedroom house in Beverly Hills, Calif.—not to mention $10,000 in what he dubbed “hanging-out money.” He also regularly handed out $3,000 to $5,000 to friends and relatives. Former big league slugger Jack Clark filed for bankruptcy in July 1992 while still playing, listing debts of $6.7 million and ownership of 18 cars—17 of which still had outstanding payments.
I’m sure that the lifestyles Anderson and Clark led impressed a lot of people, but what was really there? Not much.
As previously stated, average folks are constantly faced with images of people who seem to live lives that vastly surpass the quality of their own. These images are put in front of people in order to stoke the human being’s natural tendency to envy its fellow man, and it works. The goal is to get people to strive to meet the standards displayed in these images, and to spend accordingly to close the gap. The end result is a culture in which the image of an elite few has a tremendous impact on the way everyone else seeks to live their lives, as so many are willing to go to almost absurd lengths to close the perceived gap between themselves and the ideal individuals they see on television or on social media. Unfortunately, most fail to realize that the ideal lives they seek to mimic are mere facades, often generated at great personal cost to their owners. Too many are content with the mere appearance of success (tenuous as it may be) and too few are willing to take the time to ensure that solid, legitimate foundations underlie the image.
It is imperative that every red pill male recognize these truths and avoid the dangerous pitfalls associated with them. The road to true self-improvement is a long one, and there aren’t any shortcuts. You might never succeed entirely in this battle: as I noted before, man is wired to want to “keep up with the Jones’” to some degree and there are going to be times at which you will give in to the temptations presented by that trait. And, of course, there will be times at which playing the game serves a purpose for you: it’s not a bad idea to market yourself, provided you’re not mortgaging your future in order to do it.
It is alright to indulge a little, so long as you do not lose sight of the bigger picture. By understanding the nature of our envy and seeking to build the self-discipline, awareness and control necessary to contain it, one can successfully ensure that they are never led to financial, emotional or social ruin by its ravages. You will see the images of extravagance put in front of you and, instead of running blindly to mimic it at all costs as you count stars that may not exist (as many athletes, entertainers and other often idolized individuals have done, sometimes with fatal results), you will understand the existence of facades and take the time to slowly construct your own excellence on top of a real foundation of true self-improvement, never compromising your financial or professional security in the process. It is this restraint that will ensure that your success will be one that can last for a lifetime and will be for more than just show.
Read Next: Why Money Can No Longer Save The Beta Male