Few of us are billionaires, and even fewer of us would have our child sue her uncle for millions. It’s an unusual situation and is not all that relatable. Or is it? Ronald Perelman is not a typical billionaire in that he spends an inordinate of time in the gossip pages. He seems to enjoy the spotlight more than most; he did marry a NY Post Page 6 columnist after all. But his desire for attention is relatable, isn’t it? Most of us don’t live in a world of ten or eleven figure wealth or Vanity Fair and/or Town & Country gossip columns. But all that’s just excess make-up and costuming. If we peel away the drag performer layers and hold up a mirror, we may see something quite familiar.
Money often substitutes for many things beyond the gold system. Once people’s basic needs (e.g., food and shelter) are met money becomes quite fungible. Accumulating money often is a pursuit of security and stability. Spending money can be more complicated and fulfill a myriad of needs. Fighting about money is usually pretty straightforward. Most often it boils down to; “enough about you, what about me?” We can dismiss last will and testament contention as bold-faced greed, and certainly there is a nugget of truth to that. But often it’s more complicated & personal. True, it’s hard to fathom what’s personal about the fight over Huguette Clark’s fortune. (Distant relatives who had never met Ms. Clark are lining up with their hands held out.) It’s pretty clear that Mr. Perelman, having already lost this legal case against his ex-brother-in-law once in 2008, is willing to pay more than $60 million to be called a winner. Theoretically what’s at stake is $350 million for Mr. Perelman’s adult daughter. It’s nothing to sneeze at (unless of course you happen to have personal wealth of more than $14 billion.) None of the players need this money (except perhaps those representing the parties.) But haven’t we all at one time or another played tug-o-war over something barely worth holding on to? Aren’t our dealings with money often about how we want people to respond to us? Don’t we make choices about external displays of wealth (cars, homes, jewelry) because we want strangers to think we’re “worth” it? Haven’t we experienced mini (and not so mini) meltdowns in restaurants, on airplanes and in shops because of not being treated like a V.I.P.? Most everyone wants to feel valued, and in our country money is the most calculable symbol of that value. A multimillion hair pulling fight is really no different. “Enough about you, what about me?”
Appearing in gossip columns might not appeal to the majority of us but is there anyone who still holds dear the goal of appearing in the media only upon one’s marriage and death? People don’t wake at 5:00 AM to stand outside of the Today Show window because they don’t have access to television; they come to be on TV. We’ve become (over many decades) a much more extroverted culture who by and large basks in our close-up. Social media took off because it fulfills a need. We want to be heard, we want to be seen. Selfie anyone? There is an argument to be made in favor of this extroversion, and perhaps attention-seeking behavior. It could be seen as a harmless way to fulfill a very pressing need. If we consistently feel as if we have our moments to strut and fret upon the stage, perhaps it bodes well for our real life relationships. It’s easier to be more empathetic and generous of spirit if we feel valued in some aspect of our lives. It’s not far-fetched to posit that if attention is being paid in our social media life, we can pay closer attention in our real life world. It’s not entirely nuts to consider that interactions with (3-dimensional) friends and family can be more “enough about me, what about you?” And if we heightened the rose colored hue on our perspective, and perhaps close one eye; we might even see a future in which money could lose some of its emotional power.
*Money (1966) – John Kander & Fred Ebb