If you’ve not seen the movie, Generation Wealth, written and directed by photographer and filmmaker, Lauren Greenfield (released July 20, 2018) then I highly recommend you do so now (available through Amazon Prime). The opening night feature at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, the film examines our wealth-obsessed world and the pursuit of the idea that only power and riches will make us happy. If we want to reach the happiness pinnacle, we can’t stop until we’ve decimated the competition and gotten to the top of the heap — despite what we might have to give up along the way.
But it’s not just that, i.e., the idea that extreme wealth is bad and ultimately destroys the people who pursue it to the exclusion of all else. It’s something more insidious, something that permeates our culture with a choke hold so extreme it won’t let go. It’s the tenet of American idealism, that individual actions in pursuit of a dream are okay no matter the consequences. You have a right to chase your dream even if it’s to the detriment of everyone and everything around you, including the environment — okay, okay, I know; always the environment — because Americans are individuals, dammit, and this country was built for the rugged individualist.
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, eh? Somehow I don’t think the Founding Fathers envisioned it would turn out quite this way: capitalism and corporate greed run amok, narcissism in the extreme, politicians who are bought and paid for, families wrecked from the fallout of caring more about the money than the individual lives it supports, all this so some guy, or gal, can wear the richest in the world crown. I don’t get it myself, all that energy spent amassing wealth when there are so many more important issues in the world that we could be turning our time and attention to, but I guess that’s why I’m not jetting around the world on a private plane.
Generation Wealth is a bit all over the place as it was 25 years in the making, and 25 years ago, Greenfield had no idea she’d be making it. Greenfield grew up in Venice beach, a few doors down from the coveted 90210 zip code — as in, Beverly Hills 90210 — surrounded by people with wealth and opulence to spare, the daughter of two Harvard educated parents, her mother an anthropologist and her father a professor — and even with that kind of street cred she felt poor — a place where celebrity was on display 24/7, where kids grew up in unsupervised and very adult-oriented households, and where fame and fortune were de rigueur, but at a huge cost to the spirit of community and the soul of the individual, and, I’ll posit, the world. Greenfield chronicled all of it for 25 years: lavishness and luxury, debt and despair, drug abuse, self-rearing kids, prostitutes, plastic surgeon junkies, it’s all on display here. Greenfield gave up a few things of her own in pursuit of her own dream, her career, but I’ll let her tell you that bit of the story.
Generation Wealth — or unconscious wealth as I like to call it — is a mixed bag of nuts, but just like when you eat too many and feel a little nauseated afterwords, the extreme affluence and unaccountability on display may also make you queasy, but it’s most definitely a film worth seeing.
pam lazos 1.26.20