Thursday, July 04, 2013

[Rant] The New Thurston Howell III

The New Thurston Howell III: Decades ago I spent a few summer sailing on Lake Erie so the upcoming America's Cup caught my eye. The America's Cup used to be a day-sailing race between multi-millionaires who had an this sort of honor system for what sorts of boats could enter and they were at least marginally related to the sorts of sailboats most sailors actually sail. They may have been haughty rich bastards playing with expensive toys, but at least they had a sense of reticence and tradition.

But the ever advancing crudity of the world is an irresistible force. America's Cup is now a competition between multi-billionaires and oil sheiks, raced in vehicles that are essentially planes or gliders constructed in such a way that they keep some semblance of adherence to the water. They do not have sails, they have wings. They do not have hulls, they have aerodynamic fuselages. In short, they bear little or no resemblance to proper boats.

The big cheese in the America's Cup is the reigning champion, Larry Ellison. Ellison made his fortune as the founder of Oracle, the database/software giant, and is about as close to a perfect megalomaniac as ever borrowed your Grey Poupon. The yacht club he selected as headquarters for his defense of the Cup was chosen on the fact that they needed his money so badly they would let him do whatever he wanted -- basically turning control of the place over to him as needed. Better yet, get this quote from a NY Times article:
...Mr. Ellison, who recently appeared at a red-carpet premiere of 'The Wind Gods,' a laudatory documentary about his 2010 [America's Cup] victory that was produced by his son, David.
I'm sure Ellison will win again; he has apparently priced-out a good chunk of the competition. Maybe he'll commission a laudatory HBO mini-series this time. The America's Cup is lost cause -- corrupted by narcissism, it is the freak show of sailing, to be watched for the purposes of gawkery only. No point in complaining, though, it had a good run of over a century. Can't really ask for more than that.

More on Ellison's megalomania: He recently purchased the island of Lanai. Yes, the entire Hawaiian Island of Lanai. That includes a couple of high-end resorts and all the infrastructure. He is apparently going to turn it into some sort of utopian sustainable tourist paradise. The sort of place all solid upper-middle class progressives would vacation with the same pride they take in driving hybrids and overpaying at Whole Foods. Truth in Advertising: I'd vacation there in a heartbeat.

My favorite quote from that last link: "...he likes to say his favorite car is his 'white Toyota,' a white Lexus LFA, the company's $380,000 race car." What a remarkably dickish thing to say. Larry, I have owned Toyotas exclusively for the last 28 years, and you, sir, are no Toyota driver.

Funny thing about Larry is how blatantly nouveau riche he is. In his seminal book on class in America, Class, Paul Fussel points out how actual upper class folks don't attract attention. They don't want it, don't care about it. Being demonstrative about money is what a middle class guy does when he gets rich. That's Larry: a middle class guy who's money makes him feel special, allows him to do special things, and he wants you to know it. (Which is not to say he doesn't do good things with it.) Compared to the truly upper class -- who would be more inclined to race Newport-Bermuda in a trusty old Hinckley -- Larry's boating antics make him look like Thurston Howell or Judge Smails.

On the other hand, Larry probably doesn't care what people think of him, and my Toyota is 12 years old. So who should be talking about class?