‘Actually,’ Thami stated matter-of-factly, ‘I’d much rather cry in the back of a Rolls Royce Phantom than in the back of a Toyota Tazz, thank you very much,’ while smiling smugly and using her French-manicured fingertips to push the fringe of her Brazilian weave out of her face. We had spent the afternoon watching a romantic film and as the credits rolled, it was clear that my friend was not about to be reeled into the idealism. ‘I’ll sit there, all forlorn with my Dior makeup running horribly down my face,’ she continued dramatically, ‘wiping the tears off with Prada coat, taking swigs of Veuve Cliquot right out the bottlem, and wondering why the HELL my husband is fooling around with another woman!’
Thami clapped her hands together at her last statement, looking highly amused by her humour. ‘What, you guys? Don’t look at me like that!’ she exclaimed when she noticed that, although entertained, the rest of us looked doubtful. ‘Babe, what if the mightiest word is “love”?’ I interjected, whimsically, quoting a line from an Elizabeth Alexander poem. Although I didn’t really believe in what I was about to say (being the realist that I am), I was interested in seeing the lengths that Thami would go to in supporting her remarks. ‘You know, that stuff that’s meant to prevail above all else and be the main reason that you choose to be with someone? Are you telling me that when it gets down to the wire, you’ll abandon the absolute love of your life – I’m talking the butterflies and adoration – just to be with someone who’s rolling in cash? Seriously?!’ Thami defended herself to the end, of course, rambling on about how her private education certainly never prepared her for a life of hardship and suffering, should she end up falling in love with a man from the wrong side of the tracks.
The reality is that this ‘I’d rather be rich’ mentality is becoming more common among young people, especially women. Many of the young women that I know personally, are satisfied with the Plan A or B of marrying a rich man, regardless of the tangible prospect of obtaining university degrees that will allow them the opportunity to become wealthy in their own right. Clearly, the likes of Khanyi Mbau continue to have a greater reach than what can possibly be measured. However, in my observation, this growing trend has less to do with future security than it has to do with pure greed.
Television on. Popular mogul/model/mom Kimora Lee Simmons is shown in her spacious walk-in closet (complete with couches), and gives the viewer a visual tour of all the luxurious clothes, shoes, jewellery and bags that money can buy. Standing next to her are her two, beautiful daughters and although Kimora is a successful businesswoman, having recently gotten out of a divorce, she shows that marrying rich definitely has its perks.
Radio on. Rappers such as Kanye West, Lil’ Wayne, Drake and Jay-Z churn out lyrics about how they’re the best when it comes to hiphop, sexual prowess, making and spending money.
Since the audio and explicit music videos are never enough, shows such as MTV’s Cribs exist to give fans further insight into exactly what the lyrics are all about. Rappers show off their lavish mansions upon sprawling gardens with numerous garages filled with only the finest sports and luxury vehicles. In their homes, they reveal the contents of their pricey endorsement deals and the weighty diamond, gold and platinum chains that have turned them into the envy of their fans.
On almost every best-sellers list, powerful tycoons have added books to their ever-expanding business endeavours – claiming to bare all their secrets to success. Indeed, everywhere we turn, the media is selling a particular goal to us: pursue profit, gain, be hedonistic, live in excess. Want, want, want.
Greed continues to fuel lifestyle choices as people break their bank balances in pursuit of the biggest, the shiniest, the fastest and the latest. It is hardly surprising, then, that wealth and happiness are now regarded as inseparable. More people are finding it hard to imagine the possibility of living a pleasurable life in modest surroundings. Through the media, people are being taught that a life of (over)indulgence is the only way to ensure joy.
Greed has been confused with progression to the extent that even Karl Marx was able to predict an era when the fetishism of the commodity would be the status quo: ‘It is nothing but the definite social relation between men themselves which assumes here, for them, the fantastic form of a relation between things.’ It is clear that, as consumers, our main concern is the inattentive accumulation of commodities. In time, this determines the overall quality of relations between people because relations are mediated by commodities. In society, your worth as a human being is determined by what material possessions you have amassed.
Perhaps some relevance can be found in Saint Thomas Aquinas’ original classification of the Seven Deadly Sins. Of greed, he states: ‘A sin… in as much as man condemns things eternal for the sake of temporal things.’ The present-day significance of Aquinas’ statement can be found in ‘eternal’ versus ‘temporal’, where something as valuable as happiness is sought externally rather than from within. Greed manifests itself as capitalism; driving people to abandon their inherent passions and seek joy in the material. However, greed is not sustainable and non-fulfilling: the market is constantly flooded by new products and latest releases – now that the common man’s sights have been set so far, the focus of life becomes a hamster-wheel of acquisition.
It is good to dream and pursue a better standard of living for oneself, but certainly not at the expense of what really matters in life. Take it back to the beginning. Minus all the pop lyrics, fancy clothes, night clubs and cars; real love and laughter, friends and family have always been enough.
Writer // Lebohang Masango