Filthy Rich


MARX WAS WRONG-gossip, not religion, is the opiate of the masses. As more and more Americans lose their jobs, the national fascination with the comings and goings of the rich and famous proceeds apace Americans head for the soup kitchens, and articles proliferate on which restaurants serve the richest vichysoisse. We are a nation increasingly headed for the poorhouse, consoling ourselves with a fascination for the remaining rich.

In New York, Enid Nemy stands in the vanguard of these mindless extollers of income. Nemy fills about 25 column inches weekly in the Living Section of The New York Times with a column that has very little to do with the "living" of most New Yorkers. As cheerful treatment of the trivialities of life. Nemy's column evinces a blithe ignorance and unconcern for the world's misfortunes. Elderly New Yorkers may he eating per food and locking themselves in unsafe apartments, but Nemy chatters on with the cheerful opinion that the hardest thing about growing old in America these days is the little white lies one must tell to keep one's age a secret.

Nemy's column, entitled adoringly enough "New Yorkers, etc.," does for the social world what Milton Friedman does for the economic. She makes a compelling case that the greatest injustice facing the world are those that mildly inconvenience that well-heeled. The most insiduous aspect of the column is Nemy's assumption that all her readers must share the plight of which she speaks. No matter what one's tax bracket, one finds one self wondering right along with her about how to juggle three black tie dinner affairs in the same evening, or who should pick up the tab when both you and the friend you're eating out with have expense accounts.

A typical Nemy column samples the opinions of rich, famous and beautiful (in a pinch, someone with any two of the foregoing will do) on a truly insignificant subject. Besides being merely trivial, the matter must be one that would come up only in the course of expending large amounts of money. Dishwashing, hamburgers, or any of the other middle-class institutions that make New York great are about as likely to appear in the column as confessions that some celeb beats her children.

Aside from inherent offensiveness, the column has a real knack for stumbling on the Obliquely Offensive Reference (OOR). For example, most of the responsible media in New York have long trumpeted the tragic plight of shopping bag ladies--women who live on the street, carrying their few possessions in tattered bags. Nemy not long ago got in a classic OOR with her column about her own shopping bag ladies--the women who after a tough day at Bloomingdale's must maneuver through the streets and into their taxicab overburdened with purchases. The gist of the column was a breathless admiration for those specially blessed women who manage never to appear overburdened--and a coy suggestion that these women must have legions of servants secretly following a few steps behind and carrying all their bags. More savvy still, they may even have all their purchase delivered.


More recently, Nemy scored another memorable OOR in a column on the unfairness of life. Readers of the Times's news section may remember that a few years ago President Carter set off a wave of protest with his explanation that if cutbacks on Medicare funding of abortion meant that poor women would have to give birth when they didn't want to, well, life is simply unfair. Nemy makes Carter look like a raving egalitarian by suggesting that life is chiefly unfair because one cannot always sit next to the person one would like at a classy dinner party (presumably the one party one has chosen after--cruel fate!--one is invited to the customary four in one evening.)

It's no great tragedy, in itself, that Nemy doesn't have the worldview necessary to understand why life is unfair, or that she wouldn't know a welfare mother if she tripped over one between apartment house lobby and limo. The world is full of ignorant people. But the Times, by allowing Nemy to blather on about upper class living, makes itself party to the fascination that skews our awareness of where this nation is really headed. Nemy is only one of a growing army of journalists singing the praises of affluence on the pages on some of the nation's leading periodicals. Newspapers that take a firm line against Reaganomics and the New Right on their editorial pages should, for consistency's sake, keep the social elitism off their lighter pages as well.

The Living Section comes out every Wednesday. Someone stop this woman before she writes again.