Whew. I’ve been on a Netflix rip-roar binge, watching episodes of a Spanish drama series, Grand Hotel. Packed with deliciously devious characters, the story begins in 1905 when Julio travels to see his sister, a maid at the hotel. On arriving, he learns of her disappearance, that she may be dead, and decides to work at the hotel to investigate. He sees Alicia, the daughter of the hotel’s proprietor. It’s love. And taboo.
The owner class and the servant class both scheme, plenty— to achieve power and retain it. Plots, subplots, and subpar plots. Secrets. A servant who doesn’t know he’s the heir to the hotel fortune. Murder. Getting away with murder. A serial murderer, called the Gold Knife Killer. Poisoning. Drugs. Overdose. Sex. Expressions that portend betrayal. Betrayals. A hidden room.
I wanted it finished, hoping to reach a conclusion with season 2, hoping the true heir would take his rightful place, hoping the servant-class lover would win the owner-class girl, hoping, hoping, hoping, only to reach the final episode of season 2 …………… spoiler alert ………… and see the hotel explode. Oh, my, season 3 is unavailable.
So I wandered to Park Avenue: Money, Power, and the American Dream, a 2012 documentary that compares a section of Park Avenue, specifically 740 Park Avenue, to a stretch of the same avenue in the South Bronx, the poorest congressional district in the country. At the time the movie was filmed, 740 Park Avenue was home (or one of many residences) to the multi-billionaires that own the USA, the 1% of the 1% that control our political system, government, the uber-wealthy that hold the deed to the Dream. Seems the seat of power IS this co-op building, 740 Park.
David Koch, the wealthiest owner at 740 has a small place compared to the 20,000 square feet occupied by Blackstone founder Steve Schwarzman, “one of the most prominent CEOs when in comes to lobbying for tax policies that favor the ultra-rich.” Both are philanthropists and opportunists, men who’ve rigged life to dominate it.
The Spanish series and the documentary tell similar stories of power, greed, and the distance between the upper, multi-billionaires, and the lowers, staff and anyone without resources. In the documentary, a former doorman speaks, incognito. He calls the co-op owners despicable. Says you’re required to know what each likes. You could get fired for opening the wrong door of a limo. Like at the hotel. A servant could be banished for any triviality.
Both the fictional story and the documentary illustrate the huge gulf between the wealthy and the poor. The wealthy codify rules. The poor are invisible, objects.
The documentary though is real, and it is frightening—frightening because it IS real and confirms that pulling oneself out of poverty is nearly impossible. Wall Street chieftains, who subscribe to the philosophy that altruism is evil, greed is good, and privatization of everything is necessary, have shredded democracy. This is Ayn Rand’s vile vision. There’s footage of her in an interview. She’s creepy, chilling. No compassion for the poor. (Makes the hair on the back of my neck try to braid itself.) Rand’s a god to Paul Ryan, to the politicians whose plans include rolling back or eliminating safety nets for the impoverished while cutting taxes for the rich. Some of the nation’s most lucrative companies are paying little taxes, resulting in dysfunctional basic public services. Schools have suffered. Roads aren’t repaired. Civilization is at stake.
At the mercilessness of the owner class, we ordinaries are considered both expendable and useful. The filthy wealthy know exactly what to say to galvanize a movement—the Tea Party. When David Koch delivers a speech or funds a politician who then parrots his message of “no more taxes” and “small government”, a death knell sounds for social programs.
And men and women who have NOTHING in common with the billionaires and politicians are inspired, ginned up to shout that “anyone can make it in America”, “don’t trample on our liberties”, and “no handouts”.
A planet in peril means nothing to the filthy wealthy who’re anti-regulation. They pollute, pay a fine, pollute more.
Their ideologies are defined by their ids.
Once, education was considered an equalizer. Not now. The cost of a college education has soared, unreachable for many.
Those whose avarice has rendered them inhuman talk large about the American Dream, that it’s available to anyone who’s hardworking. This is propaganda, a myth. That big American Dream is a sigh in the wind.
If you don’t have Netflix, watch the documentary here.
Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Baltimore. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org