That’s Rich

Some villains make no apologies.

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After watching three seasons of Damages straight through, I have become terrified of the wealthy. What started as a late-night, jet-lagged distraction turned into an obsession, as happens with the whole TV-on-DVD phenomenon. There’s always another episode right there, and you don’t have to really be anywhere for the next 44 minutes, so why not? After 36 episodes in two weeks, the message I took from this show about a ruthless attorney ruthlessly going after ruthless TV actor stand-ins for Kenneth Lay and Bernie Madoff is that people with money are ruthless, will do anything to protect their wealth, and think nothing of having someone in the middle class knocked off if need be.

   

  • Diana Mosley: Mitford Beauty, British Fascist, Hitler’s Angel by Anne de Courcy. 480 pages. Harper Perennial.
  • A Life of Contrasts by Diana Mitford Mosley. 296 pages. Times Books.

Of course the reason the show works is because we live in the age of Goldman Sachs domination. Glenn Beck’s followers could easily believe his insane conspiracy theory that George Soros secretly rules the world because it sure seems like he can afford to. My own fear of the rich goes back further, back to when I was working in nonprofit fundraising, a job I should never have held. Overhearing a few too many conversations about why the white woman who received a yacht as her 21st birthday present was donating money to fund family planning clinics in low income African-American communities made me fear that even when they’re being charitable, the wealthy are being evil. It’s a bogeyman-like construct I’ve been neglectful about shaking, and Damages has reawakened it in my mind.

The current financial shenanigans almost makes one nostalgic for the aristocracy. They were at least more up front with their disdain for the rabble, and they would never feign contrition in front of a Senate panel. Take Diana Mitford. Her biography, subtitled Mitford Beauty, British Fascist, Hitler’s Angel, shows a woman so bored with her estates, her elite societal contacts, her world travel that she became a fascist and befriended the “poor dear Hitler,” as she referred to him in letters to her sisters. She married Oswald Mosley, head of the British Union of Fascists, in Goebbels’ house, and encouraged the romance between Hitler and her sister Unity.

But even more remarkable than her biography is her 1977 memoir, A Life of Contrasts. While one’s older years are generally a time of wise reflection, Mitford stands her ground. When looking back at her involvement with Mosley’s politics, and her own frequent trips to Nazi Germany, she writes:

Forty-four years have since gone by; we have had our ups and downs and sorrows and joys and never have I regretted the step I took then. If I have a regret, it is that I could not have done more to help [Mosley] and further his aims, for there is no doubt in my mind that the disasters which have befallen our country and our continent need never have been.

If Diana Mitford had anyone killed, she kept quiet on the subject in her memoirs. But having tea with Hitler seems like the equivalent. On the subject of money and power itself, she’s fantastically mum. She addresses her wealth and assets as if they were perfectly normal, as if a post-prison trip to the Mediterranean would be familiar to all. That seems to me a saner sensibility than this ruthless need for more and more acquisition and domination. Her obliviousness — in contrast to greed — would make her a poor subject for the next season of Damages, starting up again in July. Watching the news, however, I doubt the show is hurting for a new villain. • 17 June 2011

Jessa Crispin is editor and founder of Bookslut.com. She currently resides in Chicago.
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