The Ingenious Strategy of the Wealthy Liberal Celebrity

In early 2019, Ariana Grande stared directly into a camera to assure future viewers of the music video she was filming that she was in a position of indisputable dominance, a power evidenced by her massive fortune and all of the luxuries that it had provided. As of this writing, over 1 billion people — a group most likely dominated by those with far lower net worths than that of the singer — have met that gaze, with many apparently not aware that they were being condescended to while doing so. Grande is a genius of historic proportions, if for no other reason than her ability to allege that common citizens “ain’t got enough money to pay [her] respect” without triggering a Marxist revolution. Only the most brilliant of multimillionaires could flaunt their wealth so nakedly and ensure that the masses continue to adore or tolerate them.

Grande’s support for Senator Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries for the 2020 presidential election is difficult to square with the braggadocio of the “7 Rings” video. While Sanders’ platform was expansive and included stances that Grande has never disagreed with verbally or through action — she unquestionably supports racial equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and abortion access, as does Sanders — the Senator’s North Star was the radical reduction of income inequality and the erosion of privileges for the wealthy, an economic overhaul that would threaten Grande’s ability to continue purchasing matching diamonds for herself and her six closest friends. Given the Grammy winner’s proven social intelligence and the incompatibility between her economic interests and those of Sanders, it would be rational to suspect that her endorsement was at least partially a calculated effort to maintain the good graces of those lower on the socioeconomic ladder in case they came to resent her ability to “[buy] a crib just for the closet.”

Scores of outspokenly liberal celebrities with net worths far north of $1 million have made similar attempts to align themselves with the general public without sacrificing their privileges to a significant extent. A year after bemoaning the United States’ income inequality crisis on an episode of Last Week Tonight, political comedian John Oliver purchased a multimillion-dollar, 3,00+-square-foot Manhattan condominium, suggesting that his concern about the nation’s unequal allocation of resources is less pressing than he had vocalized. His fellow Daily Show alum, Samantha Bee, dedicated a 2019 episode of her TBS series Full Frontal to “scrutiniz[ing] how the super wealthy came by their billions, and what that means for the rest of us.” There is certainly a vast gulf between Bee’s $8 million fortune and Elon Musk’s $200+ billion — and Musk’s excessive and undertaxed earnings pose a significantly greater threat to those in less fortunate positions — but for the comedian to place herself in the same camp as the average American family and its amassed wealth of $746,820 requires a degree of skilled and self-serving deception.

In this fashion, many of the most visible of the nation’s highest earners attain both glamorous lifestyles and the illusion of purity. The definition of greed is modified to ensure that the Jimmy Kimmels and Adam McKays of our society can enjoy their comforts discreetly enough to be spared from the underclass’ understandable rage. As genuine progressives wear cloth, they wear silk; as authentic leftists eat rice, they eat salmon.

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