A couple months ago my eight year old started watching soccer on youtube during his daily hour of screentime. It seems to be a good way for him to spend his time. He pays close attention and tries out the mind-blowing moves when he is on the soccer field, his favorite place to be.
A few days ago a friend was over and after playing soccer for an hour then went into the den for screentime. After awhile I went to check in. I was shocked to find they were watching a video about famous soccer players’ houses. The video was comparing the house where they grew up to the house they live in now. Many players grew up in poverty and are now among the wealthiest in the world and they had houses to match that shift. It was classic celebration of rags to riches stories. The video was unashamedly glorifying wealth.
My jaw dropped. I shook my head. Awe and adoration were all over the boys’ faces. These young kids are already buying into the myth that wealth is the goal. It made me sick to my stomach.
I couldn’t stop myself from commenting – “What if instead of building mansions those players redistributed the money they were making so that their family members and friends could live in safe neighborhoods and have running water?”
I can see why my son and his friend were drawn to the video about soccer player mansions. We live in a society that glorifies the accumulation of wealth. The steeper your climb to get that wealth, the more we like your story, because that means we have a chance at it too. Those stories are everywhere – they have seeped into our consciousness. Think – Working Girl, 16 Candles, Bachelor Party. These movies from the 1980s scoffed at the rich and yet at the same time the moral of the story was peace making between working class and the rich. You had to lose some friends if you were going to make it big in the world. And the stories have just become more and more a worship of wealth. My favorite current sitcom is Modern Family – a show in which all of the characters are probably in the top 30% of wealth in America, with the father figure in the top 1%, as if it were completely normal. And even though I think about wealth inequality all the time it took me a couple of seasons to notice it in the show.
This normalization of wealth is problematic. Because, in fact, it’s not normal. You can check out this paper on inequality from the Economic Policy Institute for lots of info including a chart where you can see by state what the difference is between the income of the wealthiest 1% and the income of the bottom 99%.
At the same time as we are worshiping extreme wealth we are decrying the decay of our society – the violence, the drugs, the disease, the terrorism, the poverty. We are unable to make a connection between the fact that the USA is the most unequal country in the world, with the fact that we have the most pronounced social ills in the world. We don’t connect the overall wealth in the USA with the poverty in other countries either. There is an excellent ted talk by Richard Wilkinson showing the direct correlation between wealth inequality and all these social problems.
It is all connected.
I want my son to dream. Yet it is important to me that his dreams are based in reality and are about humanity instead of just himself. Then, if he ever does become a famous soccer player, he can use his wealth to contribute to a more just and equitable society, instead of his own aggrandizement.
So, I feel I have a responsibility to teach my son about the reality of inequality. He’s unlikely to learn it in public school.
I showed both my sons (8 and 5yo) this 6 min video – Wealth Inequality in America. We talked about where our family falls on those graphs and where other people we know are located on those graphs – including the famous soccer players. I asked what they thought about the wealth inequality – and my youngest had lots to say (like the rich people should spend all their money and then we’d all have all that money or we should take it away from everyone except for Neymar). My oldest son simply took the computer curser and took the film back to the part where all the money was distributed equally – “socialism”.
We talked about where different houses fall on that economic wealth continuum… the Brazilian favelas on the far left, our trailer right around the 40% mark, the house where we vacationed in the top 10% area and Neymar’s mansion on the 1%. My kids immediately placed Trump in the .1% of people. The fact that someone like him could ever dream of being president (when they should be in jail for all of the scams, shady deals, swindling people out of fair wages, and hiding their profits so they don’t have to pay their fair share, etc) proves the point that this nation glorifies wealth.
For all of you out there with big houses, or more than one house, this is not intended to be a personal critique, but rather a critique of how our economic system and our value system has robbed us of our humanity. It is an attempt to move us back to the place where we share our resources more equitably and we work towards equitable governance of our houses, our towns, our states, and our country. It is a challenge to all of us to look critically at how the societal messages about wealth have seeped into our homes and hearts without us even knowing it. It’s time to change that. It’s time to return to community, to connection, to collaboration, to sharing.
Let’s interrupt the glorification of wealth!
Some of my favorite books are:
“Those Shoes” by Maribeth Boelts
“Rad American Women A-Z” by Kate Schatz
I love the game “Co-opoly” for ages 8+
“The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas is an excellent novel for teenagers and young adults.
And for adults the book I most highly recommend on examining our thoughts on poverty and wealth is “Where We Stand: Class Matters” by bell hooks.