Generation Wealth – film review

This movie has an overall 4-star rating on Amazon.

My question is: how?

I have no issues with Lauren Greenfield’s photography, which is striking. But the film really struggles on the most basic level. It purports to be about Generation Wealth, but instead, it presents many separate threads: wealth, Greenfield’s autobiography, the commodification of women, spending enough time with one’s kids, and plastic surgery. The threads never really come together: there is digression upon digression, and the film never comes up with any sensible thesis.

Greenfield suggests that we now have a global culture obsessed with wealth, which originates from our obsession with reality TV shows. She states that this is a classic sign of “decaying empires”. The pyramids were built, according to Greenfield, when Ancient Egypt was on point of collapsing. Fact-check: They were built c. 2580–2560 BC, which means Ancient Egypt as a civilisation had at least 1500 years to go. That’s a good long while. That’s just one of the sort of vague generalizing statements that Greenfield indulges in.

Let’s go back to Greenfield’s obsession with the evil power of reality TV, which brings visions of hitherto unknown wealth to everyone in their own home. She has no data to back up this statement. Did the wish to improve one’s own status really arrive with the TV set? It seems to me that an obsession with wealth and display of wealth is at least as old as mankind. What makes our current obsession with wealth different? Why is it important? I have ever so many questions, but the film didn’t even attempt to answer them. This is not my first encounter with an analysis of wealth in the modern world: a prime example would be Primates of Park Avenue, in which an anthropologist encounters the intricacies of wealth and motherhood in Manhattan. At least that book had a concrete subject matter and was occasionally funny.

Generation Wealth takes itself incredibly seriously. But it’s often simply trite.

We have someone saying that the important thing in life (as opposed to getting more money) is giving your child a good education, and a prime example of that is your child winning a scholarship at Cornell. Here’s the issue. In America (and in all too many other countries), a good education and a good income, as often as not, are linked. It’s not a zero-sum game – in fact, if you want to get into Harvard, a rich family can really help. Likewise, if you actually get educated in one of the best places in the country, your chances of being rich radically increase.

The most interesting aspect of the film, for me, was Greenfield’s interview with Florian Homm, an ex-investment banker who is now on FBI’s most wanted list for financial fraud. He is now living comfortably in Germany. The interviews with him really worked as an illustration of what an obsession with wealth is and what it leads to. We also had an interview with a now ex-porn star who agreed to all kinds of acts in order to achieve financial status. The other interviewees, though occasionally interesting, had but a tangential relation to the subject of wealth. Just like this film.

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