Assholes are the Solvent of Privilege

John Michael McGrath is a Digital Media Producer for TVO.

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One of the increasingly reliable markers for the one percent seems to be that, with notable exceptions, they tend to be enormous assholes. But in a world where the wealthy compete to see who can give their children the most obscene display of wealth before they even enter adulthood, this perhaps isn’t news.

What is news is that, amazingly, wealth doesn’t seem to be universally invincible to accountability or taste.

Let’s start with Dov Charney, the founder of American Apparel who’s been booted from his company for unspecified “alleged misconduct.” There’s been nothing more official than that yet, but given the long history of allegations of sexual harassment (and worse) against Charney, there are some likely areas in which to start the guessing game. Reports this morning say Charney was thrown out because of “an attempt by Dov to discredit a number of women” that had come forward.

How hard do American Apparel’s executives want to have to work, really, to try to keep their name from being associated with allegation of teenage sex slavery?

(Back in the prehistory of 2007 or so, a number of progressive bloggers debated whether Charney’s alleged sins were sufficient to outweigh American Apparel’s policies of paying above-market wages in the apparel industry. The idea that someone could buy AA’s gear and still want Charney investigated and, if necessary, prosecuted, seemed to elude some people.)

Then there’s Donald Sterling, who was by all the evidence we have a terrible person long before he was recorded saying racist things by his… mistress? Whatever. The rich are different from you and me. But in case a recap is needed, Sterling was sued for being racist about his rental properties long before he was recorded being a racist about his basketball property.

And now, Sterling’s actually being held to account, in that his wife (who may be a piece of work herself) is trying to sell his stuff for $2 billion. It’s a mark of this kind of wealth that even your punishments for despicable behaviour end with you being given billions and billions of dollars. But hey, we got the spectacle of Sterling’s Anderson Cooper interviews, at least.

Finally, we’ve got the Washington Redskins, who have had the trademark for their name (beloved by white supremacists, but don’t you dare call it racist) revoked by the US Patent Office. This is, alas, not a certainty as punishments go—it’s happened before, and a US court later reversed it. But if it’s upheld (and hey, US courts are different than they were in 2003—just ask gay people), it would put a serious hole in the team’s merchandising income.

Admittedly, none of these hold a lot of catharsis as far as punishments for the wealthy go. There’s a serious lack of torches-and-pitchforkery here if the worst we can do to the very rich is take some of their money away, or, in Charney’s case, fire him but still avoid serious legal consequences. But it’s reassuring to know that the armor of privilege isn’t all-encompassing, if only because I’d like to keep believing that the one percent aren’t actually killing the homeless and processing their bodies for high-quality horse feed.

So let’s raise a glass of something cheap to even marginal examples of accountability, signal flares telling us that it’s possible to be such a gigantic tool that even wealth and political connections can’t universally protect you. If we have to live in an absurdly unequal world, it’s reassuring to know that the darkness can sometimes be kicked enough to let in the light.

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