The Year in Being Rich

We know the orcas are right to sink yachts but we can’t help but betray our infatuation with a certain lifestyle.

What were we obsessed with, invested in and plagued by in 2023? Hazlitt’s writers reflect on the issues, big and small.

In 2023, it seemed like a tide was finally starting to turn. Strikes blossomed across entertainment, education, and federal sectors and expanded into hotel, automotive, and publishing industries. The wealthy were sent up spectacularly through series like Succession. Critics and audiences revelled in skewering the unlikeable, venomous rich character. Gen Z introduced terms like “quiet quitting” and “lazy girl jobs” as a passive means of hitting back against doing the most for minimum dollars. The push against the one percent was determined, forceful, and most importantly, accessible. We (normal people) were mad as hell and we weren’t going to take it anymore.

That is, provided we were rebelling against the right kind of wealth.

The writers’ and actors’ strikes (waged by the WGA and SAG/AFRTA unions) exposed the reality of life in the arts: contrary to the glamour associated with Hollywood, plunging royalties and smaller writing rooms mean the majority of writers, crew members, and actors struggle to survive in an industry worth billions. Of course, Canadian talent was already aware. In April, Canadian actors (ACTRA) marked a year of being locked out of several ad agencies whose brands refused to pay minimum union rates, while TVO (Ontario’s public broadcaster) began their first-ever strike to fight for liveable wages, good jobs, and better public services. Striking is a valuable reclamation of control that financially hurts the ones hoarding the purse strings. It’s a blessed GFY to billionaires.

The climate for this hot strike spring and summer was ripe. But there remained a divide. Where money earned at the detriment of the proletariat brought deserved ire, 2023 still saw us worship at the altar of a certain kind of one percent. Sofia Richie’s wedding (and multiple wedding dresses) drew coverage from beauty, fashion, and culture publications and incited obsession on TikTok. Gwyneth Paltrow, who was found “not at fault” after her now-famous ski crash trial, became iconic (again) after she likened losing half a day of skiing to a relative tragedy. Both women sit comfortably atop a mountain of legacy wealth,  arguably permitted their place because of old money—a status that’s been cemented twofold by Richie, whose husband Elliot Grainge also boasts generational wealth.

The year’s temperamental relationship to wealth signals our own profound discomfort with it. As normal people simply trying to earn a living, we (rightfully) resent the rich and hate the higher-ups who hoard their abundance. Yet at the same time, we aspire to the effortless lifestyle of those who don’t think about money. Let’s face it: to romanticize the grind exposes a desire to work our way up a ladder that was never designed to hold us, and it feels embarrassing to be so obvious about our intentions.

The social division is real, and so are the emotional and mental hurdles that accompany it. We know the orcas are right to sink yachts but we can’t help but betray our infatuation with a certain lifestyle. When we dub Gwyneth iconic or mould our own images after a Richie, we expose our desires to play a role in a specific, unreachable fantasy: one in which we have money, have always had money, and are able to live free from the trauma of normal personhood. We aspire to not having had to strive for financial security or freedom; to transcend the necessity of having to grind. We dream of a day when our peasant hands don’t betray us; when we don’t have to use coupons or collect Optimum points.

Our relationship to wealth will continue evolving, particularly amidst a housing and healthcare crisis. (2023: the year everything just kept getting worse.) Lest we forget that the enthusiasm for wealth gave way to an overt and tangible pushback to the norms that insulate the elite. Sofia's wedding and Gwyneth’s trial took place in the first half of the year. Meanwhile, the second half brought far-reaching strikes, ardent callouts, and a rousing speech by The Nanny. (As well as the arrival of Real Housewives of Salt Lake City star Monica Garcia, who described a co-star as materialistic—to her face, and several times.) In 2023, there was still a "right" way to be rich. Whether that will still be true in 2024 remains to be seen.