Rich Kids of Instagram blog provides snapshot of class divide

By Emily Merlino

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Instagram, the popular app that can turn your ordinary photo of an apple into a Polaroid-esque snapshot from 1972, has gained some unfavorable attention recently for being the playground of the young 1 percent. “Rich Kids of Instagram,” a popular Tumblr page that allows viewers a peek at the opulent lifestyles of wealthy young people, is quickly gaining popularity.

Flickr/tobym

However, in today’s recession-laden world, such flagrant displays of prosperity, especially from those who have inherited, rather than earned, their sumptuous lifestyles have understandably rubbed some people the wrong way. Critiques abound from those who view the privileged teens as ostentatious and grossly entitled examples of how severe class divisions in America have become. The majority of the people that view the site log on to love to hate them as symbols the 1 percent. A quick Google search will show virtually no defenders of the “rich kids.”

However, there are two ways to view the situation. The first and most forgiving is that these so-called “Rich Kids of Instagram” are simply living out their fortunate lives through social media just like everyone else.

“I don’t want to be embarrassed by the fact that I can enjoy myself in Saint-Tropez,” Annabel Schwartz, a 19-year-old featured on the Tumblr, told ABC News. “Everyone here considers themselves to be a lot more substantial than their father’s credit card. I don’t want to be represented by my money and my vacation experiences.”

It’s not as if we should tell those whose income is above a certain point to effectively “put it away.” These kids – and they are just kids –  are doing the same things all young people do. They go on vacation. They receive cars on their 16th birthdays. They go swimming. The difference, it seems, between “them” and “us” is that their vacations happen to be in Saint-Tropez instead of Six Flags, their new cars are gleaming Maseratis instead of used Corollas, their pools have infinity edges instead of inflatable ones, and they go to birthday parties that include champagne and Diddy rather than Bud Light and a local DJ. Is it really their fault for Instagraming that party, as everyone does with their own parties?

Of course not. It’s unfair to mock a person’s lifestyle just because his or her parents (or grandparents or great-grandparents) did well for themselves and their families. A young pretty thing vacationing on a yacht does not a villain make, and it’s judgmental and petty to mock someone for simply living the privileged life they were born into. Everyone shows off a little with Instagram. The “Rich Kids” just have more to show off.

Still, there are certain aspects of the “Rich Kids of Instagram” that are arguably  examples of the grossly entitled 1 percent. Photos of receipts with sky-high bar tabs (one tab, spent on champagne and cocktails, would have bought a new luxury car or a small house) filtered and highlighted to show off the total, are indeed examples of the immense disconnect between the moneyed and the “common folk.” There is a huge difference between people like Schwartz, who seems mortified by the attention her photos are getting, and those who label their $1,000 sweaters with the hashtag “rich kids of Instagram.” The second category is where the real criticism should lie.

“These are the worst people to ever use Instagram,” Gizmodo writer Sam Biddle remarked. “It takes a lot to find something new on the Internet that makes you hate our entire species, and yet, this: dozens of brats who use Instagram as nothing but a way of showing off money they didn’t earn.”

This, in a nutshell, is the very reason people love to hate the Rich Kids. They’re spending money they didn’t earn on VIP tables and doghouses larger than most regular homes.

One headline, in The Atlantic, read: “Rich Kids of Instagram Epitomize Everything Wrong with Instagram.”. That may be true. Instagram is a shiny veneer covering mediocrity. Mundane objects that previously looked dull and uninspiring can now become grainy, sun-dappled, and artsy with just the click of a button. But it’s not entirely convincing to say that these Rich Kids are the exemplification of all that’s wrong with an iPhone app.

“Preteens posing with helicopters they did nothing to earn and posting the pictures online for others to ogle provides an easy in for commentary on the state of the American dream. (Dead.)” Rebecca Greenfield writes in The Atlantic.

Whether or not you feel the American dream is alive and well or on life support,  it cannot be denied that the “Rich Kids” are helping (if inadvertently) to fuel an important discussion in America right now. Should the rich be vilified? Is the American dream dead, and is it the 1 percent’s fault? Are class divisions too wide? The answers to these may be divisive, elusive or diverse, but at least the conversation is finally being had, even if it is at the hands of tweens driving their dad’s Ferrari.

The Tumblr account that simply sought to provide a stomping ground for people to peek inside the lives of the wealthy, young, and beautiful has clearly elicited a deeper reaction than what was desired. It’s highly unlikely that the creators of the “Rich Kids of Instagram” aimed to stir up a complicated conversation about the class divisions and overt materialism facing modern society, but that’s what’s emerged from the furor, and that conversation is one worth having.

Emily Merlino is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected]