Natasha Vargas-Cooper surveys the Rich Kids of Instagram phenomenon, which spans from Tumblr to a reality show to a new novel. She admits that browsing the kids’ photos inspires a kind of sympathy:
Yes, the rich kids seem determined to remind us that they have stuff the rest of us will never have. The captions they post with their photos are, at times, slyly aware of their part in inequality (cf. a picture of a private jet and a luxury car with the caption “The struggle is real”). But for all that, the kids don’t seem especially power-hungry so much as aimless and languid. Behind these faux-provocative posts lurks a desperate clamor for attention that almost verges on a cry for help—something that makes you feel a certain involuntary (and certainly undeserved) pity for these manically self-documented upper-crusters.
She has a less charitable view of the book:
The book’s main gimmick is identical to the Tumblr’s MO: the outrage is all imputed to you, the reader, in advance, by its ostensible targets or by the medium itself. This means, in turn, that the proceedings float serenely above any semblance of real-world criticism. So, not surprisingly, the book suffers from the same thing the actual rich kids of Instagram kids do, only at far more tedious length: a depressing lack of imagination.
Here, for example, is one of the novel’s rich kids fuming about her maid while also clumsily name-checking her 1,200-thread-count sateen sheet set: “Woven in Italy. For what I paid, I could buy your illegal Guatemalan cousins. That is, if you weren’t from Jersey.”
There’s no pulse-pounding social tension or class resentment on offer here—unless you’re especially aroused by inarticulate dialogue. The novel doesn’t proceed in a mood of detached anthropological inquiry, the way that, say, Louis Auchincloss or John Marquand’s old-money fictions did. There’s no anger, no weight, no insight. All you have in the way of a rich-kid call-to-arms is the empty bravado of the anonymous site creator’s acknowledgements at the front of the book: “To all the RKOI kids, who are unapologetically themselves; in a world where so few people will live out loud, you guys have guts, and for that you deserve admiration.”
In a recent issue of Bookforum, Choire Sicha also reviewed the novel, writing that “you could be convinced, while reading it, that this is a Vile Bodies of our times, or one of the cloddier Henry James morality plays, as told by the children of Heathers.” He singles out a choice internal monologue:
I feel the heat rise to my face and wonder, for the gazillionth time, if crazy runs in the family. Maybe it’s already laser-cut into my DNA, and one day it will bubble up from inside. Just like that, I’ll go from Junior Class Perfect with a 3.87 GPA (fuck that granola art teacher, B-minus? She wears Crocs, for fucksake. What does she know about aesthetics?) and morph into Girl, Interrupted.
Dead-on impersonations like this run throughout; the price tags are all correct and the cultural touchstones are all stomped on nicely. There’s something charming about this Waugh wannabe, as it truly is viciously faithful to each and every archetype. But then the instigators of the book thank darklord David Kuhn, and CAA, and a bunch of richies in the acknowledgments, and you remember it’s just a bit of harmless insider fun. What could a book do to the oligarchy, anyway? Piketty didn’t pike them, so no one will. So we learn that the anonymous proprietors of Rich Kids of Instagram are wholeheartedly on Team Join Them, since they, and we, are certainly not going to beat them. After all, it’s not like they can spell acquiescence in a hashtag.
(Image via Rich Kids of Instagram. Caption: “Don’t hate the player, hate the game! #gamesetmatch”)