Sunday, May 20, 2012

"Born Rich" and "The One Percent" - Two thought-provoking documentaries by Jamie Johnson, heir to the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical fortune

By Patrick

"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." 
Mark 10:25

"There is only one class in the community that thinks more about money than the rich, and that is the poor. The poor can think of nothing else. That is the misery of being poor.
Oscar Wilde, 1891

"We think the most potent and short-term threat would be societies demanding a more ‘equitable’ share of wealth."
Third "Citigroup Plutonomy Memo", 2006

"If it were true that lower tax rates and more wealth for the wealthy would lead to more job creation, then today we would be drowning in jobs."
Nick Hanauer, "TED-speech", 2012

Only recently Kathleen and I discovered the two documentaries made by Jamie Johnston, who was born in 1979 and is one of the great-grandsons of Robert Wood Johnson I, the co-founder of Johnson & Johnson. On his 21st birthday, Jamie Johnston inherited a large, undisclosed sum of money, but fortunately for all of us, he was not content with just being rich and enjoying his money and his status - quite on the contrary. He created two unique, fascinating and incredibly important documentaries: "Born Rich" (2003) and "The One Percent" (2006), in which Jamie Johnston examined his "class", the super-rich, from within - which in the end did not go down very well with some of the subjects he portrayed in the documentaries, including his own father.

The Occupy-movement made the term "the one percent" a "household name", and the issues of income inequality, the role of the rich and their influence on politics are now hotly debated topics everywhere, and will most likely remain the most important subjects especially in the USA for years to come. So I guess that Jamie Johnston was ahead of his time with making these documentaries. Which might also explain why Kathleen and I got to know of these documentaries only at such a late point. I am sure though that many of you have heard of them before.

These documentaries are an absolute "must-see", and once you start watching, it is very hard to stop. I do not know of any other documentaries about the "super-rich" which are so gripping, such an eye-opener, which raise so many important questions and which show so much ignorance and arrogance on part of these people who, according to Republican propaganda, are meant to provide jobs, prosperity and growth in the USA. These are truly thought-provoking documentaries, which need to be "re-visited."

"Born Rich" is available on Hulu for US-citizens, and it also has been uploaded to youtube:

"The One Percent":

The "New York Times" published a very interesting report about "Born Rich" - excerpt:
At the age of 20, while studying medieval history at New York University, Mr. Johnson decided to make a movie. During a series of conversations with his uncle, Dirk Wittenborn, a novelist and screenwriter, he came up with the idea for ''Born Rich,'' which he describes as a sort of inoculation against the fate that befalls many wealthy people. ''There were so many stories I had heard of,'' Mr. Johnson said, ''even in my own family, of people that had turned to drugs and blown a lot of money. I thought, what an irresponsible way to live.''

More than 50 members of the country's junior elite rejected Mr. Johnson before he was able to secure his cast of 11. A Campbell's soup heir initially said yes but then backed out, saying his parents disapproved. Others seem to wish their own parents had been as cautious.

Luke Weil, the 22-year-old son of Lorne Weil, the chairman and chief executive of the Scientific Games Corporation, which owns Autotote, the off-track betting company, is seen in the film mouthing off about taking LSD ''between the summer of sixth and seventh grade'' and having ''an incredibly precocious drug habit.'' He also brags about how little he had to do in college at Brown, claiming that the university wouldn't kick him out because of his family's fortune.

''In my entire first year,'' he said, ''I think I attended less than eight academic commitments.''

After hearing early reports about the film, Mr. Weil filed a lawsuit against Mr. Johnson and the filmmakers demanding that his scenes be cut. For his part, Mr. Johnson retaliated by featuring the lawsuit in the film as an example of what happens when rich people talk about money. Last fall, a New York State Supreme Court justice ruled in favor of Mr. Johnson in the case.

Carlo von Zeitschel, the long-haired great-grandson of Kaiser Wilhelm, who is seen in the film smoking cigarettes and saying if he ever manages to be faithful to a woman he'll be sure to have a ''prenup,'' also threatened a lawsuit but never filed.

''I'm definitely not as close with some of the people as a result of the film,'' Mr. Johnson admitted on a recent afternoon at one of his favorite haunts, the Cedar Tavern in Greenwich Village.

Some of the people who participated in the film said they were invited to do so under false pretenses, saying that Mr. Johnson claimed it was a student film.

''They know that I didn't trick them,'' Mr. Johnson said. ''They all signed releases that a Los Angeles entertainment lawyer drew up. It was fully explained to them.''

A friend of Mr. Johnson who declined to be in the movie and who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said: ''He didn't betray his class, he betrayed his friends. He could have cut the scenes differently to save them from looking like a fool.''

But not everyone felt burned. S. I. Newhouse IV, 23, the grandson of the Condé Nast chairman, S. I. Newhouse Jr., said that if people come off badly in the film they have mainly themselves to blame. ''I was pretty shocked by what some of the other kids had to say,'' said Mr. Newhouse, who met Mr. Johnson at Pingry, a private school in Martinsville, N.J.

Sometimes I have the feeling that the USA is sliding back into some "19th century society", with the "one percent" being the new aristocracy.  They have the money, they can "buy" politics and whatever else they want, so they are in charge. They view for example a more pronounced progressive tax as socialism, and therefore as an evil concept, and they also control much of the mainstream media.

Nobody has to feel guilty for being rich. But it's not just about about playing golf and having fun. I would like to illustrate this with a quote from the German constitution, Article 14: "Ownership has its responsibilities. The use (of assets, property etc.) should be for the benefit of the public good."

Sometimes it can also be necessary to force the "rich" to give to the "poor" in order to serve the public good - but right now, it seems that hell would rather freeze over before such a thing could ever happen in the USA.

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