Photographer Lauren Greenfield’s ‘Generation Wealth’: A cautionary tale

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President Donald Trump — with his flashy wealth and power based on his celebrity — is the “apotheosis of Generation Wealth.” That’s according to photographer Lauren Greenfield, whose new multimedia exhibit opens this weekend at the Annenberg Space for Photography. It’s called “Generation Wealth.”

Greenfield chronicles the past 25 years of a culture that’s become increasingly dominated by the pursuit of money, fame and status. She begins in Los Angeles in the 90s, and follows the trend to China, Mexico, Russia, Ireland and other countries.

This culture of greed has been fueled by the media, Greenfield tells Press Play, citing Oliver Stone’s creation of Gordon Gekko, who said “greed is good;” marketing to kids (especially girls); and the proliferation of media.

“We used to compare ourselves to our neighbors and aspired to the neighbor who had a little bit more than we did in past generations. What happened was we started spending more time with the media than with our neighbors, and often feeling like we knew these people better. And so keeping up with the Joneses became keeping up with the Kardashians,” Greenfield says.

The culture extends beyond bank accounts. Greenfield points out that many of the people featured in her exhibit are not rich. There’s a lot of “fake it ‘til you make it.” There’s also an addictive quality to wealth.

The same goes for plastic surgery. Greenfield sees a connection between the two, explaining that capitalism seeds insecurity in girls. “There’s always something to buy to better your body. There’s a kind of precocious sexualization that happens to little girls,” she says. “And they learn from an early age that their body is their currency. And so as they get older, they learn to leverage that. And then as they get older, there are dire consequences with losing that currency.”

Greenfield says despite the display of riches, many people will see themselves reflected in the exhibit and its accompanying book. “The backdrop for what I saw is really the most inequality that we’ve had — certainly in my lifetime — and much less social mobility than in past generations. So in a way, the bling, the outward showing of status, is a fictitious social mobility that has replaced real social mobility.”

GENERTION WEALTH runs APR 8, 2017 – AUG 13, 2017 at the Annenberg Space for Photography.