By Ben Fogler This year I’m taking AP US History, and let me tell you, I love it. My teacher is hilarious, the content is fascinating, and it definitely isn’t contributing to my sleep deprivation in any way. No siree. I don’t even know what you’re talking about. Okay, aside from the nights before the test spent frantically finishing my notes on The American Pageant, riddled with caffeine and repeatedly slapping myself to stay awake, it’s the greatest class. We just had our midyear last Monday, and right before that was our test on the Gilded Age. Or should I say, the Gilded Slayge? It wasn’t actually that much of a slay, I just thought that would be funny. Although on the surface this era seems like a time of great prosperity, innovation, and general “It Girl-iness” for the US, it was rife with corruption, abuse of workers, and relentless monopolization.
It’s that last one that got me. Not because the monopolies were so terrible, but because…well, to put in frankly, they seemed more fun. Right now, the ultra-rich captains of the industry are just so…boring. They’re evil, but not in a silly, “oh you!” way. When I see a photo of Mark Zuckerberg, all I can think is eww, and he is actually so terrifying, and the guy who played him in The Social Network was better looking. But when I see a political cartoon lampooning J. P. Morgan, I get a little rush of excitement. It’s like seeing a comic book villain but for real. Do you know how devious you have to be for people to make caricatures of you, in which the metaphors are so thinly veiled that they label everything in the image with what it represents? You’ve gotta be larger than life.
Speaking of political cartoons, I think they reflected a general sentiment about the powerful magnates of yesteryear that simply isn’t there anymore. To be honest, the cartoons are almost…irreverently reverent. Now I sound like Netflix’s description of its latest comedy show, but it’s the truth. Like, you love to hate ‘em, but without the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers the Gilded Age would’ve been so uninteresting. Politics back then were a snoozer (except for the assassination of President Garfield, I suppose), industrialization made most labor soulless and repetitive, and also, the fact that one of the biggest reasons the North pulled out of Reconstruction was just because they were bored! If the US were a reality TV show, the Gilded Age would be when the network started reconsidering their contract. That is, if not for the industry titans who masterfully played the villain that every reality show needs. Everyone loves to criticize them, but would anyone have watched Dance Moms without Abby Lee Miller, or American Idol without Simon Cowell?
What I mean to say here is that our current billionaires need to get their act together. They’re not fun-evil, they’re just evil. Also, they’re doing way too much. Back in the day, Andrew Carnegie, one of the few true “rags-to-riches” stories in American history, got where he was mainly because he was just producing better, cheaper steel. And he stayed in his lane. He did normal rich people things, like making the first billion-dollar company, and philanthropy that only really ended up helping the wealthy and refusing basic rights to laborers. He didn’t try to go to space, or host SNL, or challenge other magnates to… boxing matches? What is up with that? Why are these new guys being so ridiculous? I shudder to think of the expression on J.P. Morgan’s face if he saw the behavior of his predecessors. That bulbous nose would probably get even more purple.
Now, I could complain all I want about how this current class of elite businesspeople isn’t fun anymore, but I think it’s high time we remedy the situation. I’d suggest all the billionaires -- who I’m sure read these articles -- take a few pages out of the Gilded Age’s book. Maybe instead of being founders and CEOs and such, they could assume the title of “baron.” Walk around with a cane, perhaps? Stop trying to appeal to the masses with wildly unrelatable morning routines, and instead say inspiring, bluntly phrased statements like “My boot is lifted, poised to strike. The entire industry lies beneath it. To get where I am today, I have occasionally had to step down.” If Elon Musk said that, instead of spouting the dumbest takes imaginable on Twitter -- sorry, “X,” which is the favorite letter of Musk and also many 4th graders -- I’d be a fan. Like, that is such a sick quote, and that’s the stuff that oil giant John D. Rockefeller was spouting on the regular. That man actually said, “The way to make money is to buy when blood is running in the streets.” Like I’m sorry, WHAT? He ate that up, no crumbs left in sight. Or other oil companies, for that matter. He ate those too.
Anyways, I’m just a little fed up with the overall cringiness of the 21st century’s moguls. And look, I know asking them to completely revert their style to the 1880s. American society is already regressing enough. So instead, I’d propose a more moderate shift: adopt the aesthetic of Succession’s Logan Roy. In my mind, that is the perfect middle ground.