Being a graduate of Harvard University for the most part is an amusing anecdote to tell at parties in Malibu or one of the better lines to use while fishing for youthful female companionship in the perilous world of a single man alone, 52 years old, who has never used Viagra to maintain….any ….ehem… relationship…. but has never grown up either, suffering from a long-term aggravated Peter Pan complex.
But just occasionally though, Harvard alumni status works out and introduces me to something interesting and genuinely of continuing educational quality worthy of the 02138 zip code’s long tradition. Thursday, November 1, 2012, was such a night—-at the invitation of a group called “Harvardwood” (“Harvard in Hollywood”), I attended a screening a a marvelous documentary called The Queen of Versailles…. True to its title, this marvelous, marvelous full-length movie is a story about extravagant wastrels who cannot potty train a dog much less be trusted with a Nation’s wealth and national heritage. Conceived and directed by Lauren Greenfield—who apparently attended Harvard during my middle-graduate years (1983-1987)—it is part personal history, part reality TV writ-large (and well written), part metaphor of our time and the decline and fall of our civilization. I was pleased to meet Ms. Greenfield who studied Visual Environmental Studies across from Sever Hall and down the street from the Fogg at Le Corbusier’s Carpenter Center at 24 Quincy where just three summers ago in 2009 my son Charlie and I were attending movies almost every night…. She has created a masterpiece that captures the spirit of our times—focusing on the cultural, economic, political, and spiritual crisis in which we live much better than “Obama 2016″, and with a much more limited coherent cast of characters and time frame the Josh Tickell’s still phenomenal Big Fix. Like any good movie, we feel we know this cast of characters and what makes them tick (or “fail to tick” as the case may be), but it is all real and all terribly relevant. I wish Queen of Versailles could be broadcast on all three major Networks prior to the election—narrated by Ron Paul who would explain why voting for either Romney or Obama will just lead to more of the same…. Together with Tickell’s “The Big Fix”, this IS a movie to use at the start of a major Third Party Movement in the USA…..
To make a very long story short, David Siegel is a monstrously low-brow modern type nouveau riche multi-millionaire (imagine Archie Bunker with billions) who made his money the truly old-fashioned way: by adopting the latest fad in a fraudulently invented, completely new, kind of marketing device that skins everyone who buys it alive and provides no real lasting benefits to anyone.
What is that product? Well, I have to give credit to my Italo-Yucatecan Creole co-madre Arqueóloga Beatriz Repetto-Tio de Maldonado for her perfect explanation of Mr. Siegel’s business: ”In the olden days there was a short simple word for ‘time-share properties’—they called them fraud. Every charlatan from the time of the Medes and the Parthians has dreamt of ways to sell the same product 52 times a year for different prices to different people, squeezing just as much as you can out of every chump according to his means, and when they invented time-share, they did just that: no the same trashy apartment can be divided into TIME units of 52 weeks in the year, plus maybe a few leftover weekends, and sold over and over and over again.” Betty definitely has a way with words but she was spot-on 100% right. And David Siegel—time share king of time-share land—was a Charlatan to the Charlatans, and his empire covered all the trashy spots where trashy people like to hang out, from Orlando to Vegas… Of course, by his own account, from his own mouth in the movie, David Siegel was (at least in part) also involved in the electoral fraud that brought George W. Bush to the White House in 2000 and 2004 (remember in which state the hanging chads should have led to a new election, but instead led to the Supreme Court usurping the electoral role and appointing the man who must now, in all fairness, be called only the SECOND WORST President in US history—sorry George, but your handpicked Kenyan Successor Mr. Obama has utterly surpassed you….that Constitution which you said was only a piece of paper? Mr. Obama has used it in the White House privy….). This year David Siegel has reached new lows in American standards of political depravity in electoral history by threatening his employees with dismissal if they don’t vote for Romney:
But Lauren Greenfield’s documentary is about his life, his family, and especially is wife Jackie (who plays herself as the eponymous Queen of Versailles herself). There is not a white-trash cliché that these people don’t fit. They have extravagant taste in pure trash. Unlike William Randolph Hearst or his fictitious alter-ego Citizen Charles Foster Kane, David & Jackie Siegel do not assemble great art collections or great libraries, just great piles of junk, trashy children, and pounds and pounds of dog poop piling up in huge, in artful, nightmare-like McMansions in that trashiest of all Citadels of the 20th Century Disney Fantasy—ORLANDO, FLORIDA. I was last in Orlando just over two years ago for a Glenn Beck weekend long presentation with Judge Andrew Napolitano at the University of Central Florida—Andrew Napolitano has formally rejected the establishment as corrupt (both Democratic and Republican) but Glenn Beck’s integrity is somewhat less sharply defined. However good or bad that program was, nothing can ever salvage the fakery or pretense of Orlando…..the worst of all Florida’s degenerate and depraved imitations of culture, parodies of civilization.
The movie captured all this Siegel family’s peculiarities with a Federico Fellini-like surrealism. I asked Ms. Greenfield if anyone had compared her work to the Satyricon and she allowed as how I was the first. In fact, her work was better than Fellini and actually reminded me of the ORIGINAL Satyricon by Gaius or Titus Petronius, often said to be ”the most celebrated fable of ancient Rome …..perhaps the most remarkable fiction which has dishonored the literature of any nation.” The movie industry is not dishonored by Lauren Greenfield’s work, but America is dishonored by the truth of the life of the Siegels….. they use none of their wealth for the acquisition of knowledge or insight or anything else of value, they apparently have neither religion nor philosophy, only greed.
Without going into more details than necessary, I think the epitome of the depravity of the movie is to be found in the portrayal of the family dogs. The dogs frame and echo the very much Ancient Roman-Satyricon “Cena Trimalchionis” favor and quality of Ms. Greenfield’s masterful films of family meals and gatherings involving food. These portrayals are enough to make anyone abjure dinner invitations for the next decade.
Like their ancient Roman counterparts, David & Jackie Siegel’s dogs just have the free run of the house and poop everywhere, and eat all the food the humans leave behind. Unlike their ancient Roman counterparts, when the Siegel’s dogs die they either buried in elaborate tombs greater than remain from any of the Roman Emperors—or (in the case of particularly beloved pets) they are taxidermically skinned and stuffed and kept around the house as ornaments. I do not know whether there is a special Dog God or not, but if there is, these people are going to that Dog God’s Hell where they will burn for all eternity…..
In terms of their cultural, historical, or literary antecedents, David & Jackie Siegel are plainly modern avatars for Trimalchio—a freedman or former slave who takes the name “Thrice King” in a polyglot of ancient languages, just as Mr. Siegel has himself painted in a Royal Ermine of vaguely European costume shop quality….and Trimalchio’s wife “Fortunata” whose modern reincarnation is Jackie Siegel, just as Jackie Siegel is the epitome of every marginal model’s dream of getting a major boob job and landing a big Typhoon (I mean Tycoon, a Typhoon is just a very big and blustery strong wind that blows people and property away….oh, never mind, trivial differences here). Trimalchio’s house appears in the original Satyricon as replete with ubiquitous and swinish excesses, but frankly NOTHING in Petronius’ “Palaeo-technic” imagination could come close to the riches of extravagant trash piled up in the home(s) and businesses of David & Jackie Siegel….. oh me oh MY!
The words “Federal Reserve” and “unsound money” are nowhere uttered in this movie—probably because David & Jackie Siegel cannot conceive of the evils of the “funny money” economy, with all its massive ecological and social waste and divorce from reality, as anything other than the very foundation for their existence.
To become billionaires and then lose hundreds of millions on anything as insubstantial and wasteful as “time-share resort properties” does make for a funny setting, but to see the uneducated American Elite of the Early 21st century for what it is—is not quite so funny. Jackie—”Queen of Versailles” in Orlando—is not a stupid woman—in fact she’s probably smarter than her beetle browed husband who manages the Time-Share Empire, but as an old fashioned male chauvinist he does not share the management of his empire with his queen, and probably all to the worst. But what she does with his money is gain shallow pleasure out of it.
The twist which makes the movie interesting is the impact the 2008-2010 financial crisis has on this repulsive family’s fortunes, and how they react to it. When they can no longer buy really expensive trash, Jackie just goes to Walmart and buys a lot of really cheap trash…..
This movie is a parable, a fable, for anyone who would like to see virtue and intelligence restored to American Cultural Life and Civilization—but—with these examples as our Elite? Is it too late? It is pointless to say that in the late 17th Century the Elite of Harvard College all believed in Witchcraft and assisted in the prosecution and hanging of Witches at Salem—because by the late 18th century the Natural Aristocracy of the new Land had become the most high-minded and brilliant assemblage of philosophers the Western World has ever known—-and there are relics of that genuinely well-bred aristocracy—-in the wreckage under the rotting swimming pools and decaying cheap architecture of McFlorida (and yes, the Siegels DID and probably DO routinely shop and eat at McDonald’s)—can we revive an America worth living in? Can we reassert the values of yeomanry and freedom, where sound money is the law and forces sound economic and ecological policies? I think we can—but if the Bankers have their way, a new generation of Siegels will inherit our land first, probably the children of the Siegels’ long-suffering Filipino and Mexican maids and nannies will seek to recreate the American dream for themselves, unburdened by any notions whatsoever of Anglo-American Civilization and its Traditions or Heritage….
This documentary is socio-cultural commentary of the worst kind on our country—but it makes it all the clearer and more obvious how disasters such as the two Bush Presidencies, Clinton, and Obama really can happen. In answer to a British Newspaper’s question after the presidential elections in 2004—yes, 67,000,000 people really can be THAT stupid!
WAKE UP, AMERICA! WAKE UP! Wake up to smell the burning oil and poisoned Southern Bayous shown in The Big Fix, but also wake up to the dog poop in the living rooms and dining rooms of the uneducated, probably nearly illiterate “elite” who shape and select our political “elite” in “exemplary American states” such as Florida…
In short, I highly recommend Queen of Versailles and all of Lauren Greenfield’s earlier purely photographic work as well: