‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous’ reboot: Harmeless fun or offensive?

OPINION - In 1984 when 'Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous' debuted, Wall Street had money to burn while those on Main Street were barely scraping by, especially minorities in urban areas decimated by the arrival of crack cocaine...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Will the Style Network’s revamp of Lifestyles of the Rich Famous be a harmless addition to today’s lineup of reality television or will it serve to widen the wedge between the haves and the have-nots given our current economic slump?

Some people, even President Obama, seem to believe the latter.

In 1984 when Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous debuted, Wall Street had money to burn while those on Main Street were barely scraping by, especially minorities in urban areas decimated by the arrival of crack cocaine. This was after all the era of President Reagan’s trickle down economics. Yet, each week viewers tuned in to see what outlandish bits of ostentatiousness Brit Robin Leach would show them.

“Champagne wishes and caviar dreams” was Leach’s signature sign-off.

Champagne wishes and caviar dreams

This was a time before everyone had the Internet at home, much less on their phones. This was before celebrity worship/stalking culture became a staple of pop culture. There were no blogs documenting every outfit, vacation and dining companion of favorite movie stars and singers.

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous didn’t even feel aspirational because the highlights were so over the top and so far from what most of America was experiencing at the time. It was essentially a welcomed escape into a fantasy world—a little glimpse of how the other side lived.

But today, even with the affable Nick Cannon as host and producer, some worry that a show which highlights gross consumption would be a detriment to the country, especially those who are in financial straits.

When speaking about generational differences during an interview at Amazon headquarters, President Obama said “Partly, I think there also has been a shift in culture. We weren’t exposed to the things we didn’t have in the same way that kids today are. There was not that window into the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Kids weren’t monitoring what Kim Kardashian was wearing or where Kanye West was going on vacation, and thinking that somehow that was the mark of success.”

Materialism run amok

President Obama has a point. Young people today are bombarded with images of luxurious lifestyles, some real and some created to make for “good” television. Entertainers regularly name-check designer accessories that cost more than a mortgage payment. There are also the blogs that pick apart celebrity outfits by price and brand and then there are reality shows featuring non-famous (until they are famous from the show) people who seemingly have care-free, abundant lives filled with shopping sprees, mansions and exotic vacations.

MTV’s show Cribs was much like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous except that Cribs was almost exclusively about celebrities and there were a lot more black people featured than on the 1980s hit. There were bathroom fixtures made of gold, cars with mink interior and shoe closets that were larger than most New York City apartments.

Young people, especially young people who listen to mainstream hip-hop with its emphasis on money and shiny symbols of wealth, see celebrities who look like themselves essentially saying “You’re not rich unless you have these particular outrageously priced items.”

The Nick Cannon factor

It’s shallow for sure, but this Nick Cannon Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous revamp might offer a little levity to the otherwise depressing situation.

Cannon is a wealthy man himself, and is married to pop star Mariah Carey. It’s quite possible he will be canoodling with some of his friends, which will add a different spin to the original show.

“Nick’s comedic and down-to-earth perspective on the opulence of the wealthy makes him the ideal host as we reinvent this pop culture classic,” said Style Media president Salaam Coleman Smith to the Hollywood Reporter. Plus, Nick Cannon is a comedic actor, maybe we’ll get a little satire a la the Chappelle Show‘s “baller sh*t” skit, which featured a rapper making omelets out of dinosaur eggs.

And who knows, perhaps the show will help to highlight other symbols of true wealth and financial stability such as having a great credit score, funding a thriving charity that truly makes a difference or investments in things that actually appreciate in value. That sounds a bit boring, but sprinkled in amongst golden toilets and private jets with models as flight attendants, maybe the practical parts have a chance.

Will you be tuning in to watch the new Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous?

 Follow Demetria Irwin on Twitter at @Love_Is_Dope and connect with her on Facebook.