The Yummy Mummies are dead. But before I launch into a dirge, let me explain. I personally am used to the mummies feeling disenfranchised—for the last ten years they have felt marginalized for being millionaires and not billionaires. It just wasn’t fair, they groaned—all the good stuff was being stolen by the billionaires: the first-class seats, the suites at the Four Seasons, the Mandarin-speaking nannies, the $1,500 limited-edition strollers, Gwyneth’s baby nurse, the hot personal trainers, the floor seats at Knicks games, the tables at Nobu. Why, they cried, did billionaires get all the good stuff? When did having $10 million become relative poverty?
I myself witnessed the insanity first hand as recently as last winter at a small dinner party on the Upper East Side which descended, as all those dinners did, into a tirade by one Yummy Mummy who was not only drunk but also hopped up on her teenage son’s Adderall. She was incensed about the billionaires monopolizing all the perks that the normal millionaires usually got. “You know,” the Botoxed 40-year-old with three kids said as she played with the lock on her Birkin bag ($7,500 if you can get them, and by the way, you can now get them), “my nanny left me for someone who is paying $1,500 a week, cash. Last year we gave her a vacation to Mustique and three Hermès scarves. And my youngest doesn’t understand why we don’t have an elevator in our townhouse. I tried to explain to him that normal people don’t have elevators in their townhouses.”
I realized the 1920s had come to a screeching halt. No more reckless drivers, no more Daisy and Gatsby—that time is over.
I might have added, “Normal people don’t have townhouses, and in fact, almost half the world lives on less than $2.50 a day, or so says the World Bank. But really, what do they know? I bet none of those policy wonks at the silly old World Bank could get a Birkin bag from the Madison Avenue Hermès store.”
But I didn’t say that, because the status quo must be upheld, and what followed the tirade was an almost unbearable conversation about being rich and having values. The conversation about being a rich person with values usually goes something like this: “It’s very hard to instill good values in little Tiffany Amber. One of the ways we do it is by making her be nice to her weekend nanny.” This is always followed by intense nodding and other people joining in to explain the toothless restrictions they impose on their children.
I tried to inject a little bit of normality by offering a tidbit from growing up in New York City: “In 1991 I got into a fight with a homeless squeegee man, and then he spit on me. And the very next week my best friend got mugged at knifepoint for her bus pass.” Everyone laughed and thought I was lying or using artistic license. Crime in New York City? Why, that’s crazy.
But that was a year ago, and what a long and paper-wealth-destroying year it’s been. I remember a moment when there was a slight shift, a little something that made the yummy mummies just a bit less yummy. This moment was Before Bernie (or, as we in the know call that era, B.B.) but after the first major market meltdown. Suddenly, there was less talk about house building in the Hamptons. They were a little quieter about the private jet vacation, and in the name of a more modest Upper East Side they only used their 25-centimeter pocketbook of choice (BIRKIN, BIRKIN, BIRKIN). There was still the same amount of gabbing about traffic, staff, entertaining, custom stationery, and vacations, but the tone was slightly apologetic--almost as if there was a kind of post-modern modesty slipping into the zeitgeist.
But after Bernie (A.B.), after the vaporization of $17 billion of primarily Jewish wealth, everything changed. All of a sudden it was thought of as vulgar (vulgar—who remembers that word?) to use the phrase “wheels up,” or to post pictures of the inside of your G4 (admittedly owned by NetJets, but still appallingly expensive). All of a sudden it was no longer chic to have five Birkins (one in each color for every day of the work week, ironically owned by someone who never, ever worked). All of a sudden greed was gross. A friend called me to describe how overdressed our other friend was at a benefit. “Marie Antoinette-ish,” she called it. And that was when I realized the 1920s had come to a screeching halt. No more reckless drivers, no more Daisy and Gatsby—that time is over. In a world where Dick Fuld’s shopaholic wife must hide her signature Hermès shopping bag, in a land where Ruth Madoff tells reporters she has no idea who this Ruth Madoff is, in a world where the rich are soon going to be asked to pay for their crimes against the common man—in that world, driving a $300,000 car may very be the thing that drives our rich to extinction.
Maybe there is one bright spot in an otherwise dismal future: the death of the Yummy Mummy. Sure, there will still be ladies Botoxing, and Dr. Mel Practice will still lovingly break your nose and make you look like Michael Jackson, but the culture of waste, of bragging, of bragging about waste, is slowly being replaced by a culture of sheepishness and shame. And I for one am thrilled. Yay, shame!! Bravo, sheepishness!! Here’s hoping for seven lean years of modesty, of drivers driving Dodge Darts, of flying commercial, of no-name handbags, of bragging about trips to Costco. I’d like to live in a world where Mrs. Fuld hangs out just a few blocks north of Hermès at the Heavenly Rest Soup Kitchen. Because you know what, Mrs. Fuld? Working at a soup kitchen might medicate your obvious shopaholism, might actually fill the black hole of nihilism in your soul in a way that blowing ten grand a week at Hermès can’t.
Molly Jong-Fast is the author of the weirdly popular cult novel Normal Girl and Girl Maladjusted. She has written for The New York Times, The Times of London, Cosmo, W magazine, The New York Observer, Mademoiselle, Marie Claire, British Elle, and many other newspapers and magazines. She is currently working on her third book, a novel called THE SOCIAL CLIMBER'S HANDBOOK. She is addicted to needlepoint. And since you are wondering, yes, her mother is Erica Jong, and yes, she is afraid to fly.