Sir Richard Branson, on the subtleties of being filthy rich

Look at me. I got money. I’ve got so much money, you have to admire me. Adore me. Want me. Feel my smell of dough. Envy me. My skin transpires gold. When I walk, you can hear, “ka-ching!”. I’m a success. I’m a winner. Loooook at meeeee…


As far as the race towards decadence in our contemporary world goes, megalomaniac capitalists take first place.


But let’s just stop for a minute, here. Before objectivists (or whatever it is they’re calling themselves now) start eschewing their boring litany about the free market, a caveat, on my behalf: this text is far from being an anathema against money or a criticism on means of production. This has nothing to do with that (stop holding your pockets; I won’t raise your taxes). This is about the invasion of the public space by a handful of slobs with questionable social skills, using the only means they know: “making it rain”, like a rapper in a strip club.


I’m talking about the new fauna of super CEOs or company owners, who saturate billboards and ads all around the world with their ugly mugs in what can only be understood as a desperate attempt to become famous using the ole’ exposition ad nauseum à la Kardashian.


Although these “megalomaniac capitalists” are obviously insane, they shouldn’t be confused with simple, crazy capitalists like sir Richard Branson, owner of Virgin. I kind of like Branson, with his hare-brained attempts at breaking world navigation records, and his over-the-top openings where something always blows up. Branson is an idiot, but a fun idiot, like Johnny Knoxville and the Jackass kids. For example, here you can see a video of Branson trying to break some sort of kite surfing record. The guy is obviously having fun, and I can relate to that, so God bless his lithium prescription.


This kind of megalomaniac differs a huge lot from those whose only talent (supposing that’s a talent), is making money. Schmucks who, at some point in their life, realize nobody gives a rat’s ass if you’re swimming in money as long as you’re a bumbling buffoon. So they decide to take action. And by “action” I don’t mean giving laptops to African kids; I mean invading all and every little public space up for sale so they can stamp their ugly face on it and impose themselves, manu militari, over all society.


A good example of this is the douche from “FlyNiki”, an Austrian who, after setting up his airline company, decided to stamp his face –at a scale worthy of Stalin–, on all the billboards of Europe. His ridiculous image, based on the “I’m like you” premise, makes him sport a red hat perennially balanced on the top of his head. He’s like you, sure… Only richer (subtle difference). When it came to decorating his planes, the best this guy could come up with was writing “NIKI” on the plane’s fuselage, like an A.D.D. riddled child left alone with a magic marker.

Or French optician’s magnate, Afflelou, an ectoplasm bent on appearing at the end of all of his commercials, although he has the charm and the sex appeal of a raw broccoli. His most famous spot –shot in China–, features hundreds of extras performing horrible, unimaginative, choreographies. At the end of such a grotesque train-wreak that ends (how did you guess?) on the Wall of China, mister Afflelou makes his way amongst hundreds of Chinese extras flapping joyously about and explains he sells glasses at a fifty percent discount. This wouldn’t be so bad, were it not for his complete lack of charm, or the fact that he blinks with some kind of tic that makes us thinks he’s the one that needs glasses. Look at the spot -you be the judge-, and ask yourself how much better this would be if at the end of the shot you saw someone like Jude Law, for example.


But my favorite has to be, without a doubt, a French businessman called “Dupire”, which translates, literally, as “the worst”. This guy became a millionaire selling fake chimneys. You know, those horrible, kitsch contraptions, that “simulate” fire in some corner of the room, an impossibly red pyre that looks like the volcano where Frodo chucked the ring.


Having reached this point, I must admit mister “the worst” is the main motivation behind this text because, not content with selling his tasteless junk (again: I have nothing against his business. I am not, or ever have been, a member of the Communist Party, Senator), this pathetic character decided to plaster himself on all of his billboards. Now this wouldn’t be a problem if mister Dupire hadn’t, like Mugabe looking for votes in Zimbabwe, covered all of the Metro in Paris, at a rate of five ads per station.


Now, can a condescending reader, an expert in semiotics, image, symbols and all that, be so kind as to write me a small note, a couple of lines, explaining this preposterous fact: Mister Dupire is… A Rastafarian. Seriously. Lod-o-mercy, and all that. Personally, I’ve always been suspicious of white people with dreadlocks, but a multi-millionaire French magnate being a rasta is like Spike Lee being a member of the Ku Klux Klan.


Not quite the crazy baldhead, that’s for sure…

As if that wasn’t enough, mister “the worst” has decided to further smear his detestable image by adding a couple of girls (young enough to be his daughters) to the nauseating picture. On top of his smug, we can read the highly enlightening phrase: “my chimneys seduce them”.


This pathetic little character is the unhappy byproduct of our society: a megalomaniac thirsty for attention, who thinks he can buy our interest and admiration using PR stalking* *.


* This text was originally published in Spanish, in El Nuevo Cojo Ilustrado.

* *”PR stalking” is a term I coined in the aforementioned publication, here.