New York journalist Kevin Roose just published the most badass yet tragic story, Internet friends. In 2012, Roose, a financial writer, crashed the annual black tie dinner of the secretive Kappa Beta Phi, a fraternity of the hyper rich 1% of America’s business world. In other words, a drunken Wall Street kegger (but with exceedingly expensive food and beer at a fancy hotel ballroom). What’s awesome is what Roose uncovered about the behavior of these mad tycoons, and how he analyzes said behavior.
According to Roose, the party featured a myriad of rather offensive theater performances by members of the fraternity itself, including burlesque by the new initiates and really poorly written jokes poking fun at the crippled financial world and its victims (all of us). The final number, writes Roose, involved new initiates donning Mormon missionary attire and spoofing a song from The Book of Mormon (with financially themed lyrics). When Roose tried to record the number on his phone, some enraged members of the fraternity tried to bribe him into not releasing what he’d seen before kicking him to the curb.
Roose, whose interests are more targeted towards younger members of the financial world, reported that he wanted to get into this secret dinner to analyze what kind of world new financiers were getting sucked into. The Kappa Beta Phi society he uncovered was quite alarming, their gross behavior giving us insight into how removed the 1% really are psychologically from the rest of the word.
The fraternity was started in 1929 as a drunken version of the much more academic Phi Beta Kappa fraternity. Up until now it has served as a party group for Wall Street’s top finance people; their motto reflects their frat conduct, reading “While we live, we eat and drink” (from the Latin “Dum vivamus edimus et biberimus”). In fact, the Wall Street chapter is the last surviving chapter of Kappa Beta Phi, and continues, seemingly, to celebrate a time long past. The event, through the critical gaze of Roose, really shows how distant and in their own world insanely rich finance folks are.
Roose’s conclusions about the dinner (and wackily offensive comedy show) ring very true. The idea that the world’s top financiers get together to make light of some serious financial catastrophes, of which they are probably in part responsible, suggests that these folks have no conscious connection to reality. They are not aware of the crises and the weight of their own decisions. Also, these people are afraid enough of speaking their minds that their opinions are reduced to sketches in front of their drunken colleagues. Great big piles of cash, says Roose, have created a social class that only communicate with itself, isolated from a reality that is in dire need of its help. A lot of scary insights into the behavior of the rich, all from one expensive frat get together.
The article in New York really is a must read, and may prompt you to read Roose’s book, Young Money, of which the coverage from 2012 is an excerpt. It is sincerely fascinating, but ultimately tragic, how Wall Street executives, and those of their ilk, perceive the world, and how they nervously safeguard their financial power and influence. Roose’s commentary cements the idea in our minds that money changes people for the worse; a highly symbolic material creating an illusory world where real problems are to be the butt of many an inebriated joke. That’s really not a healthy or helpful attitude for people with that much influence to have, and I hope continued proliferation of Roose’s work inspires at least a little more social awareness on the part of younger generations entering the financial kingdom.