Youth Is Wasted on the Wasted

Rich Kids of Instagram: A Novel BY The Creator of Rich Kids of Instagram, Maya Sloan. Gallery Books. Paperback, 352 pages. $16.

Rich Kids of Instagram is a series of products of somewhat unclear ownership and membership. It is, or began as, a Tumblr. That website collects Instagram pictures of depravity and wastefulness: yachts, bikini bodies, alcohol, cars, watches (so many boring expensive watches!), nightclubs. They are often funny. It’s usually unclear whether the taker of the photograph was the one who caused it to be published on the Tumblr or whether it was swept in by mockers—or admirers?

The site has a huge moneyed sea of characters. For me, the most typical is a humorless and paste-colored cheese called Jack Siebert, who stands brave and chinless against azure-water backdrops, adding insightful captions like “Life’s a beach” and “Loving the Hamptons.” Most “rich kids” (if indeed they are?) are great with hashtags: “Spotted in #downtown #SanFransico wearing a #fun #summersuit! #suiting #suit #sanfran,” wrote someone who calls himself The-Marcus-Adolf recently. Sure, it’s all very sic throughout, as the kids are fairly post-text: “I was playing tennis at friend home when two others friends were come in helicopter to playing tennis with us,” captioned official-antoine. Antoine, kitten, you’re rich—maybe hire an English tutor.

Then, once this was a thing, it begat more things. Early this year, E! got off a television show called Rich Kids of Beverly Hills; Rich Kids of New York is apparently coming momentarily. These are no corporate relation to the Tumblr, apparently. But then again, who knows?

The rich kids in their various depictions are frustratingly oversimilar: thin to the point of horror, crass, silly, and not always the best judges of fashion. There is, though, the thrilling anomaly of EJ Johnson, the big gay son of Magic Johnson, whose mother recently told the Daily Beast: “My husband and I are very proud of our son for who he has become. We support EJ 100 percent, and we’re excited to see him establish his own brand.” He has! And it’s kind of lovely.

Rich Kids as a phenomenon is best read as Young Adult literature. It has all the hallmarks: wish fulfillment, kids being singled out as special, and parents who rarely appear. But instead of wizardry or plucky shows of camaraderie against the odds, it has cash.

Now the brand has expressed itself in an actual piece of YA literature, Rich Kids of Instagram (Gallery Books, $16), credited to the ever-anonymous purveyors of the site but penned by the very vigorous Maya Sloan. It has more plot than a terabyte of Instagrams: A tech billionaire comes to town, and everyone wants to capture him, and there’s a party in the Hamptons, and a shrill and probably bipolar Jewess, and an unfaithful cad, and a European royal, and a Texan schemer, and a mellow dude from LA. Some bubbles are popped. The book is told, rather daringly but appropriately, from the perspectives of these different terrible people as the plot goes all Michael Bay. Each cusses more remarkably than the last.

And because they are all terrible, it could perhaps seem like a meaningful social satire. The cadence of mockery is so instituted now in our media products that even a mash note reads like a critique. And so you could be convinced, while reading it, that this is a Vile Bodies of our time, or one of the cloddier Henry James morality plays, but as told by the children of Heathers. The internal monologues alone!

I feel the heat rise to my face and wonder, for the gazillionth time, if crazy runs in the family. Maybe it’s already laser-cut into my DNA, and one day it will bubble up from inside. Just like that, I’ll go from Junior Class Prefect with a 3.87 GPA (fuck that granola art teacher, B-minus? She wears Crocs, for fucksake. What does she know about aesthetics?) and morph into Girl, Interrupted.

Dead-on impersonations like this run throughout; the price tags are all correct and the cultural touchstones are all stomped on nicely. There’s something charming about this Waugh wannabe, as it truly is viciously faithful to each and every archetype. But then the instigators of the book thank dark-lord agent David Kuhn, and CAA, and a bunch of richies in the acknowledgments, and you remember it’s just a bit of harmless insider fun. What could a book do to the oligarchy, anyway? Piketty didn’t pike them, so no one will. So we learn that the anonymous proprietors of Rich Kids of Instagram are wholeheartedly on Team Join Them, since they, and we, are certainly not going to beat them. After all, it’s not like they can spell acquiescence in a hashtag.

Choire Sicha is the author of Very Recent History (Harper, 2013).