The title of the project and many of the pictures could mislead the reader to think that this is a work about the 1 percent, about people who are wealthy. It is not. This work is about the aspiration for wealth and how that has become a driving force—and at the same time an increasingly unrealistic goal—for individuals from all classes of society. We have less social mobility now than we had in prior generations, and, more than ever before, a greater concentration of wealth is in the hands of the few.
Flouting this reality, the “American Dream” has grown to outsized proportions. “People don’t dream in modest terms anymore. They all want to live in Mar-a-Lago with Donald Trump,” says social critic, Chris Hedges, whom I interviewed for my book and companion film. As our political system becomes less democratic—with wealthy donors and well-funded special-interest lobby groups exercising disproportionate influence on elections and legislation—we have experienced a democratization of
the signifiers of wealth. Luxury for the common man, woman, and child defines the new American Dream. And if you don’t have money, as Emanuel, one of my teenage subjects in Los Angeles,
assures us, “There are ways to make it seem like you do.” The aptly named rapper Future explains that the strategy is to “fake it till you make it.” This sentiment is echoed by many of my subjects who seek material-based status, from Minnesota to Milan, South Central Los Angeles to Shanghai, Dubai to Moscow. As Hedges attests, fictitious representations of a luxury lifestyle have replaced actual social mobility. The fact that many of the images in this series appear to be of worlds of wealth and belie their reality is precisely the point for both the subjects and for the image-maker (me) in an image based culture.