Most guys can relate in some way to Tom Ripley, the title character of Anthony Minghella's 1999 sensual chiller, The Talented Mr. Ripley. Many more secretly cast themselves in the role of Dickie Greenleaf, the tanned and toned shipping heir that Jude Law so languidly captured on the silver screen. He epitomises that upper-class, moneyed playboy that has fascinated American psyches as diverse as Tennessee Williams and Cecily Von Ziegesar. Indeed, what dude wouldn't want to slip into the Belgian slippers of Chuck Bass and, for a day, gain his power, privilege, money, beauty and a name that opens all doors? The halo that a certain family bestows and the unassailability of position that it creates are amatives that certain arrivistes find hard to resist.
When I left college, I entered the word of Public Relations, where some names – Hearst, Mortimer, Rockefeller – were whispered with a sibilant reverence around the office. For many events, society trumped celebrity – it was exciting, but confusing. I had gone to high school and university with several prominent families without quite realizing the significance of their social currency. The feeling created by the New York "scene" was dizzying to my twenty-one-year-old brain.
Having majored in political science and history, I started studying the blunt art of party- and picture-whoring, a degree in which friends are made to be used, where cocaine and condoms were sometimes tickets to graduation. My infatuation lasted just about as long as I realized that chasing status and old money is about as morally, professionally and sexually fulfilling as kissing one of JK Rowling's dementors. If you're smart, you'll do what I did: that is, say your apologies and move on, knowing that you've learned from your mistakes.
For some, moving on is not an option. Dickie Greenleaf remains the enduring target, regardless of the price. Of course, there are other, less transformative paths to eminence. Names can be added or dropped without hurting someone, as long as you have a right to it. At Columbia, I remember Lauren Remington Platt as plain old Lauren Platt. Lydia Hearst-Shaw became Lydia Hearst. And so forth. I get that. But taking on a false identity can lead to seriously Tom Ripleyesque behavior. Clark "Rockefeller" became a staple for newspaper headlines when he abducted his daughter and most probably committed several murders on his road to financial stability. By most accounts, he charmed his then-wife with stories of his background and family. I don't know if his last name was the piece de resistance on a love-filled courtship or if it served as the foundation for their nuptials, but regardless, it helped.
Low-scale versions of Clark echo in several notable homos in New York. Kipton Cronkite – an affable, polite, polished Nebraskan and member of this site – supposedly claimed relations to the famed newscaster family of Walter Cronkite and was recently targeted in a damning Page Six article (the veracity of which we most definitely shouldn't take as bedrock). I don't know what is true or not, but many of my friends have repeated the story that he told them he was a part of said clan, while nightlife photographer Christopher London posits on his blog that he could, instead, be "James K. Cronkhite."
Paul Johnson-Calderon, who shot to attention by dating man-about-town Peter Davis, also claims allegiance to the family that founded Johnson & Johnson, all of whom, from New York to LA, say that they are definitely not related to Mr. Calderon. At least one year of his high school "facebook" at Deerfield (remember how supes the actual ones were?) definitely marks him as Paul Calderon. To top it off, Guestofaguest.com has recently accused him of stealing a purse from an employee at a studio-apartment-sized boîte, which, if proven true, reinforces his Ripleyesque sense of morality. (Just for the sake of full disclosure, Gawker posted a claim about me stealing six fedoras. I am confused what I would/could do with six Fedoras. That's what she said! No, but really, didn't they stop being cool after K. Fed started wearing them?)
Increasingly, consumers and reccesionistas are eating up the secluded world of New York high society, whether or not it's an accurate display. More than anything, it's a look into otherwise unattainable lifestyles. The City, Wmag.com's new Social Studies, best-selling books such as The Luxe, and the recurring relevance of Edith Wharton (check out last week's GG, xoxo) are all testaments to the enduring appeal of the upper crust. The CW already ordered the pilot for a spin-off of Gossip Girl featuring Kelly Rutherford's character, Lily van der Woodsen, as well as a reality show about real-life Gossip Girls, while Bravo has almost completed filming two programs in the same vein, the aptly titled Gotham Prep and Miami Social.
With the current climate, it's no wonder that gays (who always lead the trends, natch) are most-visibly assuming surnames and identities that clearly conjure up a sense of wealth and, of course, the certain je ne sais quoi that only bluebolds can inspire. But one begins to wonder just how dangerous it can be and how far someone is willing to go to protect their dirty little secret in a world where image is so important. There's just something so different from getting a little rhinoplasty (Moms still refuses to help me out on that one) and assuming a fake identity. Actors change their names all the time for professional reasons. So do immigrants. But the full-scale hijacking of another family's connoted pedigree to advance your career (or lack thereof?) leads me back to the scene at the end of Minghella's epic. Tom Ripley, killing his lover, Peter Smith-Kingsely, has to face the world he created for himself utterly and entirely alone. I don't think anything is worth that. All I know is that my name is so flaming, no one would make it up.
Wow. Well done Kristian!