I expected to enjoy reading “The Floating World: Outrageously luxurious superyachts are attracting political scrutiny–and buyers in record numbers.” For one thing, it was written (experienced, actually) by Evan Osnos, a fine and witty writer. For another thing, I am somewhat cognizant of the superyacht lure. Although, as I wrote in a previous post, when I worked for Malcolm Forbes, I learned that “yacht” is the wrong term for big boats. Malcolm had a succession of big and bigger boats all named The Highlander. Big boats are called “boats.”
The article, as deservedly supersized as the boats Osnos describes, appears in the July 25, 2022 New Yorker. It is, as you’d expect, delicious, with a shpritz of Tabasco sauce. But more than an excellent read, it’s an unintended test of character — yours, his, mine, ours.
I realized this as I was less than halfway through the article, as I “met” the newest incarnation of boat people. My reaction to them was not horror, certainly not envy, but more as if I had encountered another species, a tiny subset of homo sapiens whose genetic code had been altered by money.
I’m aware the rich are thought to be different from the rest of us; we’re supposed to regard them with wonder. But at some point in my reading I found myself thinking, “What are these creatures?” And then,”I am nothing like them.”
I felt that in a sort of profound way. I didn’t want to be like them, I didn’t want what they have. I didn’t hate them, I didn’t see them as my enemies, or monsters. I saw them as poverty-stricken, even pitiable, imprisoned in their diminished psyches, and terrified of the world around them.
When I got over my pity, I recognized them as protagonists of a great, modern social satire. Somebody should do the movie.
Read Osnos and learn that having a massive boat isn’t satisfying if another guy has a bigger one. These frantic characters race to build a bigger boat, and then another bigger boat and on and on. One yacht broker told Osnos, “This client owns three big yachts,” he said. “It’s a hobby for him. We’re at a hundred and ninety-one feet now, and last night he said, ‘you know, what do you think about getting a two hundred and fifty?” [The broker] laughed. “And I was, like, ‘Can’t you just have dinner?'”
Further, Osnos writes, “[T]he American yachtsman Bill Duker said, ‘If the rest of the world learns what it’s like to live on a yacht like this, they’re gonna bring back the guillotine.'”
I urge you to read “The Floating World.” It will either alter your perspective about these vastly wealthy cartoons, or you’ll succumb to whatever out-of-tune siren song they’re sailing toward, at which point you’ll realize you, too, have no soul.