I can't make this shit up.
A few weeks ago I almost trashed a USA Today article
about a sweet, hip, socially conscious, obviously rich "Gen Y-er" who made sure she tutored pre-school English in India before enrolling in college (presumably to foster the development of the next generation of call center employees). I wanted to write about a trend I've been watching develop in American higher education ever since my affiliation with the "mega-industry
" began seven years ago: boutique poverty
Our rich kids travel the globe, working in the soup kitchens of Botswana, Thailand, India, Brazil. Then they post pictures of themselves doing it on the marketing database called facebook.com.
Yes, though black men are dropping out of high school at alarming rates
, hispanic immigrants are being zoned out of their homes
, and most living Vietnam vets seem to dwell under highway bridges, it's just cooler to do your community service on the other side of an ocean. Especially if it's warmer there.
You can make fun of the trendy-but-marginally-helpful rich kids all you want, but as the Tufts University Alumni Association indirectly points out, participating in boutique poverty is a behavior that spreads top-down across generations. For while the TUAA endlessly mails me postcards asking for money to supplement my $120,000 tuition, they also arrange $43,000 per person* private jet charters
to historic religious sites. Giza! Kyoto! The first Memphis! Who wouldn't want to go and try to buy back part of his or her soul?
Strangely, it seems that the rich kids who are able to take their digicams along on their transoceanic volunteer trips do more social good than any executive spending a week living our of a converted 757. Is "Gen Y"'s guilt driving it away from fixing the problems it creates at home? Or are the world-savers such highly evolved superconsumers that they can only pitch in where they'll have the most fun?
These are questions you probably don't think about if you can spend $43,500 on airfare. You probably don't rely on scholarship help for your college-age heirs, either.
*All trips in the Private Jet series are, strangely, related to spirituality. Trip cost includes bottled water so you won't catch the local diseases.