Keeping up with the Joneses has been almost as American as
Apple Pie and "Leave it to Beaver." The whole concept is actually
something that harkens back to a kinder, gentler time - not that
coveting thy neighbors property wasn't in play, since well, the
beginning. But before unlimited credit and the invention
of Reality TV it lacked the hard-core have it at all costs (which sadly
in many cases has ended up for many being all costs) dynamic it has
In Confessions of a Shopaholic, the film I adapted from the book, the lead character uber shopper
Rebecca Bloomwood's shopping obsession starts as a child when she
watches The Joneses get sparkly, colorful shoes while her more
thrifty, Cleaverish parents buy her sturdy brown clunkers "that will
There is no question that the outer or inner shopaholic in most of us
starts with the kernel of "Keeping up with Joneses. Whether it's
Madison Ave ad execs convincing you you're incomplete without it
whatever it may be, or your neighbor driving
home with a brand new Escalade, the "wow look what they got,
I want it too" feeling has become foundational in the American psyche.
I remember when the Cleavers' neighbors got a new car, Beaver
and Wally were in awe. But Ward did not have access to zero down,
no payments for six months plans that allow for the instantaneous
we're as good as the Joneses fix and perhaps financial ruin.
He got the things he might covet the old fashion way: He
delayed gratification and saved up until he could pay cash, thus
teaching his kids and America the value of both saving and not getting
what you want just because you want it or someone else has it.
He was a product of the post- war era where the thought
of owing money was just coming into play and was
abhorrent to many, including my parents. So, "Keeping
Up With The Joneses was part of a long-term goal, not a way of life.
Competition has its upsides; there is nothing wrong with
capitalism or a free market economy:
it keeps you working and always on your toes; it allows for you set
hurdles and toil to clear them. It was the engine that drove America.
The problems really started coming when credit became the
ruling currency and the Joneses got too rich.
When I was a kid and Wally and Beaver were waiting patiently for
Ward to save up for the better car, the Joneses were doctors, lawyers
and for the most part normal people who had jobs that gave them
just a bit more money so the American Dream came a little sooner.
But they were the Joneses and in their very simple every man
name it tells us that they were for the most part average people and
keeping up with them wasn't like keeping up with The Beckhams or The
Cruises or with CEO's of Fortune 500 companies.
I live in New York City where, for the most part, The Joneses had
a hedge fund, or worked on Wall St. and their giant salaries were
not that of the Joneses of yester decade. These Joneses brought home
salaries that were bigger than the GNP of many small countries.
And they didn't just drive in one evening with a new Buick; their
kids announced at school that daddy just bought mommy her
own island off Tahiti, or it appeared in a magazine
that daddy's just been bumped to the
top of the wait list for the newest Gulf Stream. They out-priced the
old Joneses, the doctors, and lawyers out of family housing in the city.
The Joneses became rock stars and were glorified in US Magazine and
on Reality TV. Families who never read Forbes
could recite the richest people in the country the way they used to recite
Kids no longer aspired to be doctors and lawyers;
they wanted to be hedge fund managers and Investment Bankers.
This isn't the stuff dreams are built on, as we find out; it's
what nightmares are built from.
And while the new Joneses were busy spending their ill-earned
ginormous bonus and the folks next door were racking up
monumental credit card and mortgage debt just to get a tiny
piece of the American Dream, Rome burned, along with
Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, AIG, our kid's college
funds and too many people's hard earned retirement savings.
These Joneses were not the masters of the universe like we were
led to believe, but masters of destruction. They were nothing to
aspire to or emulate but something to run from.
I'm happy President Obama has capped salaries and is
I'm happy the Jones' are moving out of the neighborhood and
I'm hoping the Cleavers with their sturdy shoes and good
old fashioned values can now afford the house and move back in.