In 1497, in a righteous fever, supporters of Dominican priest Girolamo Savonarola publicly burned objects symbolizing the wicked decadence and decay of Florence, Italy. The items included works of art, expensive clothes, jewelry, cosmetics, and books — objects that could tempt one to sin, and represented the downfall of a city about to be crushed by God and its own pride. They called it the bonfire of the vanities. In 2010, a show about socialite Tinsley Mortimer, called High Society, aired on the CW network. One day, in the future, anthropologists looked back on this program and isolated the elements that ultimately caused the burning of New York City and our final release from our mad, sybaritic godlessness. Here is their list.
Reasons Why High Society Will Spark the Fire That Ultimately Consumes — and Purifies — Us All:
• The random white guy who sheds a single tear in the credits. Just, that guy.
• “I’m about to take you into a world where everything is not as perfect as it seems,” Tinsley narrates. Suddenly, the camera shows her without makeup. SHE HAS FRECKLES. AAAAAAAH! Sometimes even we anthropologists can get spooked by the horrors of humanity.
• When Alexandra and Tinsley are trying on thousand-dollar frocks with jewels hand-applied by arthritic French seamstresses and steamed with the tears of 11-year-olds in Chiang Mai (which the girls will only ever wear once, for half an evening), a small, unnoticed dog is quietly crawling around the bed where Tinsley sleeps, humping the pillow on which she rests her head every night.
• “I love Harvey Weinstein, he is great,” Tinsley explains. “He is married to Georgina Chapman.” You’ll note from the fact that he appears on-camera that the once-great Harvey Weinstein signed the disclosure agreement to be on the show.
• Notably, however, Tinsley’s husband, Topper, did not. When the socialite’s own wedding portrait is shown on-camera, Topper’s face is blurred out by editors. Later, when he appears in person to participate in what seems to be the only genuinely sad and real moment on the show, he is similarly edited out. Tinsley’s marble-mouthed “prince,” however, has clearly forged a pact with producers to not only appear prominently, but also to be filmed only from his slightly less ugly side.
• Tinsley: “Topper, his family just hated that I was out there getting photographed all the time, because in the old world of New York society you were only in the newspapers when you were born, you got married, and you died. And that was it.” Somewhere, the ghost of Brooke Astor is lighting a match.
• In a short scene at a fashion show, the crowd appears to be gossiping about Tinsley. “Oh my God, is that Tinsley?” asks someone. “She’s by herself!” Except not only are those two sentences obviously cobbled together from two separate people, but the women on-camera at the moment aren’t even moving their lips.
• Malik So Chic.
• Paul Johson Calderone.
• Malik So Chic explains in the limo: “We’re going to my friend’s underground party.” Which is, naturally, upstairs.
• PJC: “My nickname in New York is ‘the king of the bow ties.’” Sorry, George Plimpton. You died.
• “I’ve been to rehab twice now. I’m still drinking,” says Calderone, blithely.
“I want to have a family. I want to have a book published. Like, I just desperately want to, like, be loved.” That must be why he went on this show with the deliberate aim of becoming a cartoon villain.
• “I’m just coming off of a huge ‘Page Six’ scandal where I was accused of lifting some girl’s purse,” grins PJC. “There was surveillance footage, pictures of it on the Internet. The Village Voice compared me to Winona Ryder and Lindsay Lohan. Honestly, that purse was my Paris Hilton porno tape.” This statement was delivered as though this was an accomplishment, like graduating from college, for example, or having a soul.
• “I’m over it, I’m sorry, I do what I want,” says PJC, channeling Eric Cartman except without the charm, before opening up his limo window AND LITTERING. This guy is a loose cannon! Watch out!
• “I think people are jealous of me because I’m smart and I’m pretty,” says Jules Kirby, whose face looks like a bacterial petri dish. (We can say that, we’re anthropologists. It’s a science term.)
• “My friends do tend not to be homosexuals, fat, or Jewish people, or black girls,” says Kirby. “I only like white girls. I use the N-word sometimes but I really think it should be okay.” Yes, right about now many viewers are thinking hate crimes should be legal, too.
• “Honestly, it’s like a recession going on,” Kirby explains to the room-service people at the Empire Hotel, as though they don’t know. “People should be getting jobs who deserve it, not some idiot.” The girl has apparently forgotten which of the two people in this conversation actually has a job.
• “He went to rehab,” PJC’s mother rationalizes. “I am confident now that when he goes out, he only has one glass.” It’s pretty clear that PJC’s “rehab” was actually just “holing up with a sober Calvin Klein in the Hamptons for a couple of weeks,” because moderation management is not something they teach at real rehab, ma’am.
• “I think I should just get it. It’s my money,” PJC says of his trust fund, clearly misunderstanding both the words “fund” and “trust.” “Give me my money!”
• Dale Mercer calls Tinsley’s apartment “In the midtown.”
• “Tonight we’re going to go to an AIDS benefit,” Tinsley explains as she and her girlfriends pile into a limo to the Angel Orensanz Foundation, drinking on the way. Later, after perfunctorily auctioning off a purse for the good cause, the characters joke about one another being “AIDS victims” and tell one another to “die in a fire” and that they “wouldn’t piss on” one another’s corpses, even if they were “burning to death.” At the end of the night, one character is telling everyone jokingly that the AIDS benefit was thrown for another character. It’s a regular laugh riot on the Lower East Side.
• After PJC throws a glass of Jameson on the rocks in an innocent girl’s face, Jules Kirby calls 911 and assembles a fleet of ambulances and police outside. Unfortunately, we anthropologists were unable to accurately count how many people in New York who actually needed police and emergency aid were affected by this.
• “I wanna see ih,” PJC shrieks, demanding that a male model he just met take his shirt off and display his abs. “I wanna see IH!” We were unclear what the definition of the word “ih” was, but we think it might be, “that material which will eventually smother me to death when It collapses on top of me under the weight of all the Flunitrazepam-and–Captain Morgan shots I fed it all night in order to convince it to go Home with me and plug up my various orifices.” It’s a contraction, see.
• “The last thing I need is to be in a situation where I’m reported about where police are coming to a nightclub,” Tinsley muses, summarizing a wonderful evening. “This was a bit too much for me. This is probably the reason why I don’t go downtown.”