Last week, I asked a retired friend how she planned to close out the summer. She said she’d do what she always did, join friends at the annual play festival in Ashland, Oregon. Ashland is a quaint town in the middle of rural Oregon, dedicated to recreating Shakespeare’s Elizabethan world. I nodded, knowing the outdoor series was second to none, even those performed at the Stratford in England.
Not having attended a season in several years, I asked about ticket prices. Each performance cost $100, I was told. I blanched at the figure, which seemed to give offense. “It’s worth every penny,” my friend said.
I nodded, not wanting to offend her further. But in my heart, I was stunned. The price might be comparable to other theatricals, but I couldn’t justify the extravagance. For $10, I could enjoy a movie. Double the cost and I could support a live production in town and send the difference to Doctors without Borders. With it, they could feed a child in the Congo or Syria.
I admit, by nature, I am penurious. Money must do more than tickle my pleasure. It must perform compassionate work.
Given my bias, I’m glad to read that since the 2008 financial debacle, conspicuous consumption has fallen out of favor. Writer Holly Peters, reports even the rich take pains to “poor mouth their circumstances.” (“False Confession,” by Holly Peterson, Town&Country, August, 2017, pg. 49.)
Behind the poor mouthing, I hope lies a tacit recognition that too much for some is bad for the country. If that proves true, then despite the leadership in Washington, we may yet see a flowering of the nation’s conscious. Change begins when those who enjoy money and influence develop a degree of shame. Then, perhaps, that shame will trickle down to the middle class.
(Originally published 8/1/17 )