Monday, April 15, 2013

I Cringed, I Enjoyed, I Empathized in a Weird Way and Mostly I Appreciated My Life

Image from
I recently watched this documentary titled The Queen of Versailles by Virginia Nebab.  It's an interesting look at wealth and how it can change people, and how losing it can do the same.  It follows the Siegel family, whose riches came from time share condo sales.  David Siegel was called the Time Share King because he started the whole craze and made billions off of it.  But when the current recession came crashing in, and housing values dropped out of the sky, and banks were calling in loans, they stopped giving him the loans to finance people he sells the time shares to on top of which they called in his loans especially those of the 'Westgate Towers' he built in Las Vegas.  When they did this, he lost pretty much everything.  He lost the towers and held on to his business by the skin of his teeth.

In the beginning of the documentary, he and his wife were building the largest house in America measuring in at somewhere around 90,000 square feet.  They had designed it after the palace of Versailles, providing the film's title.  Once the market dropped, they of course had to stop building it.  They were half way done at the time.  They tried to sell it for $75 million but given the economy and the number of people able to buy at that price, they of course did not sell.  The bank tried to foreclose on them.  Last I was able to find out, they still own it.  He somehow managed to stay the foreclosure.  The house embodied their lifestyle at the time the film began: ostentatious, jet-setting and full of the toys of the wealthy.  These things, I really wouldn't begrudge them.  Having a private jet, house cleaners, a nice big house (not the 90k sq ft one though), fancy cars etc, really aren't something to judge someone for.  They had the money, they used it.  As would anyone, myself included though I would hope a bit more reasonably.  But where they came across wrong is in their complete over-the-top, excessiveness and cluelessness about the world around them.  When they could no longer keep most of their staff on, they had to clean the house themselves, only they really didn't know how to and watching the film you see a degeneration of their living conditions which made me squeamish.  It was obvious that without the people they'd been so used to taking care of things before they even noticed them, they couldn't function.  Jackie, David's wife, tries to 'cut back' by shopping for Christmas at Walmart but ends up buying 5 or 6 carts full of stuff for their 10 person family.  I think the most striking image in that whole sequence for me was that she bought a brand new bicycle for one of her children and as she, her nanny and housekeeper were carrying all that stuff into the house, they passed through the garage which was literally littered with dozens of bicycles (I'm serious there were at least 30).  What would one more bicycle really mean to that child?  In fact, none of those toys really meant anything other than something wrapped in paper.  Once it was opened, it was nothing more than a thing amongst a jungle of things.  It was sad.

When they were faced with this hardship, David began crumpling under the stress and being grumpy and somewhat mean to his wife and family.  On the other hand, in spite of her cluelessness, Jackie stuck by her man, defended him and put in a valiant effort to muster her family together.  I was impressed.  She may have had her issues, but I had to respect that she had a great attitude.  Not getting the new house she so much wanted?  She was not only willing to consider moving into something even smaller than where they currently were (a 26,000 square foot home), but she appeared genuinely grateful to have whatever they did have, knowing that so many of the people who had worked for their company were laid off and without money at all.  She started a thrift shop mostly from her own things to help people, most of whom were former employees.  Don't get me wrong, I was disgusted at her continuing to have plastic surgery done in spite of the fact that she was mostly comprised of fake parts already and her spending with hardly any thought to reining things in, or that she and her kids went about their house littered in dog sh*t without even bothering to pick any of it up.

This film affected me in a way I hadn't expected.  I felt truly sad for this family even though it would seem there was really nothing to be sad for, given they had all that money and squandered a great deal of it, that didn't change the fact that Jackie and her kids were not bad people.  I even suspect her husband, David is not so bad either.  Anyone would react to that much stress.  His son who worked for him in the company I had no respect for.  He spoke about the people they were selling time shares to as 'moochers' and 'greedy' because they would come into those stupid speals for the free offers.  First of all, his company offered those freebies knowing they were going to sucker a great proportion of people into buying something they not only couldn't afford but didn't need.  He came across as a complete jerk and hypocrite.  But I digress.  The other effect came in that I found myself feeling grateful for everything I have because even in our broken down little house, with our rusty little put-put car, we have a strong marriage, great kids and an appreciation of living within our means.  I would love to be able to fix this house or better yet buy a nicer one, have nice cars, take wonderful trips, all the things we wish for when we think of having extra money, but in the end, I already have everything I need and love.

I highly recommend watching this film.


jaded said...

It sounds intriguing. Things are seldom as simple as they appear

meno said...

Money can change people. From what i've seen it's not usually a good change. This looks like an interesting movie. I will check it out.