Diddy (formerly Puffy, formerly Puff Daddy, formerly P. Diddy, formerly various other names) bought his kid a Maybach for a sixteenth-birthday present. List price is $360,000, though given the amount of press he’s getting, and given that it’ll pop up on an MTV show shortly, I wonder if he paid anything for it.
Of course this is a terrible idea–most kids wreck a car in their new-license days, and it’d be a shame to see this thing wrapped around a tree. (Unless the kid gets a driver in this deal?) But I refuse to argue against this birthday gift on children-are-starving-in-Africa grounds, or even he-didn’t-work-for-it grounds. If you live in a getting-and-spending culture (as I certainly do, and virtually every American does, except for a few scattered off-the-grid Kaczynski folks), then you can’t say that Diddy is crossing some invisible line of too-much-ness. Yes, the kid probably has a bent sense of values and a shortage of inner life; he was going to be that way from the get-go, given his upbringing, and only if he happens to become a certain type of thinking adult will he ever discover that. Odds are, he won’t. Crazy birthday presents are just the visible details.
The problem here is not excessive spending; the problem, such as it is, is being vulgar about it, and all that distinguishes vulgarity from actual elegance is a set of invisible class signifiers that function as secret handshakes. (You’re allowed to buy a massively expensive car, but add some chrome hubcaps and suddenly you’re Not Doing It Right.) It’s why arrivistes wear Oxfords with giant Ralph Lauren logos but old preppies get their shirts, sans trademark, at Brooks Brothers. The latter can be spotted by its cut and the roll of the collar, and you have to know what to look for, whereas the former is obviously spendy. Either way, it’s a brand name, just a more subtle one. I say, if we’re going to live this way–and I ruefully admire his lack of self-consciousness about the details of how he’ll be perceived–we have to just let the kid enjoy his awesome wheels.
Though it definitely screws up the curve for most of us in the birthday-present game. Fortunately, my wife and I have an out: we have no car, so we can’t very well be expected to buy our son one. He’s welcome to his very own MetroCard when he turns 16, though. That, and the sense of moral superiority that goes with it: It’s not that we’re broke, it’s that we’re pro-mass-transit, even when it’s a huge pain.