W “E SHOWED AMERICA WHAT PLUTOCRACY LOOKS LIKE,” declared the Billionaires’ cofounder Andrew Boyd.1 George W. Bush himself let this truth slip out in a provocative joke at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation dinner in October 2000, as he told the audience: “This is an impressive crowd of the haves and have-mores. Some people call you the elite, I call you my base.”2 By the end of the 2000S, that was not the kind of joke most politicians would want ordinary citizens to overhear.
To recap the Billionaire tale: The return of plutocracy sends to the streets objectors who impersonate imaginary plutocrats. These protesters against extreme wealth inequality carefully avoid the semiotics of poverty because they have concluded that public culture in their country effaces the working poor. They don costumes intended to defy images of “traditional” protesters because they believe that influential voices in the media disparage the latter. Since wealth itself is an object of popular admiration, they assume that elegantly attired protesters pretending to be billionaires will be objects of attraction. They are mostly middle class, but as they parody the ultrarich, some admit they fantasize about joining them. They wrap their economic and political critique in ironic humor because they have learned that otherwise journalists and many ordinary citizens will not listen. And their beliefs are likely shared by many in a country whose most trusted source of “real” news in the 2000S was a comedian, Jon Stewart, the host of a satirical news program.3