POWER: The Queen of Versailles

I recently spoke with Greenfield about her latest book, Generation Wealth, an enormous undertaking made up of Greenfield’s photography as well as short reflections on wealth and money. Generation Wealth documents the last quarter-century of America’s obsession with and desire for money and the material goods that signify status—and what happens when people lose all of it. The conversation below has been lightly edited for clarity.

Gillian B. White: This book seems perfectly timed. There’s not only an ongoing conversation about inequality, but the U.S. has a president who seems to fancy himself a populist, but has also made his name off of flaunting his wealth. What do you make of this moment?

Lauren Greenfield: I did not expect Trump to win the election, but when he did, it was kind of like the content of this work, of the 25 years, bearing out. In so many ways, Trump and his rise was the apotheosis of Generation Wealth. There were so many commonalities between him and David Siegel [one of the main subjects in Greenfield’s documentary, The Queen of Versailles, about a wealthy family before, during, and after the financial crisis], from the love for gold and the aesthetic of luxury, to the owning beauty pageants, to beautiful women in their personal life being an expression of their success, to making money in real estate. That’s more for Trump than for David Siegel, but certainly a theme in the book, the power of celebrity.
But I think in terms of the populist part, there’s a quote from Fran Lebowitz that I put in the front of the book about how Americans don't resent the rich because they always imagine that will be them someday. I think that is part of the admiration for Trump. Unlike some other cultures that resent the rich or resent the upper class, Americans admire wealth. READ



The Queen of Versailles is a character-driven documentary about a billionaire family and their financial challenges in the wake of the economic crisis. With epic proportions of Shakespearean tragedy, the film follows two unique characters, whose rags-to-riches success stories reveal the innate virtues and flaws of the American Dream. The film begins with the family triumphantly constructing the largest privately-owned house in America, a 90,000 sq. ft. palace. Over the next two years, their sprawling empire, fueled by the real estate bubble and cheap money, falters due to the economic crisis. Major changes in lifestyle and character ensue within the cross-cultural household of family members and domestic staff. VIA

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