A Strange Affluenza

Teenager’s Sentence in Fatal Drunken-Driving Case Stirs ‘Affluenza’ Debate

The judge, Jean Boyd, on Tuesday declined to give the teenager, Ethan Couch, the punishment sought by Tarrant County prosecutors — 20 years in prison — and instead ordered him to be placed in a long-term treatment facility while on probation. Judge Boyd did not discuss her reasoning for her order, but it came after a psychologist called by the defense argued that Mr. Couch should not be sent to prison because he suffered from “affluenza” — a term that dates at least to the 1980s to describe the psychological problems that can afflict children of privilege.

So now everyone knows that pampering one’s offspring is a bad idea. When I heard about the Affluenza defense, my mind first jumped to an old Mad magazine strip suggesting funny names for future diseases. I’ve always remembered Affluenza, which presciently showed an America of rich, fat people and Mononuclearosis, which showed a mushroom cloud above the earth. I hope the usual gang of idiots was wrong about the second one, but with Japan unable to clean up Fukushima Daiichi, I wonder.

Then I started humming Influenza, from Todd Rundgren’s The Ever-Popular Tortured Artist Effect. Here’s the studio cut from the album and here’s Rundgren singing it live backed up by the Les Paul Trio. It has nothing to do with affluence, but I like the song.

Though I never saw it, apparently KCTS Seattle and Oregon Public Broadcasting produced a one hour tv special on overconsumption titled Affluenza. There’s a quiz at the website, and lord knows, Facebook needs another quiz.

More people might remember a snippet from the rom-com crime drama, Castle, as wealthy crime novelist Richard Castle lectures his beautiful red-haired daughter about money:

CASTLE
Have you ever heard of affluenza?

ALEXIS
You mean influenza?

CASTLE
No, affluenza. It’s a condition that affects children who come from wealthy homes.

Frankly, the idea that being rich and spoiled as a child might make a young adult feel entitled could only be considered a new idea among those that don’t read anything. Try The Prince and the Pauper for starters. Or anything by Dickens. Or read about Harry Flashman in Tom Brown’s School Days. Or Flashman’s literary offspring Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter books. Or just read anything by David Brooks.

Cmon, “spoiled little rich kid” had to have been a trope when we were just singing stories around the fire. Affluenza is just a fancy new name for it.

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