Defining utopia down
The New Yorker's Ben McGrath has a delightful writing style and a sharp eye for the telling detail, so on one level, his current feature about Boykin Curry's plan to build a "Creative Person's Utopia" in the Domincan Republic is a treat to read. But it's also tremendously irritating because unless I'm totally missing some subtle subtext, McGrath seems to genuinely like Curry when he is quite obviously, from McGrath's own story, the biggest fucking douchebag on the face of the earth.
I don't know if McGrath is just hoping for future invites to Playa Grande or if he contracted a case of Stockholm Syndrome, but his apparent efforts to paint Curry as a charming, free-spirited intellectual grate noisily against what we actually learn about him. For starters, there's Curry's pitch letter to potential Playa investors: "We are going to keep it Bohemian and not filled with dentists who got lucky in the stock market." Even ignoring the inherent condescension, there is the utter lack of self-awareness from a man who got lucky in the parents market, having made his fortune as a (no doubt Bohemian) money manager in the family firm. McGrath says Curry "may be the least self-important money manager in town," which does not speak well for the rest of 'em.
Keep reading. After a bit more ranting, I've got a genuine scoop about ol' Boykin.
[Attention visitors from Slate: If you're starting to read here, it's because they formatted their link improperly. Scroll up to read about Boykin Curry from the beginning.]
So who are these creative Bohemians who are keeping the dentists at bay? Sure, there's the arguably artistic Moby, Richard Meir, and Mariska Hargitay. But there's also David Brooks (I hope he brings extra copies of Bobos in Paradise for everyone to study), Thomas Freidman, Charlie Rose, Rich Lowry, and Fareed Zakaria. It's just another media clusterfuck, with better weather (sometimes). And then of course there are people like "a New Jersey billboard executive named Drew Katz," but don't worry, Curry insists that "even the financial people are special." Or is that "special"? Boykin is the kind of guy who thinks it's creative to have a designated "Keeper of the Dog" at his wedding.
"By 'artist' Curry means 'anyone who does something that's intellectually interesting that doesn't pay very well.'" He cites George Will as an example although George Will makes plenty of fucking money, as do Moby, Richard Meir, and Mariska Hargitay for that matter. You don't expect him to invite any actual non-rich people, do you? Other than Mariska Hargitay, who is permanently in my good graces for having once charmed the socks off my 90-year-old great aunt when L&O was shooting outside her building, the people Curry has selected as the best and the brightest strike me as a group to be avoided at all costs. How is hanging out with these shmucks anybody's idea of utopia?
Playa Grande's "casting director" contrasted the assembling of Curry's crowd with her recruiting for something called SoHo House: "With SoHo House, it wasn't like, 'Oh, you're Barry Diller, of course we want you to be a member. It was, like, 'Oh, you're Jamie King. And you work at Rockstar Games. And you're at the helm of something which is an extraordinarily exciting new venture."
I had to read that three times before I figured out (I think) what she's trying to say: First, that Barry Diller is the ideal member of any club and that SoHo House wasn't getting that caliber of person. (To paraphrase Groucho Marx, I wouldn't belong to any club that would have Barry Diller as a member). Second, that instead, she had to suck up to B-listers and pretend to be interested in their new ventures. Right, why bother with people who are trying new ventures when you can just go into your daddy's money managing business? Meanwhile, I can't see how Jamie King is less worthy than some other Playa Grande invitees, and I'd certainly rather talk to someone who works at Rockstar Games than any of them. Continues the casting director: "I think Boykin's been incredibly smart about how he has, quite frankly, just sorted out the riff from the raff." An apt malapropism if ever there was one.
Curry spends much of his time mocking the poor Dominicans who were forced by the IMF to sell off the Playa Grande property. Richard Meir at least has the decency to patronize them ("Very happy people") but Curry berates them for littering on his property, which he notes is only his because of their "incompetence."
Curry is portrayed a benevolent dictator. He's the type of guy who says stuff like, "In the regime of Boykin Curry, all the pools will be 88 degrees! I decree, as phase one of my utopian experiment." Even knowing that's a joke, wouldn't it make you want to punch the smug right off his face? So there's the dictator, the benevolence comes when he explains that members will never be kicked out: "Even if you fall from grace and your latest book is a joke, you have a place."
Now that made me laugh, because it just so happens that Boykin's only book (not counting spin-offs) is a joke, at least among my friends. The New Yorker article describes how he got into Yale with an application essay about working on his family peach farm in South Carolina (yes, working the land is so enriching when you're already, you know, rich). This gave him the idea, as a freshman, to compile a best-selling book of college essays called Essays That Worked. I recognized the title right away because my friend Dan Burrows has been dining out on this story for as long as I've known him.
"One day in, like, October of my freshman year (1986), I bumped into a guy from the Oberlin admissions office, and he told me that some guys published some book with my essay in it," explains Dan. He was flattered, but also surprised and a little pissed, because nobody had gotten his permission, compensated him, or even, it turned out, given him attribution in the book. So Dan did what any red-blooded American would: he sued. Curry, his co-author, the publisher, Oberlin, the dean of admissions, the president of the college, you name it. You think the essay worked? The lawsuit was even better. "I got a call in my dorm room one night from either Brian or Boykin (sorry, I can't recall which one). He was kinda freaked out, asked me not to sue. I told him to call my lawyer. About a year later the defendants offered a settlement: cash and my byline in future editions."
Dan adds that he understand how McGrath went native. "Boykin's got a lot of money, breeding, connections. He leads a pretty extraordinary life, so I guess it's hard not to be seduced. (Unless you're me, in which case it's hard not to be bitter and jealous.)" Is it wrong to pray for 20 years of solid rain?