09/04/2012 05:31 pm ET Updated Nov 04, 2012

Rich Kids of Instagram and Twenty-First Century Blues

By now, you've probably seen the photos on the Tumblr Rich Kids of Instagram (RKOI) showing preppy teenagers and twenty-somethings posing in front of their yachts (or their parent's yachts), showing off their array of Birkin bags, and boarding their preferred method of transpo -- the ubiquitous private jet. A few friends sent the link to me and I looked through the photos with a little smile, thinking, "That's clever of someone to pose fake pics of rich kids. That's funny." Then I went back to work. The photos reminded me of American Psycho without the chainsaws and spattered blood. I could definitely imagine them listening to Huey Lewis though. The images seemed darkly comic, exaggerated, and totally ridiculous. I didn't realize until much later that the Instagram pics are actually real. The problem with this isn't just that it makes me feel naïve (I can live with that), it's that I write about people like this, the uber-wealthy, the "can't spend their money fast enough" 1%. But I guess I still don't believe it when I see it.

The lifestyles of the wealthy and fabulous seem wonderful to some -- endless vacations, summer homes, private chefs, Louis Vuitton luggage, and a safe distance from the soulless meatball and plastic scent of IKEA -- but when you peer closely that world is actually pretty terrifying. This isn't some melodramatic statement -- when I really imagine that world, and being in that world, I get a vaguely nauseous, vertigo-type feeling. Don't get me wrong, who wouldn't want a summer home or a Birkin bag? Sign me up. But then it goes too far, into a world where getting a designer purse isn't wildly exciting and fabulous. It's just normal. And that's a little frightening. At least to me.

When the New York Magazine article about rich people being unsympathetic jerks came out I was skeptical. Not all wealthy people have noses so high they'd drown in a rainstorm, as the Southern saying goes. Some are giving, humble, and kind. Some poor people suck. Plenty of middle class folks cheat and lie. You get the picture. Yet looking through the gold-framed photos on RKOI I had the overwhelming feeling that all of those people were vapid, narcissistic jerks. One guy hashtagged #humble underneath a pic of him posing in front of his pool, another dude is pointing a Swarovski crystal pistol at a Swarovski crystal skull -- hello Patrick Bateman. One girl did put "Wonderful Life!" underneath a pic of her in some fancy car. She's not so scary -- at least she appreciates it. That's what it boils down to. Appreciating it.

There's a great profile of 1% kids Peter and Harry Brant by Nancy Jo Sales in the new Vanity Fair called "Little Lord Fauntleroys?" They're the beautiful, well-heeled kids of model Stephanie Seymour and businessman Peter Brant. They're the Rich Kids of Instagram. These guys can rent a gold-plated Rolls and a baby panther with a diamond necklace for parties (a party they didn't actually get invited to, even after getting the panther). I'd be pretty upset if I shelled out some bucks for a dress and found out I couldn't go to the dance or the holiday party or whatever. These guys probably just shrugged it off and hopped on a jet.

The reason the Vanity Fair article is interesting is that you kind of want the best for these brothers, despite their privilege, vanity, and extravagance. You root for them to evolve past the #humble yacht parties and Prada spending sprees. Sure, they sound out of touch and probably extremely hard to have a down-to-earth convo with, but... there's a little hope. Looking at the two-dimensional glitz and excess on Rich Kids of Instagram, that little glimmer of hope gives way to something closer to nausea.