I once met a guy in Las Vegas who admitted that he wore a counterfeit Cartier watch when he went out in the evenings, believing that this timepiece would make him more attractive to women. He defended the ethics of this: By his lights, any woman who was going to be interested in him because of his fake Cartier deserved to be taken in by the deception. I thought of that guy when I read the latest on George Santos in the New York Times this week, because the story was illustrated by Rep. Santos wearing—unless my eyes deceive me—a Cartier watch, and not just any Cartier watch but the one that shares his name: a Cartier Santos. It is a nice watch but not a discreet one, and that is very on-brand for the man who has spent so much energy trying to convince people that he is a wealthy man who has enjoyed a smashing business career.
That Cartier will turn out to be even more on-brand if it is a fake—which, for the sake of the literary quality of this story, I dearly hope it is.
Some of you may remember that in ye olden days, the Apple store briefly sold an app called “I Am Rich.” All it did was display a glowing red jewel on the iPhone screen, and it cost a thousand bucks. It was pure signaling, and so crass that Apple was shamed into taking it off the virtual shelves. One thousand rapidly depreciating U.S. dollars is still a lot of money, but it’s cheaper than a diamond-encrusted Rolex (in case the Cartier isn’t loud enough for you), and the message is the same—it was a handy wealth-advertising instrument for people who have given up watches and tell time with their telephones.
One way of thinking about our current cultural moment is that this is a time of extraordinary status anxiety driven by social media—another way of thinking about it is that this is the Golden Age of Bulls–t, but those are really two ways of saying the same thing. It is sometimes comical: People ask me what I do and I tell them I’m a writer, and about seven times out of 10 there is an awkward: “Are you, uh, published?” I’m 50 years old—if I were a bartender or an insurance salesman, I’d say so. But you have to keep your eyes peeled in the Golden Age of Bulls–t, when everybody is an entrepreneur or an influencer or some other bull–t thing.