It’s easy to call the wealthiest individuals in America out of touch, but it’s another thing to see it in action. In an excerpt from his new book Young Money, New York writer Kevin Roose goes inside a meeting of Kappa Beta Phi, “the secret Wall Street fraternity” that's home to the richest men in America, and shows just how bonkers the world of the one-percent really is.
While working on his book in 2012, Roose snuck into the group's annual induction ceremony, of which he claimed, "No outsider in living memory had witnessed the entire proceedings firsthand." Like any other frat initiation, new Kappa Beta Phi inductees are asked to do all manner of ridiculous things, like don leotards, skirts, and wigs and put on a show for the fraternity's current members. The only difference is, these "neophytes" are some of the richest, most powerful business people on the planet.
Roose, who snuck into the event simply by donning a tuxedo and strolling past security, details the "comedy skits, musical acts in drag, and off-color jokes" that target liberal icons like Hillary Clinton, Barney Frank, and even the academic honor society Phi Beta Kappa, which the group takes its name from.
The jokes ranged from unfunny and sexist (Q: “What’s the biggest difference between Hillary Clinton and a catfish?” A: “One has whiskers and stinks, and the other is a fish”) to unfunny and homophobic (Q: “What’s the biggest difference between Barney Frank and a Fenway Frank?” A: “Barney Frank comes in different-size buns”.
After eventually being caught recording the event's more tasteless moments (like a Book of Mormon parody song), Roose was outed as a reporter and ejected before the meeting's conclusion. Still, he was privy to a never-before-seen spectacle of excess and obliviousness. This is how he sums up what he witnessed:
Here, after all, was a group that included many of the executives whose firms had collectively wrecked the global economy in 2008 and 2009. And they were laughing off the entire disaster in private, as if it were a long-forgotten lark ... These were activities that amounted to a gigantic middle finger to Main Street and that, if made public, could end careers and damage very public reputations.
Roose's chronicle reaffirms the fears that America's wealthiest are fully removed from the rest of the world, one which they often control. He told Mother Jones that it was the "scariest night of [his] life" – his story isn't just going to scare people, but piss a lot of them off, too. We've long known about the excess of the one-percent, but what struck Roose was not just their antics, but the panic that ensued when these power brokers believed they had been found out.
Here's Roose's takeaway:
No self-aware and socially conscious Wall Street executive would have agreed to be part of a group whose tacit mission is to make light of the financial sector’s foibles. [...] Here were executives who had strong ideas about politics, society, and the work of their colleagues, but who would never have the courage to voice those opinions in a public setting. Their cowardice had reduced them to sniping at their perceived enemies in the form of satirical songs and sketches, among only those people who had been handpicked to share their view of the world. And the idea of a reporter making those views public had caused them to throw a mass temper tantrum.
You can read the whole excerpt here and even hear audio recorded at the event.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.