Tom Sutcliffe: What a rich man's car says about him

Social Studies: Chris Evans can have his million pound car. But he has to attach licence plates reading "1D10T"

Share
Related Topics

Chris Evans's decision to treat himself to a very expensive vintage car raised a number of questions in the media – but none of them seemed to me the right ones. The BBC website report on this acquisition, for example, read as follows: "Radio 2 DJ Chris Evans has splashed out £12m on a rare 1960s Ferrari. Why are classic cars like this so valuable?" No interrogation of the deed itself – or the way in which it had become public, after Evans tweeted about his new toy. Just a curiosity about the price-tag.

Granted, a BBC news outlet might have felt inhibited about questioning a man who'd just added millions to his audience figures. But elsewhere the treatment seemed equally uncritical. A left-leaning Sunday paper, not famously associated with the celebration of conspicuous extravagance, even wondered whether this purchase marked a turning point in Evan's public reputation: "With his latest radio and TV successes", the writer asked, "and the purchase of a £12m Ferrari, is the one-time hellraiser now a role model for middle-aged Britain?"

The question I wanted to ask was why Evans didn't feel ashamed of himself? And this was less a question about his character (his relationship with shame has always been an on-off affair) than the character of the society we live in.

At a time of looming national austerity (and as Vince Cable and George Osborne prepare to trim bankers' bonuses, confident of almost universal public support) why didn't he think "I wonder if this will make me look like a bit of a self-indulgent twat?" He seemed assured that there would be no splash-back from the splashing out. That no one would point out that locking up £12m in a road-legal trinket when (to pick just one of an endless list of examples) the same amount of money would pay for 1,723,000 anti-malarial bed nets, might be faintly contemptible behaviour, rather than admirable.

None of us are immune to such comparisons of course. We all spend money on ourselves that might be better applied elsewhere. But then we might be inclined occasionally to feel uneasy about our priorities. And the fact that Evans felt able to boast about this purchase, to flaunt it as a credential of his social worth, surely tells us something about the society we live in – in which a billionaire is more likely to measure his status in terms of super-yacht footage than in charitable giving.

And while there are conspicuous exceptions to this rule – the Bill Gates and George Soros's of the world – it doesn't really seem to have taken off as a fashion. "I want to earn enough money to get a 250 GTO", Evans told an interviewer a while ago, before his dream was fulfilled. But is it really inconceivable that he might have said: "I want to earn enough money to open a school in Nepal"? It wouldn't really require him to be a better person – just a change in our expectations about how rich men should behave.

It made me wonder whether we need some sumptuary laws – to curb the status of frivolous and wasteful luxuries. The only problem being that in historical terms sumptuary laws have far more often reinforced class differences and status than eroded them – or introduced an ethical restraint to public life.

There is one historical example that might be useful though – one mentioned by Montaigne in his brief essay on sumptuary laws. He wisely makes the point that regal example can achieve things that red tape cannot: "Let kings but lead the dance and begin to leave off this expense", he writes, "and in a month the business will be done throughout the kingdom, without edict or ordinance". Since Chris Evans has failed to lead by example, though, and begin a virtuous contest of giving to replace the ignoble contest of having we're so familiar with, Montaigne's next suggestion might have to be applied. He borrowed it from the Greek lawmaker Zeleucus, who included in his legal code the ordinance that no woman was to wear "jewels of gold about her, or go in an embroidered robe, unless she was a professed and public prostitute". You can do it, in other words, but this is what the world will think of you.

I think this might usefully be adapted for super-rich car enthusiasts. Chris Evans – and others like him – can have their million pound cars. But they have to attach state-issued licence plates reading "1D10T" or "S3LF1SH" or "1NAD3QUATE".

A serial pirate enters choppy waters



The comedian Peter Serafinowicz offers an unusual perspective on the issue of internet piracy in an article on the technology blog Gizmodo. Performers' attitudes to this matter are usually starkly polarised. It's either livelihood-threatening-theft or creativity-nurturing-dissemination. But Serafinowicz – who outs himself as a serial pirate – recognises that it's both. Sometimes he even pirates himself – the critical issue for him being ease of access, and the arbitrary constraints that the owners of copyright material sometimes impose on its use.

Wanting to show his son The Jungle Book recently, he attempted to buy it through iTunes but discovered that Disney have it locked away in the Disney Vault, the term the company use for their policy of controlled release of their premium back catalogue. So instead Serafinowicz downloaded a copy. "My moral justification for this?", he writes, "I once bought the VHS. It's your own vault, Disney".

I'm not entirely sure that this argument would withstand a legal challenge by Disney. Or that Jonathan Cape will necessarily feel that his unsolicited puff for Ian McEwan's Solar ("Solar is a sun-tastic read") is reasonable compensation for the fact that he downloaded a pirate copy free (again after being frustrated by regional restrictions and technology). If they seek compensation for their losses though there will be a queue at the courtroom. "In the meantime", Serafinowicz concludes, "I'll be suing myself for pirating my own show. And I'm pretty scared because I have an amazing lawyer".

t.sutcliffe@independent.co.uk For further reading : Gizmodo.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The power of anonymity lies in the freedom it grants

Boyd Tonkin
Rebel fighters walk in front of damaged buildings in Karam al-Jabal neighbourhood of Aleppo on August 26, 2014.  

The Isis threat must be confronted with clarity and determination

Ed Miliband
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone