Sex and Money
"Sixty-five percent would live on a deserted island for a year for a cool $1 million. Sixty percent would even take the rap for someone else and serve six months in jail for that amount and 10% would lend their spouse for a night." Bernice Kanner, in her Introduction to Are You Normal about Money (Barnes & Noble, 2001) gives us these figures, tallied after a year of asking Americans about money, using the Bloomberg Web site. "For $10 million, most of us would do just about anything. One-quarter would abandon all their friends and church, or become a prostitute for a week…and seven percent one in every 14 of us would even murder."
When I was back in the States I picked up Are You Normal about Money at a Barnes & Noble in Western Colorado. Over the years, I, like all of us, have thought a lot about money and sex, those related American obsessions. I confess here that I have enjoyed watching television shows like Greed (with its "Tower of Greed," at the top of which was $2 million), or Regis Philbin’s Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, shows in which we watch people in only minutes make huge amounts of money before our very eyes. Contestant Lauren Griswold won $810,000 in a single appearance on Greed; and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire produced several winners at the $1 million mark. And of course there is that low-water mark of reality TV, which attempted to titillate us with both sex and money and which rapidly slipped into a richly deserved oblivion, Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire.
Bernice Kanner’s little book is simply the organized results of her surveys of thousands of Americans. One can read her question, answer it, and then see how people on average answered it. For example, Can money buy happiness? We would quickly answer a firm no, and in fact we would be in line with the norm: "Just 13 percent of us believe that it can, with men slightly more likely to subscribe to this than women. Yet one out of four people would prefer wealth to having their family together and healthy. Ninety-two percent would rather be rich than find the love of their lives."
And this one is sort of frightening: What would you do with money given to you as a gift that had been illicitly gained through stealing or inflicting pain and suffering? "Four out of ten people would keep it…"
And I, who have always considered my self rich in terms of what really mattered, discovered, when I read this question, that in terms of money I am, in fact, poor: What is poor? "Most of us consider a family of four with household income of $35,000 or less to be poor, but that’s twice the U.S. government’s threshold for poverty (about $17,000 a year). In a recent year, the median household income in the United States wasn’t far from that, $38,900."
Compare this, though, to the average disposable income of the Mexican worker (2002): $5,837 annually, or about $486 per month. According to the World Salaries Organization, these are average monthly incomes in 2004 in Mexico for various job sectors:
|- Bus Driver
Also note that the Mexican stewardess typically works 50 hours per week; the teacher 38 hours; the bus driver 64; the salesperson 53; the miner 48; and the maid 50. Minimum wage in Mexico is 50 pesos per day, or about $4.60. That’s not $4.60 per hour but per day!
But let’s get back to Kanner’s surveys. How much would it take to significantly change your life? "Nine percent would need more than $10 million to significantly change our lives, whereas an extra $100,000 would dramatically change things for one-third of us. Thirty percent would find things shaken up for $100,000 to $1 million, while 23.8 percent calculate it would require $1 million to $10 million to turn things around." But, at the same time, If your lucky number came in: Would you quit your job? "If we came into $10 million, 42 percent of us would keep on truckin’ at the same old job."
Or this one: How about shopping or sex? "For men, it’s a no-brainer, but more women would actually rather shop till they drop than spend a weekend with a fabulous lover." Well, perhaps that is why this question, Which do you enjoy more: sex or money?, received this result: "Just 35 percent say that hands down, they enjoy sex more than they enjoy money."
Would you have sex for money? "Sixty percent of us dismiss the idea flat out, but 6.7 percent think getting paid for something they enjoy is a good deal, and 20.4 percent say it depends on who with."
Would you lend your spouse for $1 million? "Two-thirds of us, holding tight to those holy vows, wouldn’t lend our spouse for a night, even for a million bucks. One in ten would accept this indecent proposal, while 16 percent admit they’d mull it over." That rather boring movie, Indecent Proposal, starring Robert Redford, Woody Harrelson, and a reasonably delectable Demi Moore was, of course, about this very question.
Do you remember that old joke that circulated decades ago, about the man and woman at a cocktail party in suburbia? The man, finding himself in a private moment with his attractive neighbor, asks her: "Would you sleep with me for $50,000?" Her face lights up, and she enthusiastically answers, "Of course!" He then asks her, "Would you sleep with me for $10?" Disgusted and shocked, she responds, "What kind of woman do you take me for?" He replies, "We’ve already established that. Now we’re just haggling about price."
Well, the fact is, I remain a bit old-fashioned. (One woman even called me quaint!) I loved that TV series that ran in the late 50s, The Millionaire, not only because the millionaire, John Beresford Tipton, and I shared the same last name, but because the premise was so interesting. Tipton, through his faithful assistant Michael Anthony, would deliver a tax-free check for one million dollars made out to individuals selected at random. They discovered, of course, that money could not buy happiness, and at the end of the half hour Anthony would summarize what they had learned.
Some of us remember that back in 1956 Who Wants to Be a Millionaire was the name of a Cole Porter song long before it became the name of the international television hit. In that Cole Porter song, love is more desirable than money, and that title line of that song actually reads: "Who wants to be a millionaire? I don't."
I also fell in love with the three ladies in the early 50s film, How to Marry a Millionaire: Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall, and Betty Grable, who rent a posh apartment to snag a rich bachelor, but of course, they eventually discover that character and moral values are more important than money.
A few days ago I was talking to three or four irredeemable reprobates, all good buddies of mine and all married or in long-term relationships, who were sipping their café mochas at the Lake Chapala Society. They even tolerated me reading to them the first draft of this article. When I finished, I said to them, "Tell me, if Salma Hayek offered you $1,000,000 to spend a week with her in Tahiti, you’d turn her down, wouldn’t you?" Their collective response, as testosterone flooded through their aging vocal cords, was: "Tipton, are you out of your &*!#-%&#!& mind!?"