First came Paris Hilton. Then the documentary about heirs of the One Percent, “Born Rich,” and MTV's series “My Super Sweet 16.” Now comes the dot-com version of silver-spoon voyeurism: “The Rich Kids of Instagram.”
The blog on Tumblr features photos set in gilded frames of rich kids and wanna-bes in various states of excess, undress and indulgence, and ever since its launch last month, “The Rich Kids of Instagram” has touched off a firestorm of debate over rich kids and social media.
One shot shows three teens swimming at a lake – and pouring Dom Perignon into one other’s mouths. Another shows a guy sticking a giant foam finger out of his Ferrari, while in another kids slide down a giant inflatable slide attached to the side of their mega-yacht.
The site also marks the debut of a whole new genre: “receipt porn.” Some posts consist of a photograph of a 100,000-euro meal receipt from St. Tropez or a $42,000 bar bill. (Read: Millionaires Say Their Kids Are Unfit to Inherit Their Wealth.)
Dom Perignon also features prominently throughout: being poured on heads, being poured into a spaghetti sauce and being paired with a hot dog (and girl with bikini) “at poolside.” The site might as well be called “Dom Gone Wild” (since bikinis also feature prominently).
The captions would be the stuff revolutions are built on – if the whole site were not so proudly and ridiculously superficial. There is a shot of a guy getting off a yacht with the caption “How else do u expect to get around in the Hamptons.”
A shot of five dudes in a private jet bears the caption “Flying private with friends.” Shoes, watches and jewelry make up the bulk of the shots, and there is one shot captioned, “All my Amex,” exhibiting a gold card, black card and platinum card. Another depicts a guy wearing a necklace made of money.
That’s not to mention the photos that have been taken off the site for being, well, too much. According to Bloomberg, Michael Dell’s daughter Alexa posted a photo of her brother, Zachary, enjoying a feast on their private-jet flight to Fiji. Alexa has also been tweeting information about her schedule and shopping plans, creating a potential security risk. The photo and some of her over-sharing was taken down.
What to make of all this? The site has generated more than its share of scolding and class warfare on the web. Rebecca Greenfield writes in The Atlantic that “Preteens posing with helicopters they did nothing to earn and posting the pictures online for others to ogle provides an easy in for commentary on the state of the American dream. (Dead.)”
But let’s be real: many of the kids on “Rich Kids of Instagram” are not really rich. And most of the stuff they’re doing is not all that unusual – like wearing a suit and sunglasses. Most of the photos are just young people partying by pools or nightclubs.
The site's founder, contacted by email, wants to remain anonymous. "We find anonymity is a hard thing to replace," they wrote. Regarding the site's popularity and mission, the founder said it's "more popular than most ideas that take shape over a few glasses of wine. It's going well."
He/she added that the site has taken down "a few" photos.
Like the “Housewives” and other stars of rich-reality shows, the “Rich Kids of Instagram” is as much of a frivolous pose as it is a real window into the lives of rich kids. Those real lives, no doubt, would not always be as interesting or photogenic.
-By CNBC's Robert Frank
Follow Robert Frank on Twitter: @robtfrank