The greatest horror series on television is Secret Lives of the Super Rich. It’s a truly eldritch documentary show about the things that people with a lot of money inflict on themselves. Rich people, it suggests again and again, are odd. They don’t just want a garage full of Lambos – it’s always Lambos – they want a house in which the garage doubles as the dining room, where you can eat breakfast next to the parking turntable. They don’t just want endless access to Patron, they want a specially modified motorbike that runs on Patron. They want to eat gold leaf on absolutely everything – even grilled cheese sandwiches. And when night comes they want to retire to a house lined with mink fur.
The mink fur was one of those moments that I actually sat up straight while watching this show. Robert Frank, the host and Mephistopholes of the Secret Lives world, has a wonderful tone to him – he’s mocking the super rich but he’s also fascinated by the bizarre things they get up to. The mink fur house was almost too much though. I swear he briefly ran out of ways to describe what he was seeing.
And yes: the mink fur house is truly hellish. It’s dug into a mountain in Switzerland, and it has a huge ornate staircase that serves as its spine. Alongside mink fur in one room, it also has white fox fur in a bedroom, I think, and the whole thing culminates in an underground lake filled with Swarovski crystal lights. After that it gets properly Lovecraftian. There’s an egg sculpture in the dining room that cost $145,000. There’s a Himalayan Salt Chamber. There are secret doorways and levers that do weird things. The whole place is yours for a little under 200 million.
What I love about things like this is that they raise so many questions. Who needs to sleep around mink fur? What does Himalayan Salt do for you, and why is there so much of it in Switzerland? Most importantly, who thought all this stuff up? Who made it happen? What, as Shelley once said, sipping Krug in a bathtub that was made from a hollowed-out rhino, is all this sweet work worth?
Enter video games. Secret Lives can show you the foul things that the mega wealthy have wrought, but video games can allow you to make foul things of your own. I’m thinking of a sort of McMansion building sim in which there’s a fur dropdown – mink, Scandinavian white fox – for each room, in which the price of drilling into a mountain and filling it with jewels is rigorously modelled. How garish and ostentatious can you make the simple act of living, of sleeping? How Extra can you make your Swiss second home, a category of object that is, by definition, pretty Extra already?
Even now as I think about the sliders and the drag-and-drop delights of this infernal simulator, its bling ratings and Aspen expansion packs, I realise that I’m too late. You know that theory that we all live in a massive computer simulation? It must be true – and it must be true because there’s a house in Switzerland built into a mountain and it has walls covered in mink fur.