TRC Word of the Day: Parvenu
The word ‘parvenu’ might not be the most common of english usages, but it nevertheless conveys a meaning that any of us would readily understand. It’s “new money”, but with a decidedly pejorative connotation. Think The Great Gatsby, trying to overcompensate for a meager upbringing by lavishly spending new-found wealth. Garish fortune notwithstanding, the erstwhile tycoon still struggled for acceptance among the elites.
Confused? Let me illustrate:
Once upon a time, there was a relatively minor football program at a state agricultural college that was tucked away in an undeveloped backwater of a small southern town. This program was not considered a threat by any of the football elites, in fact it was only marginally competitive with other regional schools. This school blatantly lifted its athletic traditions from other, more successful, programs and ultimately offered repeated and desperate protestations that it deserved to be treated with the same respect.
But the school had a problem, and the problem was money.
Such were the school’s financial woes that its head coach created a new concept: a non-alumni booster organization. This group would raise much-needed capital from the modest working folks that surrounded the school. A relatively meager amount was required to join – only ten dollars a year. But the idea worked, and quite well. “I Pay Ten a Year” became a slogan for those farmers and factory workers who had no hope of a college education, but could still identify with the upstart college program up the road.
Money poured in.
When the product on the field didn’t match either the aspirations of the desperate program or the expectations of the locals, questions began to be asked. Difficult questions about how all that money was being spent. The powerful within the department soon made a decision: they would take their newfound cash, and use it to both purchase the national legitimacy they so desperately desired, and also placate their yeoman supporters.
They were gonna buy their way to success.
Initially, it seemed to work. An unheard of accomplishment, the Mythical National Championship was obtained. But then disaster struck, as the sport’s governing organization recognized the blatant shenanigans and slapped the eager upstarts with the worst penalties ever handed down at the time, and the second worst penalties still to date.
A second probation would soon follow, as more pay-for-play allegations swirled. But with new-found TV dollars added to the pile, the chance to cash in only grew.
These rumors continue until this day, although the school’s relatively low profile, remote location, and penchant for offering compliance officers ridiculously high salaries have thus far allowed them to escape NCAA notice. Examples nevertheless abound, such as a star running back spurning the NFL and returning to school after discovering that the free use of a local lake house would vanish with the expiration of his amateur status. Recruits were repeatedly (I mean, repeatedly, oh, and repeatedly) seen posing with large amounts of cash, and one in Marlboro County even widely claimed to have won the lottery on national signing day. One recruit allegedly had his entire family comp’ed at a luxury hotel for weeks leading up to signing day. Another player even admitted on air that the NFL wouldn’t be able to pay him as much as this school could.
Beyond paying players, this school demonstrates its desperate search for attention and importance in other ways. It is currently paying the salary of its last head coach, last defensive coordinator, and last offensive coordinator, and all of them are working elsewhere. At the same time, it is paying its current head coach an amount that could liquidate the local Dollar General, and just announced that it will pay its two current coordinators the highest joint salary of any school in NCAA history.
Our word of the day relates to this school because of the absolute glee with which its supporters celebrate these spending sprees. Whether for coaches, facilities, or for players outright, the fanbase of this school is so hungry for acceptance, and so haunted by feelings of inferiority to their collegiate neighbors, that they will celebrate being first in anything, even if it’s just being first in lavishly wasting money.
Someone who wildly spends money to try to obtain long-dreamed heights of social status, allthewhile only reinforcing their own undesirableness – that’s a parvenu.
Oh, and this picture, just because: