Greed refers to excessive or reprehensible acquisitiveness. As one of the seven deadly sins, greed is associated with the extreme yearning to accumulate wealth. Despite its near-evil denotation, society has continually sought ways to substantiate greed and transform it from a vice to a virtue.
Quite appropriately, Greed is also the name of a two-hour, multi-million dollar game show that aired on Fox last week. Teams of five strangers take turns answering questions that get more and more difficult for more and more money. But unlike other game shows, the questions are not worth hundreds, or even thousands, but hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Greed also adds a sadistic twist; contestants periodically have the chance to challenge and eliminate members of their own team. The winner of the head-to-head challenge acquires all of the loser's winnings, and the loser goes home with nothing. The sadistic nature is what makes the show appealing; treacherous, doom-filled music engrosses both viewers and contestants, foretelling the awful disappointment that awaits the loser.
The show's premise is not unique. On ABC's Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Regis Philbin asks trivial questions of contestants selected from a large pool of people who qualified by answering other trivial questions. Although less sadistic than Fox's show, the idea is the same-that with enough greed-driven determination and a grasp of random facts, anyone can compete to win millions.
Traditionally, game shows have offered people the opportunity to use their skills or knowledge to win prizes instantly. But these new shows raise the stakes to lofty heights-which subsequently raises the level of greed displayed by the contestants.
Regardless of these shows' ratings, my peers' response has been strong enough to catch my eye. Several of my friends have called the contestant number for ABC's show; one of them has qualified for an advanced level of competition, and is awaiting a second call back. The feeling of anticipation is thrilling, but unnerving. The natural human desire for lots and lots of money is subverted by the feeling that wealth accrued in this manner is unmerited.
Greed at Duke is hidden amid the academic setting. In the quest for good grades, greed is apparent, but for the most part, greed is masked by the stepping-stone nature of college. For instance, many of my friends here are pre-med. Few occupations are nobler than those in the field of medicine. Many doctors earn lots of money, as the difficult means of becoming a doctor are rewarded with a big paycheck. At some point, pre-med students must ask themselves what their motivation is. Are they driven by a need to aid society through medicine, or are they driven by greed? Most people would surely be more comfortable with a doctor who went and spent eight or 10 years learning his trade to help people than they would from one who entered the profession to make money.
American businessman Ivan Boesky said in 1986, "Greed is all right. Greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself." Were Boesky's words true then? And if so, do they hold true today? As the millennium approaches, we again find ourselves in good economic times, as was the case in 1986. In the most general sense, a majority of Americans are economically happy. Greed has always been the basis for our modern capitalism, driving natural and naturalized citizens to pursue the American Dream. But this does not mean that "greed is healthy," or that the sin of greed is somehow justified.
Is the American Dream to spend one's lifetime working hard, toiling endless hours to earn their share of wealth, or is it simply to acquire money by any means possible, even on a game show? Is the dream of Americans in the means or the ends? Most game shows tend to emphasize the ends, but not to the extent that these programs do. Although their prizes are comparable State lotteries are very different than Greed and Millionaire, as lottery prizes are the result of programs aimed at society's benefit. Awarding millions of dollars to game show contestants seems wrong.
Granted, only a small number of people will gain wealth through game shows. But the unconscionably large sums of money won on these programs draws attention to the greed present in our society. On the game shows, the sin of greed is not directly rewarded, but sadistically encouraged by potential riches. There are no real means to justify the ends received. The greed that allows us to breathe free and live capitalistically, is paradoxically an impediment to the real American Dream-the pursuit of happiness. True happiness cannot harmoniously coexist with greed. I, for one, cannot be greedy and still feel good about myself. Anxieties, fears, crime, corruption and poverty spawned by the sin of greed are the price paid by Americans for our advance as a society.
Colin Garry is a Trinity junior.