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Richie Rich Edges Lex Luthor!

Ok, one more of those year-end lists that are miraculously ginned up by copy-craving editors in the waning days before all the writers vanish for the holidays:

Forbes's List of Top 15 Super Rich Fictional Characters

1.Santa Claus
2. Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks
3. Richie Rich
4. Lex Luthor
5. C. Montgomery Burns
6. Scrooge McDuck
7. Jed Clampett
8. Bruce Wayne
9. Thurston Howell III
10. Willy Wonka
11. Arthur Bach
12. Ebenezer Scrooge
13. Lara Croft
14. Cruella De Vil
15. Lucius Malfoy

I haven't the foggiest notion how they came up with this one. No, I actually know all too well how they did it: They sent around an email asking all the writers to submit suggestions and then some editor who had lots of time on his hands put the list together. In any event, what’s remarkable about it is that it shows just how quickly we have lost any sense of a common popular culture in this country. The Internet is a continuous miracle, but it has divvied us up into so many little affinity groups that we no longer share much of a pop culture--no more Top 40, no more big network TV shows that everyone is familiar with. Even the big blockbuster movies are much less common and all-reaching than they used to be.
So in the list of 15 super rich fictional characters, we see a heavy bias toward names from the golden era of pop culture and from our childhood memories of shared experiences. Kids these days have no idea who Richie Rich, Jed Clampett, Scrooge McDuck, Lex Luthor or Thurston Howell III might be (at least not the kids I asked), yet there they are, taking up one-third of the list. (My resident 10-year-old knew eight of the 15; he’d never heard of 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 11, or 13.)
The one on the list that stumped me was Arthur Bach--I had completely deleted from my memory any trace of the 1981 flick Arthur, which I never found remotely funny (Cook and Moore were a great improv act, but once Moore crossed the ocean, he lost his funny bone, or at least the integrity that his work had in Britain).
Who's missing from the list? Better question: Will it even be possible to compile a meaningful list like this in 15 years? Or would all the names have to be drawn from classic literature to have any chance of being accessible to a broad population of readers?

By Marc Fisher |  January 4, 2006; 8:18 AM ET
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You left out The Millionaire--from the TV show of the 1960s. Isn't he the richest of them all? Richer than Trump?

Posted by: Inty Bott | January 4, 2006 8:54 AM

That would be John Beresford Tipton.

Posted by: kurosawaguy aka Michael Anthony | January 4, 2006 9:40 AM

The problem with asking a kid isn't his generation. It's the fact that he's a kid.

I promise you, ask again in 5 years who C. Montgomery Burns (from the Simpsons) or Lara Croft (from the tomb rader video games and movies) are and he will know, it's just that both of those things are geared more towards teenagers.


Posted by: Chalicechick | January 5, 2006 8:58 AM

The other problem with this list is it's not even accurate! Santa Claus certainly distributes great amounts of largesse, but I had never imagined him as having any personal wealth of his own - isn't a modest little cottage at the North Pole about the extent of it? And Lucius Malfoy? Rich, sure, but nothing in Harry Potter indicates that he's "super-rich"...

Man, you just can't get good investigative reporting these days...

Posted by: Erica | January 5, 2006 10:45 AM

I've personally noted your realization of the lack of a common national culture. To some extent it still exists, largely based on those from a generation as you've noted, but prior to a national media organism culture was much more localized. Culture today is being increasingly localized again, but by interest and ideal rather than locality thanks to the internet and the overavailability of information. Having lived in Europe, to even think that one point a heterogenic national culture could exist across such a large expanse such as ours seems astonishing, if unsustainable.

Posted by: Trexor | January 9, 2006 7:05 PM

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