David Geffen is one of Hollywood’s most influential media moguls. Geffen, the owner of Dreamworks, is also one of the worlds only LGBT billionaires, with a net worth of $8.5 billion. It’s probably fair to say he is the world’s wealthiest gay man, well perhaps the world’s wealthiest OUT gay man.
Forbes lists the 75-year-old as number 190 on their 2018 billionaires list and states that Geffen was born to Jewish immigrants. Biography.com expands on Geffen’s history by explaining that his parents were poor textile workers who immigrated from the Soviet Union.
This is an interesting and humbling history that, when told, serves to humanize Geffen and identify him with the problems of the global working class. Clearly erasing or changing historical narratives so that they deviate from the truth serves as no form of justice, so I’m not saying that Geffen’s story shouldn’t be told, rather I’m saying that it should be told in context.
There are billions of people in similar or worse situations who can not immigrate, who can’t escape working-class labor and who hold the same creative and intellectual value, if not more. There are inconceivable numbers of children growing up trapped in cycles of poverty, starving people across the globe with no healthcare, clothing or water, people living in areas suffering from war, genocide and gentrification. These people will not be afforded the chance to run a multi-billion dollar company. They are lucky just to survive.
Humanity is well aware that most people living in situations of extreme poverty are not provided with the opportunities to escape it. To make it out of poverty means having access to medicine, contraception and a society that even allows upward mobility. Making it out of poverty means taking advantage of resources like education, networking opportunities, job applications and a whole other host of resources that billions of people will never have access to.
So how does this relate to Geffen? His story being plastered on mainstream media outlets normalizes the bullshit bootstrap narrative that capitalists point to as a way of saying that poverty is escapable, so long as you work hard enough. Such narratives are lies manufactured by the wealthy and believed by their right-wing working-class followers. The idea that one must produce labor to be afforded basic human rights — that you can get clean water if you just work harder — holds no substance in conversations actually aimed at addressing the human rights crisis that is global poverty.
It matters not that Geffen was born poor, that he grew up Jewish and gay. So have countless others — ones who didn’t devour the working class that Geffen is apparently so proud to originate from. Being marginalized in some aspects of your identity does not erase the harm caused by the hoarding the fruits of other people’s labor. Being someone who has suffered oppression does not validate the redirecting of that suffering onto others; being gay and Jewish doesn’t excuse the wage enslavement of the working class.
Just because I am gay and have a mental illness doesn’t mean it’s okay for me to ignore homelessness or make racist comments. My queerness does not erase my finical privilege or my whiteness, and Geffen’s being gay and Jewish sure as hell doesn’t erase universal wealth inequality.
— Cartoon Brew (@cartoonbrew) October 18, 2016
In fact, Geffen himself has been involved in wage theft. Dreamworks animation was one of several animation companies forced to pay their artists higher wages in 2017 after being found guilty in a wage-fixing scandal to cut corporate costs, according to cartoonbrew.com. Collectively, artists from several companies were compensated 100 million dollars, which is one third the price of Geffen’s yacht, according to superyachtfan.com.
According to BuzzFeed, Geffen was also implicated in a decade-old scandal wherein wealthy Hollywood moguls sexually assaulted teenage boys. Geffen was not named or proven to have assaulted anyone, but an accomplice in the scandal fled the country shortly after, saying that he feared Geffen would have him killed, but other testimonies poked several holes in that claim.
In 2016, Geffen was named in the Panama Papers leak as someone holding money in foreign countries for likely illegal reasons, according to Consequence of Sound.
Yet the legality of Geffen’s income should be the farthest of our concerns. Liberals and progressives will call for marginal tax rates and laws banning overseas tax havens, a band-aid of a solution on humanity’s deadliest wound. The only way to ensure universal access to fundamental human rights is to redistribute and reappropriate the means of existence controlled by the wealthy, effectively crumbling class society. Until then, we march on. You can call out Geffen directly on his Instagram.