Getting front seats, private dinner area, joining a “special” queue to meet the Pope, exclusive entry into a store, clearing the traffic for your car to go through, special treatment at a hospital, faster job promotions, easier access to better education, greater availability of prescription drugs, security being provided (sometimes at taxpayers’ expense). These are mere examples of the advantages of being considered a VIP.
Being a “Very Important Person” often means receiving a better treatment than “common people” would obtain because of a notable social status, wealth or celebrity.
People enjoy being valued and appreciated. VIP treatment has been a marketing strategy to offer exceptional treatment in order to reward their loyalty as clients and encourage them to spend more.
However, when VIP treatment means that some people may bend and break social norms at the expense of others is when we might be entering the dangerous territory of a dirty, ugly, word that nobody likes: Privilege.
In medical terms, the VIP syndrome is taken far more seriously. Implying that a person may unlawfully use their status to influence a professional to make an unethical decision, sometimes even to the detriment of that patient.
We have all heard of cases of celebrities obtaining private visits from doctors and easy prescription drugs, covered by a layer of secrecy which often prevents VIP patients from attending a clinic or hospital where they can obtain proper medical attention. While avoiding public scrutiny and maintaining their privacy, this may work to the patient’s detriment and has been seen to cause the demise of some of these celebrity patients.
As a social construct, VIP culture happens, to some degree, everywhere around the world, often having to rely on the law to act as an equaliser. People may work out their own schemes to differentiate some members of society from others, but the law should prevent inequalities and make sure that fairness prevails.
However, it is sometimes in the application of the law where we see the greatest injustices, often being more forgiving to white-collar crimes than blue-collar ones. Even in the media, there seems to be more allure to follow up the latter than the former.
In India, for example, the collective formula has been largely established by defined and undefined ranks, and after largely addressing a legacy of inequalities through the law over the years, it appears that more sophisticated pecking orders rear their ugly heads in the form of government abuse.
The exploitation of office and the arrogance of government officials is not exclusive to the Indian system.
I would certainly hope for presidents, vice-presidents, and world leaders and public officials to feel secure when performing their duties but there is often misuse of the resources allocated to the use of private security for them.
In December 2016, the Mayor of New York claimed that it was costing the taxpayer an average of US$ 400,000.00 per day to protect, then President-elect of the United States of America, Donald J. Trump since he decided to maintain his residence in Trump Tower in the middle of Manhattan until he was sworn-in. His wife, First Lady, Melania Trump and his son, Barron, remained in New York instead of moving to the White House, prompting Congress to request reimbursement for the full costs.
And that’s not all, private security contractors, although employed by the U.S. government have been proven to not abide by too many rules when abroad, having been implicated in several human rights violations, including torture and human trafficking.
Holding an office or even closeness to government officials of a high calibre brings a sense of immunity, sometimes in a literal sense.
This may reach cynical levels without us even noticing while settling into a status quo.
Going back to India, the “lal batti”, or beacons atop the vehicles of dignitaries and government officials, were a sign of privilege. It could clear up traffic and lift barriers.
“Every Indian is special, every Indian is a VIP,” he tweeted about the ban.
The ban was met with much disappointment from some and the joy of many.
But a few weeks after an Indian MP hit an elderly Air India employee repeatedly for allegedly not being offered a business class seat on what was apparently an all economy class flight, I presume that there is still a lot to do in India and everywhere else.
Privilege brings the expectation that we should always get what we want when we want it, and when these expectations become normalised by the rest of us, it welcomes a problem more difficult to tackle.
The United Kingdom, too, has an ugly history of class privilege, which has long been established in the British education system.
The privately educated continue to dominate many UK job markets, according to research made by The Sutton Trust educational charity, showing that you are considerably more likely to rise to the top of British society if you are privately educated.
With education being a long-time recognised form of social mobility this could be especially worrying if it wasn’t for the fact that University applicants are rising, with more individuals from less advantaged background attending University than ever before.
That being said, we will have to see what the future holds for Higher education in the UK, since tuition fees have been announced to rise over the £9,000 loan limit in 2017 in some institutions and could be well over £10,000 within the next four years. Adding to this are the facts that all student loans interests had an increase in 2012, and student grants have largely being eliminated since 2016.
Ultimately, more people are applying to attend University but it is increasingly becoming harder to do so if you are from a less advantaged background.
We live in societies where there is always going to be privilege arising from wealth, social status, or even from working in a government institution.
However, even if we hold an advantage over others, it is often easy to forget that with privilege comes a social responsibility to acknowledge the same opportunities which have been afforded to us have been denied to others, and we need to overcome our own sense of entitlement if we want to demand the same attitude from those with more privileges than us and to start constructing a less divisive society.