Tuesday, May 15, 2012
My hero, wine forger Rudy Kurniawan
Rudy Kurniawan deserves to go to prison. But reading this outstanding story by Ben Wallace in New York magazine, I cheered for him all the same.
There are no victims in Kurniawan's crimes who don't deserve a comeuppance, and where else are they going to get it in the US today? The wine-auction scene is full of powerful assholes: wine hoarders who nickname themselves "the Punisher" and "King Angry" and brag about the great wines they own.
These are not wine lovers. Wine lovers have a great bottle of Burgundy they love with a friend or two and savor every sip; they don't go on a website and show off the vintages they own just to make others jealous. These braggarts are the perverts of the wine world, treating wine as pornography to be ogled and airbrushed and pumped up to perfection. Do they care what a wine tastes like, or only if it has a perfect score from Parker?
Who would you rather spend an evening with: the forger Rudy Kurniawan, or the people who bought fake wine from him? Kurniawan, an Indonesian national with a great palate, would be so much more interesting. I can't think of a worse way to spend three hours than beside some guy who calls himself "the Punisher" because he has more prestigious bottles in his cellar than I do.
But this is the way power works in America: the powerful win every time. I can't get over the image of high-school-age Mitt Romney chopping off a classmate's hair while the boy, held down, cried for help. Romney became a campus leader; the classmate was later seen smoking a cigarette and expelled.
In past years Americans idolized certain criminals, especially those with even the slightest philanthropic tendencies (Al Capone, Michael Milken). We have rooted for bank robbers to stay ahead of the law (Bonnie & Clyde, John Dillinger). Some horrific criminals have inexplicable fan clubs (Charles Manson, John Gotti). And we looove fictional crooks, even if they're vicious (Tony Soprano, Michael Corleone.)
Rudy Kurniawan will probably end up in federal prison while the braggarts he conned will laugh loudly about it, probably with a flurry of homophobic jokes about dropping the soap. Indeed, most prisoners prefer not to tell their fellow inmates what crimes they committed for fear that this will lead to their victimization. Rudy Kurniawan should not have this problem.
"I conned egotists who think they're smart businessmen into paying thousands of dollars for vintages of wine that in some cases didn't even exist," he can say. "You know those loudmouths you see in restaurants, browbeating the waitress while telling her how many cars they own? I used their greed against them to take their money. And I spent it all so they can't get it back."
Rudy Kurniawan deserves to go to prison. Once there, he deserves to be a hero.
Posted by W. Blake Gray at 6:00 AM