Thursday, April 14, 2016

Hamilton tickets, wine prices and validation

I saw "Hamilton" on Broadway last week. Lots of people asked, "How did you get tickets?" The answer is simple: we paid the going rate on the official ticket resale site.

A friend who writes about financial news asked how much we paid, because she wants to see the show. I knew it was a bad idea to tell her, but I did so anyway, because the information could be useful to her.

After that she sent me a string of emails about how I spent too much money: I must be rich, I'm a big spender, how could it be worth it, others had gotten tickets last year cheaper. She criticized me for putting money in the pockets of scalpers -- which does suck -- when I could instead have given money to "support arts programs for poor kids in NYC." The coup de grรขce came when she wrote, "Did you see that Bernie (Sanders) got tix last night? He didn't pay the scalpers fee."

I sent her a shutdown email (hopefully) that read, "Please don't spend the rest of our relationship trying to invalidate my choice, which I am happy with. I am not Bernie." And naturally I got to thinking about validation and invalidation of wine purchases.

If you are reading this, you have spent more money on a bottle of wine than some of your friends or relatives think is sensible. Many people think that level is $20. So you have had to deal, at some time, with criticism of your financial choices.

As a wine critic in America, an important part of my role is validation. Few ordinary people have confidence in their wine selections. When I write articles, I nudge folks to try wines I like that I think they'll like. But it's best done with positivity, unless you're a really mean person, because people's choices represent who they are. I don't have any emotional investment in the burger I had for lunch the other day so if you tell me the restaurant sucks, fine. But if you tell me my favorite restaurant sucks, you are talking not just about the restaurant, but about me and my capacity to make intelligent decisions.

You suck.

Sorry, that was for my friend. Anyway, being invalidated on an expensive purchase reminded me of people who spend $300 for wines I wouldn't personally drink. If they ask me if I consider a current-release wine which costs that much money to be good value, I can honestly answer "no" -- I don't think any current-release wine is worth $300. To me. But if they tell me, I really like Harlan Estate, what do you think? It's just mean to invalidate them. It's personal.

I might try to steer them to try something I like that's a lot cheaper, but the language is important: "Harlan's a great wine. But if you want to try a Napa estate Cabernet that I like on a night when you don't feel like busting open one of those precious bottles, try Smith-Madrone. Or Robert Sinskey SLD. Or if you want to spend more but not Harlan level, Shafer Hillside Select. Just for a change of pace."

My friend's response to me was a great reminder not to say, "That wine you love is a waste of money." Because "Hamilton" was really good, and I am not sorry.

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.


Ringo said...

Financial journalists tend to be supremely ignorant about economics. The term 'price discovery' and how value is determined in a free market are ideas they have never confronted. I'd find it ironic if I didn't already have such a cynical view of the financial press.

W. Blake Gray said...

Ringo: I have had more than one financial journalist explain to me that they only drink Two Buck Chuck, and it's foolish to spend more when a cheaper product is available. One editor used to tell me this about once a month.

Jeff Siegel said...

You're also dealing with NYC hubris here, in which people who live in Manhattan have to tell the rest of us what we're dong wrong because we aren't very smart. This is a particular cross for those of us to bear who grew up in Chicago.

The difference between the theater and wine is also important. I would never, ever pay $300 for a bottle of wine, but if if I could pay $300 to see Olivier do Hamlet? That's a much more difficult decision to make. It goes to the heart of value, and I would argue that great theater offers more value than great wine. And you know how much I love wine.

Unknown said...

"I sent her a shutdown email ..."

Reminded me of this guest commentary in this weekend's Wall Street Journal [*] "Opinion" section on "The Perfect Squelch."

"In the Venomous Tweeter Era, Hankering for the Artful Squelcher;
The ability to offer a nimble rejoinder once enjoyed a place of honor in the Saturday Evening Post."

[*I have no doubt The Journal's theater critic Terry Teachout would have applauded your decision to see "Hamilton." Consider your $300-plus per ticket a form of "trickle down economics." His review:

"A Star-Spangled Success;
In ‘Hamilton,’ the musical about the first secretary of the Treasury, American exceptionalism meets hip-hop" ]

Unknown said...

If you wish to "arm" yourself with rejoiners, study the masters:

-- and --

-- and --

Giving credit to the writer who put the words in their mouths: