American Corner Innsbruck

    Lecture by Mag. Dr. Claudia Schwarz


    Mar. 25, 2009, 6.30 p.m., 50101/1


    In her talk “Rich Americans Who Never Lived,” Dr. Schwarz ventured into the ACI’s hitherto slightly neglected field of Business & the Humanities. Dealing with the myth of wealth and success in the United States, she based her analysis on the Forbes Magazine’s “Fictional 15”-list. Created in 2002, it only includes fictional individuals who have to be starring characters in their respective narratives and must be known for being rich in their fictional universe. Of course, these requirements are met by a multitude of characters which turn the list into a who’s who of popular culture with members like Richie Rich, Scrooge McDuck, Cruella De Vil, or Willie Wonka.

    In addition, the Forbes ranking is not static but subject to change, corresponding to economic developments in the real world. Since it is annually updated, the list is freed of its bankruptcy-afflicted members and enriched by promising newcomers while allowing only a few fortunate ones to be constant members of this illustrious cadre. Some were bled white by devastating divorce settlements (Super Mario) or miscalculated the costs of their megalomaniac schemes (Lex Luthor), whereas others even lost more than just their money (Tony Montana). Yet it is also possible for former members (who are still alive in their narratives) to re-enter the list, a feat accomplished, for example, by corporate raider Gordon Gekko of Wall Street fame or Ebenezer Scrooge, who made his comeback thanks to ethereal advice on how to invest his money. It has to be noted, however, that basically the “Fictional 15” list is an all-Caucasian gentleman’s club – with a chronic lack of female and non-white members.

    After having introduced the audience to the most prominent newcomers, dropouts, and recurrent all-stars, Dr. Schwarz dealt with the idiosyncratically American myth of success, its origin in Puritan work ethics, and its development towards a capitalist philosophy propagating an ideal of material success as something in its own right, with a diminished role of values and moral implications. As a consequence, each fictional character is bound to one of two kinds of narrative: from rags to riches and vice versa. Either way, Dr. Schwarz concluded that the fascination with wealth is inextricably tied to the popular image of the United States and has spawned countless fictional manifestations of the American Dream.
    The trademark slogan of one wealthy American who never lived, C. Montgomery Burns, perhaps provides the best concluding comment, not only on his perennial ranking among the Fictional 15, but also on Dr. Schwarz’s presentation: “Excellent.”
    (text: Andreas Leisner)


    Money counts, not only in the real world but also in the world of fiction. To show how the fascination with the super-rich transgresses the boundaries of fact and fiction, Forbes magazine has issued special reports listing the world’s 15 richest fictional characters. Their annual ranking includes names of well-known characters like Scrooge McDuck, Bruce Wayne, J.R. Ewing, Charles Foster Kane, Lara Croft, Jay Gatsby, and many more. After a survey of Forbes’ choice of fictional millionaires and billionaires, the analysis of several examples will show how rich Americans who never lived have shaped value systems of American culture.

    Claudia Schwarz is assistant professor at the Department of American Studies at the University of Innsbruck. She teaches courses in American literature, culture, and media. Her current fields of research include trans-disciplinary narratives and the interplay of fiction and creative non-fiction.



    American Corner Innsbruck
    Department of American Studies
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    6020 Innsbruck

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