I grew up in the upper-middle class my entire life. I never knew any rich people for most of my years. Indeed, in the many times I’ve addressed the subject of wealth distribution, I have recalled that during my upbringing, the “rich” man I met was a general manager at a Ford dealership, and probably made $45,000 a year to my Dad’s $35,000. So that, to me, was rich.
I wish it was still so. I never thought I’d type this, but I truly do yearn for the days of my childhood when, yes, there were fables about millionaires, but on the whole, people were more or less in the same boat. This is a thing of the past now, although I strongly suspect in about twenty to thirty years, it’ll be very much with us again. Life moves in cycles, of course.
This came to me because I finally got around to watch the Netflix documentary about Operation Varsity Blues. I love documentaries, and as such, it is excellent. For those of you who subscribe to Netflix, I certainly recommend it. They’ve done a beautiful job weaving the tale, splicing in real-life images of high school kids (the honest ones, not the rich ones) in the throes of getting either accepted or rejected from their hoped-for schools. Although the “script” was simply copied from the real-life FBI wiretap recordings, the dramatization is led by the actor Matthew Modine (of Full Metal Jacket fame) who plays the detestable Rick Singer.
When news of the scandal first broke, it was huge news here in the Bay Area. This place is absolutely crawling with striving, aspirational, insecure parents who would sell their souls to get their brats into an “elite” school (although somehow USC evidently makes the cut, whereas before I figured it would just be Harvard and Stanford). It was particularly interesting to us as parents, since our children were approaching this moment in their lives. Added to which, we actually knew some people that had become mixed up with Singer, including one exceptionally rich guy who was instantly ejected from his own venture capital firm, even though he wasn’t even charged.
(As a side note, I interacted with the aforementioned dad’s son on a number of occasions. In a normal world, this kid would be an Assistant Manager at Arby’s. Honestly. Not that bright. But his dad wrote $630,000 in “donations” to get this kid into the University of Texas, for God’s sake. Anyway………..)
Years ago, when I first went to that fellow’s house, I had my eyes opened to how The Other Half lives. They were having some kind of dad’s poker night for my kid’s private school, and I must have seemed like a complete rube to the other fathers. After I parked the car and walked toward the house, I couldn’t believe how big it was. It was exquisitely appointed, and the goddamned thing even had an elevator. Everyone else took it in stride, but I strongly suspect I came off as a slack-jawed yokel. An elevator? To go up one flight? How goddamned lazy can you be? Oh. Maybe it’s just for show. All right.
In the ensuing years, I met a lot of rich people, including billionaires. They all seemed nice. And, to be frank, they are the FIRST ones to shove a Black Lives Matter sign in their front yard. But I strongly suspect some of these people aren’t quite how they present themselves. They can afford to appear virtuous, because it makes them look good. But some of them, honestly, I think would kill me in my sleep if it would benefit them.
I’m going to be a bit lazy here and recall some of the stuff I’ve written about this scandal from past posts. At first, I’m afraid the schadenfreude spigot was thrown wide open by me:
Let me say at the outset how thrilled and delighted I am to see a government agency actually accomplish something. The fact that these rich, out-of-touch, self-entitled dimwits have had their lives instantly ruined thrills my soul. What I would have given to have seen the look on Felicity Huffman’s withered face when they slapped the cuffs on her. Boy, oh boy. To say nothing of her husband, William H. Macy, an actor I used to respect.
I went on to recount my disposition toward this, viewed through the lens of my beloved oldest child:
Instead of writing this from the standing of an embittered, aristocracy-hating lunatic, I shall instead do so from the standpoint of a loving parent. And let me say at the outset that my own disposition in this respect is hardly bitter at all. Why? Because my beloved child wasn’t displaced by any of these crooks. He has applied to the world’s most elite colleges, and, one by one, they are saying YES. You want to know why? Because he’s awesome, that’s why. The best of the best want this kid.
It didn’t take bribes. It didn’t take pledges to create buildings. It didn’t take threats. All it took was the fact that he’s a genius, he’s handsome, and he’s incredibly well-accomplished. From my point of view, the question has never been: “Who is going to let him in?” Instead, it has been, “Who’s lucky enough to GET him?”
One of the many ironies to this entire disgusting scandal is that the parents shelled out anywhere from $15,000 up to $500,000 to get fraudulent test scores………....and the scores SUCKED! Take the ACT, for example. I read one of the kids was elated to have received (by fraud) a score of 27. I would have kicked my kid’s ass from here to West Virginia if he had a score that bad. I won’t reveal his score, but let’s just say it is breathtakingly, impossibly high. And you want to know how long he studied for it? Probably about 10 minutes, tops. No cheating necessary.
So basically my kid studied not-at-all, there was no bribe-giving, and Stanford threw the doors open. He stayed there two quarters, Covid happened, and now this teenager has more money than me and is working directly for the richest man on the planet. Pretty cool. Hey, Stanford. Bite me. Seriously. (Yeah, I’m still kinda bitter about the rejection).
Hoo boy, there’s more. Oh, jeez, I really got on a tear back then. I just won’t shut up:
In my own family, we have taken the old-fashioned route of teaching our children the value of hard work, resourcefulness, industry, and honesty. We have made tremendous sacrifices in our own lives – – lovingly and willingly – – in order to give them every possible ETHICAL advantage in this increasingly-competitive world.
The simple fact of the matter is that for every spot the brats of the aforementioned rich & famous took at an elite school, there was some genuinely-qualified candidate who was told no. Lives were changed due to this. And, as I said early, the only life-changes I am celebrating is the fact that the entire sorted rabble is going to see their careers destroyed, their finances damaged, and their families torn asunder. It seems a fitting end to such a callous, self-absorbed, narcissistic conspiracy.
I guess I couldn’t help myself, because only two months later, I followed up with a post which had one of the best titles of all time, A Sale of Two Titties, in which I examined the two most famous people involved with the scandal, Felicity Huffman and Lori “I’m smiling broadly on the way to court” Loughlin.
I went against the grain, as I so often do, by stating that instead of getting off scot-free, Loughlin would regret her decision to fight the charges:
There are plenty of cynics who say that she and her husband are going to get away with this because they’re rich. I don’t think so. This is an extremely visible case, and in light of the bravado this family in showing in light of these charges, I wouldn’t be at all surprised for them to get a sentence measured in years instead of months. In other words, she’s making a really bad trade. Instead of just realizing they’ve got her ass nailed to the wall (as Huffman did), she’s decided to “fight the good fight” (in her mind) and chance the consequences.
Well, I was partly right, at least inasmuch as Huffman got off much lighter. Her counterpart, Huffman, who came clean as soon as she was able, served a mere 14 days right here in the Bay Area. Loughlin, on the other hand, was put away for two months, and her chinless, bizarre-looking husband is still in the slammer, having been thrown in there five months (he also, incidentally, appears to be a total prick, since he abused and threatened the guidance counselor at his brat’s school, who dared let it be known to USC that this bubble-headed wingnut of a girl wasn’t on crew).
A year later, I wrote Peak College, and shared these thoughts:
In my opinion, the entire “Varsity Blues” sting operation marked a generational peak in the absolute obsession parents have about getting their kids into a top-rated school. And, listen, if I’m the one throwing stones, I’m in a glass house myself. I’m a father to some terrific kids, and from day one we’ve focused on them getting the best educational opportunities available.
The difference between me and the likes of Lori Loughlin is that I didn’t take on illegal means to get my kids into schools. I didn’t bribe anyone. I didn’t use any connections. We’re just regular people. And my beloved son (for example) got into Stanford because he’s brilliant and extraordinarily accomplished. Not because I’m rich (in case you think I am, kindly check out my investing disposition for the past decade).
When I tried (and failed) to get into Stanford myself, the admissions rate was in the double digits. It has been grinding lower for decades. My son got in, but proportionately to him, there were 19 other applicants (many of them superbly qualified) who didn’t. Indeed, Stanford is just about the hardest place in the country to achieve admission.
So let’s get back to the present, and, specifically, the aforementioned documentary.
Frankly, for most people, I think college is stupid. I always have. Keep in mind that before World War II, only about 4% of the population bothered going to college. It was sort of like pursuing a PhD – – that is, something a handful of people with specific professional ambitions pursued, but, on the whole, was unnecessary.
These days, the idea is that if you don’t go to college, you’re a bum, and if you don’t go to an elite school, you’ll never be “successful”. What a bunch of horseshit. Zuckerberg, Gates, and Jobs were all college dropouts. You want to know who wants you to go to college? The accounts receivable department of every place of higher education in this country. It’s a business. Nothing more.
I bet you, dear reader, went to college. I sure did. How much do you remember? How much of what you learned genuinely changed you as a person?
Yeah. I thought so.
I mean, let’s face it, kids go to college to party. If they go to an ‘elite” school, they go to party PLUS meet as many potentially important people as they can, just in case they need them for their future endeavors. But the notion that it’s about some kind of sober scholarly endeavor is nothing short of ludicrous.
My contempt for higher education was only exacerbated after I watched the documentary. The entire obsession has become a society-wide disease………….a cancer which has created a multi-billion dollar “prep” industry and has compelled otherwise decent people (more or less) to shake hands with the devil and get their kids into Georgetown, USC, or some other kind-of-great school.
Hey, rich people! You made it. But your kids will, in all likelihood, simply live parasitically and do little more than ride your coattails.
Why? Because there was no struggle. There was no challenge. You should be proud of your own victories and triumphs, because you actually ascended the American ladder with your own talent, hard work, and good timing. But your kid has wealth just because they’re going to inherit it from your corpse. Maybe they’ll snort it away. Maybe they’ll lose it by other methods. But they’re not going to be you, no matter what diploma you manage to get into their hands.
It’s all a farce, people. A pathetic charade. Suffering is the way to betterment. Not a purloined diploma from an institution that is pretending to be noble. Allow them to suffer. And let Stanford and their venal, ravenous ilk shove their diplomas where Singer’s sun don’t shine.
And to all those 17 year olds who clutch their chests and wail at the news that They Didn’t Get In (and now is exactly the time of year when this crap is happening), I am genuinely sorry you live in a society at this particular time when this insanity has been foisted upon you. It isn’t right, it isn’t sensible, and in the end, it doesn’t mean a goddamned thing.