OMG! sinks to new low in anti-intellectualism: celebs who never graduated from high school

OMG!, Yahoo!’s online celebrity magazine, has commemorated the fact that third-rate actor Mark Wahlberg finally earned his G.E.D. by giving us a list of 11 actors and models who never finished high school.

The photo-story consists of a list that unfolds over 11 web pages (to make it easier for the reader to see all the ads). Each web page tells a celebrity’s “I quit high school” story.

The tease to the story on Yahoo!’s home page is unethically misleading: “This list shows you don’t need a diploma to make millions in show business.”

The statement and the list itself play a deceptive fraud on readers, many of whom are impressionable teens and pre-teens to whom the celebrity mongers are selling a bill of goods about what constitutes success and value. While we can find celebrities and business titans, and even scientists who have not finished high school or college, they are rare and have become rarer over the last few decades.  Writing “You don’t need a diploma…” has the same ring of truth to it as “It will probably snow in January in Rochester,” while in fact the successful person without a high school diploma is a rarity.

To drive home the deception in the article, I want to take a look at this odious list of celebs without diplomas from three perspectives:

  1. The list itself: Of the 11 celebs without diplomas, 4 come from families that are quite wealthy and well-connected, part of the 1%. Most people can’t ask mommy who is “in the biz” to call a business associate or pull a favor, so they might be well-served to get the diploma and the additional training that goes with it.
  2. The celeb lists they don’t give: Wikipedia lists 86 television and film actors who went to Yale, 68 who went to Harvard and 118 who went to UCLA.  That’s only three colleges and it only includes film and television.  If I had to bet on either a college graduate or a high school dropout making it in Hollywood or on Broadway, I’d go with the kid with more training, and the numbers agree with me.
  3. The list of non-celebs without high school diplomas: For every person who becomes a famous celebrity, there are thousands who try and fail.

The article never points out the hard cold facts of economic failure for virtually anyone with no education or certification. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the average wage of a high school dropout is less than $20,000 a year. A high school graduate makes on average more than $27,000 a year. Someone with an associate degree makes about $36,000 and someone with a 4-year degree makes almost $47,000 a year on average. Kids with dreams of fame who don’t quite make it can always fall back on their education—but only if they have one.

And many kids have dreams of fame. There are at least a thousand colleges offering degrees in performing arts that graduate students every year, many of whom want to work in show business. Every city has at least one modeling school and we all know how many college teams there are for every major sport.  Even for those with talent and drive, the chance of celebrity success is slight.

The ideological subtext behind the article is an extreme form of anti-intellectualism, the premise that one doesn’t really need an education to succeed.  The news media feeds us this nonsense with some frequency, but the OMG! article is especially obnoxious because it suggests that kids won’t suffer if they drop out of high school and pursue stardom.

3 comments on “OMG! sinks to new low in anti-intellectualism: celebs who never graduated from high school
  1. Harry says:

    Well, maybe things are different in the UK. The average owners of new business start-up owners have GCE “A” levels (roughly equivalent to US GRE) or an equivalent qualification, NOT university graduates, and quite a number of them will have attained their qualifications AFTER leaving high school.

    Three classic examples of success without school quakifications that spring to mind:

    1. John Major, former UK Prime Minister, left school without any A Levels, only passing a handful of “O” Level exams – not good enough to get into university! However, he later excelled in a correspondence course in banking, where after he joined Standard Charter Bank, and the rest – as they say – is history.

    2. Richard L. Banks also left school with a few “O” levels, joined a bank, took a course of study in banking and rose up the career ladder (getting a Batchelor of Arts along the way, and is now Chief Executive Officer of Northern Rock (Asset Management) plc and UK Asset Resolution Ltd (‘UKAR’)

    3. Then there is Sir Richard Branson, the famous dyslexic who STILL can’t write or understand a balance sheet! But he hires people who can …

    I think the point is this:

    First, qualifications can open doors but it’s never too late to take them.

    Second, qualifications open doors but, with or without them, it’s the person’s character that gets them through the doors and to a successful career.

    I might also add that, in today’s job market, having a higher qualification can sometimes be a disadvantage! I am told I am OVER qualified for the few jobs available that I apply to get. I have a Masters degree …

  2. Van Brown says:

    Marc, I think your points’ 1, 2, & 3 are well made. While Dan Rivera does accurately point out some of the hyperbole about higher education, there is a value to societies and cultures that will educate their people. The illusion that a degree is a magic feather may be misleading somewhat, but to suggest the lack of a degree is somehow fanciful is also absurd.

    I think folks spend way too much time trying to draw corollaries between schooling and dollars. That entire mindset is of the assumption that all universities are trade schools. If a person is all about selling something, then by all means, go sell something! If you want answers, then ask questions. A good place to ask them would be where there is a body of educated folks who might know how to help you find those answers. Oh, and by the way, Yahoo news is not about that sort of stuff at all. In fact, have they ever even once actually broken a “news” story?

  3. dann rivera says:

    Today College Education no longer guarantee the “American Dream.” Statistics suggest a different story. ” Of all those who have graduated college since 2006, only 51 percent have a full-time job, according to a Rutgers University study released Thursday. Eleven percent are unemployed or not working at all.

    The situation is even more dire for those who have graduated since 2009. Fewer than half of college graduates from those years found their first job within 12 months of graduating, much less than the 73 percent of those who graduated from 2006 to 2008. Those who graduated since 2009 are three times more likely to not have found a full-time job than those from the classes of 2006 through 2008.

    “The resilience of this year’s and recent college graduates are being tested,” said Carl Van Horn, a professor who directs Rutgers’ Heldrich Center and a co-author of the study with Charley Stone and Cliff Zukin. “Students who graduated during the past several years are facing historic obstacles in achieving the foundations of the American dream.”

    Whitecotton, for one, has struggled. “I worked really hard in school,” she said. “Now I’m doing absolutely nothing.””

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