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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.