Just to get this out of the way: I went to Harvard. Here are some fun facts about Harvard! If you donate a ton of money, they will let your child attend! (Exhibit A: Jared Kushner.) If you went to Harvard, your child is five times as likely to be admitted to Harvard as a kid whose mom or dad did not go to Harvard! And here is a fun story! During my first semester at Harvard, I confided to my roommate that a girl in my English class was shockingly stupid. “Let me guess,” my roommate replied drily. And she named the student. I was shocked! How had my roommate known? Because my stupid classmate’s last name was a name that appeared on a Very Large Building! Apparently, my roommate, like a lot of kids who were not me, went through the freshman register (it was called “the Face Book,” if I recall correctly) and noted the names of super-wealthy families. There were lots of them! Which is why it is endlessly amusing to me that people kvetch about affirmative action. You want fairness in college admissions, get rid of the heaps of privileged white kids before you start in on the kids who’ve contended with racism and economic hardship their whole lives.
So now let’s talk about the privileged white kids whose famous parents were caught in Operation Varsity Blues, the best-named sting operation in recent memory. These parents opted to try to cheat a system that has existing workarounds for people like them. Jeez, just buy a building, zillion-dollar fashion designer for Target!
It’s fun for me to loathe the Target fashion designer, his self-satisfied and hypocritical actress wife Aunt Becky (who told Working Mother magazine in 2009 in an interview I presume will be taken down by the time you read this, “My husband and I are both pretty strict disciplinarians. We are not fans of disrespectful children, so it’s something neither one of us will tolerate. Therefore, we’re on our girls to be polite, kind and thoughtful young women”), and their dimwit party-girl YouTube influencer spawn. People like me love to hate people like them. I enjoy feeling superior, which I acknowledge is not my most charming trait.
It’s harder for me to chortle about Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy doing the same thing. I am perhaps the world’s biggest fan of Sports Night (the first and best Aaron Sorkin TV show, in which Huffman was brilliant), and c’mon, who among us does not admire the work of William H. Macy? They felt like my kind of artsy, snappy people. When I first moved to NYC, I lived around the corner from the Atlantic Theater Company, the scrappy and ambitious grassroots theater in a then-dodgy neighborhood that Huffman and Macy co-founded.
Aunt Becky-n-Target’s kid was clearly in on the scam. Her parents pretended she was a star crew-team coxswain (reader, she was not) and had her pose on an ergonometer to show her rowing bona fides. (Snort.) But it seems just as clear that Huffman and Macy’s kid had no idea what her parents were up to. Indeed, most kids whose parents were named in the indictment didn’t know their admissions were bought, according to officials in the case. The Huffman-Macys’ older daughter got around 1000 on her PSAT; her parents faked or exaggerated a learning disability to get her special accommodations for twice the test time–I know NYC parents who have done this, by the way–then worked with one William Singer, who ran a “college counseling service” known as both The Edge and The Key (names that tell you pretty much all you need to know – parents were promised they were buying the edge and secret key necessary to give their kid a leg up on everyone else), then had her take the SAT at a testing center where Singer had paid people off and with a proctor who corrected the daughter’s answers (“Ruh-Ro! Looks like [the high school] wants to provide own proctor,” Huffman fretted in an email to Singer; Singer took care of it). The kid’s score went up 400 points.
And now she knows how. The rest of us do too. Her parents betrayed her trust–they screwed up Parenting 101. They bought her a better test score, let her believe she improved on her own, made abundantly clear that they didn’t value her as a human being with whatever her natural gifts are. (We all have natural gifts. I absolutely believe that.) They’ve proved that they think rules are for suckers, that their family is entitled to cheat, that anything they’ve ever taught her about values is a lie.
And they’ve screwed up her relationship with her sister. Huffman and Macy considered cheating for their younger daughter–who, it’s clear from reading the entire indictment, was a stronger student – but opted not to do so after kid #2 took the PSAT. Apparently, she’d scored well enough on her own. (In a recorded phone call, Huffman had told Singer, “She’s so academically driven that no matter what happens, even if we go, ‘this is a great score,’ that she’ll go, ‘I really want to take it again.’” But it seems she didn’t even have to.)
Imagining Kid #1’s response to the discovery that her parents felt it necessary to bribe people to insure her a future, but felt that her sister was smart enough to manage on her own makes me cringe. I too have two daughters. If you do too, you probably focus on making sure they each see their own delightfulness. “Compare and despair,” the saying goes. You focus on what makes them each fab. Maybe one is laser-focused and one is funny. One is almost always kind; the other is almost always observant. You praise the creativity of one; the insight of the other. Maybe one is an athlete and one is a brain (and if you have more children, maybe one is a basket case, one is a princess and one is a criminal, and then you have the whole entire Breakfast Club!) Huffman and Macy managed to fuck up their daughters and their daughters’ relationship to each other in one fell swoop. Impressive.
I’m gonna let someone else explore why so many of these parents wanted their kids to go to USC. (My fave part of the indictment was the parent demanding “a roadmap for…getting her into a school other than ASU.” Hey, John Hughes went to ASU! So did Steve Allen! And Temple Grandin! You know who went to USC? Girls Gone Wild producer Joe Francis. I rest my case.) I’ll let someone else discourse upon the ways in which the College Board is an inherently skanky institution, and let other writers ponder the manifold ways in which privileged people work the system to try to increase their kids’ privilege while telling themselves the playing field is level. Just let me focus on how shitty a parent you have to be to sell out your child, and to help create an even more corrupt world for everyone else’s children.