We, the Privileged Parents That Matter, Applaud the Netflix College-Admissions Scandal Doc
See, we’re really not that different from you. We all just want the best for our kids, right? But, of course, there’s so little of the best to go around. Do you know how many colleges are worth a damn? Sadly, just 25! The top-rated ones in U.S. News & World Report, which says the very best college of all is Stanvard University, in a land called Honah Lee. Its acceptance rate is
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See, we’re really not that different from you. We all just want the best for our kids, right? But, of course, there’s so little of the best to go around. Do you know how many colleges are worth a damn? Sadly, just 25! The top-rated ones in U.S. News & World Report, which says the very best college of all is Stanvard University, in a land called Honah Lee. Its acceptance rate is -0.02 percent.
Which brings us to why we invited you over. We’re just dying to ask if you’ve seen the Netflix documentary yet? It’s really entertaining, and that’s what counts. The title says it all: Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal.
You do know that this is the college admissions scandal, right? The biggest! We, the Privileged Parents That Matter, want people to keep believing that this sordid affair is the slimiest thing to ever happen in admissions. We’ll explain why in a minute, but for now, we’ll just tell you that — and we’re just going to whisper here — the whole process is defined by systemic inequities, many with age-old roots. It’s complicated. Like … trying to read a map of local bus routes. How sad for everyone who has to take the bus!
Anyway, this scandal is easy to understand. For one thing, there’s a villain. Remember Rick Singer? He’s that corrupt independent college counselor who got kids from neighborhoods just like ours into highly selective colleges through the “side door,” by bribing coaches and administrators to pretend that they’re coxswains and water-polo players.
Rick Singer is played — with dry, sinister skill, we must say — by Matthew Modine, a Hollywood actor who scowls a lot and wears running pants everywhere. What makes Singer tick? The question is asked often, but we don’t get many satisfying answers here. We do get some car porn in several scenes when Singer zooms around in his shiny black Tesla, though. We’re considering a new Mercedes GLC 350e 4MATIC SUV ourselves, but we’re torn between obsidian black metallic and Selenite Grey metallic. It’s difficult to choose between colleges, too, especially now that we’ve made a list of 67 meaningful differences between Tulane and Vanderbilt.
But both are very prestigious. Say, do you know where the word “prestige” comes from? France! “In the original French,” a former Stanford admissions officer and college counselor explains in the documentary, “it means deceit.” But we prefer to focus on its being French.
Anyway, you’ll see a lot of Singer talking on the phone with his clients as they stand in their immaculate kitchens, survey their sun-drenched tennis courts, and lounge on their exquisite poolside patios. (If you like HGTV, you’ll just salivate!) The dialogue is taken from the actual wiretap transcripts: These saps have no idea that federal investigators are recording their conversations!
Sure, we pay for the best private schools, like the Cloud Cuckoo Land Academy and the Gordon Gekko Day School, because that’s what our little Madisons and Masons deserve. And, yes, all those schools do employ college counselors who used to work in admissions offices at all the best colleges.
But we don’t really trust them half the time. So we hire independent educational consultants, IECs. Not the criminal kind, though! Some of them know a lot about the admissions process, and some of them just have gorgeous websites. Either way, paying them $1,000 an hour reminds us that we’re in control. And we are totally in control.
Except when people screw us over. Like when Singer gets nabbed by the feds in a should-have-been-gripping scene at a Boston hotel. After that he cooperates with investigators and turns on his rich clients, agreeing to record his phone calls with them. He rings them one by one, asking, “Hey, remember those crimes we committed?” And most of them are like, “Why, yes, I recall those crimes very well!”
That made us feel kinda bad for the parents. Weren’t we supposed to? The documentary paints these high-powered business leaders and lawyers as victims, easily bamboozled by this shrewd manipulator. Weird, right?
Then again, there’s that father who, upon agreeing to get his daughter into college by deceit, tells Singer: “I’m not worried about the moral issue here. I’m worried about, if she gets caught … she’s finished.”
Oh, there’s a sappy part about the sailing coach at Stanford, who agrees to help get wealthy kids in the side door in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars. But we’re encouraged to pity him because … his boss seemed like a jerk? Because the football program got more love? Because instead of pocketing the money, he just wanted it to finance the worthy cause of supporting the sailing club at a university with a $29-billion endowment?
And did you hear? He just got a book deal! Maybe he’ll write about how too much salt air corroded his conscience and free will!
Sorry, that was rude. We shouldn’t judge. We should remember that line from The Great Gatsby, the book about the guy with all those lovely shirts. “Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,” it says, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”
Look, we’re not monsters. We help fund those C. Montgomery Burns scholarships for the small but guilt-assuaging number of low-income students who attend our children’s schools. And our IEC does pro-bono advising for poor families, so by paying him, we’re helping the less fortunate, right?
It’s sad that many people don’t have a lot of money. And that society has tethered social mobility to educational attainment. And that getting a postsecondary degree requires the very resources that many families lack, in a country where the federal government’s Pell Grant program hasn’t kept up with the cost of attending college, forcing many students to take on significant debt just to have a shot at earning a degree. We can only wonder: Is there a French word for “vicious circle”?
Or maybe the best word for all of that is “scandal.”
As we were saying, we really want you to believe that Operation Varsity Blues was the most scandalous thing ever in admissions, and that everything broken has been fixed. As the documentary tells us, the side door Singer created at several colleges has been closed. On some campuses, we’re told, the back door — super-rich families donating their way to an admission spot — remains open “for those willing to pay.”
But what about the front door, through which almost all students pass?
Much to our surprise, the documentary makes little mention of it. Fine by us! Because as long as you’re thinking about bribery, racketeering, and whatever it’s called when you pay some smart guy to take standardized tests for your kid, it’s easy to forget all the things we do to get our children through that front door. Perfectly legal things, like driving our precious pumpkins to intensive tutoring sessions, test-prep courses, lacrosse camps, music lessons, and one-on-one sessions with College Essay Yoda. “Much massaging of words, I must do.”
Along the way, we buy them all the right gifts. Like Baby’s First Fulbright Application, Erector Sets for the MIT-Bound, and signed copies of Early-Decision or Die: A College Guide for Anxious Tweens.
Surely nothing we’ve done for them, though, matters as much as raising them right here in our lush, high-priced ZIP codes while cocooning them in the comfort of a stable, supportive home devoted to their success. That’s important, too.
Just about everything colleges have long used to evaluate applicants — ACT and SAT scores, the rigor of high-school courses, extracurricular activities — is a measure of the wealth and opportunities students are born into. Many colleges — thank God — continue to give legacy applicants a leg up. And they continue to save many precious spots for students who play the popped-collar sports that flourish in affluent communities like ours. In the end, we’re just playing by the rules that the most-coveted colleges established long ago.
To be fair, the documentary isn’t meant to illuminate how a vast, unequal system further disadvantages students born into disadvantage. And if it were, you probably wouldn’t watch it!
Anyway, we don’t mean to bum you out. And we don’t want to spoil the documentary for you. But, fair warning, you’re going to hear something unsettling from that Bello guy, who sounds smart right up until he says this: “The United States has over 3,000 colleges. You have infinite choices.”
It’s simply not true. There are, as we told you earlier, just 25 colleges. All right, 26 if you count that famous art institute our nephew attended before getting into the hedge-fund game. OK, OK, that tiny college on a beautiful cattle ranch is exclusive, admitting 12 to 15 students each year, but we’re not so sure about the manual-labor requirement. Let’s give it half-credit.
All right, that’s it. There are 26.5 colleges.
Don’t listen to anyone who says otherwise. Listen to us, the Privileged Parents That Matter. We know things. We have danced in Mrs. Astor’s ballroom. We have straight, glistening teeth that nothing could ever stain. Not even this delicious orange juice. Here, let us pour you another glass!
One last thing. Near the end of the documentary, a New Yorker reporter named Naomi Fry shares an observation. It explains why this scandal endures, and why this dramatic production is so damn popular (still top 10 on Netflix). “We love the wealthy, and we hate the wealthy,” she says. “They disgust us, and they fascinate us.”
Of course, that says more about you than it does about us, the beautiful stars of the show. Felicity and Lori and Olivia Jade? We’re almost them, but, no, not quite. We’re just the legions of everyday Lannisters, with money to burn, social capital to spend, and no debts to pay.
But you, dear viewer, make the continuing sensation of Operation Varsity Blues possible. Because, let’s be honest, you just can’t look away, can you?