Actress Lori Loughlin was arrested on Wednesday for her alleged participation in a sprawling admissions scandal, involving at least 50 people, who paid to have documents falsified so their children could attend elite universities. Loughlin and her husband Mossimo Giannulli allegedly paid US $500,000 to ensure their daughters, Olivia Jade Giannulli, 19 and Isabella Rose Gianulli, 20 scored places at the University of Southern California.
The fallout for Loughlin and her daughters has been swift and devastating. Loughlin was immediately sacked from the TV network she works for and Olivia Jade, an Instagram beauty influencer, with over 1.4 million followers, has had her contracts with cosmetics giant Sephora and hair care brand Tresemmé severed.
Justice may be blind, but she is also brutal. Particularly when social media is involved. Sephora announced they were ending their partnership with Olivia Jade via Twitter in response to the many snarky comments on social media about Olivia Jade’s privilege, and her apparent disinterest in university for anything other than a social life, (because everyone goes to college strictly for the rigorous academic experience).
Loughlin has done wrong here, but only the very naïve should be scandalised by it.
Her biggest error? Paying the wrong guy. I’m not talking about William Rick Singer, the man she allegedly paid directly, but rather the method she chose to ensure her kids got into the university. That money could have been spent in donations to the school in the form of campus buildings or art collections, or finding a relative who had already attended an elite institution, because these things work.
But Loughlin didn’t even need to go that far. In his book, The Price of Admission, author Daniel Golden coined a phrase, “affirmative action for rich, white people” discovering, after two years of research, that, “At least one third of the students at elite universities … are flagged for preferential treatment in the admissions process. While minorities make up 10 to 15 per cent of a typical student body, affluent whites dominate other preferred groups.”
That was in 2005. A decade later Chris Hayes wrote in his book, Twilight of the Elites, “This doesn’t even count the advantages that wealthy children have in terms of private tutors, test prep, and access to expensive private high schools and college counsellors” calling it a “layered system of preferences for the children of the privileged.”
Nobody seemed to mind that Olivia Jade had already skipped the queue to access wealth and greater fame via her mother
So Loughlin took a shortcut. But the bigger mistake was not taking into account the fact that for Olivia Jade, at least, an elite university wasn’t something she valued. She had no need to, really. She already had wealth and fame via her Instagram and YouTube videos and myriad corporate partnerships. Her brand, in other words, was already established, she didn’t require an adjunct brand of an elite tertiary institution layered on top, (although she did name-drop USC via her social media platforms.)
But all of that’s been burnt to the ground now. Sephora had to sever ties, lest the perception of Olivia as an entitled, privileged brat who glibly glides into the hallowed halls of universities contaminate their brand.
But here’s the funny thing about that. Choosing Olivia Jade as the face of their cosmetics line was not a democratic decision based on merit. Olivia Jade is beautiful, and no doubt has a knack for fashion, cosmetics and promotion. But there are literally hundreds of thousands of young, beautiful women longing to monetise their skill at applying makeup, and parlay their selfie-taking technique into cosmetic partnerships.
Olivia Jade gained a following, and subsequently scored contracts with Sephora, Tresemmé, and the rest – including Amazon's Prime Student - because of her mother’s name, and the perception of Lori Loughlin as a wholesome, pretty TV mom. Nobody seemed to mind that Olivia Jade had already skipped the queue to access wealth and greater fame via her mother.
And let’s be real: riding on the shoulders of one’s parents in order to procure greater wealth and privilege is hardly new. John F Kennedy — a good, but not great student — gained a place at Harvard, because his dad, Joseph Kennedy, was a wealthy, prestigious Harvard alum and had all the right connections.
And yet, Sephora – going off the feedback from its customers – condemn Olivia Jade for getting a leg up, when her place could’ve gone to another very hardworking, ordinary student who deserved a proper place at USC.
Oh really Sephora? The irony is pretty thick.
What Lori Loughlin did was silly, and has led to terrible consequences for her family. But those who are offended by it should take a look around at the country they live in where social mobility is at record low levels, and meritocracy has been exposed for the myth it is.
Rigging the system is a tradition as old as the elites who propagate it, and whether that pertains to university, fame or cosmetics contracts, the rules – and hypocrisy – remain unchanged. Want proof? Loughlin got out on US $1 million bail. An ordinary mother of an ordinary student would be in jail right now. That’s the power of elites.
Natalie Reilly is a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter at @thatnatreilly.