According to Wikipedia, gullibility “is a failure of social intelligence in which a person is easily tricked or manipulated into an ill-advised course of action. It is closely related to credulity, which is the tendency to believe unlikely propositions that are unsupported by evidence. Classes of people especially vulnerable to exploitation due to gullibility include children, the elderly, the developmentally disabled…”
…and people who want to be famous without having, (a) talent, (b) a hard work ethic, or (c) rich famous parents who work in Hollywood already.
Ah, yes. Today the story is the story.
I always wanted to be able to cook a meal like Wolfgang Puck. Or direct films like Jodie Foster or Ron Howard. I wanted to be a famous celebrity performer like Usher or Deadmau5 or even the beat-making monolith Timbaland. After watching All the President’s Men, I wanted to be an investigative journalist like Bob Woodward. I wanted to be a professional tennis player like Serena Williams, and a concert violist like Itzhak Perlman, a jazz musician like Herbie Hancock or hell, just plain score music like Danny Elfman.
There were the times in my life when I wanted to be a filmmaker. Heck, it didn’t matter which kind of filmmaker I was going to be; I just wanted to be a successful one who got paid lots of money to bring his ideas to fruition. I could be a documentary filmmaker like Ken Burns, or a genius one like Martin Scorcese, a disruptive one like Spike Lee, or a villainous Star Wars-kind of filmmaker like Werner Herzog.
Sometimes, when I was told how tough it was to break into the entertainment business; how it was an uphill battle if you didn’t go to USC or weren’t the undocumented offspring of someone like Jay-Z…I rethought my unrealistic goals of ruling Hollywood with my iron fist of creative outside-the-box thinking. I turned to things like the conservatism of Jane Goodall, and the game design & theory that Will Wright was so well known for. I thought about the kind of quiet, soulful home cooking that Alice Waters had been so well-known for or the backyard BBQ that Austin’s Aaron Franklin had people lining up at seven in the morning for. Maybe it would be easier to focus on the quiet genius of chess, which Gary Kasparov had been so successful at, or just do something way more accessible like become a photographer using my iPhone and churn out candids that people would say looked just like the ones Annie Leibovitz had taken. Oh, yes…any of these things would be possible for me, the regular guy…
…in an insane asylum.
Have you ever been to an insane asylum? That’s where people wander around aimlessly after having taken their medication and tell you all the amazing things they’re going to accomplish. Some will tell you they’re going to solve world peace…perhaps like Obama. Or talk to aliens, kind of like Carl Sagan. Some of them will tell you that they can hear music and see the notes dancing around their heads like Mozart and Bach. Others will defecate on themselves, wipe it on a sheet, and liken it to the work of Jackson Pollack. During mealtime, some particularly off-kilter patients would try to convince others that they could cook like Gordon Ramsay, act as good as Samuel L. Jackson and sing country music as good as Reba McEntire.
You’re getting my point, no? These people are insane. That is, they were…until Masterclass came around.
Over the last few years you’ve probably seen the advertisements litter your Facebook and other social feeds. The promise of becoming as talented as any of the people I’ve mentioned above (and close to 30 or 40 more of them) which is as simple as ponying up $90 per class, or $180 for an annual all-you-can-eat pass. All you have to do is watch up to 20 10-minute sessions as narrated by these famous icons of film, TV, writing, music, journalism, conservatism and beatmaking…and you too can be just as successful as them.
And if you believe any of it…you’re as gullible as all get out. (Which incidentally, happens to be a phrase that I learned from watching Aaron Sorkin Teaches Screenwriting.)
The question most people wonder, while seeing Werner Herzog or Steve Martin or Natalie Portman (!) fly by in their social feeds promising to teach them amazing talents…is why the hell are these people doing this? Meaning: what’s in this for all these famous people to take time out of their busy lives to record twenty 10-minute sessions for their own personal Masterclass?
The answer? Moneymoneymoneymoneymoney.
A standard Masterclass session pays the celebrity narrator close to $150,000 in cold hard cash, then guarantees them an additional 30-40% of the cut of the revenue that comes in from people renting or purchasing the classes. If you’re Martin Scorcese, and you know that ten thousand people are going to pay for your Masterclass because they, too, want to learn how to make the complete opposite of “amusement park cinema” — then you could pull somewhere in the neighborhood of $500,000 for an afternoon of work in front of a green screen.
That being said, the money depends on ones’ level of success and the gullibility factor of the customer. While Chris Hadfield easily nabbed somewhere in the neighborhood of $100,000 for his insightful and completely unrealistic Masterclass teaching regular old Earthbound people how to learn about Space Exploration, you can bet your left nut that there aren’t too many people paying to learn that.
So, if you’re keeping score? Martin Scorcese gets $500,000 and Chris Hadfield gets $100,000. Spike Lee? $350,000. Jane Goodall? $100,000. Judd Apatow? $250,000. Judy Blume? $59.99.
Aside from the fact that the rich are getting richer, there’s two inherent problems at the root of Masterclass. First? There is no way in HELL that anyone is going to spend 200 minutes of their life watching videos on their cell phones and laptops and come away with anything much more than a cursory understanding (if that) of any career or ability. I don’t care if that’s cooking, tennis, singing, acting, filmmaking or breaking open the next Watergate scandal. It ain’t happening.
But that’s just the first problem.
The second problem and the most painful words to type in regards to that second problem?
We’re all a bunch of gullible, entitled, unrealistic a-holes.
Who the hell are we to assume that if we can just find that 90 bucks in our checking account, that we can be the next Helen Mirren or James Patterson or Jimmy Chin or Anna Wintour or…shit…Bob Iger. What the hell has the educational system done to us to make us believe this? What have our parents and teachers and guidance counselors and mentors done to make us think that we (a) can be that famous and (b) that we are entitled to be that talented and (c) that it can happen if we just watch 200 minutes of talking heads? What world are we living in that has made this a possibility in our heads?
We’re all fucked if we think that’s possible.
And maybe that’s where the people behind Masterclass are smart? Maybe they’ve realized that we’re those people. Maybe we’re all so desperate to get out of our day-to-day depression because we didn’t end up being the person we wanted to be, that Masterclass is just another diet pill, another liposuction procedure… Maybe it’s the botox, the Xanax, the downloadable karate skills that Neo jams into his neck in The Matrix. No matter what it is…there’s one thing that isn’t.
It isn’t us. We’re not those people. They’re those people. That’s why they’re getting six-figures to talk to a camera in front of a green screen. That’s why they’re rich and that’s why they’re getting richer.
And we’re just getting stupider.
Because if you spend $90 bucks to learn U.S. Presidential History and Leadership from Doris Kearns Goodwin, or you gift your favorite little astronaut a class so he can learn Scientific Thinking and Communication from Neil deGrasse Tyson or you go all out and pony up that annual $180 bucks so you can learn Blood Testing for Dummies from Theranos’ Elizabeth Holmes…
You’re just perpetuating the rumor and making it true.
Masterclass isn’t just counting on you to be that dumb and insecure, they’re hoping you’re going to be that way for a very long time.
Otherwise, what the hell are they going to do with that Masterclass by Donald J. Trump on Teaching Executive Branch Leadership and Global Destruction after his second term ends in 2024?
They’re waiting on you.
Don’t let them.