(As promised at the end of my last post.)
Much of the story we pitched for ADMISSIONS is built around three families — all New Yorkers, but with different backgrounds and socio-economic resources — vying to get their children into Ivy League colleges — and making some questionable moral and legal decisions in their pursuits.
Last year, I wrote a pilot for an entirely different series — one with a sci-fi premise where a tech guru creates an Elysium-type alternate reality and the richest people in the United States pay to transport themselves and their families into this other reality.
What do this two projects– one grounded, and one sci-fi — have in common? They are both about families, and both about family members who exercise partiality.
Partiality — if it’s not familiar to you, as it wasn’t to me — is basically, liking one thing, person or group more than another. In philosophy, there’s a whole ongoing conversation regarding whether it can be right to act partially and privilege people who are closer in our affections over those who are more distant.
In both my sci-fi scenario and in the real world scandal, individuals act to procure opportunities for their children. But in so doing they are are taking the opportunity away from other, random people.
Most of us exercise some form of partiality. We feed our own children and take care of our own families first. We help our friends more than strangers. Generally it’s regarded as honorable to help our families, friends, teams, companies. We talk about loyalty like it’s a good thing — something to aspire to.
But, is it also honorable to give a job to your nephew instead of reviewing applications from other hopefuls? Is it okay to vote to fund the parks near your neighborhood and not neighborhoods where other people’s kids live? What if everyone in your group made the same choices?
It seems like classism, racism, tribalism could all descended from this type of partiality when it’s not just exercised by individuals, but groups of people.
When I think about partiality, it’s difficult not to selfishly think about how partiality affects me. I want to be a working TV writer. In order to do that, I need to be hired by a showrunner. It’s no secret that showrunners– not just as individuals, but as a class — are partial to people they know and trust, or to referrals by people they know and trust. Since I am not neither of those things, my chances of catching my dream are diminished.
On the flip side, I’ve been hired many times — to be on film crews, to teach, to work admin — because someone knew me. In every case, I’m guessing Human Resources could have sent a hundred applicants as good or better than I was, who probably wanted the job more than I did. Yes, I’m a hard worker, but that’s not what got me those jobs. I got those jobs because: partiality. The people with the power to hire already knew me.
The temptation is always there to help out a friend, to make your kid happy. When is that okay, and where’s the line? If you’re a bouncer at a club, is it okay to let your friends in for free? If you work middle-management at a company, is it okay to highly refer a friend for a job? And if you have a gazillion dollars, is it okay to buy your kid a spot at a prestigious college, or buy your family a new life in an alternate reality?