4 Rags-to-Riches Success Stories That Are Full of Crap

Some lies are obvious. If a homeless person approaches you and says that he can predict your future in exchange for a dollar, you'll probably realize that he's not telling the truth (personally, this only took me $4). If your parents raised you to believe that punching a pack of wolves to death is the only noble way into adulthood, you're going to learn soon after your first wolf bite that your parents are crazy people.

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Thanks a lot, Mom.

Other lies, however, are so insanely prevalent that they've become difficult to recognize. For example ...

#4. "My Upbringing Was So Rough!"

These days, it's trendy for famous, successful people to talk about how terrible their life was before they made it big. This is especially popular in the music industry. If you're a famous musician who was unfortunate enough not to come from a poor or underprivileged background, don't worry: You can exaggerate wildly, or just plain make shit up.

For example, if you're a Canadian former child actor who starred in Degrassi as a teenager, that won't stop you from releasing songs in which you brag about how you "started from the bottom." If you're the child of a successful Nashville songwriter, you can emphasize how said parent was a struggling single mother, to the point of allegedly lying about never knowing your father.

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"I was born to indigent sharecroppers at the height of the Great Depression."

But we can't really blame these people. We, the general public, like to maintain the belief that there is no real system of class or inherited wealth in this country, and part of this belief is a demand for rags-to-riches stories. Public figures know that their successful careers will appeal to us much more if they hint that they spent their childhood hunting and killing beetles for food rather than taking violin lessons. Despite how widespread it is, there's no word that describes this exaggeration of a famous person's former indigence. So I'll call it "indigeration," because I like my made-up words to sound like obscure Roman sex acts.

Why It's Ruining Everything

It takes a lot to develop a successful music career. You need money for instruments and lessons. You need hours of leisure time daily to practice and develop skills. You need family members to drive you around and take you to lessons and competitions. You need a butler to pick up all your crumpled music-writing sheets and broken guitar strings. None of these things are exactly overflowing in genuinely damaged backgrounds.

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Most working-class Americans can afford, at best, a part-time butler.

Of course, there are musicians who are born so talented that they don't need any of that and build their own instruments out of the piles of dirty needles in their parents' bedrooms. But successful people from horrible backgrounds usually get out of those situations by doing things that are not typical for that background. This applies to all kinds of successful careers, not just music: If your upbringing really sucked, a big part of becoming successful will involve differentiating yourself as much as possible from the people around you. If you're from a family of meth dealers, you'll have to forgo spending your teenage years learning the meth trade. If your parents are poor alcoholics, you'll need to save up all those beer cans and trade them in for deposit money instead of learning the art of crushing them with your head like everyone else.

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It's like missing your own bar mitzvah.

But audiences don't want to hear that about their favorite musicians, because "staying inside practicing scales while all the other 15-year-olds drink until they puke" is far too boring and middle class and unromantic a story for the music industry. So instead, young music fans are left with the impression that, even if you're raised by homeless crack addicts, you can just party hard and one day the magical success fairy will come to you, too.

Sure, you say, but some people do make awful adolescent decisions and end up doing just fine. Well, some people can get away with bad decisions more than others. Which leads me to ...

#3. "I Haven't Had Any Help!"

Years back, I worked in a hotel that had a bunch of boutique clothing stores across the street from it. I noticed that these stores hardly ever had any customers, and I asked another hotel employee how the hell they stayed in business. "Oh, they're vanity stores," he said. "They're run by women with rich husbands. They don't need to make a profit."

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I guess the shop called "FUCK YOU, CUSTOMER" should have been a clue.

Since then, I've discovered that these vanity projects are much like our reptilian overlords: hidden everywhere in plain sight. If you live in a big city, you've probably frequented many of these for-fun businesses without noticing that they don't need to turn a profit to survive. Think of that artisan coffee shop that made you grind your own beans, or the gallery that contained nothing but impressionist portraits of the artist's own dick. The cash support behind vanity projects is not always quite as obvious: The writer across the street might technically be living off the money he makes writing free-form poetry about Nicolas Cage, but his parents are probably still buying his health insurance and chipping in money whenever he gets hit with another stalking charge.

Why It's Ruining Everything

There's nothing inherently wrong with a business or career being financially supported by another person. It's the fact that nobody admits to this that does the damage. In our society, financial help of any kind is treated like an embarrassing groin rash to be kept to ourselves and the necessary professionals. But this means that many of us who don't have that outside support see people like the Nicolas Cage poet getting by just fine, and we conclude that Nicolas Cage poetry is a viable career for anyone.

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Even for Nicolas Cage.

Everyone laughs at Joe Graduate Student, who spent $50,000 on a useless master's degree in fan fiction studies or whatever. But maybe Joe, and many students like him, grew up seeing other people with similarly useless degrees who seemed to be doing just fine. No one mentioned to Joe that these other uselessly degreed people had parents who were quietly paying off their credit cards every month. So Joe followed his dream and got the degree, and today he is selling his body to supplement his fan fiction income.

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You don't want to know what's in that cup.

Obviously, this doesn't mean that anyone without rich parents should resign themselves to working 16-hour shifts in the potato factory until they die (well, unless they're in Idaho. I'm pretty sure they don't let anyone out of Idaho). But lacking a hidden safety net woven from your parents' hundred-dollar bills means that you'll have to work harder, accept more risks, and recognize that if you fail, you will fail harder. Instead of acknowledging this, though, we've created a fantasy world in which we pretend that anyone can afford a condo in New York with the profits from their homemade cat jewelry startup.

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C. Coville

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