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Jo Piazza

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Occupy Hollywood: Why It's Time To Call Out High-Earning Celebrities

Posted: 10/24/11 12:00 PM ET

Celebrities are not part of the 99 percent. They are not even the 1 percent. In fact, many of them are lower than even the .01 percent.

Americans are currently occupying cities across the country as a part of Occupy Wall Street, demanding an end to corporate greed and a more equitable share of the pie for the middle class.

Yet, the middle class continues to prop up the .01 percent: Hollywood celebrities who make millions just for being themselves. When it comes to making money, celebrities are abnormal. Their enormous salaries make them outliers in the American economy, on a pay grade above most CEOs, surgeons and lawyers -- the professions that typically come to mind when we think of the wealthy.

So how about a movement to Occupy Hollywood?

Don't get me wrong, some celebrities do have day jobs; they act, they sing, they throw a ball -- maybe even all at once. Sometimes cameras just follow them around and capture them going to clubs and arguing with their boyfriends, but today even that is considered a job because those activities is how many celebrities each their paycheck.

Last week the Wall Street Journal debuted a handy calculator that allows the user to plug in their salary and find out what wage percentile they fall in. The only problem is that celebrity salaries are so high it can't calculate them beyond .01 percent.

So what are of the greatest offenses of celebrity wealth disparity?

It's been rumored that reality queen Kim Kardashian makes over $10,000 for a single tweet. The kicker is she doesn't even have to write these tweets themselves, if she doesn't want to. And she's not alone. Based on proceeds from their reality shows, product sales and selling stories and pictures to magazines and TV shows, the Kardashian family made over $65 million last year.

Earlier this year, fellow reality star Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, of "The Jersey Shore" fame, was paid $32,000 to speak for an hour at Rutgers University, while "Hills" bad boy Spencer Pratt and wife Heidi Montag blew though over $10 million they made made for fighting in front of the cameras, club appearances and picking fights with Al Roker.

But it's not just reality stars who are piling up some truly hefty paychecks. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were reportedly paid $15 million for the first photos of twins Vivienne and Knox, though the couple often donates large sums of money to various charities.

Speaking of selling photos, many celebrities have deals with certain photo agencies, and they actually get half the proceeds from photographs sold of them to magazines, websites and television shows. You might pay $3.99 for a celebrity gossip magazine, but celebrities can rake in up to $1 million a year from the profits.

Actor Johnny Depp recently admitted he's game for playing whatever game Hollywood offers.

"If they're going to pay me stupid money right now, I'm going to take it," he reveals in Vanity Fair's November issue.

Money is only ever "stupid" if you have way too_ much of it, Johnny. (For the record, Depp made an estimated $50 million from May 2010 to May 2011, according to Forbes.)

Depp's quote, coupled with the fact that his latest flick, "The Lone Ranger" is moving forward because of a series of layoffs, incensed Salon writer Mary Elizabeth Williams to also call for a movement to Occupy Hollywood last week.

"There was something about the VF quote about 'stupid' that's been haunting me ever since I read it. The pure acknowledgment that 'Ha ha, I'm making so much money, and I can't believe it.' It IS stupid. And then reading about how Disney is laying people off, and Depp's own latest production, 'The Lone Ranger,' has been firing people to meet its budget, just made me mad," Williams told me.

Williams continued, "I happen to like Depp a lot as an actor, and admire his advocacy work. I like being entertained -- I'm going out to see a movie tonight. But enough is enough. It's not so much about him as the industry. It's sick and clueless to be throwing around money like the recession isn't happening. I think all of us are accountable to each other, and that means acknowledging that the wealth gap in our country is nothing short of obscene. Nobody, even a person with his own staff and family to take care of, needs to rake in $50 million for one movie, especially when we can clearly see that star salaries have been rising disproportionately for the last twenty years. You know why somebody makes $50 million? Because he can. Because nobody has said he can't. And I think it starts with us as audiences saying, that's entirely messed up."

It is messed up! So what can we do about it?

Rich people -- celebrities included -- can't politely ask to pay more taxes. They can donate more of their incomes to charitable causes, but that will not remedy the enormous disparity between what most people make for working an honest job every day of their lives and for what they make while living a life with as much leisure time as the average retiree.

We can ask for two things to happen to create a greater balance between the wealth of Kim Kardashian, Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp and yourself:

You, the consumer, can stop buying their products simply because they are hocking them. Don't buy a drink because Jennifer Aniston told you to. Don't go to a store just because Tori Spelling tweeted that she liked clothes. Don't pick up the latest celebrity fragrance or diet supplement, and don't grab a snack just because Snooki likes it too.

At the very least, stop and think about who your money is going to when you purchase any celebrity-driven consumer goods. In other words, be a thoughtful consumer.

The second burden falls to on the celebrities themselves. The best way to redistribute wealth is to urge celebrities to create a trickle-down effect for their enormous incomes. They need to employ more Americans to do more things. For example, if they start a handbag line, they need to make sure it is manufactured in the United States. Also, opposed to hiring only friends and family to work with, they should consider hiring a team of hardworking Americans who need jobs and health insurance.

Celebrities should be part of the solution. They have the power to craft a new New Deal. Celebrities need to use their influence to make sure a large part of the egregious salaries granted to them gets down to the people who need it the most -- namely, the 99 percent.

So what can we do? We can Occupy Hollywood. Sign the Occupy Hollywood petition to simply agree that something has to change about the wealth disparity between celebrities and the rest of the country.

Tweet your favorite celebrity and ask them him or her if they he or she thinks they deserve what they make. Ask them what they pay their employees. Ask them if those employees have benefits.

Think before you consume in the celebrity culture. It's the only way the .01 percent will really ever be "just like us."