Fame, puts you there where things are hollow
May 16, 2005 7:31 AM   Subscribe

The recent Chapelle breakdown has me wondering, is fame and fortune that big of a change? I don't see CEOs and VPs bemoaning their large bank accounts and the people around them. Is this a creative-type personality dilemna where they feel inadequate against expectations?

I've always wondered what "people around you changing" really means. I was hoping for more details but the article on Chapelle was way too short and I'm having a hard time discovering what this phenomena entails. I guess I'm looking for any anecdotal experience or stories of what occurs here. I could see where free-riders would come into play ("My son's sick", "We need a new car to get to work"), but if I had a multi-million dollar deal I'd pay for my friend's drinks and not care.
posted by geoff. to Human Relations (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
See, you might think that you'd pay for your friend's drinks... but then, all of a sudden, everyone would be your best friend. Including people who didn't give a damn about you when you were nobody. Would you want to pay for the drinks of people who were just using you for your money? Probably not (it's the people who can't set the boundaries who end up bankrupt). It sounds like finding out who your real friends are is a problem celebrities constantly deal with (some of the young starlets, like Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan, say in interviews they'll plant fake stories with people they know to see if they're leaking stuff to the tabloids).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:44 AM on May 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

Perhaps you don't see CEOs and VPs bemoaning their large bank accounts because their life is not in the Hollywood limelight?

When you look at it from the outside, there are people, famous and not, who have serious mental issues. Being in the spotlight probably only heightens those feelings, and brings them to the public eye. You don't notice the problem in non-famous people because the people aren't famous.

I don't think it's a creative-type personality dilemma, but a human dilemma.
posted by nitsuj at 7:47 AM on May 16, 2005

I think success at that level is hard to deal with. I'm talking out of this world success. how you can be that lucky? in fact if you think about winning the lottery, its like you beat math. you're the 1 out of a jillion. i'm sure you know all the stories about the lottery winners that have severe problems
now obviously a chappelle type has some talent, ie its not just luck, but on another level that's even more lucky. I mean why him? what does it mean to be that funny (1 in a million funny, or even 1 in 100 million funny)? or think about pro sports players--know why they're all so into God? I mean more into God than anyone? its cause if you're that lucky, you have no explanation--it makes no sense.
I don't think CEO's who have worked their whole life for their success and it probably came over a longer period have the same problem--these guys get their success a little more gradually. plus a lot of them come from money in the first place.
I can see being that lucky messing with your brain severely.

On the other hand i agree, i don't get it about the "people around you changing part". I mean, whatever, you got 50 million dollars.
posted by alkupe at 7:54 AM on May 16, 2005

Two things to consider about your question:
1. Typically, artists/comedians/musicians/etc have a different kind of mindset than your average millionaire CEO. Their brains are wired pretty differently, that's why they are "artistes" and they are CEOs.

2. CEOs rarely come into "unexpected" wealth. Generally speaking, they've worked towards it their entire lives. By the time they're making millions, they feel that they've earned it, and so long as they don't steer the company into the ground (though that's less of a problem than you might imagine), they don't have to worry about "keeping it real" or "being true to their art" or "integrity". There are significant odds that if someone is paying you millions of dollars to run a company, that it's not integrity (artistic or otherwise) that got you there.
posted by jaded at 7:55 AM on May 16, 2005

To go from being on your own to all of a sudden be responsible for other people's livelihoods - all the people employed by the show, plus agents and assistants or whoever - must be a headwrecking change that the CEOs don't deal with.
posted by dublinemma at 7:59 AM on May 16, 2005

Crap, being in charge of a family of six is stressful enough. Imagine an entire network depending on you. I ran across a book describing the effects of the lottery on winners, but I've lost the reference. It was pretty corrosive. I remember a short story I read once where a man entered his enemies in the lottery in the hopes it would destroy them.
posted by mecran01 at 8:07 AM on May 16, 2005

Also, CEOs aren't usually hounded by media hordes, tabloids, paparazzi, fanatics and weirdos, and sycophants. Perhaps unfortunately. Maybe if we held the captains of industry under the same harsh glare and the same brutal magnifying glass of celebrity we'd have less wanton abuse and greed running amok in the corporate world.

CEOs also tend to be rather hard-headed and pragmatic, while creative/thespian types are probably a bit more sensitive.

I mean, when was the last time you saw even high-profile industry leaders like Steve Jobs dealing with paparazzi following their every move, with tabloids criticizing everything from their weight to the frequency of their drinking habits or even what shoes they wore?

And as mentioned above, how many CEOs actually give a rat's ass about the network of people they support? The epheremal nature of the entertainment industry probably magnifies that worry exponentially.

Being a celebrity probably actually sucks a lot, but I rarely have sympathy for celebrities, as they've chosen that path and sought it out with a vengence, usually.
posted by loquacious at 8:42 AM on May 16, 2005

I imagine that "art" changes to "job" pretty quickly at the $50 million mark. Some people are in showbiz as a means to create and do what they love, fame and fortune are just great perks. Others get into it just to become rich and famous, getting to act/sing/whatever is just a perk. It is so easy to understand where the latter is coming from, but think about the former.

Imagine this: one minute you are doing your thing. At that point, you just want people to appreciate your creativity and originality. After finding fame and success you can't just fly by the seat of your pants (when it comes to creativity). All of a sudden, you are no longer simply asking yourself if a bit is funny, you are responsible for keeping your audience, appealing to a wider audience, writing material that will sell DVDs, etc. Your role as an artist takes second stage to your role as an "industry player," even though you never wanted to play the status and power game. You'd probably contemplate taking your ball and going home, too.

In addition to changing responsibilities and expectations, the people around you change as well. People who you could rely for honestly, to tell you when you were wrong, when your joke was not funny, etc. transition into drooling sycophants. Who is hanging around because they like and understand you and who is hanging around because they want something from you?

Add to that the fact that privacy is a thing of the past. Gossip columnists report about what you bought, what you ordered, where you went, how much you tipped, what you wore, how you treated the sales people/ wait staff, etc. Ever have a day when you crawl out of bed, pickup clothes from the floor to go to the grocery store and buy all sorts of carb-loaded junk food and get through the line without bumping into someone you know? How about a day when you just want to spend some time alone at the beach/mall/movies? Stars don't have those luxuries.
Sure, they do have loads and loads of money but it is in exchange for a lot of the things that make life worth living.

CEOs get to enjoy their money and privacy. We seldom read about where Bill Gates vacationed (and what he wore while he was there) or where he had his kid's birthday party. Also, for CEOs, the lines between work/private lives are more clearly defined; people don't expect to just fit into this random, paid entourage.
posted by necessitas at 9:36 AM on May 16, 2005

Being high profile and being friends with a bunch of people who may not be is a bit of a challenge and difficult to sometimes deal with. Think of it like you're the kid who got 780 on his/her SATs and all your friends scored solid 550s. They're still your friends, but it's just one more thing you don't have in common, or one thing you never had in common that is now glaringly obvious that may affect your respective futures. Same thing with money, same thing with "access" to celebs and others, same thing with people noticing you in all your old hangouts. Add to this that Chappelle was always sort of edgy with a lot of his humor, and once you're getting paid $50mil to be edgy, you start to wonder if you're really edgy or just co-opted, at least I would.

Anecdotally, this is just coming from someone with a popular blog in a certain niche [or "king of the dipshits" as we call it in the biz]. Getting a lot of random email from people saying "link me!" "introduce me to so-and-so A-lister you know!" or "you're so lucky that you had XYZ opportunity!" [when what you're thinking is "well it's a lot of damned hard work actually"] can be nice, but you also need a social group of people who are dealing with what you're dealing with at the same time, who understand the conflict that this can create emotionally. For example, I want to hang out with my same old friends, but at the same time I want to talk to people who are giving keynote speeches at conferences to ask them for tips and advice and so forth. I want to complain about being misquoted in Wired. I want to parlay how well I'm doing into more exposure for my ideas, etc. Since I'm now busier than I used to be, doing both at once is hard. I know it's sort of a silly example, and I'm not complaining, but I think if this were magnified, so that I was rich in addition to being niche-ly well-known, it would be very hard, if not impossible to deal with it day-to-day without a break. You change whether you want to or not, just because you're in a different context.
posted by jessamyn at 9:52 AM on May 16, 2005

well, if anyone is so rich it's ruining their life, i'm always available to take the money off their hands. email in profile.

yet, for some reason, no matter how terrible that high-lifestyle is, no-one contacts me....
posted by andrew cooke at 10:16 AM on May 16, 2005

Maybe someone just needs to start an Overly Successful People Anonymous. All those souls dealing and coping with that hellish success. It must be rough.
posted by xmutex at 10:37 AM on May 16, 2005

For some great insight on this issue of being creative while also being rich and famous, you should definitely read F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Crackup.

He was one of the first Americans to experience the ups,downs and pressures of fame in the public eye. Written after he had (numerous?) mental breakdowns, the issues he encountered 70+ years ago are much the same as today . . .
posted by jeremias at 10:40 AM on May 16, 2005

could it just be that when rich + famous people have breakdowns and other problems, it's news. but when i do, it's not? a selection effect, in other words.
posted by andrew cooke at 10:53 AM on May 16, 2005

Who works to earn the love and respect of not just the people they care about, but the entire f-ing world? Neurotic, insecure people who need constant attention.

Who can't handle criticism, pressure, random people hating them, letting people down and being in the public spotlight? Neurotic, insecure people who need constant attention.

There are exceptions, but the tradeoffs in becoming famous -- the creative control you give up, the privacy you give up, the lifestyle you have to live -- are not something a normal, healthy person would typically pursue.

Some people here are talking about money as if someone should have no problems because they have money. I'd argue that they're worse off. When I have money problems, at least I know they're the kind of problems that money will fix. How horrible is it to have problems that you can't see a cure for? (Because everyone has problems. Unless they're Pollyanna, people find problems in order to justify their happiness set point.)

Studies have shown that once you hit a subsistence level, more money doesn't make one proportionally more happy. In fact, the more money someone has, the more money they think it takes to make someone happy.

For the record, I personally knew a few well-adjusted actresses/actors and they either retired or went into screenwriting/directing/etc. once they got their sh-t together or got older than 35.

Then again, I was exposed to sitcom and soap level success, never David Chappell level stardom. I have no idea how anybody survives that kind of crucible.
posted by Gucky at 12:11 PM on May 16, 2005

also, it's worth noting that chappelle is working a lot harder than the average sitcom actor. he and his writing partner write every single sketch on the show, and chappelle is the main character in each one. with his other producerly duties, i have no doubt that he's pulling 100+ hour weeks throughout the production of the show. that'll wear you down no matter how much money you make. he's talked about that in interviews since the first season of the show.
posted by subclub at 12:30 PM on May 16, 2005

Actually, a lot of CEOs I know care deeply about their people., but they make decisions (generally, don't throw Kenneth Lay and the other rotten apples at me) based on what's best for everyone with the company. They wouldn't have gotten where they are if they didn't have the ability to care about the whole organization.

The difference is the pace. With artists and actors, the creative mindset that these people need to maintain either needs to come from a lifestyle so organized, wholesome, and healthy that they can go home and immediately let their troubles drain away, or they need to take the time to go somewhere and get 'drained' every once in a while. When I've acted or had a creative job. I needed to be clear-headed, rested, etc. when they go to work.

With CEOs, there's no real need -- executives, stock traders, EMTs, etc. all work in the 'flow' of their jobs. It's more like a mental dance that moves and shifts constantly and is adrenaline-based. You have to make decisions and manage people based on what's best right now and what you think will be best in the future. I come to work after sleeping for four hours and am just as functional as when I've had a full night's sleep and a weekend at the coast, because as soon as the adrenaline and caffeine start flowing, I'm on.

It's apples and oranges. Completely different lifestyles and skills, common only that if you're susceptible to burnout and you don't control the factors that will make you burn out, you will burn out.
posted by SpecialK at 12:33 PM on May 16, 2005

"I always like to say to people who want to be rich and famous, try being rich first...see if that doesn't cover most of it. There's not much downside about being rich other than paying taxes and having your relatives ask you for money. But when you become famous, you end up with a 24-hour-job."
-Bill Murray
posted by rocket88 at 2:29 PM on May 16, 2005

It would be nice if people didn't speak with such certainty about other people's 'breakdowns' which they know about because they read about in a magazine article. Oh yeah, read the article. Where does it say he had a breakdown? It doesn't. When did you stop beating your wife?

The guy wants to clear his head, and his media conglomerate overlords use their other media properties to call his mental health into question and threaten his reputation. Nice. Real fucking nice, but hey, they made him, they paid him, they can rip him up and find a new one if they have to.

And this bullshit about how it's different to be one but not the other, the difference--as it's been said--is that culture consumers don't have to hear about where 'CEO VP types' vacation, or what they think, or why. But be sure that if a CEO VP type signed a $50 million contract and put the brakes on it for 'personal reasons' three weeks before the contract was due, the other signatories of that contract would be threatening said CEO VP type with character assassination and various and sundry other CEO VP type agonies.
posted by airguitar at 6:03 PM on May 16, 2005

"Perhaps unfortunately. Maybe if we held the captains of industry under the same harsh glare and the same brutal magnifying glass of celebrity we'd have less wanton abuse and greed running amok in the corporate world."

In my experience, the executives who end up under the harshest glare are often the ones that weren't being evil, and the ones who were being really despicable fly under the radar.

I know a number of people with various degrees of fame, and a lot of people who have some degree of micro-fame. The part about successful people being driven by insecurities is often true, but I think that applies equally to people who are creative successes or typical business successes. It's worth noting that most entertainment industry talents end up being defacto CEOs of their own enterprises as well. (Chapelle alone has TV shows, DVD deals, development deals, publishing contracts, and licensing projects, aside from any other moonlighting he's been doing. Managing that many product/service lines is hard.)

The other thing that's worth noting is that, to be successful, you have to collect a circle of people who help you. Whether they're key collaborators, pure coat-tailing deadweights, or (most common) somewhere in between, success begets companionship. In the case where it's someone's first success, how do they know how much of the success is attributable to those people who've accompanied them? And even if someone seems like they're genuinely not taking advantage of the success, who can tell if the relationship doesn't predate the success?

There's a lot of factors, but success is challenging, and it introduces new stresses. That doesn't mean they're worse stresses than being poor or lonely, but they aren't familiar ones that a person may have had decades to learn how to manage. And they're not the types of stresses that other people around might be able to comisserate with.
posted by anildash at 8:49 PM on May 16, 2005

I don't think CEOs are really in the same boat. But putting that aside:

One factor is that fames can really kill your most precious dreams and hopes in a way you never expected and are not prepared for. If you're not entirely happy with yourself or where you are in life, it's very easy to work towards a better tommorrow - to assume you will be happier once you've solved your problems and are successful. Or that if you can change yourself to the point where lots of people adore you, you'll finally like yourself.

Then you actually become successful, beyond your dreams, thousands of fans think you are amazing, while you feel no different, meaning they're wrong. Of course the success doesn't have the slightest impact on whether you like yourself, your insecurities were never anything to do with that, you just assumed they were because Hollywood shows us that success is everything.

Suddenly, there is no way out: you dislike yourself just the same as you always did, and your last best chance of solving that, your only hope, has been burned away.

Life, now without hope of ever being happy. So what's the point then? Reach for the shotgun.

In reality, people do grow to like themselves, but because most people are taught (without realising it) that success will make things OK, if success suddenly comes too soon, too much, too fast, it can make life look hopeless instead of limitless.

This isn't the problem everyone faces, but it's one of the unexpected pitfalls that is out there, that hits all the harder because you're unprepared for it.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:19 AM on May 17, 2005 [1 favorite]

On "people around you changing", it usually one of the first things that can really drive home how different one's life is, not because they have changed, but because of how the perception of them has changed.

How people think of you changes so much of how one deals in and with the world because of how the world is then treating you, and to whatever level the feedback affects their work or sense of self, having to change to accommodate it is no easy task.

Just the loss of anonimity is a problem. You've lost the ability to do many things first hand, you have to question how affected is the information you do acquire, and if objectivity is a necessary part of what you do, trying to accommodate these changes is an enormous task.

How you figure in someone else's life is not the same as how they figure in yours, and if the aspect of their function in your life changes because of it (if their opinions are no longer reliable, if they change how they treat you because of self interest, etc.), I don't know of people who have back up confidants, family members, or collaborators and co-workers to seamlessly slot into the new void.
posted by philida at 8:18 AM on May 17, 2005

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