Monday, 4 July 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #758: Ego, Motives, & Madness

Happy Fourth of July to all my American readers, and to all my non-American readers, Happy Monday.

Today I'm going to start with a comment from a reader, which is unusual for me, since I usually just gloss over them because I'm a smug know-it-all who can't be told anything, unless I'm looking for questions for a Q&A post like I am here. ;-)

The comment came from a recent post I did where I discussed, again, the ongoing madness of Stan Lee's business ventures, and the cringe inducing quality of his new "superheroes." In it I said that these dreadful ideas make me appreciate the input of Lee's past collaborators like comic legends Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. That got this response.
Sandy Petersen said...

But as you point out, perhaps there never was a Stan Lee - perhaps there was only a parasite living off the deeds of Ditko & co.

A situation which is similar to that which RedLetterMedia has posited about George Lucas - i.e., maybe he never was any good in the first place. Take away the people who had the power to say "no" and you end up with Jar Jar.
You could be right, but I suspect that a long time ago there was once a real Stan Lee, someone who was creative, innovative and original. Someone who worked well with others in a combustible form of symbiosis that created Marvel's success in the Silver Age of comics.

That person is long gone.

How can you tell?


What do all of his most recent projects involve? Usually some attempt to cash in on the remaining fame of a washed up celebrity who is just emotionally needy enough to think that a superhero version of themselves will revive their dead careers, or from businesspeople with more money than actual knowledge of the state of the comics/superhero market and his recent track record.

The motives I see are essentially ego, greed, and possibly revenge against the general species of businesspeople that he felt screwed him over decades ago.

Back in the day his motives were different. Mostly it was simply survival. The comics industry had taken a beating in the 1950s, in both sales, and political harassment, and was struggling to rebuild. The company was almost always on the verge of bankruptcy. It needed to stand out from the competition, and it needed new ideas and new directions for that to work.

The threat of unemployment is a great spur in the side to the creative person. So you had Stan, Jack, Steve, and all the others bringing their best to keep their heads above water. Every idea had to be carefully scrutinized and analyzed and possibly horsewhipped before being published, because the fate of the company and their jobs depended on it.

History shows that these survival tactics worked, and he went from being the hack hanging by a thread to the great genius who can do no wrong.

The problem is that there isn't a mere mortal on this Earth who can do no wrong, and that's the simple truth. People screw up, and these screw ups increase exponentially from three factors:

1. Lack of scrutiny. Every idea needs to be looked over, studied, and probed in ways that would make the most hardened alien human-rectal researcher cringe. If the idea is solid then 90% of the comments arising from the scrutiny will be trivial and even nonsensical. If the idea is bad, then they will have the terrible ring of the bell of unvarnished truth. The key to any creative person is knowing when that bell is ringing.

2. Bad motives. If you're just in something creative to make a buck, then you're in the wrong business. Even Michael Bay, a man written of as an effects loving hack has motives beyond mere money-making and ego stroking, he also has the desire to create a visual/visceral experience for his audience. Sure, he often lets storytelling fall short, but that's not really what he's about.

3. Ego, ego, ego. This is what keeps the artist from hearing the bell of truth ringing over their head. I call this state the "Don't You Know Who I Am!?!" Syndrome. Their ego is telling them to ignore all others because their past great works make them impervious to any criticism, whether it's constructive or not.

There are case studies everywhere, especially in movies.

The Love Guru, was a bad idea from the minute it plopped out of Mike Myers' head. There was no scrutiny from Paramount, because Myers had made a lot of money for their studio with the first Wayne's World movie, and truckload of money for New Line with the Austin Powers franchise, and, legend has it, their own studio incompetence and meddling was behind Wayne's World 2's failure. So they gave Myers carte blanche and a huge budget. Myers' motives to make the film looked to me like they weren't so much about making a funny movie, but to see what he could do with carte blanche and a big budget, and his ego seemed to make him think he could get away with it. Without anyone to edit he ended up dropping a big steaming pile in the middle of theaters, and it was treated accordingly.

Another case is George Lucas. Jar Jar Binks is more than just lack of scrutiny from the studios, but from his rather poor motive of wanting to create another Chewbacca simply for the sake of creating a character marketable for kids. His ego made him think he could get away with it, and no one dared try to edit him, for fear of being cast into the outer darkness if he takes the franchise to another studio. His ego made him forget that Chewbacca was an organic creation, something that sprung naturally from the story and Lucas's life, and if you research the many iterations the character went through before the final dog-Sasquatch-hybrid was decided on, you know that there was a lot of collaboration between people who were equals in the creative endeavor, not servants of an all knowing supreme master.

It doesn't matter how brilliant a creator is, they are still human, and they need to properly balance their ego and motives with an ability to collaborate and take criticism. To lose that balance is where madness lies.


1 comment:

  1. This may be your best - nay most important - post yet. Some passages here I feel like I should get on a plaque above my computer just to make sure my ego never gets large enough for its own zip code.

    But this does bring up one question: What about James Cameron? Do you think he's still keeping his head down just enough to hear input from others? Because elsewhere it really seems his ego is running out of control but we really haven't seen the huge blow up from him that we have from Stan L. or George L. - yet. Aren't we due?