Ego is always a force to be reckoned with here in Hollywood. Although we didn't invent it, you could say we perfected it. One of my favorite quotes on the subject comes from that undisputed queen of self-expression, Madonna who once said, "Hey, everybody's entitled to my opinion."
Like most people, I was appalled when Kanye West stormed the stage at the MTV awards, took the microphone from 19 year-old Taylor Swift (who had just won for "Best Female Video") and declared that Beyonce's video was better. It was a jaw-dropping act of hubris, even from a guy who's somewhat known for shooting his mouth off. It's hard to fathom what could have been going through his mind at that moment. "Best Video" isn't exactly the Nobel Peace Prize. It's not as if some great injustice had been perpetrated. Nor is it like Beyonce (who seems to be doing pretty well) is badly in need of another award. I wondered if the whole incident might have just been fueled by too much cognac backstage. Whatever the reason, it was rude as hell.
I've spent the week trying to drum up some kind of sympathy for Kanye. He's a young guy who's been visited by some astronomical success. That doesn't excuse stupidity, but it can sometimes explain it. When mega-celebrity lands on people, it arrives about as gracefully as an avalanche. Your once ordinary life is all but erased by your new "handlers." Inconvenience is a thing of the past. Day-to-day chores like waiting in line at the Starbucks or picking up your dry cleaning are swept away. Suddenly (you are told) your time is far too valuable to be wasted on crap like that. Wherever you go, the velvet rope is unhooked and you are swept past envious onlookers like visiting royalty.
All anybody wants from you now is more; more of whatever you did that made you a star to begin with. If your ego was just a flicker, your team will soon do all in their power to fan it into a raging fire. From these flames will come bigger hits and a persona that can be marketed worldwide. Strangers holding microphones will want to know not only what you're going to do next, but what you think about things like politics and global warming; things you know almost nothing about. But that doesn't matter. Fans will blog, text and tweet about how smart, funny, gorgeous and insightful you are. Why, you can barely open your mouth before the applause begins. It gets hard not to start thinking of oneself as an innovator, a savior, a freakin' genius. You can do no wrong. That is, until you do.
It's not much of a surprise when megastars land in some kind of trouble. Whatever their moral compass may have been, it no longer works in the upper stratosphere. "Other people" don't show up so well on the new radar. The pressures of being "you" may lead to the false impression you can smack somebody around or drive drunk down the PCH at a 100 miles an hour. As much as your fans and handlers may forgive your antics, law enforcement is not so understanding. Bad behavior is entertaining to a point, but when you stumble across a line that you shouldn't have (as Kanye did with Taylor) it's a big surprise to discover that instead of being perceived as a ballsy truth-teller, you come off as a stupid, ungrateful jerk.
When Kanye appeared later in the week on Jay Leno's show to offer a public apology, he got served a healthy bowl of what I like to call "Ego Stew." We all have to eat it once in a while. It's a steaming combination of what we "did" and what we "should have done," all boiled together (and in Kanye's case, served with a side order of his dead mother's opinion). Ego stew is not so tasty, but sometimes it's good for us. It can wake us up and get our feet back on the ground. So, welcome back, Kanye. I hope you'll use all that insight (and all that talent you've got) to look at the world with new eyes.
Oddly, I couldn't help thinking about the whole Kanye flap as I watched Susan Boyle make her American television debut on this week's finale of "America's Got Talent." Say what you will about Ms. Boyle, she always makes an impression. God knows her singing isn't flawless and no matter how many stylists take a crack at her, she always looks a bit like a small-town librarian who's been run a little too quickly through the Treseme Hair and Make-up salon. But there is something about her earnest delivery that always gets me. Despite being catapulted overnight from utter obscurity to international stardom, she remains a sincere presence and never fails to give it her all.
As expected, her quietly moving rendition of "Wild Horses" brought the delirious crowd to their feet. And there stood sweet Susan, the most unlikely star on the planet, modestly nodding her head and carefully acknowledging the musicians who had accompanied her as if somehow the crowd were cheering for them and not for her. It was beyond adorable. It was a gesture of gratitude; offered by one of "us": a regular Joe who got unbelievably lucky. And knows it. Nicely done, Susan. Rock on.
Copyright 2009 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.
David Dean Bottrell is an actor ("Boston Legal") and screenwriter ("Kingdom Come") who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at http://www.partsandlabor.tv