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Dennis Palumbo Headshot

Oscars and Emmys and Globes, Oh my!

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As a psychotherapist who works with people in the Hollywood community, I'm aware of the external pressures that affect my patients. Things like the last writers strike, or the anxiety about whether or not the actors would follow suit. Often these events are unexpected, or just infrequent.

But there are also foreseeable events, as cyclical as weather patterns, and we're in one now--the awards season. Just as accountants get swamped at tax time, I've noticed a severe spike in my creative patients' career anxieties during this annual frenzy of award nominations.

In recent years, awards have proliferated like viruses. Besides the old standards--the Oscars for achievement in film, the Emmys for television--there are now the Golden Globes, the People's Choice, and the MTV Awards, as well as less-publicized awards (though crucial to the industry) bestowed by venerable union organizations like the Writers Guild, the Directors Guild and the Producers Guild.

(Not to mention the rapidly-expanding number and variety of award categories---though, based on the release of the audio of Chistian Bale on the set of the new Terminator film, I'm tempted to suggest a new category myself: Best Obscenity-Laced Tirade By An Actor Other than Alec Baldwin.)

But I digress. Falling roughly within a four-month period, this annual harvest of award nominations--"the season of envy," as one of my writer patients calls it--gives people in the business a wonderfully rich smörgåsbord of opportunities for bitterness, resentment, despair and self-loathing.

For example, a successful actress in my practice fumed with envy about Hillary Swank's second Academy Award for Best Actress for Million Dollar Baby a few years back. "Excuse me, but she got both her Oscars for playing women who get beaten to death! What's up with that? Is this some kinda trend? Maybe that's my problem...everyone I've ever played is still alive at the end of the movie."

Not to mention a director patient, who was both impressed and depressed at the high quality of the films nominated this year. "See, those are the kinds of films I want to make," he complained. "But what does my agent send me up for? The next Scooby-Doo sequel!"

This is life in Hollywood for most ambitious people in the business: living in a state of extreme self-consciousness, feeling that your entire worth as a human being is being judged by people who are technically your peers, but much richer, more successful and a lot cooler than you are. Meanwhile, you secretly think you're as good or better than they are (when not worrying that you're really not), and desperately want them to like and accept you.

Sound familiar? It should. Because, from my perspective, Hollywood is a lot like high school.

In high school, you try out for a spot on the basketball team or the cheerleading squad or the drama club's latest play, and, if you're like most of us, you don't get it. You spend hours honing your particular "look" in the mirror, or working on cool repartee, or practicing smoking a joint without choking. But the girl you want to hook up with still thinks you're a dork, and the guys you want to impress just look at you with bored, half-closed lizard eyes before ambling away.

So, what do you do for comfort? What everybody does: you rationalize. You tell yourself that these people aren't worth the grief. You ostentatiously ignore them or loudly disdain them.

Likewise, those show business patients of mine who weren't nominated, feeling ignored or unappreciated by their peers, often boycott watching the awards, or cancel their subscriptions to the trade papers. Some even use their sessions with me to indignantly list the many worthy, though perhaps obscure, films and TV programs that should have been nominated, if the awards weren't such monuments to fraud, irrelevance and blatant commercialism.

But sometimes, it can all just get to be too much. For my patients working in television, for instance, I'd guess the ultimate example of Hollywood-as-high-school happened the night some years back, when writer-producer David E. Kelley won an Emmy Award for Best Comedy (Ally McBeal) as well as one for Best Drama (The Practice). Then he got to go home to celebrate with his wife, Michelle Pfieffer.

Believe me, the fallout from that evening went on for weeks in my practice. How could any of my patients, no matter how successful, top that? It's as though Kelley got to be both Class President and first-string quarterback, while making it every night with the Prom Queen.

It was enough to make anyone want to pull a "Christian Bale."

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