Dynamism and the destruction of the fibonacci staircase

OscarI was thinking over the weekend about a Hollywood anomaly. (Hollywood anomalies have a way of becoming everyone’s anomalies.)

Apparently, people who win Oscars do not necessarily flourish. This surprises because the old model was clear. The actor who wins an Oscar was supposed to be set for life, the beneficiary of more and better scripts, climbing salaries, and augmented stardom.

A new pattern has emerged. People win Oscars and nothing much happens. Not new scripts. Not higher salaries. Not more stardom.

Adrien Brody and Diane Keaton are, apparently, two cases in point. Neither profited from their recent Oscar wins. Of course, there could be a local explanation here. After all, Brody chose to turn his acceptance speech into the most pious, self righteous, self dramatizing performance anyone could remember and Hollywood is a town filled with people inclined to give pious, self righteous, and self dramatizing performances at the drop of a hat.

And Diane Keaton’s performance in the Oscar auditorium was, well, ditzy. Not in that kooky, isn’t-she-utterly-charming, Annie Hall way. No, Keaton dithered in a way that made many of us wonder "how on earth does this woman manage to dress herself in the morning?" and I am pretty certain it moved some producers to scribble "do not hire DK!!!" in the corner of their programs. Ironically, these two may have used the Oscar occasion to cancel out the benefits of the Oscar win. They brought Oscar disappointment upon themselves.

For the rest of them, it’s not so clear. I have an explanation. It doesn’t work for the short term, really. (And explanations for the short term are here eagerly solicited.) But I think it might apply in the long term, looking out, say, 20 years.

My suspicion, in a truly dynamic culture, we may see short term success as something that disqualifies the victor from future engagements. We will say, "we know that this culture changes so quickly and so dramatically that what succeeds at the moment cannot be the thing that will succeed in the long term. We can’t know with any certainty what will succeed but we can say with certainty it won’t be this."

Is this fair? Does this not break the very "success logic" out of which careers are build. This says, any success is desirable success because small successes become the foundation for larger successes. The notion here is that we "fibonacci" our way out of obscurity, as the whole becomes a part of a larger whole which becomes a part…

In the new model, we will have to choose our moment of success with some care. We will also called upon to transform ourselves (or our brands) at the end of each successful engagement. We might even want to use the Oscar podium (or other awards ceremony) to offer a kind of show trial recantation. "I deeply regret for this persona that brought me this reward, and I want to reassure the Academy and the producers in the audience that I mean to rehabilitate myself as quickly as possible. I have signed in to the Betty Ford clinic for actors in transition and I expect to be new born in 6 weeks."

On the other hand, this may be the "consolation of philosophy" for someone who does not expect stardom or Oscars ever to cross his path. It is also precisely the sort of thing you would expect a Canadian to hope for.

4 thoughts on “Dynamism and the destruction of the fibonacci staircase

  1. Tom Asacker

    A very astute observation Grant. And the same applies to guys like you and me with our newly released – and fading fast – business books. Let’s face it. The days of Tom Peters and Laurence Olivier are nearing an end. Ditto The Beatles and Harry Houdini. The talent level is WAY up there, and the barriers to entry and fame are getting lower as we blog. Success is less and less about “who you know,” and more and more about “who knows you!” What a great time to be alive . . . if you’re an up and comer. 😉

  2. Matt

    Considering just how many things (many of them previously discussed on this very blog) about the decision making processes in Hollywood are so very obviously _broken_ in a profound way, I’m disinclined to draw any conclusions about things that matter based on a hypothesis derived from the changing impact of Oscars.

    But that doesn’t mean I think you’re wrong. In fact, I think you make a very good point and may indeed be right. I just doubt that it’s as widely applicable as you appear to think it is.

    There is no certain route to lasting success, and many of the things that “everybody knows” lead to lasting success will in fact reduce the odds of what success one gains from them being stable. I am unconvinced that this was ever actually false, but overwhelming evidence shows that it is _now_ true.

  3. DanT

    Two explanations of how receiving an Oscar can negatively impact a career in the short-term: one internal and one external.

    INTERNAL: Receiving an Oscar can cause the recipient to set her sights too high. She holds out for “better” scripts and salaries – and ends up not accepting any. By the time she realizes her sights are too high, the “Oscar glow” has worn off. (Hey, I just invented a new term! See more below.) This partially explains the recurring Hollywood theme of Oscar recipients going in a different direction – there is no stigma with accepting a lower salary for the sake of ~ART~.

    EXTERNAL: Receiving an Oscan can cause producers to set their sights too low. Producers reason that since Mr. X received an Oscar, he will be receiving better offers than the one I have so I won’t send it to him. Instead, producers direct their casting agents to get someone like Mr. X who is cheaper and more available. This partially explains the recurring Hollywood theme of Oscar-recipient look-alikes.

    In reality, some combination of the two could explain most of the short-term effects.


    “Oscar glow” for a first-time recipient lasts until the next year’s Oscar nominations are released. Thus, Oscar recipients with smart agents but little talent sign multiple contracts several years out during this time.

    For a multiple-Oscar recipient, the rules change since it means the recipient probably has actual talent and the Oscars were not a fluke due to the role / Academy sentiment / bad year. “Oscar glow” in this case lasts about 5 years or two flops.

  4. Grant

    Tom, yes, it’s a little depressing for we would be pundits, isn’t it? I wonder if another factor here might be the fact that the world has grown in its complexity and it is harder to find one note theories that will carry the expect to stardom. Damn, born too late again. Best, Grant

    Matt, yes, the new culture throws off new “rules,” that apply for so short a time that they hardly deserve to be so called. Thank god for consultants, otherwise called agents, who can serve to detect the brief patterns that do still form. Best, Grant

    DanT (Dante?), splendid, really illuminating, thanks, Grant

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