If we should be learning anything from the Susan Boyle meltdown phenomenon, in the wake of her inpatient treatment for “exhaustion” a mere weeks after coming to prominence, it’s that the average person isn’t cut out for fame. The same holds true for political leaders. What precisely makes one person succeed while another cracks?
Susan Boyle lived a quiet, simple country life alongside companions of the mainly feline persuasion, until she was thrust into the spotlight on Britain’s Got Talent and instantly became the focus of fantasy projections by every single fat slob splayed out on the couch with a Budweiser in-hand. Wiping a tear into their brew, it donned on them that they, too, could become rich and famous if Simon Cowell came knocking at their door, dragged them and their housecoat into the makeup chair, wiped the Cheetos off the corner of their mouth and gave them a shot at superstardom. Boyle doesn’t have the greatest voice, but she’s Sarah Brightman to every chump who likes to think he’s Sinatra on Friday nights at the karaoke bar. If she can get “discovered”, then fame and fortune could just as easily be theirs, as well. Or so the thinking goes.
The truth is that the “average” person doesn’t have the personality to contend with fame. What exactly is that “x-factor” that predisposes a person to both fame and the ability to properly manage it? It’s precisely two things: Hard knocks over a long period of adjustment, combined with a histrionic personality type (and ideally, but not always, some substance or talent). According to the Cleveland Clinic, histrionic people are “dramatic or theatrical”, have “intense emotions”, need to be “the center of attention”, and are most likely born into this type, as it runs in families. These people could be taking a bath and still be a lot more interesting than you. Just read your own Twitter feed or recent FaceBook status updates for a gut check on your own entertainment value. Most reality show participants ultimately drown in the tidal wave of tedium that washes over our 24/7 cable TV universe, and the select few who survive aren’t equipped to handle it.
The histrionic personality, this “je ne sais quoi” I have just defined, is what draws us to a person — think Madonna, Eminem, and any successful TV talking head who pulls in ratings — but the ability to withstand storms of criticism is what keeps them sane and functional under intense public scrutiny.
“Normal” people don’t understand this celebrity personality type because they can’t relate. This is exactly why celebrity is truly out of reach for the average person, despite any delusions. The same people who write about TV commentator Glenn Beck, for example, being “insane”, or about to have an on-air meltdown at any moment, can’t relate to him because they’re his antithesis and are probably counted on to supply the megadose of Valium to whatever event they attend. The political science professor with a double PhD can’t comprehend why guys like Beck are on TV and he isn’t. It’s not that he’s nuts; it’s just that you’re boring. Entertainment today is the new public execution, the new bullfight. And if you were plucked from the protective walls of your ivory tower and thrown to the vicious masses you’d crack after about five hatemails.
If there’s anyone in Hollywood who makes you think he or she is as “normal” as you and your buddies — like Jerry Seinfeld or Jay Leno, for example — that’s just testament to their genius. There’s a reason why these two are successful in that realm and you and Susan Boyle would collapse.
The prevalence of thick-skinned, talented histrionics isn’t limited to pop culture fame. The same rules apply to successful political leaders. I’m not referring to your typical “caretaker” Congressman or Member of Parliament who keeps a low profile. I’m talking about the superstars. Let’s look at a few examples:
Winston Churchill: Rebellious child, speech impediment, largely ignored by his mother. Everyone laughed at him when he warned of Hitler as a possible threat. By the time he became Prime Minister for the first time in 1940, he had been taking abuse in the federal political arena for 30 years and had obviously developed some good coping mechanisms. Still has some of the best one-liners in history.
Nicolas Sarkozy: French President who went to all the “wrong” schools, grew up being told that he was from the “wrong” stock with a Hungarian name, and claims that he owes his success to “all the humiliations suffered during childhood.” This “overnight sensation” actually spent 20 years as a mayor, plus a stint taking flack for clamping down on ethnic riots as Interior Minister. Denounced “French arrogance” towards the country’s allies while Chirac was in power. Doesn’t seem to lack the strength required for making all the right enemies. Doubles as France’s shock jock. Married to a former supermodel.
George W. Bush: Born wealthy and connected, but made to work. Barbara Bush wasn’t going to be raising any spoiled brats. Ran some businesses, beat a popular incumbent Texas Governor for that job. Made difficult moral decisions related to Texas Death Row executions. Developed a tried and tested character and moral conscience by the time he took office as President. The media hung on his every word. Doubled as Comedian in Chief due to the editing of his reality show by the mainstream media.
And now, for the most renowned political equivalent of a reality show crack-up:
Adolph Hitler: Spoiled by his mother, failed art school entry exams twice, claims to have had an “easy life”. Joined the German Worker’s Party as official blowhard. Resumed his art career by presiding over the design of the swastika. Pretty much a weak, useless spoiled brat beyond a few odd jobs as a draftsman and painter. What Hitty wants, Hitty gets. And the world paid for it. Relied heavily on his “entourage” to boost his weak ego.