Saturday, December 17, 2011

Graham Norton's missing evidence on failing

Watching The Graham Norton Show moments ago, I saw Jude Law, Eddie Izzard, Robert Downey Jr and Alesha Dixon discussing the extent to which they were encouraged or discouraged, as children, to enter show business. Several of them said that they were very discouraged, or laughed at, or mocked, for wanting to get into show business. Eddie Izzard mentioned that he worked in one restaurant where a colleague said there was no point in trying to be an actor because he'd certainly fail. Izzard left, disgusted with someone with such a closed, pessimistic world view.

I thought, watching this, that there was a message coming out of it. Four successful people, remembering being discouraged in their youths and finally proving the pessimists wrong: so success in show business is possible, and people who want to succeed should keep trying.

But surely many more people try to become film or TV stars than actually succeed. Where are the failures? All those people are working in ordinary, unremarkable jobs, or unemployed, and nobody interviews them.

That is understandable of course, and I don't want Graham Norton to go interviewing ordinary folk (unless they're in his red chair). But the fascination in hearing the lives of only successful people means we miss the evidence of the unsuccessful majority. We never hear: 'They told me I'd never make it as a pop star, so I gave up and just studied hard and got a decent job. Best advice I was ever given.'


  1. 'They told me I'd never make it as a pop star, so I gave up and just studied hard and got a decent job. Best advice I was ever given.'
    haha, awesome. Although a reality show about people with crushed dreams, who never became famous or successful would be extremely depressing :P

  2. Hehe yes, quite sober stuff!

    But I've heard some comment that part of the economic problems of "Western" countries is a mismatch of skills with market requirements. There aren't enough people going into, say, science or business or engineering. Too many people following their hearts, aiming for highly desirable jobs in music, art, literature, TV, etc. But only a tiny few will ever make it there. MAYBE celebrity chat-shows reinforce people's sense that they might be successful in achieving a really difficult goal like that, and perhaps this actually harms the market by sucking young people away from science, engineering, and so on.

  3. In India, this is the exact opposite. Many people with promising talents in various fields are discouraged by their families and society from pursuing that and they are forced to take up "conventional" jobs. By "conventional" i mean software engineer. There is a strange fetish for taking up engineering in India for which there are many reasons.Every year 110,000 engineers pass-out in mumbai alone compared to just 250 statistics graduates :P

  4. Interesting, Rohan. Perhaps this is related to the sense that richer countries are "post-materialist". Secure in the conviction that they won't be invaded or colonised, that they won't face real material poverty, individuals are more inclined to seek personal fulfillment instead of security. A hard job with lots of work and little fame or (I'm really just guessing) creativity might seem unattractive. Instead they might want the dream job - acting, singing, writing - and believe that they really can make it.

    I saw a survey some years ago showing that opinions about science were much more positive in poorer countries than the rich. It may seem odd that the people most enjoying the fruits of modernity are most suspicious of it, but I suppose many take it for granted and see that modern technology and systems can be limiting (even while they liberate us from poverty), and they want to follow their dreams.

  5. This is exactly what is happening in India (and i presume many other developing countries too).I guess the major reason people in developed countries probably pursue unconventional or dream careers is because they are assured of a bare minimum standard of living that is beyond the scope of most Indians. An aspiring actor waiting tables in sweden for example will probably have an apartment with modern amenities, internet access,probably his own car and other stuff which a person with the same kind of job in India would never have. Infact when I used to read American comics or watch foreign movies as a kid, I always used to be amazed how a private security guard or a guy working in a factory had a car, a house with a lawn, microwaves which even top business executives in India did not have in the early 90's. (although I do admit that hollywood may have romanticized life a bit :P)

  6. Yes this makes sense. Freakonomics did a fascinating podcast recently in which they looked at the incomes of young men who attempted to become professional baseball players. There was a tiny minority who made it big. Many of the rest ended up earning less than their peers who had not been involved in baseball. So by pursuing the big dream of being a baseball star, they ended up earning LESS over their lives than more pragmatic peers!


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