That doesn’t sound very good in an acceptance speech, does it?

March 14, 2023 5:02 pm(Updated 5:03 pm)

“Dream big,” said Michelle Yeoh, as she accepted her Best Actress statuette at this year’s Oscars for Everything Everywhere All at Once, “and dreams do come true.”

I totally appreciate that Michelle Yeoh has got to say something when she picks up her Oscar and, damn it, she’s entitled to say whatever she likes.

But, I am quite tired of the general “dream big” nonsense, particularly when it comes to success in anything creative. Did Michelle Yeoh dream bigger than all the other actresses? Is that why it’s her up there and not the others? Did she dream more, harder? Better? How exactly does a person have to dream for their dreams to come true?

And I’m not sure those sort of dreams, (rather than naked-in-supermarket dreams), even actually come true anyway. In a practical sense, I mean. They come true, at the level of winning an Oscar, for so few people as to effectively not come true for anyone at all.

Here is the thing that not very many people will come out and say when it comes to creative success: it’s mostly luck. Wait, let me revise that. It’s a desire to pursue the thing you’re doing, persistence and also luck. I would argue you don’t even need talent. Talent can be an active hindrance: truly talented people can be unpredictable and get in their own way. It’s overrated.

If you think about it, persistence and luck are sort of the same thing – if you persist with your creativity, just mathematically your chances of a lucky break go up. Michelle Yeoh is 60 and Jamie Lee Curtis, who won Best Supporting Actress in the same film as Yeoh, is 64. They persisted and therefore their chances of being lucky increased.

There are a hundred people out there who are right now working in marketing or finance or law who could be a writer, I am not in any empirical sense the best person to be writing in newspapers. But I want to do this job, persisted with this career, (despite spending many years earning so little I didn’t even qualify for income tax), and therefore came in the way of some luck. Did I dream that one day I would be a writer and paid a living wage for it? Sure. But dreaming about it is not how it actually happened. And in fact “dreaming big” might have made me dissatisfied with my status. It might even have made me give up.

The podcast “Dead Eyes” dives deep into this. The host, Connor Ratliff, sets out to solve the mystery of why Tom Hanks fired him from a small role in the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers. While solving this specific mystery, Ratliff also ends up trying to solve the mystery of why one actor is successful, the other not. And no-one will be surprised when the answer turns out to be: persistence and luck.

Mad Men star Jon Hamm tells Ratliff the story of how his agent was instructed by a casting director not to send him to any more auditions because: “Jon Hamm is never going to be a TV star”. Did he give up? No! Did his dreams change? Well, he never mentions his dreams. Only persistence. And luck.

Tom Hanks himself explains that when it comes to success, “there is luck and it is blind. There is also the requirement of perseverance and that is the breaker. There are people who can’t take the strain of disappointment. They can’t get past coming close and not getting it, they can’t get past getting fired.”

But this is not a romantic narrative, the one where you have to grind along with no encouragement, no recognition and often no money, blindly hoping that at some point things will randomly knit together in your favour and you will land a successful project because someone else was ill or unavailable. That doesn’t sound very good in an acceptance speech, does it? “I would like to thank dumb luck, sheer hard work, random chance and the see-sawing vicissitudes of the zeitgeist for my success,” isn’t nearly as nice as “dream big and your dreams will come true”.

“Dreams” in a movie context are all just echoes of Judy Garland anyway, singing “and the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true”. Garland who was, of course, put on a diet of pills, coffee, cigarettes and bone broth by MGM when she was still a teenager and died of a barbiturate overdose when she was 47.

I do quite hate that poster that urges you to “Work hard and be nice to people,” but in the end, that really is all you’ve got.

By admin