Another troubled star, Nicolas Cage gets arrested. Yet, there’s more to the story than bad behavior. There always is.
May 6, 2011
The Letter from the Editor which heads up the May issue of GQ has little to do with advertising but certainly qualifies as a nasty morsel of popular culture. It’s also quite sad. The magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, Jim Nelson was dining at the famed New Orleans’ restaurant, Stella this past Mardi Gras and happened to be in “wine spitting” distance of Nicolas Cage while he was in the midst of a notorious alcohol-induced blackout. Most of us are familiar with Cage’s meltdown, having heard the story here there and everywhere. Likely, we all attributed it to another “moment” in the controversial and bizarre star’s repertoire. Known for playing myriad odd, terrible and often wonderful characters (Raising Arizona, Vampire’s Kiss, Ghost Rider, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, among many others), here he seemed to be channeling Charlie Sheen and then some.
In any event, the GQ editor witnessed the entire debacle and elected to make it the subject of his forward to the magazine. Wise choice. As I said, it’s a scintillating piece.
But as I also said, it’s a sad one. But sadness is not the tone Nelson reported. Like most observers of popular culture, he took aim at the falling star and gave us a blow by blow. I don’t begrudge the writer for doing so. That’s his job. Sort of.
But there’s a crucial piece missing from the tawdry tale that might have actually provided real learning to the reader. In describing Cage’s condition, I intended the word “blackout” as noun more than adjective. Nicolas Cage was having an alcoholic blackout. In this condition the man no longer is cognizant, let alone in control. The symptoms were textbook. Yet, I’ll bet many of you are only aware of the obvious ones: lewdness, lechery and violence. Those lovely defects are what got Mr. Cage arrested, no small feat during Mardi Gras.
But what I found eerily fascinating were some of the other defects Cage manifested during his downward spiral. Nelson reports that the actor had befriended a couple at the bar and had insisted on buying them drinks. And not just any drinks but some of the most expensive wines on Stella’s impressive list. In recovery programs, they call this “grandiosity.” You say Cage is a millionaire movie star (actually, he’s bankrupt) but I’m telling you even garden variety drunks can and do display this defect. All of the time. It’s a marker for alcoholism.
Poignantly, prior to his arrest (just after breaking an interior window), Cage bellows to the embarrassed crowd: “You love me!” I say poignantly because now his grandiosity has degraded into self-pity and self-destruction. As Nelson pointed out in his article, chances are many of the patrons did, in fact, once love him, or at least got a kick out of him. But not anymore. Now they merely wanted him gone. Nicolas cage had hit a “bottom,” another recovery term that requires no defining. For Cage, that meant oblivion and a jail cell, not necessarily in that order.
Look, I don’t pretend to really care about Nicolas Cage or his personal demons. However, I do feel that every once in a while, when we’re given these all-too-similar stories about falling stars (Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, Courtney Love, etc…), that we are given the full story. It justifies none of their behavior but it might help someone else understand what’s going on or maybe even get better (themselves), if they’re sick, like Nicolas Cage clearly was and is. By not doing so, I feel the media (and society as a whole) is in as much denial about alcoholism and addiction at the pour souls they are covering.
Roger Ebert reviews his 30 years in Alcoholics Anonymous. (Addiction in advertising: How prevelant is it?)
August 31, 2009
Thumbs up, one day at a time
Well-known, Pulitzer-Prize winning film critic, Roger Ebert recently published a lengthy column on his 30-year membership in Alcoholics Anonymous. You ought to read it, if for no other reason than it provides a rare glimpse into how the AA program actually works. It’s a fascinating and brave piece.
I say brave for two reasons. First, not many people as famous as Roger Ebert own up to the disease of alcoholism unless, of course, they have gotten into trouble or were called out by someone else. That happens all the time. Those people must ignore, deny or fess up. Ebert could have taken this fact to his grave. Ebert’s admission and column is brave for a less obvious reason as well. AA is about “attraction not promotion.” One of its traditions is to stay clear of publicity. By breaking from tradition, the author is publicly discoursing about what is usually kept private. Hence the term “anonymous.”
Ebert addresses both of these issues at length in his story, which is why I also find it fascinating.
Without going into it, I can relate. Not only am I a writer but in college I also aspired to film & music criticism. I also aspired to get drunk and high. I graduated with great credentials in both.
For decades advertising has been known as a drinking man’s business. The justifiably acclaimed show, Mad Men makes drinking about as important to making ads as Magic Markers. Martini lunches no longer existed when I came into the business, but we still drank in droves, often from happy hour to bar time. Coming into work hung over was like a badge of honor. I assumed everybody –save for a few squares- drank to excess. I would learn the hard way to speak for myself.
But I wonder if the advertising industry (particularly the creative department) is still considered the Amsterdam of white-collar professions. Are drinking and drugs still a big part of ad land? If so, how many of us are addicted? In my novel, The Happy Soul Industry one of the main characters is both a creative director and addicted to opiates. He not only uses drugs for recreation but as a source of inspiration.
What about you, Gentle Reader? Are you happily immersed or desperately struggling with alcohol and/or drugs? Let us know. Obviously, you can (and probably should) remain anonymous. In my 5 years at Euro RSCG, I am aware of only one person working for me who also was an addict. A painful story, that person eventually had to be let go. But one individual does not make for an epidemic. Maybe the problem has diminished. Or, perhaps, folks are quietly taking the necessary steps to recover and have been able to do so while remaining employed…and anonymous.