punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,

The Pedestal Syndrome

I am full of writings today, mostly because I am waiting for someone to contact me about a project at work, and can't get involved in much else. While I wait, I decided to explain what I have called, "The Pedestal Syndrome."

This is where someone make a lot of people happy for a while, and becomes so over exalted to the point where they are placed high on a pedestal for all to see. But then this causes a lot of eventual scrutiny, some jealousy, and then some "revelation" period where they fall from grace, and because they were put up so high, the fall very far and smash to pieces like a cheap plaster vase from atop a high shelf. This happens everywhere, but is especially bad in Hollywood and other arty communities. The pattern goes something like this:

The Discovery:
- Look at this! A new person with fresh ideas!
- Things she says and does are so witty!
- She represents a change we have badly needed!

The Shooting Star:
- She's EVERYTHING we have needed!
- Almost everything she says is right!
- What a gal!

The Zenith:
- How did we get along without her?
- She's so great. Just, wow!
- A little ... too great, don't you think?

The Fall:
- She's made some mistakes, she has flaws...
- She wasn't as great as we thought...
- We look like fools for trusting her...

The Crash:
- She thinks she's so great, but she's not!
- She fooled a lot of people, I bet on purpose!
- She's wicked! Burn the witch!

Picking up the pieces:
- What did anyone ever see in her anyway?
- I am glad she fell. She lied to us.
- She represents the mighty we have fallen.

Often this happens whether the person wanted to do this or not. Some are born into greatness, some have greatness thrust upon them. The sad thing is, this person's social standing is almost always totally out of their control. The rising starlet become the whore. The social jewel gets turned in for insider trading. The guy who saved the company from financial ruin is thrown out three years later. Gossip columns THRIVE on this feed, they'll make it up if they have to! This sort of thing destroys careers, ends marriages, and wipes out good businesses.

On a lesser note, in fandom and online communities, this happens, too. It's happened to a lot of people I know, and has even happened to me. The best way to avoid it is to be very humble and channel the energy to others as quickly as possible. Stay out of the limelight, let others take credit who need it more than you do. Fame is a fickle beast, it does not care who you are. It is both the fuel that feeds you at the start and the fuel that burns you at the end. The trick is to be like the Phoenix, and rise from the ashes. President Clinton was like that. No matter what you did to the guy, it slid off him like a fried egg off of Teflon. So was Reagan, I mean, they even called him "The Teflon President." Clinton even went further by turning the accusers upon each other. The whole "conservative conspiracy" fell apart when they tried to bring him down. Where are Newt and Rush now?

In fandom, I see it a lot when someone takes over a convention that was small, or maybe failing. Like SnuzbariCon, a fake con I just made up. Sci-fi and gaming fans from Snuzbari, New Jersey form their own little convention. The first con was okay, had 200 people. The second did well, and had 600 people. The third had 900 people, but due to a lot of mishandled money and politics, the head of the con falls out of favor and leaves before he's lynched. A New Guy takes over. Number four is only 500 people, but they make it through. By number 6, they are over 1000. By number 10, they are a huge gathering of 4000 people. The New Guy is worshipped and adored ... by most. The fall starts when someone gets disgruntled (or maybe it's not one guy, but a few people who independently came to this conclusion). Who knows why. Maybe they felt snubbed, or were friends with the old guy, who is now bitter. Maybe they have other ulterior motives, or are just a jerk. They start to badmouth the New Guy. The disgruntled guy has friends, who also don't like him. Poison starts to spread through the group. Those who are unsure and swayed or at least left more unsure. Two groups begin to form, one with a good leader, one that's more like an unorganized mob who doesn't know how many members they have. By SnuzbariCon 11, there is definitely a disgruntled force. Maybe the disgruntled guy is in charge, or maybe he's moved on, leaving his poison behind. Some things go wrong at SnuzbariCon 11, which if they happened just a few years earlier, they would have been smoothed over as "it happens," but now they seem like more "obvious flaws." The New Guy suddenly becomes a target. I'd say there's a 50/50 chance the New Guy would step down after the con in disgust. Maybe he won't. But now everything he does is overanalyzed and scrutinized, looking for more flaws. Everything from what he approved, to anyone new he promoted is suspect. Even personal issues are put under the microscope. No one can survive such scrutiny; even Mother Theresa must have farted every now and then. His days are numbered now. Finally, he either quits in disgust, gets fired, or the whole convention structure collapses. People leave wondering what the hell happened, and some go away thinking the New Guy was to blame all along. Anything good the New Guy did was wiped from memory, and all anyone can remember is some final event that defines everything the suspected all along, like when he blew up at the hotel bar, or was caught picking his nose. It never matters.

Substitute "con" with "workplace." I see that a lot, too, although it seems to me people are meaner when money and jobs are at stake. At least with a con you can go, "Well, it's not like I'm paid to do this..." At work such politics can cost you your job, and all you ever wanted to do was to do good work in the first place (or maybe not, but still ... unfair). That's why some people come back with guns. I have never heard an ex-con chair going on a shooting spree, and hope never to in my lifetime. Stakes are different.

This, of course, is NOT an inevitability. Take comfort in that. Remember Clinton? He never got impeached, and it almost like people miss him, now (although I think they miss the era more than Clinton personally). Nixon quit before he got he boot, and even ended up as "not so bad" at the very end. I have seen many cons run under the same person for 5, 10, even 20 years, through thick and thin. I have seen intentional political coups fall flat on their face. The guy who helped found NetBSD was thrown out, and he rebounded with OpenBSD. Drew Barrymore reinvented herself. Sly Stallone and John Travolta keep going through the cycle. Madonna probably has a few more comebacks coming to her. Hell, I expect Duran Duran to come out with a new hit album soon, since they seem to do every ten years. And who can forget the many rises and falls of the Rolling Stones?

But for those not used to it, those without a press corps or talent agents, the Pedestal Syndrome can be painful. Your average Joe Schmo will have a hard time wondering why he got fired even though he was "Employee of the Year" twice in a row. The king of the Great RPG Chat Room may wonder why he's so hated all of the sudden. The popular girl in high school suddenly becomes the outcast. I don't know what advice I can give, since I seem to have fallen on the floor like a ragdoll more than once. I just lay there like a bomb went off, thinking, "What the hell was THAT?" Of course, after a few of them over a period of 20 years, you begin not to take them so seriously anymore. "Oh... I see. It was my time. God's reminder we're all supposed to be humble." I see it happen to other people, like watching a film of car accidents in slow motion. I feel helpless to stop it, no matter what I shout at the screen. "N-n-n-n-n-n-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-oooooooooooo...!" (see, that's me yelling in slow motion, and then trying to convey it in HTML). I think, "I know how THIS is going to end," but I'm not always right.

I just think it's inevitable. Maybe it's some ancient survival tactic from our prehistoric brethren. Maybe it's God's way of trying to give you a sense of irony and humor (I can see him, up there, going, "See? See what I have to deal with? Now imagine this on a huge scale!"). I don't even know if it's a good lesson, but I just try and learn from it as best I can.

Okay, one last thing to add. That guy? Never called me back. Screw this, I am going to move a server.

This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000198.html
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