Self-Doubt In Hollywood and Beyond


As we approach the end of our fourth year at Wheaton, we are all feeling a mix of emotions. Right now, excitement, anxiety, bee screaming terror (don’t worry I’ll get back to Nicolas Cage later) battle against each other, as we one day hope to feel security in the career paths we have chosen. Despite this expectation, in her book, Hollywood: The Dream Factory, Hortense Powdermaker makes it seem as though instability in the film industry is a constant that won’t ever disappear. True in the 1950s, true now.

The unique pressure of pleasing the public fuels this anxiety felt throughout Hollywood, mainly because the audience, and a large one at that, determines the value of a film and the work one has put into it. By contrast, an artist who traditionally works autonomously, instills a greater sense of themselves in their work, only for the fact that one “works primarily to please [one]self” (287). They need only appeal to a small group of people, if anyone, to feel a sense of self worth in their creations. Not to say filmmakers can’t achieve self-actualization from their work, but the common sentiment among them is constant self-doubting derived from the “tension of the unanswered question, ‘will the public like it?’” (287). This mindset is not time sensitive, as actors and directors in the film industry today still struggle with this uncertainty even as professionals.

For instance, William Shatner became famous from his role in the Star Trek TV series, yet even with his fame and financial success, he believes that “careers are here and they’re gone, no matter how great we think we are.” This transient nature of a career pertains even more to us as Millennials, who are expected to have 15-20 different jobs in our lifetimes. With this perpetual movement from one position to the next, there is more opportunity for success and failure. Although many actors and directors rise in the ranks to become great stars, there is a greater number who make it to a certain point and stay there, or even worse go backwards.

One notable example includes the desperation of Nicholas Cage, who is known for accepting almost any movie role presented to him, thanks to the many late night comedians who thoroughly enjoy mocking him in their monologues. On top of that, due to overconfidence, he spends beyond what he can afford and as a result, he was forced to sell many of his lavish properties, including his own private island. As far as I know, he has survived this turmoil, yet some may say his image has been tarnished and he has exchanged the keys to his mansion to that of a rental. In this instance, it appears as though Cage’s self-assurance led to his “downfall.” If he had been less ostentatious, he could have prevented all that trouble. From that, I think we can all agree that even celebrities cannot take what they have for granted.


All in all, Powdermaker makes it clear that there are many personalities that find their way into the film industry, but a commonality that links everyone is varying levels of self-doubt. But instead of seeing that as a negative, it can be used as motivation to push oneself to achieve and conquer. We shouldn’t be shying away from questions like: Is Film and New Media Studies the right major for me? Do I have the right skill set? Can I really make it in the film industry? As Joseph Gordon-Levitt aptly put it, “questions are often looked upon as…doubt but I don’t see it that way at all. I question things to stay present, to make sure I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.” If most, definitely not all, Hollywood actors, directors, producers, etc. are preoccupied with the same fears and anxieties that we have, this simply proves that we are only human. To further emphasis this idea, Powdermaker concluded that “enough people with humanistic goals have attained power to prove that successful movie production can be human,” despite the god-like image that has been attached to professionals in Hollywood. This was true at the time and it certainly applies now (306).


Hochman, David. “50 Celebrity Quotes On Success.” Forbes. 6 May 2014. Web. 28 Sept. 2015.


Meister, Jeanne. “Job Hopping Is the ‘New Normal’ for Millennials: Three Ways to Prevent a Human Resource Nightmare.” Forbes. 14 Aug. 2012. Web. 28 Sept. 2015.


“Nicholas Cage.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 28 Sept. 2015.


Powdermaker, Hortense. Hollywood: the Dream Factory, an Anthropologist Looks at the Movie-makers. Boston: Little, Brown, 1950. Print.

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