Why James Franco's Novel Is Making Us Feel Bad About Ourselves
If I'm being honest, I haven't known how to feel about James Franco for a couple years now. He's beautiful, funny, multi-talented, did I mention beautiful, and, now, James Franco is adding the title of novelist to his already long list of artistic endeavors. This melding of the worlds of screen and page is great and awesome and yay, a good role model for little boys! But it's also super intimidating. We want to applaud well-rounded people in Hollywood, but it's often difficult — in their diamondiferous brilliance, we see our own shortcomings and normalcy, glinting a thousand times over, blinding us with shame that can sometimes transform into ill-placed dislike. James Franco is sexy and amazing because of what he's accomplished, but he is a constant reminder that most of us will never be stars of movies both serious and funny, nor will we publish books of poetry, get several degrees from world-renowned universities, or write fiction. And deep down, we kind of resent that.
When I read somewhere that Lake Bell won a screenwriting award at Sundance several months ago, I felt stabbed with a nagging feeling that kind of hurt my chest and sounded a lot like "FUCK HER" in my brain. This was immediately followed by a deep and resounding sense of shame. Why did I so begrudge her further success merely because she was successful? If someone I knew personally had succeeded as an actress and a screenwriter, I would have been overjoyed for them. Yet, because it was Lake Bell — a sexy redhead I'd watched in rom-coms — I was filled with jealousy and other sludgy gross emotions. Why did I need to bring her down to feel better about myself? Wouldn't it be more productive to be spurred on by her success, buoyed by the idea that talent can come in all forms and sizes? The fact that I couldn't quite shake my sense of being wronged by the world felt even worse than knowing I'd probably never be a famous actress and award-winning screenwriter myself (despite the fact that I've never wanted either of those things).
I'm not proud of myself for reacting in such a way, but I can't be the only one who responds to hyphenated success stories with undignified and unfounded hatred. Our tabloids are constantly shouting all sorts of awful things about the people we watch on television or in movies, and it's not only because they are doing aforementioned awful things. It's because in all of us there is a petulant child who reads over our shoulder every time a story chronicling the success stories of people like James Franco or Lake Bell is published, and that child is continually stomping his or her foot, crossing his or her arms and shouting "IT'S NOT FAIR" over and over again. We're so jealous of the beautiful people that it's easy to forget what we've known for a long time now: Life is rarely fair, and it's much easier to question a celebrity's character instead of questioning why we're so desperate to bring them down to our level.
So yes, it makes me a little sick to my stomach that James Franco managed to write a novel before I did, and the fact that it's getting mediocre reviews could, on a good day, lift my spirits a little, but that makes me a little bit less bright and shiny, not him. Behind the hyphenate is a man who probably has little to no spare time, who doesn't enjoy Orange Is The New Black binge-athons on a Thursday night, and probably never lets himself eat an entire box of donuts in one sitting. That's the price he pays to acquire that hyphenate, and the reason most of us aren't James Franco is because we literally couldn't be if we tried. His looks aren't the thing that make him special, his work ethic is, so instead of hating on him for being genetically gifted and smart, we should admire him for refusing to be boxed in creatively, which any writer knows is a damn hard thing to do.
Therefore, goddammit, I'm formally extending congratulations to all the hyphenates. To the people who work hard and prove continually that they are more than a pretty face. I might resent them sometimes, but, mostly, I want to try to admire them, emulate them, and perhaps, someday, become a hyphenate myself. James Franco, watch out bro — you might be the ultimate hyphenate, but they say one human can't do it all. So I'm coming for ya.