February 11, 2010

Nepotism v. Neposchism

Writing about the Coen Brothers got me thinking about one question I've never seen any research upon: Do brothers who make their livings together get along on average better or worse than non-relatives? What tends to dominate: brotherly love or sibling rivalry?

The writer-director brother act is relatively new in Hollywood history. Before the Coens emerged in the 1980s, the the only fraternal writing team I can think of were the Epstein identical twins (Casablanca). (There were acting teams like the Marx Brothers, and lots of brothers in various roles behind the scenes such as the Warners and the Selznicks.)

Since then, there have been frauteurs like the Farrelly, Wachowski, Wayan, Hughes, Weisz, and Polish Brothers. My guess is that the modern writer-director job often tends to be too hard for one individual to do, so brother pairs have flourished.

On the other hand, this trend may be dying out. I'm not sure if many new Coen-like brother acts have emerged in the movie business since early in the last decade -- perhaps because the end of the Baby Boom in 1964 reduced the average number of brothers the typical guy has.

But the question remains: do brothers who work together tend to get along better or worse?

There are a lot of examples in popular music history of brother acts -- the Jacksons, the Osmonds, the Everlys, Van Halen, the Kinks, the Beach Boys, Creedence, Oasis, Allmans, AC/DC, Bee-Gees, Radiohead, the Blasters, Dire Straits, Toto (who used to play in my baseball league at the park), the Dorseys, and so forth. (There might be an even higher proportion of sister acts, but I'll put that aside for another time.)

Many of these brothers squabbled something fierce, but then most musical acts do, so it's hard to tell whether brothers get along better or worse. The Van Halen brothers seem to get along better with each other than with their bandmates (which isn't necessarily saying much in absolute terms), while the Fogertys of Creedence got along worse.

My guess would be that show biz, with the seeming arbitrariness of fame, is even more destructive of fraternal comity than most occupations.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


Brother can you spare a dime said...

My guess is brothers work together well if they are around the same age and treat one another as equals.
It may also work well if the older brother is the more talented and authoritative over the younger brother.
But, if the younger brother has more talent and the will-to-power, that may cause problems. In The Godfather, Fredo the older brother couldn't accept Michael as his boss.

It also works better if one brother is passive while the other is aggressive. It may even work if both are passive. But, if both are aggressive, that may cause problems.

Anonymous said...

I much prefer the Chapman brothers of homestarrunner fame.

Reg Cæsar said...

Gee, how did you leave out the Gershwins, the greatest brotherly collaboration in music? Though ironically, each brother's biggest hit was written with someone else-- George wrote Swanee with Irving Caesar (no relation) before Ira entered the business, and Ira did Long Ago and Far Away with Jerome Kern after his brother had passed on.

Anonymous said...

Well, let's see there were the Mitchell Brothers of San Francisco adult film-making fame. I believe Jim shot Artie to death in an attempt to prevent him from drinking and drugging too much.

The Allman Brothers seemed to get along OK, but Duane was definitely the acknowledged boss. When they were kids in Daytona Beach Duane pretty much dropped out of school long before the legal age as he found it hard to "get down with school." But he threatened Gregg with physical injury if he even thought about dropping out.

The Everly Brothers appear to have hated each other, but that seems to be just one symptom of general emotional instability.

Have you ever read the Marx Brothers biography by Simon Louvish? It's really, really good (he also did bios on Laurel and Hardy and W.C. Fields). The Marx Brothers sort of had the same dynamic as a street gang. They were not very much alike and they weren't overly fond of each other, but in a fight with an outsider, the Marx Brother was ALWAYS RIGHT. Just like the Hells Angels.

My guess is that if a bothers team gets along they do better than the average team, but if things go wrong it's much much worse.

Reg Cæsar said...

Notice how in most of the musical acts Steve lists, one brother is dominant, and often the leader of the whole band? One need only say the names: Michael, Donny, Brian, Barry, Eddie, John*, Ray, Mark, Jeff, Noël (or is it Liam? I forget which is the boss.) And Randy-- don't forget BTO!

The other brother(s) are often interchangeable with the rest of the guys.

The movie pairs, in contrast, seem much more balanced.

One brother band with real balance was the much-underrated Cowsills, led pretty much in tandem by Bill (apparently the stronger writer) and Bob (the stage leader), with the younger sibs-- and at times Mom-- in tow. (Bob's twin Dick was the roadie, though, which may be the ultimate in fraternal downgrading.) Their early records were as good as the Gibbs', made at the same time, but one band goes on to make billions while the other crashlands. Fate is cruel.

* John Fogerty's brother Tom is notable for being the Arthur Ashe of music.

DYork said...

The Van Halen brothers seem to get along better with each other than with their bandmates,

Howard Stern interviews Mick Jones (of Foreigner) about working with the Van Halen brothers.

Anonymous said...

(Cliff Arroyo)

"Noël (or is it Liam? I forget which is the boss.)"

Noel - genius songwriter

Liam - charismatic frontman

Nothing but trouble between the two (the rivalry and bad blood between the two is legendary in Britain).

I suspect that each was jealous of the other. Noel wanted to front (but is too low key and not ... handsome enough for the job). Liam meanwhile aspired to being more than eye candy for the teen girls (but there was no indication he had talent beyond performing)

Also, they were both kind of assholes (each in their own special way).

Special bonus: They sing in distinctly British English (unlike most Brits who sing with an American accent). But while they have good diction while signing, they speak a dialect of Mancunian that Americans find hard to understand without subtitles.

Tom Regan said...

How about Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne - the Belgian brothers who specialise in the uber-downbeat films that Europeans love?
They have twice won the Palme d'Or - the main prize at the Cannes film festival - in the past decade. They seem to win a major prize at Cannes every year.
And I love the Coen Brothers - hence the moniker.

Anonymous said...

Kings of Leon - all brothers and one of their cousins.

INXS - three brothers plus other guys.

Jokah Macpherson said...

I'm not sure if this post was explicitly limited to showbusiness but I would submit the Wright brothers as one of the all time success stories.

mark said...

Steve's post refers to "brothers who make a living together" and then goes on to list only showbiz examples.

Surely the vast majority of brother teams work in family businesses [hence the longstanding firm 'so and so & sons'].

My suspicion with these is that initially sibling rivalry predominates - particularly where the patriarch is around and thinking about who the future CEO might be.

However over the longer haul there must be a strong survivor-ship bias in operation - those where sibling rivalry gets too powerful are in danger of imploding - whereas you would expect that sibling co-operation would add non-zero sum gains to the enterprise.

Anonymous said...

The Italian Taviani brothers are one of the first true brother teams I can think of in the movies.

The Nolans are an example of one of the more recent brother teams.

gwern said...

A hypothesis, for any real effect (musings like these are badly affected by availability):

music duos are more common than film because musicians peak early, and the only people a given musician at age 15, say, could have practiced with for the canonical 10 years (to expertise) are family members - like brothers.

Directors, in contrast, tend to peak in their 40s or later, giving plenty of time to work with non-family members.

(Directors tended not to even make their first real film before their 20s because of the expense of anything but a short home movie; the earliest I can think of is Hiroyuki Yamga directing _Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise_ at age 24.)

OneSTDV said...

The brothers who wrote The Matrix (isn't one now a crossdresser?) should be banned from Hollywood just for those last two Matrix movies. I can't think of a bigger dropoff from original to sequel.

albertosaurus said...

You're missing a null hypothesis here. I believe that the hardware store down the hill is owned and run by a pair of brothers. This sort of fraternal partnership in small business is fairly common.

Before you start speculating about Hollywood or music brothers you need to consider brothers outside of the entertainment world. My guess is that the classic ghetto grocers - Chinese, Jews, Koreans - have the highest rates of relatives as business partners.

On the other hand maybe that's the common thread. In a sea of enemies, you gather your relatives around you.

BTW do the Wachowskis count as brothers now that one of them has converted into a woman?

Anonymous said...

Brothers are naturally better at singing together than random strangers because heredity gives them similar voices and nurture gives them similar accents.

Where harmonizing of vocals is important, brothers have a particularly strong advantage.

Testable implication: brothers are more likely in groups where vocal harmony is important than in groups where instrumental playing is more important.

Anonymous said...

You left out the Nolans (Memento).

Anonymous said...

How about America's own royalty, the Kennedys? There seemed to be a clear, progressive drop-off in quality with each younger sibling.

And how about all those nieces and nephews?

Anonymous said...

"Special bonus: They sing in distinctly British English (unlike most Brits who sing with an American accent)."

Can you substantiate that? I doubt you could ever find enough examples to constitute 'most' since your statement is patently untrue. It may just be that you have a tin ear for accents.

martians said...

The French group (born in D.C.) called Uncommon Men from Mars. They are twins--identical I think.

Anonymous said...

You also overlooked one of my favorite brother acts in the film biz, the Academy Award-winning composers, Richard and Robert Sherman.

sj071 said...

Dassler brothers, as in Adidas and Puma, a very good example of two brothers competing against each other, yet having a jolly good family Christmas.

sj071 said...

Sad tales of siblings rivalry do appear from time to time in mainstream media.

'At 56, Wolfgang is not so well known as the Berlin Philharmonic's famous conductor, Herbert, but to Austrian and Bavarian chamber music fans he is every bit his younger brother's equal.'

Equality for everyone.

Reg Cæsar said...

Brothers are naturally better at singing together than random strangers because heredity gives them similar voices and nurture gives them similar accents.

Maybe, but I can think of glaring exceptions. I praised the Cowsills above, mostly for writing charming songs, but their harmonies always sounded tinny, as if they'd come from a Paula Abdul-programmed machine. Why ensemble singing, of all things, would be the weak point of an otherwise talented brother band has always stumped me.

In contrast, the revolving-door Guess Who always produced harmonies that were tight and spot-on. They were not only unrelated, but a wild array of ethnicities to boot: Irish, German, Ukrainian, Scottish, Italian, "First Nation". The Winnipeg accent must have held it all together!

Perhaps the opposite is true-- brothers merely assume they sound good together, while total strangers have to think and work harder at it. A tortoise-and-hare situation.

Reg Cæsar said...

No one has mentioned the single most important pair of brothers in film history: les frères Lumière!