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A Love Letter to Hollywood Part I

Dear Hollywood. You’ve been a bit beat up lately, so I wanted to remind you of your greatness and your purpose.

I love you. I love your magic. I love the movies, the glamour, the legends. You gave us The Ten Commandments and Gone With the Wind. You challenged us with Schindler’s List, 12 Years a Slave, and Saving Private Ryan. We cried, laughed, and cheered after watching E.T., Apollo 13, The Avengers, and Guardians of the Galaxy. We got a bit obsessed with movies like Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars. We quoted The Princess Bride, fell in love with late bloomers like The Shawkshank Redemption and Office Space. We wept openly at the ending of The Green Mile and spent our adolescence trying to have adventures like the kids on Stand By Me and Goonies. All of this was made possible by you, Hollywood.

But we need to talk, because you’ve lost your heart.

 

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Image credit: https://pixabay.com/en/hollywood-signs-hollywood-sign-1246529/

Hollywood, you wonderful, confused, beautiful, horrendous beast, you are suffering from the sin of nihilism. You’re all glitz and lights and over-zealous joy sometimes, but under that is a deep, deep sadness. Because you’ve achieved everything there is to achieve, sometimes selling your soul to get there, and life is still painful. This is why you’ve come to the collective conclusion that life is meaningless.

But you’ve got it all wrong. The money, the fame, the accolades; they are not everything there is to life. They are cake. They are fluff. They taste great for the time being, but then the sugar high passes, and you realize you’ve overloaded on carbs, and you feel bloated and empty and wanting that next high. That Oscar on your shelf, it’s cake. Enjoy it, yes, but take note of the empty carbs and find something of substance, because your nihilism is bumming me out.

All this other stuff, the sex abuse scandals, the dark and dirty underbelly of Hollywood, it can all be overcome if you realize that your purpose isn’t the aforementioned cake. It’s much greater than that.

Your purpose isn’t to make money. Your purpose isn’t to get an Oscar or a SAG award. Your purpose isn’t to save us from Trump, wars, guns, or scary conservatives. Your purpose isn’t even to “entertain and distract.” Your purpose is to take all the chaos and pain of real life and shape it into something meaningful.

It is a mighty purpose.

When you tell a great story, when you perfect the art you are creating, you tap into a vein that has existed since humans invented language. That vein is, in essence, the story of us, the story of humankind and the hope we have. That vein will carry every story or every form of great art into a natural conclusion, revealing a truth far greater than the narrow truth of Hollywood’s echo chamber. Your mighty purpose is to find that vein, plug into it, and give us a looking forward to that time in life when the veil is lifted, and we see there was always a grand and wonderful meaning to life.

But you can’t do that if you’re stuffing down cake and in the regretful, empty afterwards, worshiping at the alter of nihilism.

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The Celebrity Phenomenon

Bill Murray once said that no one should ever want to be famous. There are rewards in having wealth, but fame is not rewarding. Follow that thought with the movie Sunset Blvd, in which the desire for fame has driven Norma Desmond mad, much like Gollum chasing fruitlessly after something he’ll kill himself to get back.

Sunset_Boulevard_Ready_For_My_Close-upBy Paramount Studios (hd-trailers.net) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps it is not the loss of fame that is Norma Desmond’s problem, but the fame itself. Perhaps fame is something people love and hate. Having it is a punishment. Losing it is death. You’re never the same after you hold it in your hands, and there is no Grey Havens in which to find peace.

Perhaps this is why so many celebrities, who have everything most of us could ever want, are so utterly miserable, miserable enough to drown themselves in things that will lead them to an early grave.

It’s easy to believe they’ve been spoiled by all the attention and money, so much so that they can’t find happiness in anything but all that is forbidden. There’s some truth to that, a lot of truth, in fact, but it doesn’t paint the whole picture.

I don’t particularly like celebrities, and please (please) believe me when I say I don’t spend every waking minute overly concerned about the everyday goings on of celebrities. But people like to pile-on, and I’ve already complained in depth about the mob mentality. And nearly all celebrity gossip, speculation, and adoration is a form of mob mentality. We usually like someone–or hate them–because everyone else likes them or hates them.

The story of Tom Cruise’s claim that filming a movie away from home was like being a soldier stationed in Afghanistan created a firestorm. What 99% of the people outraged by the story didn’t realize was that he never actually said (or meant) that. But the mob’s attention is very, very short, so what it hears first is what it believes. And you can never change its mind.

Most, if not all, hatred of public figures is created in an environment where the first one to speak, to make an accusation or expose a misquote or cleverly edited interview, is given ultimate credence. The rumor spreads. The outrage grows bigger and bigger until said celebrity (politician, writer, journalist) is shunned by everyone. Their name becomes a curse, a name we spit rather than say. We like to think of ourselves as civilized, but we certainly haven’t evolved much beyond the villagers in The Scarlet Letter or the people who lined up to watch public executions.

These are human beings, for heaven’s sake, actual human beings with the same feelings, flaws, and insecurities we all have.

Yet this is what fame gets you. Like nearly every element of this broken, despicable culture, we’ve got it all wrong. We stupidly desire fame and envy those who have it. But fame is a Monster. It’s the mixed bag of having everyone know who you are but never knowing you. You become a reputation, an inflated, exaggerated characterization of yourself, but not a human being. And as much as you tell yourself and others–and post it to your Facebook status–that you don’t care what people think of you, that’s simply not true. We all do. And having a world of people thinking bad things about you would take thicker skin than most humans have. And celebrities, who are usually artistic and creative and therefore sensitive, aren’t all that gifted with having thick skin.

So maybe instead of calling Phillip Seymour Hoffman an idiot for throwing his life away, or even calling for the deportation of Justin Bieber, we should stop and consider that these are humans we’re talking about, flawed and vulnerable (spoiled, yes) humans – that how they experience life, how they live it and feel it, is different from how we imagine it, no matter how wealthy, attractive, and important they seem to us.