Posted by: HAT | November 12, 2014

What’s Indispensable

According to the creator, "an ungentrified block of Vine Street just north of Hollywood Blvd."

Not quite the view from our hotel window, but very close

Hi, Gang!

I am still thinking about Hollywood. Since Number One Daughter and I visited there last month, it has been on my mind a lot.

What I keep coming back to is how much work, by so many people, was required to produce the reality that allowed “Hollywood” to become a symbol of glamor, wealth, celebrity, and more than a trace of sexuality. And then, how much work, by so many people, continues to be required to reproduce that reality, and how much of that work and how many of those people are completely “ordinary” – in essence, work that takes place everywhere, and people anyone might be able to meet anywhere.

That idea is completely obvious – once a person begins thinking about it. Hollywood was not always “Hollywood.” There was a time when it was just real estate, and before that, a time when it was just empty territory that people – missionizing monks, colonizing Spaniards, People Who Lived There – passed through on their way to somewhere else. It took specific activities to make it into a place that could be associated with glamor and wealth and celebrity. In particular, it took the relocation of movie-making to the inland areas of California, a part of the United States that has something like 325 sunny days a year on average, a desirable feature when movie-making relied on natural light. (Being aware of this is what comes of listening to the audio tape on the double decker tourist bus.)

But “the relocation of movie-making” would have involved a lot of people. Movies are not the kind of thing that can be made by a solitary artist in a garret. (For that matter, even paintings are not the kind of thing that can be made by a solitary artist in a garret, without the rest of the building, and the rest of the city, with its canvas-and-art-supplies dealers, its cafés and wine-lists and the wine that goes with them, its boulangeries and the bakers who bake the bread they sell, and all that.) Movies depend on the combined efforts of lots and lots of people. Not even just the actors and actresses who show up on the screen, the directors, and the highly visible studio moguls. Not even only the 50 or so people listed in the credits, the small-print ones that people stay in the theatre for when they want to get to the name of the song they really liked: the editors and camera operators and art directors and set designers and costume designers and wardrobe masters and make-up supervisors and electricians and best boys and key grips and production assistants. Movies also depend on the many people who are not ever listed in the credits but who work on the set and the lot and at the studio and whose work – food serving and security guarding and street sweeping and letter typing (or, these days, word processing and emailing) and phone answering and schedule keeping and purchase order stamping and invoice paying and payroll check cutting – also indispensably goes into making the movie-making enterprise happen.

And this movie-making enterprise couldn’t go on for only one or two films in order to create “Hollywood.” It had to become a well-established pattern. For that to happen, the people who did all of those jobs had to live in southern California, for years or decades. They had to have all of the things that people have to have who live anywhere: houses and someone to have built them and banks to have loaned them the money for their mortgages, food and places to get it, and waste disposal, and fuel and light, and transportation: “infrastructure.” They had to have schools for their children, and teachers to teach in them and school secretaries and janitors to turn on their lights and wash their blackboards. Churches and synagogues and ashrams and zendos. Beauty parlors and barber shops and dental hygienists. The film industry didn’t become the film industry without banking and manufacturing and construction and retail and public utilities and education and health care and personal services. In other words, for “Hollywood” to come to symbolize what it symbolizes, a lot of ordinary life had to take place there, albeit shaped by, and shaping, the specialized context of a place where films were being made.

So, “Hollywood” means “glamor, wealth, celebrity, sexuality, and sun” because “the movies” are glamorous and star-studded and make some people rich and are filmed under palm trees. But the Hollywood that became “Hollywood” could never have been a place where the only thing happening was the making of films and wealth. A lot of ordinary life is needed to construct the reality of Hollywood that underwrites the meaning of “Hollywood.” Even in post-modernity, where “everything is surface,” there is this indispensable, implicitly incorporated background of ordinary life.

And then, there is the reading “side” of the symbol-making enterprise. “Hollywood” comes to mean all the things it means because people elsewhere, living “differently,” see from it and in it things they do not see in Chicago or Fargo or Cheltenham or Varanasi. And the differences are real – movies do film in Hollywood, at some point, and not so much in other places, “stars” do live in and around there in some greater concentrations, there are more ancillary businesses whose specialized-market clients and buyers are the makers and distributors of films, etc. etc. But then again, there are all those houses and builders and mortgage-loan-makers and schools and teachers and janitors and grocery store clerks and dental hygienists and drivers – cab, bus, tractor – all rather similar in their uncredited situations. Because, no readers, nothing read. No ordinary life, no readers.

There is no doing without ordinary life.

Everyone knows this. It’s so ubiquitous, so nothing special, it really goes without saying. Except that, because it goes without saying, it is infrequently said. And then, it is easy to get distracted, by the glamor, the wealth, the celebrity, and the sex. And getting distracted makes it easy to miss things.

(Last week was Number One Daughter’s 16th birthday. Fourteen and a half years of ordinary life, nowhere special, nothing special, just another day. It would be easy to miss this: what it took to get her to a place where she could “see the Hollywood sign” and have it mean something.)

Getting distracted makes it easy to miss things, even important things, even things there is no doing without.


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