Recently, Will Smith in a Woman’s Day interview disclosed he has an “open” marriage. [Hat Tip: Dirty Harry.] Note that many of the female commenters on the link approved of the arrangement, with laughable ideas such as “jealousy is learned emotion,” nevertheless it’s fascinating to see Smith’s destruction as a movie star. All starting from this ill-advised statement … telling fans he does indeed act like a movie star in his personal life.
Just as fascinating was the recent interview with Eliza Dushku (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Tru Calling”) on how the concept for her new mid-season TV series, “Dollhouse” mirrors her life as a young actress in Hollywood. [Her character is some sort of clone who performs secret missions for a private company, then has her memory wiped clean at the end of each mission.]
Together, these two interviews show why Hollywood sucks. It has no middle class, and the people in charge can’t make movies or television shows that appeal to … the middle class.
Hollywood’s creative class is fairly incestuous. Far too many writers and producers come from the Harvard Mafia, at one point 10 of the 12 “Simpsons” writers were from Harvard. Many others are second, or even third generation Hollywood Writers, like Joss Whedon. These are hardly backgrounds that give people an understanding of middle class values and concerns.
Instead, Hollywood is dominated by concerns … of the upper class. Status competition, often hard left informed status competition, tend to dominate life in the Hollywood bubble, and dominate the projects it creates. As opinion writer Paul Campos put it, Hollywood’s creative people live in a Jay Gatsby world. It’s feminism, marxism, existentialism, all shaped by the need to get into that Kabalah class (because Madonna’s attending it) before the neighbor. The type of attitudes parodied by Larry David in “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Except in Hollywood, that’s not played for laughs.
Of course “Dollhouse” will flop like “Supertrain” and “Pink Lady and Jeff,” because while Eliza Dushku is a talented actress, her life is one that few people can relate to, or would have much interest in. Americans are only interested in Celebrities when they’re caught doing something stupid and/or illegal, and then Americans like to laugh at them. Most of America is Middle Class. They are interested in stories about (idealized) versions of themselves. Young women in and of themselves are not enough to make a network, let alone a show purveying teen-girl princess fantasies, profitable, as I wrote in my post “Gossip Girl and the Aging of America.” Given that “Dollhouse” can’t even offer a princess fantasy, (it’s an upper class “fantasy” of victimization, where of course the career travails of a Hollywood actress competing for million dollar paydays somehow makes one a victim, as opposed to say, being hacked to death by the local death squad in the Third World), the only question is how quickly it will be pulled. Or perhaps, just how bad it will be.
And of course, Will Smith is on the downward slide. Movie stars have to appeal to their own gender. Smith’s role has been the largely care-free, heroic good guy that appeals to America’s middle class men. They’re unlikely to be happy with Smith’s revelation that he’s more George Clooney playboy than family man, and America’s middle class men are likely to punish Smith by … not seeing his movies as much. For most men, struggling with declining wages and rising costs, the middle class family is something to be treasured. The hedonistic lifestyle of playboys like Clooney or Smith is simply beyond their lifestyle and they resent it and it’s practitioners. Clooney’s been box office poison in any movie without “Oceans” in the title, and Smith is likely to follow him down, bumping into Tom Cruise along the way.
But Hollywood’s nepotistic attitudes, particularly among writer/producers, keeps the focus inward. Instead of outwards, towards middle class values and interests. I wrote about Hollywood’s heroism deficit but it has a love deficit as well. Hollywood’s startling inability to tell romance stories, a few people like Judd Apatow notwithstanding, is the result of the inward focus on the status and power and wealth competition. Of course Smith has to reveal he’s a “playa,” and doesn’t care about his public image — he’s in competition with George Clooney for playboy of the year status and nothing else matters. Too much wealth, for too long, has made Hollywood indeed like spoiled aristocrats on the eve of 1789.
If the primary concern of storytellers is getting over the next guy, with the first Prius on the Block, or out-competing the playboy, or getting in that Kabalah class, then of course romance, which is above all a working/middle class concern, is going to be impossible to tell. When your true love is in the mirror, it’s hard to find room for anyone else in your heart. No wonder Hollywood sucks.