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Ding Dong, The Witch is Dead

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Hollywood may have an affinity for youth, but
just like in the movies, when one of its sagacious elders decides to
speak,
oceans part and proverbial ears perk up...especially when said utterance
is
published in Variety. Several days
ago, soon-to-be-90 (that's 630 in Hollywood years) publicist Julian
Myers told a
Variety reporter that the WGA strike
would hasten the end of Hollywood. Playing the part of a sort of
Tinseltown Nostradamus, he voiced his fears that the stalemate is a
harbinger of
ill fates to come in the industry. He may be right. Maybe the writers
will come
to an agreement with the producers. Maybe we will return to our
regularly
scheduled programming. But...[cue ominous music and a voiceover by famed
film
narrator Don LaFontaine], Things will
never be the same again.

No one needs a press release to see the writing on the wall.
Hollywood -- in the grand
monolithic cultural sense -- has been on its deathbed for some time now.
Cheaply
produced reality TV is experiencing its Golden Age, and the public
seems more
fascinated by celebrity bungles like Britney and Lindsay's latest
antics, than
in the mysterious, living-the-dream Hollywood stars of the past.

The old hoopla, hoorah and panache of H'wood, from Charlie Chaplin,
Clark
Gable and Elizabeth Taylor, to Marlon Brandon, Marilyn Monroe, Paul
Newman and
beyond was, at its core, about inaccessibility, fantasy and being at
the top of
the hierarchy. Of course, the aforementioned had talent and made
oeuvres that went on to be classics. We
see small reminders of these larger-than-life figures today in the form
of
George Clooney, Johnny Depp, Leonardo Di Caprio and other actors
(pronounced ack-torrs) whose very existence -- and many
times integrity -- is a nod to the good old days.

But even the amazing craftsmen of the '70s heyday of
independent-to-mainstream cinema like Robert Redford, Robert De Niro,
Meryl
Streep, and Jack Nicholson were surrounded by it: the crown and curse
of celebrity.
This word, once more or less distinct from the terms 'Hollywood' and
'actors'
has become inextricably married to it -- for better or worse. And we all
know
there's nothing that the sensationalism-hungry masses love more than a
flashy
wedding...except maybe a down and dirty divorce. Celebrity is the magic
ingredient
that created the monster that is Hollywood today -- much to the chagrin of
actors
like Sean Penn and Warren Beatty (and of course the notoriety-hating
late Greta
Garbo). Cult filmmaker Kenneth Anger presciently tapped into a
phenomenon that
would later explode into an out-of-control epidemic in his classic book
Hollywood Babylon, chronicling the lives of the famous and infamous
in
1959.

To understand how this idea has propagated (leading up to its ultimate
downfall) we need to look at our nation's roots. When our settlers left
Europe, they left a world of monarchies behind.
They dreamed of a better life where everyone had a chance -- not just the
privileged few. Fast forward about two centuries, and our culture has
essentially mimicked the monarchy in its obsessive adoration of
celebrity in the
form of Hollywood stars. The irony here is that
reality TV -- the great equalizer, the one to democratize our culture of
celebrity -- came to us via the homeland, Europe
(i.e. shows like Big Brother from The
Netherlands, though we had our own wing of this in the '90s spearheaded
by MTV's
The Real World).

The timing of the reality TV revolution could not have been more
appropriate. If our goal was to -- as President Bush has yammered on
about -- spread
democracy, we succeeded on a low-brow level. We spread Baywatch,
Friends, The O.C., NYPD Blue, The Matrix, Spiderman
and so on to the
rest of the
world like a college student spreading v.d. And so, it was time for a
gift in
return, from a foreign land. The Hollywood Factor had already increased
its
influence tenfold in our domestic political scene. And its sway over
lifestyle
was spreading (and continues to do so to date) into frightening
territory: take,
for example, one kids' party planner in L.A. that offers a 'red carpet
arrival' for
your spoiled rug rat. Now that's what I call jumping the shark (or in
this case,
the guppy).

So, entertainment was open to an extreme makeover. And reality
television
was in the right place at the right time. Today, the market is
saturated with
low-budget shows of everyday Joes and Janes hamming it up for the
camera, eating
worms, competing to see who dates a rap star that looks like a pimp,
swapping
spouses, etc. As the writers' strike continues, reality TV, as the
official
back-up of the industry, is even more ubiquitous.

I'll never forget growing up in here in L.A. and having a Starline
Tours bus stop in
front of my house when my dad was watering the front garden. A girl
poked her
head out the window, camera dangling from her wrist on a chain and
asked him,
"Are you somebody?" My dad's
response: "I sure hope so." Now we have a nation of reality TV
survivors who
think they are somebody...and I guess
if air time is a measure, this is indeed the case. But what happens
when everybody becomes
famous? In my opinion, the White Noise Effect. Everyone's famous,
therefore no
one's famous. Fame, celebrity, the Hollywood dream have effectively
been
neutralized.

Possibly the saddest lab test in the whole reality experiment has been
the celebrity reality shows -- following their "private" moves from weight
loss
to re-hab. They have successfully, as was the case in the classic film
The Wizard of Oz, pulled the curtain
away from the Wizard with all his reputation, pomp and circumstance, to
reveal
just a small feeble man, so to speak.

Of course, you may say, look around, everyone's still obsessed with
Hollywood and
its denizens, don't you have eyes? My answer: just before the fall of
Rome, was the Empire not
rife with decadence, opulence and debauchery? At least that's what I
think I
learned from some Tony Curtis movie I watched late one night on TV.

Speaking of saturation, the recent-ish trend of televising every single
industry awards show is a bit much. The Oscars and Emmys were fun and
entertaining enough. But to be asked to sit through yet more ceremonies
replete
with of insider back-patting, self-congratulations and tears many times
over...
You would think these award recipients had cured cancer or were
developing new
clean fuels to help quell the energy crisis.

Most recently, the first major awards ceremony of the year, the Golden
Globes, proceeded lackluster like a press conference, sans writers.
Such programming glitches couldn't
come at a worse time as the death knell sounds for Hollywood as we have
come
to know it. Another sign of that double-edged word,
democratization? Appropriately, the parting shot might be: a group of
so-called common people using rope and brute force to topple a giant
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences statue of
"Oscar."

Read more about the strike on the Huffington Post's writers' strike page.