Mark Reads ‘Moving Pictures’: Part 3

In the third part of Moving Pictures, Victor finds a job in Holy Wood. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld. 

If you spend any significant time in Hollywood, you start to see the same things over and over again.

I lived there for years, not always consistently, but a huge chunk of my life was spent in the neighborhoods surrounding it. The Buzznet headquarters are still in Hollywood on Sunset, and I was working in that building for about two and half years. My first boyfriend lived off Vine, just beyond Sunset Blvd. I couldn’t possibly recall how many shows I saw at the Henry Fonda Theater or the Palladium or the Roxy or Knitting Factory (before that one got closed down). I spent a lot of time being a big ol’ gay in West Hollywood. And I brushed elbows with celebrities, producers, big names and big egos, and a whole lot of assholes during my time there. I came into Hollywood mostly through the music industry, though if any of you have been following my writing online before Mark Reads started, you know I ran the Movies section of Buzznet for a year. My experience in that city was… storied? Interesting? Alternately exciting and traumatizing? It’s sort of hard to explain in one sense because that was a dense and busy period of my life.

And now I’m reading this, and IT’S ALL TOO REAL. I have met more Dibblers than I could count. I have met more aspiring actors who have developed permanent depressive slouches than I can remember. And I have seen long queues of wannabe stars waiting for an audition. Often, I’d see that on my lunch break when I was at Buzznet; the office was just down the street from such popular places like the CNN offices, Amoeba Records (I LOVE YOU DEARLY, I’M SO GLAD THERE ARE TWO OF THEM UP HERE), and the Arclight Theater. There were countless tiny production offices scattered liberally in the neighborhood, and often you’d see these queues snaking through the streets, pushed to the side on a sidewalk, full of people clutching their headshots, fidgeting nervously while they pondered whether or not this would be their big break. There are a lot of stereotypes and assumptions made about Hollywood, admittedly, and after spending many years there, it was weird to have most of them confirmed.

There certainly is a pull to the place, one that Pratchett’s Silverfish calls an “ordinary magic,” and I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a better explanation for this phenomenon. It’s so simple, so decidedly ordinary, and it grips people ferociously, inspiring them to move across the country or over oceans, all so they can rent overpriced and undersized apartments on Fountain or De Longpre, hoping to squeeze as close as possible to the premieres at Hollywood and Highland or get a glimpse of Bukowski Court. Have you ever seen those videos of the people who dress up as familiar characters and pose for photos with families and unsuspecting tourists on Hollywood Boulevard? Absolutely real. There are hundreds of them, and most of their costumes are a million times more terrible than you can imagine. (There’s someone who dresses up as Spongebob, but it looks like what would happen if Bikini Bottom was treated to a nuclear shockwave. That motherfucker gave me nightmares.) If you lived in the area, you learned to avoid Hollywood between Vine and La Brea because of the tourists. They cluttered the street, stopping at every fucking star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for a photo. They poorly tipped the baristas and servers at all of the restaurants along the street. They often walked six abreast, snapping pictures of every building, certain that they were capturing some sort of Hollywood royalty.

I spent a couple years after moving to the Bay Area shit-talking Los Angeles with practically every breath. It’s been nearly five years since I moved here, and I’ve gotten some distance from the toxic friends I had and the bad break-up I went through, and I miss parts of Los Angeles. I miss the routine of going to Swingers on Beverly after a show in Hollywood. I miss the look on people’s faces when I would tell lifelong Angelenos that there is a subway under the city and I absolutely took it to work that morning. (HOW DO YOU NOT KNOW THERE’S A SUBWAY? WHERE DO YOU LIVE?) I missed climbing up Vermont Avenue on my fixed gear, covered in sweat by the time I reached the summit, and then marveling at the (often smog-covered) view of the Los Angeles Basin from the Griffith Observatory. And I miss the food, y’all. Even in Hollywood, you were certain to get some of the best Mexican and Central American food imaginable. (Yes, there’s quite good Mexican/Central American food in the Mission in San Francisco, though I prefer the Fruitvale area in Oakland more. Less white hipster assholes. Unfortunately, gentrification is pushing many of these people out of the city, and we’re getting more and more places like this one. Because what San Francisco needs more of is definitely Mexican food for white people. But allow me to recommend the absolute best Latin American restaurant in San Francisco: Poc-Chuc, which combines Mayan food with Spanish/Mexican style dishes. It will fuck you up.)

I say all this because I don’t ever want to be the kind of person who hates Los Angeles for the sake of it. That city means a lot to me and was very integral in my development as a person. As a writer, too! (And not to say that LA. is without it’s problems, but I’ve experienced an exponential amount more of racism in the gay/queer community here in the Bay Area than I ever did in Los Angeles.) If I ever moved back, I would not live in Hollywood, though. At the end of the day, as fun as it could be to see movie premieres at the El Capitan or manage to sit behind Ryan Gosling or Charlize Theron at Canter’s Deli (THIS HAPPENED TO ME, I DIED), the city made me sad. That same pull that Pratchett describes here? The one that inspired Silverfish to pursue his dream or that caused Victor to finally want something in his life for the first time? It sucks you dry. I have seen more people fail in Hollywood and Los Angeles than I have in any other city I’ve lived in. There’s a pervasive trope about small town America and how tiny towns are full of people who are failures and never aspired to make it out of those places. While I totally understand the need to do so (as someone who desperately needed to get to a place that was more queer-friendly and not so violently conservative), I would suggest that Hollywood is far more likely to be host to this stereotype. Riverside, California, located on the fringes of the desert that stretches across a huge swatch of this state, felt very much like a lot of the smaller communities I’ve visited over the years due to this job. There was a local sense of pride, and a lot of families felt content to grow up there, raise there own children there, and rarely leave that area. Would I consider that a failure? No, not at all. It’s not for me. I need big cities. I need to live in places that don’t sleep.

So why is it that we associate so much failure with these locations? Aside from personal contexts, I think it has to do with what sort of dreams are acceptable to most people. The dream to make it big – something a lot of the unnamed characters in Moving Pictures desperately want for themselves – isn’t inherently irrational, but neither is wanting a family and a quiet life in a town that makes you feel like you can build a niche for yourself and those you love. But many of us validate and encourage the type of journey that sets people on the path to a life in Hollywood. Again, nothing inherently terrible about that. I’d be a hypocrite to say anything other than that. I am certainly pursuing a life where I can make a living being creative, and I know that this compels me to make decisions about where I live, who I get to know, and where I travel to. But you know what Hollywood doesn’t have?

A safety net. That’s why the other stereotype about Hollywood – that it is a place full of washed-up has-beens, that it’s where dreams go to die – is so pervasive. Is it true? I guess it depends how you view it. It depends on what the parties involved think of it. But the sadness I saw in Hollywood was inescapable. From the people peddling their terrible, mediocre mixtapes on Hollywood Blvd, to the desperate actors handing their resumes and headshots to anyone who will pay attention to them, it’s everywhere you turn. Of course, there are people who develop harmful coping mechanisms in order to dull the pain of loss and disappointment, and I lost one of those people to an overdose back in 2005. I know that there’s a tinge of humor to Pratchett’s use of the imps and lizards in the cameras and lightboxes here in Moving Pictures, but exploitation is everywhere in Hollywood. Racism is rampant, and that should be unsurprising to you at this point in 2015. Actors of color are consistently relegated to stereotypical roles; day laborers work ungodly hours for cash under the table, no health care, and no union support; women are underpaid relative to men; and don’t even get me started on the massive amount of exploitation and oppressive nightmares taking place on the other side of the Hollywood Hills, where the porn industry is thriving.

There are many brilliant jokes within Moving Pictures thusfar, but some of them hit close to home. I imagine that’s intentional on Pratchett’s part; I don’t think he designed Holy Wood to be coincidentally upsetting to anyone who can recognize the patterns and archtypes present. This is not telling us that films are terrible, that actors should not pursue their craft, of that the film industry should be wiped off the earth. While he certainly pokes fun at the absurdity of it all, there’s a muted melancholy here that I can’t unsee. It’s not ruining the book by any means, though. It’s making it better because I’m able to see layers into Pratchett’s worldbuilding. It’s funny, first of all, and then it reminds me of the time I spent living in what inspired Holy Wood.

It’s a weird place. And I’m pretty excited to talk about it more.

Mark Links Stuff

– The Mark Does Stuff Tour 2015 is now live and includes dates across the U.S., Canada, Europe, the U.K., and Ireland. Check the full list of events on my Tour Dates / Appearances page.
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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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