Thursday, October 1, 2009

Hollywood Survivor

Much has been made of Roman Polanski this past week as his wandering into Switzerland gave law enforcement the opportunity to finally drag him back to the US to be sentenced for drugging and raping a 13 year old girl when he was already a dirty old man some 30 years ago.

Naturally, the response from Hollywood has been mostly in Polanski's favor, with some even going so far as to suggest that Hollywood has superior moral bearings because it "has compassion", and thus its judgment should be trusted. One assumes they're referring to the fact that movie stars and directors give tons of money to charity and champion various charitable pet projects the world over.

But the thing is, Hollywood doesn't support charity out of some moral clarity given to them through their observance and interpretation of the human condition. Hollywood supports charity because they collectively have survivor's guilt.

Consider the millions of actors, directors, and writers who descend upon California searching for their shot at being the next big thing. Each of them is probably the prettiest or the most talented human being anyone from their little town ever met, and all of them have embraced the dream of becoming a superstar.

Unfortunately, when they reach Hollywood, they find out all too quickly that, while they were the star back home, there are hundreds of thousands of other people just like them all competing the same exact job. Now they have two problems: earning enough money to stay in Hollywood and distinguishing themselves from this crowd. For a few lucky ones, it's a simple matter of turning around and heading back home. For the rest, it's a series of moral and ethical compromises that will permanently scar them.

The rest continue to claw their way towards stardom. The ones that succeed, the ones that go on to light up our movie screens, are the ones who don't get duped into becoming porn stars, who survive their encounters with being drugged up and propositioned on casting couches, who manage to beg, borrow, and steal their way along until at last they earned their big break.

And suddenly, they're multi-millionaires. They're making millions of dollars to do what most of us would happily do for free. But their souls have been tarnished by what they had to do to get there, and they still have the memories of those who fell by the wayside throughout their journey to haunt them. The psychological burden of that is no different than survivors of other cataclysms and atrocities. Wracked by guilt for actually making it out alive, they seek to cleanse those sins by "helping" their fellow man, and more often than not, only succeed in once again being taken advantage of by yet another shark.

Similarly, it's no surprise they are not shocked and outraged by Roman Polanski's behavior. That kind of activity is standard fare in their world. Like some city-sized frat house, it's a tradition for the big shots to use and abuse the new talent, and for the talent, it's a tradition to silently take that abuse. To allow Polanski to be punished would be to betray the brotherhood, and more importantly, to throw open the closet doors and let their own skeletons tumble out.

So the next time some pretty face gets all misty talking about the starving children she's saving in Africa, consider that maybe her eyes are misting not because of her compassion for them, but in response to the memory of that first time she sat on a casting couch, nervously baring her charms to some man who said he'd make her a star.

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