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THIS IS THE FIRST IN A SERIES OF ARTICLES ON THE CULTURAL RELEVANCE OF THE FILM LA LA LAND.
The phrase La La Land has two meanings, one is shorthand for the city of Los Angeles and Hollywood, the second “a fanciful state or dreamworld.” Both the movie La La Land and the terms two definitions directly apply to the current delusional state of America.
This past January, the film La La Land, which cleverly plays upon both definitions of that term, was nominated for a record-tying 14 Academy Awards. The movie, a fantasy-musical, tells the story of Mia, a young aspiring actress, and Sebastian, a struggling musician, as they navigate their relationship and the travails of life in Hollywood.
At its heart though, La La Land is really just another of Hollywood’s cinematic odes to itself. Like Narcissus falling deeply in love with his own reflection, Hollywood adores gazing at itself lovingly. La La Land is one more in a long line of movies that allows Hollywood to tell a story about how wonderful it is. From Show People in 1928 to Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain to Fellini's 8 1/2 to 2011 Oscar winner The Artist, and lots of movies in between, the film industry has a long history of rewarding moviemakers who spend time celebrating Hollywood’s favorite subject, itself.
The scorn heaped on Hollywood for its vain and congratulatory view of itself along with its eternal frivolity, is hard earned and well deserved. But don’t kid yourself, Hollywood’s brazen self-worship and facetiousness is just a symptom of a much more widespread disease of delusional self-love and un-seriousness that has infected the entirety of our culture. For this reason and others, I believe that La La Land is indeed the perfect film for our times.
To see an example of La La Land as both “a fanciful state or dreamworld” and an act of ludicrous self-absorption, one need look no further than our nation's capital. We have just finished two weeks of the Trump administration, and our current Narcissist-in-Chief and the odious press corps who hang on his every word, have shown an astonishing level of egoism and frivolity that is easily on par with their navel-gazing counterparts out here in Tinseltown.
The vainglorious Trump spent his first weeks in office arguing with the pompous media about the size of his inauguration crowd and the millions of people he claimed had voted illegally for Hillary Clinton. It was even revealed that Trump had pressured the Parks Service to find proof for his inauguration crowd number claims. The insidiously dramatic press covered Trump’s vacuous claims like they were Soviet naval maneuvers during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Meanwhile, America’s drone war continues unabated in the Middle East, the U.S. backed war in Yemen rages on and Navy SEALs murdered an 8 year old American girl with nary a mention from our intrepid reporters in the commercial media. If this isn’t La La Land, I don’t know what is.
Just like the film La La Land is an example of Hollywood’s undying self-admiration, the kerfluffle over the inauguration is an example of the virulent narcissism of both Trump and the media. A story so inconsequential as the attendance figures at an inauguration can only be relevant because it is serves as a proxy for the pissing contest between Trump and the media. Neither the President nor the press, gives a flying fuck about the American people, only their own self-interests. In a battle for egoic supremacy, Trump and the press corps have battled to a stand still thus far, but we are only two weeks in and this repugnant nonsense appears to have no end in sight.
Trump’s vanity and egocentricity were entertaining when he played himself on the Celebrity Apprentice, but in the role of President they are deeply disconcerting. At least with the film La La Land, Hollywood’s self-aggrandizing but whimsical nature will keep you occupied for two hours, but then you can leave the theatre and return to real life. You can’t walk out of Trump’s America, or away from his desperate and delusional self-worship and triviality, or from the cocky, puffed up, braggadocio he calls his foreign policy, or from the administration's fantastical claims of Iranian acts of war or imaginary massacres in middle America.
In addition to the bafflingly myopic egotism of President Trump, we have a rabid yet impotent press corps devoid of any interest in subjects of any depth or substance. A great example of this was a few weeks ago when President Obama commuted Chelsea Manning’s thirty-five year sentence for violating the Espionage Act. While watching cable news I witnessed segment after segment that discussed Manning’s genitals, Obama’s supposed compassion and even Julian Assange’s alleged vanity, but not once did anyone mention the most critical part of the Manning story, the war crimes that she had revealed. Talk about living in La La Land.
This is typical for our mainstream media, they only cover the salacious and insubstantial, like Manning’s transgenderism or Trump’s delusional inauguration attendance numbers, while ignoring or diminishing the more profound and morally troubling stories, like American war crimes, the Navy SEALs murdering an 8 year old American girl, and the continuing devastation in Yemen.
Hollywood, Trump and the mainstream media are all in the same business, the business of giving the people what they want. Hollywood deceives itself with a vision of its own magnificence with the movie La La Land, while Trump cons America with a revisionist form of utopianism with “Make America Great Again”, and the press deludes itself with self-serving grandiosity by thinking that they are all Woodward and Bernstein breathlessly breaking their own Watergate (and no doubt dreaming of who will play them in the movie!) with the inauguration numbers story.
The curious thing about Hollywood, Trump and the mainstream media is that they all loathe one another because they mirror back to each other their own malignant and delusional narcissism. When Hollywood rants against the reality TV star turned politician Trump, it is because he reflects back at them their own self-absorption and furious hunger for validation. When Trump rages against the commercial media it is because he despises them for mirroring back to him his own staggeringly deep-seeded insecurities and tenuous relationship with the truth. And the commercial media detest Trump because he echoes back to them their own asinine vacuity and superciliousness.
And even though we in the public would like to think otherwise, we are no better. We love Trump, Hollywood or the media for the lies they tell us, and for allowing us to live in our own “fanciful state or dreamworld”. Whichever one of the three tells us what we want to hear, they are the one that we will believe. Whoever tells us contrary facts, we will mercilessly label as a liar. What matters most is not the Truth, but that we are proven right. So we filter our newsfeeds to buttress our viewpoint and confirm our bias. We use cognitive dissonance in order to avoid any mental or emotional anxiety brought on by information that conflicts with our previously held worldview.
A brief look at the polls proves my point, Clinton voters cling to any and all stories that reaffirm the belief that the election was tampered with by Russia or the FBI. And Trump voters embrace any story that he tells them, from his claim of winning the popular vote to there being three to five million fraudulent votes for his opponent.
We have gotten the La La Land country and culture we deserve. Hollywood gives us the garbage movies we demand because we throw money at them to see one empty-headed sequel after another and then complain that no one has any original ideas anymore. We have the President we have earned because like us, he is a self-absorbed charlatan who sells the hungry public “a fanciful state and dreamworld” and yet we complain of fake news and living in a post-truth world. And finally, we get the media we deserve, a vacuous and insipid bunch of self-centered drama queens who entertain us with conflict rather than inform us with content because we prefer to be lost in the fantasy of La La Land than wake up to the stark reality of the cold hard world.
You can make fun of me, and my artistic compatriots, out here in the original La La Land for our delusional self-love and substance-free storytelling, but don’t kid yourself, the rest of America is just as deluded, self-absorbed and shallow as we are. Two weeks into the Trump administration, and we have all officially taken up residence in a Hollywood-esque La La Land, or fanciful dreamworld, where egomania, cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias rule the day, and Truth is a stranger in a strange land. Unlike in the contrived fantasy world of the film La La Land, in the real world, I seriously doubt we will get a happy ending.