I stumbled upon this new music video from Jared Leto’s band today, which is sprinkled with fairly candid interviews with some of Hollywood’s most interesting characters (Kanye, Lindsay, an apparently famous porn star, Ashley Olsen, etc.). The song itself is not my cup of tea, but I love the video and what it reveals about America. My favorite part is probably a tie between Kanye riffing on his favorite aspects of Los Angeles (say what you will about him, but his voice is like a really great cocktail) and Selena Gomez, randomly, speaking frankly about all the different ways she’s been perceived. “People take their frustrations out on me,” Kanye points out, pretty astutely summing up our celebrity-crazed culture. Why else are we so concerned with trivial matters such as berating celebrity weight gain, if not because we’re so consumed by the potential fluctuations of our own physiques? The video raises questions about how flawed our perceptions are: of ourselves and of others, of what’s worth fighting for (fame? recognition?) and what’s not (fame? recognition?). It highlights the mass of contradictions that our country encompasses: as a whole, we are both deeply insecure and wildly overconfident.
I’ve always found Los Angeles, and California in general, to be a much more exciting place than the oft-revered New York City. Perhaps that’s proof that familiarity breeds contempt, and that NYC simply lost its overarching appeal for me by way of being so prevalent in my childhood and adolescence. But I’d like to think that it’s a little deeper than that, and that even if I grew up somewhere far from NYC, I’d still have a softer spot for Los Angeles.
A few friends agree with me on this, but most shake their heads in something like disgust, wondering how I could be so enamored by a land known for artificiality. That’s such an easy conceit, though, one that I’ve found to be largely feeble as the basis for an argument. Artifice, anyway, is everywhere, especially in New York City, where I’ve found that people try much harder to hide their put-ons, arrogantly asserting that New Yorkers are simply more real, more interesting, and more artistic than any other populace on the planet.
Bullshit abounds in Los Angeles too, of course, but there’s a freakiness to it all that has always felt less covered up to me, and thus more fascinating. Someone gets botox in New York, for instance, and lies about it (heaven forbid people realized your truth), whereas someone gets it in LA and discusses it over dinner with their friends. People get weird in LA in a way they don’t in NYC. In New York, I think, a greater proportion of people are headed towards a few select ideals that have ballooned into being, somehow, the most appealing.
Los Angeles, to me, is much more a microcosm of all the different corners of America, with every type of character to be found. The health-nuts, the hippies, the hobos, the druggies, the drunks, the writers, the actors, the CEOs, the yogis, the detectives (no, not just in Raymond Chandler novels), the religious zealots, the artists, and so on and so on. Hollywood itself provides such a vivid snapshot of American values, for better or for worse. This video highlights those values, and there are undertones of a less-than-pretty reality to the concept of our much-lauded American Dream. But there’s still the sense that it’s worth it, even if the trajectory is one of ups and downs. If you push yourself hard enough, it will pay off, the video seems to say, which might be an illusion, but it’s one that has become pretty essential to our survival as Americans. Without dreams, what are we working towards?
Perhaps it is not that Los Angeles is inherently better than New York, but that it has more to say about our country, that its landscape reveals the achievements and the downfalls much more readily than the behind-closed-doors realities of NYC.
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