Living in the light of Hollywood


I was in Santa Monica last week doing ethnographic work for a client. In the course of an interview, one of my respondents said, “it’s all about attitude.”

He was commenting on suits. I was wearing one. He was not. He was telling me Californians don’t need suits to make an impression. They wear attitude.

CA has a symbolic economy very different from CT. (Break out the Pulitzers! Anthropologist reports breakthrough finding: CT and CA not the same!)

One of the important differences is that there is a very well marked elite in this system. At the top of the hierarchy sits anyone who is “recognizable.” This category sorts very finely, from the extraordinarily famous (Brad Pitt) to a face you remember from TV (“wasn’t he on that X-Files episode, the one where…”). In this world, merely having a face that has been seen before puts you in a special club and the first category…even if it leaves you a long, long way from Brad Pitt.

The second category is made up of people who might well be a very big sneeze in the larger scheme of things. They could be producers, power brokers, star makers, even. This group needs to let you know that they may not be recognizable, but that doesn’t mean they are obscure. Yes, sometimes membership is declared by an “S” class Mercedes but the rest of the time it is attitude that sends the message that this is someone to be reckoned with.

The third category is made up of people who are not players in the game. They are ordinary people with no status card to play. The good news? We, the witless bystander, don’t know that. The trick here is to summon enough attitude to create a shadow of a doubt.  We should look upon them and say, “wow, this guy must really be something.  He carries himself like Napoleon.”

The fourth category is people who cannot sell the lie. These are people working in restaurants or Starbucks.  There is no shadow of a doubt. This person is not famous and they are not powerful. Some of these people cultivate the anti-attitude. They cultivate pure self possession. They carry themselves with that air that says, “I don’t need your admiration, I have my own.”  Now, some part of us knows that these people would trade this self possession for even a little stardom without a second thought.  But we are nevertheless impressed. To be this close to the Hollywood game and to summon a counterweight celebrity, a self constructed stardom, this is not easy.  Some part of us is impressed by the sheer acting talent on display and we are likely to mutter, “this kid should be in pictures.”

The fifth category is people who want you to know that they despise the star system and the hierarchy it creates.  How do they do this?  You guessed it.  Attitude!  They use attitude to say that they don’t care about Hollywood or stardom, that they are glad that they are not famous, glad, get it, glad! Now attitude sends a new message altogether: f*ck you, buddy.  I’m a Goth and in that world, I’m a God.” 

Hmm, let’s review. It is all about attitude. 

6 thoughts on “Living in the light of Hollywood

  1. Tom Asacker

    Another good one, Grant.

    You know, there are simply too many subcultures to keep up with today. A few months back I shared the stage with Peter Guber and, prior to meeting him, I had no idea who he was. He’s simply not on my business cultural radar screen.

    Now, if it had been someone like a Grant McCracken!

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  4. Brian

    Ten there are the oblivious (Category 6).

    They don’t summon attitude; they don’t care for stardom — without a second thought; and, they don’t even despise hierarchy or the star system. They are just completely oblivious to all of it.

    They know the California symbolic economy exists, but intuitively, they also know it is unimportant.

    I meet them quite regularly. They quit California and move to Phoenix.

  5. CarolGee

    Grant, did you find yourself coming home and looking for signs of attitude?
    The California you describe seems so ephemeral. Seems like a suit might last longer.

  6. Grant

    Tom, you are too kind, sir. It is strange, though, that people can be such a big sneeze in some circles and utterly obscure in others. This is when disaggregation seems well underway! Thanks, Grant

    Brian, yes, the rest of us manage somehow to live without attitude. I have spend yesterday and today in Chicago and its clear that people are just vastly less preoccupied with this kind of thing. Thanks, Grant

    CarolGee, Oh, CT has its own guite tedious preoccupations, it’s that attitude well concealed thing that Yuppies like so well. Thanks, Grant

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