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People complain that we in the media expect too much of actors. That we ask them deep philosophical questions and want them to reveal great truths when they're masters of nothing but illusion. Why should we care what they think about life and the universe? Shouldn't we be interviewing, like, actual wise people?
This question came up the other day when I was having lunch with a genuine philosopher. He's a friend with a PhD, a ponytail, and a scraggly beard who teaches, like, rabbis. In short, he's dedicated his life to truth.
Naturally, we booked a table at Real Food Daily -- but lo, as they brought out the organic spring rolls, my friend had the gall to complain about how poorly he's paid.
"How is it that I spent 10 years in college and read about 20,000 books," he says, "but some 22-year-old actor who's barely read a book and only knows how to mug a camera, gets interviewed every day and makes a hundred times my salary? How is that possible?"
Fortunately, the Urban Man is ready with a detailed epistemological response.
"My friend," I say, "you philosophers are out of touch. Most people around the world now grasp that truth is a lesser thing than art, fact a lesser thing than film, and argument a lesser thing than song. Let me put it this way: when folks in L.A. talk about ‘the naked truth' we don't mean it as a compliment, we mean it's a fact not properly dressed for a night on the town."
He begins to laugh, but I raise a chopstick in warning.
"Seriously, truth is no longer among the average person's top three concerns, and the globally-desirable ratio of fantasy to reality has moved past the critical 50% mark. Most of our values now derive from screenplays and nuanced post-production. That makes L.A. no longer just the entertainment capitol of the world, but its philosophical capitol as well."
Now I'm really on a roll. "Spinoza might say we've reduced the dignity of man. Kant might say we've escaped our existential responsibility. But surely, illusion is far more enduring than truth. Truth is slippery and subject to change, while a DVD will last forever. Surely, then, you should learn from the people on DVDs."
"Don't pull my leg," says my friend, chasing a bit of cilantro around his plate. "I've listened to those interviews. Who cares about an actor's favorite colors, favorite dogs and latest romances? Who really cares about the thoughts of such shallow people?"
"Stop right there," I reply. "Doesn't their very shallowness demonstrate their greatness? Surely we need to comprehend their weakness as "normal" human beings, so we can learn from their disciplined ability to overcome the normal and appear iconically noble, passionate, or funny on screen. You have to admit that an actor's ability to fake astounding courage and wisdom has more of an impact on the world than any actual courage or wisdom. Without the efforts of Hollywood, we would quickly realize that love is brief, friendship uncertain, disease rampant, and aging inevitable. Illusion is not just more necessary than understanding, it has a longer pedigree. It's older than the oldest profession, as ancient as cave paintings and songs of victory.
"That 22-year-old actor you complain about, who demonstrates, for example, a really effective go-to-hell attitude, is worth more than ten Platos. He deserves not just a lengthy interview, but yes, a thousand times your salary...or mine. After all," reflects The Urban Man, gazing down along the relentless ugly scatter of La Cienega Boulevard, "Anyone can survive this town without truth, but no one can survive without attitude."
"Okay, okay," cries my educated friend, throwing up his hands: "I give up!" Then we both grow quiet as we sip our fair trade coffee and listen to the industry buzz roll into the restaurant like a loud afternoon fog.
Copyright © 2009 Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved.
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