My Privilege, Snack-Cake Patriotism, and Why Hollywood is Bad for Liberals
5 years ago, I quit my high-powered, high-stress, high-maintenance career in the tech/entertainment industry and downsized to a “day job”, to focus on what I always felt was my true calling — to write novels.
About a week in I realized my new life was not going to be the writing montage from “Something’s Gotta Give,” and I am no Diane Keaton. The act of writing my first novel was (and still is) an endless slog of pain and pressure and apathy and ennui and emotional hand-wringing the likes of which I have never known, and this is coming from someone who has both run marathons and given birth.
I often read the advice of those who have been more successful than I, and one piece has stuck with me — do not talk about your writing while you are in the middle of writing. Do not talk about having finished your novel if you only have your first draft. Do not mention you are trying to get published if you have yet to receive even one encouraging reply from one of the hundreds of agents or publishers to whom you have sent hopeful messages.
Why? Because the very act of talking about it, the very act of telling even just one person and getting that brief, inevitable moment of satisfaction — a pat on the back, an admiring smile — is enough of a taste of success to curb your hunger for the real thing, and that will kill you drive. It is the less satisfying snack that spoils a delicious meal.
As I have wallowed in disbelief and disillusion since I woke up to an America I didn’t recognize on Nov.9, I’ve kept coming back to that idea, that concept of settling for cheap satisfaction at the expense of true victory.
I have been realizing that for too long I’ve indulged in snack-cake patriotism, at the expense of my country.
I’ve indulged in the America Hollywood and filtered media gave me, an inspirational and aspirational portrait of our culture.
Where Ryan Gosling, in whatever movie he’s in, can see inside the broken woman and love her desperately.
Where the young brown man from the slum can become a millionaire.
Where the girl no one notices with the glasses and braces can transform into the prom queen by letting her hair down.
Where the leads in a “Beaches” remake could be a black woman and a white woman who are best friends.
Where a slave can achieve victory over his master.
And we, unlike generations before, are so saturated in media and art and images on screens that we can find those moments everywhere and anytime with a click.
It’s all very satisfying. Even though we intellectually know it isn’t real. Even though we know that the work to actually make America live up to the hype is not done, it felt a bit like it was. Just like I know that the back half of my “finished” novel is a giant twisted pile of desperately-needs-to-be-edited mess.
I derived too much satisfaction from those flattering images. For many of us of us, they were enough.
And on Nov.9, I was harshly reminded that my America didn’t exist. We don’t live in a post racial world, even though I’ve cheered for a black president. We don’t live in a world where the poor can pull themselves up by their bootstraps, because most of the time they don’t have the boots.
The America of Hollywood and the liberal media is nothing but a fantasy of aspirations, dreams, and hope for what America can be. It is dangerous because it is so real, so powerful, so emotionally potent, that it killed my craving for the real thing. It was the drug given to a dying man to make him feel alive.
That America wasn’t enough for those who now occupy the White House, who rallied for Trump, who always said Hollywood wasn’t the “real America”, who never derived that bit of satisfaction, who never got the high from the drug. They were fighting, and I was too busy enjoying my fake patriotism to notice that they were about usurp America for real. They were right.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not Hollywood’s fault. It’s mine. I am the one who over-indulged in American Greatness as portrayed on screens large and small. Who allowed Facebook to serve up a filtered vision of America that ignored white anger, racial tension, and the unpleasant realities of poverty in America.
My blissful ignorance has been the ultimate indulgence of my privilege. Now, I’m immune to those small tastes of American pride, the samples of true justice served on my Facebook feed. I feel no satisfaction from them.
And that’s good. I shouldn’t. None of us should.
A lot of us are asking what’s next? We knitted hats, we marched, now what? We want to do so much more. We want to make a difference. So what do we do?
I go back to that advice about writing I ignored to my own demise. We should shut up about it, and do the hard, grueling, difficult work of making that vision of America come to life.
What does that look like? How do we do that? That’s a tougher question, but I have a suggestion.
We achieve our dreams, large and small, and then help other people achieve theirs, and we tear down whatever stands in our way. The most inspiring images for me from Hollywood were those everyday people just trying to live their best lives, who succeeded against the odds. Simple things are so incredibly powerful, and they add up. After all, the Loving’s just wanted to love each other, and Rosa just wanted to ride the bus in peace. And they changed America.
What will you do? Will you go back to school for that degree, like you’ve been meaning to? Will you tutor that child down the street you hear is struggling? Will you go volunteer at that shelter down the street, that you think about every time you pass it? Will you call your Congressman? Will you march, instead of tweet? And will you stand up to anyone who says that what you do doesn’t matter, doesn’t make a difference, won’t count?
And me? I should shut up, and write.