“Where is Hollywood located? Chiefly between the ears.”
The idea of manifest destiny has pulled people across the US for more than a century. Of course, the kind of manifest destiny I’m talking about has almost nothing to do with the original usage of the term, which was employed to convince people that America’s expansion should proceed from coast to coast, unimpeded, because something called Providence gave us this whole great continent to fuck up, so hey, why not? In slightly more veiled terms, though, this idea persists: if you grow up in America, there are two places where Dreams Come True™: New York and Hollywood. New York is the gritty one, Tony Kushner’s “melting pot where nothing melts.” New York is “real.” Unless you live anywhere between the two coasts, that’s real America, and if that’s your perspective then New York is just Sodom.
And then there’s Hollywood. Way out west (not on West End Avenue), where manifest destiny was supposed to take us in the first place. For all of the shit that Hollywood gets, particularly from New Yorkers, there’s a persistent, niggling idea at the core of the place that says, however improbably, “Yes. Come here, make it happen. I am waiting for you. I have enough sunshine to make Miami blush.”
As someone who has wanted, for years, to write television, I am instructed at least once every week to go to Hollywood, since that is “where the work is.” Nevermind that some of my favorite shows come out of New York, not to mention the huge popularity of a recently-cancelled crime procedural about someone named Lauren Order that I have never really been that into. Why don’t I simply move out west, these well-meaning friends ask? Why don’t I break my lease, abandon my friends and boyfriend of three years, leave a note for my entire family in Massachusetts and catch the next flight to LAX? Sure, I’ll have to couch surf for a month or two while I get my bearings and find a job in an industry that is already notoriously full to bursting, but why not? I’m young! I’m virile, not that it much matters!
“Because,” I tell these people, “that is a terrible fucking idea.”
So I have stayed in New York, working with great people at larger and larger creative companies (a pioneering internet festival, casting, advertising), living the life of a young college graduate in the late two-thousandsies, which is to say “getting laid off several times.” Two months ago, in a fit of job-related frustration, I opened Google Maps and zoomed, at random, to a spot in the US to determine where I’d flee if my life in New York fell apart. The internet equivalent of stopping a spinning globe with a shaky finger. I picked, seemingly at random, Hollywood, Florida. Which I’d never heard of before.
I joked with friends that if my job didn’t work out I’d finally pack my bags and head for Hollywood. Because, really, the odds were that I could start over just as effectively and completely in Florida as in Los Angeles. Plus, Florida is on this coast and the weather is just as nice! And tons of mini-golf! What was I waiting for?
As I began to poke around on the web for more information on Hollywood, Florida, I discovered that there are close to twenty places in the US with this peculiar name. How did they all come to share it? Which was first? Does the totemic cultural signifcance of the word “Hollywood,” so big that they wrote it on the side of a hill, extend to people living in Hollywood, Louisiana? Is it a poind of pride, saying you’re from Hollywood, Oregon? Or is it a cage and a trap, setting strangers up with an expectation that you live a life that you don’t live at all, perhaps in an industry that bores you to tears?
I want to find out. And I want to share the answers to these questions with other interested people. I know there are other interested people because when I explain the project to friends (and strangers), when I ask them how they feel about Hollywood, they start talking about Los Angeles, the sun and the trees and the film industry, and when I ask why they’re talking about Hollywood, California instead of Hollywood, Texas, their faces change shape, and I see a something spinning into action behind their features: curiosity.
And then, of course, they tell me they’re talking about “real Hollywood,” which I have to explain doesn’t mean anything. None of these Hollywoods are less real than any others. They’re all full of stories, and I want to capture a handful of them, as many as I can, and give them to the world.
How? Well, I’ll be documenting the trip extensively with photographs, writing about it daily on this blog, and (most importantly) recording interviews with people I meet along the way: Hollywoodites I meet in the street, town historians, and hopefully even a mayor or two. I’ll podcast these interviews and the stories people tell me as I go, and once the trip is over and I’ve returned to New York I’ll be cutting the interviews and my experiences together into a long-form audio documentary.
What is the link that binds these places, other than a name? I don’t know. And I won’t know until I’m on the road. Not knowing excites me, and I hope it excites you, too. Maybe that’s why Americans have been going west all these years: to understand what’s out there, on the horizon, and find out what holds it all together.