Posted by: martinworster | March 10, 2006

13. HOLLYWEIRD

Weird Hollywood. A sign, simulacra and hyperreality

Like a few other LA attractions I found Hollywood to be ultimately disappointing. Probably due to high expectations and the fact that in the world of movies and celebritydom it has this mythical status. But the reality behind the image is quite different.

The main attraction is of course the sign. Just off Hollywood Boulevard there’s a vantage point where you can get a good picture of yourself grinning whilst the Hollywood sign is barely visible in the bottom left hand corner of the frame. How odd that a sign advertising the place has become the tourist attraction itself? An icon for Japanese tourists to stain camera film and eat up digital memory space. And that the sign itself is a perfect symbol of itself. Jean Baudrillard would – and did have – a field day here with his notions of empty self-reflective simulacras and hyperreality.

So the tourists come here and take pictures of a sign which is ultimately an advertisement for where they are. It is the perfect metaphor for tinseltown; images are captured on celluloid of something that is not real. It is also the perfect symbol for the cult of celebrity; frequently you don’t know why or what they are famous for and when you meet them in person you will be disappointed.

I read AA Gill describe LA as ‘a suburb in search of a city’ which perfectly encapsulates what LA is. Or in this case isn’t. Can you imagine going to a European city in which the tourist attraction is a sign with a name of the place? ‘Hey, everyone check out me by the ROME sign, isn’t that neat?’ It does say a lot about a city when this is one of the main attractions. Okay, I think I have got enough mileage out of the sign thing.

I ventured further into Hollyweird to the Mann Theatre, probably the second most famous attraction here. Outside buskers dress up as stars. Spiderman perches on top of a wall. A fraudulent Elvis impersonator with absolutely no resemblance to The King skulks by a phone booth. A wrinkled Marilyn Monroe look-alike who, if Norma Jean were still alive today and in her 70s, might just about be able to pass of some semblance. We see all the stars foot and hand prints. I can see that my hands are bigger than Judy Garlands. My feet are the same size as Jack Nicholson. I wander into a shop and stop myself from buying a t-shirt with the Hollywood sign blazoned across the front.

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