By Kevin D. Williamson
Monday, March 20, 2017
Los Angeles — “Black Range Rover!” calls the parking valet at Soho House in West Hollywood, and a row of tanned and unlined and well-tended faces with practiced, thoughtful, I’m-listening-to-you-really-listening-not-just-waiting-for-my-turn-to-talk expressions on them pop up and prairie-dog over the tops of their iPhones and squint, because this is a place where a lot of people drive a lot of black Range Rovers, and nobody is sure which is whose.
Hollywood has outgrown its red-car years and embraced its black Range Rovers, its muted grey German sedans backed up bumper to bumper on Westlake Boulevard, its conscience-clearing Teslas and — if you must have a little flash — BMW i8 hybrids. It has sworn off the late nights and the cocaine and the sort of sexual promiscuity that once made Warren Beatty feel obliged to issue a public denial of a report that he had slept with 12,775 women (“That would mean that there was no repetition!” he scoffed), and not only the celebrities but also the operators and middle managers and creatives and money-runners of the entertainment world have taken up politics and yoga (two young women waiting for their cars debate the merits of the various styles of yoga offered at the local $200-an-hour spots, kundalini vs. set-and-flow, Bikram having become both passé and, as one insists, sexist) and early meetings and politics and clean living and politics and the endless endless rows of juice bars down Hollywood Boulevard.
“You really need to think about whether your yoga practice is feminist,” one young lady scolds the other.
The bars host only a few sad Hard Rock Cafe–type Eighties-holdover tourists in Guns N’ Roses T-shirts who probably would be having a better time in Vegas, and one of Larry Flynt’s Hustler retail outlets is located next to a diabetes clinic, which seems apt enough, but the juiceries are jam-packed full of the same class of people you run into at Soho House, people who can really pull off that elegantly understated Californian thing, sober and gentle and groomed and clean and giving the impression that they were raised on diets of kale and heirloom tomatoes and cold-pressed beard oil and self-esteem, people who would never participate in baroque tax-evasion schemes (Return of the Jedi has never made a profit . . . for tax purposes) or trade sex for professional advancement or quietly tolerate the rape of children by powerful filmmakers or–
“Black Range Rover!” Scuffle, scuffle, scuffle, the Hermès sneakers shuffle.
Hey. Is that Lenny Kravitz?
The characteristic activity of Hollywood isn’t making movies. It is having lunch. “I want to give you a real Hollywood experience,” says my host, a longtime entertainment-industry observer. Soho House, a private club owned by Ron Burkle, is, like all establishments in Hollywood, judged by who is there, and judged maybe even more significantly by who is not here: “The horror of every establishment in town is being overrun by agents,” my host says. Soho House isn’t expensive, but they don’t have to let everybody in, either, and the club relishes the vague and opaque membership requirements that keep certain powerful executives out while their junior colleagues and nebulously employed creative types get in. Etiquette is an issue: Like most such clubs, it has rules about where you can use a telephone or do work. In deference to its celebrity members, the club has a strict rule against photography.
A private club for businessmen doing business while pretending not to do business: Hollywood has grown so bourgeois that it has reinvented the Union League.
“The thing you have to understand is the extent to which politics has come to dominate social life here,” says my lunch companion. “This isn’t a night-life city anymore. You’re expected to attend breakfast meetings. You’re not up late partying. And politics fills that role. You go to fundraisers and dinners. It has become central to how you live here now.” Constant politics means the constant use of politics for status-seeking, showing oneself to be the most sensitive, insightful, confrontational, etc. Everyone appreciates how well Meryl Streep’s political grandstanding at the Golden Globes went over. Harvey Weinstein took out a cynical ad in his Oscar campaign for Lion lamenting that, if Donald Trump has his way, child actors such as Sunny Pawar, star of that film, might not be able to get visas, because obviously what this is all about is the plight of child actors.
The ladies next to us ask for tea.
Hollywood’s more-clean-and-sober lifestyle has been driven in part by economics. This isn’t a town for people trying to make it — it’s a town for people who have it made. The days of a young dreamer from Iowa getting on a bus and waiting tables while spending a few years going to auditions and waiting for The Break are as dead as Warren Beatty’s chances of ever being asked to present another Academy Award. You can’t afford to do that here now — hell, there are a fair number of working professionals in the entertainment business who can’t really afford to live the Westside life, either. Increasingly, people enter the movie business the way they enter the book-publishing business or journalism: with help from Mom and Dad. “A lot of the people now come from money,” says my host, “and now you’ve got this new thing of people having parents in the business. You’ve always had a Carrie Fisher or two, but now you see a lot of the children of studio executives entering the business.”
Going into the family business. Selective clubs. A social calendar dominated by charity fund-raisers and benefits for cultural organizations. Tea with the ladies. You can blame Hollywood’s loopy liberal politics partly on its newly conservative lifestyle.
Warren Beatty’s Hollywood is gone, and politics is the new cocaine.
Nathan Schields, who runs the Malibu News Stand, has interesting business problems. “Yeah, sometimes customers come in and buy a newspaper and pay with a hundred-dollar bill, and I have to make change. They’ll walk in with this big wad of cash, like five grand, and I’m like, ‘Why do you carry so much cash?’” Schields, unfortunately, isn’t carrying a lot of cash out of the newsstand these days. He seems to be a pretty solid businessman — an older lady stops by and he brings her the cigarettes she’s come in for without even needing to ask — but the print business isn’t what it used to be, and Malibu is not a big reading kind of town. “This is an entertainment town, and we sell a lot of entertainment magazines,” he says, though there has been an uptick in the consumption of political literature since the election of Donald J. Trump, which has shocked and horrified the sort of California liberals who drink tea at Soho House or live in Malibu, and so the Malibu News Stand moves a few more copies of The Nation than it used to, which surely will be good news to Katrina vanden Heuvel when it reaches her in the Hamptons. Schields is all sold out of National Review. “We don’t order very many,” he says, apologetically. “We’re pretty liberal here.”
Schields has set up a GoFundMe page to help maintain his little island of literacy in the middle of all that sunbaked vagueness and vacuity, but he has raised only $1,795 of his $30,000 goal. He has four children, and his political views are more or less conventional 21st-century Democratic-party progressivism: He worries about health-insurance costs, and his is one of the families that have done well under the Affordable Care Act. “Our premiums had been going up 20 percent a year,” he says. “It was eventually going to mean not having health insurance.” He worries that whatever Paul Ryan and the gang are cooking up in Congress will put him back on the path toward being priced out of the health-insurance market.
But politics is never about policy. Politics is about people, and how we feel about groups of people who are not like us. What worries Schields about the Trump movement isn’t what’s going to happen with the tax treatment of carried interest in private-equity partnership, but the people. “I get worried when I see all this bigotry and intolerance, the racism, and the hatred. And I think you’re seeing more of that, now. Trump has empowered that.”
Trump represents those people. You know: them.
Down the street at the local Starbucks, where a white man with a long and wild sadhu’s beard and a saffron-colored turban (not Rick Rubin) is enjoying an afternoon cappuccino in paradise, an entertainment lawyer and a film investor are less gentle: “He’s a Nazi,” he says of Trump. “Steve Bannon is a Nazi. The people who voted for him are Nazis.”
Nazis. They are sure of it.
The Hollywood Left thinks the Trump element are Nazis, lunatics, haters, foot-washing Bible-thumpers with brown teeth and black hearts, and the Facebook friends of LA County for Donald Trump are here to prove them right.
Hollywood, too, can build a wall — a lot of them — practically overnight, and for that Samuel L. Jackson must be grateful as he gives the friends of Trump a slow, ironic wave and a satisfied smile from behind the blocks and blocks of fencing that separate those attending the Academy Awards from those who come to gawk at them.
The Friends of Donald wave placards and chant: “Hollywood, stop the hate!”
They chant other things, too.
“You suck! Your movies suck! You’re boring! You’re all going to hell!” This old guy has been flipping the bird at the arriving celebrities for so long that he has worn himself out. He has now jammed his hand up through the chain-link fence, so he’s kind of hanging there by the wrist, but he is not retracting that middle finger until the last B-lister in the back of a Chevy Tahoe has rolled through.
The protesters are ugly and brutish and angry and more or less everything the Hollywood Left believes the Trump element to be, desperately wants them to be, and maybe needs them to be.
A bearded foreigner in a snazzy suit and an ivy cap walks by, and a man with an amplified bullhorn begins screaming in his face, maybe four inches away. An elderly woman turns to join in and scream at him: “You want our Christian boys to fight your wars! You want our Christian boys to fight your wars.” She is in a frenzy, and he, an Englishman not used to hostility from Americans, is confused. He is just on his way to help set up an after-party. A woman wearing a hijab comes down the sidewalk. More screaming: “Mohammed was a pedophile! No sharia law! No sharia law!” A young Latino man working at Mel’s Drive-In, wearing a little retro paper counterman’s cap, comes out to see what the ruckus is all about, and the crowd turns on him, too: “Build the wall! Build the wall!”
“Dude. I was born here.”
Inside the Dolby Theater, the scene is a great deal more subdued. A few political statements are made, with Gael García Bernal insisting that actors, too, are “migrant workers.” The Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi declines to attend. But there is nothing like, say, Marlon Brando’s stunt with Sacheen Littlefeather in 1973. In fact, with the exception of Jimmy Kimmel’s opening monologue, no one even deigns to speak Trump’s name. But he is there in spirit, and part of what he stands for is outside, chanting and making obscene gestures, angry and vulgar and full of resentment.
Them. Those people.
And while President Trump talks a great deal about “winning” while his Hollywood critics talk a great deal about their concern for the struggling and downtrodden, it is obvious which side here represents the people who have won in life and which represents life’s losers.
Sure, your yoga practice is feminist. But is it feminist enough?