x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Egypt manages to dent Hollywood's habitual narcissism

Momentous events in Egypt have pricked the self-absorbed bubble of Hollywood

It's probably not news to anyone that Hollywood is filled with narcissists. We tend to see the world though a tightly focused lens. Everything that has an impact on us, our livelihoods and our industry is rendered in crisp, sharp lines. Everything else - everything, that is, that has no direct effect on us or our little corner of show business - is a fuzzy, indistinct blob.

In other words, we're not too different from the rest of the United States. Or, for that matter, the rest of the world. It's human nature to be self-centred, but the myopia is a lot more pronounced out here in California.

A couple of years ago, I was in a meeting with a passel of Hollywood narcissists - a couple of producers, an actor, a bunch of agents and managers and a writer (me), all of whom imagine the universe and its constellations in rigid revolution around themselves. One of us was reading a news bulletin from his mobile phone. There had been a plane crash that morning somewhere, and several hundred people had died.

"That's terrible," one of the agents chimed in. "So, was there anybody on the plane?"

There were hundreds of people on the plane, of course, but what the agent wanted to know was, were any of those people relevant to him? Were any of those people in show business or its ancillary markets? Was anyone "anyone" on that plane?

That was a couple of years ago. Since then, the rest of the world has managed to wiggle its way - a tiny bit - into Hollywood's consciousness.

I had lunch this week with a film producer I've known for many years. I got to the restaurant a few minutes early - well, honestly, I got to the restaurant exactly on time, but producers are dependably 15 minutes late, so "on time" counts as "early" - and I parked myself at the bar with a Diet Coke and watched the news on the television hanging near the bar. The television was tuned to a local channel, which was reporting with breathless urgency about a sitcom actor who was about to enter drug rehab.

When my friend finally arrived for lunch, I had caught up on all of the important news of the world: which actors were entering rehab, which films were moving up in the Oscar odds-making, which television shows were garnering the biggest audiences and which clothing designers had the most successful gowns on the red carpet of that weekend's award show.

My friend joined me at the bar for a moment, and then uttered a sentence you don't often hear in Beverly Hills, California. "Can you change the channel," he asked the bartender, "to Al Jazeera?"

Apparently, he and the rest of his office had been glued to Al Jazeera television all morning as the events in Cairo had been unfolding. In fact, he had a slightly dismissive tone to his voice when he asked me, "So, you've just been watching show business news all this time? You do realise, don't you, that Egypt is in turmoil?"

"Yes," I said in a small, chastened voice.

"Al Jazeera is all over this story," my friend said. "Totally kicking CNN's butt, if you ask me. And Fox News? What a joke. Thank God for Al Jazeera's English channel. Totally up to the second."

I nodded.

"I'll bet you aren't even following the Egypt hashtag on Twitter," my friend accused.

By that time, a sizeable crowd had gathered around the bar television. My friend was right: it was much better than anything available on American television. A lot of people - including my friend and I - elected to take their lunch in the bar area for a better view of Al Jazeera's live pictures from Tahrir Square.

The tiny, insular village of Hollywood - made up, as we all know, of the most self-absorbed and provincial princelings - was having its bubble gently burst by a foreign news agency, which until a few years ago wasn't even available to American television viewers. Agents, managers, producers, writers - we were all there in the bar of a swish Beverly Hills restaurant, joining the rest of the world watching Al Jazeera.

Every big world story is also a big media story. How we learn things about our world - who tells us the information, who shows us the pictures, who helps us understand what's happening - and especially who we learn it from are almost as compelling as the events themselves.

The first Gulf War in 1991 was the coming of age of CNN, its first big step onto the world's TV screens. The events in Egypt and the simmering unrest in the region, 20 years later, may be Al Jazeera's moment.

Sometimes, a different perspective on the world doesn't require getting on a 747. Sometimes all it requires is a few clicks of a TV remote control.


Rob Long is a writer and producer based in Hollywood