Movies, Weight and Hollywood’s Visual Culture (Vámonos Vol. 20)

People in Hollywood are seen more often than people from any other place in the world. The verb can only be “seen,” because movies were seen long before they were heard. The place and its primary industry still obsess over the way people and things look.

Hollywood may not be the movie and television capital of the world anymore (that title, according to nationmaster.com, has been claimed by India’s Bollywood) but, though Bollywood may make more movies, Hollywood’s movies are seen by more people in more places.

Other forms of entertainment are less localized, because authors and musicians don’t have to live where they are published. Musicians and authors don’t have to be seen. In this world of multi-media, authors and musicians are increasingly seen, but they don’t have to be. In Los Angeles, particularly in Hollywood, and particularly among actors, being seen is a huge part of the job. That job is so tied up with life in LA that “seeing and being seen” is a part of life for everyone, not just actors.

While sitting at a café with my girlfriend on a recent trip to Hollywood, a stranger started a conversation with me (the entertainment industry is full of extroverts). “Had any sightings?” she asked. We were tourists and sights are naturally things we would be interested in. She wasn’t citing sights, but who we’d seen.

Actors aren’t the only people who live in this visual culture. Twice, I was asked how much I weighed. As a young man of unremarkable physique (aside from height) I can count on one hand how many times this question has come up… in my entire life. I wasn’t talking to an agent or a talent scout; I was talking to friends and acquaintances.

One such friend had been told to get dental work for purely cosmetic reasons. Until that point, I hadn’t noticed his teeth and, consequently, I’m having trouble describing them. They were average, normal, B+, run-of-the-mill, maybe. Another friend told me that when she arrived in Los Angeles, she immediately felt she had to lose weight and then actually did lose weight. She says she feels out of place if she doesn’t wear make-up to the grocery store.

Another thing that strikes Hollywood tourists is the imperfect plastic surgeries. I am sure there are successful plastic surgeries I didn’t notice; people who may be 10 percent prettier than they might have been otherwise, but there also were a number of people who were best viewed from far away. As if they were in permanent costumes they couldn’t take off.

Plastic surgery is not a negative thing in and of itself but you should approach it like getting a tattoo–on your face. If you’re going to do it, make sure you are going to keep liking it.

Hollywood was great fun. I would happily have spent another three days on the beach playing Frisbee or eaten another three meals of delicious sushi. I’d even admit to being excited about seeing Miley Cirus at a little coffee shop. Also, it should be said, that the majority of people in L.A. and even in Hollywood, itself, are not actors or part of in the entertainment industry. But the effect of the film industry is so pervasive that it influences everyone. The visual culture may not be L.A.’s only feature, but the visual culture of the place was too widespread, too strange and too interesting not to mention.

You should go yourself and see what you see.