I am of the belief that the best trips you can have are those that make you think and reflect upon your own situation and the situation of others. For those who are self aware travel is the consummate – it forces you to think and reconsider things you believe in. Since returning from LA I am have been troubled by the notion of dreamers and their dreams. Whilst staying at my hotel I had the quintessential LA experience, my waiter or server as they call them over there was a part time actor and comedian and he was about to fly to New York for a 15 minute gig at one of their smaller comedy clubs. His specialty was observational comedy; he used his Lebanese/American background as the source of his story telling. It does seem as if every second person in LA is an out of work or underemployed actor waiting for the big break, a personal trainer waiting to have their own reality show or a writer who is hawking around their own sitcom. If you walk down to Venice Beach (a shithole – think a dirty version of Byron Bay) I am certain everyone working out at Muscle Beach Gym is of the belief that with a bit of luck they will be discovered and they will be the next big thing.
To the locals LA is known as LaLa land and it seems that is has always been that way. The invocation of go west young man as a statement of wanting to find a new and better life has changed tone. From my casual observation it is a very sad place because everyone wants to be someone else – they don’t seem comfortable in their own skin. It is also a place where the success of others is continually throne in your face. Each morning you are greeted by billboards advertising films or television shows that you are not in. The staggering success of a few cannot help but be jarring and at times soul destroying.
However, my feelings about what I observed and read whilst I was there are mixed. On the one hand you cannot help but admire those who pack up and move across the country in search of a dream, my waiter had moved from Florida to LA four years ago and is attempting to ply his trade in between bringing people me like dinner. This ability to imagine yourself as someone else with a different future is very powerful and not to be dismissed lightly. And I have to admit despite being terribly tarnished the American Dream is alive and well, it is the force that drives people to move in search of a dream. Some Americans are incredibly mobile in a way we simply do not understand. To go to university in the same state as you were raised is looked down upon yet here it is the norm.
For all their flaws and they are many I found the American desire to simply get things done refreshing. It was surprising the number of times I heard people say to me I can help you with that. Most often in New York a city that has reputation for being cold an impersonal but I found to be anything but. This is in stark contrast the attitude locally where it is almost as if people get in your way deliberately.
However, there is a cost to all this dreaming. After chatting to my waiter friend I did a bit of research as is my habit and I found out that in California there are at best guess 120,000 plus actors of which only 20,000 can claim to be actually working. That is they have had a single paying job in the past year. In fact the earnings of the vast majority of the population of actors are so low and inconsistent that the US Labour Bureau doesn’t produce yearly income figures. The best they are able to do is to offer a wide range of average hourly earning which range from around $8 an hour to $50 an hour. I would even posit that these figures are right shifted because of the gargantuan salaries earned by a tiny handful of actors.
Despite this incredibly harsh reality I am somewhat in awe of people’s ability to sustain a dream and to handle all the rejection that their profession can throw at them. I was told that a single generic bit part can attract as many as 7,000 applicants. Even gigs you would think to be paid extraordinarily well are poorly paid. For example Spencer Lacy Ganus who voiced Elsa in the animated movie Frozen was initially only paid $936 for her work. It should be noted that apparently Frozen has grossed over $1.3 billion and no doubt her low salary probably in some way makes parents who have tortured by having to view the film over and over feel better.
These performers or would be performers sustain their dream irrespective of what happens to them. Granted the majority will forever be consigned to at best being no more than a footnote in a film or TV show but they keep going, something sustains them and there is undoubtedly a lesson in that. This ability to continually imagine yourself moving forward is a powerful thing. My waiter saw his short trip to New York which probably would not have paid for itself as a stepping stone to something bigger. I come back to this notion of relentless forward pressure as being one of the cornerstones of success; each small movement in the right direction no matter how small is still a step in the right direction. It is possible that the dream may never come true but what is better, giving up on your dream and being something you are not or hanging and moving forward. I think I would prefer to be one of the people who continually tilt at windmills.