Because I am a stranger in a country where I do not speak the language, a lot of my contact with the outside world comes from Facebook, and it is through social media that I catch wind of trends, sully myself in American politics, and learn what my friends far away worry and get excited about.

Recently, I’ve noticed that a number of pictures of grieving baby elephants and rhinos have floated past me in the never-ending torrent of images that is Facebook, and these always engender quite a viewer/reader response.  Surely there is someone out there who notes these trends, and in the search for a sure-fire show biz winner, is hatching a scheme to capitalize on the grieving baby syndrome.

What about a Bambi Hit Squad, a crew of killer filmmakers who mow down animal mothers in order to film their grieving offspring?  Dub a simple voice-over by an earnest environmentalist over ninety minutes of the melancholy antics of various orphaned baby animals and you’ve got yourself a sure-fire hit.

Just an idea, but it seems like such a sound one I wonder if there isn’t already a crew in the field already doing just this. If not yet, there soon may be.  Today there was another post, this one about grieving coyotes and wolves.


No matter where you are, everybody wants to be a movie star


I teach English at an academy deep inside the pampas of South America. My students are mostly upper-class kids who have smart phones. They range in age from sixteen to twenty-four. At our first class, I challenged them to tell me what they really want to do for a living, not what their parents or others want them to do, but what they want to do. They all confessed they want to become movie stars.

There is another teacher here, a bright local man in his early twenties who speaks such good English they made him a teacher (here, they have a hard time finding native English speakers, especially ones willing to work for five dollars per hour.) He’s quitting his job next week to move to Hollywood to become a movie star. Seriously.

I remember when I was fifteen my father asking me what I wanted to do with my life. I admitted I wanted to be famous. “At what?” he asked. I didn’t have much of an idea. I just knew I wanted to be a celebrity.

I remember my father was not pleased with my response. He thought it showed immaturity and latent narcissism. He was right.

Most people nowadays spend a frightening amount of time watching other people perform on Youtube, films or television. That’s in addition to the time they spend watching people perform in commercials. So it’s no wonder they want to be the one watched rather than the one watching, the one being paid rather than he who is paying. It’s a no-brainer. In the former case you’re hanging around in your trailer, hobnobbing with other celebrities and getting paid for your time like a third-world politician. In the latter case, you’re sitting in your basement or bedroom, watching other people simulate pleasure or excitement and compulsively eating.

So if we take the statement “I want to be a movie star” as a desire to the active rather than passive, a doer rather than a loafer, a burning desire to participate in the arts instead of as an admission of laziness and narcissism, then we can be less critical. Because let’s face it, we all secretly want to be movie stars, too.

Watching American Movies in Dubai

I’ve seen two movies in at the nearby cinema this week. The first, Zero Dark Thirty, was about the assassination of Osama Bin Laden. It involved the torture of many Arabs, and finally the execution of Arab men and women. I was watching this in a movie theater in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. Men and women in Arab dress sat in the theater with me. I must say I wondered how they felt seeing people who dressed and spoke like them tortured and shot by Americans.  The second movie we saw was Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino’s latest super-violent cartoon about slavery. The audience seemed to enjoy it, laughing at several points, even though they were probably reading the subtitles in either French or Arabic. The movie is set in 1858, in America, but oddly enough slavery was only outlawed here in 1962. In Hatta, near the border of Oman, less than an hour’s drive from Dubai, there is a tree under which African slaves were sold just fifty years ago.


The Author Relaxing At Home

The Next Hollywood (insert local reference)

The last two places I’ve lived, Chiang Mai, Thailand, and Dubai, UAE, have both claimed to be “the next Hollywood.” They’ve created commissions, done feasibility studies, and given someone of importance at least a part-time job soliciting film and television production. The local newspapers have dutifully reported the initiatives, and quoted experts saying that it’s only a matter of time that this comes true. But it’s only been a matter of time for a lot of places to become the new Hollywood. There’s no physical reason why film and television production needs to be headquartered there. The sunshine that was important in 1915 for film production hasn’t been necessary for quite a while now. And any kid with a three hundred dollar camera and a laptop can now make a pretty good-looking movie. But mostly they don’t. Mostly they log onto facebook and scroll through what their friends are talking about. Or they play video games.

There are only a coupe of hundred thousand people who make a full-time living in Southern California’s entertainment industry. The decision makers probably only number less than ten thousand. But their is a tremendous value in the networks they have created over time, and the fact remains that those networks of people who own homes and drive cars and support families are more important than the hardware or the occasional pretty face.

So everything seems to change but nothing really changes. If you want to work in movies or television, you buy a one-way ticket on that Greyhound bus to Los Angeles and get off when the driver yells “Hollywood Boulevard!”