I spent most of my childhood in the Los Angeles suburbs where Hollywood was an ever-present force, constantly confounding the boundaries between reality and fiction. But more than just bumping up against the industry that made movie and TV magic, the good citizens of LA often got caught up in trying to live out the magical narratives that the industry was busy spinning. It often felt like anything was possible in Los Angeles…especially the impossible.
Of course, there were winners and losers in the game of spinning up, selling, and living out fantasies. As a kid in L.A., you learned a lot about the line between reality and pure fantasy the hard way. But this upbringing prepared me for grappling with life online as partial news reporting, deep fakes and social engineering have an increasing hand in driving people’s opinions and decision making. I now have two important tools in my toolbelt from my time growing up in LA:
An instinct for discerning between reality and spin doctoring
A deep knowledge inventory of movie plotlines to use as analogies for making a point.
This blog series will be dedicated to combining these two tools to help illuminate key issues facing us as these bad actors (see what I did there?!) try to manipulate our behavior to serve their own, selfish, unethical purposes. Allow me to demonstrate…
Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” depicts the main character, Rick Dalton (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), an actor who is trying to make his own Hollywood dreams come true. He’s talented enough to get to what he wants, but he’s a bit short-sighted in his focus and lacks a broader understanding of how the industry works.
Enter Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino). Marvin has made his career in the background, pulling strings. He sits Rick down for lunch one day and explains exactly how Hollywood is conspiring to manipulate his career for the benefit of others. It’s not a message Rick wants to hear, nor does he particularly want to make the changes required to reboot his career. But through a bit of showmanship and good humor, Marvin gets Rick to understand a bit about how the machine works, his place in it, and Rick is able to make decisions to get his career unstuck.
The internet is aiding and abetting
It seems today that the Internet has helped many of the most intoxicating and insidious elements of Hollywood metastasize. Only now the audience doesn’t need to collect at appointed times in theatres. Anyone with a laptop, phone, smartwatch, smart fridge, or navigation system in their car is the target of countless manipulators selling some product or narrative all trying to entice certain behavior choices.
Of course, the messages about online risks have been out there for decades. But people are often too caught up in responding to the stimuli to really take the time to understand how the environment actually works. Well, we all need a bit of Marvin in our lives. We need to receive messages about risks and the benefits of certain choices over others in a way that’s entertaining, that seeks to make us feel positive and hopeful as opposed to just frightened and exploited.