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Saturday, August 16, 2008

As research for my political thriller, I've been reading Peggy Noonan's WHAT I SAW AT THE REVOLUTION. I'm on the other side politically, but Noonan is one of the great speechwriters of our epoch. She writes a heck of a book.

It's striking how similar speechwriters and screenwriters seem to be. I guess writers are writers. Speechwriters get no respect from the bureaucrats, of course, yet speeches are essential to governing; how else do people know the direction to go? Noonan wandering around the Washington Monument in the middle of the day searching for inspiration will seem pretty familiar to all of you.

Washington sounds a good deal like Hollywood.
At a party there were rules. One is that people are allowed to quickly turn away from you once they've determined you do not have any clear utility to them. If you cannot help them in their rise, if you are not famous or influential or important, or if you're important but not in their field, they will simply turn away.
And, like Hollywood, DC is a town that people break their balls to get into because they're passionate about things. But once they're in, they discover that it is considered uncool to stand up for those things. Yes, we want your passion. But we don't want you to disagree with our notes. We don't want controversy. Talking about a man who broke the rule of dispassionate vagueness in conversation:
Once he was invited to a dinner party with people of high repute in a splendid house with fine food. These people were the permanent Washington, Potomac royalty, the unchanging inside; they lived in a world of tacit assumptions and assumed understandings, a world in which it is de rigueur to talk about left-wing fanatics and right-wing fanatics, a world in whch when you call to RSVP, the person who answers always somehow makes you feel like a total yahoo. He wanted to be liked. The talk was of the day's events. Someone mentioned the big demonstration that had held up traffic for what seemed like hours, and a woman with pale hair explaimed, Oh those anti-abortion people, they're so awful!

And the man who was controversial said, Yeah, well, abortion's pretty awful too, don't you think, the ending of a life?

And as he finished that sentence he looked at her, and her eyes went mmmmmm-nice-to-see-you, and she looked away. He wasn't invited back.
Replace abortion, say, with "the theme of my movie is the tragedy of war, so no, he can't miraculously recover from his wounds," and you have the reaction of a bunch of studio types to a young, passionate director who will never be asked back.

Only the amateurs stay mad.
True in Ho'wood, too, with a twist. Only amateurs stay mad at people they worked on a hit with.

(Though you're not obliged to work with anyone whose knife is still in your back.)

Both worlds have new people showing up every day, of uncertain pull and power, that has to be constantly weighed and reweighed. You are only as valuable as your last hit movie; you are only as valuable as your last won election. Maybe, too, both politics and showbiz are about playing to an audience, and sometimes only a bit of the audience, only to a slice of a demographic. It is said that politicians all want to be movie stars and vice versa; maybe it's because they understand each other all too well. And that's how the Senator from Tennessee winds up on Law & Order, and the Terminator becomes the Gubernator.

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