Hooray for Hollywood

A summer right out of “Entourage” confirmed my passion for “shallow” entertainment

Back in early June, I awoke one morning to the sound of dozens of helicopters swarming past my apartment toward Hollywood Hills. I feared the worst. It’s a terrorist attack and Jack Bauer is nowhere to be found. But no—turning on CNN, I realized this convoy was bound for Paris Hilton’s courtroom, because she was due back before the judge. (In case you missed it, her privileged butt was sent back to jail.) The news you might have overlooked that day was that Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was fired.

Many of my politics-minded friends, who gleefully spend their summers in the Washington D.C. swampland don’t quite understand my fascination with Hollywood. I’m accustomed to the general disinterest my passion provokes. But even if many such Institute of Politics (IOP) nuts can’t fathom a world in which most people don’t know who Alberto Gonzales is and why he resigned, the sad fact is that this is the world we live in. On the very day Gonzales resigned, most news stations focused on the dogfighting antics of Michael Vick.

After an internship with Creative Artists Agency, I’m confident that the entertainment industry is where I’m bound. But I occasionally still have a small feeling in my gut that this Paris-obsessed world is superficial. Yet the political world didn’t seem much better after a summer with the Justice Department last year. Call me crazy, but discussing the intricacies of which Senator is screwed (or screwing) doesn’t bring the same excitement as when my father and I can debate the merits of shows like “The Wire” and “The Shield.”

While I used to feel guilty about sharing my Hollywood dreams with Harvard students, who may not think it’s so cool I met Julia Roberts (as opposed to John G. Roberts ’76), I’ve realized that Hollywood is actually important—very important—to America.

The quality of a society’s arts and entertainment has always been hugely significant. From the times of Aristophanes to Shakespeare to Scorsese, a good society is one that’s well entertained. This summer Werner Herzog’s “Rescue Dawn” and the documentary on the war in Iraq “No End in Sight” reminded me of the power of film. One is a quietly methodical saga of a prisoner of war and the other is a bare-knuckles portrayal of just how much our government screwed up the war in Iraq. (IOP nerds might even recognize former fellow Barbara Bodine as a commentator.) And on the small screen, characters like Dr. House and a good-hearted serial killer named Dexter are compelling examples of what good acting and writing can produce.

These characters and stories matter because they are part of the rich cultural tapestry of a complex society. Can you imagine a world in which America had no common cultural reference points or amusing diversions? While I weep for a world in which Paris Hilton has more recognition than Sen. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), I can’t help but truly believe that we live in a culture with high expectations. Movies, television, books, and music—and the legions of people who bring them to you—challenge us in ways we don’t even realize.

And while my insular political friends might still scoff at the fact that I subscribe to “Variety” as opposed to “The New Republic,” I challenge them to think about what exactly their life would be life if Hollywood suddenly disappeared. No more gatherings for “The Office” or discussions about who’s more acclaimed: Kanye West or 50 Cent.

So call my passion superficial. Just don’t call it unimportant.

Jessica C. Coggins ’08 is a women, gender, and sexuality studies concentrator in Cabot House.