Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Happily Ever After?: L.A. as Fairy Tale

HOLLYWOOD, to some, is very much like a fairy talke But aside from the fairy tale fad popularizing itself in Hollywood, I have been thinking about how Hollywood is a fairy tale in itself. But not the typical fairy tale with the initial problem solved by a happy ending, but rather the protagonist’s struggle to reach a happy ending and the struggles they encounter along the way - the real fairy tale. As Younger notes, fairy tales are short because “plots turn on a dime and often end in happily ever afters,” which is what everyone searches for when they come to Los Angeles - for their lives to change overnight and for their happily ever after to greet them with ease. But there are also the gritty undertones in fairy tales, specifically in Sondheim’s “Into the Woods,” which is a modern take on the original fairy tale which characterizes the desperate need for wish fulfillment in fairy tales. This desperate need is something I believe is also very prevalent in Hollywood and in all of Los Angeles. In “Into the Woods,” the main characters open the play with the song “I Wish,” in which they each sing passionately for their far-fetched wishes - Cinderella wants to escape her stepmother and stepsisters and go to the royal ball, Jack (from “Jack and the Beanstalk”) wants money for him and his mother to live more comfortably, Little Red Riding Hood wants to go into the woods to get to her grandmother’s house, and the Baker and his Wife wish for a child. And let’s not forget the villainous witch’s wish, the ultimate Hollywood centric desire, to become young and beautiful; and she is willing to give up her powers as well as her reign over her daughter (who happens to be Rapunzel) to gain youthful beauty. These don’t appear to be far-fetched wishes, just like moving to Los Angeles and capitalizing on its opportunities does not appear to be far-fetched, but the problems the characters experience come from not understanding what they wish compared to what they need.

When I moved to Los Angeles, I had no idea what the difference was between what I wanted out of moving to the city and what I needed out of it. What I wanted was to make new friends, have a fun and enriching college experience and become successful in whatever field I chose to go into. What I needed was to gain independence and become comfortable living on my own - yet since I didn’t understand that, I still relied heavily on my parents and on my friends from home to help me with the transition. I desperately wished to go home as often as a I could to regain comfort, but that hindered me from blossoming on my own and learning to support myself. Los Angeles was a scary place to me when I first moved here, an entirely new environment - I was literally going “into the woods.”

One of the key phrases in the play is “we had to lose a lot to win,” and each of the main characters abide by that phrase. Cinderella’s stepsisters mutilate their feet to try to fit into the glass slipper to be with the prince, which is reminiscent of the plastic surgery and even just the amount of make up that is so prevalent in Hollywood and the belief that morphing your body to fit a certain mold will make you happier. Even though each girl fools the prince for a short time, he soon realizes they have mutilated themselves and aren’t who they claim to be, which can be likened to the shattering of images in Hollywood to reveal who people truly are - images can only fool you for so long. There are a multitude of lies and deceit that come along with wish fulfillment, and the entertainment industry is the ultimate place to try to fulfill far-fetched wishes of fame and fortune.

There are also vicious battles in the play involving romance and fidelity, with men wishing for the most beautiful princesses and once they wed them only wishing for younger and what they perceive to be more beautiful women - essentially, always wishing for what they cannot have, what is beyond their reach. To always wish beyond your means is not a realistic thing to do, but for many in Hollywood, it is a way of life. There is nothing wrong with a little bit of adventure and trying to achieve your highest dreams, but when the risk surpasses the gain is when the adventure loses its worth. “Into the Woods” shows us that there is risk that comes along with adventure - the characters all get what they want but they are still not happy and instead continue to desire more. Perhaps this is because they didn’t understand what they really wanted in the first place, which was to be comforted and content. In the beginning, the characters relied on too many things, and I believe when people first come to Los Angeles they rely too much on their expectations instead of allowing themselves to grow on their own.

“Into the Woods” defies the typical “happily ever after” ending of most fairy tales and has a more realistic ending - a compromised and complicated one, which is the truth of what people will find in Hollywood as well. The characters had to “lose a lot to win,” and the only ones still standing at the end were the characters who had to lose the ones they depending upon in the beginning - the Baker lost his wife, Little Red Riding Hood lost her mother and her grandmother, Jack lost his mother, and Cinderella lost the prince. Only at that point do they realize that what they initially wished for was not what they really wanted at all - they were just wishes beyond their means, but they realize this too late, and the consequences of wishing for too much have already occurred.

I am not saying that people should not expect a happily ever after by moving to Los Angeles - in fact, I think everyone everywhere deserves their own happily ever after, and if they wait out their personal growth instead of forcing things to work out in certain fields, or forcing their bodies to change, or forcing anything for that matter, then they will gain what they truly need. The characters in “Into the Woods” had to lose the people they felt as if they needed in order to grow psychologically, and I think that is also a big part of living in Los Angeles. When I first moved here, I depended very much on my parents and my close friends to comfort me during the tough move. I was reluctant to reach out to new people in this entirely new environment, and if I had given in to my deepest wish to return home to Northern California, I would have done it and I would not have experienced the growth I have after living here for two and a half years. But in order to do that, I needed to trust that I could handle my new surroundings on my own - I needed to grow individually before I was able to experience Los Angeles and the opportunities it had for me, and two and a half years is only the beginning of that growth. And it’s true that adventure has risks, but those risks are necessary in order to progress, as long as you understand what it really is that you’re looking for.
While Hollywood franchises and brands the enchantment of fairy tales, the people living in Los Angeles are dealing with enchantment and wish fulfillment issues of their own, and what people are truly looking for is comfort and contentment in this big city.

-- Jordan Younger

1 comment:

  1. Love the post Jordan. I am a huge fan on Sondheim and very familiar with "Into the Woods" but I love how you tied it into the city and you did so beautifully. It really makes a lot of sense and I see all of the parallels you drew and even more. Very well written observation!