Christian Slater, playing the latest iteration of Hollywood executives' ongoing love letter to themselves
Matt Seitz has a piece in Salon that hits the iceberg tip of a much larger phenomenon. Ostensibly a review of the truly atrocious-looking new comedy Breaking In, Seitz instead turns goes in a more interesting direction entirely:
If you've ever asked yourself why so many TV shows and movies glorify people who strut around growling orders and insulting underlings and barking, "Think, people! Think!" and otherwise acting like insufferable jerks, you've never spent any time in Los Angeles. Hollywood is a dream factory run mostly by and for raging narcissists with power and money. Its mass-produced dreams are overseen by people who want to be constantly reassured that they're talented, sexy, charismatic warrior-poet visionaries, and that you can absorb such invaluable knowledge by being around them that the abuse they heap on you is totally worth it. That's why the preferred dramatic configuration of ensemble TV shows is the ragtag band of eccentric professionals (read as: creative types), led by a well-dressed, middle-aged boss who reflexively needles and insults people and throws temper tantrums and sometimes puts on an expensive jacket and sunglasses, hops in his expensive car or on his expensive motorcycle, and takes off for parts unknown without warning, forcing underlings to wonder where the hell he is and talk about him nonstop until he reappears unannounced and provides them with the final piece of whatever puzzle they were trying to solve in his absence. These shows exist to kiss the asses of people who approve shows.
The autocratic mentor-leader with no time for pleasantries is a masturbation fantasy of super-rich producers, directors, studio executives and network suits. The archetype keeps showing up on-screen because it's an easy way to stroke the ego of a boss who's not very smart or self-aware. ("See, the FBI team is headed by this handsome, mysterious, brilliant guy in his 40s with this young, hot girlfriend ..." "I like it!") Roughly a third of CBS' prime-time lineup and a lot of Fox's has a Hollywood boss surrogate as its hero, and pretty much every other network and cable channel has its own versions scattered throughout the schedule.
Despite their relative clout, the executives Seitz skewers in this piece are a relatively small subculture, ensconced in a small part of the world. However, they do have control over some entrenched, widespread media platforms.
That's an important possession, and it's why TV the world over gets blasted with magnified versions of a relatively narrow subculture. This isn't even some intentional cultural push: these particular egos, naturally enough, just think reflections of themselves are awesome.
It's not like aging Hollywood narcissists are the only ones who do this, either. Last year, Conor Friedersdorf wrote an excellent series on the cultural Tyranny of New York, and observed the following:
every week in San Francisco when the Sunday New York Times arrives at the doorstep or is picked up at the Starbucks, its readers get international coverage, national news, and a first rate national magazine, accompanied by a bunch of cultural commentary, slices of life, and other miscellany filtered through the lens of NYC, magnifying its ethos and crowding out the local equivalent.
The history of alt culture, from one perspective, is based on exactly this phenomenon, often spread further by tying to and infecting parts of the mainstream. Those parts, in turn, find sifting through exotic cultural movements useful for their own reasons.
Now, with the power of traditional media diluted, and new options available for those without a producers' means, there are some interesting possibilities that weren't easily available before. Could a subculture magnify itself intentionally?
Food for thought.