Believing in La La Land

I accept, right from the start, that what follows might upset some people. It may put me in a very small minority of people – it may even get run out of town. But it needs saying. I have seen La La Land, and I thought it crap! Now this is partly my own fault. I will openly acknowledge that I don’t like musicals. But, as it was advertised as a musical for people who don’t like musicals, as its music was supposed to be jazz (which I love), and as I have (once) actually liked a musical (Les Miserables) hugely, I thought it worth a try. I made a bad decision. As I sat waiting for two very long hours to pass I tried to work out why I disliked it so much, yet felt the complete opposite for Les Miserables. I concluded that not only did Les Miserables possess an emotional integrity, in as much as you couldn’t help but believe the emotions expressed to be genuine, but more importantly, it had a narrative worthy of emotional investment. The story was rooted in social reality. The injustices were real and worthy of my attention.

But what is there in La La Land worthy of emotional investment? The title of the film is an open reference to Hollywood. So why is that a topic worthy of my time? The Cambridge online dictionary suggests that to believe in ‘La La Land’ is “to think that things that are completely impossible might happen, rather than understanding how things really are”. Is this such a bad thing? Is a little fantasy harmful? Is it really so bad to leave reality behind for moment and be absorbed by the big soft blanket of fantasy? In this case yes. To believe in Hollywood is to believe in the American Dream, in the belief that no matter what your social background or ethnicity if you work hard enough you can achieve what ever you dream of. This was the message of the film. Hold firm to your dreams and they will come true. But this is a dream that is not only a fantasy, but one that is leading many people to high levels of unhappiness, dissatisfaction and feelings of injustice on the discovery of it being a fantasy.

In this context, the American Dream is closely associated with the dominance of global capitalism, and especially neo-liberalism. Here, the dream we are sold, via constant advertising, is that of buying our way to happiness. We are encouraged to dream of the ideal home, the car, the next generation mobile phone or tablet computer. We are enticed to strive for that luxury holiday. After all, we are worth it. The fact that we can’t afford it doesn’t matter. The fact that there are insufficient jobs paying the salaries that will allow us to live the lifestyles we see on television and in advertisements is irrelevant. We still need to purchase stuff. As someone (can’t remember who) has said, we need to buy stuff we don’t need, to impress people we don’t know, with money we haven’t got. And who is happier as a consequence of this madness? Well, the only people who I can assume are happier are the small percentage of people who are getting progressively richer – and I’m not even convinced of that. Over all, the levels of happiness are not improving. If anything they are getting worse.

A person with a critical attitude, a healthy dose of scepticism, not to mention an inclination towards realism, might interpret La La Land as a modern, establishment dose of what Aldous Huxley called soma, a little something to mask the reality of life and keep us all in our place. Because if one day, purely by chance, we did wake up from our dream and saw things as they really are, we might just feel inclined to do something about it!