The Hollywood Writer

Over spring break, I found some time to catch up on some of my favorite TV shows, something I never have time for while school is in session. I also started watching a new show – new for me, at least, as it’s been around since 2007 – called Californication, starring David Duchovny as Hank Moody (and if you watch Sex & the City, Hank’s agent is played by Evan Handler, Charlotte’s husband). While I was home over break, I managed to watch close to 15 episodes (don’t judge, they are all less than 30 minutes long).

I think one of the reasons I fell in love with this show almost immediately is because its protagonist is a writer. Hank Moody is pessimistic, self-loathing, brutally honest and loving, and simultaneously hopeful and disappointed as the show progresses. Movies and TV shows centered around writers as protagonists are not rarities in themselves, but hardly ever do we successfully see beyond the pessimistic façade and into the intimate, personal lives of these writers in such depth. Appropriately, this show happens to be extremely well written.

What’s the flaw here?

Unfortunately, this show couldn’t be any further from reality than Star Wars.

Hank Moody writes one novel, and becomes an overnight sensation. A young girl steals one of his manuscripts, publishes it, and likewise experiences overnight fame. The two writers live in architectural paradise in the richest corner of LA. This never happens, or it happens so rarely that it’s not even worth debate.

Perhaps this is what makes the show so successful: people want Hank’s life (Hey, I wouldn’t mind becoming rich and famous just for my writing, would you?), so the writers of Californication decided to capitalize on this writer’s fantasy that undeniably appeals to the majority population of non-writers as well.

But this begs the question: why does Hollywood (specifically, Hollywood writers) get the real-life writer so wrong?

Not all male writers are as attractive as Duchovny, and I would guess that most would disapprove of his seduction techniques (namely, picking up 16-year-old girls by reading his own books in a local Borders). Furthermore, many real-life novelists are successful and prolific writers, while movie or TV novelists are almost always blocked (or complete failures).

It’s clear that the life of a writer remains one of the few mysteries that Hollywood has yet to truly unravel.

4 thoughts to “The Hollywood Writer”

  1. Hollywood is quite interesting, huh? I find it fascinating to see how they can convince people that David Duchovny is a successful writer. And make him look “sexy” too! How do you think these kinds of portrayals affect writers? Or even those who read certain writers? When I took a class at the Washington Post this past semester, my professor–an editor at the paper–talked about how he feels pressured into appearing on cable news programs and contributing to other blogs. In a sense, journalists and writers have to immerse themselves into the visual media. Do you think this is right? I enjoy seeing newspaper journalists appear on the television programs I watch. But should they maybe focus their time on what they do best–write? I’m not sure.

  2. Your post reminded me of another TV writer, Rick Castle on Castle. He is portrayed as a suave, wealthy individual, who spends all his days solving crime and other related hi-jinks. Whenever I watch it, I can’t help but think: When does this person actually write? Moreover, this portrayal hides another truth about writing. Writing is hard and takes discipline- it’s not just about being creative and imaginative. I think writing is often glamorized because it is perceived to be more accessible than the other arts. Painting, dancing, and playing an instrument all require readily apparent skills and years of training but writing? Everybody learns to write; thereby it can be an opportunity for anyone to become an artist and have a rich and glamorous life, like some artists at the top of their fields have. However, this portrayal often ignores the difficulties of the publishing industry; it is very hard to get published and it is just as hard, if not more so, to make money off of writing.

    Yet at the same time fiction writers and journalists are the most “public” professional writers, compared to people who write research papers. They have wide audiences. Do they owe them something for their support? On the other hand as well, Andrew Sullivan is very out there with his opinions- is writing just one facet of him trying to get his ideas out?

  3. As some of the people that influence us most throughout our lives, it is interesting indeed to take a look behind the pages at the man or woman writing the work. We are curious to see and learn about the people who are responsible for imparting on us a wide range of emotions, knowledge, and adventures. It is possible Hollywood has portrayed writers in such inaccurate and spectacular ways due to the intensity of the bond we build with our writers. We are so appreciative of the time we’ve spent with them we hold them in very high regard. Maybe the writer becomes sensationalized because of the sensational experiences we have all drawn from them at one point or another.

    For some writers, this portrayal could not be more off the mark. I think a good example is Ernest Hemingway; he has my adulation for the stories he’s told me and the lessons contained in them. After reading “The Old Man and the Sea,” I’d love to envision him a high roller like the writer from your show–he deserves it. If you look at Hemingway’s life though, and the way it ended, what a different and tragic reality it actually was. It is amazing that some writers and artists too can give so much to others, helping them learn about themselves and the world, while they themselves struggle with their own lives. It comes as a shock to us to learn of their inadequacies, tribulations, or shortcomings due to the special place they hold in our hearts.

  4. Your post really got me thinking. I mean, we all know that hollywood writers and producers tend to glamorize almost any profession you could ever be interested it. For example, I am a biology major (with the hope of someday going to medical school) and I refuse to watch shows like Grey’s Anatomy for precisely this reason. Whenever I talk about becoming a doctor, my friends will often bring up the possibility of me finding my own Dr. McDreamy or Dr. McSteamy…but let’s be honest, when was the last time you ever heard of an attractive, head of neurosurgery (or plastic surgery) under 40? That’s right, it doesn’t happen. This, unfortunately tricks a lot of people into picking a career that is simply not right for them, however I find the fact that hollywood writers are glamorizing their own career to be quite ironic. There’s a very slim chance that any of the writers of that show have lived a charmed life, like that of the writer in “Californication”…so why make people believe that they do? To make money, I guess…another unfortunate truth about our society.

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