As spring has progressed, I have made an exciting, insightful, and terrifying discovery; I live in a place popular for film shoots. It all started two months ago, when a film code named “Iron Side” was scheduled to be shot in my very own apartment building. Another movie had a shoot in my neighborhood later, called Animal Rescue, which apparently has Tom Hardy and other stars, and there have been shoots by Adidas. All in all, there’s been a film or photo shoot here for something very well known in my neighborhood — literally using the road in front of my apartment building and the surrounding streets — every week for over a month.
Having so much filming originally seemed like it would be amazing; who doesn’t want to live near the center of Hollywood action? Iron Side ended up being the phrase that the Spider Man 2 team was using so it wasn’t so well known where they were. But there have been issues, especially for myself and my roommates, people who live on the top floor of the building that apparently is the must-film location of the summer!
Spider Man 2 caused the first problems as soon as they began filming, because they filmed on my roof (AKA my ceiling). They started at about 6:30 AM and had no qualms with being as loud as they pleased. They slowly packed more and more stuff into my hall until they literally blocked my door that afternoon, because they had no idea anyone even lived there, and my friend had to tell them politely to make a path.
A few weeks later, I got home in the afternoon and decided to take a nap, only to discover that another, smaller movie was filming on my roof, this time with a chainsaw. Needless to say, my only solace was slamming pot lids together to irritate them (I’m so mature).
This last Saturday, Spider Man 2 returned to filming. The good news is they were not on my roof this time; the bad news is they were blocking off the street in front of my building since it’s apparently so photogenic, and they had taken all the parking spaces in a three block radius. When I made my way down the street towards my apartment that morning, a woman in a green coat with a radio asked me to move out of the road. I simply walked out of the road but didn’t acknowledge her, clearly a bit perturbed, but my boyfriend looked her squarely in the face and said that people lived here and she was disturbing them. She said nothing.
We left again a bit later for a walk around the park near my home, and when we returned they were still filming. As we approached my building the same woman was there, and, this time, with a little less enthusiasm, she told us that we couldn’t use the street. Again, I said nothing, and this time my boyfriend said less but made her aware, again, that she and the crew were an unwanted presence.
Throughout the day I watched them below me, and while I tried to remain passive I couldn’t help but let a bit of derision enter my voice whenever I thought of them. These people had come here, without my permission, without asking me, for their own personal gain; envy and hostility were pretty well warranted. When rain started pouring so much that a flash flood alert came up on my phone, and the film crew below scattered to the safety of their tents, I will admit I reveled in their misfortune a bit.
Later that day, I left for yoga and parted with my boyfriend. After I got back from yoga, I encountered a man blocking my street, because, much to my chagrin, filming had resumed when the rain subsided. He tried to stop me feebly, but I cut his, “We’re filming this way” short with a terse “I live here.” As I progressed, that same woman I had seen twice before was there again, guarding the street south of mine. As I passed she feebly asked, “Are you going to 135?” and I ignored her, not making a sound, my face a mask of ice.
It wasn’t until I got inside that my feeling of triumph was replaced by shame; her voice hadn’t had any edge to it, or confidence, it was the voice of someone who was defeated. The truth of, for every person like me — walking by without acknowledging her — there were probably people who verbally berated her for merely doing her job. She was just as innocent and irritated as I was. It wasn’t even the filmmaker’s who necessarily caused this; places like DUMBO offer incentives for people to film there because it makes them more exciting and can help local businesses. The people who own my building probably also got paid directly to have films shot here, and just chose not to inform their tenants or give them any breaks in rent despite making money off our inconvenience.
After hearing the dejection in that woman’s voice, a post that was meant to merely be a cathartic rant has become something I’m much more proud of; it’s a story of remembering that people are people. We aren’t all callous, and when we cause each other grief we generally do care. Those people who make the movies you love — or love to hate — aren’t above you, they’re just as susceptible to be put in bad situations as you are. The proof is in front of my home on a weekly basis. The problem is the people who don’t deal with this personally, who don’t see the people they inconvenience. In the end, lots of people end of being frustrated by an industry that, for all its apparent glamor, is slow, tedious, and trifling.
Despite all this, I think I could’ve forgiven them if I had been offered some ice cream, though.
This last weekend, I was at a convention for the company I’m interning at. The company? Just Food. Just Food is about providing urban populations with local food, primarily fruits and vegetables, with an emphasis on helping underserved communities. As you can guess, the convention was comprised of hippies (one teaching assistant poured me some water into a compostable bowl from a pitcher with the cut of a plant in it, and said, “we’re drinking to celebrate the passion and creation within all of us”) to upper middle class, older progressives.
The crowd, especially the latter group, reminded me of the stereotypical Californian, and a story I had heard but don’t really remember; apparently, my brother was ostracized as a child because he had been born and lived for four years in Los Angeles. See, in Montana, Californians are considered elitists — really, Californian elitists are a pretty commonly accepted group nationwide, but in Montana and the Midwest they are especially well known and despised, to the extent that a politician who drives a Prius (a “California car”) is at a disadvantage.
If Californians are considered elitist, than the people at this conference must surely be elitists, too; everyone there was concerned with waste reduction, fuel efficiency, renewable energy, etc. You know, the same things that Californians are.
In America, we hate the idea of the elite, to the extent that it came to be one of the main talking points in the 2000 election, with Al Gore being that elitist who harped on climate change and George Bush being the champion of guys you’d really like to go have beer with. And the idea of elitism is clearly not even directly linked to money, as Obama was smeared as an elitist even when facing off against McCain, who owned seven homes, 13 cars, and had access to a private jet.
What this spells out is simple: somehow, if you want to help those around you you are an “elitist.” Caring about people who aren’t your family, aren’t directly in your neighborhood, or aren’t a member of your church makes you a member of the elite. After all, why would you want to help those you don’t interact with?
I’m here to say something I am sure I will have to say many, many times in the future: empathy is not elitist. Wanting to protect the environment so that future generations don’t have massive, avoidable flooding, fires, and droughts is not something I should be stigmatized for. Thinking that all people should have access to nutritious food, potable water, and adequate shelter, no matter what part of the world they live in or how economically productive they are, is not something I should feel apologetic for. Thinking everyone should receive a basic education and be free to pursue a higher education if they so choose for free is not something that should earn me ridicule.
These things don’t make me elitist: they make me the exact opposite.
The fact that I think no one should suffer — especially not because of my actions — is not due to some noblesse oblige (the idea that people with power/wealth should take care of lower class people because they’re obligated to). It’s this little thing called I care about other humans. Ignoring people outside your community, your race, your social class, your sexuality — ignoring people at all for any of those reasons — that’s elitist. Thinking others should be fine on their own because you were fine on your own (assuming you actually were ever on your own) doesn’t make you a pragmatic fan of tough love; it makes you an apathetic jerk.
I want to help the poor and the uneducated so one day they are neither poor nor uneducated. I want a safety net that works better and social security that is constantly improving. I want an environment that continues to support both humans and the other species that exist on this planet. You think that makes me an elitist? Then you don’t know what it means to truly care about things that don’t directly benefit you, and that makes you among the most brazenly elitist people I’ve ever met.