02/21/2007 02:40 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Authenticity and Negative Space in Beverly Hills

Beverly Hills, once a dreamy, semi-glamorous little village, is now merely the creaky world capital of the inauthentic, a sort of dying brand-name of a city, with some bloated hotels and shops and cafes for slightly tatty looking Milanese transplants to talk soccer and drink macchiatos. One avoids the place if one lives in L.A., but it's good for functions, (i.e. benefits and fund raisers for politicians) and has a sort of totemic, legitimizing quality. For the rich and semi-rich who attend political events there, it offers easy ingress and egress -- it's most salient selling point; the valet parking is efficient and the hotel kitchens can roll out chicken and salmon without killing the donors. It's a perfect place to be unimpressed by those seeking office.

Last night, at the invitation of Misters Spielberg, Geffen, and Katzenberg, a few hundred Hollywood stalwarts gathered to hear Barack Obama make his first local case for the presidency, for which one paid $2,300. The scene was a medium sized ballroom at the Beverly Hilton, a few hundred yards from Trader Vics and the abandoned IM Pei building where CAA used to reside. There was some obligatory turkey and there were some funky crab cakes, and lots of lawyers, writers, studio-executives, and various other hard to excite citizens of the dream coast, including Norman Lear. The crowd seemed to me unmoved, frankly. It felt like a group that had shown up obligatorily, as though for a dentist's son's Bar Mitzvah. Barack seemed a little tired, to be honest. His speech was earnest, boiler plate. There was the bit about the country being ready for change, and there was the bit about his own trajectory from organizing for a church to presidential hopeful. He didn't try and knock it out of the park -- he had come from a much bigger event earlier in the day, which from all reports, had been stunning, and besides, selling yourself in L.A. can take it out of you -- ask any writer who's flown in for a pitch meeting about the enervation that sets in when you face the suits to sell yourself. I sensed in The Candidate a kind of reluctance to put on too much of a show for the rich, and I kind of respected him for it, though I was hoping for a touch of Jay Bulworth via Jimmy Carter in '76, at the Beverly Wilshire, hectoring the well heeled, or the playwright in me was?oh well. Maybe later. It's too soon in the season for that, isn't it?

But there was, for me, one riveting tiny moment, a little throw away bit of improvisatory freedom discernible in his stolid dialectic; a beat with the easy grace of a Gary Cooper moment from a fifties movie. Mr. Obama quietly and modestly declared (and I paraphrase) words to the effect that he had no doubt that he had the strength and stamina in him that it takes to get elected, but he couldn't do it alone. He needed us. And more than any politico I've seen in years, I thought that was quite literally true. And I'm not sure he's gonna get us. Because he does exude an undeniable and riveting authenticity, even when tired, even when running his number for the good burghers of BH 90210, and it stands out in the negative space of falsity and ritualized bullshitting that defines most modern campaigning. He's the real thing, and the question is -- is it his time, as he claims, or is the entropic pull of American inertia going to obliterate the desperate need for leadership in this county? Will the authentic be heard, can it be heard at all today? He does need us, but the odds are against him, and he knows it, and maybe that's why he seemed tired.