Osama, Obama and HollywoodEditor's note: Voiceover, a new column by the editor of The Hollywood Reporter, premieres today. It will appear regularly in the paper.
The coal-black beard said it all.
Despite his reviling of Hollywood, and discounting whatever personal vanity, there's little doubt that Osama bin Laden has submitted to a media makeover.
Gone from his latest video were the telltale salt-and-pepper whiskers and the camouflage flak jacket; he did tense and hunch his shoulders, but then so does Larry King.
The point is, even in the wilds of Waziristan, where he likely is holed up, image is all. The verbal message from the world's most wanted terrorist hasn't varied a great deal from previous rants, but his look has been burnished.
Bin Laden may hate Hollywood, but that doesn't mean his handlers don't have to grapple with how to sharpen and spin that message to best effect.
In that one respect, Osama isn't that far removed from Obama. The senator from Illinois, Hillary Clinton and all the other presidential hopefuls have not only taken their cue from Hollywood but also paid to it and its wealthy denizens unprecedented obeisance.
In earlier epochs, it was left to the Jack Warners to telegraph their wants or their whines to Washington, and later to Lew Wasserman to pick up the phone and dictate his needs to the pols. The rest of Tinseltown remained insular if not downright ingrown.
But in our age of 24/7 newscasts and e-mail blasts, ever-proliferating and more sophisticated fixed and mobile gizmos, ever more complicated copyright and piracy issues and ever greater obsession with celebrity, the distance between Hollywood and D.C. has shrunk dramatically.
Moreover, the traffic now flows noticeably in the opposite direction. Not since medieval potentates made a point of traipsing to Rome to pay homage to the pope have so many powerful pols so purposefully made the California connection a priority.
The examples are piling up: Former senator and "Law & Order" actor Fred Thompson thumbed his nose at rivals duly debating in New Hampshire, choosing instead to unveil his candidacy that same night on Jay Leno; Barack Obama came west to bang his drum at a barbecue bash at Oprah's ranch; Hillary hobnobbed with Magic Johnson and friends in East L.A. on Friday. And there's still 14 months until Election Day.
What to make of all this?
Leaving aside the considerable money that can be mined on the West Coast circuit, association with media icons has become in our culture the most potent and resonant endorsement one can have these days.
Hollywood itself has ballooned from a physical place where thousands of the most talented creators on Earth rub shoulders with one another to become a global symbol of creative possibility. Not surprisingly, Hollywood is now right up there with Coca-Cola and Mickey Mouse as one of the most instantly recognizable words — dare I say brands — in the world.
What happens here — from the sublime to the ridiculous — gets beamed, uploaded, zapped, clicked, dissected, spun and spat out relentlessly, even as far afield as Waziristan.
And that's where we come in: As The Hollywood Reporter we partake of and reflect this symbolism, and we will be making efforts in coming months to expand our own reporting horizons, as the business of entertainment increasingly intersects with and impacts hitherto tangential fields and endeavors.
On Monday, we introduced a feature called Political Theater, which will chronicle and comment on the nexus between politics and showbiz.
In addition, one could argue that the connections with another center of power in this country, Wall Street, have become more crucial here in Hollywood than ever before. Not only are all the conglomerates (and many smaller players) now publicly owned, but an unprecedented number of hedge funds, private-equity players and assorted foreign investors are pouring coin into the biz.
As a result, we too are putting greater focus on Wall Street and the new money earmarked for Hollywood, with a conference called Money and Media on Nov. 7-8 in New York and a special report devoted to private equity.
And while the new Wilshire-Washington-Wall Street axis can be heady stuff, we also are committed to making the read not only insightful but also fun. Stay tuned.