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I went on the TMZ Tour

This is a picture of my cat, it has nothing at all to do with this post.

A few months ago a friend had made a joke about the TMZ Tour, a bus tour in Hollywood that has something to do with a television show about celebrities. I've never watched it so I don't really know, but the general idea is I guess they show you celebrities in situations that are out of context for the glamorous lives that they portray on screen.

I'd considered going on it at that time but it was fairly expensive. Back in December there had been an Expedia deal which allowed me to get $30 off the tour and I went for it.

After some delays I finally went on the tour today. Until about an hour before I left I didn't even know what the tour was. The FAQ suggests that they will show you [where celebrities eat, shop, live, and have fun] around Los Angeles. They suggest that perhaps you might see a celebrity while on the tour but they don't guarantee it.

As the copy suggests that celebrities are more akin to animals in a zoo than people, I posted about it on Facebook and used modified bullet points from the description of a safari I had found online.

TMZ Celebrity Tour Bus
 This stock photo that I stole from somewhere without permission shows the design of the bus, the windows have been removed so that the guide can stick their heads out the window and attempt to harass celebrities they may see "in the wild" and encourage them to come on the bus for a quick photo opportunity.

The host then submits this material to the television show and therefore the show and the tour symbiotically co-promote each other. It turns the public into roving gangs of paparazzi. I imagine that the people who watch this show fantasize about that sort of behavior and therefore the tour is a controlled and safe version of living out that fantasy.

An acquaintance told me beforehand that their friend would most likely be hosting my tour (and I believe they were) but I didn't say anything. I wanted to have the experience as a normal customer would. I lied and pretended to give a shit about celebrities, I also lied and claimed I was on vacation.

Parts of the tour were as you would expect. There was some build up about what an important neighborhood we were in as we passed my doctor's office, there was some discussion about how celebrities could be spotted at my gas station, etc.

The most surprising and interesting part of the tour was watching people on the street watch the bus. It was a combination of distaste with the bus, disappointment in themselves, and excitement that perhaps there was a celebrity nearby. It was very strange.

Aside from cold I wasn't really feeling anything until maybe 90 minutes in when we turned this corner and I took this photo

And then it just kind of hit me. I saw the city in a new way, the way outsiders see it. Perceptions of opulence and exclusivity that usually evade me. The constant jealousy and craving to be "rich and famous" which I lost when I was a teenager. I thought about the guide who seemed to be doing well for herself. She had this gig, appeared on this television show, and seemed to be genuinely happy career wise in the direction she was headed. Her career seemed like my worst nightmare. Obsessing over famous people and being an expert in who they were and the perceptions of their lifestyles. If you look at her and you look at me, she seems a hell of a lot happier than I do. So I don't know what to tell you, but it wasn't something I could ever do. Have you ever seen "Shock Treatment"?

It's a real movie person's movie. One of (if not the) best movie musicals ever made. It predicted the reality TV craze almost 20 years before it happened. The tour host (and TMZ in general) reminded me of one of the characters and subplots from the film.

Ironically it was made in the UK for Twentieth Century Fox during a writer's strike in Hollywood. I sometimes wonder if it wasn't self-referential in that regard, poking holes in the culture of Hollywood by making the film during the strike.

So anyway, the bus is driving around and I'm really getting a feel about how people dream about moving here and being rich and famous and living in a big mansion and just throwing punctuation out the window because when you're that rich who needs punctuation?

The bus stopped at a red light in front of the Henson studios. I used to say "hi" to Jim every morning on the subway. There was a poster of him at the station across the street from MoMA which I passed on my way to work. I used to have imaginary conversations with him every day about how life was going. I never saw him as a celebrity, more as an artist who was dead but whose work resonated with me throughout my entire life. This studio came about long after he was gone, so I didn't feel his presence there. I don't really see it as a sign of anything but I acknowledged it's presence. I began to feel very empty.

In the Uber home I felt like I'd just gone on a two hour vacation, even though I hadn't been much of anywhere.

I'd been following the R. Kelly debacle in which this new documentary successfully ran on cable about his alleged activities as a child molester which was followed by a spike in album sales and streams. I looked at his Facebook page and saw countless comments by men and women showing their support for him and claiming that the allegations were fake. I didn't see how this kind of mentality wasn't supported by the sort of tour I had just taken.

The obsession with celebrities is depressing and crazy. It is clearly the currency that matters most in my current city of residence, and I suppose that has a lot to do with why I have felt so un-grounded living here for the last two and a half years.

Unlike in New York where I wrote extensively about how dehumanizing and disgusting much of the tourist propaganda was, I felt that the TMZ Tour was surprisingly honest in it's portrayal of the culture. I didn't feel like anyone's life was negatively impacted by it unwillingly, I didn't feel like it interrupted the natural systems of the city (if anything it supported them strongly), and for that I felt like it was a uniquely legitimate tourist experience.


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