The Dream Refinery: Psychics, Spirituality and Hollywood in Los Angeles
This ethnography examines the relationship between mass-mediated aspirations and spiritual practice in Los Angeles. Creative workers like actors, producers, and writers come to L.A. to pursue dreams of stardom, especially in the Hollywood film and television media industries. For most, a “big break” into their chosen field remains perpetually out of reach despite their constant efforts. Expensive workshops like acting classes, networking events, and chance encounters are seen as keys to Hollywood success. Within this world, rumors swirl of big breaks for devotees in the city’s spiritual and religious organizations. For others, it is in consultations with local spiritual advisors like professional psychics that they navigate everyday decisions of how to achieve success in Hollywood. As Hollywood attracts creative workers, the longstanding spiritual economy in its shadow attracts spiritual practitioners from around the world, some of whom seek to launch high-profile spiritual careers for themselves by advising other dreamers in Los Angeles.
At stake is how contemporary spiritual organizations and media industries co-create mass aspirations that circulate globally and become lucrative projects in the pursuit of their fulfillment in Los Angeles. Taking up Hortense Powdermaker’s famous description of Hollywood as a “dream factory,” I call attention to the “dream refinery” at work throughout Los Angeles. Through attention to spirituality, I examine how mass-mediated aspirations become embodied by individuals and then made into local projects that can be refined, influenced, and transformed. Hollywood has long been closed for ethnographic access. My work shows that Hollywood and its global influence can be accessed through para-industries to Hollywood. In the shadow of Hollywood, many people and industries work on the dreams of aspirational individuals. By foregrounding spirituality in Los Angeles as a spiritual economy made up of interconnected industries, I examine the historical and contemporary proliferation of spiritual groups, practitioners, and professionals in Los Angeles. Tracking the work of professionals like psychics who work on the dreams of their clients, I follow the dreams and struggles of aspirational individuals in Los Angeles. I examine the consequences that turning to spirituality can have on dreams, the worlds that emerge out of imbuing aspirations with spirituality, and various forms through which spiritual industries appeal to aspirational populations. Based on longterm ethnographic fieldwork with professional psychics, spiritual practitioners, media professionals, and Hollywood hopefuls, my research examines the spiritual economy of Hollywood dreams in Los Angeles.
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