We live in a fantasy world where everything is tailor-made for us. Social media and search engine algorithms track our habits and present us with carefully calculated content. We’re given the keys to “unfollowing” those we want to remain connected to online but never want to see anything from. Advertisements speak to us, popping up on our phones when we say a few keywords in a room where an Alexa is silently listening. And every night during prime time, a well-dressed pundit filters news in ways that agree with our sensibilities. This phenomenon is as much a collective event as it is a unique, individualized experience.
The revelation here isn’t that we’re all living in our own bubbles. It’s that we’re becoming Norma Desmond, the fading Hollywood starlet of Sunset Boulevard. Like Norma, the world is beginning to revolve around us. Everything that’s carefully calculated and customized is subtly worshipping us, and eventually, we won’t be able to tell if that fan mail in our inbox is real or just the work of Alexa, our in-home servant who always remembers to fawn over us. We’ll be out of touch, aloof, and isolated, stars and starlets of our castles, waiting for the day that Cecil B. DeMille calls to offer us another starring role.
But waiting gets us nowhere. The director of Sunset Boulevard, Billy Wilder, knew that. In his early days, he moved from his home in Vienna to become a tabloid writer in Berlin. In 1929, he made the leap to German cinema as a screenwriter. And as the nazis rose to power in 1933, Wilder, an entertainer of Jewish descent, knew that waiting could get him killed. That year, he moved to Hollywood, which proved to be a career move that would solidify this upcoming filmmaker as one of the greatest directors in the world.
In all of his travels, Wilder never shied away from meeting people of diverse backgrounds and perspectives. These chance encounters informed his storytelling abilities and led to his many Academy Award-winning classics. Whereas Norma Desmond, arguably one of his greatest cinematic characters, forced herself onto the world, Wilder let the world shape his features, and it shows in his wildly varied library of works, ranging from the light and tender Sabrina to the powerful and moving Lost Weekend.
In Literary Orphans Issue 33: Wilder, we celebrate a filmmaker who walked out and embraced the world. He embraced its ugliness, and he embraced its beauty. The writers and poets featured in this issue have done the same. Each piece comes from a unique voice breathing life and speaking truth from across the globe. Let their works inform you as much as they have let others inform them. You can read the issue here.