One of my favorite pastimes when I was a teenager was to cruise Sunset Boulevard, starting from the beach at Santa Monica, California and following the winding road all the way to where it ended at the Los Angeles railway station. The scenery along the route was varied. The low beach bungalows were soon replaced with glitzy boutiques and famous night clubs like Ciros and the Moulin Rouge. Interspersed among these were exclusive hotels that gave temporary shelter to the rich and famous. One of the most exclusive was the Beverly Hills Hotel. Sheltered from view by tall palms and shrubbery, I’d speed past in my secondhand Dodge, barely catching a glimpse of the main entrance’s pink façade. Once or twice I toyed with the idea of turning into the driveway, but I never had the courage. What would I say to Clark Gable if he drove up behind me?
Over the years, the hotel has had some good times and some bad times, many facelifts and several owners. The Sultan of Brunei owns it now, and that’s the trouble. Near the end of his life, the Sultan has decided to amend his profligate ways and embrace his religion. A sign of his new faith is his decision to impose Sharia law upon all the residents of his country, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. As homosexuality is punishable by 10 years’ imprisonment and marital rape deemed legal under the new law, the stars of Hollywood have taken notice. They’ve come out, not to twinkle, but to orchestrate a boycott of the hotel in an effort to force the Sultan to reverse course. (“The Pink and Green Blues,” by Mark Seal, Vanity Fair, August, 2014, pgs 113-115,138.) Unfortunately, the property is a mere bauble in this oil rich potentate’s fortune, estimated to be in the hundreds of billions of dollars, so he doesn’t care what Ellen DeGeneres and others celebrities have to say.
If dragging the hotel into economic ruin is the goal, then the boycott has been successful. The inn is running at a third of its capacity and most of its annual social events have been cancelled. But, the Sultan bows only to Mecca and refuses to sell his property. That leaves the hotel staff, 650 employees, in danger of losing their jobs. One Salvadorian women who has worked as a server in the Fountain Coffee Shop for 19 years admits she feels the celebrities have betrayed her. “We feel shut out,” agreed a waitress. (ibid 115)
If there’s a high ground in this clash of Titans, I can’t see it. Certainly, the celebrities mean well by their boycott, but they seem to be doing more harm than good. The 650 Beverly Hills Hotel workers, who earn benefits and wages above average for their trade, are about to lose their jobs. The Sultan of Brunei takes no notice. His eyes are turned toward eternity.
What’s being played out on Sunset Boulevard is a microcosm of life in most societies. The rich pursue their interests and the poor pay for that privilege.