Gwyneth Paltrow claims to have introduced yoga to the United States. Not exactly. This quote can be read a few ways but there is some hubris no matter how you look at it:
“Forgive me if this comes out wrong,” Paltrow said, before allowing it to, yes, come out wrong. “I went to do a yoga class in L.A. recently and the 22-year-old girl behind the counter was like, ‘Have you ever done yoga before?’ And literally I turned to my friend, and I was like, ‘You have this job because I’ve done yoga before.’’
The above is a side note — a digression — because what I really want to discuss is how artists can use their art to invent a place that has long existed. Last night Netflix aired Springsteen on Broadway. This is what Springsteen had to say about the Jersey Shore. Before I quote The Boss let me warn you that there are expletives so please move on if you are uncomfortable. Here it is:
I listen to the radio, and I think I’m as good as that guy, I’m better than that guy. So why not me? Answer: Because I live in the fucking boondocks. … There is nobody here, and no one comes down here. It’s a grave. There was no Jersey, Jersey, Jersey Shore, Jersey Almighty shit. I invented that!
Now how true is this? Not true at all. Just do a little poking around the net and you will find that the “first passenger flight in American history was flown from New York to Atlantic City.” Though Atlantic City is over an hour away from Springsteen’s hometown the two locations are part of the Shore. In fact, one of Springsteen’s greatest songs is Atlantic City.
Was Springsteen making a Paltrowesque claim? No.
The Jersey Shore existed long before Springsteen but he romanticized it. He took it from amusement parks, boardwalks, and crowded beaches — very crowded — into the realm of the imagination. In fact, in one of his earliest songs he mentions the boardwalk five times, the pier twice, arcades and fortune tellers once. He was writing about something that was already there; but with melody and words he was pulling us into an imaginary world. A world where young people sit on the hood of a dodge drinking warm beer. He shows us a world of abandoned houses and abandoned dreams. He was, in fact, inventing the Jersey Shore.
In television we call what Springsteen is doing worldbuilding. It’s a world that has some remnants of ours but one that’s imagined. It’s probably one of the most difficult things to do but when done right it captures our imagination and sometimes even our souls.
When Springsteen talks about inventing the Jersey Shore he may be right. Until someone else steps forward and decides to do some worldbuilding of their own we have to settle for girls combing their hair in rearview mirrors and boys trying to look so hard while the amusement park rises bold and stark.