Hi Los Angeles Hater! Rating “LA’s Alternate Realities”

Every few weeks a big story about Los Angeles lands on the internet, hoping to deliver the ultimate citywide diss while lazily employing half-century-old stereotypes. Usually we laugh it off because we’re shallow losers and, like, who has time to read and stuff, but every once in a while one of these antagonistic LA essays really gets to us. This week, Martin Filler’s New York Review of Books piece reviewing the exhibition catalogues for the architecture shows Overdrive and Never Built is the object of our disaffection.

Update: Also check out my haterating of that New Yorker piece “Leaving Los Angeles”

Which got me thinking. I could write an impassioned response (like Brady Westwater already did). Or I could assemble a collection of images to prove it wrong (like I did for that one Hollywood story). But then I had a thought: This man had worked SO HARD to include nearly every tired L.A. stereotype, so why not reward him for his achievement?

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Hi Los Angeles Hater! Stereotype Rating for “LA’s Alternate Realities.” Points are awarded on a sliding scale for each ridiculous stereotype, factual inaccuracy, or literary low blow incorporated into the piece. Here we go…

Title: “LA’s Alternate Realities
Author: Martin Filler (no website, Wikipedia, no Twitter)
Publication: The New York Review of Books
Date Published: May 3, 2013
Word Count: 1376 

How can the most architecturally innovative part of the United States also be such a thoroughgoing urban mess?

  • Oooookay, then! Starting off strong! Backhanded compliment bonus +2
  • “Thoroughgoing urban mess” +1

Los Angeles can boast, among other showpieces, Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall of 1989–2003, Charles and Ray Eames’s own Case Study House Number 8 of 1947–1949, and Raymond M. Kennedy’s Grauman’s Chinese Theater of 1926–1927—to name three of my favorite landmarks there.

  • Naming Disney Hall as one of your “favorite landmarks” +1

…yet LA is also a highway-strangled, traffic-choked expanse of artificially lush desert with no discernible organizing principle save for the allées of palm trees that filmmakers reflexively use to establish a recognizable sense of place.

  • “Highway-strangled” +2
  • “Traffic-choked” +2
  • Extra point for excessive hyphenation +1
  • Palm trees +2
  • Ouch! Palm trees in the FIRST PARAGRAPH? Extra point for that, bro. +1
  • Film industry reference, with first-paragraph bonus. +2
  • LA is a desert +1
  • Also, as many have pointed out, LA is not a desert. It’s a Subtropical-Mediterranean climate. +1

Describing the persistent incoherence of Los Angeles, Dorothy Parker famously jibed that it was ‘seventy-two suburbs in search of a city.’ More sympathetic observers like the British architectural historian Reyner Banham have long pointed out that it’s futile to apply traditional standards of urban design to this 469-square-mile sprawl, which they see not as a dysfunctional megalopolis but as a prophetically modern phenomenon.

  • Thanks, we heard that joke before, too… IN THE 1930’s. +2
  • “Sprawl” x mention-of-square-mileage bonus = +469
  • “Dysfunctional megalopolis” +1

Yet to comprehend why the City of Angels remains so enduringly weird to outsiders, it is not architectural specialists but rather imaginative writers—from Nathanael West and James M. Cain to Evelyn Waugh and Joan Didion—to whom we must turn.

  • “Enduringly weird” +2
  • Referencing dead writers who wrote depressing things about LA +3
  • Joan Didion is not dead nor totally depressing, of course, but he includes a photo of her, so, Joan Didion photo bonus +1
  • With Corvette Stingray to reinforce LA’s auto-centric nature +1 

Both surveys are accompanied by extensively illustrated catalogs, offering non-Angelinos a chance to reframe their imagined views of this quintessentially quirky conurbation.

  • Using the non-locally preferred spelling of “Angelinos” +3
  • “Quintessentially quirky conurbation” (with alliteration bonus) +2

…attempts to give the city’s notional center something like the round-the-clock vitality of New York’s Times Square or London’s Leicester Square have failed time and again. The few parts of Los Angeles that sustain a viable pedestrian nightlife—like Westwood Village, with its busy movie theaters and restaurants near the UCLA campus, and Los Feliz, a hipsterish enclave closer to downtown—still present a problem, for most visitors need to drive there in order to walk around.

  • LA doesn’t have a center +1
  • LA isn’t a 24-hour city +1
  • LA doesn’t have viable pedestrian nightlife +1
  • LA’s Urban Design Shortcomings in a Single Paragraph Trifecta bonus +3
  • Naming Westwood Village (no disrespect, Bruins!) as the city’s best example of “viable pedestrian nightlife.” +2
  • “Hipsterish” +1
  • Dude, come on, of all the places he could have picked: The Red Line goes RIGHT to Los Feliz. +10 (+ one Metro day pass)

Not only were such sensible recommendations ignored, but within fifteen years the Los Angeles Railway, a trolley system that served a vast north-south swath of the region, would be dismantled, in part because of what many believe to have been a conspiracy by General Motors and others to kill off the competition.

  • “Sensible recommendations ignored” (aka we’re crazy) +1
  • General Motors conspiracy theory reference +2
  • Bonus for watching Who Framed Roger Rabbit too many times +4

As Overdrive makes clear, all sorts of vernacular architectural responses to LA’s dominant car culture arose to meet the particular demands of an increasingly mobile population, with innovative forms such as the drive-in restaurant, the drive-through car wash, and, heaven forefend, the drive-in church (the most distinguished example of which was Richard Neutra’s Garden Grove Community Church of 1959–1968). Not for nothing did Moore organize his study of the city’s architectural features into a series of “rides” to be seen from a car window.

  • Car culture/car window +2
  • Drive-in/drive-through +3

In a country where personal “freedom” invariably trumps the common good, this pair of enlightening but cautionary surveys reminds us of the late and much-lamented Ada Louise Huxtable’s ever-timely admonition that “Any city gets what it admires, will pay for, and, ultimately, deserves.”

  • Oh no he di-int just use Ada Louise against us! +3


*I have no idea what this score means or how Filler’s article ranks according to other stories about LA. But I think this means that I’ll have to do this again. And again. And again.

Update: If you liked this, check out my haterating of that New Yorker piece “Leaving Los Angeles.

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  • http://communicatrix.com communicatrix

    There needs to be an app for this. Angelinos (sic) too busy being car-bound, culturally-bereft, selfish, rudderless, centerless, Wrong-Coasted losers to tally up scores.

  • Tim Kirk

    Please do it again! Awesome!

  • knobbystiles

    Well, I’m a Brit and I visited both New York and Los Angeles last year for the first time.
    Before I left, a friend of a friend said “New York’s just London with skyscrapers”.
    I can’t help but agree that that thought crossed my mind in New York and I came back enthusing about LA.
    Sure, you need to hire a car if you want to see Griffin Park and enjoy the incredible beauty of a city surrounded on three sides by mountains and one side by the ocean but I used the buses (for one dollar!) and the metro to get to know some parts of the city.
    Of course a rail network would open up the city for tourists and solve the problem of somebody having to stay off the booze in order to drive to bars but Los Angeles offers something so different to anything in Europe.
    Let’s face it, if you want culture, history or architecture as a European, you don’t need to cross the Atlantic in the first place.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=665213541 Stephen Fortner

    I covered L.A. for ten years before moving to the SF Bay area to take a full time job with the magazine for which I had been a freelancer. The Bay area, of course, is the epicenter of L.A.-hating, but the irony is that a lot of those stereotypes apply to the Bay area moreso? Massive car culture? Check. Inadequate public transportation? Check. Pockets of nightlife areas that people don’t venture out of? Check. Neighboring city that’s scruffier and has a scary reputation and lots of ship loading cranes, but is actually a cool place to live? Check. (I live there, BTW.) And frankly, the culture of people trying to get VC money for their startup or otherwise make it in tech is far more snobby, egocentric, and backstabby than I ever found anything in show business to be–and I covered the music biz!

  • Barbara Ellen

    Too be honest, who cares what Martin Filler thinks. If he deters more of his ilk from ever coming here, the better. I wanna be around my community – natives and adopted folks like me who love this city. For better or worse this is my home and I’d welcome folks who want to learn more about it, not those who thumb there noses at us.

  • Michael Lejeune

    If you can just monetize this, Alissa, you can move to a big house behind gates in Beverly Hills and never ride that awful public transit again! (Very entertaining read, btw. As always.)

  • jnettler
  • Alissa

    I’m on it!

  • Alissa

    If only! That is my goal!

  • Alissa

    So refreshing to hear from SF! Thank you Stephen!

  • Alissa

    Totally, how about an algorithm based on the words, then calculates things like distance living from LA, current weather, level of depression, etc.

  • j gold

    Well, he did forget to say that Los Angeles is at the edge of the continent. And there wasn’t a single Maps to Stars’ Homes reference…

  • p
  • Alissa

    I knew there was something missing here. I love a good “tumbling into the Pacific Ocean” line.

  • LMB

    This is just plain brilliant. Excuse me, dudes, but isn’t LA-bashing cliched? Um, like NYC is a better place to live, eat, shop, hang, discuss world politics, visit museums and go to the beach?–oh, wait, no beach in NYC. Whatever.

  • Laura

    There are beaches in NYC. Coney island, Brighton Beach….

  • Ezrha Jean Black

    @FelixSalmon just retweeted this & so I read. I saw the NYRB reference in my e-mail from them, but haven’t read yet. (Tied up with a couple blog posts of my own & anyway haven’t seen the Getty show yet, so…withholding judgment a bit.) But is your point that it’s (the NYRB piece) just a recitation of cliches or that L.A. is not in fact completely screwed up? I’m lucky enough to live in Los Feliz (the ‘Village’ part) so I see both sides here (& yes, there are some fabulous parts of L.A. & this is one of them). But even from my perch in Los Feliz, it’s not such a simple matter to, say, get to Bergamot Station in Santa Monica in less than 20 minutes (by car OR public transit), or even Culver City. Or, for that matter, take public transit (from where I am) almost anywhere south of Wilshire. (I imagine it dys-functions similarly from the other side of Wilshire, too.) Or — speaking of The Getty — have you ever tried taking public transit there? Uh — that’s more than 20 minutes just going up that goddamned Brentwood hillside. (No — I haven’t taken the bus there & don’t intend to.) Or, speaking of the vast suburbia OUTside the de facto suburbia that constitutes the rest of the city (as what else, after all, would you call Century City?), have you ever tried taking public transit into those parts (Pasadena, the San Fernando Valley, etc., etc.)? Frankly it can be a hassle even by car. And generally speaking, it takes far to long to get ANYwhere in this town. Forget about the distorted, discombobulated scale of it, the vast swaths of ugliness (sure — with the beauties one looks for) one encounters along the way. L.A. is a mess, and I don’t mean that in a good way. I’ll stop there — you’ve already ‘gotten me started’ & I don’t want to continue in this vein. I’ll be at The Getty to have a look in a couple of weeks & in the meantime, I’ll read the NYRB piece; but I’ve only scratched the surface of the many ways in which this town can bring you DOWN. And now I have to have a walk up to Griffith Park to clear my head.

  • http://twitter.com/Bombonitos Maureen McGlynn

    If you’re going to quote Ada Louise Huxtable you may want to quote something she actually said about California. “And what do we mean by California style? …California style, as it is understood and being practiced today by some talented California architects, is pushing the frontiers of architecture in a particularly California way. If there is an avant-garde, it is here; this is a style full of dramatic sculptural shapes and colors and an exuberant manipulation of advanced technology. It combines an edgy California chic with profound architectural investigations of form and space. Led by the influential Frank Gehry, it includes the work of such practitioners as Thom Mayne, Eric Moss, and the late Frank Israel. The freedom and the desire to explore are in unique supply on the West Coast, infused with a spirit that is equally a product of the legendary California lifestyle and popular California mythology; this is the place where styles start to move from west to east.” ALH, 1997, excerpted from “Making Architecture”

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  • Alissa

    Totally hear you that LA can be complicated and time-consuming to navigate LA. But also to answer you, yes I’ve taken transit to the Getty (mostly to avoid $15 parking), Century City, Pasadena, all over the Valley, and I find that it’s a much more pleasurable way to get around town. But if you aren’t ready to make that jump, it’s no fun that you can’t easily drive somewhere you need to.

  • Alissa

    Thank you!!! Love this Ada quote.

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  • Guest

    All true. Why Sacramento is the best :-)

  • Phantom Commuter

    All true. Both L.A. and S.F. are full of transplant snobs.

  • Guest

    Only natives have the right to hate L.A. :-)

  • Phantom Commuter

    Only L.A. natives have the right to hate L.A. We grew up here and have had to put up with it, the trendy transplants who come and go after running us out of the neighborhoods we grew up in. We don’t want to be like Europe, or New York, or San Francisco. We don’t want to take subways. We like our car culture. If you want to live that way, leave.