“The Cult of LA”
I was born and raised in Los Angeles during the early 90s ugly Hollywood, then moved to the Russian, not so gay side of West Hollywood, and finally made my home in the Latino, not so Korean side of Koreatown. And after living in the Bay Area for four years, my three years since then have been about re-discovering or understanding my “hometown” for the first time.
My “re-contextualizing of LA” moment happened while I was taking a piss at a fancy brunch place in Hollywood. In the process of standing there in the urinal stall, I could hear the sounds of Mexican songs, kitchen staff jokingly blitzing away orders of gourmet foods with thick accents not craving the flavors nor knowing the meanings of menu items pronounced. The plates of good food, like good buildings or good cities, are built by the labor of those who will usually never experience their end product. Like the deaths for assembling stones of the Nile’s pyramids or China’s Great Walls, the lives dropped to the monumentality of temples for any type of god, or just less tragically, the time of oppressed dreamers who will never taste the nectar of fruits they've cropped, or plates of good food they've served to me.
Walking back to my seat, the Spanish slang of excitement disappeared to English chats about the Oscars occurring across the street. Back and forth, from the kitchen to the seating booths, an equal battle of blabbering for topics important to each in English or Spanish, organically juxtaposed each other in the same room.
And finally, I can see that the beauty of LA is this dichotomy of sounds and flavors inside the cities within the bigger cities that encompass the overall city. The beauty of LA is the everyday gala of graceful palm trees highlighting the axis of red carpets for expensive looking cars rushing at 80 degree sunshine year-round. But incidentally, the beauty of LA is the product of hustling migrant groups that need to pay rent and food, and allow the beauty of LA for the other hustling, image-driven groups that need to transcend to stay relevant.
Perhaps in LA, there is a cult obsessed with self-creating a unique image—seeming like a perpetual red carpet enamored with being radiant. Especially, in my own generation’s popular goal to seem celebrity: to eat, drink, travel, exercise, dress, and talk like a famous hoe.
In the cult of LA, people worship a lifestyle and engage to its rites and ceremonies inside over-the-top restaurants, trendy beer bars, highfalutin gyms, and filtered photos that venerate an ideal about being the next best thing. Conceivably LA is a city of frivolous wannabes, a city that wants to act like a first world metropolis, with the coolest, meanest people around. But a city of wannabes is not a bad thing, for to be a wannabe, one wants to be… better?
My parents came to LA for any better job. Equally, artists embrace this city to become a star, and newly yuppies seek to urbanize their youths of backyards and picket fences. In the end of the day, cities, like people just seek opportunity and acceptance. Like in high school, there was an affliction to win a seat in the most dignified lunch table. Maybe LA is a high school full of teenagers trying to find the right crowd. And like most teens, their ways of calling attention are flashy or naïve. Obviously, LA is relatively young and will establish a more mature identity with time.
Alas, cities are people. And like people, their beauty should surpass an image or words. The infinite potential for LA’s greatness is already in our backyards (or windows/balconies). LA wants to be everything that has already been done. She wants to be on the cutting edge of transportation, architecture, and sustainability. But LA can’t follow models of NYC or SF because it particularly lacks a central place. Uniquely, LA’s public spaces occur in trafficked freeways or jammed parking lots. However can traffic be exploited to whimsically create new types of energy, freeways to fill in the voids by socio- economic climates throughout hoods, or this same vastness to equally allocate housing space for its growing population?
“Community disintegrates because it loses necessary understandings, forms, and enactments of the relations among materials and processes, principles and actions, ideals and realities, past and present, present and future, men and women,“ is American farmer Wendell Berry’s critique of the modern world versus the romanticism of agrarian life. Possibly any big city is a cult, or the same prototype of LA’s cult, yet I believe that the most successful way to progress will happen by understanding one’s own principles, histories, and processes occurring inside and outside our own immediate lens.
From the beaches through the micro-cities ending at Downtown, to the eastern unending suburbs, the neglected southern jungles, the northern silence of valleys and canyons, and all the freeways in between and around this cosmic plan of LA. Los Angeles is an example of the modern city, but overly eager about a cult of standard image making. Being able to visualize the beauty of diversities within its communities will re-humanize our city. Finally, in the journey to become a standardized corporate or Hollywood tool, we forget where we come from and where we really want to go. Being in touch with ourselves may re-humanize our city as an interactive lab channeling new orders between our communities and greater ecosystems around us.