City of Quartz: Ajah!

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The days since my last update have been adventurous, taking me from one polarity of rhythm to the next, with a weekend that featured two incredibly fast and filled up days of work for yours truly, and a Monday that saw the short editorial “To My People” published on
Abernathy Magazine! Finally, this Tuesday allows me some solid time to update The L.A. Storyteller.

I just got through the first chapter of City of Quartz, which featured a total of eighty-five pages analyzing everything in ‘Los Angeles’ from the rise of its bungalow homes in the 1910s to the eve of L.A.’s gangster-rap era as first led by NWA in 1990. Such a lengthy timeline of analysis makes it difficult to choose a part of the text which captures all of Davis’s excavation through so many different periods and their trades, but I’m just going to pick a few passages and navigate through them in the next few posts.

To start off, I’d like to explore Davis’s insight into the way that investors specifically designed and marketed L.A.’s downtown and West-side areas as ‘melting pots’, where the author pulls no punches when calling out those behind the appropriation of ‘culture’ in The City:

“The large-scale developers and their financial allies, together with a few oil magnates and entertainment moguls, have been the driving force behind the public-private coalition to build a cultural superstructure for Los Angeles’s emergence as a ‘world city’. They patronize the art market, endow the museums, subsidize the regional institutes and planning schools, award the architectural competitions, dominate the arts and urban design task-forces, and influence the flow of public arts monies. They have become so integrally involved in the organization of high culture, not because of old-fashioned philanthropy, but because ‘culture’ has become an important component of the land-development process, as well as a crucial moment in the competition between different elites and regional centers.”

Here, the passage invokes for me the way that places like the MOCA and LACMA have always seemed foreign for housing or ‘hiding away’ the pieces of L.A., as whether I’ve walked from the streets of MacArthur Park, where I’m swept by the smell of beans and cheese melting inside pupusas on the grill, or through Wilshire boulevard, as Koreatown greets me with barbecue restaurants, tofu houses, and Tom N Toms, L.A.’s culture has always been in the air for me.

Similarly, I think of how through the “bombs” of graffiti artists or the paintings of the old school Chicano muralists, L.A. for me was never a city to be framed in portraits hanging on the interior walls of ‘art centers’, but to be felt through its aerosol-laden brick and adobe walls out in the open, which speak to the city’s de-centeredness.

Perhaps most of all, however, to me any culture in Los Angeles has always proliferated in the myriad of English dialects which it’s home to, as I walk through the city’s neighborhoods to the chatter of ‘foo’, ‘bluh’, or ‘cuh’ vernaculars, among so many others.

For largely failing to acknowledge such homegrown characteristics, L.A.’s major museums have always been a downer for many of me and my friends, but until Davis’s text, the feeling was always subconscious. Now, with the insight of Quartz in mind, I finally have a context for the feeling of estrangement throughout so many of The City’s supposed representations. A lot like Hollywood, L.A.’s museums were never exactly meant for me or my friends to really ‘star’ or find representation in, but they were meant for us to ‘buy into’ like we do with the movies for which we ‘suspend belief’.

On the one hand, this is a challenge to accept, as coming to terms with the idea of living in a city that’s continually trying to sell illusions to me is frankly just difficult to digest. On the other hand: it’s an education like no other to see past the illusion, and I nevertheless recognize it as a fundamental way in which to learn how to respond to the seller.

As I continue with reflections on Davis’s text, I wonder how readers might react to such descriptions of The City. One thing’s for sure: I’ve never been more fascinated with the discussion as I am now, nor equipped with so much literature to draw from! Alas, it seems then, that The L.A. Storyteller, is really just The L.A. Geek.

With more soon,

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