Los Angeles: Unchanged

img_1151It might just be natural to view our times with pure centrality, or a point of view that’s bound to the look and feel of where we are today, right now. How can we not, when it’s what we see online and in the papers, and when it’s all we can hear on the radio, or catch on tv on the day of.

But this is what makes going back in time all the more interesting; when we see the parallels between our days and the earlier pages of history, it’s a really mesmerizing effect. Speaking of 1940’s L.A. literature and entertainment, Mike Davis describes below:

“…the most interesting transit across Los Angeles’s literary scene in the 1940s was probably the brief appearance of Black noir. Los Angeles was a particularly cruel mirage for Black writers. At first sight to the young Langston Hughes…’Los Angeles seemed more a miracle than a city, a place where oranges sold for one cent a dozen, ordinary Black folks lived in huge houses with “miles of yards”, and prosperity seemed to rein in spite of the Depression.’

Later, in 1939, when Hughes attempted to work within the studio system, he discovered that the only available role for a Black writer was furnishing demeaning dialogue for cotton-field parodies of Black life. After a humiliating experience with the film Way Down South, he declared that ‘so far as Negroes are concerned [Hollywood] might just as well be controlled by Hitler.'”

It’s a heartbreaking rendition of the industry at the time; though in the years ahead Hughes would still become a literary icon, the fact of it only magnifies the indignity of Hollywood studios belittling his talents to produce only racist screenwriting.

And yet, perhaps even more regretful is how much the industry is still made up in this way. As famed comedian Chris Rock recently highlighted in an essay for The Hollywood Reporter:

“…forget whether Hollywood is black enough. A better question is: Is Hollywood Mexican enough? You’re in L.A, you’ve got to try not to hire Mexicans. It’s the most liberal town in the world, and there’s a part of it that’s kind of racist — not racist like “F— you, nigger” racist, but just an acceptance that there’s a slave state in L.A. There’s this acceptance that Mexicans are going to take care of white people in L.A. that doesn’t exist anywhere else…

You’re telling me no Mexicans are qualified to do anything at a studio? Really? Nothing but mop up? What are the odds that that’s true? The odds are, because people are people, that there’s probably a Mexican David Geffen mopping up for somebody’s company right now. The odds are that there’s probably a Mexican who’s that smart who’s never going to be given a shot. And it’s not about being given a shot to greenlight a movie because nobody is going to give you that — you’ve got to take that. The shot is that a Mexican guy or a black guy is qualified to go and give his opinion about how loud the boings are in Dodgeball or whether it’s the right shit sound you hear when Jeff Daniels is on the toilet in Dumb and Dumber.”

Here I think of my own time in the service industry, and of all the hard workers I’ve met throughout the last year –Mexican and Central-American and Asian and more–from the grocery stores to the Starbucks shops, to the myriad of other shopping areas and restaurants in The City, and of course they are The People of Los Angeles, and of course they are beautiful and magnificent human beings; of course they’ve got all of the world to give in their hearts, but of course it’s this–or the exploitation of all this–which makes up the slave state Rock points out.

There’s a great sense of shame in identifying one’s self as something of a slave. It’s a ‘victim card’, or a sign of weakness in a world hellbent on showing muscle. But if it’s difficult for an individual to admit to being a part of slavery, it’s nearly-unthinkable for society to accept slavery as a fundamental part of what maintains the industries.

Yet whether we’re talking about the janitors or security guards up and down Hollywood’s lots, or the aspiring actors and directors who have yet to enter the business, or even the agents of change across the non-profit world who have set out to transform all of this, every day there’s some silent agreement we all make with the state of things, in which we consent to the sacrifice of our time and our bodies, the interests we hold dear, and even the sense of what’s right…

for what simply is; the status quo, the way things are; reality.

What are we doing as we make these silent agreements, if not perpetuating the complacency that’s maintained the same industries which once rejected Langston Hughes, and which still rejects Black writers and voices today, not to mention fellow Mexican, Asian, and other voices?

I fear we’re not changing anything this way, but it’s a fear I’ve learned to live with. Still, even more than what I fear, I believe in what I hope for:

I am the change I want to see, but only just one part of it, at that.

What’s more, I understand that I can’t focus too much on what it all looks like today; it is bigger than what one set of eyes can see in one moment, and made up of today as much as it’s made up of yesterday.

And when I think of the days ahead, the tomorrows still to come in the faces of our youth, I can’t help but stand up and tackle what’s in front of me: of course the world can be overwhelming, but of course it all begins with our perception.

Today I can feel all that’s ahead, and I choose to run towards it at full force. How do you do?!

With more soon,

J.T.

Bernie Sanders

I know politics are ugly, but there’s no way I can actually avoid talking about politics. In 2016, J.T. will have to, and in fact, I guess it starts here.

Bernie Sanders’s camp is said to have rallied a mass of supporters at the L.A. coliseum earlier tonight, which is great to hear in a city that elected its current mayor with only 12% of its registered voters.

Yet if Bernie Sanders were serious about change, he and his camp would recognize that their campaign will ultimately win and change nothing, and they’d thank the women of Black Lives Matter for honoring his podium with their movement, and join forces with them in lending attention to the failure of both democratic and republican parties to serve in the interests of The People’s History of the United States each time they’ve had the chance to honor (Black) Liberation Theory.

From Lincoln, to FDR, to Obama, ‘progressive leaders’ have never actually cared to institute meaningful policy for the success of ‘the minority’, perhaps figuring it just doesn’t make much political or mathematical sense since their constituents are self-interested and reductive of any policy seeking to build the whole country rather than a select group of it.

Opponents of those BLM members interrupting Bernie cite his ‘civil rights’ record as reason to let him speak, but let’s have the conversation with some integrity: a lot of ‘civil rights’ records look good on paper, but they mean nothing on the ground to the black and brown youth who still occupy openly segregated neighborhoods, classrooms, prison cells, and even segregated graveyards because of the legacy of poverty their parents and grandparents come from.

Until Bernie and his supporters acknowledge this, his campaign is vaguely reminiscent of ‘hope’, ‘change’, and other empty campaign slogans that I recall hearing this one other time I got excited about a presidential candidate.

Ultimately though, regardless of whether Sanders or his supporters acknowledge this, the truth is that the power dynamic in this country will simply never honor the people en masse.

Whether the advertisements don blue or red stripes, only one thing’s for sure: what the power dynamic will do is make great commercials about change, and design and execute great campaign rallies about change.

They will deliver this special effect through awesome stereo and television systems, and as the audience, we will (reluctantly) buy into these ads or illusions. Why? Because it’ll be simpler and maybe even more natural for us to do than to actually work towards change as a society. We’ll also buy the ads because it will just feel good, and because nothing will be able to beat a good feeling.

That is, until another ad comes along, compelling us toward another good feeling. By the time we’re disappointed with that false advertisement (Clinton/Bush/Whatever), it won’t matter, since we’ll have another movie –err– campaign rally to attend. This is the U.S.A after all, and if there’s one thing we do best in this country, it’s buying into illusions of power and grandeur.

I’m even doing it now, as I write this. In publishing this, a part of me believes it will change something, and that it’s going to rally people for some real transformation of the world. A bit farther in, some other part of me even thinks of this ‘piece’ as my own bid for the presidency. In fact –the hell with it– I’m just going to go for it:

This message was brought to you by JIMBO TIMES: The L.A. Storyteller. Vote for JIMBO TIMES, because it will just feel good, and because unlike the other candidates, J.T. promises to do nothing more than make you feel it.

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Roger King: L.A. through the Decades

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Beautiful Cahuenga Library; East Hollywood, L.A.

No matter how much I love my city, it’s often hard to trace its roots. This is because unlike most historical metropolises, L.A. is constantly remaking itself. On the one hand, this creates a frequent sense of loss for those of us who call it home, as if the environments we know in the city are only temporarily here before some reset button takes them away.

On the other hand, living in a city with minimal roots to point to makes the stories of the individuals here that much more precious; the city they know breathes inside of them, rather than just through a wall or some other still landmark.

L.A. native Roger King is precisely this kind of individual. Born in South Los Angeles in 1945 “[just] three days after the Battle of Iwo Jima”, the sixty-nine year old chess and boxing coach is one of those rare Angelenos who actually knows a thing or two about L.A. through the times.

I first met Roger after spotting a flyer for a local chess club at the Cahuenga library in East Hollywood this past summer, at a time when I was deeply focused on improving my chess game. The flyer stated that the club’s organizer was a former tournament competitor, and while this made me a bit nervous at the possibility that I might not be good enough to hang with more experienced players, it made me even more excited at the prospect of talking with others about strategy, technique, and some of the different philosophies to the game; the following Thursday, I returned to Cahuenga at 4:oo PM sharp, ready for war.

To my surprise, however, upon meeting the chess club at Cahuenga it became clear that my guard-up wouldn’t be needed, or at least not at the notch I initially thought; the community of chess players at the library was a small but friendly group comprised of players of all ages ranging from toddler to senior years. To make things better, the club’s organizer, “Coach Roger”, was a friendly, welcoming club leader rather than a hard-liner, as a former competitive player might be expected to be.

“I only have two rules…” I remember him telling me as I sat down to play with my first opponent, who was a polite young lady in her early twenties named Gohar.

“No timers, and no trash-talking.”

This sounded fair enough. And I guess the rest is history, as they say.

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