Friday, May 22, 2009


Two decades ago, I was one those viewers, staring the TV, Watching flames. First, I thought, I was deluded; as it was another TV-hoax, a Hollywood special effect, trailer for the new Die Hard. At least, it was hard to believe this was the real Los Angeles, the same Los Angeles, I saw in glossy magazines, the land of fortune I saw in the movies.

This was all I knew about the city from the magnificent movie posters. It was hard to convince me that there are poor angry people rallying on streets, because I never though of any poverty exist in this city. But the footnote kept remaining me constantly “this is live, this is South Central Los Angeles “

It became a huge deal of publicity. When the live coverage ended, the early enthusiasm turned to the endless reposts, lectures and debates on the business of blaming. Thus, the chain of courts was not showing the public a justice but another racial condemnation. Blacks were held responsible for burning their own community. Few asked why they destroyed their own businesses. Even fewer asked why it happened in Los Angeles.

The result was creation of another drama. Surly, Los Angeles response to any drama is a bigger drama. All, for the myth-city that matters is how long you are on the TV, how often you are gaining attractions, so you can easily conceal any of your trash behind the silky curtain of media.

When a tourist’s brochure invites you to the paradise city, the question is not the morality of deception, but rather for how long it would sell.

Welcome to the good city.


Perry Anderson proposes that post modernity in the arts is really split between two trends, one that 'adjusts or appeals to the spectacular ' the other which 'seeks to elude or refuse it'.

This can be regarded as a step point for our broader understanding of the generic city, global city or what prefix we want to call; although, here, in case of Los Angeles and based on the fictional background I would like to called it the post-urban city, as I will discuss later, the prefix post implies mostly on the image driven concept of the city. Where now days city, and its interconnected layers of production and consumption thought the global network, known as globalization, has not been brought about by humanity researches alone, nor it is result of the design decisions of architects and planners. It is largely brought through the actions of marketing executives, brand mangers, political strategies, tourist board directors, and fictional analysis, and is now beginning to direct the way which urban environments in one hand develop and communicate their respective images and at the same time conceal their bad reputations (bad Image). In their study of Las Vegas, Sarah Chaplin and Eric Holding were analyzing the image factory behind the new urbanism argued the post-urban city as the city, which is not what it is, but what it is made out to be.[1]


What is unique about Los Angeles?

As Mike Davis analyzes the current conflicts of powers in Los Angeles (the 1992 riot and recent economy clash down due to destruction rule of multinational corporations), is embedded in its Los Angeles Long complex history. If we grasped the Los Angeles history from its early 20th century rapid evolution into metropolitan of West Coast to “L.A.2000” scheme (city of Los Angeles as the Headquarters of 21st century), there are two themes, percolate in one city. One there is the fictional Los Angeles, depicted solely as spectacle (Mike Davis calls it a “dream-addicted culture). Second, it is an actual city, a nightmare for endless conflicts, tremendously alienated between different strata (Economic classes). Being constantly captive in its duality, Los Angeles simultaneously reproduces and advertises its dream image in order for hide its dirtiness.

Los Angeles is fulfilled in an optimistic and pessimistic duality between fictional and anti-fictional parades. It is fictional paradise for its elites, an ultimate ideological urbanism, a symbolic American’s dreamland (role model for suburbia) and same time, for its intellectuals- is the most hatred city in North America[2], that resembles only the negative symbol of ostentation culture: a fake dream.


I have not visited Los Angeles yet. This could be the main challenge for this article; how can I precisely write about the city that I have not see it at all. I welcomed this difficulty by questioning the validity of close observation of a gravity particularly referring to Los Angels by thinking of Walter Benjamin’s term, “a city to be look at rather than to live”. First the Los Angeles is about advertising the spectacle. Los Angeles was scripted originally from the creation and promotion of the myth as the promised land of millenarian Anglo-Saxon racial odyssey”, the image that become the main force behind the formation of Los Angeles into a metropolis. In early twenty century, Los Angeles was boosting unlike other cities not as a major industry district but rather as a luxury destination. Unprecedented mass migrations of retired farmers, small-town dentists, wealthy businessmen and lawyers transformed their saving into Southern California real state. The massive flow of wealth between the region produced population, income and consumption structure seemingly out of proportion of Los Angeles actual production, real sate was the only industry of the city, Mike Davis in his book city of Quartz called this generation Boosters.

Through the generation, myths changed only in form but still remained the dominated force. This construction/ interpretation of city myth enters the material landscape as a design for speculation and domination. From bungalow style of the 1910 to recent luxury cultural buildings and Manhattanzing downtown, city of Los Angels eagerly is looking for creating an image; an image that has nothing to do with its current situation, but rather is a fantasy, borrowed installed and shined.


To study Los Angeles, perhaps taking solely an architectural (passive) proposition will be incomplete, since Los Angeles is mostly pictured rather than designed; its embodied culture if there is one, can always be found from where is borrowed or copied from. First of all, Los Angeles is seen as peculiarly infertile cultural soil, unable to produce. Secondly, despite Los Angeles is hosting Hollywood (world capital of an immense cultural industry) much of its cultural exports have done by those that are not from Los Angeles or even live there.

To use Walter Benjamin's term- a city to be looked at rather than lived in, perhaps Los Angeles is the best example: since its foundation, there have been immense cultural criticizes produced about it. As Mike Davis emphasized in his book City of Quartz, Los Angeles from the beginning form based on the myth: “as the promised land of millenarian Anglo-Saxon racial odyssey”. Moreover, much of this mythical recipe has been interposed on its landscape to such a degree that became an advertising figure of marketing Los Angeles. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the paramount axis of culture in Los Angeles has always been about construction/interpretation of city myth, which enter material landscape as a design for speculation and domination (from bungalow of the 1910 to recent luxury cultural buildings and downtown skyscrapers). As Allan Seagar suggests, Los Angeles is all about the fantasy, not as fantasy imagined but as fantasy seen. [3]

However, behind the Los Angeles’s (fake) Sunshine[4] there were individuals, who could see it all dusky. Created by talented visionaries, writers, artist and filmmakers, they rework the metaphorical figure of the city, using the crisis of the middle class (rarely the workers or the poor[5]) to expose how the dream had become nightmare, creating an anti-mythical genre: noir, Noir In respect to highly consumption of Hollywood shaped as a resistance force, as a conscious respond to fake dream factory of Hollywood among writers those were under contract to the studio system[6].


The city of Blade Runner, Peter Wollen writes, “it is both the city, which Los Angeles wishes to be, perceived in boosterish, optimistic terms from vantage point of an elite, and that which it fears it will become, looked at in noir, pessimistic terms from the point of view of its critics and its immigrant and underclass population”[7].


Philip K. Dick’s novel,” Do Androids Dream of Electric sheep? “- From which Blade Runner was adapted, is set in San Francisco[8] . Partly because of the studios and Ridley Scott’s vision of the movie, after several rewriting the screen, location was changed to Los Angels, however as Mike Davis summarized, in the early writings they have also New York and Atlanta in their mind, but in the end, they decided to stick with Los Angeles, Largely because of decision to film in Bradley Building (Frank L. Wright’s famous building in L.A) identified the location unmistakable. Accidentally or thoughtfully, this decision turned out to be an ideal representation for future of the path that Los Angeles was taken at that time; Los Angeles’s huge shift to privatization and the boosterish image-based re-developments by inviting celebrity architects for refining the downtown into another mannhatnizing skyscrapers grave land. Simultaneously rising economical and social gap between the poor and super luxurious cliques. As the opening sequence of Blade Runner, unmistakably portrays the Los Angeles, ‘as seen from Terminal Island, Looking north towards downtown across a smoke-belching industrial landscape, is the caricature version of the refineries and cat-crackers of Torrance and El Segundo.’[9]

However except the title, Los Angels 2019, there is no other indication of Los Angeles in the move. In reality, the Blade Runner city is an image of a generic world city, rather than any one particular conurbation. It is a conceptual montage of many different urban phenomena, drawn from a variety of sources and layered top of each other. Thus the final set has elements from different contemporary New York, London, Tokyo, Hong Kong and etc… Never less is more combination of irrelevant spectacles, montage rather scramble.


In his book City of Quartz and Ecology of Fear, Mike Davis describes the consequences of the militarization of life for public space in Los Angeles. Since the riots of 1992, there has been an increasing recession. Harsh cutbacks have been introduced, an astonishing number of murders have been committed (despite the ceasefire between the gangs), and the arms trade in the suburbs has expanded dramatically. These developments have led to a social schism that is articulated architecturally in a series of exterior barriers- shopping malls, gated communities, entertainment parks, Business Improvement Districts (BIDs)- are protected and isolated. The complex has been built around the idea of the American ‘Main Street’ and reaches back to the era in which cars were only a sporadic occurrence and citizens could participate light-heartedly in public life in the cit. A board shopping mall is situated in the midst of an area that is surrounded by buildings where visitors have to park their cars. Not only are all the entrances to the obligatory car parks monitored with camera, the parking charges must also be paid in advance. Homeless people and poor people within this device are refused entrance to this closed-off area by the security services in attendance. Similarly in the Blade Runner, the good city sits above the city (ghettoes), and is only accessible by vehicles (spaceships), totally is isolated from the ground. It is the advanced version of current public isolation in Los Angeles.


Mike Davis in his book City of Quartz comprehensively talks about the formation and evolution of noir. For him the genre noir from the unconsciously response -as an act of depression- to studios ‘s humiliation to further evolution of more deliberate language of creativity sits shoulder with shoulder with the dreamed-factory ideological capital of the Los Angeles’s boosters. And perhaps it wouldn’t exist where it wasn’t because of the Los Angeles: ‘Noir, often in illicit alliance with San Francisco or New York elitism, made Los Angeles the city that American intellectuals love to hate[10]’.

In contrast Noir was like a transformational grammar turning each charming ingredient of the boosters into a sinister equivalent.’

In his book, Mark Davis categorized Bald Runner as noir revival, setting it in the context of an ongoing struggle between utopians for control over the representation of Los Angeles.

Bald Runner's Los Angeles is not the same as Gotham city or Metropolis, is not a William city, but an endless un-spectacular vista of 'great plains of ageing bungalows, dingbats and ranch-style houses.

To fully understand Los Angeles; one to the right and its Luxurious buildings, its immense sunshine, its diverse culture, its openness, its spectacle, Second to the left, its departed social-strata, its broken public realm, its poverty, its stolen identity, its gloomy landscape, its noir.

Blade Runner shares both as in one hand is an explicitly spectacular production, whit its astonishing sets and stunning effects, and, at the same time, an implicit critique of the spectacle as a culture of death. It is clearly a product of the image industry and yet intellectually detached itself from it.


BBC news Wednesday, 23 April 2003

LA trouble spot 'wiped' from map.

“South Central Los Angeles has been removed from the map of LA, in an effort to rid the area of its international image of riot and poverty. “

Whenever it comes to tackling any problem, the first and easiest way is always ignoring the problem.

Two decades after all the debates, examinations, the only conclusion is breaking from the past and starting a new community. That is what the City Council passed, as if this way an infection will be cured. Or as activists, Ted Hayes puts

“Because it is so bad they figure that if they put a new name on the badness the badness will go away, they are saying now it is no longer an inner city, it is a new community without anything changing.”

In practical terms this reproduction will only cost the city erecting new signs but it is not totally a new invention in Los Angeles, as the city itself from the beginning formed by marketing the mythical images, that were either entirely artificial or partially stolen. As the result – by standing front of this immense propaganda machine and trying to logically grasp of a

Los Angeles unlike other metropolis grew not because of heavy industrialization, rather than by vast immigration of old rich businessmen and menial labors. The first boom in Los Angeles started by massive advertising the image of the Promised Land [11], designed specifically for the rich.

For more than a quarter century an unprecedented mass migration of retired couples, transformed the small town into a real estate giant, the boomtown without the necessary urban infrastructures.

[1] Sarah Chaplin and Eric Holding, Addressing the post-urban, the Hieroglyphics of Space,Pp184

[2] Richard Lehan emphasized that ‘probably no city in the Western world has a more negative image’

‘ The Los Angeles Novel and the idea of the west’ in David Fine, ed,, Los Angeles in Fiction, p.30.

[3] Quoted in City of Quartz, Mike Davis, Pp23

[4] From the middle nineties, Lummis edited influential magazine Out West (Land of Sunshine) simply promoting an advertising for settlement; so-called 'Arroyo Set’: writers, antiquarians, and publishers who at beginning twenty century created a comprehensive fiction of Southern California as the promised land of millenarian Anglo- Saxon racial odyssey. They wrote scripts the giant real-estate speculations that transformed Los Angeles from small town to metropolis (Los Angeles as the ‘new Rome’)

Mike Davis, City of Quartz, Pp27

[5] As Mike Davis explains the formation of Los Angeles unlike other metropolis wasn’t based on industrialization, rather the immigration of the old rich petty businessmen or mental labors (writers and filmmakers) as he categorizes the immigrants boom to Los Angeles during early 1930s; ‘the very structure of the long Southern California boom-fueled by middle-class saving and channeled into real-state and oil speculations-ensured a vicious circle of crisis and bankruptcy for the mass of retired farmers, small businessmen ad petty developers.

[6] Only a few works directly attacked the studio system, like the story: what Makes Sammy Run? By Budd Schulberg, Mike Davis, City of Quartz, Pp40

[7]. Peter Wollen, ‘Ridleyville’ and Los Angeles, the Hieroglyphics of Space. p. 243

[8] Mike Davis, City of Quartz, 1990

[9] Peter Wollen, ‘Ridleyville’ and Los Angeles, the Hieroglyphics of Space

[10] Mike Davis, City of Quartz, Pp21 also as Richard Lehan has emphasized’ probably no city in the western world has a more negative image’


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