Our glorious blog leader, Lucinda Michelle, recently provided readers here with an amusing tongue-in-cheek List of Things Not To Complain About Ever Again. Apart from the particular items on her list, the aggregation reminded me of the LA-specific novelty of this whole concept of “haters.” I think there is something culturally interesting in the concept.
In my own experience, I had never actually heard of this category of person until shortly before arriving in our fair city, and do not think I have encountered anyone who quite occupies the categories while here. But boy is there ever lots of talk about necessary defenses against such disparagers. Somehow I suspect a connection to the LA Weltanschauung of circularity and self-reference. Y’know, that Baudrillardian moment we all feel on LA streets and in its cafes.
My first notice of these nefarious LA-haters came in 2006, when I was being pitched on a job in Beverly Hills, while at a conference in Portland, Oregon. I had flown in from that Massachusetts realm of East Coast liberal elites (or really, from 100 miles west of the nattering nabobs of negativism, but it all blurs together with distance). Grabbed by the shirt collar by a recruiter from this BH company, with several similarly to-be-pitched colleagues also in tow, I was given an expected spiel on the virtues of the company and of working there. Far less expected, but making up much more of the conversation, was a set of disclaimers about why “LA really isn’t so bad.” It was curious to me, since I lacked any of the numerous negative stereotypes of whose error we were being informed (nor, I will say, did I imagine the symmetrical mythologized glamor sometimes claimed of LA, although I had at least heard of that aspect). But my recruiter quite thoroughly corrected the presumed misapprehensions, largely enumerating the same items brought up by Lucinda Michelle.
As readers will have figured out, I accepted the offer, and moved to LA for this BH job. That particular gig and I have parted ways, but Los Angeles remains with me, and me in it. While here, I have continued to come across this trope about the unfoundedness of gripes about Los Angeles, from both its natives and those who have “gone native” since arriving. The lengths to which some defenders go in disclaiming perceived criticisms of our city is well nigh absurd. It is not just that they feel it unseemly to criticize our city in too cavalier a fashion, but rather that any comparison with elsewhere violates the deeply held faith that Los Angeles is singular and ne plus ultra in all regards. No! They exclaim: New England has not more seasonal foliage; Philadelphia not more communal public spaces; San Francisco not more techno-hipsters. LA is–and must be–all things more than all other places… to doubt it would be to engage in venal LA-hating.
One must admit that LA is certainly not unique in prompting civic pride, nor even a measure of geographic chauvinism. Every large city has its own sports team and local music scene, which are better than those of other cities–or at least deserving to be so. Almost every large American city has some focal industry, about which locals cloyingly drop the adjective describing just which “Industry” is in question (it is noteworthy, I think, that both food processing and shipping are larger Los Angeles County industries than is its production of culture/media; at least Insurance really is objectively dominant in Hartford). However, there feels like something different in quality about LA’s peculiar egocentrism. It is so much more deeply wrapped in defensiveness than the pride of other American cities (except, perhaps, that of oft berated Cleveland or Newark, maybe Detroit). My cab driver during a recent NYC visit may, indeed, have invoked an insult on his visit to Boston by wearing a Yankees cap, but the Bostonians he spoke with lacked any self-doubt that the Red Socks are morally the better team. Angelenos, the more indignant is their response to a status threat, seem proportionally lacking in confidence in their city.
I think a measure of the defensiveness of Los Angeles comes from the fact that its criticism is largely–primarily even–made by the nativized locals, and in particular by those locals who work in the production of culture. The enumeration of complaints one should not make of Los Angeles is primarily drawn from a set of mostly comedic mass culture references in which such criticisms are mockingly presented. This ties in, I think, to the Los-Angelesization-of-everywhere that I have written of in other posts: while LA landmarks become the faux icons of most everywhere else, when Los Angeles itself is the nominal subject of representation in film, television, etc. the creators of those works feel a particular compulsion to distance themselves from the actuality of location with an ironic tone.