Far From the City of Class

Unexpected moments define a city. Over the past month, LA has defined itself down.

I’m talking about the city political furor surrounding the costs of the Michael Jackson funeral.

By now, we all know the story. The reigning, if sequestered, king of pop dies at 50. (Not an atypical age of death for drug abusing geniuses–classical pianist Glen Gould and sci fi genius Phil Dick were both druggies who died early in their sixth decades.) And the world shut off and the hype machine turned on, a machine that is only now sputtering down.

Meanwhile, the city bureaucracy, headless, since the mayor was in Africa on a mission of inconceivable importance, functioned well, if a bit over-conservatively. It put far more police on the street than the occasion, which brought out on the whole about as many people as did the average Lakers game, warranted. This seemed like good planning to me. Far better to over prepare than under prepare. Michael Jackson having not died before, it was hard to know just how many people would stand outside and mourn.

It was an orderly and respectful bunch who attended, in and out. There was a lot less public disorder than you’d have had at the above sports event. The only disorder was at City Hall, where, you would have thought to hear the attention grabbing noise, the runoff elections were going to happen next month instead of the last. Newly sworn City Attorney Carmen Trutanich vowed to investigate the purported $1.4 million policing costs, as though he suspected that most of the cops ordered out for the event had in fact ditched their uniforms and gone to the beach. Controller Wendy Greuel, of whom I frankly expected better things, vowed to investigate the out-of-county provision of sandwiches to the troops, at what seemed to me to be the fair market price of $7 a piece, plus power bars and gum (Do cops get to chew gum on the job these days? What would LAPD Chief Bill Parker think?). She scooted back into her City Hall den, however…when this began to look like one of those low-bidder deals, which of course such contracts are supposed to be. As controllers, of all people, are supposed to know.

Various council members made loud noises here too, insisting it was the intestate estate of Jackson that had to pay the policing costs, or AEG, Phil Anschutz’ entertainment machine that seems to have turned South Park into its personal Vatican. Much was made of the city’s nine figure deficit. Some even said it was obscene to pay that much for policing for a celebrity’s obsequies when teachers were getting pink slipped–as if these two services came out of exactly the same budget.

And suddenly, I felt like I was living in a very small town. Not the self-proclaimed World Class City I set sail to decades ago. But a sleepy burg of 10,000 or so, in the middle of some state beginning with “I,.” a city incapable of dealing with any but the most ordinary event. Celebrity funerals, like meteor strikes or tornadoes, will happen in big cities, and big, sophisticated cities will take them in stride, knowing that, unlike the disasters, the funerals will probably leave behind nearly as much money as they cost the city. And even if not, what can one do?
It’s only the tiny places with the tiny minds that complain as if Jackson had conspired somehow to die in LA and have his memorial here. OK, so this is a big place with tiny minds.

Fo some reason, I recalled the 1980 funeral of Jean Paul Sartre. surely Jackson’s intellectual, if not musical, peer. At least 50,000 people turned out for the Wall Eyed One’s cortege. Did anyone in Paris’ Hotel de Ville gripe about the cost in flics? Or did they even calculate how much those costs were going to be offset by cafe, hotel and Metro revenues? No. A great, and very controversial, public figures had died. The city (and nation) owed him and paid its respects along with the security costs.

Paris was then and is now a city of class. This one, for now, isn’t. But you knew that.

7 thoughts on “Far From the City of Class”

  1. This may come off as harsh, but that’s not the motive. Writing style is awesome. You paint a picture well.. but half way through the 4th paragraph I skipped the story.

    It’s most likely me, so used to the meat first, fluff later. Don’t change because of me though..

  2. Marc, great post. I can’t tell whether bmayhem’s comment is an ironic, deliberate attempt to embody the small mindedness you’re writing about or if his/her attention span is really that stubby.

  3. Don’t change the way you write, Marc–readers are so used to getting blog-style “just the facts, ma’am” posts that a full-fleshed article is a surprise (and a pleasant one, for me).

    To speak to your point, I think there’s a lot of public backlash against MJ in particular, and politicians are responding to that perceived discontent. I think the public will always gripe when attention is lavished on a celebrity, and the politicians are just trying to put on a show for them–methinks they doth protest too much?

  4. Marc that was great. I hate basketball. I hate the Lakers, but I wasn’t going to make a big deal about them having a parade, because we live in LA. That’s part of the deal. And why would I waste my time caring about that, when 101 billion dollars was stolen by AIG. It amazes me what people will waste their time complaining about yet the same people let other things go, like they aren’t a big deal. Job losses since 2007, no one said a thing about it until January of 2009, but a parade or a funeral, lets go on and on and on about how much it costs. Not that it’s wrong, but the American public is getting screwed in much bigger and substantial ways then this one event.

    If you’re going to complain about something that isn’t going to turn back time you should probably be complaining about the fact that the average salary for Goldman Sachs employees, a company that got 16 billion dollars of our money is going to make about 770,000 dollars a year.

    Browne Molyneux

  5. I’m going to assume that bmayhem just got into Jackson overload like most of us. I almost mentioned the Laker parade as another example of tiny-brained municipal negativity. Hey, did the City Council really want them to lose the championship in order to save LA a few bucks? Too bad indeed that none of us work for Goldman Sachs.

    And I forgot to mention that Sartre had a drug problem too.

    Thanks, y`all.

  6. This might be odd coming from a 20-year entertainment industry executive who’s produced big publicity stunts to hype my projects and stars, but I respectfully disagree. You’re correct that “the funerals will probably leave behind nearly as much money as they cost the city.” But that money will be going in the pockets of AEG and the Jackson family. All the hoopla generated by the LA equivalent of a state funeral served the purposes of those who’ll be merchandising Jackson until after the apocalypse: to reinvent an over-the-hill performer most recently famous only for his peccadillos or worse, with a raging drug addiction they knew would become public within days, into the heir apparent to Jesus. And this PR stunt could only be achieved with the buy-in and checkbook of the city of LA. The possibility that midday freeway traffic for a hearse carrying an empty coffin, as now appears to be the case, is obscene.

    It has never failed to amaze me how effectively the entertainment industry – my industry, and particularly celebrities, have played the LA city government, courts and city services for the chump. The moment I heard Jackson had died, I knew his avaricious network of family, representatives, hangers-on and business associates – people who, during Jackson’s life, took sociopathic lying for money to an art form – would do everything possible to milk this publicity opportunity so it could benefit their longterm business goals. Truth is, they’re no different than so many in my industry who make seemingly charitable or goodwill gestures which are simply a front for a smart promotional or revenue-building idea. I also realized that with all the chaos of this unexpected situation, it wasn’t going to be the time for LA to finally grow up, show its sophistication and gumption and draw that line in the sand. The case you made here was black or white, no pun intended. But it could’ve been grey. There were numerous reasonable compromises that could’ve worked, such a establishing a maximum cost that the city would’ve covered and requiring that AEG, Jackson’s record label and his family, all of whom will be profiting off the memorial with CD sales, DVDs, coffee tables books and everything else, kick in the rest. But the clumsiness of City Hall, which treated this issue like a particularly bitchy episode of America’s Next Top Model, made that impossible too.

    Let me be the first to announce that there are dozens of personal publicists, studios, music companies and networks who’ve watched this memorial carefully, from a business POV, and are already thinking how they can make the same demands down the road. It’s the Hollywood way.

Comments are closed.