Land of Smoke and Mirrors
A Cultural History of Los Angeles
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: Rutgers University Press
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This book grew from a course on the “Rhetoric of Los Angeles” I have been teaching at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication since 2006. Ur-thanks thus go out to the Annenbergians who provided the opportunity: Sarah Banet-Weiser, Larry Gross, Abby Kaun, and Imre Mezsaros. Two of my teaching assistants in the course, Peter Chow-White ...
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Nowhere has the discrepancy between Los Angeles’s rhetoric and historical record been more pronounced than in La Fiesta de Los Angeles birthday celebration. First held in 1894 and running in fits and starts through the 1930s, this “carnival, pageant, parade, fandango,” commemorating La Reina de Los Ángeles’s founding as a Spanish colonial outpost in 1781, epitomizes what D. J. Waldie calls the ...
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Yaanga, Yang-na, Yabit, El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Ángeles del Rio Porciúncula, City of Angels, City of Demons, City of Chaos, Sin City, City of Dreams, City of Desire, Sunshine City, City of Blight, Bright and Guilty Place, the White Spot, the Enormous Village, La La Land, City of the Future, City of Forgetting, Nowhere City, Equivocal City, Fragmented Metropolis, Chameleon Metropolis, Mestizo City, Capital ...
Part I. Original Si(g)n
Chapter 1. The Ramona Myth
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Los Angeles didn’t have to wait for Hollywood’s Houdinis to cast its own magic spell. The earliest Christian conversion of the Tongva Indians in the late 1700s was realized not only by military means but also through the arts and sciences of signs. Friar Francisco Palou, an aide to Father Junipero Serra, chief overseer of the California missions, reported the miraculous effect of sacred images in the ...
Chapter 2. Ramona Revisited
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Though the novel is no longer required reading in local schools and the two surviving film versions are now mainly of academic interest, Ramona’s mythic traces remain a fixture of the Los Angeles palimpsest: in Spanish Fantasy Past manifestations such as Olvera Street; in the Ramona Pageant held each spring in nearby Hemet; and, most indelibly, in the area’s part theme park, part reliquary, ...
Part II. Si(g)n City
Chapter 3. "City with Two Heads"
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Mike Davis’s description of Los Angeles after World War II as a “city with two heads” aptly captures the region’s bifurcated power structure, whose two main “growth coalitions” divided along demographic and geographic lines: between a downtown-based, gentile (Christian) old guard tied to the Chandler family’s L.A. Times, and an upstart group of Westside Jewish megadevelopers.1 A dichotomy ...
Chapter 4. What Price Hollywood?
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“Nobody dreamed that a day was close at hand,” Anita Loos recalled from her days as a silent-era screenwriter, “when that one word Hollywood would express the epitome of glamour, sex, and sin in their most delectable forms.”1 This tantalizing image not only enhanced the marketability of Hollywood’s films, film stars, and physical location; it all but ordained that the movie capital itself ...
Part III. L.A. Noir
Chapter 5. Bright and Guilty Place
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“The rough beast that is film noir . . . slouched toward Los Angeles to be born,” Alain Silver and James Ursini declare in L.A. Noir: The City as Character.1 Los Angeles provided “the quintessential dramatic ground of film noir,” “the essential elements in the invocation of the noir mood,” not because it was darker, meaner, or more hellish than other urban areas but because of its chameleon nature: its ability to combine, as Raymond ...
Chapter 6. Neo-Noir
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Though it may have taken film noir to a narrative cul de sac, Kiss Me Deadly was not quite the generic endpoint Paul Schrader suggested. The cycle straggled on, with Touch of Evil (1958)—shot in Venice, California (as a stand-in for a Calexico border town), with an opening scene capped by a car bomb—marking the consensus expiration date. Even the “postnoir” interim of the early to mid-1960s, ...
Part IV. Multicultural L.A.
Chapter 7. LAtinos
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The sixteenth-century novelist Garci Ordóñez de Montalvo, whose mythic description of California as an island paradise inspired the first Spanish explorers, was not far off the mark. “Although physically attached to North America, California is still most accurately thought of as an ecological ‘island,’” explain historians Richard B. Rice, William A. Bullough, and Richard J. Orsi. “Its geographical ...
Chapter 8. bLAcks
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To fill the multicultural gap Hector Tobar finds at the new Plaza museum, more than only Europeans and Asians need to be included. Blacks deserve a place at the table as well, if not at the very head. Not just a few but a majority of the pueblo’s original forty-four pobladores (ten of the twenty-two adults; sixteen of the twenty-two children) were either of full or part African descent. One of the ...
Chapter 9. LAsians
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Accepting that the Paleoamerican and Amerindian migrations embarked from the Asian continent, and not counting the African origins of Homo sapiens, the Asian connection to Los Angeles is the most primordial. By the time of the European incursion in the 1500s, however, this line had become a faint trace in the genealogical palimpsest, long since absorbed into the Chumash, Tongva, and ...
Chapter 10. LAnglos and LAGBTs
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If many of the city’s Latinos and African Americans still lack economic parity, and the Asian community a political voice, its Anglo population, while no longer all-powerful, has not been left in the cold. The L.A. Times, “inventor” of the modern-day metropolis, no longer reigns supreme. The Committee of Twenty-five, an unofficial, all-white chamber of commerce that “held sway through the ...
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Gentrification (and its “ethnic cleansing” adjunct) is not the sole province of Echo Park. Its most powerful effects, since the 2000s, have been felt downtown. As I suggested in chapter 6, Blade Runner–inspired retro chic and postmodern gloss have transformed a noir inner “city of regret,” a governmental center that once “emptied every night,” into a cultural, entertainment, and upscale ...
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About the Author
Vincent Brook was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley and has lived in Silver Lake for more than thirty years. He teaches at USC, UCLA, Cal State LA, and Pierce College, and has authored or edited the following books: ...
Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 44 photographs
Publication Year: 2013