American dream: Los Angeles

By Andrei Codrescu

Los Angeles is a number of cities strung together by jam-packed ribbons of tired road filled with exhausted humans in need of repair. Repairing humans is big business in L.A., because everything is damaging: the smog, the driving, the car taxes, the economy, the politics, the competition, and culture, high and low. What peace and beauty the locals can wrest from the human bomb they live in, is well earned. There is a lot of culture in Los Angeles, distilled drop by drop from the parched fuse that runs out of everyone’s head like a cowlick of overwork and despair. The human bomb itself sits on top of an earthquake fault and there are always flames advancing on the city.

It don’t matter if you’re rich or poor: eventually you’ll have to drop your Chevy or your Lexus on them tired ribbons and let them take you where they will. After having your bones ground, your skin burned, and your ego squashed, you can get patched up, by cash or witch doctors, and then pour yourself into some better rags and go out to the movies, eat the chips and guacamole at an art opening, attend a benefit, a premiere, an orgy, or a rave, and taste greedily the drops of distilled hassle squeezed out of L.A.’s collective heart. It’s a hell of a place to live, a dream you can’t wake up from, and I feel for the locals when they put on a face for the world. It’s a strange thing that Hollywood makes images our world gets shaped by, because Hollywood is in Los Angeles and it’s neither more nor less than anything else in that town. Get to the bottom of L.A., and you’ll find a town carved from the desert by water thieves, swarmed by starving Okies and hungry immigrants, sheathed in celluloid, and it’s very cake-like indeed because you can slice down or up to any layer and there it is, intact: the 1950s (the thickest layer), the ‘60s (thinned down by drugs and sincerity), the ‘70s (recurrent like a rash), the 80s (a legacy of hair styles), and all of it kind of sweet, if not downright saccharine, lapped by the Pacific Ocean, huge, brilliant, deep, geologically nervous, and full of nuclear submarines.

So I go there and I’m speaking at the opening of an exhibit called “Photography and the American Dream,” and there is no more natural place to dream the American dream in pictures, but there are professors on the panel who think every picture should have an explicator parked next to it, but picture-taking has been going on long before the camera was invented. Los Angeles has been posing for millennia: mysterious pre-theoretical eyes photographed this world, and all those pictures are still around, and the world as we know it is nothing but a collection of photographs snapped by God’s paparazzi, and we ourselves are just prints of prints, photocopies made by replicating DNA, and I’m having these thoughts in L.A. where a pinnacle of innocence rises from a cosmic swamp of artifice.

Long live art and artifice! Blow those hard-working Los Angelenos a kiss. I owe them a kiss for each time I didn’t understand them, and that was many times in the decades I’ve been going there and been obtuse about it.



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