Friday, November 9, 2007

Megacities and such

"Los Angeles, it should be understood, is not a mere city. On the contrary, it is, and has been since 1888, a commodity; something to be advertised and sold to the people of the United States like automobiles, cigarettes and mouth wash." - Morrow Mayo

"The ultimate world-historical signifiance -- and oddity -- of Los Angeles is that is has come to play the double role of utopia and dystopia for advanced capitalism." - Mike Davis

Southern Californ-i-a/ain't no place like this/half the stuff ya'll doin'/we created the shit" - People Under the Stairs

This New York cold has been feigning for some sun-dipped L.A. afternoons. I wouldn't call it homesickness so much as controlled nostalgia. I've been having some conversations with folks who grew up in the midwest and on the east coast and have never really been to LA. They ask me what I like so much about LA, and it's hard to put into words. I usually end up answering some weird combination of friends, sunshine, and open spaces, all of which is true, but it doesn't hit he mark. Los Angeles, with its carefully constructed neighborhoods, endless suburbs and gridlock traffic, is undeniably one of the biggest geographic commodities in the United States. And for that, people hate. It's like the latest HBO drama that's marketed to the cable-watching masses: some people become addicted, while others (the pop culture dissidents) try with all their might to resist. But since I don't know anyone who's indigenous to this land, what part of this country isn't a commodity?

Take New York, for instance. If L.A. is the pop culture enthusiasts love child, then New York has got to be its indy superstar counterpart. Both of these megacities show capitalism in its finest, yet because of admittedly better transporation planning, New York's contradictions are more in-your-face. Subway trains become, as critic Robin Kelley wrote about Birmingham buses in the 40's, traveling theatres that bare brazen witness to the cultural idocyncrasies of hypercapitalism and "-isms" it supports. Downtown train passengers are considerably whiter, dressed in buisness suits. The train's conductor calls out all the stops between Grand Aveneue and 125th Street, while the next half hour into the Bronx is a silent spectacle of mostly Black and Latino folks under 40. Meanwhile, the train ride itself is often met with someone who's homeless, or an underemployed youth, walking the isles begging for change while every other passenger pretends not to see or hear them. New York gets its G points for being gritty, but that grittiness often translates into a desensitized mass of people all flowing with the currents of the stock exchange and subway schedule.

But it's certainly not an "either/or" scenerio, I just get a little disturbed by the Cali-hating New York-centric's.

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