Friday, 28 September 2012

Los Angeles -- Stars and Cars and Refugees

"Look, I hate Los Angeles, like everybody else ... but I have to work here because
in any other part of the country I'm unemployable ..."

I recently came across this jewel quoted on the Web, and being in the middle of publishing my latest novel, "Death Valley Scotty", which is mostly set in Los Angeles, I pricked up my ears. Having visited Los Angeles several times I am well aware just how peculiar the place is. It's amazing how a town which in 1900 was pretty much on track to becoming a regular city has managed to become so irregular.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those snooty Brits who like to regard Los Angeles as beneath their dignity. I'm prepared to fall in love with just about anywhere if I find enough good people there. But I was interested in how the city got to be so unusual. My take is this. It's all down to just two evils: cars and movies.

Cars have been accommodated in L.A. like nowhere else. The rights of people who want to go from A to B have been placed above those who want to stay in either A or B. This has been a mistake. As soon as you build a good road it instantly attracts twice as many cars as can comfortably fit on it. Sprawl is what results when a city encourages cars. Sprawl means that place A and place B are so far away from one another that it's impossible to reach either of them except by car. Thus the car makes itself indispensable, and the last thing you want is an indispensable machine.

As for the movie industry, that too has distorted the city. In every bar and restaurant at least half the waiting staff are just filling in time. They are only acting at being waiters and waitresses while they figure a way to break into Hollywood. What they don't know, and don't want to know, is that Hollywood was closed long ago to all outsiders who happen to exhibit talent or charisma. Such individuals just serve to show up the well-connected but untalented and charisma-free crowd who now occupy virtually all the sought-after positions. (See Carter's Third Law: "Nepotism kills.")

The result is a wannabe wasteland where everyone hopes they're on the way to somewhere better. It's not good for a city to have so many people who are, in a very real sense, refugees from their own lives.

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