IS THIS the future in store for all of us? After the Los Angeles urban rebellion in 1992, most critical analyses of what had happened focused on the explosive urban cauldron that many saw developing in Southern California at least since the 1960s.
Writers pointed out that the City of Angels was a foreboding of the future of all cities - and metaphorically also of humankind. Los Angeles was portrayed as an ungovernable gangland where civility had either never existed or had been destroyed by a sequence of global economic restructuring and catastrophic events. At the opposite end of the spectrum were those "boosters" of Los Angeles who had made the city "LA's the Place" with the Olympics of 1984 and a boom that was built on foreign investment and cheap labour. Following the events of 1992, these boosters did not tire of putting on a happy face where others saw murder and mayhem. Their task was to "Rebuild LA", as one organisation that rose from the ashes of the riots was called. Their medium was denial.
Related to these oppositional urban myths, there is yet another set of stories, which paint Los Angeles either as the wallflower of American history - mis- understood and maligned - or as the "first American city" and the model of all urban settlement as we know it today. Caught between the dystopian view of some and the Utopian idea of others, Los Angeles became the torn image of all 20th- century urbanism, and to some "the capital of the 21st century". What is wrong with these pictures? Of course, it is difficult to deny that LA is an unusually violent place full of social and economic contradiction, marred by injustice and conflict. It is also a place where the middle classes have found their natural habitat in what they conceive as the end of history: a good place, sheltered by obscene income differentials and police power. Yet Los Angeles is also the site of a contradictory civility which is captured by neither of the narratives presented so far. …