Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight: Fear and Fantasy in Suburban Los Angeles

Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight: Fear and Fantasy in Suburban Los Angeles

Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight: Fear and Fantasy in Suburban Los Angeles

Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight: Fear and Fantasy in Suburban Los Angeles

Synopsis

Los Angeles pulsed with economic vitality and demographic growth in the decades following World War II. This vividly detailed cultural history of L. A. from 1940 to 1970 traces the rise of a new suburban consciousness adopted by a generation of migrants who abandoned older American cities for Southern California's booming urban region. Eric Avila explores expressions of this new "white identity" in popular culture with provocative discussions of Hollywood and film noir, Dodger Stadium, Disneyland, and L. A.'s renowned freeways. These institutions not only mirrored this new culture of suburban whiteness and helped shape it, but also, as Avila argues, reveal the profound relationship between the increasingly fragmented urban landscape of Los Angeles and the rise of a new political outlook that rejected the tenets of New Deal liberalism and anticipated the emergence of the New Right.
Avila examines disparate manifestations of popular culture in architecture, art, music, and more to illustrate the unfolding urban dynamics of postwar Los Angeles. He also synthesizes important currents of new research in urban history, cultural studies, and critical race theory, weaving a textured narrative about the interplay of space, cultural representation, and identity amid the westward shift of capital and culture in postwar America.

Excerpt

Essentially, cultural history is the history of stories that people tell about themselves and their world. Such stories are manifested and transmitted in a variety of ways, the sum of which we broadly define as culture. This book takes a set of stories as conveyed through film, photography, architecture, literature, art, and other disparate media that emerged within a particular regional and historical context and considers how they help us to understand a transformative moment in the history of the American city. The cacophonous stories that constitute culture support a variety of human purposes, and they do both more and less than simply provide meaning to abstract social and natural forces. Sometimes, they just entertain. This book, however, looks beyond entertainment to consider how the simultaneity of these stories in space and time corresponded to the spatial and racial reconfiguration of urban life in post–World War II America and how these stories conveyed a particular way of seeing that process. The new cultural forms that emerged within the context of the spectacular rise of Los Angeles in the thirty years between 1940 and 1970 encompassed a struggle over the very identity of the city and its constituent social groups.

I argue that despite popular culture's capacity to incorporate diverse and often contradictory meanings within its fold, the cultural forms explored in the following chapters privileged a particular way of seeing the city and its people. This way of seeing became the basis for a new political subjectivity that prized an inclusive white identity among a heterogeneous suburban public. In making this argument, Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight contributes to the critical study of whiteness, a growing (though increasingly unwieldy) body of scholarship that considers the evolution of a white racial identity in the United States and its varied significance to diverse peoples. Studying whiteness means eschewing the idea that a white race of . . .

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