Land of Smoke and Mirrors: A Cultural History of Los Angeles

By Vincent Brook | Go to book overview

Introduction

No other American metropolis can claim to be so elaborately constructed,
so much a creation of its inventors’ projections and desires
.

—David Ulin, Looking at Los Angeles

Yaanga, Yang-na, Yabit, El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Ángeles del Rio Porciúncula, City of Angels, City of Demons, City of Chaos, Sin City, City of Dreams, City of Desire, Sunshine City, City of Blight, Bright and Guilty Place, the White Spot, the Enormous Village, La La Land, City of the Future, City of Forgetting, Nowhere City, Equivocal City, Fragmented Metropolis, Chameleon Metropolis, Mestizo City, Capital of the Third World, City of Metaphor, City of Lies, City of Quartz, Postmodern Cosmopolis par Excellence—Los Angeles has been called all these things and more, out of pride, love, envy, hype, hubris, fear, denial, disgust, mis- and in-comprehension.

This book exhumes the many faces, facets, and feces of Los Angeles by viewing the Tongva-village-turned-world-city as a rhetorical text. That is, the physical spaces and genealogical traces of Los Angeles (as city, county, and region) will be explored via the myriad, often contradictory, images of Los Angeles that have been projected from within and without its geographical and psychological borders. Images are meant here in their broadest sense, referring not merely to visual imagery or media representations but to sundry cultural signs ranging from the literary to the architectural to the natural, from the high to the folk to the popular. Los Angeles lends itself uniquely to image-based analysis not only because of its real-and-imagined status as the world’s image factory but because no other world city has been as constructed on constructedness: a “gigantic improvisation … that created its past,” Carey McWilliams suggested; “unviewable save through the fictive scrim of its mythologizers,” Michael Sorkin concurred.1

Unlike Gertrude Stein’s Oakland, there is a there there—a multitude of “theres,” to paraphrase Dorothy Parker—but reality has intersected with rhetoric in Los Angeles to an inordinate degree.2 “Other cities have histories. Los Angeles has legends,” John Buntin proclaimed, then complained that the “preoccupation with a mythic past has obscured something important—the [city’s] true

-5-

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Land of Smoke and Mirrors: A Cultural History of Los Angeles
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iv
  • Contents viii
  • Acknowledgments x
  • Prologue 1
  • Introduction 5
  • Part One - Original Si(G)N 23
  • Chapter 1 - The Ramona Myth 25
  • Chapter 2 - Ramona Revisited 43
  • Part Two - Si(G)N City 65
  • Chapter 3 - "City with Two Heads" 67
  • Chapter 4 - What Price Hollywood? 83
  • Part Three - L.a. Noir 103
  • Chapter 5 - Bright and Guilty Place 105
  • Chapter 6 - Neo-Noir 126
  • Part Four - Multicultural L.a 151
  • Chapter 7 - Latinos 153
  • Chapter 8 - Blacks 170
  • Chapter 9 - Lasians 189
  • Chapter 10 - Langlos and Lagbts 209
  • Conclusion 233
  • Notes 243
  • Index 281
  • About the Author 303
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