Dynamist Blog

What Makes L.A. Great

Clearly it isn't the cheap housing. Reader Robert Burnham sends this link to a provocative post from Angeleno-in-exile Geoff Manaugh. You need to read the whole thing, including the comments, but here's the theme:

Los Angeles is where you confront the objective fact that you mean nothing; the desert, the ocean, the tectonic plates, the clear skies, the sun itself, the Hollywood Walk of Fame — even the parking lots: everything there somehow precedes you, even new construction sites, and it's bigger than you and more abstract than you and indifferent to you. You don't matter. You're free.

I don't know if that's the secret to the city, but it's part of it. There's also the exact opposite phenomenon, as Richard Rodriguez wrote (beautifully, as usual) in Days of Obligation

There was nothing reticent about L.A. Glamour was instant. The city took is generosity from the movies. You're beautiful if L.A. says you're beautiful, goddammit.

It was the sons of Jewish immigrants, the haberdasher's son and the tobacconist's son, who established the epic scale of the movies. Movies taught one big lesson: individual lives have scope and grandeur.

Of course L.A. is shallow. Lips that are ten feet long and faces that are forty feet high! But such faces magnify our lives, reassure us that single lives matter. The attention L.A. lavishes on a single face is as generous a metaphor as I can find for the love of God.

I made a stab at the what's-special-about-L.A. question in this Atlantic column on Julius Shulman's photography.

If you're in San Francisco tonight, check out Geoff Manaugh's conversation with Lawrence Weschler, sponsored by McSweeney's at the Park Life Store, details here. Weschler wrote one of the all-time Angeleno-in-exile essays, on the light in L.A., for The New Yorker.

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