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Canards and Clichés 

L.A. through the N.Y. Times’ looking glass

Thursday, Oct 6 2005
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Few are things more amusing than the pouty generalizations about Los Angeles written by East Coast ironists — or, worse (that is, better), by a local desperately currying favor with a New York editor. From their keyboards spring a reassuringly familiar town that never wakes, an L.A. obsessed with cars and cosmetic surgery and that hates films with subtitles. Here’s David Foster Wallace in the Atlantic Monthly: “Ten o’clock to one qualifies as late at night in Southern California, where hardly anything reputable’s open after nine.” The best of this fodder comes from The New York Times, whose condescension makes you wonder how much to trust its smug coverage of foreign countries. Here are some attempts to hang L.A. on a piñata hook by New Yorkers or their L.A. quislings — canards that can only best be savored when they are read right here, in the liposuctioned belly of the beast.

1. In a city where it is socially déclassé to walk farther than a Frisbee can be thrown, the mall department store is de rigueur. . . . That’s why Southern Californians tend to take their cues from department stores, where an entire look is put together in one place. (March 1, 1996)

2. There are only a few cities in America where people don’t go to nightclubs to forget where they are. Hollywood is one of them. Any club owner who doesn’t pay homage to the city’s history, who forgets that there’s only one reason everyone’s there — and that’s to become a Hollywood star — is doomed to fail. (November 15, 1998)

3. Initial reports from Los Angeles, which tends to have a head start on all things good and bad, is that progress toward carpooling has been slow. (April 12, 1993)

4. “The real difference between New York and L.A. is that in New York, everyone in every industry is looking for the next new idea,” he said. “Here, everyone just wants to make the sequel.” In style terms, he said, “that translates to a kind of personal armor where individuality is not really encouraged.” From the right haircut, superwhite teeth and trim abdomen, to where one is seated at which restaurant, “these things aren’t musts — they’re critical,” he said. (April 14, 2002)

5. Mina would also rather be en route to work for her boss, Lorene, who in Spiotta’s hands is a wickedly funny version of the kind of person Los Angeles is famous for. Lorene is the owner of a group of high-concept restaurants, including a “smoking speakeasy” called Vanity and Vexation, where the ashtrays are meant to be “coveted and stolen,” and a club where the waitresses are required to have “retro bodies,” that is, 15 pounds curvier than the standard local beauty. (September 30, 2001)

6. With many plastic surgeons saying that Los Angeles is the country’s implant capital, the Beverly Hills branch of Neiman Marcus sells more dresses in size 12 than any other, while sizes 8 and 10 are the most popular for designer evening wear at other Neiman branches, said a buyer for the chain, who linked the phenomenon to customers who had surgically increased their busts. (May 12, 2005)

7. “Colors that look garish and crass to the New York eye look quite right here in the bright sunlight,” he observed. “California definitely has something to say in fashion. You simply can’t ignore the glitz and glamour of Hollywood.” (September 8, 1980)

8. “We’ve always been centerless, and that affects us a lot,” said Linda Griego, a former deputy mayor and onetime head of Rebuild L.A., which helped in post-riot recovery. “People need to work a lot more to come together here, so it doesn’t happen very often. You don’t have that in New York. There’s a spirit that just seems deeper, especially now.” (September 27, 2001)

9. In a place built on the notion that fantasies can be manufactured with little more than plywood and good lighting, financiers became the Hollywood equivalent of bankable stars. (August 13, 2000)

10. Heartbreaker, which opened yesterday at the National and other theaters, is a primitive action-romance about those young people in Los Angeles who spend their spare time custom-fitting their automobiles to reflect their self-images. (July 23, 1983)

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Reach the writer at smikulan@laweekly.com

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