The Defender

Photo by Alex Rose

While surfing the Net a few weeks ago, 25-year-old DVD-trivia-game designer Hillel Aron was shocked to discover the Encyclopedia Britannica’s disparaging coverage of Los Angeles. Inside his starkly furnished West Hollywood apartment, illuminated by the blue light of his computer, Aron — who is quick to point out that L.A. has hosted not one, but two Olympic Games and is also home of the French Dip sandwich — puts down a slice of pizza and starts to read the offending essay aloud: “ ‘Angelenos live in enclaves, walled off from one another by ethnic, cultural and economic differences. They go their own way: surfing, skiing, yachting, hiking, playing golf and tennis. Nowhere in the world is the pursuit of happiness more unabashedly hedonistic . . .’ We pursue happiness more than anywhere else? What about the actual ‘party cities’? I mean, right away I think of New Orleans and Las Vegas! They even write, ‘The city is grotesquely shaped, like a charred scrap of paper!’ ”


Aron swivels around in his chair and stops reading. “I’ve lived in Los Angeles my whole life, and people love to bash it. So many times I’ve heard, ‘I could never raise my kid here.’ That’s ridiculous. What is this, Beirut? I am used to people tearing it apart, but the Encyclopedia Britannica? It’s supposed to be objective.”


Aron, who grew up in the Pico/Fairfax area and graduated from USC’s film school, says he has never felt the desire to move. In fact, the attractive, longhaired son of a photographer and a Hebrew Union college professor thinks “freeways are cool,” and admits to getting goose bumps just thinking about how beautiful the drive can be on the 10 freeway as it transforms itself into the PCH.



He also likes the sunsets, the climate, Angel’s Flight and, on a clear day, the views from Mulholland.


Which is why he found himself recently writing an impassioned complaint letter, something he has never done before, to the Encyclopedia Britannica, urging the editors to change their disheartening 30-page essay. After that, he posted a bulletin on Friendster and MySpace, asking others to do the same. Unfortunately, he was only able to convince three friends to follow his lead. Instead, he explains, most wrote back to say they agreed with the Britannica’s take. One went so far to write, “Of course, this city sucks.”


“That’s the thing. There is no civic pride in this city,” says Aron, who includes John Fante’s L.A. novel Ask the Dust and Nathaniel West’s Day of the Locust among his favorites. “If you insult New York to a New Yorker, they’ll punch you in the face.”


Aron turns back to his computer and scrolls through the essay, shaking his head.


“Of course, they can’t get enough of New York and San Francisco.”


What did they say about San Francisco?


“Oh! That’s the best one,” he says, perking up.


“ ‘San Francisco holds a secure place in the United States’ romantic dream of itself: a cool, elegant, handsome, worldly seaport, whose steep streets offer breathtaking views of one of the world’s greatest bays. According to the dream, San Franciscans are sophisticates whose lives hold full measures of such civilized pleasures as music, art and good food. Their children are to be pitied, for . . . They will probably grow up thinking all cities are so wonderful!!!’ ”


Aron, who has visited New York and San Francisco, as well as Seattle, Salt Lake City, Boston, Barstow and Jerusalem, twice, agrees San Francisco is awe-inspiring, but just feels his home is worthy of praise too.


Even the movies, L.A.’s most visible industry, don’t give the city the respect Aron feels it deserves. What we need, Aron says, is a filmmaker who will approach this city with the same amount of love and appreciation as Woody Allen has for Manhattan.


“There are dozens of movies basically about how New York is the greatest city on Earth. But, rack your brain and try and come up with a pro–Los Angeles movie. Just one.”


Aron suspects, with the exception of the noir films of the 1940s, most movies about L.A. fall into two categories: either those about Beverly Hills or Hollywood and, in general, all those can be categorized as satire.


He loves Steve Martin’s L.A. Story and Hal Ashby and Warren Beatty’s Shampoo, but thinks they’re ultimately making fun. He says the characters in John Cassavetes’ films “are in a lot of anguish,” and in Robert Altman’s Short Cuts the characters are “shallow and self-obsessed.” In his estimation there are only a couple of modern “pro-L.A.” movies: Alex Cox’s Repo Man and the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski .


“We hear in [ The Big Lebowski ] that the main character, The Dude, is, in the Coen brothers’ view, ‘more representative of L.A. than anyone else.’ He’s the hero, and therefore L.A. is the hero of the movie. The Dude is lazy, but that movie is about ‘When is it worth it to take action?’ The Dude’s heroicness is taking it easy. To me that’s one of the great things about Los Angeles, that the people are very laid back.”


Aron takes another bite of pizza and leans back in his chair.


“If the encyclopedia is saying these things about Los Angeles, it is indicative of how Los Angeles is being perceived. I mean, what the hell did L.A. ever do to the world? We supplied the world with movies and television. What do we get in return? Nothing — a kick in the teeth. I probably wouldn’t feel so strongly about Los Angeles if everyone else didn’t hate it so much.


“Somebody’s got to defend this city.”



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