The 10 Sickest Burns About Los Angeles
Hating Los Angeles will never not be popular.
Why, just last week Gawker's Hamilton Nolan referred to us with the following headline: "Second-Class City Is First-Class Hellhole, of Traffic." Hey, at least we don't owe Hulk Hogan $115 million! (Too soon?)
But Nolan didn't stop there. He wrote that Angelenos have the "worst sense of noble rectitude," a phrase I had to Google repeatedly, and I'm still not sure I understand it except that I think it's redundant. Also, a New Yorker is accusing us of being self-righteous? Do we also have obnoxious accents and make delicious pizza? Then Nolan wrote:
Los Angeles, a city adorned with leather pants, sweating from its metaphorical butt crack — the San Andreas fault, ladies and gentlemen. Mother Nature will have the final chuckle, I assure you.
Bit harsh. What, just 'cause we like leather pants, that means we deserve to die in a horrible earthquake?
Anyway, that got us thinking, what are the worst, most vitriolic things said about us and our cherished city? Here's what we came up with:
10. William Faulkner:
"Everything in Los Angeles is too large, too loud and usually banal in concept. … The plastic asshole of the world."
Of all the novelists to try their hand at screenwriting, none hated L.A. more than the Mississippi-born William Faulkner, who tried three times to make it in Los Angeles. “They worship death here," he told a friend, according to the absolutely wonderful City of Nets by Otto Friedrich. "They don't worship money, they worship death."
Faulkner was a failure as a screenwriter — the only reason he got a writing credit on The Big Sleep was because Howard Hawks liked drinking and hunting with him. But Faulkner finally became famous in 1949 after he won the Nobel Prize for literature. He never came back to L.A.
9. Jack Kerouac:
"I never felt sadder in my life. L.A. is the loneliest and most brutal of American cities; New York gets godawful cold in the winter but there’s a feeling of wacky comradeship somewhere in some streets. L.A. is a jungle."
There's little indication that Kerouac spent any real time in L.A., although his protagonist in On the Road does make a brief stop here, eating at Clifton's Cafeteria, which he describes as "decorated to look like a grotto, with metal tits spurting everywhere and great impersonal stone buttockses belonging to deities and soapy Neptune."
8. Bertolt Brecht:
"On thinking about Hell, I gather
My brother Shelley found it was a place
Much like the city of London. I
Who live in Los Angeles and not in London
Find, on thinking about Hell, that it must be
Still more like Los Angeles."
Brecht had a rough go of it in L.A. Having fled the Nazis in 1941, the German playwright was labeled an "enemy alien" and was not allowed outside his small home in Santa Monica (for which he paid $48.50 a month) after 8 p.m. He had to get special permission to go farther than five miles from his house.
He tried screenwriting, but his ideas were way too nutty, even for the likes of fellow German Fritz Lang. If Brecht was already bitter when he moved here, he quickly became even more so.
"Nothing could please him," writes Otto Friedrich. "The opulent fruits of California impressed him as having 'neither smell nor taste.' The pretty little houses on which Californians prided themselves were still worse – 'addition built onto the garages.' In fact, prettiness itself was an affront. 'Cheap prettiness,' said the exile, 'depraves everything.'"
7. Raymond Chandler:
“A big hard-boiled city with no more personality than a paper cup.”
Chandler is one of the most celebrated L.A. writers and one of the finest practitioners of the hard-boiled detective novel. He also was one of the few novelists to find success as a screenwriter. But that didn't exactly endear to him the city he lived in for decades.
"Chandler was a strange and crotchety man," Friedrich writes, "an American by birth but obsessed with the fact that he had learned Latin and Greek at an English public school, Dulwich, and that he had therefore acquired a degree of gentility that he thought nobody in Los Angeles could possibly understand. A former businessman, an executive for the Dabney Oil Syndicate, Chandler was also an alcoholic, disastrously dependent on whiskey, and oddly dependent, too, on a wife 18 years his senior, whom he had not dared to marry until the death of his disapproving mother."
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6. Michelangelo Antonioni:
"It's like being nowhere and talking to nobody about nothing."
Who knows — the Italian director, famous for his films with long stretches of silence and ambiguity, may have meant this as a compliment.
"I do not feel particularly alienated here in Los Angeles," Antonioni told Roger Ebert in 1969, after he finished filming Zabriskie Point in L.A. "It is a city that no one likes at first, but after a while you can find places, little corners, places in the city that you can begin to like."
5. Christopher Hitchens:
"It’s mostly full of nonsense and delusion and egomania. They think they’ll be young and beautiful forever, even though most of them aren’t even young and beautiful now."
This one actually feels a bit tame compared with some of the other things said by Hitchens, one of the great haters of our day and, yes, also an alcoholic. Why do alcoholics hate L.A. so much?
4. Woody Allen:
"I mean, who would want to live in a place where the only cultural advantage is that you can turn right on a red light."
In 2015, a reporter for the L.A. Times asked Allen, who had just played the Orpheum Theater with his jazz band, if the director had softened his view on L.A. Allen rolled his eyes and replied, "Well, I wouldn't go crazy ... "
Being able to turn right on a red light is a pretty big advantage, though. Just saying.
3. Brian Eno:
"Los Angeles is like one of those machines that treat flour. When the wheat comes in, it's full of interesting ingredients — but it goes through this machine and what you get out at the end is perfect white crap."
Mr. Eno, big fan of your work. We gave up carbs like three years ago, so we have no idea what you're talking about. Love Baby's on Fire.
2. Chuck Klosterman:
"I'm shocked by anyone who doesn't consider Los Angeles to be anything less than a bozo-saturated hellhole. It is pretty much without question the worst city in America. The reason 'Walking in L.A.' by Missing Persons was the most accidentally prescient single of 1982 was because of its unfathomable (but wholly accurate) specificity: Los Angeles is the only city in the world where the process of walking on the sidewalk could somehow be a) political and b) humiliating. It is the only community I've ever visited where absolutely everything cliché proved to be completely accurate. I don't care if 85% of Los Angeles is stupid. I can deal with stupid. My problem is that every stupid person in Los Angeles is also a) unyieldingly narcissistic and b) unyieldingly nice. They have somehow managed to combine raging megalomania with genuine friendliness."
That's a whole lot of hate coming from some Minnesota-born bearded ginger. This quote comes from Klosterman's book Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story.
That whole thing about how no one walks in L.A., that's only said by rich people on the Westside who never leave the Westside.
1. John Lennon
"Los Angeles? That's just a big parking lot where you buy a hamburger for the trip to San Francisco."
Et tu, John? Is this because you and Harry Nilsson got thrown out of the Troubadour for getting too drunk?
This one hurts. It really does.
And as a bonus, here's what John Doe of the L.A. punk band X once said about L.A. haters:
"I think the best thing to be said about Los Angeles, to be serious, is that it doesn't have an identity, and everybody hates it and there's no real social pride about Los Angeles ... which is one of the phoniest, most pretentious things somebody can have ... pride in a shit hole like New York or Los Angeles ... it's just a big scummy place for people to come and try to do their business, you know? But I like the fact that Los Angeles is all confused. Nobody really likes Los Angeles, they put up with it. But it's good to be in the heart of the Beast."