The Best Comeback to 'L.A. Is a Heavenly Place,' CNN's Embarrassing Love Note to Los Angeles
CNN's Jennifer Wolfe says L.A. comes with "a double helping of sun, sand, surf and smiles."
We're tickled, of course, that CNN thinks "L.A. Is a Heavenly Place." We do, too!
But as so many L.A.-ophiles discovered upon actually reading the meat of the article, writer Jennifer Wolfe thinks of L.A. like a postcard, not the smoggy grimy wasteland we've come to call heaven.
The piece is part of a New York vs. L.A. "city smackdown" (way to troll 'em, CNN!)...
... that invites devotees to America's two largest cities to weigh in on why one is better than the other.
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Aside from the fact that this age-old argument is the most pointless, ego-driven thing ever, Wolfe's ode to L.A. -- which reads like an outtake from Lonely Planet, and which unfortunately represents the lot of us on CNN's travel blog -- proves to New York that we are just the vapid, brain-bleached douchebags they suspect us to be.
After barefooting across "golden, sandy beaches" and "riding my beach cruiser to Venice for an icy cold beer at the Candle Café with good friends," Wolfe writes:
"When people judge Los Angeles, many criticize it for being plastic and fake. If you just scratch the surface of the city that might be all you see, but don't forget Los Angeles is home to an enormously creative population."
Not that you'd know it from her Beverly Hilton brochure.
But even more annoying than Wolfe's own superficial ride down PCH is that she mentions the city's "fake" stereotype at all. It feeds directly into New York's glee at our supposed inferiority complex, and ignores the beauty of our particular plastics. Forget the snow-capped mountains, which are better anywhere else on the West Coast -- L.A.'s hellish heaven is a buzzing neon sign over an abandoned gas station, and the high-stakes strip poker game likely raging in its basement. Just ask Ed Ruscha.
Below, the best of the public outcry, an "open letter" written by Loyola Marymount grad Chris Saint-Hilaire.
Congratulations! Your article, "L.A. is a 'heavenly place,'" has been posted by about a dozen of my Facebook friends which means it's probably gone viral. And, to most of those who have commented on it, the reaction has been a resounding "yes! This article gets it all right! THIS is why I love LA." But I must respectfully disagree. Because your article is a cursory précis of everything that's wrong with people's ideas of LA.
In fairness to you, none of what you wrote is incorrect, per se; we do have great weather! you can surf and ski in the same day! and Los Angeles is diverse! But, really, who doesn't know this?
My problem is that you criticize people for not scratching the surface of Los Angeles, but then make no effort to do so yourself. You extol the superficial but ignore the nuances. Los Angeles might look like a place of sunshine and smiles, but that's not what makes it so wonderful, so unique, and so terribly addicting. Love might begin with attraction, but it is sustained by totally embracing the good, the bad, and every mile in between.
First, Los Angeles is not pretty. She is a hard-boiled city, an urban rebellion. At her core is the idea that anything goes. And, for most of her history, anything has. She is the last stop before the ocean. She is all that is left of the Wild, Wild West.
Los Angeles is a town of rediscovery and reinvention. A Mecca for transients. A place where nobody is who they really are because everybody is somebody new. And that's okay. Let New York have her gilded past and Fifth Avenue legacy. Los Angeles really doesn't care who you were, she cares about who you think you are today and who you might be tomorrow.
Los Angeles "is a valley of ten-million insanities," as Ry Cooder once said. Where the homeless wear furs, and where Jesus drives a Mercedes and Charlie Chaplin takes the bus.
L.A. is the canvas on which Lautner, Neutra, and Gehry built their legacies. She is where Raymond Chandler met Phillip Marlow. Where Bukowski got drunk and Ellis got laid.
Here is Surf City, Tinsel Town, and Hotel California. The Sunset Strip wears its past like notches on a bedpost, and Olvera Street tells the story of the millions of immigrants who built Los Angeles. Every boulevard and avenue shows you the good and the bad, the rich and the poor, the pretty and the ugly, all within a few miles, all from the safety of your Prius.
Los Angeles is a midnight traffic jam. A smoggy day. A lunch break car-chase.
This is where the gods are exalted and destroyed, all in an afternoon. Where cynics and dreamers can come to the same conclusion.
Los Angeles is the scars of racial tension, of brush fires, and earthquakes.
Here, the temperature is usually 5 degrees too hot or 10 degrees too cold, except for most of the time, when it is perfect.
Los Angeles is the orange grove that was replaced by a backlot, the backlot that was replaced by a city, the city that was replaced by a vision of the future.
Ultimately, Los Angeles is whatever you want her to be, except for what she isn't.
The beaches and the weather and whatever ... those are only the rewards for embracing Los Angeles' faults and fault lines.
She gives you the peremptory gift of her superficial beauty, but then challenges you to not be defeated by the catch. Those of us who are strong can call ourselves Angelinos.
The rest either move home or, worse, remain here trapped in a shallow, salient bubble. Blithe but not enlightened. Content but not whole.
But even those people, in all their naiveity, are still a part of the fabric of the city. Because if Los Angeles is a place that embraces her imperfections, it means we'll take them all, even you.
Wolfe responded to Saint-Hilaire's letter via Twitter, calling it "brilliant & I promise you I've never operated from within a 'shallow, salient bubble.'" The best part, she says, is that "it has stirred a lot of people to tell me what I've missed. It also inspired you to write."
To which a friend of Saint-Hilaire snarkily replies on Facebook: "I'm going to double down and say it must be an exceptionally thick bubble because your letter didn't manage to burst it. Also, because I'm LA trash, nice hat." (See photo at the top.)
For further recommended reading, try Public Spectacle's "Fuck Rodeo Drive: A People's Guide to Los Angeles is an L.A. Guidebook for the 99 Percent."
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