Native Angelenos like me are super tired of people, especially those not from here, telling us about our city. We're tired of gossip rags portraying Los Angeles as nothing more than a paparazzi backdrop; we're tired of wellness blogs and fashion mags' pretentious and limited portrayals of L.A. women as yoga moms, Goop-sters and rich hippies; and we are really tired of clueless New York Times writers trying to act woke about what it's really like here with think pieces that equate a walk around Olvera Street or a meal at a taco truck with some kind of cultural immersion.
I didn't think we needed a whole book about what everybody gets wrong because, well, those of us who grew up here already know that L.A. is not what people outside think it is, and no amount of visits to Disneyland, the Walk of Fame, the Sunset Strip, ArtWalk or even Skid Row will enlighten you. You have to live here, and you have to live here for a while. Even then, you won't be in the natives club. Only people who got lost as a kid in the supermarket here, had a birthday party in a public park here, went to the beach as a teen here, had their first drink in a bar here, had their first makeout session in a car parked on a neighborhood street here, got in a car accident here, saw their first live music here, went to school here and lived through the riots, earthquakes and car chases, as a child and then an adult, really know. Native Angelenos are proud and we are a little defensive. OK, we also might be too insulated and presumptuous about what we think we know about our city. And a lot of us could bone up on our local history.
The new book This Is (Not) L.A. seeks to open the minds of not just outsiders and transplants but natives as well. The book has been endorsed by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (which might be the opposite of a selling point to some, but whatever you feel about the guy's politics, he is a native who knows this city well). Author Jen Bilik is not from L.A., by the way, but she has lived here since the late '90s. Being from the Bay Area (where, as she states in the press release, “hatred of Los Angeles was our birthright — though we characterized it as a rivalry”) actually gives her a perspective that is needed to dispel the stereotypes, clichés and outright falsehoods about Los Angeles that many have. Plus her co-author is a native who knows what's up, former L.A. Weekly music editor Kate Sullivan. Also, the intro alone gets this thing heavy credibility: It was written by none other than Jonathan Gold, who, as always, beautifully captures the colors and threads that make this city a true tapestry (his word).
This vibrant, full-color, 168-page guide to what L.A. is “not” features what they call “spotlights” on L.A. culture — mostly graphics-driven flowcharts, maps, lists and collages — which I'm going to assume are meant for the short attention spans of younger readers and not based on assumptions that L.A. people don't read. The “Blind-Spot Bingo” game (with condescending stereotypes and tropes actually culled from various New York Times articles about L.A. on the game board) was contributed by Curbed L.A. and it's brilliant.
This Is (Not) L.A. uses other expert and defender contributions to tackle 18 common myths about Los Angeles, most of which are necessary points to contend with. But some are slight head-scratchers. Do people really think that “L.A. has crappy food,” or that it's a “concrete wasteland” still? In 2018? Really? Maybe they do and maybe my bias as a native prevents me from seeing that. Not sure, but I did enjoy this book, and the format is fun and easy to follow, with listed “myths” followed by “reality checks” and actual facts, and finally a “mindblower” conclusion for each falsehood that nails the cliché coffin shut for good. Or does it? As Mr. Gold says in his intro, “L.A. is always mutating, and those who try to define it too tidily are doomed to fail.”
This Is (Not) L.A. author Jen Bilik curates and moderates a panel of L.A. locals and transplants including Evan Kleiman (author, KCRW host and restaurateur), Lynell George (author-journalist and Grammy winner for “Best Album Notes” on Otis Redding Live at the Whisky A Go Go: The Complete Recordings), Alissa Walker (Curbed L.A.'s urbanism editor), and Patty Rodriguez (producer, best-selling author and entrepreneur), with a Q&A to follow, on Thu., Sept. 20, 6-9 p.m., at the Natural History Museum, 900 Exposition Blvd., Exposition Park. Free and open to the public in conjunction with NHM’s “Becoming Los Angeles” exhibit.