Hey, you. Moron.

Squinting at the distant paradise
Let the snowbound literati take potshots at L.A. We're crying all the way to the beach.
Steve Lopez
August 15, 2010

Hey, you. Moron.
Yeah, I'm talking to you.
How could you live in a wasteland like Los Angeles?

After all these years, L.A. put-downs are still a national sport, and our critics can't all be wrong, can they?

Did you catch what Lady Gaga told New York magazine a few months back?

"I don't like Los Angeles."

Oh, and why is that, Ms. Gaga?

"The people are awful and terribly shallow."

Anything else?

"And everybody wants to be famous but nobody wants to play the game."


"I'm from New York. I will kill to get what I need."

Honey, that happens every day in Hollywood.

I don't know Gaga's music terribly well, so I Googled a site with her most popular lyrics. The first song begins like this:

Mum mum mum mah

Mum mum mum mah

Mum mum mum mah

Mum mum mum mah

I happen not to agree with Lady G's characterization of L.A.'s populace, but I'll admit that we, like every other city in America, have some shallow citizens. How else to explain the fact that Staples Center was packed to the rafters on Wednesday night with people paying money to see Gaga, who recently performed in Chicago in a see-through fishnet body sock and wants to be an actress.

Like Gaga, I might have been guilty of my own L.A. put-downs once upon a time, having grown up in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the topic of seceding from California is never off the table.

But then I moved here, and I found my way past the obvious — the bad traffic, the superficial types, the mini-malls — and realized that this is the city where the 21st century is likely to be defined. Sure we're struggling, but we're struggling with the crucial issues of our times — and we're doing it with the ocean lapping at our feet, under the shade of the palms and with a backdrop of mountains in the distance. Besides, as a local columnist, I took an oath to defend my turf, even if I might occasionally backhand the governor and the mayor.

To be honest, I now count nonresident insults as a source of pride. L.A. is so culturally, politically and economically significant not just in the country, but in the world, that outsiders feel entitled to attack, to simplify and to memorialize their illusion of superiority.

Take, for instance, the July 28 edition of the New York Times. In the Fashion & Style section (why not be honest about New York's obsession with appearance and call it the Image section, as we do at the L.A. Times?), a story by Celia McGee addressed a visit to New York by Santa Monica writer Mona Simpson.

And here's the pearl:

"In Los Angeles, the hometown of the movies, and a place not known to be crawling with literary cognoscenti, Ms. Simpson said she was nonetheless friendly with lots of people who write books, as well as playwrights and screenwriters."

So Simpson lives in Los Angeles, and yet not only does she know writers — in addition to being one herself — but she is friends with some of them.


I called Simpson to see if she would be friends with me.

"It's the oldest prejudice in the world," Simpson said, referring to the Eastern idea that Los Angeles is a vast unpolished territory of unspeakable vapidity (not that we don't have some of that).

Simpson said she'd just gone to a party for Pulitzer pumpkin-winning food writer Jonathan Gold, and there were lots of writers, artists, photographers and painters there, all of them being "nonetheless friendly" with one another.

By some oversight, I didn't get an invitation. Imagine my shock at discovering not only that there are literary cognoscenti in Los Angeles, but that I'm not one of them. I felt a little better after talking to acclaimed writer T.C. Boyle, a USC professor and Santa Barbara resident who told me he generally avoids writerly gatherings.

Michael Silverblatt, the New York transplant you know and love as KCRW's Bookworm, said New York writers came west in the 1930s and '40s to make money in Hollywood, and their letters home were like dispatches from India by British colonialists. L.A. came off as "some uncivilized place" where "you're not going to find people like us," and that outdated idea has persisted.

But legions of writers have moved west for years, Silverblatt said, to escape the horrors of nonstop book events in New York, where they grew tired of constant encounters with writers "who got a bigger advance."

Hear, hear. But enough on books.

The most creative recent L.A. putdown wasn't from Lady Gaga or the New York Times, but from the Willamette Weekly newspaper in Portland, Ore. Editor Ben Waterhouse actually thanked the "City of Smog" for creating the kimchee-stuffed taco, but otherwise summed us up like this:

"Los Angeles: A cancerous lesion on California's bottom, founded on a criminal disregard for water rights and sustained on a steady diet of shattered aspirations and overpriced vodka. What has L.A. ever given us? American Apparel ads, Scientology and Lakers fans."

I e-mailed Waterhouse to ask how much time he's spent in L.A., which he writes about with such authority.

"None whatsoever," he wrote back, saying he'd been in Southern California before but never Los Angeles. "That sentence was pure agitprop in a town [Portland] where dissing on LA is instinctual, and children curse the Lakers before they learn the names of their parents, pets and bodily functions. General xenophobia is the local pastime, and California the favorite target."

We know, and we're flattered.

Cue it up, Randy Newman.


We love it!


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