It can be fun to hate Los Angeles, especially when visiting from another part of the country. LA has an infamous reputation for sunshine, celebrity and suicidal drivers. Throw in some Hollywood elitism and you have a place that is easily poked fun at. People’s love affair with hating the place has motivated many to re-brand the city in their minds as the fabled birthplace of shallowness and bad urban planning. We have romanticized the idea that LA’s plastic personalities and perverse entertainment industry are what fuel a crude, homogenized music and film industry that degrades our society with superficial fluff. The people who live there all pursue a uniquely Southern Californian facade of twisted glamor rather than any meaningful relationships. But is this really the true nature of the place?
“It would be great to visit, but I could never see myself living there,” is a phrase that nearly every American has uttered about Los Angeles at least once. But the LA area is far more than the TMZ town that many would like to reduce it to. The mainstream media that LA supposedly runs rarely misses an opportunity to point out LA’s horrific traffic, rude drivers, bad air pollution, unhealthy celebrity worship and fickle materialism. The strange thing is that these are all common complaints about nearly every large American city. Why do so many put the blame on LA?
Like many American cultural oddities, the problem can somehow be tracked back to something puritanical in origin. The classic idea behind the protestant work ethic, even in a more secular world, still does much to shape our modern cultural DNA. That subtly self-taught rule that all good things are attached to hard work and heavy sacrifice appears to be contradicted in the way that LA is often portrayed in film or on television.
To prevent such a contradiction, that puritan part of the brain tells us a story where the people living in LA who possess any looks, fame, wealth, or media influence had to have acquired it at some heavy price. LA lifestyles must come at the cost of one’s soul, at least in part. LA culture must somehow be less true to humanity than the rest of the world’s culture.
But this imagined superficial pact with the devil simply doesn’t do the place justice. LA’s many fascinating inner worlds from Koreatown to downtown have less to do with clever facades, and more to do with what lives behind them. The bad air and poor public transit may be an unavoidable reality, but so too is one of the world’s heaviest concentrations of creative capital ever assembled. LA can be an amazing place to be, least of all because of any skin-deep social norms. The wonder of LA is that it’s a city with an astonishing amount of people who dream like they’re children, but work like they’re puritans.
Swedish Band Miike Snow performing at Hard Summer
The city that birthed everyone from Dr. Dre to the Red Hot Chili Peppers didn’t do it by just cranking out generic crap. LA’s endless venues and new artists make it one of the best music scenes in the world. It has succeeded in doing this not just due to local talent, but because opportunity from its recording industry serves as a beacon for talent all over the world. The hype around LA for new musicians ensures that hearing amazing music doesn’t require waiting a year for a pricy Coachella ticket. LA is a sonic testing ground where mainstream and underground music trends manage to exist side by side. It’s where the avant-garde can cross-pollinate with the everyday. Whether at a known venue on Sunset Boulevard or in a warehouse near downtown, the city is a music magnet for every conceivable sound.
Music aside, LA’s entertainment industry also draws in human capital from every other creative industry that exists. Film, fashion, fine art, street art, animation, makeup, standup, live theatre, and any other art form imaginable exist in full force in LA. Writers of everything from famous novels to world-renowned films make LA their home. Whatever people don’t like about the city is gladly tolerated in pursuit of connections with other creative people who are working there. That makes for an amazingly energetic atmosphere. All of that energy is what keeps LA’s culture as dynamic as it is.
The concept of a strictly Los Angeles culture is also a tough thing to pinpoint, given that large concentrations of different ethnicity exist in LA. A person can go out for enchiladas just as easily as they can for sushi. And, just like with creative endeavors, the culinary world of LA is as diverse as it is accessible. Food carts and funky restaurants around Silver Lake are just as good as the expensive restaurants in gentrifying areas around Spring Street. The insane volume of good tasting carne asada in LA alone is enough to make one forget about famous people entirely.
LA Cafe in downtown Los Angeles
It’s still fair to say, however, that LA has used a lot of that creativity and cultural diversity to sell itself short as a destination. One of the LA area’s biggest ironies at times is that the laid back California narrative of superficial jerks gets marketed to all of us. The image of a stoned slacker or a frivolous idiot comes from the minds of very hard-working, very resourceful people who are telling an audience the story that they want to hear.
Comedy Central’s hit show Workaholics, for example, a show about three college dropouts partying in Rancho Cucamonga while working at a call center, is written by comedians Blake Anderson, Adam DeVine, and Anders Holm. They also star as the show’s three main characters. Their drug dealer, played by comedian Kyle Newacheck, serves in real life as the Workaholics co-creator, writer, and executive producer. Even if the premise seems simple, the work behind making it believable is anything but.
Anderson, DeVine, and Anders
This among other reasons is why much of the mainstream view of LA is about as factually accurate as a Hollywood blockbuster. As result of housing the lion’s share of America’s entertainment industry, California subcultures have been heavily gimmicked. LA’s largely self-made caricature of itself, full of palm trees, actors, directors, valley girls, pop-stars, rappers, skaters, surfers, and hot blondes posing with palm trees reinforces a lot of stereotypes.
Maybe the real reason why Americans love hating LA is because deep down at our core, we secretly or not so secretly love so much of what is produced there. We resent how much beloved cultural capital emerges from one place. Our own lives in comparison can seem mundane when contrasted with the many happenings of such a diverse place. We end up reducing it all to a false competition between our sentimental normalcies and a supposedly superficial Los Angeles. But reducing it in our minds to such a social standoff is a waste of time. There are many sentimental, very creative and very hard-working people who make LA their home. That’s why they moved there. One can easily criticize all of the smoke and mirrors, but anyone who does so risks missing the spectacular universe of creative wizards that are hiding right behind them.