||To be L.A. or not to be
By Garrison Frost
When you live in a South Bay city like Torrance, Lomita or Hermosa Beach, how specific you are about where you tell people you live depends on where you are when the question is asked. If you're more than a couple hundred miles away, you understand that there is little likelihood that your listener has ever heard of your hometown, so you tell them you're from Los Angeles just to be safe. Everyone has heard of Los Angeles, so it's just easier. Sometimes, you will even say that you live "just outside of Los Angeles" or "in a suburb of Los Angeles." But it's not wrong to say you're from Los Angeles because, after all, you do live in Los Angeles County, if not the city of Los Angeles. It's the listener's fault if he or she doesn't understand the difference.
Besides, Los Angeles is more than just the name of a city or a county. It's an ambiguous concept that we people who live adjacent to the city itself with which we can choose to associate ourselves, or not.
And so, for geographical convenience, we'll say we're from L.A. But at other times, we would just as soon not be considered a part of that place, for instance when the subject is the school district. Hell, one mention of Los Angeles Unified and your property values are likely to drop by 20 percent. So, no, when the subject is the LAUSD, count us out of the whole L.A. thing.
The ability to pick and choose when to associate ourselves with Los Angeles is one of the perks of living in the South Bay. When the Lakers are winning championships, count us in. When they're melting down as they did this year, that's that other city's problem. Likewise:
Disney Hall: that's us.
Gang violence: not us.
Magic Johnson: us.
Jim Hahn: not us.
Los Angeles history: us.
Los Angeles gang violence: not us.
Venice Beach: us.
The Valley: not us.
LAX: sometimes us, sometimes not us.
So do we suffer for this lack of commitment? Are we called out for being two-faced, for being L.A. patriots one moment and then turncoats the next? Of course not, and it's quite possible that the reason is that, as residents of an outlying community, nobody really cares what we think or say. But I think it has more to do with the fact that while only occasionally claim Los Angeles, Los Angeles almost always claims us.
We are the beach, after all, and Los Angeles wants to be the beach. Sure, L.A. has its beaches, but not the postcard clean tourist beaches that it so desperately craves. That's the reason ABC runs video of Manhattan Beach during its national telecasts of Laker games. Los Angeles is known for beaches like Manhattan Beach's, not for Cabrillo Beach, which perhaps would have been more accurate.
But it's not just the beaches. L.A. also claims to be us for the aerospace industry. Why else would the Air Force Base in El Segundo be called the Los Angeles Air Force Base? And why stop there? L.A. has also claimed to be us for nice houses, yachting, golfing, driving and who else what else.
If Los Angeles wants to continue to rely upon the more generous of the ambiguous distinctions, so be it. We are many of someone else's best qualities. We have our own identity, sure, but we also have someone else's, and we can choose the time and place to wear these labels.
(Oct. 28, 2004)
© Copyright 1999-2006 The Aesthetic