There are journalistic tropes that are so long running that it seems that they are no longer even recognized as tropes. One of these is the whole East Coast/West Coast, New York/L.A. view of the world — applied liberally to the world of hip-hop in the ’90s. The other is that L.A. is a provincial agglomeration of Variety-reading, plastic surgery-enhanced, vacuous show business wannabes who care about nothing other than their Q ratings and their cars. Both of these clichés received ample column inches in Adam Nagourney’s story about Pacific Standard Time in the New York Times.
One of my standing rules on this blog is to try not to complain too regularly about the New York Times because a) it gets boring, b) that’s what everyone else does, and c) life is too damn short. But this story sent the little Califas chola that lives inside of me reaching for the razor blades she keeps tucked inside her hairdo (partially because I spent a LOT of time researching my own story about PST). And reach for those razor blades is just what I’m gonna do.
My paragraph by paragraph breakdown of Nagourney’s piece of…
1.) Nagourney kicks off with an East Coast/West Coast Narrative Arc.
This is articulated thusly right in the second paragraph (the “nut” graf, as it were): “This multi-museum event, in all of its Los Angeles-like sprawl, suggests a bit of overcompensation from a city that has long been overshadowed by the New York art establishment…” So a project that was about establishing a record of haphazardly covered movements, artists and communities becomes about loopy L.A. trying to be like it’s big, more cultured brother New York. Aren’t we over this? Isn’t this what killed Tupac and Biggie? Isn’t this just…boring… at this point?
2.) He then adds in a line about The Vapid Angeleno.
Again, let’s cut to the nut graf: “…a place that — arguably unfairly — still suffers from a reputation of being more about tinsel than about serious art, and where interest in culture starts and ends with movie grosses and who is on the cover of Vanity Fair.” Okay, so he qualifies it with “arguably unfairly.” But seriously, are we still on this? Of all the music, art, architecture and literature the place has produced and we’re still harping on the three mile radius around Beverly Hills? Has anyone told Nagourney that L.A. is 80 miles wide? That it’s majority minority? That people do stuff like work in defense, manufacturing and engineering?
3.) He then includes a horrible Dave Hickey quote.
Hickey says: “It’s corny…It’s the sort of thing that Denver would do. They would do Mountain Standard Time. It is ’50s boosterish, and I would argue largely unnecessary.” This unfortunate quote isn’t entirely Nagourney’s fault — because Hickey comes off like an asshole all on his own — but when the first quote of the story is given over to a guy who lives in New Mexico, and who it seems hasn’t been to any of the shows, well… (And let’s hope Hickey doesn’t have to make any appearances in Denver any time soon, a city that, incidentally, is about to open a museum dedicated to painter Clyfford Still.)
4.) And it’s followed by a Peter Plagens quote.
Which is inoffensively uninteresting (more East Coast/West Coast), but again: second quote in a story about PST and no one who currently lives in California has been quoted. This is then followed by a generic quote from Jeffrey Deitch, who has lived in Cali for all of five minutes and will likely be there for only five minutes more. Clearly, all the news that’s fit to print.
5.) He then tosses in a random list of shows.
Which refers to the Hammer Museum’s Now Dig This! exhibit as showcasing the work of “local African-American artists.” Is he for serious? Does he know the show contains work by artists such as David Hammons? Who could crush Nagourney’s skull with his thoughts? And whose works are a part of MoMA’s permanent collection? And whose piece African-American Flag can be currently seen in MoMA’s second floor galleries and hanging from the façade of the Studio Museum in Harlem? Does Nagourney even go to museums when he’s in New York?
6.) Then we’re back to more East Coast/West Coast.
“No one is suggesting that Los Angeles is about to supplant New York as an art capital; it is not lost on people here that the executive directors of three of the four biggest museums in Los Angeles came here from New York.” Blah blah New York blah blah Los Angeles blah blah New York blah blah. Are New Yorkers capable of writing stories about Los Angeles that don’t mention New York?
7.) Obligatory reference to Venice Beach.
He then lets us know that he knows that there are some artists living in Venice: “The sheer sprawl of the city means that it is hard to have the kind of concentrated art district that has characterized New York over the last 50 years, though there has long been an influential colony of artists out in Venice.” Except the point that PST makes is that there were and are vibrant artistic clusters all over Southern California from the O.C. to Wilmington to East L.A. and downtown — they just haven’t always been relentlessly hyped and commercialized like some communities in Greenwich Village and SoHo and Williamsburg that I know. Update: Also, as a friend just pointed out to me: Who the hell is spending $6000 a month to rent studio space in Brooklyn?
8.) Then cut to line about how sunshine makes everyone uninterested in culture.
“And there are obstacles that come with living in this part of the country: Curators talk about the difficulty of encouraging people to walk indoors for anything but a movie in a city that has glorious weather so many months of the year.” Because all anyone does in SoCal is sunbathe and do sit-ups. Would love to know who these “curators” are.
9.) Season with more Deitch.
Who is described as the director of the “Los Angeles Modern.” That just made me snort-laugh.
10.) And with that we’re pretty much over and out.
No real references to art or movements or discoveries… Just a quote by James Cuno of the Getty, who is required to address the whole East Coast/West Coast thing AGAIN. Zzzzzzzz. Thud.