East and West Coasts Are Blending into Cultural Banality

Roundup: Historians' Take

Patrick Moore, in the Los Angeles Times (July 9 2004):

The fact that the New Yorker now has more subscribers in California than in New York is just one more indicator of the growing similarities between two cities that were once considered the extremes of American culture — New York City and Los Angeles. This is not good news for either L.A., the vanguard of American social change, or NYC, the vaunted engine of American culture. Rather, it reflects a creeping blandness in American life, fueled by the culture's endless packaging and sale of all that is unique.

New York and L.A. were once charged elements sparking creativity from coast to coast. But the distance between these opposing cities has collapsed under the weight of a culture consisting mainly of marketing messages. L.A. and New York have folded together like advertisements facing one another in a glossy magazine, and we have created a new entity, smeared with media ink — New Angeles.

At the moment, Los Angeles seems deeply alluring to the very New Yorkers who once dismissed it. Donald Trump, the latest New York robber baron, has made clear his intention of becoming involved in L.A. real estate development. East Coast architecture mavens have deified Frank Gehry for his contorted curves and have adopted Palm Springs as their shrine to mid-century Modernism. But California culture is being packaged by entrepreneurs, fed through the media machine and sold to an utterly conquered New York. In the triumph of the raw-food movement, cream sauces have disappeared along with New York culinary institutions like La Cote Basque. Mat-toting yoga students with sun-kissed complexions now stride imperiously down Avenue C past former shooting galleries. The new seats of power are in the Gehry-designed Conde Nast cafeteria and Miramax offices rather than at Le Cirque. New York is riveted by its sudden realization that the Old Guard has fallen under the Jimmy Choo-shod hoofs of a thousand Paris Hiltons.

For our part, Angelenos are currently charmed by images of East Coast cities like New York. We wander through the manufactured cityscapes of malls like the Grove or City Walk imagining that we are in Greenwich Village or the Upper West Side. We stroll past Disney-issue dancing fountains and street vendors on our way to the"neighborhood" movie theater. We pop into quaint local shops like the Gap or Barnes & Noble for a little browsing. Ah — city life.

In the past, L.A. routinely thumbed its nose at what urbanist Jane Jacobs called" contact" — the casual daily interactions of people of different classes mixing together in an urban environment. There was a certain power in refusing what was so clearly presented as a superior lifestyle.

Now we seek the comfort of contact but recoil from the reality of what it would mean to really come together as a city. We like our contact to be controlled in a way that it never could be in a city as densely populated as New York. The Westside remains largely inaccessible by public transportation and guarded by rows of towering hedges. We were at least more honest when we stayed in our cars, emerging only in parking garages or behind gates rather than trying to simulate traditional city life....

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