Davis, Mike. Fortress L.A. Geography 100 Course Reader. New York: Vintage Books, 1992. 223-263.
Kaplan, Robert. Travels into Americas Future. The Atlantic Monthly (August 1998): 37-61.
Queenan, Joe. Yo, San Francisco, Youre No L.A. Los Angeles Times Magazine (October 25, 1998): 20-21.
The City of Angels; to some, Los Angeles is the embodiment of the American dream- a sort of west coast Statue of Liberty, with opportunity at every corner and in every doorway. The city of razzle-dazzle, movie stars, and Hollywoods walk of fame; for nearly a century Los Angeles has been perceived as the town of dreams. These are, of course, gross exaggerations, as is the perception that Los Angeles is the city of ceaseless riots and brutal racism. Naturally, as in every urban city, there is to an extent some truth in these myths, and because of Los Angeles unprecedented size and diverse population it tends to be picked on more often than even New York. Los Angeles is an anomaly- there is no other city in the world that could ever begin to rival it. Because people often hate what they cannot explain, writers especially love to tear Los Angeles apart. A well written argument, however, will include an extensive examination of the topic from every side ( in Los Angeles there are many sides to examine) and form an argument that persuades without alienating. In his article Travels into Americas Future, though initially relying on the cliche of Los Angeles as the embodiment of the American dream to catch the readers attentions, writer Robert D. Kaplan ultimately makes a convincing argument towards a positive perception of Los Angeles by examining the issues from many points of view, putting his topic in context through the use of comparisons, and by arguing subtly, so as to make the reader forget he is being persuaded.
To fully understand the common fallacies associated with Los Angeles and its surrounding areas, one must first understand the diversity and complexity of its people and culture. On first approach, Los Angeles appears to be a utopia, with sandstone cliffs, a peacock-blue ocean, and and an endless bar of cream colored sand… it often appears too beautiful to be real (Kaplan 37). Los Angeles, however,
is comprised of a lot more than palm trees and rich movie stars. It is a sprawling city, incorporating many different cultural areas. It is often thought of as a city state… not because L.A. is similar to Athens or Sparta but because of the very size and eye popping variety of this thriving urban confederation, with its hinterland of oil refineries and agricultural valleys. Santa Monica has the ambience of a beach resort, East Los Angeles is like Mexico, Monterey Park is like Asia, and Cerritos is an Asian Levittown for the nineties (Kaplan 41). Traveling through Los Angeles, one often feels as though they have traveled far and wide, experiencing many different cultures within just blocks of each other. People from all over the world come to Los Angeles hoping to find opportunity and freedom from oppressors, people like Zaheer Viriji, a twenty-seven year old ethnic-Indian immigrant from the East African Nation of Zimbabwe. In Kaplans article, Viriji recalls being harassed by police thugs in Africa. He says that race relations are so much better in Southern California… Viriji went first to England and then to Canada, where there are large Indian communities. But he didnt feel free. In those places the community is whats happening. Here… its YOU that is happening (Kaplan 38). Viriji is but one example of many who come to Los Angeles searching for the elusive American Dream. This intense lure attracts people of every race, age and religion, creating one of the most diverse populations of any city in the world. This constant cultural ebb and flow, often creates friction, and, coupled with ignorance, is what has created many of the stereotypes and stigmas that Los Angeles and its residents are constantly fighting.
Los Angeles is a city that, in the eye of public perception wears many different masks. The media in Los Angeles as anywhere, has a tendency to create and fuel these stereotypes. Mike Davis, in his essay Fortress L.A. sees the media as a purveyor of fear and racism, a medium which ceaselessly throws up specters of
criminal underclasses and psychotic stalkers… killer youth gangs high on crack and shrilly racist evocations… (the media) foments the moral panics that reinforce and justify urban apartheid (226). The image of Los Angeles as a divided, white vs. black city has been around for some time, with areas like south central and Watts becoming household synonyms for the bad part of town. Media images of the L.A. riots and the O.J. Simpson trial have portrayed Los Angeles as the dark city- the city of fallen angels. On the other hand, Los Angeles is also often seen as one of the true archetypal experiences in American Civilization (Queenan 20). The image of picture prefect suburbs all with pools and Caucasian residents constantly talking on their cell phones has been dampened a bit. The suburban San Fernando Valley, however, which is in fact a part of the city of Los Angeles, is often seen as the epitome of this stereotype. Perhaps this is because with 1.3 million inhabitants, the San Fernando Valley would constitute the nations sixth largest urban area, and one of its richest. However, this is not white flight- 40 percent of the valleys residents are Latino or Asian. Among the white population, Jews are the largest ethnic group. These people want to duplicate the prosperity of incorporated post urban dynamos in northern Los Angeles (Kaplan 38). Why wouldnt they want to imitate the successes of other large edge cities like Burbank and Glendale whose efforts have attracted corporations like Walt Disney, Warner Brother, and NBC? The pursuit of a better life is ever present in Los Angeles, despite all of the stereotypes. With all of these things to consider (or disregard), how does one, then, take a look at Los Angeles through an untarnished glass?
Writers especially love to tear Los Angeles apart. Anything is fair game, from Los Angeles lack of a central business district to the carefully manicured lawns of Los Angeles West side (which) sprout forests of ominous little signs warning: Armed Response! (Davis 223). These writers often forget that they are
completely alienating their audiences by blatantly and one sidedly insulting their city. Of course, most Los Angeleans know that there are many problems with their city, but by attacking it, the writer is merely creating a defensive, skeptical reader. A good argument, then, must not be blatant or one sided in any way. It must, in essence, coax the reader into being convinced; almost tricking him into forgetting he is being persuaded. This passage, from Mike Davis Fortress L.A. is a good example of a blatant and unsupported insult of Los Angeles:
The old liberal paradigm of social control, attempting to
balance repression with reform, has long been superseded
by a rhetoric of social warfare that calculates the interests
of the urban poor and the middle class as a zero-sum game.
In cities like Los Angeles, on the bad edge of post modernity,
one observes an unprecedented tendency to merge urban
design, architecture, and the police apparatus into a single, comprehensive security effort (224).
By lumping so many things together in a broad generalization, Davis has insulted the wealthy, the fans of Angelean architecture and design, and the police unit as a whole. A good argument will look at things from every side, give support for strong statements made, use comparisons to make a point, and ultimately be so subtle in doing these things that the reader will not even know he is changing his mind.
In Robert D. Kaplans article, Travels Into Americas Future he takes and objective point of view on Los Angeles, as a tour guide, giving his reader a guided tour of the many suburbs and edge cities of Los Angeles county. He stops and interviews people of different races, social statuses, and reasons for living in Los Angeles, people like Zaheer Virijii, discussed earlier, and Vincent Diau, a forty-four
year old immigrant from Taiwan who moved his family to Orange County in search of a better life and good schools for his children (41). Kaplan also does something which Mike Davis fails to do in Fortress L.A.: support his statements with facts and statistics. Davis makes unsubstantiated, biased claims like, In a city of several million immigrants, public amenities are radically shrinking, parks are becoming derelict, and beaches more segregated, libraries and playgrounds are closing, youth congregations of ordinary kinds are banned and the streets are becoming more desolate and dangerous (227). Passages like these leave the reader asking questions like how many immigrants are there in Los Angeles?, where are the beaches more segregated, and who is being divided?, and how does one define more desolate and dangerous?. By making his readers doubt and question him, Davis has lost credibility and perhaps the agreement of his reader. Kaplan, on the other hand, makes claims in favor of Los Angeles, and backs them up with claims. He often compliments and attempts to break stereotypes of minority groups, especially the Latino and Asian populations. In one passage, he comments on the rise of Latinos in the middle class, supporting his claim with the fact that 55 percent of Latinos are bilingual in English and Spanish. In greater Los Angeles four times as many U.S. -born Latinos are in the middle class as live in poverty. A quarter of all middle class families is southern California are Latinos, and in economic performance U.S.-born Latinos living in greater Los Angeles are not far behind whites and Asians (41). Kaplan not only makes an emotional appeal, but a logical one, gaining trust and esteem from his readers. Ultimately, Kaplans article ends leaving the reader feeling as though he has just been taken on a tour of Los Angeles county, not through persuasive essay. One may actually find that Kaplans article taught them a thing or two about Los Angeles, no matter how seasoned an Angelean they are. Kaplans article presents an example of a strong argument
through the use of subtlety, support of statements, objectivity, and diverse points of view.
The city of Los Angeles is a place unlike anywhere in the world, with world-class museums and restaurants, one of the worlds largest and most diverse populations, and the headquarters to some of the worlds most powerful and influential corporations, it is a magnet for stereotypes. Through proper representation, Los Angeles can be portrayed fairly; perhaps instead of as the underbelly of the world, as the preteen adolescent who is constantly growing, changing, and improving upon itself. Robert Kaplan does a good job of objectively presenting Los Angeles so that the reader can judge for himself. Perhaps we should all step back and take another look at how we are viewing the world around us.