The story of Los Angeles is mostly about cut edging – California only or visions for the future. Mike Davis explored what he called “The post-modernity bad edge” in a city that has escaped not only itself but also its consequences in imitation histories and myths. Sunshine or Noir? Is the question he asks in the first chapter of the book.The query regard the quality of life of residents of Los Angeles (L.A). His naming of the first chapter was meant to position Los Angeles (L.A) as a fiction and an architectonic space and a collection of material practices by comparing dominant groups’ boosterism with the city narratives of noir, gangster rap and the Frankfurt school (Davis, 1990, P.82).
The city set the mode of its development through its foundation as a real state capitalism creature. It promised oil, and sunny beaches as well as the romanticized “mission myth,” a picture described by the boosters but destroyed and made cynical by debunkers and the noirs respectively. Davis, (Davis, 1990. P.17) introduced us to a city covered by its waste as well as an area damaged by capitalism contradictions – social stratification, greed, overproduction, gentrification, religious revivalism, ignorance of the environment, and political chicanery. Mr Davis meant to position L.A as bright, hard and opaque. Opinions about the town can fall under two virtual subdivisions – day and night views. The night watchers usually celebrate the city’s long-term pale yellow stream of light, flowing over a lacework of streets and subways, as a symbol of accomplishment by the humanity. Historian Kevin Starr leads this school of thought in his “Material Dreams.” He showed how “boosters” or early leaders in L.A changed a desert into a world-class city with just dreams daring executions (Davis, 1990, P.25). Fortunately, Mr Davis wants the readers also to view L.A in a less flattering daylight, when those streams fade to uncover symbols of problems ranging from snarled traffic to isolated automobiles. Traffic is due to political establishment dominated by developers that have set peoples’ focus on the short-term gains while isolated cars arises from separating ethnicities and classes in a city with increasingly scarce public space (Davis, 1990, P.36)
According to Davis sunshine represented the ideas promoted by real estate developers in the early twentieth century (Davis, 1990, P.24). These boosters had an optimistic view of L.A. They made the city resemble a white new haven. The excellent working conditions, bungalows, and sunny beaches comprised the dream of a utopian society portrayed by the boosters. Davis (Davis, 1990, 26) asserts that the dream was a “romantic myth” made to entice the retired farmers, wealthy spinsters, stock speculators, Chautauqua devotees, small-town dentists, tubercular schoolteachers, and Iowa lawyers. These group of persons transferred their small fortunes and savings to real estate in southern California. The massive wealth flow between regions created population, consumption, and income structures out of all proportion to L.A’s actual production base. L.A became the only postindustrial city in a pre-industrial stage. It seemed to have developed reversely from such a perspective (Davis, 1990, P.35)
Besides, the debunkers did an excellent job depicting what L.A was to the middle working class residents. Street transport lockouts and violent metal trade strikes were used to deconstruct unions. The city realized a glimpse of a happy working class when immigrants from Europe arrived. The violence and brutality of the upper class had sent the average working class to a state of desperation. Also, debunkers looked at L.A’s culture or its absence. According to (Davis, 1990, P.34), Alfred Doeblin viewed Hollywood as more of a murderous area desolate of houses. The residents hardly mentioned or discussed the eighteen-fifties and sixties genocide of natives. The southern California sunshine blinded all different cultures, and the residents could not see or understand the poor conditions unless the experienced such conditions for themselves.
The noirs portray a cynical scene in that; they turned everything advertised by the boosters to a sinister equivalent (Davis, 1990, 36). Davis points out clearly that the dystopian revulsion that fueled L.A’s growth became a traditional approach during the Depression due to its anchorage on middle class’s despair whose savings sunk in oil speculations and real estate. He offers a dark and oppressive life picture in a tough, hardhearted L.A where the elite crushes the poor, public space fortresses, whites exploit other races, police abuse the residents, and pollution, urban decay, and traffic conquer all (Davis, 1990, 44). Noir could change anything from positive to negative. Davis starts the discourse on noirs by quoting Louis Adamic who says that L.A looks nice from mount Hollywood but is a jungle. He sees the city as a dangerous place comprising of old dying populace, wild and poisonous plants as well as fake science and decadent religious cults (Davis, 1990, 17). Besides, beginning in 1934, a succession of novels repainted LA’s image from a golden land of fresh start and opportunity to a deracinated urban hell. The marathon dance hall in Horace McCoy’s book became a virtual death camp for the souls lost during the Depression. In the nineteen thirty-six Double Indemnity and the nineteen forty-one Mildred Pierce evoked poisoned bungalows. Also, the climate especially the Santa Ana winds inspired by “earthquake weather” was increasingly eerie with some individual suggesting that there were ladies in the lakes. In Didion (1936), a debate on rattlesnakes’ ability to swim confirms the negativity in many L.A residents.
L.A came to define its history via the noir imagery (Davis, 1990, 36). Noir emphasized on economic self-interest rather than psychology meaning a possible subdivision of the city to between the idle or lazy rich and the productive middle classes. Also, there was subversion or alteration of gender roles in noir that presented women as dangerous, scheming, and sexually promiscuous.
Relationship between Sunshine and Noirs
Both of the two competing poles are real forces in the capitalist structure of L.A. They have forced the city to play two roles in advanced capitalism – utopia and dystopia – leading to race and class warfare as well as a confrontation between international and national forces by both the powerless and powerful. Consequently, the two roles subject the city to two competing mythographies – its heaven and its hell (Davis, 1990, P.19).
The dark side of southern California is its existence in a peculiar tension between the built environment and the underlying elemental landscape. Earthquakes, fires, and floods depict the tenuous life in southern California. McPhee (1988) asserts that it is not clear which side loses concerning L.A and the mountains. The city’s inhabitants must adapt to weather changes and rains that lead to debris flow causing havoc in the city. Frequent debris flows causes havoc in the city. Also, whenever the Santa Ana winds blow, physicians here about nausea, allergies, headaches, nervousness and depression. According to Didion, (1968) L.A is a disrupted world because Santa Ana represents disruption. The unpredictability and violence of influence the quality of life in L.A and that every person in the city should accentuate its unreliability and impermanence (Garcia, 2010).
Much of the city’s early developments came from population and capital flows from the Midwest – a structure of the Southern California boom promoted by savings of the middle class – ensured a circle of bankruptcy and crisis for small developers, small businesspeople and retired farmers. (Davis, 1990, 29) offers a dark and oppressive life picture in a tough, hardhearted L.A where the elite crushes the poor, public space fortresses, whites exploit other races, police abuse the residents, and pollution, urban decay, and traffic conquer all.
There were less urbanity and more hardship in L.A that the ruling elites packaged into false hope. The relocation of early natives to Mexico was a romantic myth whereby workers enjoyed healthy working relationships with their “benevolent” employers. The tale attracted people worldwide to the city. Nonetheless, L.A was the perfect location for the wealthy minority. It provided the sunshine, the Spanish architecture, and the ocean. What else could the elites want? But, for those individuals without money or resources, the city was a murderous land without houses (Davis, 1990, 47).
In conclusion, the multiple facets of L.A lack perfect cut, clarity and color. McWilliams (19446) sees L.A as a gigantic improvisation – a city that has imported virtually everything, from people to architecture. The climate, diversity, economic zest, and scenery made L.A to be the fastest growing city worldwide. However, a dark past underlies the tony residential enclaves.
Davis, M. (1990). City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles. Verso Books.
Didion, J. (1968). Los Angeles Notebook. Slouching Towards Bethlehem, 220.
Garcia, M. (2010). A World of Its Own: Race, Labor, and Citrus in the Making of Greater Los Angeles, 1900-1970. UNC Press Books.
McPhee, J. A. (1988). The control of nature: Los Angeles against the mountains. New Yorker Magazine, Incorporated.
McWilliams, C. (1946). Southern California: An island on the land. Gibbs Smith.