Beware of Parachutes
by Mark Lacter
That noise you might be hearing in the distance is coming from the potshots being fired at our fair town. There’s no way to quantify the phenomenon, other than to note that L.A. bashing almost always involves show business, crime and sex preferably all three at the same time. To cite some recent examples:
New York Times reporter Alex Kuczynski writes about Hollywood’s reaction to the Robert Blake murder case a story so thoroughly researched that the location of the crime scene was reported as Century City instead of Studio City.
Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter, bad-mouthing the Hollywood influence at Michael Bloomberg’s party after the recent White House Correspondents Dinner, notes that the scene reminded him of Los Angeles, where “journalists are scum.”
Back at The New York Times, a Sunday feature, also written by Kuczynski, compares what’s considered beautiful in Los Angeles, New York and London, and finds that L.A.’s measuring stick is whether the color of a woman’s toenails and fingernails match. “Toes must match the hands,” the story quotes some actress as proclaiming. “Or else, just don’t leave the house.”
The first impulse, of course, is to ask where they get this stuff. But you and I know where they get it from the one percent of Los Angeles that makes a big deal out of breast implants and Hollywood power grabs.
Significantly, most of the stereotypes about L.A. come from folks who have never lived or worked in L.A. columnists and magazine writers, typically, who parachute to the “coast” for a few days, stay in Beverly Hills, conduct an interview at The Grill, wander along Rodeo to find a little color, head to the Four Seasons bar for another interview and then, most importantly, search for the most egregious example of Hollywood idiocy making the rounds. That, you can be sure, will wind up in the piece.
L.A. bashing is among journalism’s oldest pastimes whether it’s from the perch of a New York magazine office or after a two- or three- day parachute jump into town.
But what happens when a parachute jumper moves to L.A. to become a high-paid newspaper columnist charged with chronicling the city’s ebbs and flows? Such a development is taking place over at the Times where Steve Lopez recently arrived from Time Magazine and before that a column-writing gig in Philadelphia has gone public on how he really feels about Los Angeles.
And guess what he doesn’t much like the place. In an interview with Philadelphia Weekly, he lays out the usual whine: L.A. is not a real city, people are coming and going so fast there’s no constancy, nobody cares, etc. It’s so bad, he moans, that he has a tough time coming up with three column ideas each week (although showing his parachuting instinct, he admits to gravitating to the Hollywood crowd).
That Lopez should find L.A., of all places, shy of story possibilities is mind-boggling, to say the least. But putting that aside, it’s just bad form to take public shots at the city you are supposed to be covering. Politicians, bureaucrats, slumlords fine. But lumping all of L.A. into a Woody Allenesque harangue covers a lot of territory and forever brands you as a disaffected interloper with little interest in whether the place lives or dies (sadly, a common malady over at the Times). In his interview, Lopez says he misses Philly “dearly” and that “to me, it’s home.”
Sounds like a parachute jumper.
Mark Lacter is editor of the Business Journal.