Report non-humans

Down in LA for the week, after giving my Contra Mundum talk on Sunday. (Thanks to all who came and thanks to Mark, Alex, and the Mandrake having me down here.) Car-less in Westwood and trying to not be overly bilious at this organization of space, bodies, and lots and lots of capital.

I'll try to write something proper on return, analogous to an older post on Knoxville. In this case, when I travel somewhere and feel spatially ill at ease and find myself becoming, perhaps unfairly, a stereotypical hater of an LA ethos that I don't remotely know. In the meantime...

This image, unfortunately shit quality from my phone, and the horror of viral marketing snarkiness. In an era of city planning in which benches are rendered nearly unusable f0r any and all due to "anti-homeless" devices (various partitions, dividers, odd sweeping plastic contours, all designed to make sure that you sit upright and for god's sake don't sleep or slump, with the added effect of making public displays of bench affection quite difficult, something like the hysteria of anti-skateboarding measures, the "skate stoppers" that make it so handrails can't be used by those who might actually need them because of a worry that someone might "misuse" it), a jokey advertising campaign (seen here on just such a molded bench) for District 9 saying what it all really means and has meant from the start. And a man designated by the city for all intents and purposes as non-human, somehow interpellated in the worst way, sleeping next to the bench. The corrosive effects of supposed political critique on a landscape already scrubbed clean and stuccoed to hell.


David McDougall said...

"non-human secretions may corrode metal"

germophobia as a marker of class status

katie said...

Holy fuck.

I was beginning to feel a little like I'd tried unfairly to poison you against LA in advance, but I think now that it was in the spirit of inoculation.

That picture. I realize that such an image could come from many cities, but it's very, very LA to me. It's a false wonderland organized entirely around the production of capital through entertainment: an industry that specializes in lowest common denominators, occasionally producing the wonderful, but just as happy to truck in the terrible if it will sell. Those who truly "live" in the city are caught up in this: network execs who OK things based on ratings; studios that shelve or dispense product according to the market; writers, actors, grips, production designers, extras, slotting themselves into the process anywhere they can.

And what of the remainder of the 13 million who live there? Their lives are shunted aside to make room for the glamor, in ways that range from quotidian to dire: freeway closings when someone needs to shoot a car chase; afterschool programs canceled when Busta Rhymes wants to shoot a video at my sister's high school; funds pouring in to the Hollywood Hills that never make it to the most populous and depressed parts of the city; TV and movie violence endlessly produced while evening news teaser segments interrupt your program to intimate that the city's real violence is the sole province and fault of the denizens of East LA, South Central, Long Beach, Pomona, Pacoima. "More violence in the Southland tonight; more at eleven." "Special Report: Gang Violence in Inner-City Schools. Now back to your shoot-'em-up."

Real life takes a back seat to TV and movie life, and there are many who willingly, gleefully, gratefully accept that as the price for living in secondhand excitement, the rewards meted out at intervals in the form of celebrity sightings and guess-who-I-drove-past-on-the-freeway-today and oh-yeah-well-guess-who-wants-to-film-in-the-alley-behind-my-house-because-it-looks-like-a-place-a-cartoonish-made-for-TV-crack-dealer-might-run-through. But there's many who never opted in, who don't drive the freeways and whose neighborhoods are "served" by shitty public transit and in whose backyards no one will ever film because at best they're too actually dangerous and at worst they're too invisible.

A few years ago LA cracked down hard on Skid Row, where thousands of people were encamped and the bulk of the city's homeless services were centered, as part of yet another campaign to clean up the city's image. Because, as those in the know will tell you, image is everything. Skid Row osmoted some of its population into other areas of the city, where bans on sidewalk sleeping, keeping personal belongings in public places, and loitering are more strictly enforced.

For Humans Only. Ugh.

ECW said...


indeed, all those insipid and terrible germophobe fantasies, from obsessive Purell hand-sanitizer paretns, to colon cleansing and purification projects, and wide, swept streets, of the fear that the germs of the homeless not only repulse us but may corrode and corrupt the landscape itself.

All this is particularly horrible in that it betrays some genuine and decent concerns and ideals of cleanliness, older modernist ideals of clean, affordable living, and some of the truly most pressing questions of the moment, access to clean air, water, and so on.

ECW said...


so well put. Trying to take both the spirit of inoculation and of openness at once, I have to say, the darkest of what you write has been affectively confirmed, in the glimpses I've gotten, especially in that "second-hand excitement", the weakest frisson visible in even those who know better than still having to mention who was at what party and what celebrity once lived there.

And Westwood is fucking insane. It looks like someone stuck a bike pump into a managed ski resort town and just kept inflating until all the roads were four-lanes wide.

(Also, your stories of trying to walk places that are almost unreachable: equally surprising for me have been the number of green, private enclosures, through which one could have a very nice stroll, much nicer than edging along what is basically a highway, but... fences, fences, as far as the eye can see.)

David McDougall said...

a part of 'long march forward' of human history... that we desire the obliteration of the non-human, the world of disease. the flip side to this is that the humans not yet incorporated into this clean notion of humanity/modernity are literally non-human.

this modern cleanliness obsession is related to capitalism's obsession with the simultaneous commodification and elimination of sex (very well summed up in various posts here - read through the archives, it's worth it)

EL CHAVO! said...

Yeah, LA haters keep hating on a false image. The city is not the spectacle, or at least not all of it is. Those that hate on LA insist on the false version of Los Angeles, that one that is easy to hate, but reality is elsewhere. I'm from LA, born and raised, and the image people keep perpetuating about this place is only because THEY keep reading and seeing all this spectacular news. Might I present you some alternatives?

Don't hate what you don't know.