October 13, 14, 15, 2011
What a strange three days in Los Angeles. I’m a photographer, and it started off with a welcome money job, shooting an event sponsored by a big booze company, up in the hills of Bel Air. To drive into Bel Air is to enter a crazy fairyland where the air is full of money, and you’re intensely aware of how much your car cost. The events were lavishly catered lunches and dinners, with chefs, sommeliers, restaurateurs, distributors and food and wine journalists, all wined and dined in style in a huge mansion. One event even featured a suckling pig roasted on a spit. The clients were very nice, everyone was nice, but it was a different world from my usual one, where it seems like everyone is struggling financially. In short, it felt decadent, fiddling while Rome burns. The booze they were promoting? It’s $250 a bottle. The streets of Bel Air are nearly always deserted, except for landscaping trucks zooming by at alarming speed. All the landscape guys are Latino, natch.
One night I had to find an alternate route to the mansion, because the low level Latino workers were staging a protest march at the ultra-exclusive Hotel Bel Air, shutting down the main road. It was wildly jarring to round a bucolic, exquisitely landscaped curve and come upon all these chanting, disgruntled workers with signs. It reminded me of that movie “Westworld,” where the robots run amok.
Dinner conversation among the swells included a lot of fun chat about marketing and branding, and devotion to quality in marketing and branding a brand for full cross-platform, targeted penetration of markets, and like that, as well as some pooh-poohing of the Occupy Wall Street movement. To be fair, I doubt these people would dig the Tea Party either. There were also lots of funny visuals of people smelling their drinks, since they are all oenophiles, and grok the grape.
On the way out one night, the valet guys were bringing my car around, and I was waiting there with them, by the side of the road. We all had to jump way back when a brand new BMW with a bunch of teenagers in it blazed by, blasting some shitty Rihanna song at max volume, nearly mowing us down. When you’re non-rich in Bel Air, it’s a bummer because it makes you conscious of how you don’t have that stuff. I wish my soon-to-be teen had her own 2012 BMW, and was an arrogant, Rihanna-loving dumbass, almost running people over in the road. Well…not really. But you know what I mean, maybe.
After, I got lost in a fog that’d rolled in. If you take one wrong turn in Bel Air, and don’t know your way around, you’re doomed to wander the empty streets, going what the fuck, Tiffany Lane, Bellagio Way, where am I? I was in 1% land all the way. But I guess Reagan was right, some of the money had actually trickled down to me.
The next day, my daughter and I went running around on errands. But first we went to Krispy Kreme for doughnuts, on our way to the craft store to look for stuff for her Halloween costume. There were lots of fat kids and fat grown-ups all over the place at the mall. It was an uneasy, modern world moment of consumery squeamishness about sugary, fatty foods. But we were like, fuck it, Krispy Kreme tastes good and we don’t have them very often. A lot of these people looked like they had them 24/7 though. I noticed nearly everyone had a corporate logo or advertisement on their t-shirt. You don’t see that up in Bel Air ever. When I see a suburban Dad with a Harley Davidson t-shirt and a sport team hat, I just go wow, what a tool, he’s made himself into a walking billboard for some corporation. There were tons of little kids just totally jacked on sugar going berserk in logo covered shirts at Krispy Kreme.
So, pigs on a spit, sugar-crazed kids in logo shirts, just for starters. After that, we’d made a deal to go to Occupy Wall Street, the L.A. edition, down at City Hall. That was truly impressive, moving, frustrating and beautiful. Also sad, in a way. Remember that Bad Brains song “I Against I”? It has this great line about how the singer is “all confused about the USA,” and that’s how I felt. What the occupation at City Hall brought home is how the nation is so wrecked right now. It was moving, because there’s no focus on exactly what should change, but people – rational, crashingly normal people – are concerned enough to conjure up a giant tent city out of nothing to try to get their many points across. And also because people get killed in other countries for trying to do this stuff. It had all the leftie clichés: hippies, bad speeches, an all-over-the-place complaint list, even a drum circle, though the drum circle was compelling, as it sounded like people on the march. My 11 year-old daughter found the whole thing fascinating, and wanted to go back and camp out. Most inspiring were the young people being interviewed right and left by various media outlets. They were clearly intelligent, coherent and concerned.
One guy had a pile of cardboard and markers set out in front of his tent, for anyone who wanted to make a sign. There was a pile of them already made, one of them said: “We Are The 99% and we’ve met. You are not alone.” I was really moved by that, and it made me think about the USA, and what it meant in the context of our history, our founding, what’s happening now, and I got really choked up. I still get choked up about that, even writing this, months later. It’s the “we’ve met” and “you are not alone” parts that kill me. They’re loaded: “we’ve met” evokes secret societies, Paul Revere, the founding fathers (a conspiracy, after all). “You are not alone” moves because it resists the crushing command from on high, that, in a capitalist, no-nonsense, stern corporate nation, well, you are on your own, son. So invest wisely, work hard, keep your nose clean, do what you’re told, and if you fuck it up, suffer and die.
Even though I had sunglasses on, my kid caught me, and asked, astonished, “Are you crying?” I was, a little, because I was all confused about the USA.