City of Memes

As a place shaped by mass media from above and below, Los Angeles begs for criticism composed of the very same stuff.

Growing up in the San Fernando Valley—a patchwork of suburbs north of the mountain range that splits Los Angeles in two—I thought the city’s borders touched tips on the opposite side of the planet. From the overlooks along Mulholland Drive, a smog-capped horizon marked the visual limit of an endless landscape, beneath which every conceivable architectural style and type had found a place and some breathing room. Everyone on earth was more or less a resident.

Later, I learned that the megalopolis truly did have an outside. Not only that—it demands to be read from the outside. Cultural and urban studies are strewn with the vain and failed attempts of visiting critics to make sense of the area’s contours. Los Angeles has been described by Christopher Hawthorne, the former architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times, as the quintessential “hard-to-read” city—a borderless place that dares out-of-towners to sling mud at its self-portrait to see what sticks. Hawthorne follows the architect Charles Moore (an honorary Angeleno himself ) in arguing that interpreting LA whole…

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