My friend L forwarded me a link to some movie back lots from our home town back in the day. That and another link to a video of Hollywood back in the 1940s and all I kept thinking was how much has changed, how fast things can change, and what this fascination is with tearing things down to make something new. It’s reasonable to expect a home to be built to last, for example, while businesses come and go as success, growth and other factors change the economic landscape. We have to believe in some level of change in order to accept progress.
Even while growing up in Los Angeles I came to hate how the landscape seemed to change before my eyes. Irrationally, the thing that bothers me most is the lost of many of the movie back lots. Imagine, fake buildings that weren’t meant to last longer than the shooting of a movie, repurposed into new backgrounds, new movie towns that would forever exist on film, to be upset that they should be torn down is absurd. Disposable buildings. I guess that’s what makes the movie back lot a perfect metaphor for Los Angeles, a town made by movies, constantly in a state of rebuilding its facades to suit to daily lives of its occupants. As if by tearing down this old restaurant and building a new strip mall somehow didn’t resemble obvious plastic surgery on the face of the city, as if the stretch marks didn’t show and everyone simply smiled and pretended the place looked so much younger as a result.
But is that the difference between a young, vain city like Los Angeles with its artificial tan and dyed hair compared with an old, well-aged city like Paris? Does it come down to the buildings, the sense of acknowledging its history with the grace of a face marked with the character of age lines framed by a stylish silver mane? Do we recognize the old cities from their buildings because of what they were as opposed to the new cities which distinguish themselves through the infinite potential of their youth?
If the attachment to buildings, to the permanence of place is to stake a claim to time and place and the collective history of a city, could not the same thing be said for the desire to publish a book? Do we not also define the architecture of our lives by these miniature monoliths that we erect and house in cities full of bookcases?
I know, I just a giant leap sideways. Mother, may I?
When an author writes and publishes a book are they not unlike the architect and contractor putting up a building? Some of these books are built to last, to stand the rigor of time and the tests of history. They may in time become classics or simply long-lived and well-read. Others are written to be consumed and forgotten, mere back lot facades that exist for the movie of the moment to be held as a memory in the mind of reader but over time pulped by the construction of new memories.
It occurs to me in all this thinking about facets versus facades that the world is essentially divided into two factions of thought, sometimes opposed to one another and other times working in harmony. The playwright sets down the words that are meant to be spoken, setting the scene and the tone, with the performers and director given some leeway in their interpretation, and in this way erects a very permanent building of his or her work. But the audience receives only the performance of the moment, words and images that fill the senses and are carried only as a memory. The artist makes the object to be viewed and builds a body of work that is both public and private, meant to be seen but not necessarily owned, and so we rent the memory of it for as long as we can. It isn’t important that the audience owns a play or a museum piece, only that they enjoy the performance or the viewing. The creators erect a building and its up to the audience and patrons to decide the long-term value.
What bothered me about Los Angeles growing up was this sense of being surrounded by consumers who valued nothing but the consumption of whatever was new. This was often called progress, or the price of progress, this constant change, but deep inside that notion rang hollow. That constant need for something new, for adopting the latest trends, the newest technology, the shiniest geegaw, it looked so much like addiction at times.
Balance is necessary. New and old, in the right proportion. Creator and audience in the right proportion. Book and readership in the right proportion. When it’s all new, all creators, all books, all facade and nothing behind them then all that’s left is Los Angeles.