Subtitle: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster
Los Angeles, as I understand the argument of this book, is profoundly invested - both psychologically and economically - in its image as a bucolic idyll, as someplace where Nature is so kindly that people can be relaxed and free. No-one familiar with Freud, or nineteenth-century Christian theology, or the dullness of stories in which 'nothing happens' would be surprised that this investment led to an opposite fascination with LA as the victim of fictional disasters. Davis argues that urban planning and politics have actually increased the number and damage of disasters, especially in the poor regions, but also in some expensive ones.
I don't think the evidence that LA is especially popular for disaster fiction was very compelling - there is a great list of disaster novels and movies set there, but of course London and New York and Tokyo have plenty of their own. Does LA have more, proportionately, than its importance as a city warrants? And anyhow, it's probably the easiest place for LA-local filmmakers to set their B-movies. Are there Bollywood disaster flicks, and where are they set? On the other hand, it doesn't really matter if LA has an unusual quantity of them; he only needed to convince me that the Eden/Apocalypse cognitive dissonance is unusually strong in LA. Since I find it unusually strong about LA even among people who haven't lived there, that's plausible.
The fury at stupid waste - building in ways that invite repeated disasters, and wailing in surprise when they reoccur - was more convincing, esp. a nearly-funny summary of the apparent refusal of locals to believe that they get tornadoes, no matter how many houses the last "waterspout" destroyed. Worse planning shoves all the risks into the poor neighborhoods and funnels all the rescue money into the rich ones; the treatment of fire risks in Malibu was the most startling thing there.
I was most impressed with the enjambment of subjects. Many of his subjects are enormously different in tone: tables of historical data, citizens quoted on their sense of the normal, catchy pictures from lowbrow movies, statistics about pest control, dense geological maps. Davis doesn't repeat himself, didn't write several basically independent sub-books, and maintains an even pace of argument throughout.
ISBN: 0-8-50-5106-6So wrote clew in Cities. , History (20th c.). | TrackBack