The Set

I guess there was some sort of royal wedding on the TV. I didn’t watch it. Instead I watched a rerun of a baseball game that I missed due to work. (3-1, A’s over Jays. Good job A’s!) But it seems like quite a few people did watch it. I don’t get it. I try not to judge.

But, on the other hand . . .

Besides the whole monarchy thing, what is with this constant fucking nostalgia? It’s bad enough when it’s just shows. But this is starting to warp reality in strange ways.

From It Just Won’t Die in Jacobin:

With its empire in ashes, its industrial landscape gutted, and its place in the world thrown into uncertainty by Brexit, Britain is in the midst of a slow-burning existential crisis. Its millions of citizens have been conjured from the earth by distant and long expired historical forces and now wander around urban landscapes that no longer make sense. It is unclear where Britain will go from here. Having long lost its status as the workshop of the world, all that remains is for Britain to capitalize on its history: to become a history factory.

Since the 1980s, “heritage” in Britain has grown into a sector of the economy — something like mining or fishing, except that it currently employs more than both these industries combined. It is calculated that history- (or “heritage-”) related tourism has contributed almost £9 billion to the UK economy and supports nearly four hundred thousand jobs. This is nothing new; history has always worked in service of the present. Everywhere, the mythologies of nations or communities form the raw material of ideology. But in Britain, history has recently been given a more specific, macroeconomic role to play — we are witnessing a transformation in what history is for.

Now, I don’t have any great allegiance to The Authentic. (Honestly, I think concepts of the authentic are, aside from being fake, are a fakeness usually rooted in violence and trauma but that’s another story.) Hell, I live in Los Angeles and I love it. This is a city that generates some confusion between The Real and The Set. At any moment, any place might become a set. At times, you’re unsure whether you’re looking at a post-apocalyptic hellscape, if someone is just filming a movie about a post-apocalyptic hellscape. Maybe just a Telus commercial. At work, I once saw a sweaty shirtless man in military pants and boots jump off the first floor of the parking garage and hit the concrete ground running. To this day, I don’t know if he was a stuntman, an exercise man, a lunatic, or something else. He could be from space for all I know. I don’t even know if there’s much of a difference between any of these things. All I know is that the old Mexican lady that I was chatting with was happy to have something to look at. I can’t blame her. Dude was built. He was some next level of handsome. But, whatever was going on with him, that’s just the sort of shit that happens in an LA parking garage at eight in the evening. The Set bleeds into everything here. Like, just the building where I live, Janky Palace, is a sort of shoddily built wealth set. It’s named after a French palace but has medieval turrets and a bunch of Roman design elements. It’s a total mess. It has no allegiance to consistency or history or anything. Whole thing is cobbled together out of Home Depot and nothing ever works. The elevators have been out for two weeks. There will be a pizza party. A carpet cleaning will be awarded to a game winner. That’s about the typical mess. The distortion caused by the friction between The Real and The Set is fundamental to the experience of the city. Even, perhaps especially, in that when you come here, you realize that almost every single thing you have ever heard or seen about this city is false – the result of some massive and racist editing job that has removed the incredible and best bulk of the city from its representations and replaced it with rich, white flakes. The scale of that propaganda is amazing and terrifying. How much work went into that? Was it even intentional? Could it be? How, on the brass tacks level, do these things happen?

I think it’s probably a mix. Things emerge.

But, if you can get over any notion of authenticity and just take the flux on its own terms without expecting it to kiss your ass or to ever arrive on time, Los Angeles is pretty fucking great. I like it, at least. I think Werner Herzog got the city right:

What I like about Los Angeles is that it allows everyone to live his or her own lifestyle. Drive around the hills and you find a Moorish castle next to a Swiss chalet sitting beside a house shaped like a UFO. There is a lot of creative energy in Los Angeles not channelled into the film business. Florence and Venice have great surface beauty, but as cities they feel like museums, whereas for me Los Angeles is the city in America with the most substance, even if it’s raw, uncouth and sometimes quite bizarre. Wherever you look is an immense depth, a tumult that resonates with me. New York is more concerned with finance than anything else. It doesn’t create culture, only consumes it; most of what you find in New York comes from elsewhere. Things actually get done in Los Angeles. Look beyond the glitz and glamour of Hollywood and a wild excitement of intense dreams opens up; it has more horizons than any other place. There is a great deal of industry in the city and a real working class; I also appreciate the vibrant presence of the Mexicans. In the last half century every significant cultural and technical trend has emerged from California, including the Free Speech Movement and the acceptance of gays and lesbians as an integral part of a dignified society, computers and the Internet, and—thanks to Hollywood—the collective dreams of the entire world. A fascinating density of things exists there like nowhere else in the world. Muslim fundamentalism is probably the only contemporary mass movement that wasn’t born there. One reason I’m so comfortable in Los Angeles is that Hollywood doesn’t need me and I don’t need Hollywood. I rarely involve myself with industry rituals and am rarely on the red carpet.

Of course, California is also where some of humanity’s most astonishing stupidities started, like the hippie movement, New Age babble, stretch limos, pyramid energy, plastic surgery, yoga classes for children, vitamins and marijuana smoking. Whenever someone wants to pass on “good vibes” to me, I look for the nearest empty elevator shaft. There are a lot of well-educated people doing very silly things in Los Angeles, like a man in my neighbourhood who one day casually mentioned his cat was in some sort of a frenzy, so he called the cat psychic. He put the receiver to his pet’s ear and for $200 the animal’s problems were solved. I would rather jump off the Golden Gate Bridge than visit a psychiatrist. Self-scrutiny is a strong taboo for me, and if I had to stop and analyse myself, there’s no doubt I would end up wrapped around the next tree. Psychoanalysis is no more scientific than the cranial surgery practiced under the middle-period pharaohs, and by jerking the deepest secrets out into the open, it denies and destroys the great mysteries of our souls. Human beings illuminated to the last corner of their darkest soul are unbearable, the same way an apartment is uninhabitable if every corner is flooded with light. The Spanish Inquisition was a similar mistake in human history, forcing people to disclose the innermost nature of their religious faith. It did no good to anyone.

What was I on about again?

I can’t even fucking remember where I was thought I might be going with this. Something about the jungle? No, that’s not it.

Oh yeah, that’s right, the History Factory . . .

I guess what I’m trying to say, is this transformation of The Real into The Set that creates a third space that is neither entirely real nor set, isn’t so novel. I sometimes think that what we are seeing in modern cities is much less gentrification than it is total Las Vegasification. They’re all becoming some decadent entertainment complex for the rich ringed by shit housing for the laboring service sector that makes the place run – all the profits siphoned out into shady tax havens – and the whole thing surrounded by atomic wasteland. As for this representing a change in what history is for, well, I think that history has commonly been used to prop up the present and this whole historic tourism thing looks sort of like a dispersal of the museum married to Caesar’s Palace.

But this combination of The Real and The Set, in and of itself, might not have to be awful. It might have to be awful, but maybe not. It’s hard to say. But it certainly seems to trend towards the awful. It allows a mobility that power enjoys. Parking lots are easily turned into staging grounds for militarized police. Easily turned into sites for advertisements.

And when you take something like that and combine it with the fucking monarchy of all things? The celebration of blood, tradition, wealth and power?  Well, yuck. That seems like trouble. It seems a little gross. That seems fated to end badly.

That sort of nostalgia will create its own distortion. A thing like that will warp reality in really reactionary and violent ways – towards a radical return of the past, and, well, we know what that means. Nothing good. LA, at least, looks usually, to the future. That has its problems but it sure beats making anything something again.

And, also, fuck Downton Abbey. Nice wallpaper but Jesus . . .

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