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Jack Smith

Los Angelization--or is it Los Angelesization?--casts its insidious spell, but what of its ridiculous spelling?

June 04, 1987|JACK SMITH

A phrase that strikes fear and loathing into the hearts of most urban communities in America is Los Angelesization .

Or is it Los Angelization ?

The phrase is of fairly recent origin, and it appears in both forms.

What it means is an insidious metamorphosis by which a neat, clean, moderately large and prosperous city gradually--or rapidly--becomes an overgrown metropolis, overcrowded, overbuilt, crisscrossed by freeways, and plagued by crime, litter, poverty and every other manifestation of urban blight.

Taking note of the growing use of this phrase, Charles J. Reilly, director of communications, University of San Diego, thinks it is time we settled on one spelling or the other.

"I wish you would use your podium," he writes, "to clear up the proper spelling of the quasi-expletive Los Angelesization. I've seen two spellings recently, including one in your column (I suggested that Herb Caen really wanted to see San Francisco Los Angelesized), and one in the San Diego Union."

He encloses an alarming story from the Union in which San Diego's runaway growth is seen as plunging that once idyllic city toward a nightmare of inner-city blight and sprawling slurbs by the year 2000.

Worried by this apparently remorseless trend, Mayor Maureen O'Connor recently appointed a committee to prepare a Vision Report describing the ideal San Diego of the future.

Said a critic of that report: "In sum, the Vision Report is for a San Diego of the 1960s, while the trend forecasts Los Angelization by the year 2000. The year 2000 is not far off."

The word also turned up recently in a Washington Post headline over a story by Benjamin J. Stein, a Los Angeles transplant from Washington, who, on returning to the capital, was shocked by its degeneration.

The headline read:

Are We Being

Los Angeles-ized ?

What the Post means by Los Angelesized (I see no reason for that hyphen) is evident in Stein's comparison of the two cities:

"Here in Southern California," he wrote, "mankind has taken a landscape drenched with sun, capable of supporting every kind of beautiful vegetation from palms to pines, and blotted it out with hideous developments, shopping centers, apartments and every kind of ticky-tacky monument to greed.

"The native Angeleno takes this in stride. He has never known any other, better way. But as a transplant from Washington, I'd long harbored memories of its green places and a hope that I could return to them. . . .

"I was wrong. Washington and its environs are not different from Southern California. They were just slow off the mark. They show every sign of catching up with the ugliness of Los Angeles, and fast.

"I could hardly believe my eyes. It was as if every zoning official in the region had vanished and been replaced with the man who makes the strip zoning centers in Burbank. . . .

"I promise you, if you were dropped down on Route 50 near Kent Island in the middle of the night, you would think you were in Van Nuys or Sherman Oaks. You might not find out differently for days. . . ."

A sentence by Melvyn Bragg in a recent issue of Punch, the British humor magazine, while it does not use the term Los Angelization , does seem to define it fairly well.

Eulogizing two giants of British broadcasting, who had died within a few days of each other, Bragg observed: "To insist that a place has roots and strengths, trying to throw off the nightmare pap of the Los Angeles shoddy glitz, which sets out to find a market common denominator worldwide, is to do something of great value."

That is not one of Punch's more elegant sentences, but it does say that in throwing off the Los Angeles shoddy glitz, the British Broadcasting Corp. has escaped Los Angelization.

It follows from that that Los Angelization not only threatens communities that are geographically nearby, like San Diego and San Francisco, and which thus may be Los Angelized by osmosis, but that the disease may travel electronically, thereby infecting distant entities such as BBC.

I am reminded of an old horror story in which two beautiful young people, a man and a woman, are cast adrift on a remote island whose inhabitants are covered from head to foot by a hideous fuzzy white growth. Despite the presence of these monsters, the young couple are happy in their paradise until one day one of them sees a small white spot on the other.

Evidently the entire nation, and nations beyond the seas, live in fear of discovering that tiny spot of infection on their civic bodies--that first freeway, that first shopping strip, that first high-rise, that first desecrated wild space, that first gridlock.

So Los Angelization is here to stay.

But perhaps Reilly is right. If Los Angelization is a phenomenon of our times, perhaps we ought to standardize the spelling. Reilly notes that Los Angelesization and Los Angelization perform the same function.

He adds, "You are the logical social arbiter and lexicographer on this issue. . . ."

My choice will mean nothing. Usage will prevail. My bet would be on Los Angelize and Los Angelization . The two forms would thus be consistent. After all, Angel is enough. I have never understood why we call ourselves Angelenos, or Angelinos, when Los Angeles is the city of the Angels, not the City of the Angelenos.

Why don't we just come right out and call ourselves Angels?

I'm an angel. You're an angel.

And San Franciscans are Friscans.

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