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L.A. ... just paging through

Cover story

Each enclave -- hip, hippie, hip-hop -- has its own read on the city

May 13, 2004|Patt Morrison | Times Staff Writer

The legendary Southern California soil, where the braggarts say you can spit out an orange pip and be harvesting citrus by the next season, has been hard ground for the seeding of new magazines.

Blame it in part on the fact that the place is an exotic Oz that lends itself to tall tales spun for the amazement of the folks back home, about gold nuggets and blue seas, rampaging murderers and tearing earthquakes. Most of the hit-and-run writers who have inflated their renown on extravagant magazine accounts of Los Angeles did so for readers too far away to quibble.

To write about L.A. for L.A. presumes there is "a" Los Angeles, but just as L.A. defies conventional templates of cityhood, its psycho-geography defies the standard-issue magazine. L.A. is a vast centrifuge that flings people across hundreds of miles of neighborhoods. Unlike the dense urbs of Europe and the East Coast, this place has few common actions, little common dialogue, few common characters -- apart from movie stars, and mags in Ouagadougou can write about them. In L.A., "the mayor" is a different guy or gal in each of scores of cities, and a "well-known fact" in Silver Lake may be as much a mystery in Calabasas as it is in Kiev.

A magazine called L.A.: The Southern California Magazine, published briefly and heroically in the late 1950s, noted before it went under that it was the dozenth try at a regional magazine since World War II -- a death rate that would alarm the CDC. Now, more than 40 years later, the publishers' Los Angeles has stopped trying to wear New York's wardrobe and is choosing its own: magazines targeted not to communities by ZIP Code, but communities of interest.

The psycho-geography is that mental terrain each of us chooses to inhabit by what we imagine ourselves to be: Zoloft-ridden metrosexual or downtown loft Vegan? Tongue-in-cheek suburbanite or Hollywood party barnacle? Angelenos are not where they live but where they think themselves. So are their magazines.

Not all of them are accomplished; one I can think of manages to be accomplished without being any good. But on those bones will better magazines be made -- or worse ones avoided.

Some time back, movie mogul David Geffen told the New Yorker, an East Coast magazine, that the new Getty Museum was "too good" for Los Angeles. This new breed of magazine might ask, "Who's David Geffen?"

Los Angeles magazine

L.A. magazine's readers not only know who David Geffen is, they've probably shared a screening room with him. Or desperately want to. Los Angeles mag is to the local glossy pub biz what the Tournament of Roses is to holiday parades -- the granddaddy. It's a grand slam page-turner through the Los Angeles the world believes we all live in -- the glitzkrieg Westside of L.A.'s rich and gorgeous, the theme park ride where You Must Be This Blond to Enter.

This monthly mag boils its pot with flossy, glossy standards -- the 10 best weekend getaways, "prime finds" like a $765 pink leather bag for your laptop. That buys the serious stuff: coverage of media, high finance and politics, like a recent profile of Laura Chick. Her name may not be on the tip of 310 tongues but she's the city controller whose financial sleuthing summoned two grand juries to investigate civic cash flows.

Some fine and stylish journalists and authors write for L.A. I'd nearly believe foodster Patric Kuh has written about L.A. restaurants since the days when that other L.A., the 1950s magazine, had to tell its readers what "lox" was. The editor, Kit Rachlis, used to run the L.A. Weekly of lamented memory, and was an editor at The Los Angeles Times Magazine. In his pages, he practices what I think of as missionary journalism, sneaking the serious vitamins and fiber in with the fluff, delivering the verities of distant and sometimes down-market Southern California to people who go to New York more often than they get downtown.

Los Angeles Confidential

The best I can say about this is that it doesn't pretend to be anything more than what it is: derivative, empty, glossy, utterly indulgent, guilty-pleasure junk-food gossip calories. It's full of big second-generation names like Tisch and Hearst, and fatigued, second-generation wordplays. A Jackie Collins column is "Jackie Oh!" and there's "Dressed for Excess" and "Haute Zone." There's loads of that faux, forced celebrity writing, such as guests who are "assembled elegantly" -- what, like Swiss watches? And "the energy in L.A. is so high during awards season, it's almost palpable" -- so reach out and electrocute yourself.

This is one of those glossies (bimonthly) whose editorial copy is scarcely distinguishable from the ad copy, except that the editorial copy, baldly, usually has the prices. Here's where you'll find your basic $80 jockstrap, and the celeb ashram that, for $3,500 a week, imposes on its clients the same poverty of diet and space that they could achieve by living on $3,500 a year.

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