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Asian Migration and Global Cities

Anne Cong-Huyen, Jonathan Young Banfill, Katherine Herrera, Samantha Ching, Natalie Yip, Thania Lucero, Randy Mai, Candice Lau, Authors

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Los Angeles: Futures

In one section of "Sunshine or Noir", Mike Davis discusses how Los Angeles is a “stand-in for capitalism in general” and how it occupies the symbolic “double role of utopia and dystopia for advanced capitalism” (Davis, 18). Films such as Blade Runner (1982) or Escape from L.A. (1996) clearly represent the dystopian end of this spectrum. For my Los Angeles media object I’ve chosen a piece that, at least on the surface, seems to represent the utopian end. This is the trailer to Spike Jonze’s recently released film Her (2013), which presents a vision of a near-future L.A. that is bright, urban, global, and filled with green public spaces, as well as ample public transportation. The residents of this world are well dressed, technologically savvy and creative, and the embodiment of the “Los Angeles intellectuals” that Davis mentions at the beginning of his piece (17). It is the “super-city of the future” that Reyner Banham mentions at the beginning of his documentary.

This future Los Angeles is both recognizable and unrecognizable. For instance the general city skyline is similar, but in this version the vertical portions of the city extend in all directions, and in fact the filmmakers interposed footage from Shanghai to make it look more urbanely dense and futuristic. Unlike Blade Runner’s almost constant darkness, much of the key parts of the film take place in daytime, with certain scenes presented in an idealized nostalgia-laced, instagram filter, sunshine lens effect. All the spatial environments are smooth and clean, a perfect fusion of classic styles (the constant display of high-waisted pants, the modernist furniture) and future-modernist-techno-utopian (the office buildings, the apartment, the titular operating system). There is even a scene of the subway taking the main character to the beach, something that would be impossible today!

What I think these scenes represent is a reflection of some of the new rhetoric that is surrounding the city, embodied in the redevelopment of downtown over the last decade. The trailer to Her shows the type of city that has been imagined by politicians, developers, and other residents (Davis, ix). This is a vision that has been represented in a number of recent videos and articles, including those from the History ChannelCNN, and The Huffington Post.

Of course we know from reading Davis that this is nothing new. Cycles of such ideology have always existed in the landscape of L.A., both imaginative and real. And what is also notable in the trailer is what is missing. There is seemingly no population diversity, racially, culturally, and class, outside of those that exist within the characters creative professional world sphere. It is as if tech-people, academics, Silver Lake hipsters, and other representatives of the global upper class now filled the entire city! Where have the rest of the people gone? That is a further question that must be interrogated in such utopian visions. Is there more to be scraped beneath the surface, or is the L.A. of Her the one that we are moving towards.

What will the future of L.A. look like? Will it be filled with sunshine and progress, or darkness and regress? How will the tensions between class, race, and culture play out in this future? These are all questions that must be asked, and speculated on, as the we move forward in time. Film and other media give us glimpses of what this future could be, filled with our hopes about it, and they are useful texts to mine as we take our tour of the city and its meanings.

-Jonathan Banfill
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The City of Angels and the Beverly Hills Chihuahua

The trailer to the 2008 family comedy Beverly Hills Chihuahua opens with the unmistakable cha-ching of a cash register followed by
the enduring line “Welcome to the land of the rich and famous.” Cut to a
two-way sign – one for Rodeo Drive, the other for Wilshire Boulevard – and the Chihuahua
Chloe is trying on several outfits. Her owner, talking on the phone, coos “I’ll
get you anything you want” before snapping into her blue tooth “no, not you,
Patrick!” A kid-friendly mix of PG humor, adventure, and “impossible” love, the
movie also speaks to some characteristics often associated with the setting of
Los Angeles itself. Material wealth, race, and class the aristocratic,
snow-white Chloe, voiced by Drew Barrymore, against Papi (George Lopez), a
brown Chihuahua and companion of Chloe’s owner’s gardener, who evokes the Mexican-American
stereotype and in turn receives some disdain from his later love interest, Chloe’s
temporary guardian Rachel (Piper Parabow).

Furthermore, thinking back to Davis’ book on LA Sunshine and Noir?, we may see Chloe as
a product of deracination when she is dognapped to Mexico. “Why would I speak
Spanish?” Chloe asks in response to her fellow inmate at the pound, who speaks
with a Mexican accent. “Hellooo,” he points out, “you a chihuahua, mi hija.” The most beloved pet of an
heiress (Jamie Lee Curtis), Chloe is deracinated in the sense that in the movie’s
racialized world of dogs, she has been removed from racial and ethnic influences
with which those she ridicules engage on a daily basis. Employing the
human-centric concept of color as race to dogs subtly reinforces race as a
social construct; Chloe and Papi are the same species, but their color marks
them as different on a social level. Thus, Beverly
Hills Chihuahua
achieves a little more than entertaining its audience with
talking dogs and dog jokes. With humor, it grapples with the question of how we
treat others based on appearance, and situates this narrative in a city where
this question is a daily struggle. 

By Samantha Ching

Posted on 17 March 2014, 11:31 am by Samantha Ching  |  Permalink

L.A. Songs: Sunshine, Santa Monica, and Sheryl Crow

Sheryl Crow’s song “All I Wanna Do” speaks to the easy,
laid-back vibe often attributed to Los Angeles and Southern California at
large. The omnipresent Los Angeles sun, the health-boosting rays of which drew the
first boosters to this coastal paradise in the late nineteenth century, here
indicates the limit of Crow’s fun-making. In the chorus, she repeats three
times the line “All I wanna do is have some fun, until the sun comes up over
Santa Monica Boulevard.” On a surface level, Crow’s desire to be entertained,
which the city characteristically satisfies, will fade when the sun rises, when
she must face the new day. On the other hand, in regulating the schedule for
Crow’s diversion, the sun itself wields a certain power. Its ascent over one of
the city’s main thoroughfares joins the fun-seeking Crow and the man William
she meets in the bar with the ordinary people washing cars in skirts and suits on
their lunch break.

By Samantha Ching

Posted on 17 March 2014, 11:32 am by Samantha Ching  |  Permalink

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