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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: Light and Dark

In the history and imagination of Los Angeles, light and dark are always close. They lie on top of each other and whisper to each other, sharing the same space, projecting out to the world colorful fantasies of success, fame and easy living, while at the same time an under layer of horrible nightmares and corruptions. The tension between them is ever present, making the city what it is in our collective imagination. In representations of the city there is always something evil lurking underneath the sunshine, or rather, it is entwined in the very essence of the sunshine in strange and terrifying ways. This is one path through the texts of the city that we will survey in brief here.

Take the quintessential historical L.A. neo-noir text Chinatown (1974) that tells an origin story of the city: the battle for water at the turn of the 20th century. At the center of this story is a murder that in turn leads to the exposure of the political corruption that makes the city run. This corruption is involved in bringing water to the San Fernando Valley, into which the city will expand, and make the powerful rich. Or take a more recent example, L.A. Confidential (1997), based on James Ellroy’s L.A. Quintet of detective novels, which tell an alternate history of crime and justice in the 1940s and 1950s, full of corrupt cops, femme fatales and organized crime. Or something like David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001) a film that fully captures this dichotomy within its layered and dream-like logic, and its light haired and dark haired heroines, or this chilling scene from Lynch's other film Lost Highway (1997) where a frightening mystery man approaches the main character at a Hollywood party. And even modern police films like Training Day (2001). Each show the duality and conflicting layers of good and evil in the city. 

And of course there are the real life dark stories that run deep in the mythic bloodstream of the city. Central is the Black Dahlia murder of 67 years ago, whose horrific nature and unsolved status still haunt the city. As well as the Sharon Tate murder by the Manson Family in 1969, which punctuated the sunny vision of 1960s counter culture with horror. Or more recent strange happenings, such as the mysterious events and strange behaviors surrounding the disappearance of tourist Elisa Lam last January, and the eventual discovery of her body drowned in the water tower of the infamous Hotel Cecil downtown. This case has spread this sordid mythology of L.A. deeply into the consciousness of Asia, as Lam was Canadian Chinese, with thousands of Chinese net users speculating on what happened, conspiracies and all.

As with everything Los Angeles, the connections between film life and real life, and between events, are many, adding to the mystery (and the meta-layers) to all of this. For instance the Dahlia may have stayed in the Cecil the week before she was killed. James Ellroy’s mother may have been killed by the same killer as the Dahlia. One of the major Dahlia suspects, Dr. George Hill Hodel, was friends with John Huston, who starred in Chinatown, whose director Roman Polanski was married to Sharon Tate. Hodel escaped police investigation by moving to Manila, where he may have been responsible for more murders. Robert Blake, who plays Lynch's mystery man was tried for a real-life murder of his own. And on and on and on.

Thus, there is always something dark lurking under the surface of L.A.’s brightness. There are histories both textual and real that tell us anything can happen here, that evil and death are just around the corner in paradise.
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