LA and NY on Each Other via James Frey

James Frey, author of the fake-memoir A Million Little Pieces, has a new novel set in and about the City of Los Angeles. It’s fascinating to contrast the New York Times review with the Los Angeles Times review of the book. The NYT reviewer loved it; the LAT reviewer hated it, calling it one of the worst books he’s ever read.

The NYT reviewer says it’s a “captivating urban kaleidoscope” about Los Angeles. The LAT reviewer says “Frey seems to know little about Los Angeles and to have no interest in it as a real place where people wrestle with actual life. There are obligatory riffs on freeways and natural disasters…[it is] a superficial collection of loose impressions that don’t add up.”

I’m guessing the New York reviewer felt the description of LA resonated with her probably because it confirmed the idea she already had about LA. The LA reviewer hated it because the reality of LA isn’t anything like the idea that drives Frey’s novel.

I’m fascinated about how the west and east coasts portray each other.

New York dominated media outlets (TV news, newspaper, magazines) continue to reinforce superficial stereotypes about California (24/7 sun but boob jobs and the culture that goes with that) and the Los Angeles dominated movie industry often sets films in New York and reinforces that city’s stereotypes (cosmopolitan and exciting but soul-sucking and money-obsessed).

I’ve lived in LA County for about nine months now. I recently talked to a friend who lives in New York. On the topic of Los Angeles, he said, “Oh, I hate LA.” Why, I replied. “Pollution and traffic.” How many times have you been to LA? “Just a few times…”

Pollution and traffic are surely problems in greater LA, but having now lived in LA county for nine months, I can say that writing off the city for these tired, old reasons is like writing off New York by saying, “JFK and the subways are all disgusting.” Or that New Yorkers are rude mo-fos who walk too fast. Or any other easy but ultimately superficial complaint.

It’s better not to judge until you’ve spent some time in a place. Unfortunately, we have plenty of New York media outlets and Hollywood movies working to perpetuate “a little truth, lot of bullshit” stereotypes about each other…contributing to a collective mis-understanding of America’s two largest cities.

(hat tip to Dana Goodyear for links to the reviews)

8 comments on “LA and NY on Each Other via James Frey
  • I like the way you sum it up – “It’s better not to judge until you’ve spent some time in a place.”

    I think of it all the time when tourists write authoritatively about a place after visiting it for a few days, not getting a thing about its culture, history or sensibilities of its people, no matter how decadent a culture they come from and go back to.

  • I have some stereotypes about East Coast vs. West Coast.

    East Coast – traditional business models; media; business plans; finance; marketing

    West Coast – Technology; innovative business models; creative; entrepreneurial; do not understand business/finance

    Goal of my life: merge the cultures of the East Coast and West Coast to build kick-ass companies with solid business models and an entrepreneurial culture. 🙂

  • Once I was tripping on acid and got trapped in this internal east coast/west coast dichotomy– oscillating between SF and NY like Jack Kerouac and Neil Cassady on a mad drive to nowhere, until finally I came down and found myself in Indiana.

    I promptly stuck out my thumb and caught a ride to Florida.;-)

  • I, too, am fascinated by the East/West coast conceptions of one another. I’ve lived on the West coast my whole life (I spent my formative years growing up in Orange County, CA) and can honestly say that East coast people scare me if for no other reason than I’ve been trained to think that way.

    Also, just a note about West coast entertainment: It predates on itself, as well. Look at the show “The OC”, for goodness’ sakes! This show perpetuates every West coast stereotype there is and is obnoxious to boot. In the 14 years I lived there, no one ever called it the OC and no one was as rich as the people on that show. OK, rant over.

  • I find it quite interesting, as a European living in the US, how ready Americans are to stereotype each other rather than stepping outside their own states/ cities for any length of time. Although in Europe, the same sized places are subject to national stereotypes, of course.

    Here in Texas, it’s the whole state that gets dissed, because the stereotype is country not cities, and cities like Austin (where I live) confound the Texas sterotype. All very interesting.

  • If you love LA so much, why don’t you write a post about your LA Lakers in the finals right now?

  • (btw, the above comment was supposed to sound as rude as it did. just a suggestion for a post.)

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