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sardines vs anchovies

10.10.2014

Out of a sense of obligation, the Literary attended the overpriced New Yorker Festival event tonight entitled “The Golden State”, a panel of writers from California. Tellingly, the panel was three-fourths screenwriters (though Ms July is a fiction too, and a very good one at that), and all of the questions (and comments in the ostensible form of a question) from the audience were about movies. Aside from woefully providing another piece of evidence that nobody reads books any longer (even the folks who read the New Yorker), it was also a ridiculous presentation of the state of the State of California as the state of Hollywood and the film-and-television industry’s depiction of California and Californian life. To have such a home-grown skewer driven into the heart of the (previously self-aware) artistic community in Los Angeles was ironic and, for us at least, depressing. All those proud communities who’ve throughout the years felt the heavy distorting hand of Hollywood and hated them for it can now applaud: we’ve done it to ourselves. You’d think that folks who’ve been around the great falsifying industry would think more about using its pop products as evidence of current and/or former CA cultural practice. Even July, so canny in so many other ways, nominated a television show as her go-to guide to CA (a show I’ve admittedly never seen, but c’mon people!). Only Mr Chabon, the sole pure fiction writer there, spent his time talking about the more nuanced writer’s perspective (though he too praised the movies, so fuck it).

Deborah Treisman, who at times looked dismayed, helpless, baffled, and amused, is, after all, the fiction editor, but alas, she could not keep anyone on topic (particularly the eldest of the group, Mr Towne, prone to ramble). This was not exactly her fault, as the make-up of the panel was perhaps too disparate and poorly chosen to make any sense of (unless of course she had a hand in choosing the panel). Only the most general of questions could be answered by each panelist, and no one seemed to have much interest in the California experience outside of their personal California experience (though Coogler, the youngest, did touch on some bigger ideas, sort-of surprisingly, as he was the most provincial of them all).

As it was, there were some funny moments, but conspicuously missing were: any real talk of California writers, past or present; the current writing and publishing scene in California; the history of Californian literature; any insight into how California is a unique place to be a writer; how California writing affects or does not affect the American literary scene; and, perhaps most importantly, how literature in California holds up against, or coincides with, is integral or antagonistic to, the Hollywood film industry.

What we got was, appropriately, a finale of fish, a (relatively) brief discourse by the indefatigable Towne on the small-eat-smaller marine debacle of the (was it?) 1940s. Was it meant as a metaphor for the sink or swim mentality of LA? Of the historically fishy nature of California politics and speculative capitalism? Of the profit-driven dream of the film and tv industry to package every place and time in a cultural can? Perhaps he was simply recapitulating how the Golden State had just been served up as an easily digestible appetizer to a theater-full of movie-goers.

Perhaps he was just hungry.

who will prevail?

who will prevail?

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