An engaging account of the uniquely creative spirit and bustling cultural ecology of contemporary Los Angeles
What is it about Los Angeles since the end of the Second World War that has enabled it to become such a center of cultural and technological innovation? In City at the Edge of Forever, Peter Lunenfeld, a professor at UCLA and an award-winning cultural critic, constructs an urban portrait, layer by layer, from serendipitous affinities, historical anomalies, and uncanny correspondences. In its pages, modernist architecture and lifestyle capitalism come together via a surfer girl named Gidget; Walt Disney and Hugh Hefner are revealed to be the same person, albeit with different demographics; Joan Didion's yellow Corvette is the brainchild of a car-crazy Japanese-American kid interned at Manzanar; and the music of the Manson Family segues into the birth of sci-fi fandom.
One of the book's innovations is to brand Los Angeles as the alchemical city. Earth became real estate when the Yankees took control in the nineteenth century. Fire fueled the city's explosive growth early in the twentieth century as the Southland's oil fields minted millionaires and supplied the inexhaustible demands of drivers and their cars. Air defined the Southland from WWII to the end of the Cold War, with aeronautics and aerospace dominating the region's industries. Water is now the key element, and Southern California's ports are the largest in the western hemisphere, with sixty percent of everything Americans buy from China passing through Los Angeles. What alchemists identify as the ethereal fifth element, or quintessence, this book positions as the glamour of Hollywood, a spell that sustains the city but also needs to be broken in order to understand Los Angeles in the twenty-first century.
The eruption of Los Angeles into global significance follows the ramp-up of its art, architecture, design, cuisine, music, theatre, and literary cultures, along with technical and scientific accomplishments, at a speed and reach unprecedented in modern history. That is the story Lunenfeld tells in this rich and compelling narrative.