The Plasticity of LA LA Land
There are two visions of Los Angeles – one of a successful, sprawling ‘Jewel of the West Coast’ and one, the ‘‘nightmare’ anti-myth’ of superficial soullessness first depicted by Noir (Davis 21). Both perspectives fade in and out of fashion. Los Angeles’ founders hoped for a sprawling utopia, capable of usurping San Francisco. In the early 1940s however disenchanted artists and thinkers began spreading the dystropic perception of Los Angeles that still colors our perception of it. Noir’s gutless, rotten, Aryan, trophy wife ‘L. A. ’ still lingers.
As Mike Davis1 puts it ‘Noir made Los Angeles the city that American intellectuals love to hate’ (Davis 21). Recently however, a new wave of pro-Angelino literature has begun fighting back. Many Americans adamantly stereotype Los Angeles along Noir lines, but its become trendy to argue against the superficial and artificial reputation of this city. Its ‘paradoxical’ land (MacWilliams 184) has two faces. L. A. is both ‘the sunny refuge of White Protestant America’ (Davis 33) and the only city in the world more, or equally, as diverse as New York (Davis 80).
Simultaneously, the city fosters sell-outs, feeds off original thought, and hatches some of our nation’s greatest talents. The Beach Boys, Richard Feynman, Albert Einstein and Raymond Chandler were among the many visionaries who lived and worked in L. A. Los Angeles birthed Southern California’s science-based economy (Davis 1), some of the world’s greatest universities and artists, and inventions ranging from the hoola-hoop and In-N-Out, to the Internet and Mars Rover. Yet, its still widely considered a nest egg of birdbrains.
Obviously, popular thought and measurable facts do not add up. So, which L. A. s most legitimate? One of the grossest misconceptions of Los Angeles is its relationship to the plastic surgery industry. Time and time again, editors, industry leaders, even academics, describe Los Angeles as the ‘Mecca’ of plastic surgery. The epicenter of artificiality. ‘Pay your surgeon very well to break the spell of aging, It’s understood that Hollywood sells Californication’ – Californication, Red Hot Chili Peppers Apparently, Barbie lives in ‘La La Land’. Measurable numbers, however, reveal a remarkably different truth. At most, L. A. ranks eighth in a line up of our top plastic cities (Ruiz).
According to an often-cited report by Forbes Magazine which compares the number of plastic surgeons per capita, Los Angeles falls behind Salt Lake City, San Francisco and even Louisville, Kentucky (Ruiz). Four years later, in 2011, the ASPS2 (American Society of Plastic Surgeons), ASAPS (American Academy for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery) and California Surgical Institute compared their own raw data to population numbers and did not include it in their top ten lists.
Recently, the San Francisco Plastic Surgery and Laser Center used the 2010 census to place L. A. as 46th in the nation – behind Portland, OR (12th), Milwaukee, WI (28th) and Minneapolis, MN (36th) (The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery; The American Society of Plastic Surgeons California Surgical Institute). Really? Mecca? These numbers, this misconception, is a valuable springboard into a larger discussion of L. A’s reputation. What in our society is widely considered more superficial than rhinoplasty or fake than ‘tit jobs’? Furthermore, if we disregard public opinion, and examine the subject dispassionately, plastic surgery is still, at its core, artificial. It’s a metasis of our natural form into imposter shapes. Its synthetic.
Why then is plastic surgery so fictitiously associated with Los Angeles? This inquiry is specific enough to be an appropriate case study for our greater question of L. A. ’s true character. Following mathematical problem solving principles, we start with a simpler, cleaner issue as a first step to understand the more complicated picture. Plastic surgery an excellent stepping stone to our larger discussion for several reasons. Firstly, this misconception is strongly held and many believe it to be true. The examples presented here are just a small sample of the numerous references to L. A. as the epicenter of cosmetic surgery.
Secondly, this misunderstanding can be easily refuted by clear figures. The error is substantial and the mistake, glaringly obvious. Thirdly, focusing on the epitome of artificiality to examine L. A. ’s stereotype of artificiality makes sense. It falls in the same Venn circle without directly addressing L. A’s reputation. “Los Angeles is a constellation of plastic. ” – Norman Mailer Of course, there is the obvious answer as to why Los Angeles can’t seem to shake its erroneous connection to plastic surgery: The “L. A. has always been considered superficial. Americans naturally associate plastic surgery with its perceived epicenter, Hollywood”, argument.
This unfortunately, is exactly what George Orwell would reject as lazy thinking (Orwell). It’s a non-answer; a shallow regurgitation unoriginal thought, which takes us in circles. We cannot understand why Los Angeles is considered superficial by saying it has always been that way. And, if we look at the numbers, Hollywood is really a small portion of L. A’s history, people and economy. In a 2010 Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce annual report the entertainment sector only accounted for three percent of its members (Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce 2010 Annual Report).
Ingredients that truly pump through Los Angeles’ heart must count as tenable explanations. Cosmetic surgery and Los Angeles do share similar recipes. Both are similar in their basic foundational structures, emphasize real estate, have monotonous overtones and show Aryan preferences. Lets take each idea in order. In terms of similarities on a foundational, structural, level, L. A. ’s early history and plastic surgery’s basic features are remarkably similar. Quickly and unnaturally raised, L. A. was carved by businessmen from a dry plot of Southern Californian land and doggedly stuffed with citizens. In 1850 it had only 1,610 residents. 5 years later it was the biggest city in the West, boasting population of just under a million (Los Angeles Almanac; Census Bureau Homepage).
Its caesarean birth was the speedy, deliberate dream of a few industrial families. Great care was taken in advertising the ‘City of Angels’ as a trendy utopia, as we can see in early marketing campaigns that praise its luxurious climate. Even its city newspaper was developed more as a propaganda machine than an unbiased news source. Plastic surgery is likewise a mix of aspiration and beautification. Its a quick fix, a business strategy, and a ‘striving for perfection’ (Murphy).
Botox, chosen by 5. 7 million Americans last year – a population almost twice the size of L. A. itself – lets patients to return to work within a few hours (The American Society of Plastic Surgeons). Even the most complicated cosmetic procedures measure average recovery time in a matter of weeks. This speed is greatly appreciated by many whose age is hindering them in our competitive job market. ‘Career advancement’ is frequently cited as a reason to go under the knife. Rob Long, a successful TV producer, recently chronicled his experience with ageing in an amusing article for L. A. Magazine.
At fifty he’s described as a “comedy vet” or a “seasoned show runner” (code for ‘should’ve retired). According to Long, “in Hollywood, the trick is to get rich before you get old…if you’re unlucky enough to be 48 and still working, you really have only two options: You can look younger, or you can dress younger. ” (Long). Many professionals choose the former. Selling our adults ‘youth’ brings in billions of dollars a year. L. A. is a young city, both in terms of when it was founded, and how it is advertised. At their simplest levels Los Angeles and plastic surgery have much in common.
Both are products. Both sell a fantasy. Los Angeles was built by marketing itself as a prime piece of real estate, and the industry has remained one of its most prominent features. L. A. is ‘first and above all the creature of real-estate capitalism’ (Davis 25). It’s a priority that manifests itself in subtle ways. For example, a cultural boom in the 1980s was principally a development ploy, rather than Renaissance, ‘single-mindedly directed toward… the sale of the city to overseas investors, …recapulat[ing] the real-estate/arts nexus of [the] early twentiethcentury’ (Davis 22).
This mindset mirrors the experiences many have with plastic surgery. Cara L. Okopny3, a cosmetic surgery scholar, writes: Many surgeons sell cosmetic surgery under the guise of body maintenance, often comparing women’s bodies to inanimate objects such as cars or houses… Surgeons and society in general have helped to detach women from their bodies so it becomes easier to compare them to houses or cars simply in need of retooling. (46) Such manipulation eases women into agreeing to procedures.
Its also transforms doctors into real estate brokers. Okopny continues by citing a peer who interviewed thirty-nine plastic surgeons. On one occasion the researcher was advised to get a facelift as early as twenty-five in order to maintain herself, much like ‘the paint on a house’. (Okopny 46) Los Angeles’ monotonous overtones are most apparent its climate and infamous smog. Other monotone features exist, such as the dominance of Spanish-style architecture or its tourist’s veneer, but L. A. ’s weather and pollution attract more attention.
Apparently, the city is permanently a sunny 72° and forever blanketed in a suffocating haze. William Faulkner depicts L. A. ’s ‘season’ beautifully in his short story, Golden Land 4. There, days are ‘unmarred by rain or weather, the changeless monotonous beautiful days without end [continue] out of the halcyon past and…into the halcyon future’ (Faulkner). L. A. ’s climate is still a popular topic. 65 years after Faulkner we all know that in ‘Venice Beach and Palm Springs, Summertime is everyday’ (Katy Perry). Similarly, plastic surgery is a world of golden, permanent youth.
Men and women without age, beautiful as gods and goddesses” are either forever young or morphing into a universal, homogeneous, standard of beauty (Faulkner). Anyone with even a basic understanding of Los Angeles’ history knows its racist undertones. The Watts and L. A. Riots are familiar and taught in classrooms across America. Countless other instances have passed and too many are still woven into the city’s infrastructure. Racism in plastic surgery however is less often discussed, unless we remember Michael Jackson. Its effects are more obvious if we again examine some measurable numbers. 011 ASPS statistics reveal that, whether or not they consciously request a white wash, the operation preferred by Asian women is a double-eyelid procedure. Similarly, African Americans gravitate towards rhinoplasty.
While academics complain that our beauty standard is too Caucasian, operating rooms across America are leaking the evidence of this Aryan bias. Our monotonous ideals are being physically manifested, and we vote with our scalpels “I’ve lived in L. A. for so long, I don’t even know what is real and what isn’t any more. ” – Dane Cook “Fantasy imagined,… fantasy seen. – Allan Seager So, what do we learn from looking deeper into what truly connects Los Angeles and plastic surgery? The message lies in comparing what most logically ties L. A. to one of our culture’s most superficial and artificial industries, to what Americans believe are the most important connections. Despite rational reasoning, Beverly Hills, pop culture, mass media, movies, Real Housewives, celebrity scandals, is what we hear over and over again. The reason most people make the wrong association isn’t one of the valid ones discussed, like real estate or racism, its Hollywood.
Its what modern literature is trying so hard to overcome – our obsession with the entertainment industry at the expense of what really drives Los Angeles. In America there are two L. A. s: one is an idea, the other a living, breathing city. Why are we so biased towards the idea? To answer this question we must move from the safety of measurable numbers into argument. Perhaps L. A. remains a fiction because we prefer our idea of it over the truth. The question now becomes, what purpose does La La Land serve? One answer is that its our scapegoat.