Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Reaching for the Stars and Falling Down the Stairs

I’ve never liked Los Angeles. I’ve always thought of the people as fake, desperate for their big break, and hopelessly self-centred. If London is an outward-looking city that feels like it’s at the centre of the world, Los Angeles is an inward-looking city that feels like it’s at the centre of…itself. And eating itself from the inside like some sort of demon wasp. (I’m sure there’s a species of wasp that does something horrific like that.)

Of course, that’s a stereotype. Like London, L.A. is mind-bogglingly enormous, so much so that to make generalisations about it is patently ridiculous. However, unlike London, it also lacks any kind of central identity. “Londoners” are a thing, and they’re proud of being so. Most people in L.A. don’t seem to identify as “Angelinos”; it’s all just a chaotic mishmash of people brought together, for the most part, by what is ominously referred to as “the industry”. And they seem to assert the identities of the places they came from, rather than the sprawling hell that they’ve moved to.

Granted, most people in London aren’t “Londoners” either; they’re also from all over the place. But London has an intense centre of gravity that sucks everyone, and even every town around it, into its dark embrace, like a black hole of surliness and stress, the tentacles of the Tube dragging everyone and everything in like a voracious octopus. Within days of moving to London, you’re already advising people on whether to get the Edgware or High Barnet branch of the Northern Line, grumbling about the omnipresent rain, or complaining about the cost of…well, everything. Which basically makes you a Londoner. In short, live in London for any length of time, and the city makes you one of its own.

Don't even try to understand the clusterfuck that is the Northern Line.

The biggest difference between the two cities, though, is outlook. Los Angeles is based on, for want of a better word, dreams. People dreaming big, and dreaming of making it big. Everyone has to have the kind of relentlessly positive attitude that only California—with its perfect weather, majestic coastline, and abundance of organic food—can provide. It’s the only way the city can survive.

Staple of the Californian diet.

Of course, if you’re a Londoner reading this, then you vomited into your own mouth the moment I used the word “dreams”. London is designed to crush those stupid things. Positivity is for the naïve and the idiotic. You think you’re going to make it big do you? Wake up, mate. Were you born yesterday? You’re nothing but a speck on a speck on a speck on a speck in an infinite and uncaring universe. I mean, have you looked outside? It’s a cold, harsh world out there. And it’s pissing it down. Now get your umbrella and make a cynical tweet about how your train’s delayed again.

Now, I love the cynicism of London. It lends itself to that dry, dark humour that people associate with the Brits. It also strips away delusion and pretension like nowhere else. Every time I hear someone talk about how they’re “special” and how the only thing between them and success is “just believing in themselves”, the Londoner in me wants to beat them about the face with a cricket bat. And then head to the pub for a swift pint. Oh yes.

Literally the first image that comes up if you type "pint" into Google image search.  Which is brilliant.

To any Brit, America (and particularly California) is painfully positive to an almost physically repugnant degree. The smiling, cheerful waitresses. The optimistic wannabe actors. The fact that everyone isn’t constantly drunk. Just what the hell is wrong with these people? If Americans are dogs, slobbering happily while chasing their own tails, barking loudly with a blissful dullness in their eyes, all while maintaining the vague threat of being able to maul you to within an inch of your life…then Brits are the cat, miserable and wet, glaring effeminately down at the dog from a nearby bookshelf and thinking quietly to themselves: “Idiot.”

God is dead and your ignorance will kill you all. Moron.

Schadenfreude may be a German word, but it was made for Londoners. We love nothing more than hubris: the pride before the fall. Watching someone reach for the stars…only to fall down the stairs and break every bone in their body on the way down. I mean, I actually laughed out loud just writing that. Stars, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde (a Londoner, don't forget), are for lying in the gutter and staring at. Longingly.

America, on the other hand, loves a good rags to riches story. They want to see people reach for the stars and actually make it. Only this country could take the phrase “picking yourself up by your bootstraps”, a phrase that comically and ironically points out the precise impossibility of lifting yourself up on your own…and use it to mean the exact opposite. The misuse of that phrase by Americans is everything that America is about: naïve (some might even say “ignorant”) optimism about individual triumph trumping common-sense cynicism and irony. It’s enough to make a grown Brit weep.

And yet, it’s what makes this crazy City of Angels work, and it’s also what makes it great. Londoners are always trying to drag you down (usually to the pub), or at very least waiting for you to fail. In Los Angeles, everyone just takes it for granted that, some day, you’re going to succeed. As I said, Americans want you to reach for the stars, and as stupid and saccharine as it sounds, they want you to make it there.

Let’s put it this way. There’s a reason the first man to walk on the moon was an American.

Sod that, though. Pub?