Sunday, June 29, 2008

Los Angeles

I've now been in Los Angeles five days and have enjoyed it very much. After arriving mid-day Wednesday, I rented a car and drove to Westwood where my friend Russell, with whom I'm staying, lives. I was pretty exhausted, so I took it easy that day. Since then I've visited a number of places, in addition to doing some work here at the apartment:

The Getty - A beautiful museum perch on high ground overlooking the city. The architecture and the gardens were stunning, and there were several exhibits I enjoyed. In particular, there was a retrospective on the museum's collection of photographs, ranging from the earliest days of photography through modern techniques and works.

Pico-Robertson - Over Shabbas, Russell and I walked to have lunch at the apartment of Erica Farbar, a very good friend of mine at Harvard. There were a dozen people, and there was both good food and good company. The area where she lives is a predominantely Jewish area of the city, and I returned on Sunday to have a kosher hot dog at Nathans. It was pretty good. Also in Pico-Roberston is the Museum of Tolerance, described below.

The El Capitan Theatre - a Disney owned flagship theater, it is used to premiere films and promote their brand. They have a VIP option which includes popcorn, a drink, and reserved seating. I went with Russell and his cousin to see WallE, which had just opened the day before. The show opened with a mixed live/film performance of a variety of Disney/Pixar films, with costumed characters dancing onstage while the films they were in flashed below. I'm no fan of Disney as a coroporation so the Disney love-fest was not exactly my cup of tea. There was also something more subtle happening: the shots from Finding Nemo transitioned directly into The Little Mermaid, and the scene from A Bugs Life into a similiar one from The Lion King. Disney is appropriating the films it had not part in creating.

On the other hand, Wall-E was a fantastic film. As with past Pixar films, it combined skillful storytelling with breathtaking animation. It also had a pretty stark vision of the future and was a cautionary tale about material waste and automation.

Venice Beach - Sunday morning we went to Venice Beach with Erica and Dave, who I met at Shabbas lunch. The beach is a Los Angeles landmark, and I figured it wouldn't hurt to get a little sun. After brunch on the boardwalk, we lay out and discussed the merits of different systems of metered parking. At brunch, Dave had suggested that free parking was bad because it subsidised the relatively wealthy (those with cars) over the relatively poor (those who could not afford cars) and had many negative side effects, namely people circling for a parking spot and emitting additional greenhouse gasses. After lying out for a while, we walked along the boardwalk, which was a lot of fun, and generally enjoyed our day.

The Museum of Tolerance - Entering the museum parking lot, I had my trunk searched, something that has not happened to me in the states as long as I can remember. By that point, I'd become so sick of looking for parking that I would have submitted to a strip search to get access to a free covered public lot. The Museum itself was very well produced. I particularly liked a video on the Civil Rights Movement. However, I had some issues with other parts. One interactive exhibit was called the Millennium Machine, which focused on terrorism. I found the whole thing to be very alarmist (for example, presenting chemical and biological weapons as an imminent, grave threat, while ignoring facts that suggest otherwise). I was also a bit upset that the only question it posed as subjective was one on the merits of racial profiling of Muslims to prevent terrorism. While it presented both sides, I would expect a more robust opposition to racial profiling from the Museum of Tolerance. Also, from this and other exhibits (including a Never Again anti-genocide anti-war crimes exhibit), I took the message that terrorism needs to be made a war crime/crime against humanity. A reasonable proposal, but from the Simon Wiesenthal I would have expected a push to fight genocide in Sudan or the arrest of wanted criminals in, say, the Balkans.

The Holocaust exhibit was fairly large, and took about an hour or so to get through. It was similar to, but much small than, the USHMM or Yad Vashem. There were a couple of unusual things about it. First, there were no written descriptions of the instillations. Rather, an automated tour illuminates one panel at a time, while one or more voices narrate. The first several panels, and several more throughout, are told from the perspective of three people designing the exhibit. Whether or not they are fictional characters, it must take a gigantic ego to think that the best way to tell the story of the Holocaust is through a fictional version of you, the archivest. The automated narration also forces the viewer to keep to their pace.

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