Write one or two paragraphs for each discussion.
1. Nobody Walks in L.A.
Here’s a blast from the New Wave past, Missing Persons’s hit song “Walking in L.A.” (Links to an external site.)The chorus rings true, “Nobody Walks in L.A.,” at least not when compared to other urban centers. In his essay, “Hollywood,” Truman Capote rightly notices that this is in part because of the length of the blocks, blocks designed more for automobiles than pedestrians, but he does more than report the facts, he notes the mood as one that is distinctly anti-pedestrian. Bradbury makes walking in L.A. a criminal act. Are these works of art rightly reflecting L.A.’s attitude toward pedestrians? How does this effect the sense of community? What do you know about the mass transit system in Los Angeles? What neighborhoods does it leave out? Include? (Don’t provide a list, use this question as food for thought.) And what does this say about the choices facing those who live and/or work in areas that aren’t easily accessed by the transit system?
We began our experience of the trials and rewards of group work this week. While I don’t want to open any potential wounds or find out who most evokes the Harlequin or the Ticktockman in your group, I do want us to examine that experience via the particularly isolating light of Los Angeles. Please comment on the collaborative process. What do you think of collaborative activities? Are they a bitter pill or is the sense of community that they provide worth the extra trouble? How do the trials, tribulations, and yes, rewards, of group work parallel the inner-struggles of Los Angeles residents? Is your (potential) tendency to work alone (because you want to: know you’ll get the job done/accommodate your particularly busy schedule/avoid repeating bad past experiences of working in groups, etc.) reflective of the city in which you live? That is, which came first, Los Angeles, or a penchant for isolation?
2.Science-Fiction or Fact?
Our two stories this week have much in common. They are both science-fiction, set in the future, are about common practices that become criminalized, even deadly, and are written by white men. In a world where “walking while black” can actually be considered a dangerous activity, let’s talk about the vantage point of our two authors. How does their race inform their politic here? How does their gender impact the story? Can you imagine these stories told by a person of color? By a female author?
I do not want us to confuse the role of the artist for that of a politician or suggest that artists cannot convey the experience of someone in a culture not shared by that artist. I do, however, think it is useful to consider that what is fantasy or a “what-if” scenario for some is reality for others.
Consider this Noam Chomsky quote from Understanding Power, “The terms of political discourse are designed so as to prevent thought.” Is Chomsky right? Why is the Chinese Massacre not called a riot while the Watts Riot is not called a massacre, when by most accounts, more died in the Watts Riot? (Please do not give dictionary definitions of these terms here, think critically instead!)
History is written by the winners, but let’s think our way through this one. Riot, uprising, civil unrest, protest, rebellion, revolution! What is the appropriate term to use when a section of our community displays its dissatisfaction or defends itself? What if there is violence in that display/defense? Can we find a term that doesn’t deepen the divide that led to the unrest in the first place?
To help stir our thinking, put your ears on and enjoy this week’s poems (included the prompt, above). Baca’s and Clifton’s texts share a focus on our perceptions of difference and the violence to which those perceptions can lead. Give them a listen and share your thoughts and interpretations. How do the poets’ thoughts contribute to our discussion?
What can you find out about the Chinese Massacre of 1871? Can it be called the first riot in Los Angeles history? What was the social and political climate that precipitated this event? When and where did it take place? Over how long? Who were the main groups involved? What was being resisted/challenged? How was the event brought to a close and who shares responsibility for the ensuing peace? How did this episode of unrest change the face, physically, politically and even spiritually, of Los Angeles? How does this event live on in our collective memory? Or does it?