Girl in a box, in Los Angeles


ImageBret Easton Ellis’s dead-eyed rich kids are close enough to smell. They smell like PCP and self-involvement.

I am standing in the lobby of the Standard Hotel in west Hollywood, Los Angeles, when a man dressed as Jack Sparrow walks past me. He has beads in his semi-dreadlocked hair, a triangular moustache and a billowy shirt. He isn’t dressed up though; just dressed. This is the Standard. This is hipster town. This is a ‘destination’ of sorts.

Next to him, a man of Japanese descent wears a pair of dungarees with no shirt on underneath. He is with a fifteen year old with a mohican, carrying a guitar, with a man who is possibly the fifteen year old’s manager. Then a woman trips past in huge sunglasses and stacked wedges and a small t-shirt and an even smaller pair of pants. She is tanned and thin, thin as in never-being-able-to-eat-nice-things-thin. Feminism is dead here. It was stillborn when it was born here.

So too is self awareness, the version that involves humility, unlike the brand you get here: an awareness of the self as of primary importance in the order of things.

Everyone is 21. I feel frumpy. I tell myself that these people are not better than me, but I think that they think that they are.

Hats. There are lots of hats. Bowlers, flat caps, truckers, fultons. Tattoos. Big glasses.

Later on, as we walk past reception, a woman in a glass box lies on a bed and plays with her phone. She is the ‘famous’ ‘girl in a box’ at the Standard, ‘literally a girl in a box!’, though literally she is a woman in a box. This could be an interesting statement on something like seeing in an image-obsessed culture except that she is always a she, and she is always a model or dancer. She is allowed to do whatever she wants in the box. Some of them wear hats or fangs and growl like wolves at passersby. Others just lie there and zone out. They always wear a small vest and small shorts. People look in at the girl in the box as if she is a girl on a screen. We don’t. Neither of us can look for long: we find ourselves walking quickly away. I feel faintly sick.

The streets in LA are sunbaked. It is 35 degrees in the summer, relentless, day after day. This is brash for us English, with our clouds and long autumn shadows and delicate, seasonal shades of nature. Billboards scream and driving through the streets is frenetic: the signs say Taco Bell, In Out Burger, Dunkin’, Baskin, Flippin’, Chick’n.

In the hotel blurb in your room the manager tells you to enjoy being around some of the “most culturally relevant people in the world”. This makes me laugh a lot and then I feel sad inside. Aside from the farcically outlandish claim, this, I think, is people’s problem with “hipsters”. Hipster hate and baiting can be spiteful, but at various times I think: I get it. Watching those people makes you feel like you are going insane. Who are those awful people? Adam said, bewildered, back in the hotel room. Who are those awful people?

This is why I think we feel like this.

1. Exclusivity. Most subcultures are exclusive but they usually exist because the mainstream rejects them. These people, however – young, good-looking, affluent, free – are life’s winners. The tick list of characteristics required to be part of a hipster circle is a vapid criteria: looking the part, being young, having a ‘creative’ job or at least claiming ‘creativity’ in some area of your life, even if you’re an estate agent.

2. Self-absorption. You are not sitting there by coincidence. You are sitting there to be seen. You are sitting there because you think you’re relevant, because you think you are important. If you want to know about relevance go and talk to fucking Gandhi mate, or Aung San Suu Kyi, or even anyone who has made something that they think is true and real and beautiful and from their heart i.e. art.

3. Ageism. You cannot be older than 25 and be in this gang. You just cannot, unless maybe you were once famous, or you have a lot of money.

4. No politics. There’s no raging against the machine, no counterculture. There is a vacuum except when it’s filled by new clothes, getting seen and getting wasted.

5. Pro-commerce. Early hipster variations (think of Patti Smith running amok in the Chelsea Hotel with Robert Mapplethorpe and Iggy Pop and Nico and William Burroughs) actually made something. Now hipsterism is about what you wear and where you go i.e. products. X is checking into the Standard. You can bet your bottom dollar that most of these people work in PR or advertising. They are the bottom dollar. Their dollar is at the very bottom of the ladder.

6. We see a little of ourselves in them. Perhaps it’s the jeans and vague artistic leanings. But we have an ounce of self-awareness and when I put on the Sound of Music soundtrack, there is not a hint of irony in it.

There’s a bit in the Blur documentary No Distance Left to Run where Graham Coxon says he would mostly “rather talk to builders in the pub than people in the music industry”. It is one of the frequent moments where Graham comes across as a bit of a plonker, as it sounds like he’s saying “I am THAT edgy that I prefer to talk to the working classes – real people! – than actual relevant people”, but you can understand what he means. Hipsterland makes you crave a place where there are no pretences, where people realise that what matters is not how old you are or what you look like but all the things you are, that you think, that you’ve done.

It’s far away from here, in a foreign country somewhere.


3 Responses to “Girl in a box, in Los Angeles”

  1. 1 Maz

    Great and interesting piece Chlo. I found LA to be just a playground for the rich, and wannabe rich. It made me feel fat and poor, and I’m pretty sure I’m neither of these things! Very distorted way of life. Although I did eat the best steak I’ve ever eaten there (I had to remortgage my house to buy it of course).

  2. Hello my love! And thanks. Absolutely, it’s crackers isn’t it. A distorted place that distorts your own view of yourself. Thank god for the small mercies – I ate some squid that more than made up for its shortcomings …

  3. Wow, great piece, Chloe. Love your writing style!
    My self esteem could never withstand a trip to LA! Fascinating place though!

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