I Love LA: In Defense of a City

A funny thing happened last week after the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup for the second time in three years. I suddenly found myself surrounded by a lot of, for lack of a better term, “haters”.

I don’t mean just fans of the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, Chicago Blackhawks or New York Rangers either. It’s natural that some good, old-fashioned hockey rivalry hatred circulates on the web and social media channels amongst fans and that various reporters, bloggers and experts weigh in and begin debating the pros and cons of the newly-crowned champions.

What I mean – and what was truly unexpected – was the sudden tidal wave of disrespect and dislike for an entire city. A city of nine million people…or 13 million if you want to include the outlying suburbs. A city so diverse that it defies generalizations or at least, so one would think. But the haters came out in full force and unleashed criticisms that were often unfair, always unkind and sometimes just downright ridiculous.

It started as condemnation of what some claim is a lack of sports culture or a “fair-weather” fan environment. Many said that LA has never been and will never be a hockey town and that even fans of the Dodgers, Lakers, Clippers and our college teams are unsupportive, lackadaisical and only loyal when their teams are winning. I buy that LA hasn’t always been supportive of every team. Just as the US was oblivious to the World Cup and the sport of soccer prior to virtually every suburban youth hitting the fields, LA was uneducated and uninterested in hockey until The Great One came to play for us and youth hockey began to take off.

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But beyond the sports culture smack-down, some folks I know claimed that bad fan behavior and dangerous situations are representative of sports in Los Angeles, if not unique to the city. It would take me hundreds of pages to document examples of the same sorts of behaviors occurring in cities throughout the United States (and around the World) – even those that are believed to be the great sports centers of the country, but I have no space to list them all. I would guess that most reasonable people could agree that one fan or one group of fans are not indicative of an entire fan base and that every city has its share of truly terrible fans. I mean, do I need to remind Chicago fans of the time when they all but abandoned their Blackhawks team? Do I need to remind my Bay Area friends of the 3,000-seat drop-off the Sharks experienced in season tickets at one point? Or bring up the time an Oakland Raiders fan beat a Dallas Cowboys fan unconscious? How about this hockey season when some Boston Bruins fans hurled racist comments at Montreal Canadiens’ defenseman, P.K. Subban after Montreal handed the Bruins a loss? Or when those classy Seattle Seahawk fans threw food at an injured SF 49ers player during the NFC championship game their team won?

I’m sorry, folks, but fair weather fandom and bad behavior is not exclusive to ANY city and suffice to say that when you take the behaviors of a few and generalize them to a population of nine million, you’re going to lose a statistical battle, if nothing else.

But beyond this sports talk, what really stunned me during this past week was how this critique of LA’s sports culture was extended to Los Angeles and its people as a whole. Among the things I’ve seen bantered about via social media, papers and general discussions this week (and I’m paraphrasing, but citing the gist of what I’ve heard):

– Sports fans in LA are only concerned about winning and are not loyal to their teams and by extension, people in LA are all about winning.

– Los Angeles is just a self-centered, materialistic city of excess.

– Everyone in LA is overly concerned with their appearance.

– People in LA are more interested in Hollywood than the rest of the world.

– People in LA are more interested in entertainment than education. While sports fans are uninformed about sports, the general population is just uninformed.

– The traffic in LA is terrible.

Well, ok, that last point is thoroughly indefensible and 100% accurate.

I consider myself more experienced than most when it comes to comparing Los Angeles to other cities. Born in Birmingham, Alabama – about as far from Los Angeles and its culture as you can get – I also lived in Atlanta, Georgia, Tampa, Florida, both Dallas and Houston, Texas, Kansas City, Kansas, San Diego, California and San Rafael, California. I can tell you firsthand that while each place has its pros and cons, there’s no place I’d rather live than right here in Los Angeles.

I spent my college years at UCLA where I witnessed firsthand the diverse population of the city, made lifelong friends, developed a fierce loyalty to both my school and its sports teams and got a great education that has served me well throughout my career. If there was a lack of diversity, a worship of entertainment over education or a dearth of loyalty, I certainly did not experience it there.

Is there materialism, excess and superficiality in Los Angeles? Absolutely. And yes, perhaps, because LA is both the entertainment capital of the world and a city blessed with incredible weather and beautiful beaches where folks spend an inordinate amount of time in very little clothing, there is more concern over appearance in this city than most. But I can tell you firsthand that of my friend and acquaintance circle, I know just as many women (and men!) in Silicon Valley getting Botox injections as those in LA. I can tell you that I never felt more excluded and judged based on my appearance than I did in a mall in Dallas, Texas where every woman wore heels and full makeup to go shopping and I was scolded for not owning a Neiman-Marcus card. And speaking of cities that can’t sustain professional teams and display a certain, blasé attitude toward sports, how about Birmingham (or any city) in Alabama?

The point is, Los Angeles is not unique in having its share of materialistic, wealth and appearance-obsessed denizens, nor is it unique in having some bad, fair weather and, frankly, moronic fans. But to take these as representative of the City of Angels is truly to miss the heart and soul of the city. Indeed, I’ve met my share of fake socialites, corporate ladder climbers and collagen-lipped housewives, but I’ve surrounded myself with a larger population of friends who believe in working hard, who don’t spend money on plastic surgery, who value education and who root for their hometown teams. These include friends I made in college, neighborhood families that I’ve become close with through my children, work colleagues and a very large population of Kings fans that I’ve come to know and appreciate via the wonders of social media. These are good people who all appreciate and love their city, as I do. Everyday, I consider myself fortunate to be surrounded by a beautiful community that spans the Santa Monica mountains to the beaches of Malibu on one end, the Hollywood Hills and hubbub of downtown on the other, with so many remarkable places in-between. The valley, the South Bay, the campuses of both UCLA and USC (yes, a Bruin said that!), the Coliseum, the fabulous Forum, the Santa Monica pier, the streets of Westwood, Los Feliz, the Hollywood Bowl, the Greek Theatre, the Los Angeles Zoo, Griffith Park, the recently-discovered and wonderfully-working Metrorail(!), Universal City, Venice boardwalk and canals…I won’t go on because it would take all day.

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My husband and I have talked frequently about the sacrifices we’ve made to live in expensive Southern California. Had we stayed in Dallas for 10 years, we would have saved a bundle and maybe we’d be on the verge of retirement. Instead, we’ve both worked continuously to have an opportunity to raise our family in Los Angeles. It’s not for everyone and that’s ok with me – in fact, with our always-expanding population and popularity, I’m more than happy for people to continue disliking LA and leave it for the rest of us who love it here. At the end of the day, LA is my city and I’m proud to be an Angeleno. I love LA.