Eric Garcetti has been a modest mayor these past 100 or so days, focusing more attention on the prosaic than on the poetic when telling Angeleños who they are and what their city should be. He's resisted weighing down his mayoralty with the slogans -- Education Mayor! Green Mayor! Technology Mayor! -- that only highlighted Tony Villaraigosa's inability to deliver on them.
But Mayor Garcetti can't resist the fundamental temptation that comes with power in Los Angeles (even if the mayor's powers are pretty meager). Garcetti wants to re-imagine Los Angeles ... again.
According to the reliable (and cheeky) Curbed LA, the mayor met briefly with representatives of Creative Artists Agency in August to begin a discussion about giving the city a newer image. Garcetti's ten-second pitch to CAA's image-makers -- according to an anonymous source -- was all about rebranding L.A. "in a similar way that (Mike) Bloomberg had rebranded New York."
Peter Kiefer, writing about the meeting in LA Currents, sees plenty of daylight between Garcetti and Bloomberg in style and capacity to create change. Kiefer noted that Bloomberg's success is shadowed by so many concerns about the kind of city New York has become that the leading candidate to replace Bloomberg -- Bill de Blasio -- won the Democratic primary by running an aggressively anti-Bloomberg campaign.
Garcetti isn't going to become the "Stop and Frisk Mayor" or the "Just Taking Care of the 1% Mayor" in emulation of Bloomberg. At least, I hope not. But he may think that Los Angeles can still be entertainingly summed up, as if the city were the trailer to a summer blockbuster. It can't
(A fascinating answer to part of the branding problem -- in the form of a city flag designed by Roma Lubimov -- can be found at Los Angeles, I'm Yours, described by Editor-in-Chief Kyle Fitzpatrick as an "LA focused art, design, and culture website that seeks to showcase passions of the city and its inhabitants." The flag designs show how hard imagining Los Angeles can be.)
The moral failures of the city -- often failures of the imagination -- are grounded on the limitations of the many "brands" Los Angeles acquired in the 100 years after 1880. All these metaphors, from the most innocuous ("Land of Sunshine") to the most sinister ("The Triumph of Anglo-Saxon Values") are terribly incomplete, easily falsified, and encrusted with irony.
Los Angeles has enough sales pitches, layered over and bleeding into each other. Instead of going to Hollywood image-makers, the mayor would do better to go the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum in Exposition Park to spend some time with Becoming Los Angeles. The museum exhibit is a short course -- still evolving, I'm told -- on the meanings that Angeleños have given to the elemental substance of Los Angeles.
Some of those meanings have been come-ons. Some have demanded willful amnesia from their consumers. Some have left the city addicted to treacherous myths of what Los Angeles is and could be. A very few illuminate the things we care about and what we find consolingly familiar.
We don't really need more marketing advice. We need more reasons to be loyal to one another.
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