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A history of the urban and political forces in L.A. that sought to create virtuous and docile citizens
Jack Webb’s Los Angeles, a Southern California paradise built of confidence games and real estate booms, swindles and boondoggles, is indeed “the City.” But it is not the only one, as Ronald Schmidt makes clear in this critical look at the little-examined foundation of L.A.’s political culture.
Schmidt reveals how the political culture of Southern California is structured by over a century’s worth of efforts to exhort citizens to emulate models of virtue and to coerce them to imitate models of passive behavior. This Is the City traces this effort to "script" the city's social life, demonstrating how democratic pedagogy and popular media have been used to advance a utopian vision of government.
In a history peopled by outsized characters like Harrison Gray Otis, first publisher of the L.A. Times, and studio moguls Louis B. Mayer and Jack Warner, Schmidt shows how Angeleno elites, from media mavens to the militaristic heroes of the LAPD, have offered themselves as models of civic virtue and have used popular culture and political rhetoric to consolidate their power and remake the city in their image. Schmidt argues that the political education provided by L.A. elites has been intentionally imperial and hierarchical, and that a transformation of the city’s politics will require a confrontation of its models of civic participation.
Unique in its use of urban politics to engage central questions of political theory, in its combination of cultural artifacts and political history, and in its attempt to connect the political culture of Los Angeles with American founding and refounding moments, This Is the City brings rare and sobering insight into the making of urban history and political culture in the United States.
About the Author
Ronald J. Schmidt, Jr. is assistant professor of political science at the University of Southern Maine.