Monday, November 13, 2006

On Blue Books and Movie Stars

Los Angeles is an odd place to be an academic. You know how there are some cities that are safe havens for academics? Obviously, a lot of those cities are college towns. I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for a year, clearly a place where my species feels comfortable. Walking around Cambridge, you know that the people on the street understand you. If you were to tell someone you were a graduate student, they understand what that means: that you're poor, over-educated, pretentious, and socially awkward. They don't judge you (much), because they have a slot in their brains where they can place you. Even in a non-college town like New York City, there is definitely a niche for academics. You see a slovenly-dressed person grading a stack of blue books, you know who they are. You see an older man with a comb-over and a tweed jacket, you know what he is.

The citizens of Los Angeles just don't have that slot for us. This town--or at least my corner of it--is so dominated by the Industry (and there is only one!) that anybody who does something different will always be an oddity. When I meet people in bars, they are always fascinated by the fact that I am getting a Ph.D. When I pull out exams to grade at my local coffeeshop, heads across the room look up from their screenplays and stare at me. There are actually a lot of academics in Los Angeles--UCLA, USC, Cal State LA, Cal Tech, and a lot of smaller places--but we are completely subsumed to the Hollywood monster. Sometimes I wish I lived in a city where I had a place.

Of course, if I was in Cambridge I would not, as I just did tonight, have looked up from my pile of blue books at the Sunset Boulevard Coffee Bean to see Eugene Levy, Christopher Guest, and Jamie Lee Curtis walk by on their way to the premiere of For Your Consideration, followed by a swarm of paparazzi. Take that, Cambridge.

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