August 11, 2005

A Tale Of Two Cities

The New York Times remarked recently on the differences between the main newspapers of Los Angeles and San Francisco: one, the Los Angeles Times, has struggled somewhat successfully over the last few years to gain a national readership and distribution; the other, the San Francisco Chronicle, seems content to remain a chatty little local paper with virtually no presence outside the SF Bay Area.

Which rather mirrors the general mentality of each city: LA's a huge, very diverse, outward-looking city learning to flex its muscles nationally and internationally, particularly in the Asian and Latino worlds; San Francisco, on the other hand, is a determinedly self-absorbed provincial little town whose inhabitants typically think it's the centre of the universe, the best place on earth (actually, they don't so much think that as "know" it). LA may have much-superior cultural facilities (think "The Getty" or the Norton Simon, or the LA Symphony, just to name a few... or even the LA Times, for that matter) and a rather more vibrant and interesting culture (admittedly spread across the vastness), but the average San Franciscan seems to have absolutely no doubt that LA is uncultured and not a "real" city (never mind that San Francisco itself is a tiny little town, quite a lot smaller than, say, Adelaide, in terms of population, and about as cosy and inbred).

As a classic example, take the supposed rivalry between SF and LA. If you live in SF, it's a given that LA feels culturally inferior to SF, and that the two cities live in eternal rivalry. But if you live in LA, you're unlikely to even know there is such a rivalry, let alone that you're supposed to be feeling inferior to a town you've barely thought about in the last ten years (I think the average San Franciscan is probably haunted by a growing feeling that LA -- or even San Jose -- is really where the future's being made, where things happen, where the real starving artists and musicians live...).

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