By Eric Ahlberg
The Gentleman’s Quarterly “Coolest Block in Los Angeles” event on Abbot Kinney boulevard was met with a sizeable contingent of counter protesters. Many Venice locals are upset that some of their favorite local businesses are being forced out by the higher rents and an influx of suburban mall-like chain stores. Even some landowners are concerned that this is a bubble economy, an unsustainable conflation of marketing and money to drive up commercial rents, land values, and then cash out, leaving a moribund business district behind, examples being Main Street Santa Monica, SM 3rd Street Mall, Melrose, Westwood. Higher rents may be coolest thing for landlords, realtors, and banks, but rent inflation is the number one reason artists leave Venice. There have been many doomsayers over the years, yet Venice has been a strong fighter for the rights of renters. With the Coastal Commission, and the Venice Specific Plan, developers have been prevented from mowing down our neighborhoods and replacing them with high rises, and further congesting our streets and Lincoln Boulevard.
Venice has authentic cool. It is known for its extended and international community of artists. We have our own internationally recognized Poetry and Mural centers. We have a lively and tumultuous beach boardwalk, with an extended history of street artists and street performers. We have outstanding social missions like VCHC, VFC, VNC, AKFA, A Place Called Home, Venice Skills Center, the Vera Davis Center, The Electric Lodge, PRT, LA Theatre Works and more. This community has remained remarkably resilient over the years. Venice has authentic artist cool.
Venice demographics aren’t really changing that much. Seventy-one percent of the households make less than $70,000, and seventy-two percent of households are renters, while forty-five percent of houses date before 1950. Venice is often tired and rundown, parking sucks, traffic sucks, your neighbors may suck, and you probably suck at times too. Venice Sucks! Everybody sucks. Here’s a Venice Welcome Mat! Now there’s a nice marketing slogan. Yeah, I used to live in the canals, next door to the cruelest man in Venice.
So again, we have an upscale lifestyle magazine glamorizing our neighborhood. They work the businesses on the street for paid ads and dangle feature story possibilities. They fund some civic improvement projects (tree trimming). They provide employment to writers and photographers. Money making the world go round.
Coolest? Surely this tips the quite clumsy hand of marketing, because cool does not need superlatives. Is this just a lack of imagination, a transparent abuse of a marketing quality that must must be earned, not proclaimed? The LA Weekly calls AKB “the douchiest block in Los Angeles”. During the ’60s, corporate marketing found that “cool” could be incredibly profitable. Corporations started raiding the counterculture for language to brand, to use in marketing campaigns. Cool became central to the way capitalism presented itself. Marketing constructed cultural machines that transform despair and alienation into consent. Cool is a heavily manipulative corporate ethos most aggressively mined by brandmasters as a source of borrowed ‘meaning’ and identity. The ‘got to be cool’ rhetoric of the global brands is borrowed from Black American Culture. Cool is exploited as a manufactured and empty idea imposed on the culture at large through a top-down process by the advertisers. An artificial cycle of “cooling” and “uncooling” creates false needs in consumers, and stimulates the economy. Some large companies outsource their “cool” marketing. They hire other “smaller, more-limber, closer-to-the-ground outsider” companies to keep up with rapidly changing customer tastes and demands.
“Start generating authentic cool from the bottom up again. The rest will follow.” – Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization – Adbusters.
Most of the value of land has nothing to do with the landlord. A $2,000,000 lot in Venice may be a teardown. The value of the land is created by the community, but almost all of it is “owned” by the fabled 1 percent. And they suck a lot of money out of it. By far the most valuable asset form in the U.S. is real estate, and the majority of that is the value of the land, as distinct from the value of the human-made buildings. It is simply bought when it was cheap, sold when it was dear, and waited for the check. “They” are the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate (FIRE) sector, and they capture forty percent of the United States’ profits, despite the complete passivity of their profit-accumulation method. There is no reason to let a small group of rich landlords extract its value, when what created the value are parks, subways, local restaurants and other things the landlords didn’t provide.
If this sounds like it’s a little too far outside the box, the solution is to think outside the box. Capitalism requires pretending that individuals’ private ownership of the land, minerals, gases and oils that nature provided is not a completely ludicrous idea.
On the day of the GQ event and the counter protest, we interviewed several participants. You can see the interviews here: http://goo.gl/xopZwO.
Above: Alette’s hilarious Hipster Lemonade Stand, in GQ’s face! Hipster lemonade: $40; Biggest sale of the year: 50% off. Sold 4, all proceeds were donated to the Philippines. Stay Venice!
Photo: Stephanie Ashwood