Comm 360: The Rhetoric of Los Angeles


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COMM 360: The Rhetoric of Los Angeles

Fall 2011: Monday/Wednesday, 10 - 11:50 am, ASC 228

Professor Vincent Brook

Office Hours: M/W 9 – 9:50 am

Office: ASC 333; Phone: 213-821-1542 (O); 323-663-7641 (H); 323-379-7370 (C)



Yaanga, El Pueblo Nuestra Senora de la Reina de Los Angeles del Rio Porciuncula, City of Angels, City of Chaos, Sunshine City, Sin City, City of Desire, City of Dreams, City of Quartz, City of Blight, Bright and Guilty Place,The White Spot, La La Land, City of the Future, City of Forgetting, City of Lies, Equivocal City, the Enormous Village, Postmodern Metropolis Par Excellence . . . Los Angeles has been called all these things and more—out of pride, envy, hype, hubris, fear, denial, love, disgust, mis- and in-comprehension.
This course will exhume the many faces, facets, and feces of Los Angeles by looking at the Indian-village-turned-multicultural-megalopolis as a rhetorical text—that is, the geographical and historical entities of Los Angeles will be explored in relation to their vast, complex and often contradictory discursive constructions (in literature, film, television, architecture, music, politics, etc.).

The course is divided into four main parts. Part 1 examines the early written histories of Los Angeles, from the imagined community’s origins as a pre-Columbian settlement to its emergence as a major American metropolis in the early 20th century. Part 2 intersects LA’s story with that of Hollywood, which as geographical site and generic term for the culture industry is itself an uncanny combination of reality and myth. Part 3 deals with film noir, the darkly seductive movie genre, many of whose canonical texts are set in LA and/or feature the City of Heaven/Hell as a main character. Part 4 explores the demographic diversity of Los Angeles—specifically, the histories and media representations of the African American, Latina/o, Asian, and White communities—thereby re-visioning LA’s history from an ethno-racial perspective and bringing us into the multicultural present. The course concludes with a summary/review.


Vincent Brook, ed., Course Reader (CR), purchase from Mozena Publishing (,, 800-444-8398)

Mike Davis, City of Quartz (also available on-line via Homer)

William Deverell, Whitewashed Adobe (also available on-line via Homer)


American Quarterly (Fall 2004): Special Issue on Los Angeles

Jeremiah Axelrod, Inventing Autopia: Dreams and Visions of the Modern Metropolis in Jazz Age Los Angeles

Reyner Banham: Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies

Howard Blum, American Lightning: Terror, Mystery, the Birth of Hollywood, and the Crime of the Century

John Buntin, LA Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City

Dydia DeLyser, Ramona Memories

William Deverell and Greg Hise, ed., Land of Sunshine: An Environmental History of Metropolitan Los Angeles

Edward Dimendberg, Film Noir and the Spaces of Modernity

Joe Domanick, To Protect and to Serve: The LAPD’s Century of War in the City of Dreams

William Estrada, The Los Angeles Plaza: Sacred and Contested Space

David Fine, Imagining Los Angeles

David Fine, ed., Los Angeles in Fiction: A Collection of Essays

Douglas Flamming, Bound for Freedom: Black Los Angeles in Jim Crow America

Robert M. Fogelson, The Fragmented Metropolis: Los Angeles, 1850-1930

William Fulton, The Reluctant Metropolis: The Politics of Urban Growth in Los Angeles

Matt Garcia, A World of Its Own: Race, Labor, and Citrus in the Making of Greater Los Angeles

Daniel Hurewitz, Bohemian Los Angeles: And the Making of Modern Politics

Norman M. Klein, The History of Forgetting: Los Angeles and the Erasure of Memory

Norman M. Klein and Martin J. Schiesl, eds., 20th Century Los Angeles: Power, Promotion, and Social Conflict

“L.A. Palimpsest: Recovering Los Angeles’ Hidden Stories and Forgotten Communities” (

William McCawley, The First Angelenos: The Gabrielino Indians of Los Angeles

William Alexander McClung, Landscapes of Desire: Anglo Mythologies of Los Angeles

Kevin R. McNamara, The Literature of Los Angeles

Carey McWilliams, Southern California: An Island in the Land

Johnny Otis, Upside Your Head: Rhythm and Blues on Central Ave.

Leonard Pitt, The Decline of the Californios, A Social History of the Spanish-Speaking Californians, 1846-1890

Louise Pubols, The Father of All: The de la Guerra Family, Power, and Patriarchy in Mexican California

Laura Pulido, Black, Brown, Yellow, and Left: Radical Activism in Los Angeles

Richard Rayner, A Bright and Guilty Place: Murder, Corruption, and Los Angeles’s Scandalous Coming of Age

David Reid, ed., Sex, Death, and God in L.A.

David Rieff, Los Angeles: Capital of the Third World

Ricardo Romo, East Los Angeles: History of a Barrio

George J. Sanchez, Becoming Mexican American: Ethnicity and Culture in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900-1945

Josh Sides, L.A. City Limits: African American Los Angeles from the Great Depression to

the Present

Alain Silver and James Ursini, L.A. Noir: The City as Character

Kevin Starr, Multi-volume series on California

Bruce Torrance, Hollywood: The First 100 Years

Jules Tygiel, Oil, Stocks, Scandal During the Roaring Twenties

David L. Ulin, ed., Writing Los Angeles: A Literary Anthology

Victor M. Valle and Rudolfo Torres, Latino Metropolis

Max Vorspan and Lloyd Gartner, History of the Jews of Los Angeles

Roger Waldinger and Mehdi Bozorgheimer, eds., Ethnic Los Angeles

John D. Weaver, Los Angeles: The Enormous Village


  • All assignments must be completed to receive a grade in the class.

  • Late papers or assignments will be graded down 1/3 grade for the first late day, and an additional 1/3 grade for every subsequent two late days.

  • Good attendance and punctuality are expected. Absences not only affect your class participation grade but can affect your overall grade as well. 10 or more unexcused absences results in an automatic Fail.

  • Punctuality factors into attendance. Arriving noticeably late or leaving early (unexcused) results in 1/2 of an absence.

  • Class participation is encouraged, and can affect your grade positively (see Evaluation).

  • Cheating on exams or plagiarism in writing assignments are grounds for failing the class.


Term Paper: 25%

1st Midterm Exam: 25%

2nd Midterm Exam: 25%

Group Project: 15% (including oral presentation)

Class Participation: 10%


97-100% = A+, 93-96% = A, 90-92% = A-, 87-89% = B+, etc.


(Readings/screenings subject to change; CR = Course Reader; USC = Homer on-line library)

Mon., Aug. 22

Introduction, The Origins of Los Angeles

Screening: Ramona (Part 1)
Wed., Aug. 24

Origins (continued)

Reading: McWilliams (CR); Deverell, Ch. 6

Screening: Ramona (Part 2)


Mon., Aug. 29

Origins (continued)

Reading: Sklar (CR); Davis, Ch. 1

Screening: Documentary on Hollywood

Wed., Aug. 31

Reading: ; Deverell, Introduction and Ch. 1, 3

Screening: What Price Hollywood? (Part 1)

Mon., Sept. 5


Wed., Sept. 7

Hollywood (continued)

Reading: Richard Lehan, “The Los Angeles Novel and the Idea of the West,” in Los Angeles in

Fiction: A Collection of Essays, revised ed., ed. David Fine (USC)

Screening: Screening: What Price Hollywood? (Part 2)


Mon., Sept. 12

Hollywood (continued)

Reading: Gerald Locklin, “The Day of the Painter, the Death of the Cock: Nathaniel West’s

Hollywood Novel,” in Fine (USC)

Screening: Sunset Blvd. (Part 1)

Wed., Sept. 14

Hollywood (continued)

Reading: Mark Royden Winchell, “Fantasy Seen: Hollywood Fiction Since West,” in Fine (USC)

Screening: Sunset Blvd. (Part 2)


Mon., Sept. 19

Hollywood (continued)

Reading: Banham (CR)

Screening: The Player (Part 1)

Wed., Sept. 21

Hollywood (continued)

Reading: Banham (CR); Dear (CR)

Screening: The Player (Part 2)


Mon., Sept. 26

LA noir

Reading: David Fine, “Beginning in the Thirties: The Los Angeles Fiction of James M. Cain

and Horace McCoy,” in Fine (USC)

Screening: Double Indemnity (Part 1)
Wed., Sept. 28

LA noir (continued)

Reading: Liahna K. Babener, “Raymond Chandler’s City of Lies,” in Fine (USC)

Screening: Double Indemnity (Part 2)


Mon., Oct. 3

LA Neo-noir (continued)

Reading: Liahna Babener, “Chinatown, City of Blight,” in Fine (USC); Towne (CR)

Screening: Chinatown (Part 1)

Wed., Oct. 5

LA Neo-noir (continued)

Reading: Davis, Ch. 2

Screening: Chinatown (Part 2)


Mon., Oct. 10

LA Neo-noir (continued)

Reading: Klein, 73-102 (CR)

Screening: Blade Runner (Part 1)

Wed., Oct. 12

LA Neo-noir (continued)

Screening: Blade Runner (Part 2)

Mon., Oct. 17


Wed., Oct. 19


Handout: Study Guide for Midterm


Mon., Oct. 24

Review for Midterm

Reading: None

Screening: LA Story (Excerpts)

Wed., Oct. 26



Mon., Oct. 31

LA and Latinas/os

Reading: Miranda (CR); Deverell, Ch. 4-5

Screening: Mi Familia (Part 1)

Wed., Nov. 2

LA and Latinas/os (continued)

Reading: Garcia (CR)

Screening: Clip from American Me; Mi Familia (Part 2)


Mon., Nov. 7

LA and African Americans

Reading: Bunch (CR)

Screening: Boyz N the Hood (Part 1)

Wed., Nov. 9

LA and African Americans (continued)

Reading: Davis, Ch. 5; Josh Sides, “Straight into Compton: American Dreams, Urban

Nightmares, and the Metamorphosis of a Black Suburb,” American Quarterly 56.3

(2004): 583-605 (USC)

Screening: Boyz N the Hood (Part 2)


Mon., Nov. 14

LA and Asians

Reading: Hata Jr. and Hata (CR)

Screening: Better Luck Tomorrow (Part1)

Wed., Nov. 16

LA and Asians (continued)

Reading: Cheng and Yang (CR)

Screening: Better Luck Tomorrow (Part2)


Mon., Nov. 21

LA and Whites

Reading: Davis, Ch. 3

Screening: Falling Down (Part 1)

Wed., Nov. 23

LA and Whites (continued)

Reading: Davis, Ch. 4

Screening: Falling Fown (Part 2)


Mon., Nov. 28


Reading: None

Screening: Documentary Inventing Los Angeles (Part 1)

Wed., Nov. 30

Review (continued)

Reading None

Screening: Inventing Los Angeles (Part 2)

Handout: Final Exam Study Guide


Mon., Dec. 5

Wed., Dec. 7


Mon., Dec. 12

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Site Visit Group Project: Guidelines
I. Written project due: Monday of the 9th week.
II. Length: 5-7 pages typed (double-spaced, default margins, 12-point/Times New Roman font), plus photo(s) verifying you were at the site.
III. Topic: Scope and research your assigned Los Angeles site.

  1. Research the site FIRST, so that you know what to look for when you get there!

  2. Describe the site: its whereabouts, physical characteristics, rhetorical reputation (if any).

  3. If the site is an individual building, group of buildings, or comparatively small space, place it in the context of its larger immediate surroundings (i.e., Griffith Obersvatory re Griffith Park, Disney Hall re the Music Center and Bunker Hill).

D. Describe your experiential engagement with the site: what is it like to be there, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, how does it mesh with your expectations based on its rhetorical reputation and historical significance?

E. Conclude with an assessment of the site’s socio-cultural significance—i.e., What is its relevance to the rhetoric of Los Angeles, historically and contemporarily

F. Include footnotes/bibliography, using accepted academic methods.

IV. Be prepared to give a brief (10 min.) in-class oral presentation on your site, Mon. or Wed. of

the 9th week. Powerpoint or other creative tools are useful, but not required.

V. Cooperation and the equitable distribution of responsibilities with your partner are

essential; failure to “get along” potentially hurts both parties.

Term Paper Guidelines
I. Due: Wed. of the 16th week.

II. Length: 7-10 pages (typed, double-spaced, 12-point font, default margins)

III. Topic:

A. Choose an aspect from one of the four sections of the course: Early LA History; Hollywood; Film Noir/Neo-Noir; Ethno-Racial LA.

B. Choose a literary or media representation (book, film, TV show, etc.) that relates to this aspect. If you choose a film, you may discuss ones used in class, but your FOCUS should be on one NOT used in class. No two students may choose the same film or other media representation; first come, first served.

C. Analyze the aspect and representation by applying one or more of the main theoretical frames discussed in class: e.g., palimpsest, whitewashed adobe, booster, debunker, counternarrative, ambivalence.

D. No matter what aspect(s) you choose, compare the historical record with your representation’s historical presumptions.

E. Alternative topics/theoretical frames are subject to professor approval.

IV. Method:

A. Title Page:

1. Title of essay, with main title and subtitle. The title of the text you’re analyzing should appear somewhere in the main or sub-title. Puns are encouraged, e.g.:

Having Your Movie and Eating It Too:

Hollywood Counter-Narrative in The Player
2. Name; Course Number; Term

B. Introduction:

1. State your topic: What aspect of the course and what literary/media representation will you be focusing on, and what theoretical frame(s) will you be applying?

2. Upon introducing your literary/media representation, for a book give the author and date of publication, for a film give the director and release date, for a TV show give the year(s) of its original run. This information can be provided in parentheses; e.g., The Player (Robert Altman, 1992).

3. State your thesis: What will you attempt to argue or demonstrate by applying your theoretical frame(s) to your aspect and representation?

C. Body:

1. Proceed to apply your theoretical frame(s) to your aspect and representation.

2. Isolate and analyze pertinent passages, images, scenes, etc., in your representation.

3. Compare the historical record with your representation’s historical presumptions.

4. Explain the significance of what you have discovered to the rhetoric of LA.

5. Throughout, integrate in-class and outside sources to bolster your case. All sources must be cited using one of the approved citation methods (MLA, CMS, APA).

D. Conclusion:

1. Briefly summarize your findings without being redundant.

2. End with a strong statement giving a clear sense of what you have tried to show.

E. Notes or Works Cited section.

V. Additional Pointers:

A. Number your pages!

B. Underline or put in italics all titles (films, books, etc.).

C. When referring to creators or authors, give the full name the first time they are mentioned, thereafter only the second name: e.g. “Robert Altman did thus-and-so. In addition, Altman did thus-and-so.”

D. When describing representational content, use the present tense: e.g., “In The Player, Griffin Mill represents a postmodern variant of the venal and corrupt studio executive”; “In this scene, Mill displays his moral depravity by failing to disclose his involvement in the crime”; “The Player satirizes the film industry’s continuing sacrifice of art to the bottom line.”

E. To indicate films’ historical relations, however, use the past tense: e.g., “The Player was the first mainstream U.S. film in decades to critique the Hollywood system”; “The Player launched a new trend in anti-Hollywood films.”

F. No plot summaries! Plot information should only be used to support the thematic points of your paper.

G. No plagiarism! This will result in an automatic Fail for the assignment and, depending on the egregiousness, for the class as well.
Some (Not Necessarily All) LA Films/TV Shows
Hollywood (some may overlap w/film noir):

The Bad and the Beautiful, Barton Fink, Be Cool, The Big Knife, The Big Picture, Bowfinger,

The Day of the Locust, Ed Wood, Get Shorty, Hollywoodland, The Last Tycoon, Mulholland

Drive, SImOne, Singin’ in the Rain, A Star is Born (1954, 1976), SOB, The Truman Show
Film Noir/Neo-Noir:

Ask the Dust, Bad Influence, The Big Sleep, The Big Lebowski, The Black Dahlia, Brick,

The Changeling, Collateral, Colors, Crash, Criss Cross (1949), Dead Again, Devil in a

Blue Dress (also Black), Die Hard, Down in the Valley, Farewell My Lovely, The

Grifters, Heat, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Kiss Me a Killer (also Latino), Kiss Me Deadly,

Jackie Brown (also Black), Juice (Black), LA Confidential, Less Than Zero, The

Limey, Mulholland Drive, Mulholland Falls, Murder My Sweet, Play It As It Lays, Point

Blank, The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946, 1981), South Central (also Black),

Strange Days, To Live and Die in LA, Training Day, True Confessions, The Two Jakes,

Union Station


American Me (Latino), Annie Hall (NY/LA), Beverly Hills Cop (Black/White), Big Wednesday, Boogie Nights, Born in East LA (Latino), Boulevard Nights (Latino), Bread and Roses (Latino), Charlotte Sometimes (Asian), Clueless (White), Don’t Be a Menace While Drinking Juice in the Hood (Black), Down and Out in Beverly Hills (White), Dragnet, Echo Park, Escape from LA, Exiles (American Indian), Fast and Furious, Fast Times at Ridemont High, (500) Days of Summer, Fletch, Friday, Killer of Sheep (Black), I Love You, Man (White), La Bamba (Latino), Less Than Zero, Los Angeles Plays Itself (documentary), The Loved One, Magnolia, Menace to Society (Black), Mi Vida Loca (Latino), Quinceanera (Latino), Real Women Have Curves (Latino), Rebel Without a Cause, Repo Man, Short Cuts, Slums of Beverly Hills (White), Speed, Swingers (peripheral Hollywood), Stand and Deliver (Latino), They Live!, Tortilla Soup (Latino), To Sleep with Anger (Black), Valentines Day, Valley Girl (White), Volcano, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Zoot Suit (Latino)
TV Shows:

Arrested Devlepment, Beverly Hills 90210 (either or both versions), Californication, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Dragnet, Entourage, Flashforward, The Larry Sanders Show, Law and Order: Los Angeles, Melrose Place (either or both versions), Modern Family, NCIS Los Angeles, Numb3rs, The O.C., 77 Sunset Strip, Southland, The Shield, Weeds


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