L.A. Venice Beach - How The American Dream become a nightmare
I won't use many words or statistics. Both have been used before and they don't even begin to describe was is really happening. When we go to America we have an image. An image embedded or 'incepted' by decades of Hollywood films and the media. It's part of 'The American Dream' pumped out by a factory of dreams. We don't see the real people any more. We see characters being played by actors. But this time I went out in search of the real people. And I did see them. Like I have never seen them before. I began to think, is America haunted by what it has become and the way it got here? Or is it all about fiction, sitcoms and canned laughter? America is haunted all right. The ghosts are here.
I found the dream in rigor mortis soon to become a nightmare.
It is already a nightmare in some parts of the City of Angels.
Because the angels have been run out of town by ghosts, demons and cadavers.
This is a graffiti mural on Venice Beach. During the day, you can't see it. It comes alive at night and stays alive until the first lights of the morning.
I saw this graffiti the day I was leaving. It was one of my last photos.
I had spent a week already in the city where these demons live by night. Once I saw them, it all came together. Every piece of the puzzle fitted perfectly.
What I had seen every day in street corners suddenly had a meaning. I had discovered the meaning of what I had seen.
Venice Beach is world-famous. Shakira shot her latest video there. It's supposed to be the part of Los Angeles where everybody can play a role. The role of the super-cool.
But it ain't super-cool any more. Reality caught up with it in a big way.
This is my first shot as I arrived in Los Angeles. If this is not an omen, then what is it?
Unsurprisingly, a group of young filmmakers were shooting the scene of a film. A grotesque figure half scarecrow, half boogieman stood still in the middle of the beach.
A man approached the figure and shot it with a flare. The figure caught fire and the fire consumed it entirely The whole scene became a vision of what was to come. I didn't know it at the time.
I will come to know it by the time the week was over.
The next morning.
The visions started appearing. One after the other. Wherever I looked, there they were. They were not actors. They were living their own drama. For real.
I came across Karen and her trolley. She looked at me scared. I approached her. I wanted to know who she was.
We were alone in the street. In Los Angeles, that is unusual. Those who walk are strangers and must have evil in the mind.
She asked me to move on. I was curious. Her clothes did not match the wreckage I saw in her face.
"Move along" she said.
I asked her if she was happy in America. She said she was. And soon followed with "can you spare a couple of dollars?". I said I could and gave here two.
I asked her for a picture. She obliged. Her expression didn't change at all. Here eyes were lost somewhere else. As I asked her another question she said again "Move along, please". I did what she said.
A couple of meters away I saw a second person with a trolley. The ghetto-blaster looked bizarre within the scene. There was no music.
I thought: "The American Dream is well and truly over for this man too".
Was he dead? Alive? Nobody gave a shit. He seemed asleep. I didn't check but took the picture and moved along
I looked up North Venice Boulevard. It was deserted. Karen and I were the only ones there. Who were alive, at least.
A car passes by and the passenger looks at me in horror. What was he looking at? What did he see?.
At this stage I began to think if I was the protagonist in my own scary movie. Was I alive or was I just the scarecrow I had seen the day before? Nobody gave a shit.
My grandmother used to say "as a sample, only one button is needed".
Had I already seen the worst of America? Had I come with tainted glasses? Was I imagining things?
I had been to America many times before. I had never felt like this. Something was going on.
The pictures in this blog are almost chronological. This is how it happened. America was unfolding its deepest secrets to me. Why? Would I live to tell the tale?
How much more I had to take in, to prove that what I was seeing was the truth of what I came here to find.
America was telling me something. Something I had to tell the world about. Did I want to?
I was compelled to keep on walking and watching.
Some familiar icons on Victoria Avenue. The tall palm trees reaching for the sky launched a million dreams.
An even more familiar icon. The M for Murder or McDonalds. This picture doesn't do it justice. The yellow and the red were jaded, almost pale in reality.
This picture is not reality. The trick is in the trade. The trade has learnt to lie so well that all colors are always bright. Because that's how we want to see them. Bright and vibrant.
In America, everything exists in your imagination. And if that is not enough they will give you Hollywood and Disneyland and more Hollywood.
Until you believe everything they tell you. Everything.
I came across this sign on Lincoln Boulevard. "We The People" struck my mind. This line still resonates. It's the first line in the Constitution of the United States of America.
But it was bizarre to see it lost in a sea of accusations, prizes, costs, numbers, dollars. Is this what it all have become?
I came across this image the next day. It's the only picture in this blog that I did not take with my BlackBerry 9780.
Using the mobile phone camera has an advantage. You don't look like a professional. People don't perform for you every time you raise it to take a picture. I'm just another extra.
I wanted to know where Occupy Los Angeles was located so I did some research on the Internet and this poster popped up.
It is an unreal sight. The president of the United States behind an Anonymous mask. What does it mean?
It is based on the famous picture before he won the election. But that poster said "Hope" or "Yes We Can". Now it said "Occupy". Something in America is going seriously wrong.
I asked a few people. Where is OccupyLA? Nobody knew. I met Dolly instead.
Dolly: "I've seen better days".
I liked Dolly. I asked if I could take her picture for a dollar. She said yes. I'm not sure what to call Dolly. Some would call her a drifter. I say she was a thinker. Later on she would tell me she was planning to go "up north". I didn't ask her where exactly. I knew what she meant.
This is when reality meets fake and then comes back to be reality. This is the essence of Los Angeles. That's what it's all about. It's a contagion now.
I am trying to cut out the images that Hollywood has incepted in my mind.
If I can't do that, everything will be fake. I want to look at reality without the Hollywood credits "Directed by".
In her case, I 'm going to give in. Dolly reminded me of a film I saw recently. It's called "Into the Wild". I will say no more about that film other than it's based on reality.
How can you live reality without reverting to celluloid images which are better looking and more long-lasting than memories?
This is America. Celluloid can be tampered with and then burnt into your mind forever. And it's all fake. Even if it's based on a truth.
I saw Dolly every other night but I never took another picture of her. I did take a picture of her two friends.
He was sitting on the same pavement as Dolly, a few meters away. He was making strange gestures as if talking to a ghost.
I asked Sven for a picture. He obliged. For a moment he stood still. Was he an actor? Had I given him the break he always wanted? Sven was pleased I took a moment with him.
Another friend of Dolly. I didn't ask his name. I gave him one dollar but I didn't kick his ass.
Days later he thank me for looking after Dolly. I asked him to look after her. He said he would.
Dolly, and her friends are only an avant premiere of what I would see in Los Angeles. In a few days I would see things that would shock me out of my socks.
I saw Dolly a number of nights. Unfortunately, when I left, I didn't say goodbye.
Another vision from hell. A crow cohabiting with a seagull on the fishing pier of Venice Beach.
I thought it was a parable for America: when people take on other skins and pretend to be someone else. I wrote a tweet at the time "Crows are pretending to be seagulls".
The crow flew away when I discovered the hoax.
The other side of America, the 1%. This is when people dreamt the dream and won. Countless others didn't, as we shall see, about the 99%.
I expected to be arrested any minute after taking these pictures. Look at this sign. "Armed Response".
I thought: "They will shoot me first and ask questions later". One more statistic.
The US media. A quick review shows the 'misunderstanding' of the new Occupy movement is complete. Politicians and the media expect people to go home quickly after a protest march so they can quickly resume the normal service of bombing and bailing out.
But the Occupy Movement is changing all that. The permanent camping of a good number of people somehow gets under the skin of everybody with power to lose. Social and political issues cannot be brushed under the carpet any longer. They are worried now.
The public supports their cause but not actively. The risk has to be taken by the activists.
The media doesn't talk about the 99% much. There's not one single mention of the banking protests all over the US in the LA Times today. They publish conflicts abroad and when it comes to local issues, Dr Murray, the killer of Michael Jackson, takes center stage.
I remember tweeting: "Is Barack Obama the Dr Murray of Americans? "Here inject some cash so you can dream some more". While we kill some more".
The 99% doesn't pay much of the media's bills. Inside, it's all adverts are paying big money in a pre-Christmas drive for sales.
There. Look at that pair of legs. Everybody wants them. And they sell.
The New York Post is another matter. This is a Murdoch paper. People capable of anything in order to please the Grand Master. On the front page a scuffle outside the Wall Street camp is blown out of all proportion.
Inside, another vicious attack on the campers. The Murdoch press is 99% behind the 1%. And they remind you every day about it.
Preferred adjectives: "depravity", "madness", "violence", "chaos". All in the first couple of paragraphs just in case you get bored early. Notice the message to Bloomberg under "Enough".
Bloomberg got the message.
I picked up a Vanity Fair. Good article and even better cartoon about the vicious Murdoch entourage. But these articles have been published for 20 years and nobody gives a damn anymore. Murdoch in the US is more powerful today than 20 years ago.
"This is why the Occupy movement is so important" I tweeted. I don't think anymore. It gets me nowhere.
Excuse me. I didn't come to America to review the papers. I came to America to find its mouth and its arsehole. The two most important non-reproductive holes in the body that tells you a lot about it.
Where the vomit and excrement are secreted. They will be the true measure of what America is today, what it has become.
The rest is bullshit for public consumption and Hollywood scripts.
I'd love to make this article long and winding because the elements are here. But I need to get to the point.
I wrote in my Twitter: "I'm not interested in art. I'm interested in proof. Proof is art. Sometimes".
The American Dream is fast becoming an American Nightmare. Full of ghouls, demons and ghosts. Not the Halloween types. The ones that are real. The ones that eat your brain.
Tweet: "If you take away people's capacity to think what do you get? Halloween". You get the ghouls, demons and ghosts. Because we can't see the future any more.
We thought America could destroy countries and the world financial system and nothing would happen to Americans. But it has.
It had effect. And the effect is devastating.
As I drove towards OccupyLA I crossed South Broadway, the road that cuts Downtown LA in half. I looked around. Do these people exist in America? Who are they?
Why do I never hear about them? Is this the 99%? Are they all extras in a blockbuster from hell?
I wanted to stay and soak up the atmosphere in Downtown. But with the sun dying fast I had only one hour before darkness to take some pictures of OccupyLA. I drove straight through it and never came back.
Probably I wanted to get the hell out of there. I felt the ghosts coming after me.
I tweeted. "While these people lose their dignity in silence, at least Occupy fights for it."
Downtown LA is real enough. There is nothing fake here. They look like the 99% who were left behind in New Orleans as the levees broke.
You don't see these people in American TV series. Even down-and-outs in movies look like celebrities. Nick Nolte's 'Down and Out in Beverly Hills" comes to mind.
'Ugly Betty' a relatively 'risque' TV series about a ugly Mexican girl had to be surrounded by the most glamorous and attractive male and female actors Hollywood can find for a lot more than the dollar I gave Dolly in Venice Beach two days ago.
Otherwise it won't sell.
The scale of the lie is becoming embarrassing. While trillions upon trillions are being spent in foreign wars and local banking, millions live in a desperate state.
America is falling. Now more than ever.
I want to see OccupyLA. At least there they are fighting.
In Downtown LA, they are dying. "Rulers want their people docile, quiet, subdued, slaves" I tweeted.
City Hall, the local government building. OccupyLA is all around it.
According to the Info Tent at OcuppyLA, the camp has 350 tents and 400 permanent residents with another 200 to 300 visiting every day.
Never before such spontaneous protest galvanised people all over America and the world.
Media, politicians and city authorities are unaware yet of the amount of collective energy required to set up a 400-strong camp in the middle of a city like Los Angeles, Oakland, London, New York or Seattle.
The Occupy movement is as big a revolution as you can get in a democracy. It should be respected.
The fact that it is not, says a lot about the people we are in power right now.
But in my view there is something bigger going on in this society. That we can't see it is part of the problem.
I am going to uncover it at the end of this blog. You shall see.
The American dream is inexorably moving towards a nightmare. All the signs are there.
Venice Beach was waiting to show them to me.
Venice Beach is where the homeless of Los Angeles come to die. Beggars, addicts, down-and-outs and the homeless all descend to the Ocean Front Walk every day from all over the city. They hang around until they die.
"The government doesn't pay for them. When they die, they are picked up and taken away. This is America, remember?" said Goldie.
Goldie works in a cafe right in front of where they all gather. She should know.
We were sitting at the terrace of her cafe. A friend of mine couldn't finish his hamburger. A down-and-out came and asked if he could have it. He did.
I told Goldie the story. She asked me who it had been with some anger. I told her I couldn't remember.
I could see the man munching the hamburger in the distance. I am not publishing the pictures to protect the guilty.
I remember tweeting "The measure of US corruption is that despite this society teetering at the abyss, the Pentagon continues with its gargantuan spending".
Not to mention the trillions given to Wall Street.
Lunchtime in Venice Beach. It looks pretty doesn't it?
But look carefully. It's not tourists feeding the pigeons. It's the homeless of America waiting to be fed.
The dream is over, the nightmare has begun. There are hundreds of them on Venice Beach. Thousands on Venice itself. Millions in America.
The stench of the lie is making me feel sick.
Dan represents a group of churches that collect food from local restaurants and brings them to the poor in Venice Beach. I spoke to him. I told him to get his work on Twitter.
"The pyramidal structure of media has been broken with Twitter" I tweeted earlier.
And I told Dan "You don't need the LA Times to send a journo here to check what is going on. You can tell it to the world yourself."
"Stay in touch", I asked him.
This is when it hit me. The ghouls, demons and cadavers that America has created suddenly surrounded me.
They were being called up to action. Night-time is when they live. Nightmares is what they do. Venice Beach is where they pounce.
It was early in the morning. They were still around. You won't see them during the day and I will tell you why.
The rulers created them and now they were free to haunt the people of America. Tears of blood are streaming down.
America! Wake up! There is still time!
"Here, take this!". Graphic illustration of how a bullet pierces a skull. Notice the dollar sign in the eye. Touching.
Five thousands Americans died in the wars of Afghanistan and Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of Arabs killed. Tens of thousands maimed and damaged forever. Ten years of war and counting.
The ghosts are having a great time.
This is now the Empire of Dementia. Evil rules with a smile and a commercial break. Many Americans also die on Venice Beach every day.
Tweet: "One can of laughter free for every two cans of Coke". America is depressed and requires new forms of marketing to keep the dream alive.
The "unsinkable" USS Titanic is sinking fast into the nightmare.
You'll never see this picture in the front cover of the Los Angeles Times.
What I saw instead was the perpetuation of the dream through militarism with the rubber stamp of religion - read the small print.
All in the front page, from a supposedly liberal newspaper.
This is the end. It must be.
Dusk. Time for the ghouls to return and for me to leave.
Buy Books - help makeAhistory