Notebook on Cities and Culture
(Formerly The Marketplace of Ideas.) Colin Marshall sits down for in-depth conversations with cultural creators, internationalists, and observers of the urban scene all around Los Angeles and beyond.

Above Toronto's Glad Day Bookshop, Colin Marshall talks to Jaime Woo, writer, game designer, co-founder of the Toronto video game festival Gamercamp (the next edition of which happens this month), and author of Meet Grindr: How One App Changed the Way We Connect. They discuss taking the measure of a city by firing up Grindr and examining its men; things people have figured out how to use the app for other than hooking up and sending "a slew of dick pics"; how such apps have illustrated the decreased yet increase importance of living in particular places; the changing signifiers of queer culture, offline and on; how he views the must-touted "multiculturalism" of Toronto; what his 13-year-old self growing up in the suburbs would have thought about Grindr; the app's stark limitations as advantages that counteract our impulse to too-narrowly define our desires; how to learn about Toronto by observing the couples in its advertisements; the ever-present "distance" in the city, which guards against trends that miss but also prevent the ones that make homeruns; Grindr as a video game, his history with gaming, and what let him to co-found Gamercamp; his mission to bring the novelty and "whimsy" back to gaming, included but not limited to his creation of a new physical game based on the idea of social distance"; how a set of rules forms a system, how that system makes an experience, and when we call that experience a game; and the strategies one can follow to better understand the "rules" of a system like Toronto.

Direct download: NCC_S4E55_Jaime_Woo.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:37 PM

Colin Marshall sits down in Studio City with Mark Frauenfelder, founder of the popular zine-turned-blog Boing Boing, founding co-editor of Make magazine, and author of Maker Dad: Lunch Box Guitars, Antigravity Jars, and 22 Other Incredibly Cool Father-Daughter DIY Projects. They discuss whether he still thinks about Los Angeles dingbat apartments, and the extent to which their owners have customized them today; all barriers falling for the modern maker except for the one asking who's interested; how his daughters' fascination with card tricks preceded their interest in making things; what kind of project kids can complete under their own steam; Los Angeles as a place for makers, the current state of its maker spaces, and the making heritage offered by its historical hot-rod culture as described in Tom Wolfe's The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby; his history with this city, which goes back to 1987, albeit one interrupted by periods in Japan, on a South Pacific island, and elsewhere; the semi-agricultural life- and making style Los Angeles affords him; how growing your own food allows you to think more clearly about food, and making your own media allows you to think more clearly about media; how his grasp of media improved as he engaged in every stage of the D.I.Y. publishing revolution; learning through mistakes, as opposed to school's pressure not to make mistakes in the first place; the debilitating world of the "smart kid"; the "freedom to be foolish" offered in Los Angeles; the dueling temptations of broadminded generalism and singleminded obsession; his role in the cyberpunk culture of the 80s and 90s, and to what extent we live in the utopian and/or dystopian future it envisioned today; his hope for an increasingly tech-focused San Francisco to continue exporting progressive ideas; the rise of meta-making, and the promise of large-scale decentralized making of solving some of "the world's problems"; how he deals with the firehose of amazing stuff to feature on Boing Boing and in Make; and what his daughters have taught him about making while he's taught them about making.

Direct download: NCC_S4E54_Mark_Frauenfelder.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:27 PM

Colin Marshall sits down at the University of Southern California with School of Architecture professor James Steele, author of many books on architecture and architects, including, just over twenty years ago, Los Angeles Architecture: The Contemporary Condition. They discuss the how the city's conflict with "autopia" has gone since then; the obsolescence of not just the freeways, but the city itself; whether Los Angeles has gone from too architecturally crazy to not architecturally crazy enough; the evidence for downtown's non-revival, and what a fatal inertia and incrementalism may have to do with it; the Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything (BANANA) mentality as expressed not just in Los Angeles but the whole of America; how creative individuals can somehow add up to an uncreative city; what the Case Study houses meant to Los Angeles architectural history, and why they failed; whether the "L.A. School" of architects like Frank Gehry, Thom Mayne, and Eric Owen Moss every really cohered into a movement; how current Los Angeles architecture doesn't express the zeitgeist, possibly because the city no longer has one; what he would change in a new edition of Los Angeles Architecture (and how much more grim his assessment would become); the emergence of a dense, connected city within a less dense, less connected one; the most fascinating architectural ideas to come out of USC; what he sees in his students' attitudes toward Los Angeles' built environment; the "excitement combined with confusion" he feels on his increasingly frequent trips to Asia; popular fantasies of changing Los Angeles, like halving distances or vastly increasing its transit; and how we nonetheless feel curious about what lies ahead in the city's future.

Direct download: NCC_S4E53_James_Steele.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:56 PM

Colin Marshall sits down in Pasadena with Pete Mitchell, visual artist, game designer, zombie enthusiast, and lead singer and co-founder of the band No More Kings, whose latest album III came out this year. They discuss now as an opportune time to be into zombies; how his mom got him into not just zombie movies but Dungeons & Dragons; the "love letter to the 1980s" he wrote with the first No More Kings album; his early forays into game design, typing in code line-by-line and saving it on a tape drive, later struggling against the limitations of software like Game-Maker; Game-Makerish limitations as the true drivers of art; the experience of growing up in Rhode Island, and who thrives there; being a big fish in a small pond, being a small fish in a big pond, and the appeal regardless of the ultimately more interesting big ponds; the eternal struggle to finish projects, and what we can learn from the examples of such "obsessive" creators as Francis Ford Coppola, Shane Carruth, Jerry Seinfeld, and Jiro Ono; the things you make as diamonds compressed from the coal of your time; the wide reach of No More Kings' "Sweep the Leg" music video, which reunited the cast of The Karate Kid and continues to win the band most of its fans; his anxiety about becoming an "80s pop culture" act; specialized interests and the even more specialized places they overlap as the new stages for subculture; his time in Japan, motivated by the thought that he "can't be the guy who only knows one language"; how, to learn languages or make things, you have to give yourself no choice in the matter; the "electric sense of potential" and "ambient ambition" in a city like Los Angeles, not often felt even in "nicer" places; this city as the most internet-like actual place yet established; and the reasons not to want to go back to Old Economy Steve's economy, or to the days of a powerful cultural mainstream — even if, as in the 80s, that mainstream produced a lot of neat stuff.

Direct download: NCC_S4E52_Pete_Mitchell.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:28 PM

Colin Marshall sits down in Highland Park with Javier Cabral, the "food, booze, and punk rock" writer formerly known as The Teenage Glutster, and currently known as The Glutster. They discuss his mission to change the official punk rock food of Los Angeles from the Oki-dog to the taco; the reasons for the taco's current surge of general popularity; the reputation Mexican food has, even among the otherwise culinarily aware, as "just Mexican food"; the humbling his Mexican-food expertise received at the hands of his girlfriend; the singular form of "tamales"; what the bean-and-cheese burrito stands for in Los Angeles Mexican cuisine; his Korean food outing with Matthew Kang; how punk rock got him exploring Los Angeles first, and how looking for punk show listings exposed him to the food writing of Jonathan Gold; what kind of music develops in the backyards of east Los Angeles; the pots of food his mom made for the attendees at his free 21st birthday punk show; how much he enjoyed comped meals (and drinks) on La Cienega as a young, broke food writer, and why he swore off them; why the eastside and westside continually accuse one another of having no food; the cultural overlap he's found between food and punk rock in the most logical city for those two to come together; his long-form Saveur piece "Mexico Feeds Me", which took him back to his family's home state of Zacatecas (and which finally got his parents understanding his job); his love of street food, and his refusal to write about it for fear of getting its purveyors shut down; how both street food and punk rock always come back, no matter who tries to stamp them out; the burden of listicle-writing; and the etymology of the word "Glutster".

Direct download: NCC_S4E51_Javier_Cabral.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00 AM

Colin Marshall sits down in Los Feliz with artist, filmmaker, and writer William E. Jones. They discuss what one learns by viewing a city through the prism of its gay porn; how Los Angeles gives away the least of itself in that form as in others; home he introduced Fred Halsted's "gay porn masterpiece" L.A. Plays Itself to Los Angeles Plays Itself maker Thom Andersen, and how the movie helped fund Chantal Akerman's first projects; Selma Avenue, once the "hustler central" of Los Angeles; the city as he came to know it in the movies before he came to know it in real life; the Los Angeles tendency to identify with specific neighborhoods; how truly coming to know the city somehow requires both driving and not driving; what made he and Thom Andersen decide to make a "useful" book of their conversations; his examination of the nonsexual elements of the gay porn, and the other work that got him a reputation for a time as "the porn guy"; his resolution not to create around any obvious unifying concept; why Morrissey's robust Latino fandom confounds people, and how it ties into Los Angeles' long strain of musical Anglophilia; the similarities between the industrial decay of northern England and the forlorn provinciality of Southern California suburbs; how city centers, to an extent excepting Los Angeles', have fallen to "fabulous wealth and enormous corporate power"; the way places never turn out quite as intended here, and what it means for civic pride, the force that begins a city's slide into decadence; what kind of a town Los Angeles has become for experimental film; the city's ability, now at stake, to nurture "something like a bohemia," which Glasgow has done where London hasn't; and what traces of Fred Halsted's Los Angeles survive today.

Direct download: NCC_S4E50_William_E_Jones.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:20 PM

Colin Marshall sits down in Koreatown with Noé Montes, photographer and publisher of El Aleph Books. They discuss what MacArthur Park, that place "beyond any laws or organization," means to him; what difference the much-discussed light of Los Angeles makes for a photographer; the city's sunsets, beaches, palm trees, and the ultimate fact of its being "kind of ugly"; the New Yorker who told him he "just doesn't get" Los Angeles; the pleasures of living in a city that doesn't need defending; the impossible task he once considered upon photographing each and every block; the "synoptic vision" he gained upon seeing Los Angeles as a Borges-style "aleph"; when the LAPD took him up in a helicopter, and what understanding of the city he gained thereby; how Los Angeles works best at two levels, the very macro and the very micro; the "layering of information" in the city's built environment; his work with Metro, an organization now in the process of "actually connecting the city"; how he first gained an awareness of Los Angeles. growing up in the agricultural parts of California, as a place from which others fled; the importance of the desert, not just as a photographic subject but as a boundary to the city; the contrast in pace and sense of possibility he found upon coming here from New York; the feeling that the definition of Los Angeles is happening right now; his realization, after becoming a full-time photographer, that "this is all I could have done"; the "extraordinary access to be nosy" provided by photography (and indeed interviewing) that allows him to discover the unknown "great work" going on in the city; the vast amounts of money he's seen poured into photographic ephemeralities; the African family he once saw holding hands before a giant pyramid of cereal; the "failed modernism" and other supremely photographable qualities of Mexico City; and what we can learn about Los Angeles from the photography it produces.

Direct download: NCC_S4E49_Noe_Montes.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:40 PM

Colin Marshall sits down in Santa Monica with Jason Boog, former publishing editor a Mediabistro and author of Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age. They discuss what freaks us out about the idea of a baby with an iPad; his project's venerable predecessor The Read-Aloud Handbook; the importance of the very act of reading aloud, and especially what he calls "interactive reading"; the fallacy equating amount of books read with intelligence or even knowledge that plagues children and adults alike; how reading became a proxy for well-being; his new appreciation of Los Angeles libraries developed while taking his daughter around to them; how he introduced Mark Twain to the baby; how our generation seems to have proved that kids don't get wrecked by unlimited access to content; when, exactly, digital reading became acceptable; his move from New York to Los Angeles, and the cities' comparative reading cultures; his interest in Depression-era writers, and why on some level we still believe that to become a writer means to become poor; how we've become "cyborgs, in a real, genuine sense"; what we can learn by watching the first generation who could say no to books grow up; and what culture his daughter has already started introducing to him.

Direct download: NCC_S4E43_Jason_Boog.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:10 PM

Colin Marshall sits down in Culver City with Matthew Kang, food writer, editor of Eater LA, author of the blog Mattatouille, and proprietor of the Scoops Westside ice cream shop. They discuss the difference between eating on Los Angeles' west side and elsewhere in the city; how he manages to sell that health-conscious region on ice cream; the willingness of eaters, nowadays, to get back to the occasional bit of unhealthiness; how he prides himself on introducing unusual flavors to the public through the friendly medium of ice cream, even when kids' parents insist they "just get the chocolate"; how he got into food writing through Yelp during his previous career as a banking analyst; his explorations of Los Angeles through the Zagat guide and as a "hugely involved commenter" on Eater; what he experienced on his Koreatown days in childhood, an ideal place for him as it provides "Korea, but not in Korea"; what it meant to him when he discovered a time capsule of a greasy spoon buried in a Beverly Hills office building; the parts of town that put up with "a little less B.S." from customization-crazed customers; the balance between "I want it the way I want it" and "Just give me what's best"; the conversations he had with his parents and fellow Asian Americans when he left his banking career behind for a live of travel and food; the shift in downtown's Grand Central Market, and what it says about Los Angeles' wider social and food cultures; how your background matters less here, and how long that might last; food as his conduit for understanding not just Los Angeles but Seoul, Istanbul, Chicago, and Nagoya; how the current coffee-culture boom manifests itself here, where he divides time into two eras, before Intelligentsia and after; how Angelenos can make sure not to provincialize themselves; the exhilaration he feels at certain perfect "Midnight City" moments in his car; and how Los Angeles offers a seemingly infinite variety of places you should eat, but no one place you must.

Direct download: NCC_S4E48_Matthew_Kang.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00 AM

Colin Marshall sits down in Santa Monica with Jim Benning, travel writer and co-founder of World Hum, home of "The Best Travel Stories on the Internet." They discuss why Mexican food on other continents sucks so bad; the nature of a "weather lifestyle" site he previously edited; the old question of travel versus tourism; his relationship to the label of "travel writing"; whether hatred or love for a place can produce anything but uninteresting writing; our need for "hidden gems"; how Los Angeles offers the world within it, yet rewards travel outside of it; that feeling you get upon first waking up in a completely unknown city; the American traveler's anxiety about entering a foreign McDonalds; his multimedia production "Starbucks Versus the Traveler"; the English and American traditions of the travel writing of ignorance; the rant for a single-language world he found in his old diaries; the lost world of the Pan Am vacationer and the United States' "new humility"; LAX and the many other ways that Los Angeles seemingly hasn't internalized its own status; the obsessions, like surfing, that take you places you wouldn't have known to go otherwise; having a relationship with a place as you would a person; his mid-1990s Orange County "Drive-Thru Life"; his search for the stories that make him feel like he feels when he's traveling; and where in town he currently goes for his tacos.

Direct download: NCC_S4E47_Jim_Benning.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:44 PM