It was the infamously maudlin line from the since panned after being praised (in the vein of Green Book) 2004 movie Crash that sums up the entire reason why Los Angeles is “safer” than most cities (and certainly safer than New York Shitty) from the wrath of un certain monsieur named Coronavirus. For it is this narrative detailing the inherent isolation of living in Los Angeles that finds one of its main characters, Graham (Don Cheadle), ruminating, “In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We’re always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.”
Well, not anymore. And for once, L.A. is vindicated for a characteristic that has so often been wielded as a deterrent to people moving there rather than a selling point. Having set up shop there myself from the years between 2005 and 2010, I used to yearn to be able to make a connection with people–somebody, anybody. And during the blip before the internet had truly hit its stride on creating a niche for anyone who might want to experience it in real life by meeting up with those sharing similar “fetishes,” the options that might lead to making such a connection felt extremely limited. Particularly to someone as introverted as myself.
To pass the lonely hours outside of a cubicle job that was just as isolating as Los Angeles existence itself, I tended to drive aimlessly in my “off” time (though all of it was “off” in the scheme of an average person’s schedule and what they might fill it with). The aforementioned metal and glass of my vehicle being my protective shield from the outside world. From any chance of human contact of any kind (because of course only a fool leaves their window rolled down at stoplights). At the time, it felt like the worst, saddest fate in the world, even for someone who despises humanity as much as myself. Even one friend or casual acquaintance to meet up with on a semi-regular basis would have seemed like a lifesaver tossed to me from the merciless shipwreck that was this city.
Thinking back on that period in my life, it was, in many respects, extremely similar to how people everywhere are being told to live now. Go nowhere, unless it’s for the bare essentials, do nothing, except atrophy in front of your screen (in my case, I threw in reading a book every now and again to mix it up, but how many Americans are really going to feel obliged to do that?–no matter how much their boredom threshold is pushed).
What “democratic” governments don’t seem to realize about the average human being is that they are not strong enough to endure a lifestyle such as this for even the shortest period of time (which is why, in the end, the U.S. is especially fucked for being unable to contain their citizens thanks to that pesky thing called “freedom”). It drives them insane, to the point where it wouldn’t be surprising in the least to see riots in streets as a result of being caged for too long inside their quarantined abodes. In short, they can’t fucking hack it and would rather risk contracting or spreading a virus as opposed to spending another second “alone” with themselves (though, yes, it has to be reiterated that the tenets of solipsism mean that we’re all alone in our own head no matter how hard we try to get our internal monologue–the essence of who we are–across to another person; then again, there seems to be an increasing number of people with no internal monologue at all, just blank airwaves, as it were).
And it, naturally, gets one thinking about the original authority on this particular phenomenon–humankind’s inability to not be social, to simply keep to them damn selves. That authority being none other than Aristotle, who remarked, “Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god.” I suppose it would be narcissistic to classify myself as the latter. Maybe I’m simply beneath notice, and that is what led me to this form of existence before everyone else was forced to adopt it.
Los Angeles was the perfect vacuum-sealed biodome for me to go about my routine of self-isolation in a setting that, at the very least, was beautiful. For if you can’t find beauty in the kitsch of L.A., you probably shouldn’t be living in California at all. I learned to pass the hours for five years in solitude, my communications limited, my sorrows unprofessed to anyone except the page. For all I needed was the protective bubble of my car and my apartment to “get by.” Life reduced to exactly what it truly is: basic survival. We can’t all ascend Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, now can we? Some of us are doomed to stay on the bottom of that pyramid–though now, the vast majority of us are.
Still, I get why Joe Gillis tried to throw in the towel and leave before Norma Desmond got to him. In that regard, making a new social contact really was a killer. And that’s what L.A. as a city and a metaphor has come to underscore more than ever: it is more of a hazard than a help to involve oneself with humans tangibly. I think Los Angeles has always been ahead of the curve in terms of being cognizant of this. For while it might be ironically immortalized as the city where it’s not what you know but who you know in order to get ahead (in the entertainment industry, that is), it has long been aware that we don’t really need people. At least not physically. But remotely. As bystanders. Viewers. Distant witnesses to some aspects of our day-to-day that we might curate or share on the internet but not truly be a part of.
This is the future. L.A. (or at least its long-standing infrastructural model) is the future. And those bitching about social isolation can pretend that we’ll get “back to normal” when this is all “over,” but the truth is, the old normal has been decimated. Social distancing is the bridge to a future soon to be present. We only really need to communicate and engage with projections of people, their avatars, if you will. Because if coronavirus has proven anything it’s that human touch–and contact of any kind–is archaic. Tantamount to other unsanitary behavior of yore… like not pasteurizing.