A Mayor Named Karen

Last time one had checked, it was, like, illegal to be named Karen. The unspoken caveat being: if you were white. But apparently, the name Karen was totally chill if you were a Black woman. How else could one explain a certain Karen Grass being able to win favor with the usually very judgmental people of L.A.? Not only judgmental, but conservatives posing as liberals. In short, there was a reason Upton Sinclair was never going to win for governor of the Golden State under the campaign, End Poverty in California. That’s not what any of the people in charge (read: those with money) wanted. And whatever the “elite” wanted—especially in Los Angeles—the elite got.

This is why it was so jarring, namely to “the industry,” that Dick Maluso lost the campaign for his mayoral bid. In spite of being the one to spend the most money on it. What the hell was happening to America that you couldn’t buy your way to political success anymore? These were questions that people like Katie Derry and Gennifer Altrow were asking themselves as they woke up to the news of Maluso’s defeat, therefore their own. Who would defend their privilege now? Their right to profligately use as much water as they wanted in a drought? Or spout fossil fuels into the air freely while pretending that “owning” (not driving) hybrid cars offset their private jet use? With Grass as the victor, every celebrity in Hollywood feigning liberalism was quaking in their Yves Saint Laurent boots. It was enough to cause several members of the cabal to get together and talk about potentially moving to Texas. But no, despite everything, they weren’t that desperate.

Even though Grass possessed the same dangerous type of thinking as Sinclair once did. A man who, as legend had it, suggested “outrageously” to a reporter, “Why should not the State of California rent one of the idle studios and let the unemployed actors make a few pictures of their own?” Pish posh! What a load of commie bullshit, the likes of Louis B. Mayer probably thought as he resisted the urge to hire a goon to throw a Molotov cocktail at Sinclair’s Downtown L.A. campaign headquarters. How dare he come into this town and try to rock the boat? Talk of things about which he didn’t “understand.” Of course, as Sinclair said of people like Mayer, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” Ergo the rich having total contempt for any form of socialist governmental practices.

And so, Mayer enlisted the help of a fellow Republican with just as much power: William Randolph Hearst. In all his many papers across the land, a few political cartoons portraying Sinclair as a communist and some threats about the industry moving to Florida (you see, it was Florida then, not Texas) if California went Democrat seemed sufficient. At that idle threat, Sinclair quipped, “What would they do about the mosquitos? I have lived in Florida…right in the middle of a scene, one would bite the lady star on the nose and cost them fifty thousand dollars.”

Needless to say, Sinclair lost. That was to be expected. So was Grass’ loss. But somehow, she prevailed. Not only prevailed, won by a significant margin. Maybe times really had changed. Or maybe she managed to eke by because she was running for mayor of L.A., not governor of California. And maybe Grass was already treading on thin ice with the conservative Hollywood sect when she announced after winning, “To the people of Los Angeles, my message is we are going to solve homelessness.” This little declaration sounding akin to what an aspiring beauty pageant winner might posit as her wish for the world. Grass also assured, “We are going to prevent and respond urgently to crime, and Los Angeles will no longer be unaffordable for working families.” Oh dear, we don’t like the sound of that, the rich telepathically murmured to one another from within the safe confines of their ivory towers.

Across the city, there seemed to be a collective shudder from conservatives and “industry liberals” alike—better known as people within the upper echelons of moneymaking. The sort of people who would say, “A liberal is just a conservative who hasn’t been robbed yet.” But here Grass was, like a conservative, saying that she specifically wanted to tackle rising crime in L.A. Unlike a conservative, however, she wanted to address its source: poverty. That still-too-icky word that rich people didn’t enjoy dwelling on unless it was at a lavish banquet for a nebulous charity fundraiser. Grass knew that her campaign platform would speak to Angelenos of all creeds and colors, and that’s what scared the “elite” so much. Compelled Maluso to run as a Democrat instead of the Republican he actually was as a means of employing smoke and mirrors. But this wasn’t 1933 L.A. anymore. You couldn’t fool people with Mayer-generated newsreels manipulating how they saw things.

Nonetheless, there was a reason Maluso went all in on focusing his campaign ads on Latino communities—he wanted to capitalize on the division that was already long-present between them and Black Angelenos. A divide made all the more palpable after that debacle with Fury Marinez—the ex-president of the L.A. City Council—calling Black people monkeys in a leaked audio tape. Nothing Grass wasn’t accustomed to hearing in her long and storied tenure in Los Angeles politics. Funnily enough, it often felt like whites were less racist against her than Latinos and Asians. Especially Koreans (lest anyone forget about the Latasha Harlins “incident” a.k.a. senseless slaughter).

But Grass knew better than to sow the seeds of division that Maluso was banking on (literally) when he decided to enter the race. She had faith in her community, her constituents, “her people.” The ones that never would have voted for her if she was a white woman with the name Karen. So thank God or whoever that she wasn’t—likely the only time in history a Black woman had praised the Lord that she wasn’t born white. You know, in terms of privileges granted by being so. A form of privilege she may or may not have seen fit to extract for herself with a “modest” USC scholarship of $95,000 in exchange for some favorable funding-oriented voting for the school. Whatever, no one could prove anything. Plausible deniability is everything. So-called facts are nothing more than “hearsay” or “fake news” at this juncture. Besides, all the people—the real people—of L.A. cared about was clearing the streets of the riffraff.

The very riffraff that “good,” “hard-working” denizens were afraid of themselves becoming in this economy. That’s what Grass’ triumphant election was about, in the end. Which is to say, to repeat again what Upton had noted, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” The average Angeleno’s barely-there salary no longer depended on it, and “suddenly,” they could see the light. The one that Grass was going to lead them into with her just causes and noble intentions.

Somewhere in the Home Of Peace Memorial Park And Mortuary, Louis B Mayer was rolling in his grave—and not just because he had ended up spending the afterlife in East L.A. Meanwhile, on the other side of the U.S., the ghost of Sinclair couldn’t be bothered to haunt Grass and tell her that noble intentions tended to pave the road to one’s own personal hell in California.


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