all comes together
in the LaLaTimes
David Shaw's "Media Matters" column,
Los Angeles Times
Aug 29, 2004
Death Inspires Alzheimer's Theme Park"
"Lakers Sign Fetus in NBA Draft"
"Wal-Mart Acquires California in Hostile Takeover"
"Schwarzenegger's Job Outsourced to China"
These are not headlines you're likely to see
on the front page of your daily newspaper. But they all ran
recently in LaLaTimes.
LaLaTimes.com is an
online satire magazine, based in Venice and focused on the absurdity
of everyday life in Los Angeles. It is, I suppose, a local version
of the Onion — and it's often funnier.
Angeles Annexes Vermont, Imports Autumn."
"Study Suggests Juggling While Driving Could Be Dangerous."
"California Bans Alcohol in Bars."
George Wolfe started the website in November
2002, a few months after he moved here from Seattle and found
himself in "constant wonderment over the bizarre nature
of life in Los Angeles."
Wolfe is far from the first newcomer to have made this observation,
of course. Los Angeles has been a staple of late-night television
humor and New York-based media ridicule for so long that no
one even noticed when Mayor Hahn announced last week that he'd
undergone a sex change operation. (See?)
But Wolfe is the first person, so far as I know, to marry this
old perception of L.A. to the new medium of the Internet.
Wolfe, 40, grew up in northern Virginia and upstate New York
and, after college, was a magazine writer and editor and wannabe
playwright in Seattle, "a city I could wrap my mind around,"
"But Los Angeles is "too huge and too weird to get
my mind or my arms around," he grumbles good-naturedly.
Not long after settling here, he says, the playwright in him
felt as if he'd stumbled into a 24/7 theater of the absurd.
So he decided that "a fusion of creative writing and journalism"
was his true metier, satire his chosen form and cyberspace his
"In Los Angeles," he says, "the trick is to come
up with satire that can top the reality that's already out there."
In fact, each LaLaTimes posting includes a section titled "All
Too Real — Weird real news …," such as the
story in his most recent posting announcing that budget cutbacks
"have forced some L.A. Unified schools to go without toilet
Though accurate, that story is arguably no less absurd than
these headlines from another recent LaLaTimes.com posting:
"Saturn's Rings Comparable to Los Angeles Air Quality"
"LAPD Beating Prompts New Foam Rubber Flashlights, Sedatives"
"Orange Curtain to Separate Los Angeles From Orange County"
Why is Los Angeles such a fertile field for satire? What makes
us — well, some of us (OK, a lot of us) — so weird?
Wolfe thinks it's the confluence of many forces, "creating
a natural tension." Those forces include Hollywood, of
course. And the freedom from traditional restraints that comes
with being 3,000 miles from the hidebound cities on the East
Coast. "And the ongoing battle between old and new, between
East Coast and West Coast mentalities — and between different
"All this feeds into my own twisted imagination, which
is programmed for the absurd," he says.
How far is too far?
Wolfe didn't seem all that twisted when we had lunch together
recently. Slim, with penetrating blue-gray eyes, a dark mustache
and goatee, thinning brown hair and a receding hairline, he
smiles easily and talks seriously. He worries, he says, about
"What will happen when I've lived here long enough to lose
my outsider's perspective? Will I still be able to think and
say, 'That's really weird' or will nothing that happens here
seem weird to me anymore?"
He's also concerned that he might not be "mean-spirited
enough to make a satire site work long-term."
The latter concern came into play when former President Reagan
"There's something sacred about a person dying, whether
you liked the guy or agreed with him or not," Wolfe says.
"I didn't want to touch that on our site. But there was
a fawning quality to all the coverage of his death, a rewriting
of history really, so when Brad Schreiber, this guy I've got
helping me with LaLaTimes, asked if he could do something on
Reagan, I said OK."
Schreiber wrote a brief "article" about a proposed
amusement park inspired by the late president's battle with
"Tentatively called 'Foggyland,' " the article said,
"the amusement park will take up 35 contiguous acres and
feature such attractions as the Find the Car Keys Pavilion and
the Do I Know You? photo booth, in which the participant's face
is photographed, altered to look like someone else and then
provided as a souvenir.
"Foggyland will be a great attraction for all ages,"
the article quoted Cale McMurdo, "Vice President of Corporate
Obfuscation" for the park, as saying. "And if adults
over the age of 65 can provide a note from a doctor proving
they have organic brain dysfunction not related to an accident,
self-inflicted wound or earlier mental retardation, they get
Wolfe says he "gasped" when he read that. But the
more he thought about it, the more he realized, "Hey, this
is supposed to be a satire site…. So we went with it …
and, no, we didn't get a lot of complaints."
Wolfe tries to post a new "issue" of LaLaTimes every
couple of weeks or so, and he e-mails the contents to about
3,500 people who've asked for it. He says he has an additional
15,000 to 20,000 unique visitors, most of them in Los Angeles
but with a sprinkling from around the world.
Like most new Internet ventures, LaLaTimes.com is not profitable.
For the moment anyway, Wolfe says that's not a concern. He has,
he says, a modest inheritance — a stock portfolio —
from his grandfather, plus rental income from three properties
he used to live in and has since remodeled into investment properties.
But with a wife and two young children, he knows his expenses
will be increasing. So he's just hired a marketing expert to
"develop a strategy that will target appropriate advertisers."
As websites go, LaLaTimes.com is still pretty rudimentary —
heavy on text, short on visual elements and links. So Wolfe
also hired a programmer this month to help the site take better
advantage of the medium by making it more attractive, more interactive
and easier to read and navigate.
In the meantime, users will have to be content with a site that
often has more in common with a print magazine than a website.
Fortunately, however, that "magazine" is most amusing,
as witness the latest posting, which featured a story under
the headline "Catholic Priests Compete in Reality TV Show:
Lead Us Not Into Temptation."
The story said priests accused of "sexual molestation or
other forms of moral corruption" would have a chance to
redeem themselves on the show by demonstrating their ability
to resist temptation despite having to mud wrestle with hookers,
perform the Eucharist while "surrounded by altar boys wearing
nothing but nipple rings and leather tutus" and engaging
in other acts too indecorous to be reported in a family newspaper.
David Shaw can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To read his previous "Media Matters" columns, please
go to latimes.com/shaw-media.