boulderdash n: a road game played by California drivers during the wet season <Penelope called her friend to tell her about the ~ that was already underway along Pacific Coast Highway.> -more-





Online satire
all comes together
in the LaLaTimes

David Shaw's "Media Matters" column,
Calendar section
Los Angeles Times
Aug 29, 2004

"Reagan 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. 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.

"Los 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," he says.

"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 proper venue.

"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 paper."

Though accurate, that story is arguably no less absurd than these headlines from another recent 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 ethnic cultures.

"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 died.

"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 Alzheimer's disease.
"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 in free!"

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, 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, 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 To read his previous "Media Matters" columns, please go to

Online satire
all comes together
in the LaLaTimes

David Shaw's"Media Matters" column, Calendar section in the Los Angeles Times (8/29/04)

Reference the re-printed article in the Houston Chronicle (10/04)

LaLa Land has its own satire magazine Minneapolis Star Tribune (10/04)

LaLa Times Often Funnier Than The Onion, Says L.A. Critic
PoynterOnline, by Romenesko

Not Kidding -- LaLa Times
Los Angeles Business Journal (11/24/03)

Desperately Seeking Connection
about California online communities.
Los Angeles Times (10/03)

News Feature in the
Venice Beachhead

News Feature in the
Venice Beachhead