Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Hammer Museum: Jonathan Gold and Bret Easton Ellis

Last week I attended a Hammer Museum conversation between Jonathan Gold and Bret Easton Ellis.  Of course, my first reaction when hearing about this event was "how do these two fit?"  After all, one is a writer known for his culinary tastes and shedding light on the eclectic options for the Los Angeles palate.  The other, also a writer, is known for the dark comedy of his novels, the twisted ethos of his characters, and Los Angeles as a setting for a number of his works.  Perhaps in the vein of Los Angeles' arts and cultural pairings, these two writers made no sense whatsoever while making perfect sense at the same time...which is exactly why I had such a great time. 

The conversation began with Ellis supplying FourLoko.  If you missed the news, the FDA just banned this canned mix of alcohol and caffeine (among other things), calling it dangerous.  (Later, per audience request, Gold would describe FourLoko as "mediocre beer, jolly ranchers, and the stench of the Jersey shore" - you can take that to mean what you will.)  Does this make sense to begin a conversation?  I don't know.  But then again, the conversation also began with how they had last seen each other and talked about angry ibexes.  And by talked, I mean they elaborated on how they were imitating angry ibexes at a restaurant they were at.  I'm glad I hadn't seen the angry ibex video until the writing of this post.  And no, unfortunately, we didn't get a reenactment of their imitations.  And yes, I realize this has nothing to do with Los Angeles or writing (though it may speak volumes about today's pop culture). 

But in the random dialogue that can come from two friends, highlights of Ellis' (and tidbits of Gold's) writing and perspectives came to light.  Of Less Than Zero, Ellis talked about the journalistic accounts of the book (started when he was sixteen no less) and how he hadn't expected to publish it or thought that others could relate to it.  The book transformed into less about himself and more about his own pain.  A question in the audience asked if he really thought Los Angeles really was "messed" up (though the question used other words), but Ellis stated that his works just happened to be set in L.A., emphasizing that he actually likes Los Angeles.  Of his move back to Los Angeles from twenty years in New York, he talked about how he still felt like an outsider there after twenty years and labeled himself a "Valley boy". 

For those hoping that Ellis might teach a creative writing course to them one day, he elaborated that he has no interest in teaching and doesn't think writing can be taught.  His perspective is that classes are good at "building armor against moronic criticism" but that the best writers have a "kind of innate confidence". However, if you did want to know what Ellis considers a work of art of Los Angeles, he recommends watching The Hills, comparing Season 3 to a Jane Austen novel and Lauren Conrad's departure in Season 6 as when it all falls apart. 

Although the event mostly focused on questions to Ellis, Jonathan Gold was asked a number of questions by the audience (in addition to how FourLoko tasted) including local food recommendations.  I appreciated Gold's unintended shoutout during the conversation to my hometown of El Monte and his "people" of eyeball eaters, though I can't say I'm prone to eyeball eating myself.  When asked about Yelp, Gold described that he liked how it provided a space where the public can find out about places from the very people who exist in that environment.  However, he found fault with how easy it was for people to provide reviews that could be from uninformed criticism or written without full consideration about how it might impact a business. 

The Hammer Museum has a number of free events year-round of interesting coversations, readings, films, and activities.  Find out more about these events on's Destination Information for the Hammer Museum!

-Charity Tran

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