History and aesthetic of computer animation and virtual reality. Notes on Los Angeles in the 1980s and the computer animation community of that time. Miscellaneous commentary on the archaeology of the cold war, as well as notes on the esoteric knowledge as it manifests in popular culture, cinematic theory, the hollow earth, espionage, corruption in civic governance, the aesthetics of conspiracy theories, the failure of the cultural myth and other related topics.
Friday, September 28, 2012
The Deeper Meaning of the La Brea Tar Pits
Its easy to look at the surface of Los
Angeles and miss a lot of, indeed, most of, its nuance and subtlety.
To understand this city, you must dig beneath the surface, and when
you do, you will probably find petroleum byproducts.
Petroleum is all over Los Angeles, it
is at the center of a lot of the secret history of the town. One
place to see Los Angeles' relationship to oil, at least symbolically,
is at the La Brea Tar Pits.
The La BreaTar Pits was part of
the Rancho La Brea land grant and became Hancock Park in Los
Angeles before the turn of the century. The name comes from the
Spanish: la brea means "the tar" so "The La
BreaTar Pits" means "The The Tar Tar Pits".
Discovery of fossils happened in 1901 with more formal excavations in 1913-1915. Intermittent excavations
have happened since then, most recently in the last few years as they
excavated for a new parking facility for LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)
but other than that they have been mostly inactive for decades. In
these excavations they have found the fossilized remains of bison, mammoth, sloth,
bears, lions, tigers, saber-tooth tigers, vultures, eagles, deer,
falcons, a huge number of dire wolves and one human, a Chumash lady,
killed by a blow to the head with a blunt instrument and pushed into
the pit many thousands of years ago.
Image by Charles Knight for the
American Museum of Natural History in NY.
They built a nice museum to hold the
remains of the bison, wolves and Chumash lady, the Page Museum, and
its the best place I know to buy your Giant Sloth hand puppets. The
Chumash lady is no longer on exhibit because the Chumash quite
reasonably felt it wasn't very dignified. She is still there if you
know where to look, however.
But there is a deeper meaning to the
Tar Pits, a darker meaning: one that is not appropriate for the Page
Some people believe that the La Brea
Tar Pits are a metaphor for life in Los Angeles.
To see this, imagine life 10,000 or so
years ago. We are in the arid valley that one day will be Los
Angeles. It is not a desert but it is very dry. Arroyo might be the more appropriate term. There appear to be some pools of
Notice the oil wells discreetly in the background of this picture of the Tar Pits
A little deer comes to the edge of what
she thinks is a pond to drink. Her mother is nearby. Delicately
stepping to the pond, the deer discovers that her foot is stuck in
the tar and she can not get out. This is not a pond, of course,
this is the La Brea tar pits. She calls for her mother who tries to
help her, but in doing so, also gets caught in the tar. All their
struggling just makes it worse: they sink deeper into the wretched
tar. Now they look closer and see the bodies of other animals that
have gotten trapped by the fake pond and who have died and are
half-buried in the muck all around them. A dire wolf hears their
struggles and comes loping over, sensing an easy dinner. They
struggle but they are no match for the vicious dire wolf, but now, ironically the wolf is also caught in the tar and desperately struggles to get free. A sabre-tooth tiger seeing their
dead and rotting bodies comes to scavenge but gets trapped as well.
Later the same thing happens to a vulture and other scavengers.
Driven by greed to exploit the innocent victims of a cruel and sticky trap, the opportunistic
predators are themselves trapped, and the predators of the predators
as well. They become a horrifying, rotting, collage of death,
some dying in the act of trying to devour the others and, covered
with the filth of petroleum byproducts, they sink into the bottomless pit, forever
lost from sight, destroyed by their greed.
Very little has changed in Los Angeles since then.