Sarah Besley, Urban Planning, Freeway Overpasses, Moral Panics, Confirmation Bias, Idées Fixes, and Sitcom Nazis in Hollywood

Pollyanna and her cynical, unhappy mirror self encouraging their own cognitive bias by gazing into reflections rather than the world around them
Pollyanna and her cynical mirror image encouraging their own cognitive biases by gazing only at reflections rather than seeing the actual world around them
Pollyanna, the most famous optimist in American literature, is known and celebrated as the originator and primary evangelist of “the just being glad game.” Listen, O citizens of Hollywood, as she explains it to Nancy:1

“Why, it’s a game. Father told it to me, and it’s lovely. We’ve played it always, ever since I was a little, little girl…the game was just to find something about everything to be glad about—no matter what ’twas.”2

Now, Pollyanna gets a bad rap these days, but she’s our hero, really. We haven’t the space to defend her, though, because we have to analyze a May 2014 blog post by Sarah Besley, evidently the Associate Executive Directrix of the Hollywood Property Owners Association and stuff.

Check it! Sarah Besley is scared of freeway overpasses:

In Los Feliz, even the goddamned overpasses are cute, cute, cute!
In Los Feliz, even the goddamned overpasses are cute, cute, cute!

[An overpass] may be one of the worst statements EVER to anyone who visits and certainly to anyone who lives in or around it – especially if their community has been severed in half. An overpass literally says: this community favors cars over people and I dare you to walk underneath me and emerge on the other side alive. This is the message I’ve been getting for the past couple years as I commute from Los Feliz, along Franklin Avenue, down Argyle…3

But wait! Maybe Los Felizites are scared of freeway overpasses because they don’t have any there?4 The terror of the unknown is formidable and possibly overwhelms slurbians when they come to the big town.5 Hollywoodies, living in raw urban splendor in the very heart of the city, surely just take them in stride, don’t they? The answer would appear to be yes, even on Sarah Besley’s testimony:

I’ve started noticing the unexpected number of pedestrians walking from the hills north of Franklin into downtown Hollywood with their yoga mats, shopping bags, or strollers in tow. I’m struck by the fact that people seem to walk so confidently underneath what seems to me like a very scary place.

Note the moral panic hinted at by Sarah Besley’s listing of its negated signifiers. These aren’t the kind of people one expects in such a scary place as under an overpass. They don’t have shopping carts full of rags, or illegal bacon-dog carts, or tents, or needles. They’ve got yoga mats and strollers! These are our people, so why are they happy under the freeway? Whatever the reason, it can’t possibly be that, in Los Angeles, it’s just normal to walk under the freeway. It literally can’t be that:

It makes me believe that the fear of walking underneath is somehow outweighed by the benefit of reaching a destination beyond – whether that’s home, a place of work, or the gym.

Pollyanna has a long history in Hollywood, represented here by America's sweetheart, little Mary Pickford.  If only more people would learn the lessons she struggled to teach us...
Pollyanna has a long history in Hollywood, represented here by America’s sweetheart, little Mary Pickford. If only more people would learn the lessons she struggled to teach us…

Now, what we have here is a prime example of confirmation bias at work. As Albert Einstein said, “a man sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest.”6 Pollyanna, or anyone who’s actually looking at reality, might revise their idée fixe on encountering this evidence, but not Sarah Besley, who’s playing the through-the-looking-glass version of Pollyanna’s pastime, the just-be-scared game. The overpass is objectively scary, so if there are normal people (with yoga mats even!) under it not being scared, there must be some other reason. And amazingly, that reason confirms the theory being propounded here. What’s the chance of that?!:

This epiphany has given me great hope for our little hamlet. Our community is starting to think beyond the car and see downtown Hollywood not just as a severed finger, but rather part of the hand. However I can’t help but feel that this underpass needs to dramatically change in order to welcome our neighbors and make them feel safe.

The craziness here runs too deep to analyze thoroughly. Sarah Besley, you are the one who doesn’t feel safe, not “our neighbors.” You just said that you’re surprised that “our neighbors” do already seem to feel safe. Remember? And what’s severed from what? Hollywood from the Hills? From Downtown? It’s possible to walk straight from Hollywood to Downtown LA without having to go under a freeway (or possibly just under the 110, depending on route). We’ve done it: take Sunset. And “starting to think beyond the car”?! What, what, what, what??! And “our little hamlet”??! A SEVERED FINGER?!!?!!?! We give up. This makes no sense whatsoever, but whatever it’s supposed to mean, the conclusion is that the underpass needs paint, naturally:

I feel it’s time to start rolling out the red carpet to our neighbors in the hills, even if that means a new coat of paint on a lot of concrete.

Sarah Besley engaging in some urban theorizing at HPOA secret headquarters.  Note presence of map, because this is graduate level stuff, here!
Sarah Besley and unidentified co-conspirator engaging in some urban theorizing at HPOA secret headquarters. Note presence of map, because this is graduate level stuff, here!

Let’s summarize: Sarah Besley is scared of overpasses. She notices that a lot of normal people (with yoga mats) are not acting scared. However, overpasses are objectively scary, so these people must in fact be scared but are overcoming their fear because Hollywood is so great. Therefore we should paint the overpass to welcome them.

This level of delusion and incoherence would be merely risible if it weren’t being propounded by the Associate Executive Directrix of a powerful government agency, tasked with the social and ethnic cleansing of Hollywood. It’s impossible to tell if the pure brainlessness of this blog post is the result of incompetence or the fact that power doesn’t require reasoned justifications because they’ve got the gunmen. It’s like we, the people of Hollywood, thought we were important enough for Reinhard Heydrich but ended up with Sergeant Schultz instead. It’s like it’s far too easy to get a M.A. from UCLA anymore. It’s like… forget it, Jake, it’s, like, Hollywood.

  1. You wanna know who Nancy is? Read the damn book.
  2. Pollyanna, Eleanor H. Porter, The Page Company (Boston), 1913.
  3. Note the reflexive nod to Sarah Besley’s training in urban planning encapsulated in the bit about the severed community. Freeways are certainly community-killing constructions, which is why their effects on the poor neighborhoods of LA have been studied so extensively by urban theorists, who were certainly Sarah Besley’s teachers out at UCLA. They’re doubtless mostly bleeding-heart lefty ivory tower commie pinko fellow traveler academicians, and they will natter on about the 10 and the 110 and South LA and Chavez Ravine and vibrant enclaves and so forth. Their concerns and outrage are justified and we don’t want in any way to discount them, in fact we share in them completely, especially the outrage, but none of this analysis applies to Hollywood, obviously, which has had more than 60 years to adjust to the effects of its freeway, whatever they might be or have been. Sarah Besley seems to think, though, that part of what makes one an urban planner is yammering about severed neighborhoods and freeways, regardless of the fact that approximately zero serious theorists consider either the Hollywood Hills or what the BIDdies so hamfistedly call “Downtown Hollywood” cut off from anything in Los Angeles or in any way think the residents, other than mountain lions, of course, are suffering ongoing harm from the 101. Her theoretically dyslexic (dystheoretic?) out-of-context reference reminds us of, amongst other things, Albert Einstein’s admonition that a little learning is a dangerous thing.7
  4. Don’t go bitching and moaning to us about the 5 by the river. We’ve taken that into account in our calculations and we still come up with a grand total of ZERO freeway overpasses in Los Feliz. Deal with it.
  5. We don’t actually think Los Feliz is a suburb, OK? Just calm down and think about the rhetorical effect we’re going for. It’s all good, friend… but if Los Feliz is NOT a suburb, why are you frantically reading this footnote, then?
  6. Paul Simon, Albert Einstein, whatevers.
  7. OK, Alexander Pope. We’re so erudite we’ve got footnotes on our footnotes!

The image of Pollyanna looking in the mirror is a screenshot of a public domain version of Eleanor Porter’s novel, available here from archive.org. Image of the Shakespeare Bridge in Los Feliz is in the public domain because ’twas created by an employee of the federalskis in the performance of duty and we got it from Wikimedia here. According to the Wikipedia Wonks, the image of Bob Crane and John Banner is in the public domain because of some kind of copyright wonkery. You can read all about it and get your own copy here.

Share

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *