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Notebook on Cities and Culture S4E11: Style Guide with Charles Phoenix

Colin Marshall sits down in Silver Lake with showman, “histo-tainer” and “Ambassador of Americana” Charles Phoenix, curator of vintage midcentury slides and author of books like Southern Californialand, Americana the Beautiful, and Southern California in the 50s. They discuss the postwar period’s appealing mix of the highest and lowest American sophistication; how the country’s new middle class became “buying machines” and “cultural monsters”; the “time travel in a box” he experienced when he found his first set of old slides in a thrift shop; the “luxurious” nature of Kodachrome; what makes any given slide a keeper, and how he can tell, say, a 1960 from a 1961; the layers of history visible in a photo, which he looks through as if through a window; the meaning of the first freeway-side mall with fallout shelter-equipped hidden delivery tunnels; the many midcentury innovations Southern California didn’t invent, but perfected; his Disneyland tours of Down Los Angeles, and Disneyland as both a comparison to and metaphor for much in the human experience; how we gave up the joy of cars and let driving become a chore; the 1950s’ love of speed in contrast to our modern tendency to ” get it over with”; how he finds the good in every era, the seventies included; our hard-wiring to reject the past and buy new; his more recent interest in processed foodcraft, including work with Cheez Whiz and Jell-O molds; his Los Angeles architecture show, with which he intends to reveal the structures not yet properly acknowledged; how social media empowers the sharing of our aesthetic fetishes; whether modern designs like that of the iPhone express the optimism he sees in midcentury Americana; and the importance, often neglected today, of creating anticipation.

Download the interview here as an MP3 or on iTunes.

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