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Newsletter: Essential California: The L.A. mall meme wars

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Shoppers make their way on the grounds of the Americana at Brand shopping center in Glendale. (Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, June 18, and here’s what’s happening across California:

We used to live in malls, and now we live online.

Not literally speaking, of course, as neither would be particularly conducive to a good night’s rest. But the cultural real estate that malls once occupied in the lives of American young people — as teen town square, entertainment source and social nexus — has now largely been forfeited to the internet.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Southern California, which once boasted the greatest concentration of shopping malls in the country, is now home to dueling mall meme accounts on Twitter.

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The great L.A. mall meme wars of 2019 started back in May, when three L.A. comedians who live in Glendale and often frequent the Americana at Brand — a Disneyfied outdoor super mall that exemplifies the highly specific, nostalgia-tinged tastes of its creator, Rick Caruso — decided to create an account of extremely niche memes about the Americana.

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A meme comparing the movie theater wall at the Americana to the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
(Screenshot @americanamemes/Twitter)

The trio presumed no more than a few friends would get the jokes and laugh along. They thought wrong, as the account now has several thousand followers. It has also spawned numerous copycats over the past week and a half, including meme accounts for the Glendale Galleria, the Burbank Town Center, the Third Street Promenade and the Beverly Center. (The latter two accounts have, so far, only posted a handful of memes.)

An internet meme, according to media historian Patrick Davison, “is a piece of culture, typically a joke, which gains influence through online transmission.”

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Think of a meme like an infectious joke, prone to spreading quickly into a shared social phenomenon. Much like viruses, memes can mutate as they pass from person to person (or social network to social network).

And as the internet grows ever vaster, the appeal of hyper-specialized niche memes has also expanded.

The @AmericanaMemes account mines pop culture to speak to the extremely specific experiences of people who know and love a mall in Glendale. One meme featured a faux-Coachella lineup, complete with mall attractions instead of musical acts (the fountain, the Sprinkles cupcake ATM and the parking lot will all be headlining).

“I think I’ve unintentionally tapped into [the fact that] the internet is becoming more and more specific for people,” the main meme-maker behind the account, who would prefer to remain anonymous, told me over the phone.

“When you see a meme about a TV show, it’s like yeah, we all watch ‘Game of Thrones,’ this was made for a million people,” he explained. “As opposed to, oh, this was made for like a thousand people, and it really hits home with them.”

The dueling meme accounts, particularly the back and forth between the Americana at Brand account and the Glendale Galleria account, also gets at a larger shift in L.A. mall culture. “There’s really no comparing the Americana at Brand to the Glendale Galleria,” as Steven Blum wrote in a recent L.A. Magazine story on this very topic.

The Americana “is a pristine capitalist playground filled with Bellagio fountains, vintage trolley cars, and Bose speakers embedded in lamp posts,” Blum continued. “The other is a classic indoor establishment that feels like a throwback to simpler times.” Both meme accounts revel in the stereotypes of their respective malls, and in trash talking the other.

So what does the actual Americana think of its No. 1 fans?

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“We are so pleased that our guests love their experiences at The Americana and we’re flattered and amused by the passion of these posts,” Julie Jauregui, senior vice president of retail operations and leasing at Caruso, said in an emailed statement. “Some of the memes are just pure genius and have our entire team, including Rick [Caruso], in stitches.”

TOP STORIES

California leaders are calling for a giant pot of money to help electricity providers cover wildfire liabilities, a critical move to head off another utility bankruptcy and also to prevent Wall Street from hammering utility stock prices again. But it could prove difficult to achieve in Sacramento this year. Los Angeles Times

The LAPD is investigating the off-duty officer who fatally shot a man at a Costco store in Corona on Friday. The man who died was described by his family as having an intellectual disability; his parents were wounded. Police investigators are reviewing whether the off-duty officer violated department policies. The officer’s attorney says he was defending himself and 1-year-old child, and alleges that the officer was attacked and briefly knocked out. Los Angeles Times

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L.A. STORIES

From the salmon-colored pages of London’s Financial Times, a look at the glossy, detail-obsessed world of real estate magnate Rick Caruso, whose portfolio includes the aforementioned Americana at Brand, as well as the Grove and a fake mini-Nantucket Village in the Palisades. The billionaire property developer has been slightly marred by recent scandals at USC, where he is chairman of the board, but he may still have his eye on the L.A. mayor’s office. Financial Times

Peter Sanders, a civilian employee and chief spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department, is accused of using a city vehicle to stop and threaten an Uber driver who got into a shouting match with Sanders’ wife in a parking lot, according to a police report The Times obtained. Los Angeles Times

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She worked in L.A.’s building department. Then her name came up in an FBI warrant. Los Angeles Times

The two Expo Line stations in downtown L.A. will be temporarily shutting down for two months. Curbed LA

Here are six San Fernando Valley transportation projects that will affect the area. Los Angeles Daily News

Your support helps us deliver the news that matters most. Subscribe to the Los Angeles Times.

IMMIGRATION AND THE BORDER

President Trump is threatening to remove millions of people in the country illegally starting next week. Associated Press

Americans make up Mexico’s largest demographic of immigrants. And the Mexican government says the net flow of U.S. immigrants to Mexico is larger than the flow of Mexican-born immigrants into the U.S. San Diego Union-Tribune

POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti’s endorsement remains up for grabs in the 2020 presidential race. Sacramento Bee

The state legislators representing Bay Area districts from San Francisco to San Jose in Sacramento are all men. This group wants to change that. San Jose Spotlight

Rep. Katie Porter, the Irvine Democrat, called for an impeachment inquiry of President Trump. She became the first freshman House member from California to do so. Los Angeles Times

CRIME AND COURTS

Who is willing to defend Harvey Weinstein? A third high-powered lawyer now wants off the case. Los Angeles Times

THE ENVIRONMENT

Many questions remain about a chemical spill incident that killed a farmer in a rural area near Los Banos in the San Joaquin Valley. Officials have said the chemical involved in the spill was agriculture-related. Merced Sun-Star

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

The North Valley Shuttle, which used to offer service between Sacramento and Chico (a city 90 miles to the north), is no more. The shutdown has irked some Chico residents, particularly those who relied on the shuttle to get to the Sacramento airport. Chico Enterprise-Record

In the blackened chimney, the only remains of a house in Paradise after the Camp fire, Shane Grammar saw the canvas for his first mural in the town. He’s now painted more than a dozen, but the reception hasn’t always been warm. Los Angeles Times

A May 2019 “Jeopardy” clue has spurred discussion around the official nickname of California’s capital city. (The $800 clue was “The Almond Capital of the World” and the correct answer was “What is Sacramento?”) Sacramento Bee

Longtime Modesto sweet shop Beckles Candies & Gifts will be closing its doors after more than three decades downtown. Modesto Bee

“Anna,” which Lionsgate will release in theaters on Friday, is the latest film entangled in the #MeToo reckoning. Director Luc Besson was accused of sexual misconduct in France, but prosecutors did not charge him. Los Angeles Times

How the Watergate break-in was messed up by a then-UCLA student interning with the Democratic National Committee. (He stayed late at work and altered the course of history). Orange County Register

CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: partly sunny, 71. San Diego: sunny, 68. San Francisco: partly sunny, 68. San Jose: sunny, 85. Sacramento: sunny, 101. More weather is here.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory comes from Ann Collins:

“Growing up in Seal Beach and Long Beach in the 1950s and 1960s meant lots of trips to the beach in Seal Beach and to Alamitos Bay in Long Beach. Summertime was spent swimming, digging for sand crabs, exploring for little crabs in the jetty rocks. Just as special were my mom’s stories of growing up there when the ranches were still ranches and not tract homes. My brother and I also rode our bikes through fields filled with wildflowers, salt marsh ponds and tumbleweeds. Today some of that is still there as green belts between townhomes.”

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.


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