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WHO'S ON VENTURA? REST OF L.A. CLINGS TO VALLEY AS NEEDED VAUDEVILLE PARTNER.

Byline: Joseph Honig

GLANCE at some San Fernando Valley secession polling and majority sentiment seems terribly clear: Greater Los Angeles doesn't want to let go.

Maybe it's because Valley rebels lack organization.

Maybe woefully inadequate campaign funds are to blame.

Or maybe the truth lies elsewhere, stuck between still-hazy arguments over tax hikes, tax breaks, the common good and self-determination.

It could be that frustrated Westside, Eastside and Central Los Angeles voters need an urban patsy, a civic foil.

Stylish Manhattanites lampoon outer boroughs to feel smarter and more accomplished than workaday residents of Queens or the Bronx.

In Canada, an entire nation feels smug and superior when stereotypes of quaint, unsophisticated Newfies - Newfoundlanders - inspire uproarious laughter.

In the annals of American humor, the San Fernando Valley is Brooklyn with a suntan, Buffalo in shorts and Cleveland in sandals, target of more one-liners than the late Henny Youngman ever uttered.

So funny. So convenient. Valley jokes allow denizens of, say, Silver Lake and Fairfax to feel downright cosmopolitan. Some Beverly Hills and Brentwood types hold sculpted noses when anyone mentions Encino.

As for whippet-thin Westside hipsters, many would pierce cheeks and chins before admitting they were raised in Reseda.

Los Angeles needs the Valley the way Bud Abbott needed Lou Costello, the way a young Dean Martin needed that prince of patsies, Jerry Lewis.

Somebody's got to take the pie in the face, suffer the pratfall or drown in seltzer.

To many Los Angeles voters, the Valley may be Cosmo Kramer, Jerry Seinfeld's fictional pal, a bumbling, delusional neighbor in nightmarish haberdashery. Yes, Kramer's amusing, they might concede, and it's wonderful to have him across the hall. But thank God we're not him. It's always great to have someone - or something - to make us feel better about who we are.

Back in postwar California, the Valley was without stigma. Jabs had yet to be thrown. It was a lush, splendid expanse of real estate that called to servicemen like a Rita Hayworth pinup.

Temperate climate. Palm trees. Fresh starts and first homes.

Someone even wrote a pop song about settling down in this middle-class paradise.

Movie stars were snapped at their Valley homes and ranches savoring the high life. Lucille Ball reigned as Queen of Chatsworth.

Then the roiling '60s arrived and American suburbia - its uniformity, its uneventfulness - became a whipping boy for culture czars.

The Valley, with its tract homes and often charmless modernism, was Public Enemy No. 1.

This despite the whole of L.A.'s prevailing image as a city without a city, the world's largest suburb.

But somehow, in the jokes, in the daily frustrations of metropolitan life, the Valley reminded the rest of Los Angeles that maybe things weren't so bad.

You want bad? Move to Van Nuys, Pacoima or Woodland Hills, the wise guys said. Move to the Valley.

You want gauche? Look at storied Ventura Boulevard style, screamed the fashion police: those vintage haircuts, gold chains and rhinestoned sweaters.

As if we never saw those looks in Los Feliz.

Somewhere along the way, the San Fernando Valley became an imaginary capital of bad taste, a fashion victim worthy of Mr. Blackwell's designer brickbats.

The insult, ``That's so Valley,'' became part of the California lexicon, a mainstay of comics everywhere.

From Passaic to Portland, the San Fernando Valley always leaves 'em laughing. Why not? Metaphorically speaking, it's the new Detroit.

I have in fact attended dinner parties and cocktail soirees where the Valley was gleefully derided as simply a grim Los Angeles dormitory.

Without culture.

Without grace.

Even without stimulating conversation.

So should the Valley pack up and leave, a brace of L.A. schmoozers could be stuck without part of their golden city to disparage.

Somebody would have to find another whipping boy.

Could South Central fill the void? Who's kidding whom? Poverty and struggle are lousy comedic targets; it's hard to make fun of misfortune.

Downtown L.A.? No. Far too anonymous. Shaq might abandon the Staples Center.

Hollywood? Be serious. Tourists don't throng to punch lines. Anyway, Tinseltown's having its own vote to escape L.A.

If you believe those polls (though secessionists say they're gaining), it appears as if the Valley will be stuck inside Los Angeles for the time being.

It's so hard to let go of a patsy.

CAPTION(S):

drawing

Drawing:

L.A., VALLEY

Patrick O'Connor/Staff Artist
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Title Annotation:Viewpoint
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 15, 2002
Words:731
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