Seen This Movie Before?

Frankenstein 1931 posterThe original Frankenstein (1931) film will screen at UCLA’s Wilder Theater this Friday evening at 7:30. Adapted from Mary Shelley’s moralistic fable, the film takes a sinister turn when the cobbled-together cadaver wreaks havoc in the Swiss countryside – a Freudian Id given material life by its maker – only to find townsfolk with torches in hand actually the greater threat. This gothic horror gem puts us in mind of theatrics closer to home here in Beverly Hills, where we have our share of torch-bearing townsfolk too.

You’ve probably heard about if not seen the film: a monster come to life threatens the town and instills blind fear in the townsfolk, who then set out to exact vengeance on the creature. It is a man-bites dog monster story as the crowd, blinded by fear, turns predator. The proto-humanist creation of Dr. Frankenstein runs for his life. It doesn’t end well.

It couldn’t help but bring to mind our own Beverly Hills monster mash: the Metro tunnel-under-the-high-school situation. Listen to local civic leaders and you would think that the tunnel means the end of home rule. Read the Courier coverage and you’d believe that the monster that we ourselves created, Metro, will snuff out our city. The PTA’s hyperbolic video aims to persuade us that we will literally go down in flames like Frankenstein itself.

The cautionary lesson is that we take away from the film is that mob action trumps best intentions when we let our own collective Id get away from us. You know, if we’re not attentive to the larger significance of our actions.

We tend to view Beverly Hills differently from how others seem to regard us. We like to think of ourselves as a peaceable hamlet nested in the foothills that extends a warm, welcoming hand to the region. We dispatch City Manager expertise to help cities in need (Bell) and sell off our community development block grants at a discount to needy communities (Hawaiian Gardens). Like this early still from the film we’re sensitive to the needs of our neighbors:

But the reality is much different. We were reminded recently that Beverly Hills is regarded as xenophobic and even racist, and that it stands as a  bulwark against regional cooperation generally and solutions to regional mobility specifically.

Invariably, when the water-cooler talk comes ’round to the subway extension, and the ugly public meetings and lawsuits it has begat here, we learn how other actually see us: we’re the torch-bearing crowd chasing the Metro monster with vengeance on the collective mind:

Frankenstein mob with torches

The question we hear most often when we meet transportation advocates is, What’s wrong with Beverly Hills? Well, Better Bike can’t begin to answer because we don’t understand mob psychology. But we see that it has taken hold of some of our most vocal community members. For some reason, those folks who can’t invest their energies into Safe Routes to School for kids but would turn back the subway if they could over alleged methane issues. As if there wasn’t an operating oil rig on that high school property for decades.

Now, we don’t doubt that some of our leaders have valid home rule concerns at heart. But they’re not leading this torches crowd, they’re following it. And they’d better be carrying a fire extinguisher.  When we look ahead to solving our transportation challenges, we see a marauding monster in our Swiss hamlet today. It is the psyche and its animus that consumes the oxygen we all need for solving the real problems (as we said in Saturday’s Los Angeles Times letter). Perhaps the monster has already turned on its masters?