[T]he first thing you need to know about Hillary Johnson's new book, Super Vixens' Dymaxion Lounge, is that its Russ Meyer-esque title is a bit of a come-on. Don't look here for tales of rampant Los Angeles hedonism. Absent as well are the empty, ferociously pouty observations on L.A. club culture that the jacket copy (and glam color photos of the author) would lead you to believe are inside. Instead Lounge is something much more entertaining and incisive: a slim but wickedly brutal take on existential life in modern L.A., and one woman's quest for depth amidst the neon-drenched chaos and urban (not to mention urbane) sprawl. With a toddler in tow all the while.
If Mike Davis' 1992 book City of Quartz laid out the definitive map of Southern California's dizzying infrastructure and architecture, Johnson's book -- culled mainly from her essays in Buzz magazine -- seeks out the dingy, drunken corners that its middle-class young adults inhabit: the financial and sexual come-ons, the see-and-be-seen parties and the dark and restless cloud of anxiety that hovers like smog above it all. It's enough to make you want to kill someone, and the best of Johnson's essays details her search for the perfect handgun. If L.A. culture turns everyone into clichTs, then Johnson suggests handguns as the perfect way out: "I was suddenly very tired of being an overeducated girl who could do no more harm than write a really mean poem ... I didn't want to slash anyone's tires or call them repeatedly and hang up, or take over a large corporation and fire everybody, or get really, really fat or really, really thin."
Much of the book focuses on Johnson's search for a way past such hackneyed responses, but she's also aware of how difficult that is in a town where, a friend tells her, "style is substance." L.A. is a "dymaxion" town, a term used by Buckminster Fuller to describe a world unto itself, where everything intermeshes and everything is available. So she's wise enough to know that the idea of breaking through clichTs is a clichT itself. Is she really going to be gratified by seducing the Little Caesar's delivery boy, dating a couple, hanging out with drag queens? Nothing's ironic in a town built on irony; a teacher at a Montessori school placidly tells Johnson that "the playground's in the backyard, very safe from drive-by shootings."
What saves Super Vixens from wallowing in a puddle of cut-rate Gen-X ennui is Johnson's studied awareness of her own moral groundedness amid the city's absurdities; she might be a resident, but she's no victim. Her observations on the set of a porn flick are rife with the shock of the nude, but also tease out the brittle humanity of stars like Eartha Quake and Dick Nasty, and it's that acknowledgment of humanity that makes Johnson's writing so funny, right and engrossing. She brings a sense of depth to her dymaxion world, a place where maybe -- just maybe -- you'll find true love and an honest conversation, once you get past the silicone breasts and Armani suits, even if it's just for a one-night stand. --Salon
A collection of dark and clever essays from Buzz magazine's Johnson (Physical Culture, 1989) pumps up L.A. eccentricities with metaphors of the profound.
The exotic particularities of life in L.A., often parodied, incorporated in movies, television shows, and sex-and-shopping fiction, are for Johnson the stuff of philosophy and metaphor. As she browses Rodeo Drive she notes that "it's so easy to scoff at the whorish gilt and gewgaws . . . but I believe it's a seat of consciousness for the same reason that it's awful." She muses, as she looks for shoes at Gucci, that "if Chanel is Buñuel, Gucci is J.G. Ballard: as fresh as an eroticized car crash in an alternate but highly moral universe." Tori Spelling, she suggests, is, in her own way, an icon with as much current resonance as, say, Our Lady of Guadalupe. As part of her attempt to plumb the reality of life in L.A., Johnson touches on some truly outré stuff, including a visit to a Malibu ranch used for shooting porn. And along with each adventure, she includes a meaningful description of her wardrobe and other life artifacts. At the Château Marmont to interview Esther Williams, she wears "a fifties cerise cocktail dress with a floaty chiffon train." On her first day in L.A., feeling the need for some symbolic statement, she stops at a garage in the suburbs to change into a special flowered dress. The title refers back to Buckminster Fuller's concept of the dymaxion, a self-contained world in which everything that one needs for life is present in a kind of interdependent unity. For Johnson, Los Angeles has been her dymaxion, the place where she learned, she says, not so much to be happy as to be authentic.
Johnson is a universe shaper, with a powerful mind careening slightly to self-parody, and a lot of attitude.