Getting a Bang For Your Buck
By: Courtney Keenan
When someone thinks of popular culture words such as “trend,” “tradition,” and “popular” usually come to mind. For associate professor Scott Magelssen, the word is gang.
Magelssen attended an unconventional tour to gain more insight into the world of gangs in Los Angeles. LA Gang Tours began as a weekly two-hour tourist attraction earlier this year. Now it has erupted into one of the hot spots for tourists in California. The motto of LA Gang Tours is, “Saving Lives, Creating Jobs, Rebuilding Communities,” not the kind of safe neighborhood terms one thinks would be associated with gangs. The motor coach tour runs through sections of South Central Los Angeles’s historically violent “Gangland.” For only $65 and signing a waiver, tourists can play pretend gangster as they safely behold sites such as the birthplace of the Black Panther Party and Crips gang, enjoy a provided lunch and not to mention the promise of encountering “real gang members.” Did that promise mention that some the employees are reformed gangsters? In all honesty, who else would be a better fit to educate the mostly white yuppies and foreigners, who probably thought “Gangland…won’t that be a fun time,” on current and historical gangs and their impact on society?
Alfred Lomas, founder of LA Gang Tours and former gang member, briefly addressed the tour bus that Magelssen was on.
“I recognized him from the website and the photos in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times,” Magelssen said in his speech, “His gnarled tattooed neck and arms, goatee and signature blue LA ball cap matched up to how I’d come to know him in my preliminary research.”
Magelssen spoke of a fun activity that was a part of the tour. Tourists were educated on the art of graffiti, a signature vandalistic act among gangs. Erin Tucker, a senior biology major, wasn’t impressed by this at all.
“Well, that’s pushing it,” Tucker said about the tour including education in the art of graffiti where tourists can learn the proper names and ways for different types of graffiti and try it out for themselves. However, she did say that as long as it’s not counted as vandalism, “some of it [graffiti] is kind of cool.”
Tucker, who has never taken a course in popular culture, said she didn’t really know what popular culture was and had no idea how to define it. Her best guess was that “[popular culture] is what’s popular…not really a definitive kind of culture just sort of at the moment.”