the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Intellectual Gangs of Los Angeles

(still from West Side Story)

It seems that four years ago, USC history professor Steven J. Ross and LA Times Book Review editor Steve Wasserman attended a book awards reception in Los Angeles.

As Wasserman looked around the room, he said to Ross: “Wouldn’t it be great to bring these kinds of people together for conversations? All of these people are intellectuals who have interesting things to say but never get together because they have been Balkanized by geography.”

Discussions of Los Angeles’ intellectual community always seem to beg comparisons to New York’s scene: the Algonquin, the Bohemian bookstores, the Dorothy Parkers.  But where is Los Angeles’ intelligentsia?

That day, they decided to do something about it.

Ross and Wasserman formed the idea of launching bimonthly discussions with people from a diverse background to create an intellectual center for the Los Angeles area.

The group was called the Institute for the Humanities, and nicknamed the Geniuses.   Apparently, according to LA Observed, not everyone was happy about the formation of this group.  Several intellectuals were upset that they weren’t invited to join the Geniuses.  So another intellectual group was formed, calling themselves the Morons

What is this… high school?

They have potluck gatherings every five or six weeks in members’ homes to chat with guest speakers about "ideas, events, politics and books that have recently been in the news." Members named in the story include Kenneth Turan, Michael Kinsley, Eugene Volokh, Helen Mirren, Christopher Hitchens, Rob Long, Kim Masters, Taylor Hackford and Joe Morgenstern, but there are about forty others. What matters, says Bardach, is that you are a critical thinker.

Of course, I consider myself a critical thinker.  I am college educated.  I read James Joyce’s Ulysses from first page to last.  It took me three years, but I did it!  I am pissed as hell that I wasn’t invited to join either the Geniuses or the Morons.

Today, I am officially announcing the formation of a new intellectual salon in Los Angeles.  I call it the Hopelessly Brain Dead.


  1. Leese

    How do I get an invite to be on the Hopelessly Brain Dead? I took a critical thinking class in college. I’ve read…uh…books.

    Wait. I don’t live in LA. Can you make it so Northern CA people can join? Please? Because I don’t know what I’d do if I don’t get invited. It’ll just crush me and depress the shit out of me.

    Fine. Be that way. I’m forming my own group.

  2. Neil

    My group is cooler than your group, Leese. By the way, you’re going to have to figure out what name is one step lower than Geniuses – Morons – Hopelessly Brain Dead — on the intellectual salon circuit.

  3. Leese

    We’ll be known as The Braim Danaged.

  4. Neil


  5. maribeth

    I read Salon. Does that qualify me to join one?

  6. Neil

    Only if you actually pay for their “premium subscription.”

  7. Richard

    Neil, you’re supposed to read James Joyce’s ULYSSES from LAST page to FIRST. Then it all makes sense.
    Actually, it’sw properly called SESSYLU s’ecyoJ semaJ. Now say it aloud with a light Irish brogue and it should all snap neatly into place.

  8. Edgy Mama

    Your group sounds right up my alley, Neil. Maybe we should do a monthly IM meeting, so we won’t be geographically Balkanized?

    Oh, and reading Ulysses from beginning to end only proves that you are a persistent SOB!

  9. Richard

    I think the Hopefully Brain Dead are even lower down the scale. The Hopelessly Brain Dead are bitterly self-aware enough to know that despair is the only rational response to their utter stupidity. The Hopefully Brain Dead still have a Pollyannaish view that in spite of their GPA of -1.0 (they didn’t just fail all their courses, they were also frequently tardy, a reflection of their inability to competently tell time), all will be well and they will someday stop living in an apartment and get a really good job. The Hopefully Brain Dead, however, include virtually all “legacy” students at Yale and Harvard, so they may be right.

  10. Leese

    A monthly IM conference for intellectual discussion would be great, historical even, considering what chatrooms are like these days.

  11. Neil

    Intellectual discussion? And here I thought you were only interested in Batman’s… hands…

  12. maribeth

    I do pay for the premium subscription, actually. And I get my hair done at…a salon! So I’m sure I’ll feel right at home.

  13. Neil

    You’re in! I should really graduate from using Supercuts myself.

  14. John

    I think reading Salon might DISqualify you; not exactly an intellectual publication.

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