Avila, Eric 1968-
Avila, Eric 1968-
Born July 24, 1968. Education: University of California, Berkeley, B.A., M.A., Ph.D., 1997.
University of California, Los Angeles, instructor in Chicano studies and history, 1997-2004, associate professor, 2004—.
Ford Foundation postdoctoral fellowship, 1999-2000; Warren Fellowship, Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History, Harvard University, 2004-05; Donald J. Pfluger Local History Award, Historical Society of Southern California, 2006; visiting fellow, Research Institute for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, Stanford University, 2007-08. Article "Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight: Film Noir Disneyland, and the Cold War (Sub)Urban Imaginary," originally published in Journal of Urban History and reprinted in Best American History Essays, 2006, was named by the Organization of American Historians as one of ten best articles on American history written between the summers of 2004 and 2005.
(Coeditor) The Chicano Studies Reader: An Anthology of Aztlán, 1970-2000, UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center (Los Angeles, CA), 2001
Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight: Fear and Fantasy in Suburban Los Angeles, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 2004.
Contributor to books, including Velvet Barrios: Popular Culture and Chicana/o Sexualities and Classic Whiteness: Race and the Hollywood Studio System. Contributor to journals, including Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies and Journal of Urban History.
University professor Eric Avila's interests in teaching, research, and writing include twentieth-century U.S. history, urban areas, architecture and the built environment, popular culture, and Chicano studies. These subjects come together in his book Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight: Fear and Fantasy in Suburban Los Angeles, which looks at how this city and Southern California in general developed after World War II, as well as the national implications of the region's evolution. He finds that whites have increasingly sought to isolate themselves from other races, both geographically and culturally.
According to Avila, the factors that promoted the geographical separation included suburban housing developments that attracted whites and freeways that created formidable barriers between neighborhoods—indeed, the freeways themselves lead Avila to call Los Angeles "the Suture City," referring to the way roadways serve both to join and divide the city. He also documents the fact that residents of many neighborhoods objected to the construction of freeways in their communities, although their efforts were usually unsuccessful. Culturally, Los Angeles presented pristine new amusement parks, such as Disneyland, and sports venues, including Dodger Stadium, as models for the rest of the nation and alternatives to the perceived decay of older, urban spaces—a perception helped along, according to Avila, by the film industry, especially the film noir genre popular in the late 1940s and early 1950s, with its portrayal of cities as dark and dangerous places. He points out, though, that African Americans and others fought back through their cultural contributions. He highlights black musicians whose work portrays the strength and pride of African Americans while proving popular with white audiences.
Some critics found Avila's analysis insightful and provocative. He "skillfully weaves together a number of literary strands that give a candid and vivid portrait of the economic, cultural, and social development of the city of Los Angeles from 1940 to 1970," related Historian contributor Dickson A. Mungazi. Robert J. Kruse II, writing in the Journal of Cultural Geography, noted that "Avila presents a persuasive case for the relationships between popular culture, urban renewal, white suburbanization, and the gravitation of the cultural center of the United States toward the West Coast during the postwar period." Mark Wild, a reviewer for California History, also remarked on Avila's discussion of Los Angeles's national significance, saying that one of the book's "many strengths is its situation of Los Angeles within a national context." Wild further explained: "City officials and business interests posited their city as a solution to the industrial, environmental, and racial malignancies of other metropolises." They had a "vision of a white, middle-class, not-quite-urban oasis," he continued, a vision that has endured "even as it fails in practice."
Mungazi wished that Avila had provided more details on California's role in African Americans' fight for civil rights. Among the major events, Mungazi pointed out, were the Los Angeles race riots of 1965 and the founding of the Black Panther Party in 1966. The book, he remarked, makes the civil rights movement "peripheral when it should have taken a prominent place." Kruse thought some of Avila's discussion of race "seems superficial." Still, he noted, the author has created a "truly innovative" work that "succeeds at synthesizing his component cases." Kruse also praised the clarity of Avila's writing and the coherence of his narrative. Wild added that the book's methodology is exemplary and that scholars will find it "valuable" for its discussion of often-overlooked aspects of Los Angeles's development and clear explanation of this process—without oversimplification. Mungazi, despite his reservations about the treatment of the black civil rights struggle, commented that Avila had handled many other topics admirably, and he concluded that Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight "is a book one ought to read with interest."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Historical Review, April, 2006, Kevin M. Kruse, review of Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight: Fear and Fantasy in Suburban Los Angeles, pp. 526-527.
California History, spring, 2005, Mark Wild, review of Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight, p. 67.
Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, April, 2005, R. Acuna, review of Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight, p. 1477.
Historian, spring, 2006, Dickson A. Mungazi, review of Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight, p. 126.
Journal of American Culture, March, 2005, Ray B. Browne, review of Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight, p. 149.
Journal of American History, September, 2005, Scott Harvey Tang, review of Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight, pp. 678-679.
Journal of Cultural Geography, March 22, 2006, Robert J. Kruse II, review of Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight, p. 120.
Pacific Historical Review, February, 2006, Douglas Monroy, review of Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight, p. 170.
Reviews in American History, June, 2005, "Disney, Dodgers, and the Urban Design of Los Angeles," pp. 272-277.
Western Historical Quarterly, spring, 2006, Kevin Allen Leonard, review of Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight, pp. 81-82
UCLA Chicano Studies Web site,http://www.chavez.ucla.edu/ (April 17, 2008), brief biography.
UCLA History Department Web site,http://www.history.ucla.edu/ (April 17, 2008), brief biography.